A couple years ago, I wrote this piece – Start by Doing it Badly. Inspired by a Jordan Peterson video by the same title, it is a powerful concept that can be used to free you from the shackles of perfectionism and serve as a vital tactic in the war against Resistance.
In the pursuit of our goals, it can often be hard to get ourselves to do the things we need to do. We doubt that we are any good, and paralysed by the fear of failure, we do nothing. However, It is our willingness to look foolish, to suck at first, to begin by doing it badly that will make our eventual success more plausible.
Once we have gotten started though, we need to sustain that effort. With every iteration, we learn, we improve, we get better. We create the rough drafts to work with, we make mistakes and learn more about the thing we are doing. Over time we should definitely get better automatically from repetition, but how much better we get is also within our control.
To really improve, to truly operate at higher levels, we have to embrace the craftsman’s mentality. We must seek to be excellent, to strive at perfection.
It is like playing a video game. At first you suck, dying to enemies, not sure what button to press or how to wrangle the many mechanics. But the more you play, the more you get into flow. You know what to expect, you know when to attack, when to draw back. You learn what abilities and resources to invest in. You learn to play the game.
At this point, you could just coast on your abilities and get right through to the end of the game, barely eking out your victory. You could take what you know and survive, doing good enough work. Doing okay, being average.
Or you could strive for more. You could seek domination. You could know this game inside out that the hardest bosses eventually seem trivial. When you enter the arena, it is they who hear the boss music, quaking in their boots.
So it is with life. You start by doing it badly. But whatever you choose to do, eventually, strive for perfection, strive for excellence. Strike to give at least more truly remarkable performance, in your career, in your calling, in your art.
And how do we do that?
- By dedicating yourself to the craft
- By studying and imitating the best
- By studying the game, the craft
- By deliberately practising and seeking out feedback
- By being obsessive
This improvement is not something that happens automatically. But something that must be fought for and hard won. It is through dedication and hard work and practice that we can approach perfection.
But understand that perfection might not be possible, but it is the trying that matters, giving every drop of what we have for the cause. By running the good race, fighting the good fight.
Start by doing it badly, end by doing it perfectly.
Winning the war against the Resistance
Around the end of last year, a friend asked me a question. He had two websites to get done before he was done for the year, but he was finding it tough to muster up the motivation to get it done. He had planned the projects out and knew what he had to do, but for the life of him, he just couldn’t actually do it.
He had also been reading Steven Pressfield’s book ‘Do the Work’ and wondered how I tackled Resistance, that force that seems to rise up and trip you up when you trying to do anything worthwhile.
And that got me thinking…
I’ve written about resistance before, here when I spoke about ‘Turning Pro’.
Resistance is that ever present inertia, that force that seems to always be waiting to trip you up when it’s time to do something important. You know the feeling. You really want to work out, but you are feeling lazy, or unmotivated. You really want to pick up the brush and work on that painting but it’s easier to pick up the game controller instead.
Anytime we want to do something inspired by our higher self, our baser self rises up to meet it. There comes the fear, the distraction, the self-doubt, the addiction, the timidity, the self-loathing, the perfectionism. The Resistance deploys every weapon in its arsenal to make sure you stop.
But that’s good news. The Resistance means that this thing is important. In fact, you could argue that it is the great thing you want to do that has sparked the Resistance.
Before resistance comes idea. this means that before the dragon of resistance rears its ugly head and breathe fire into our faces, there existed within us a force so potent and life-affirming that it summoned this beast into being, perversely, to combat it.
Steven Pressfield – Do the Work
Whenever you need to do something worthwhile, that sense of fear, that anxiety, that excuse will rise up. So, how do you face it down and get things done anyway?
- Just do it, just get started. As bullshit as that sounds. Sometimes you just have to do it. Don’t over think it, don’t worry about being perfect. You just have to ignore the inertia and get to it. Start by doing it badly if you must, just start. Many times you will find that once you get started and get the ball rolling, It becomes much easier to keep going.
- Embrace the pain, lean into the resistance. Acknowledge that it sucks. Work can be painful, you’d rather be doing anything else. Suck it up and do it. Embrace the pain as an integral part of the process. Learn to enjoy it. Become your hero. Become the Spartan warrior staring down the horde. Become Batman cleaning up Gotham by night. Let the fire of work purify you and bring you deep fulfilment.
