Sometimes, the correct use of mind and body is to burn the midnight oil. It could be the pressure of a task that you’ve put off because of its difficulty. Or a large impending project that must be shipped.
Whatever the cause – the midnight oil is a special energy that can be burned to break through creative blocks and subdue procrastination.
But only sometimes. Relying on it without the necessary adrenaline base is not a good idea. Nor will coffee reliably call up this extra boost of power.
It needs just the right fuel – a hint of desperation, courage, curiosity, and the sure knowledge that somewhere ahead lies a time and place where you can rest, relax and do nothing at all.
[Addendum – writing this at 2:22 am, on the eve of a large looming deadline. Nothing like immediacy to give insight.]
I had an interesting idea for a superpower the other day. I’ll call it the ‘flashback superpower’ and it works like this:
Supposing whenever you first met someone, you immediately had a flashback of their life (like in a movie.) You saw a formative childhood experience, and how their lives have been shaped by their friends and foes. All in an instant.
You may see why someone comes across as a hard-ass, or why someone else appears unengaged.
Believe me, even the most unengaged person (on the surface) will have a vivid interior life.
We are all shaped by our past experiences, and the narratives we impose on them. Very few of us give a thought to how everyone else is also walking around with their own backstory, their own dreams (failed and yet-to-be), their own unresolved drama.
Most of the time it’s not even something we’re aware of (that’s what a shrink’s couch is for.) But it’s there nonetheless, like the coral reef an island sits on. And it shapes everything we do, say, think and feel.
Is very different from the simplicity before things got complex.
The simplicity on the other side of complexity feels obvious – like a great song, or children’s story.
But – it’s not at all easy.
And if you saw the process to get there, you’d see how it’s very different indeed from what the writer, business or composer first started with.
Apparently, the word priorities is a relatively new one. It’s a misnomer too – like saying ‘the ones.’
In the old usage of the word priority is always singular. There can be only one priority.
Having ‘priorities’ is as much a myth as being more efficient because you can multi-task.
That doesn’t stop us from having many priorities, conflicting goals, and confusion.
Complexity is easy – simplicity is hard.
Having just one priority – and sticking to it – is very hard.
I liked award winning novelist Haruki Murakami’s approach to this problem:
When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 am and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 pm. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long — six months to a year — requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.
It’s a mistake to assume you know what you’re going to enjoy doing.
In fact – it’s surprisingly hard to capture this as there’s a lot of assumptions around it. The ‘do what you love’ advice is quite unhelpful here.
Because it’s HOW you do something that has more impact on whether you enjoy it or not. The author of ‘Flow’ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi posits that enjoying a task means you enter into a state of flow. It’s a task that’s challenging enough to stretch you – but not impossible.
And while you’re in flow – time disappears and you become truly present in your work. Or play – or whatever it is you’re doing.
That’s why designing your work habits to promote flow is more important than finding that ‘perfect’ job – if you’re aiming for work that fulfills you and leaves you contented at the end of the day.
What Rodrigo told me about surfing: ‘At low tide Uluwatu, if you’re not 100% confident you can get the wave – don’t go.’
Here’s the thing: you can never be 100% confident. Of anything. But if you’re 90% confident – you take that and act as if you’re 100% confident. And you go all out.
The going all out will give you the extra speed to get on the wave in time to make the drop.
Same with business. You plan as best you can – do your due diligence. Then – when you’re 90% confident you can make it, you act as if you’re 100% confident – and go all out.
That creates a margin of safety – and focuses you to perform at your best.
For the first time in hundreds of years, humans and KNOW what is going on somewhere where they’re not.
For example. A minute ago I was reading a book. But I had just posted some photos on facebook. It’s possible for me to ‘know’ what other people are doing – in real time – as they click and comment on the photos I posted.
You can go for a walk on the beach – and get texts and calls from friends in other places.
There are a thousand ways this happens every day – connected with our new technology. Our attention is split – not metaphorically – but really. We can be here – and connected by communication with unknown amounts of people somewhere else.
On the one hand, in means you need never be alone.
On the other it makes it harder to be present – here and now.
If you’ve ever tried to meditate for even five minutes you’ll know how difficult being present already is.
Now digital distractions add a whole new layer of non-present-ness. And never being alone means you never have to be bored.
I remember having a terrible time with being bored when I was a kid. My mum’s solution was to boot my brother and I out of the house – or tell us ‘if you’re bored I have plenty of chores for you to do.’
Both these solutions worked, and we always found interesting stuff to do. Nowadays with tablets, games and youtube – it’s much easier to find something to watch passively.
There’s value in getting through boredom to creativity, in being alone, and in quieting down our outside world until we can get in touch with our inner world.
It’s just that reaching this value requires more deliberate effort than it did in a pre-digital world.
Here’s an experiment.
On a piece of paper make two lists.
The first list is of people you admire & look up to and whom you’ve never met.
The second list is people you look up to who you do know.
Now – there are two things to look at here.
Number one – how are you going to make a plan to meet the people you look up to? In my experience, meeting your heroes & heroines is one of the most valuable things you can do – ever.
Number two – of the people you know that you admire – how many of them are in your daily circle of people you meet and interact with?
Because ideally, in your daily work, you want to spend as much time as possible with people who inspire you, encourage you and get you to up your game.
Environment is a HUGE factor in whether you grow – or slowly die.