Sunday, June 27, 2010

If I Had Just Stayed In Process

I say this to myself a lot.  If I had just been writing more for the past six months, then I would be further ahead in this or that project.  If I had just been running more in the past four months, then I would have gotten my mile times down.  If I had just been teaching myself computer script code for the past eight months, then I would have a better understanding of the back end of the Internet…and so on.

I do this to myself because, 1) I see myself as self-disciplined person and expect a lot from myself, and because 2) many of the motivational books I’ve read have a common pattern among them that call for daily repetition in getting good at things.

Two of note are, “If You Want To Write; A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit” by Brenda Ueland, and “Dancing Corn Dogs In The Night; Reawakening Your Creative Spirit,” by Don Hahn.  Both of these books, aside from being great reads, share a common theme between them.  That is, to get really good at something, you have to stay in process.  Those little bits of writing you do every day, or the twenty minutes you take to work on some sculpting every evening, or the thirty minutes a day you exercise, really add up over time to significant gain.

In Don Hahn’s book, he describes his personal way of getting into the right mental state to draw or write each night; he circles the fridge a couple of times looking for chocolate.  And as funny as that sounds, the real gem in this knowledge is that it’s whatever gets you to do the thing that you want to be better at on a regular basis (getting some inspiring tunes on, playing on the Internet for a while, or circling the fridge for chocolate) that is actually a crucial prelude to one’s artistic and learning process.  One also needs to accept this in oneself.

My sense is that when you stay in regular repetitive process, you almost kind of begin to wire yourself to do whatever it is you are wanting to do more efficiently, and that you start to understand that creative world more fluently than if the same amount of time were logged in during one sitting.  In his book, “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell says that you need around 10,000 hours to get masterful at something; the equivalent of about ten years.

And so, I am hard on myself when I do not keep in process with the things that I want to be better at, and those things that I identify as a core part of myself.  I tend to feel I’ve let myself down.  I could be so much better at it by now if I had even put in “x” bit amount of time each day, and instead, I just whittled that time away doing I don’t know exactly what. 

Ultimately it’s the contrast between my ideal and the lack of having made the progress, that vacuum of discipline that I otherwise normally see myself as embodying (I think the fancy term in social psychology is “cognitive dissonance"), which finally inspires me to really commit.  I guess that’s just the way I’m wired.