Ignore Willpower. Create Habits.

drip, drip, drip“People who are good at self-control … seem to be structuring their lives in a way to avoid having to make a self-control decision in the first place.”—psychologist Brian Galla, quoted by Brian Resnick in the article Why willpower is overrated.

From the same article:
“Structuring your life is a skill. People who do the same activity, like running or meditating, at the same time each day have an easier time accomplishing their goals, he says — not because of their willpower, but because the routine makes it easier.”

Willpower gets used up and simply cannot be used until it is replenished.

Habits, once established, require no willpower.

I’m planning more articles on developing the writing habit. In the meantime here are some I’ve already written:

This is an area where knowing your specific struggles will help be research the best advice to share.

Where do you struggle to create the habit of writing?

Why Willpower Isn’t the Answer

Because I’ve already written extensively about willpower here, I’m going to point you to those articles and some posted elsewhere by various experts in the field.

  1. Willpower is a limited and exhaustible resource. This article I wrote includes some meaningful quotes and a few links to other useful resources.
  2. A good general article at Grammarly. Not long, well worth reading.
  3. From Wired, The Willpower Trick. (The trick is exactly what I’ve said for years: make it irrelevant.)
  4. From Psychology Today, How to Boost Your Willpower. Practical processes and actions.
  5. What I Think of Willpower

    In the end, no matter what you do to strengthen, preserve, ration, or otherwise control your willpower, it is not the solution to a lifelong habit of writing.

    And I just gave away the answer to “What is?”

    More on that tomorrow.

Commitments, Goals, Dreams

People selling seminars love to make claims about small goals equaling small gains, and that we have to think big, dream big, have grand goals, even big hairy audacious goals, to ever accomplish anything.

As I am wont to say, balderdash. Poppycock. Piffle. The power of small wins is irrefutable. Check out anything written by Teresa Amabile.

Rosanne Bane explains in her book the solid brain science that we should have firm commitments, and that they should be so small that reaching them is a doddle, and that we should also have goals that stretch us, but which we’re not committed to. In that way we can stretch when it’s good without teaching ourselves to fail by constantly falling short.

It’s popular to tell people to shoot for the moon and even if you miss you’ll land in the stars. It makes good poetry and sells seminars. But brain science says that a goal you can reach is infinitely more motivating than one you can’t, plain and simple.

Those “goals” Rosanne talks about—I call them dreams. I have huge dreams. I take baby steps all the time toward those dreams. If I didn’t have a bright light on my horizon, what would I aim for? But delaying happiness, contentment, the feeling of accomplishment, until “someday” when I get there? Nonsense.

Why This Fear Matters to Us (Even if We Think it Doesn’t)

Humans share a handful of fundamental fears. The psychology of fear is complex enough that searching the internet for “fundamental human fears” will provide a million websites by a hundred thousand experts sharing a thousand lists of the true absolute definitive fundamental human fears.

These, though, show up consistently, right after fear of death and dismemberment:

  • fear of rejection
  • fear of shame
  • fear of loss of control (sending our creative work out into the world to be eaten alive by critics, for instance)

You have these fears. No matter how well-adjusted you are, no matter your support network, self-esteem, accomplishments, social status, level of confidence, or anything else, you have these fears.

And just as you can’t choose not to feel the pain when you stub your toe or get punched in the head, you can’t simply choose not to feel the pain of rejection, shame, or loss of control.

Because they’re the same pain.

Let’s ask a UCLA professor of social psychology to weigh in, eh?

… more … “Why This Fear Matters to Us (Even if We Think it Doesn’t)”

Writing Creates Reality

Between our great idea, compelling and exciting, and writing it down, something happens.

Why there? Why aren’t we prevented from having the great idea in the first place?

Because thinking is imaginary.

Writing creates reality.

The reality, of course, of our own belief. Just as we see, hear, and feel with our brain, not our eyes, ears, or fingers, we don’t experience reality outside of ourselves, we experience inside our heads.

And our heads are very very good at knowing the difference between imaginary and real. Planning a crime we’ll never commit, in order to write a story, fires very different portions of our brain than, for instance, remembering the time we actually stole something from the five and dime.

An Experiment in Shame and Reality

… more … “Writing Creates Reality”

You’re Not Doing it Right

In his Monday Morning Memo for December 11, 2017, Roy H. Williams said that some people’s creative efforts were stifled because “every time they’ve done it in the past, a prune-faced martinet weaned on a pickle rapped them on the knuckles with a ruler, rolled his eyes and said, ‘You’re not doing it right.'”

