“Turning Pro” to Go with the Flow

“The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don’t just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed.

Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second we can turn the tables on Resistance.

This second, we can sit down and do our work.”

– Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art” 

Last night I had an interesting conversation with one of my roommates. We traversed a variety of topics, ranging from the meditation habits of Kobe Bryant to what it truly means to go with the flow in life. At one point during our discussion, I started telling my roommate something I had never talked about with anyone before (mainly because I thought it would make me look like a crazy person). It went something like this:

Sometimes there’s this noise in my head. It always starts when I know I should be working on something – whether it’s writing, making a video, or going to the gym – but I don’t do it.

First come the thoughts, hollow rationalizations whispering inside my head. I know I should be taking action but I’m trying to deny it. As my denial continues, emotions like anxiety and guilt join those thoughts, increasing the noise from a subtle murmur to a distracting hum. It’s not long before the noise becomes overwhelming. My mind feels scattered and focusing is nearly impossible.

At this point I have two options: escape into mindless distractions (watch Netflix, get on my phone, blast some music) or do the thing I know I should be doing. I’m quite familiar with the first option. It’s the easy fix, but it’s also temporary. As soon as the distraction is over the noise comes back.

But every now and then I summon the willpower to choose option number two. I glue my ass to a chair and just write. I set up my tripod, turn on my camera, and just start talking. That’s the magic bullet. It doesn’t even matter if the work I produce is any good; within minutes the noise subsides. I’m left with an empty mind.

Last week I wrote about my growing interest in going with the flow. I sometimes envision that as a state of content laziness, an avoidance of the work and responsibilities that are supposedly causing me so much stress. Yet it’s that very avoidance that inevitably leads to the noise in my head, and thus more of the stress I want to escape.

So if avoiding action isn’t the key to going with the flow, does that mean taking more action is?

Not surprisingly, I’m turning to a book for the answers I seek. That book is Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.”

I first read “The War of Art” during my senior year of college, but only recently did I realize how valuable it is.

Pressfield begins the books by talking about resistance, the invisible force responsible for all of our creative blocks. It’s the voice in our heads that tells us all the reasons why we can’t achieve our dreams. It’s the inner saboteur that makes us rationalize and procrastinate. It the reason so many people “die with their song still inside of them,” as the saying goes.

Fortunately, Pressfield spends the rest of the book describing how to conquer this destructive foe. He gives plenty of great advice, but most of it can be summed up with two words: turn pro.

Turning pro means treating your creative work (or any work/activity that pushes you to grow as a person) like you would your job. No matter how bad you feel or what rationalizations your mind tries to create, you always show up for work. Rain or shine. Excited or miserable. You show up because it’s your job.

It means sitting down every day to write. It means going to the gym on the days you’re supposed to. It means taking action towards your goals, even when your thoughts and emotions are doing their best to make you do the opposite.

You’re probably saying to yourself, “That’s a nice concept and all, but what does it have to do with going with the flow?”

In my earlier post on going with the flow, I talked about how non-resistance and being present to the moment seemed like the best ways to do that. Ever since I discovered “The Power of Now” I’ve tried relying on those things whenever that noise in my head appeared. However, those things haven’t been very effective. The only thing that has ever been able to quiet my mind in those moments is doing the work I’m avoiding.

That tells me that things like acceptance and mindfulness only make up half of what’s necessary to truly go with the flow in life. The other half? Turning pro. It’s counterintuitive, but dedicating yourself to the work that truly matters to you is just as important as learning how to take it easy.

Of course, this could be completely subjective. But I know from personal experience that I am the most relaxed after working on my passions, even if resistance tries to convince me otherwise.