913 - Tiny Starter Habits

So I’ve been playing a lot Team Fight Tactics. It’s really fun. And much harder to learn than you’d expect, if you’re someone who has never played League of Legends, or really any games like that. Someone like me.

Anyway, I’ve been having a great time learning. I’m still real bad at it, but I understand it well enough to enjoy myself a lot. Maybe too much. To the point that I want to play all the time.

Thankfully, I still have some modicum of self-control, so the game hasn’t gotten in the way of any of the really critical stuff I need to do every day. I’m not in any danger of getting fired or neglecting my family.

But writing has taken a hit.

Here’s the truth: writing is the hardest thing I do. It’s a high-focus activity, and it demands a truly enormous AMOUNT of decision-making, which is itself mentally exhausting. And then, of course, I’ve got all these neuroses.

So it’s the first and most common thing I blow off. I’m working on a new book, which I will say nothing about except for that at my current pace, I will never finish it.

While I was journaling this morning (which has become a much less fraught activity for me), I decided to break down the steps that it takes to get started writing, versus the steps it takes to get started playing a round of TFT.

Surprise! It turns out there are more, and more complicated, steps to get started writing than there are on the way to gaming.

Here’s my plan: practice those steps. To build the habit of writing, I need to first build the habit of just getting started. Which is why my current goal for working on the book I’m writing is to write one sentence a day. The focus is the process of getting started. Once that’s automatic, I’ll be more ambitious. Maybe go for a whole paragraph.

910 - Rejection

A couple of years ago, I wrote a short story I was proud of.

Last year, I went back and refined it a bit.

This year, I finally submitted it for publication. It took me an immensely long time to get past the mountains of resistance that stood in the way. It was months of paying for a submission tracking service, and more months of occasionally researching potential publications, and then another month or two to finally prepare the story for submission. To format it the right way and to write the tiny cover letter to go along with the submission.

I should say — all those months were months of NOT taking action. Of letting that small series of to-do items sit on my to-do list, one at a time, and telling myself day after day after day that I would finally do the next thing, and then putting it off. Day after day after day….

You’ve read the title of this post, so you know how this ends.

I chose the publication I chose in large part because of their fast response time. I knew that I’d know, within a couple of weeks, whether my story had been accepted or not.

When the rejection email came, my disappointment was almost academic. Of course I wish it had been accepted, but I had changed the metric of success dramatically by that point. By even submitting it in the first place, I had achieved something it had taken me, literally, years to get around to doing.

My next goal is to submit it again in less than a month from the time I got that rejection. And then, assuming I get another rejection, to submit again within the week. Meanwhile, of course, I’ll need to put together another story to submit, but hey! One thing at a time.

This is my way of practicing a higher law — to center my sense of achievement in things over which I have control. All I can do is submit. Beyond that, it’s out of my hands. So, if I submit, I’m successful. I’ve spent a lot of time being unsuccessful. It feels good to finally get the win. I’m looking forward to getting another one.

906 - The timelessness of anxiety

Warning: I’m about to talk about David Allen again.

This is because I listened to him get interviewed by Tim Ferriss yesterday, and found myself freshly illuminated by the man’s wisdom.

One bit especially, which came fairly early in the episode:

The part of your brain that keeps track of to-do’s doesn’t have a sense of time, which is why you’ll wake up in the middle of the night with the mental reminder that you need to buy milk.

This is the whole reason we’ve got to get stuff out of our heads. Get the checklists and to-do’s out of your poor brain and into a system that you can trust. Otherwise, you’ll just feel anxious all the time about all the things that you can’t possibly do RIGHT NOW. Meanwhile, whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing at the moment will get less of your attention and energy.

905 - David Allen and Weekly Planning

I’m a David Allen disciple. I’ve been following the GTD gospel (in some way or another) for over five years. It really is as life-changing as people say.

Anyway that’s not why I’m writing about him today, in particular. Today, in particular, I finally set up a tentative strategy for weekly planning.

For those of you who are unaware, that’s the hardest one.

I’m not sure why. I’ve always found it easier to establish daily routines than weekly ones. I think it’s because with a weekly routine, you have a whole week to forget about it. A whole week for other things to get in the way.