Here are some things you believe:

  1. Your conscious brain makes decisions
  2. Those decisions are based on reason
  3. Emotions prevent good decision-making
  4. Your unconscious manages systems (breathing, circulation, digestion) but stays in the background, except maybe when you’re dreaming
  5. Memory is the act of accessing recordings of sights and sounds stored in your brain
  6. Memories are accurate, because they’re recordings
  7. While things can be forgotten, you can’t remember things that never happened
  8. Memory is a purely mental function, happening only in your brain
  9. If you don’t remember something it doesn’t affect you
  10. Willpower is how things get done

Guess how many of those are true?

Did you guess zero?

… more … “You’re Not Doing it Right”

This Story is Beneath You

A confused fan searches for one of my books
Almost two years ago I started my 6th novel. Plotting and planning, then writing like mad. Research, plot adjustments, pondering, and more writing like mad.

Somewhere along the way, it crashed.

More precisely, I crashed.

Flashback to Success

On November 11th of 2011 I released 6 books simultaneously. (11/11/11, get it?) In the previous 6 months I’d written (or compiled) 4 books and co-authored 2 more, all books about business philosophy and process.

I switched to fiction. Finally followed up my first Irish adventure novel with a second, then started another series, and a third.

It was like driving a Lamborghini steamroller.

Then, I got some professional advice.

… more … “This Story is Beneath You”

Can Art Be War?

A dear friend questioned Steven Pressfield‘s anthropomorphism of Resistance, the mental and emotional pushback we feel when we dare greatly, equating it with fear and wondering whether Steve’s focus might not be ill-conceived or misdirected. Here’s my answer:

Ah, Resistance and fear. Yes, of course, it’s fear. Thing is, most of us never look fear in the eye. It is a vague shape in the dark, which means obviously it’s a monster come to eat us.

I don’t accept that all things in the natural world are good, or healthy. Some things should be fought against. If I don’t remove the weeds and bug and animal pests from my garden, I don’t have as much food. If I don’t fight off some of the bugs within my body I have illness. If I don’t quash certain thoughts, I don’t have mental health.

You have a slightly different perspective from most people I’ve met because you are way way to the right on the “comfortable in your own skin” bell curve. Don’t assume that others can now, or ever, reach that level. I, for one, must constantly question my assumptions and thoughts and actions because I grew up with a load of nonsense in my head about self-worth, the value of work, the value of dreaming, the value of art, the value of money, on and on and on.

An aside: Steve P does not want to be a guru. Refuses the mantle. But he can’t stop helping people ’cause he’s a nice guy. Though try to get him to come speak at your event, fergit it. But people need a Messiah or they don’t know how to find the path. Some of us, though, can look at what Steve or Seth or whoever noticed, notice the same thing, find my own takeaway, and go on to the next thing.

Back to Resistance: We all have things we need to fight, for lack of a better word, every day. Physical health requires abstinence from some things, persistence in others. Mental health. Spiritual health. Avoid some, insist on others.

Our natural state is entropy, not growth. We tend toward being angry selfish lumps on the couch in front of reality TV. It is imperfect human nature, and it is not possible to go the other direction without work. Should we call it “work” or “effort” instead of “fight” or “war”? Okay. It’s terminology. But a spiritual writer I respect more than any person alive today, the apostle Paul, wrote about a “war in his members.” He knew what war and death were, coming from a violent persecutor’s background. He also knew peace, kindness, unselfish principled love, and spent his life until a martyr’s death teaching it and living it. So, if “war” works for him, I don’t argue it.

Am I even coming close to addressing your discomfort with “the war of art” as a term, a concept, whatever? Because I find your question fascinating and well worth discussing.

I highly recommend Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art.

Join Me 2/22 for NFAA Podcast on Resistance

On February 22nd members of the Nonfiction Author’s Association will be listening to NFAA CEO Stephanie Chandler interview me about Resistance, and 6 ways I’ve found to make that bully irrelevant.

The free NFAA membership level includes the weekly live interviews. Paid memberships would also give access to recordings. I encourage you to join (even at the free level) and listen in. (My wife, Sue, is Special Projects Director of the NFAA and we’ve known Stephanie for years, so these are people you can trust.)

We talk about dealing with Resistance including some specific steps, plus I list my 10 favorite books to help you make Resistance irrelevant, every single day.