Archive for February 2013

The Success of Consistency: Part II

One of my biggest problems in recent years (prior to 2012) was a lack of focus on whichever writing project I was working on. Writing a rough draft was the easy part, the hard part was finishing any of them. I wrote five novels in a six year period. I finished none of them.

There were several reasons for this. One was the psychological problem of being afraid of success. I felt that if I actually finished any of these novels I would have to take on the responsibility of being a published author, which was very daunting to my young mind.

Then there was my severe perfectionism; I thought I would fail to make any of these books perfect so I could not begin to try.

Another problem I faced was that I could not maintain my attention on any one project; I would spend three months on a novel, finish the rough draft, take a break that should have lasted only a week or two but would turn into months where I slowly but surely drifted away into other uncompleted work.

In October of 2011 I decided that, once and for all, I would change my ways. I made finishing more important than being perfect, and I made it a point to come back to my novel over and over, day after day.

What I managed to gain was consistency, and though I cannot say I wasn't distracted now and again by laziness, procrastination, or other stories, I stayed the course until my novel was published in the Spring of 2012.

Novels written: 6
Novels published: 1

I was getting somewhere!

In the Summer and Fall of 2012 I hit the same roadblock I had always hit before. On my way to writing the second novel of my series, I got heavily sidetracked in another project and then quit writing for a couple of months. Now I am writing again and have been since late last year and I'm using the power of consistency to pull me along.

Consistency is forming a solid habit of doing one thing regularly.

In Part I, I talked about how consistency moves in cycles, and I've found that using this process with a purpose has been to my advantage. Instead of writing day in and day out for weeks at a time as I had done when I was younger, which always resulted in writer's block after a month or two, I now consciously take time off from writing. I avoid writing on weekends and every month or two I may take off a longer period of time.

Creativity can seem infinite but it can be depleted in the short-term. Consistency is a regularity, not necessarily a constant. Taking mandatory rest days off from writing has helped me come back the next day or the next week with a blazing excitement to continue writing. This is what rest does for the mind, and why even though I can miss a few days here and there, overall I keep moving forward.

A major change I've made has been in my perspective. I've broken down writing novels into a yearly venture. A year can be both a very long and a very short amount of time, but for writing and publishing a single novel, a year offers almost everything I may need. A year is long enough that I can take breaks from writing every couple of months for a couple of weeks and still stay on track. It is long enough that I can write three or four drafts within its time-frame.

Writing just 1,000 words a day I can write 70,000-90,000 words in three months. I can then rewrite that over the next three months, and edit it in the third three-month period. This leaves me, with appropriate planning along the way, three additional months to do nothing—using this time to recharge, or to work on another project.

One novel a year for ten years will give me a considerable body of work. Some writers are overnight successes with one or two books, but most of us must get down in the trenches and don't find success until we hit double-digits in published works. It can be a long road, but this is what I mean by consistency. Spending those ten years writing stories, getting to know other writers and readers, studying the craft, learning the marketing and business side of the writing industry—in other words simply by doing what writers do—success becomes realistic.

Success for me would be supplementing my income or, if I'm lucky, making a thousand or two thousand dollars a month which would afford the lifestyle I hope to live. With consistency, I could have this when I'm older, when I will value the time the most.

I cannot afford to grow discouraged and quit now that I've started, and I cannot afford to get sidetracked by something else. Writing this way does not require a great time commitment, but it does require that I write five days a week for an hour or two a day.

It'll be easier if I enjoy this, if I can make it play instead of looking at it as work.

It'll be easier if I don't care to be perfect. It'll help that I embrace success.

But the most important thing is to do it.

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The Success of Consistency: Part I

I define consistency as performing an activity on a regular basis. Otherwise we perform activities irregularly, maybe once a month at random intervals, or give up altogether after a week or two.

A regular basis can be daily or weekly, depending on what we're doing. It can also be cyclical. In fact, consistency need not be every day for the rest of our lives, nor should it be. The body and mind need rest to perform at their best. We naturally perform activities in cycles and, in the long run, we thrive as much from built-in downtime—weekends, vacations, and holidays—as we do from our work.

But body and mind need something to rest from. In the end success comes from the amount of work we put into any given activity (the rest helps us work more diligently in the future). Work, in this case, does not necessarily mean “effort.” The term Wu Wei best describes the trust given to consistency.

Wu Wei is “effortless action.” It is trusting the process. Trusting that consistency can make us successful, and leaning on our intuition and natural talents. It is simply letting nature run its course, the brain learn, and the body improve.

This is precisely what I've done as a writer, and what many other writers have done without realizing it. We improve through a form of play, spinning stories, each story better than the last as we pick up little improvements here and there.

It is an effortless process in that it needs not be forced, or for us to exert unnecessary force to make it work. We do not have to wind ourselves up and put pressure on ourselves to do something that, if left alone, the mind and body will do on their own. It is much like opening a stuck jar lid. Relaxing the hand, taking a deep breath and exhaling while turning the lid slowly, calmly, will open what brute force could not accomplish.