That said, I think the solution is just a lot of intentionality (to borrow an overwrought corporate word). Basically, I came up with a plan to plan. I found a reliable spot in my calendar, I made a standing appointment, and I filled that event’s description with a simple, step-by-step breakdown of how I intend to DO my weekly planning.

I’ll let you know how it goes. (Assuming I remember, and assuming there’s even a “you” to let know.)

904 - Swimming in the Ocean

That’s what I did with my Saturday. In the morning, right after I woke up, I gave myself one goal: swim in the ocean.

My wife and I had planned a beach trip with our little boy and my brother, and I recognized that old familiar hesitation. Beaches are full of sand and salt and wind. The water is cold and choppy and full of malevolent creatures. More often than not, over the past few years, I’ve opted out. Even if that meant finding an umbrella to sit under and read a book.

Life is too short, I thought, to spend energy on things that are so tedious and potentially upsetting.

Needless to say, I haven’t taken many beach trips recently.

Two things motivated me to make that goal on Saturday morning:

1) I don’t like the person I become when I default to my comfort zone.

2) I remembered that I used to LOVE swimming. I was a fish when I was a kid, and I’ve tasted the private glory of open water.

Not that I looked forward to it. But I made the commitment and then tried not to think too much about how awkward and uncomfortable it is to apply sunscreen.

When we got there, I pulled off my shirt, performed that greasy ritual, and headed straight for the water.

The Pacific was still the Pacific. Cold. But, to the day’s credit, the water is at its level best at the end of August. With gritted teeth and some exhilarated determination, I splashed into the breaking waves.

And then, obviously, I had a wonderful time. My brother and I body surfed for quite a while (I only got slammed into the sandbar a couple of times), and then ventured past the breakers and kept on swimming. I felt like I could go forever.

At one point, a chopper flew overhead, and then a lifeguard boat pulled up to ask us if we were OK. We shouted yeah and put our thumbs in the air, feeling a little embarrassed by the attention. When we made it back to shore, there was an ATV and a gaggle of other lifeguards, one of whom greeted us and asked that if we were going to swim out past the shark nets, please let one of them know beforehand. My wife then informed me that they had blown the whistle after us a bunch of times early on, but of course we hadn’t heard them.

In a word, we had an adventure.

It’s amazing how sad comfort zones look from the outside.

903 - Things to say

It’s amazing how quickly I run out of things to say when I stop saying things.

Ideas worth sharing multiply with the sharing of ideas.

I took a short break from this blog — I felt like I needed a long weekend. And a way to break the streak of one-word post titles.

Done and done.

But then, when I thought about getting back to it, and writing another post, I seized up. My confidence shrank, and I second-guessed the whole premise of blogging every day.

“Who am I,” I thought, “to write a post every day?”

But then, thankfully, I remembered the truth. People who write have things to write about. People who talk have things to talk about.

Sure, there’s such a thing as bottled-up ideas, but they go rancid pretty fast, and then what are you left with?

I don’t really understand the alchemy of practice, but I’ve experienced its effects.

So I’ll keep going.

830 - Broken

Don’t use Apple Maps.

If you have an iPhone, you’ll have a hard time resisting the temptation. After all, you can just tap on an address, and bam! You’re right there in the map, ready to get directions.

But very often the map is wrong, and nearly always the route Apple Map’s navigation suggests isn’ t as efficient as you’ll find using Waze or Google Maps. Unfortunately, if you want to use Waze or Google Maps, you’ll have to enter the address in manually. So there’s a cost.

Basically, you need to drive a nail into a piece of wood, and so you look for a hammer. There are a few options, and one of them is sitting right next to you. You know from past experience that the head might fly off that one mid-swing. You also know that the one on the shelf across the room DOESN’T do that.

So which one are you going to use?

If you’re the kind of person who will reach for the broken hammer just because it’s closer, and hope it doesn’t injure you, maybe it’s time to reconsider your life strategies.

I guess maybe I’m not just talking about hammers and maps anymore.

829 - Completism

There is no intrinsic value in finishing something, except for the opportunity to start something else.

Completism leads to lethargy.

The desire to be "all done" with something is the failure to appreciate the process. The center of value doesn't belong at the end, but in the middle.

I’m not sure how to relocate that center, other than to constantly remind myself of where it belongs. And, I suppose, to practice deliberately enjoying the process of things, instead of waiting for, or rushing to, the end.