taking action

Swimming in It (Part 2): Mind Like Water

The previous post was about silencing your critic with action; to flow freely in the context of the moment, rather than the imagined future context that your inner critic is protecting you from.

This post reveals a powerful reason why getting everything out of your head (letting your ideas, thoughts, feelings, preoccupations… flow onto paper) is more than just an inner critic judo move. It cultivates a ready mind.

I’ve never heard anyone put this better than David Allen, creator of Getting Things Done:

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Swimming in It (Part 1): Let It Flow

I listened to three podcasts while at the gym. I came back and discussed them with my wife. Weighted down with juicy fruit ripe for the picking, my head was swimming.

It’s going to be easy to write in the morning, I thought. That’s what I thought.

In the space between a creative spark and a public proof of work are layers of evaluation and editing. There’s vague, imagined possibility, and then there’s concrete, specific actuality. To say that translating thinking into doing can be a challenge is a gross understatement.

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Do you want to make the change or keep the belief? (Part 1)

Let’s say you want to be a runner. You want the health benefits that come with it: losing weight, looking good at the beach, lowering your blood pressure, having more energy, thinking more clearly, etc.

But you don’t start. Or you do start every now and then, but never follow through on a consistent basis. Why not? You say you want to be a runner! Do you? Then why don’t you run?!

The last time I took a run seriously was a half marathon in 2013. (Nearly five years ago.) Prior to that, I had quit running around 2006, while in the best running shape of my life. I told myself I didn’t feel like it anymore.

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Who are You Becoming Today?

It’s a simple question.

You’re becoming someone a little more every day. Who is it? If we are the sum of our actions, the things we do create who we are. So what’s the story of your actions?

Who are you becoming? Write it in your task list. Let it guide you one choice at a time.

Forget about what you did. Most of all, forget about what you didn’t do. Ugh. So noisy. And not helpful. You don’t want to fight those emotional battles.

The choices you make define who you are: the outputs (the actions you took), not the outcomes (the results of those actions– and the emotions that follow those results!) Every now and then, you do have control over outcomes, but less often than you think. What you always have is control of your choices– how you choose to engage with and react to the world.

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“But I don’t know where to start!” (Part Deux)

My first post in this series was about overcoming overwhelm. To get started, you have to find a manageable bit– a finite habit or task that you can do on a daily basis. I recommend starting your day by writing. The goal is not to solve all the world’s problems– it’s to create momentum making a choice for you.

Be Selfish

Writing every day is the right kind of selfishness. It’s a creative and proactive task that uses different parts of your brain than those associated with reactive tasks. It’s also proven to reduce stress because it reduces ruminative thinking that makes you vulnerable to increased cortisol production, i.e., spinning in circles and feeling like shit. Both expressive writing and writing about life goals have been shown to work. Yea science!

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Drop and gimme 10.

Want to get in shape? Hit the floor with 10 pushups. Nothing is stopping you.
10 pushups a day = 3,650 pushups a year.

Or better: Spend 10 minutes a day walking. Park a couple blocks away. Get off the bus before your stop. Take the stairs. For all the days I don’t run (which is too often), squeezing in a walk break is surprisingly refreshing. Last week, a friend suggested we meet while walking and we strolled for a full hour. At 3 miles per hour, in 10 minutes you’ll add a half-mile walk into most daily routines.

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Eat that frog.

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

This unappetizing aphorism is credited to Mark Twain, but it probably came from Nicolas Chamfort, a French aristocrat living in the 1700’s. Bryan Tracy, renowned motivational speaker, thought enough of the quote to write a book about it.

Despite conflicting interpretations of what the statement really means, or why it originated, I think the lesson in it matters. You have the choice to deal with things as you see fit.

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Creating Inevitable Outcomes

What if you knew you couldn’t fail? What would you try?

Launch a new company?

Learn to dance or sing?

Learn a new language, or how to code?

Lose some weight?

Run a marathon?

This sort of question has become popular, especially in the startup world where company cultures are positive, brash, optimistic and empowering. Who doesn’t wish they could plow forward without risk of failure? But we do fear failure, we can’t eliminate risk, and there’s the rub.

So let’s reframe that question:
What would you try if you knew that you couldn’t be embarrassed?

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“But I don’t know where to start!” (Part 1)

Overwhelm. It’s all too normal these days and for no good reason. Let’s put this little paradox of non-action in perspective.

150 years ago, homesteaders on the Great Plains with no electricity, no indoor plumbing, no weather forecasting, no simple means of communications, no crops, not even a house, undertook the seemingly insurmountable project of establishing farms and doing what needed to be done to survive. And they did.

You, living now in the future with all of human knowledge floating through the air, capable of being summoned instantaneously at the stroke of a finger or voice command, with prepared food and even chartered transport at your beck and call don’t feel enabled– you feel paralyzed. Your needs are met. You are vaccinated. You are not hungry. You do not fear the locusts. But you can’t get on with it because you “don’t know where to start.”

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Getting Your Ducks in a Row

“After I get my ducks in a row, then I’ll be able to…”

Not true. Not because you aren’t capable of taking care of the niggling little details that seem to keep you from doing the hard stuff, but because you know you can handle those details, you only want to handle those details. Your ducks, I suppose.

You don’t dive in an do the hard stuff because you aren’t sure that you can. You don’t know what might happen. That’s why you focus on the ducks, as if the ducks actually make a difference to anything.

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