The process of improvement does itself. Like the egg cooks itself naturally in the heat of the pan, the human brain naturally, as a matter of course, turns play into progress.

This process of “work as play” applies itself to anything and everything we human beings can imagine to do. If we have any natural talent at all for something, playing at it will gradually and certainly train the mind to function better at it. And consistent play means consistent improvement, even if the consistency and improvement are cyclical, with natural ebbs and flows in productivity.

Many of us go about improving ourselves by making the activity more difficult. We add pressure to the process as if we hope to create diamonds, while in reality all the pressure we ever needed exists already. Anymore than that will crush our “diamonds” into dust.

The greatest challenge to consistency and overall success is our swiftness to sell ourselves short. We expect quick results, and when they do not immediately appear, we give up and say “I'm not cut out for this.” But if it's something we truly enjoy, we must ask ourselves “how much would a year, or two years—or ten years—of my consistent daily or weekly practice improve my skill?”

Providing built-in cyclical breaks, periods of inactivity to allow the brain and body to recharge, reinvigorates the process of learning and growing.

Success comes because of this process, and despite our other “forced” efforts. Success is different for each person. For one their dream may be to win a championship or to earn a million dollars, and to another it is only to be healthy or to supplement an income—or to simply say “I am good at this.”

And the process works whether it's applied to a small or large scale. Even hobbyists, like professionals, have moments of exhaustion or boredom in which they feel that quitting would be easier than going on. This is the final advantage of consistency. Those willing and able to push on through these periods of time, knowing that their heavy feelings will pass and that they will once again enjoy the practice or the outcome of what they're doing, will find that in their continuity they have put all the pieces together.

Nothing is finished if it is quit. What every successful person has in common is their consistency, day in and day out, often for years of their lives, but never giving up.

Read Part II

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Tao of Anxiety: Letting Go

There is a debilitating misconception about forgiveness in Western culture. It's that forgiveness is about the other person.

Reality is that forgiveness doesn't have to involve the other person at all, if we choose not to

When we forgive someone we are letting go of something within us. We are acknowledging that though the other person has hurt us, it is not that initial hurt that hurts the most. It's the baggage we carry around, weighing our minds down with an unnecessary storm.

When forgiving someone, it is not necessary that we let them continue hurting us, let them back into our lives, or tell them they are forgiven. What is necessary is that we are honest with ourselves and ask ourselves what the real source of the hurt is.

When someone hurts us we often do one of two things. We forget about it. We hold onto it.

Forgetting about it, we go on with our lives, making adjustments if necessary, but moving on in good emotional health. Adversity doesn't effect us severely, but it can catalyze positive growth.

There is a certain healthy level of observance when something happens, where we come to understand what happened and work through the pain. This normal process is experienced daily, and lasts for a relatively short amount of time (hours, days, or months depending on how tragic an event was and how deeply we work to grow from it). When we face the death of a loved one this process is often called the “Five Stages of Grief.” It is the mind sorting out what has happened to us and learning to cope in a new reality. Similar processes occur in daily life when instead of being faced with death, we are faced with simple shattered pride or severe physical and emotional abuse.

But holding onto past hurt and refusing to let it go, we suffer from a sort of emotional constipation. Sometimes this process gets stuck in a cycle, and instead of healing and growing and moving on, we go back through the stages over and over again, each time reliving the pain and opening our wounds. Instead of the normal forgetfulness that accompanies the passage of time, the constant attention we give to our pain serves only to reinforce it.

Forgiveness is a decision to stop this recycling of negative energy. Forgiveness is saying “It's time to move on. I've had enough of hurting myself.”

People can hurt us badly, but more often than not the one hurting us the most is ourselves, with our insistence on reliving the past, keeping it alive by giving it attention. Past hurt can be starved completely by ignoring it and letting current and future memories replace what had once been there, as one would overwrite one computer program with another.

Forgiveness is this process's on button. Press it and suddenly our world begins to shift in a new, promising direction. We are no longer prisoner's of our own pain. Instead we gradually exchange the negativity in our mind with a positive shift in focus. Focus on the moment, on what we have in life, on a hopeful future.

“Forgive and forget.”

For most of us those two words are capable of bringing more emotional health and well-being than anything else imaginable, simply because most of what we go through in life has already happened years ago. The other person isn't sitting there laughing at us. We're imagining this in a present moment that is usually calm and serene, if we would face it.

It's time to move on. By moving on we can enjoy life, with or without the people who have hurt us, whether the hurt was large or small. By choosing to relive the painful past, the only thing we manage to accomplish is to relive the painful past.

If 99% of life is a positive and calm experience, why keep recalling the 1% that wasn't?

It does not storm every day on planet Earth, but we will never notice the sun if we fear the rain.

Further Reading:

Tao of Anxiety: Series

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