Hear the late Nipsey Hussle talk about this very thing here.
- Think about how bad do you want/need it. An easy way to overcome the Resistance is to think about how bad you need it. When it’s do or die, when your back is to the wall, there is no time to indulge the Resistance, there is only time for results. It is easy to do what needs to be done when it absolutely has to get done. You don’t need a candle when you are on fire.
- Listen to the resistance, it might be time to stop. But if you don’t really want it, if the reason is not really compelling, if you are chasing the wrong goal, then listen to the Resistance. Sometimes the right response is not to press on, but to pull back. The Resistance might be there for a reason. To tell you that this thing doesn’t serve you anymore, that there is a better way. If that’s the case, drop it and attend to something greater, something more in line with your spirit.
In what part of your life is the Resistance kicking your ass and how are you going to tackle it?
At the time of writing this, it is February, we already just over a month into the new year. And if you are reading this, you are probably the type of person to have made goals and set targets for this year.
How are you doing on those by the way? Are you still excited and eagerly chasing after them or have you fallen off yet?
Most probably the cracks have started to show. Most people approach goals with the intention of making these vast sweeping changes at once, like they suddenly developed a new personality once the calendar flipped over a new year. Unless you have a ridiculous amount of will power, this is typically an exercise in failure.
To stay consistent and actually stand a chance of reaching your goals, you need to focus on tactics that make the changes a bit more subtle, consistent and lasting. Things like focusing on building the right habits, starting small, building new routines and feeding your motivation.
But there is one simple reason we tend to fall off our pursuit.
As stupid as it sounds, many times we lose track of a goal because we literally forget about it.
Every day is a struggle, with multitude of stimuli, questions, requests, demands, and distractions. It is very easy to start off the year with good intentions and then have things just trail off. I know, it happened to me many times.
We get busy, we get distracted, sometimes we even distract ourselves with ‘good’ things. It is often easier for me to just bury myself in work than face something I don’t want to yet. But we must fight to be aware of this tendency, and to take steps to mitigate it.
We do this by keeping the goal in front of us. Having a totem, a reminder, something physical, tangible or otherwise always in front of us that reminds us of what is important, of what we are moving towards.
In this way, when the demands come at us, when the distractions come, we are able to glance over quickly, and have our goals firmly at the front of our minds and thus we can respond appropriately.
My personal experience
2018 was the year I started blogging consistently, and by the end I was able to point to a full year of almost weekly updates. It was the year I really pushed my personal brand forward and made many strides in my life and work. I even released two books in that time. It was a year of incredible focus and consistency.
Up on to this point, I had struggled with pursuing some of my goals. I would start the year eager to get certain things done, and look up months later to see that although I was very busy doing many things, I had completely lost track of what was most important to me.
So what changed in the pivotal year of 2018? Many things, but one of the most powerful things I stumbled upon was changing my diary for the year into a totem. In the front and back inside covers, I had printed out and stuck sheets that highlighted my new personal brand, life philosophy and the multiple projects I wanted to get done.
Every time I opened that book, to take notes in a meeting, to plan, to keep track of tasks, I was reminded of the person I wanted to be, and the goals I was pursuing. It was inescapable. Having that constant reminder changed my life.
Here are 3 ways keeping your goals visible can change yours.
They serve as a constant reminder
Like I mentioned earlier, we often lose track of our goals because we just forget about them. Keeping your goals visible and close by serves as a near constant reminder of where we are going and what we are trying to get done. If we then choose not to pursue them, it is a more conscious decision as opposed to it just getting buried under the pile of other things vying for our attention.
They stimulate our minds
When our goals are perpetually in front of us, reminding us, our brains are constantly thinking about them, churning up ideas in the background, working on ways to achieve them, or build our lives around their pursuit. And if we enhance this by designing your environment in such a way that orients us towards our goals, it all combines us to move us steadily and automatically towards those ends.
Having your goals always in front of you also keeps you primed and sensitive. So that when opportunities come up, or chances for synchrony happen, you are ready to recognise and take advantage of them.
They build motivation
Seeing the vision constantly helps to cultivate burning desire. Something that is essential to helping you stick it out over the long run. Sometimes we set the goal we want, but we don’t want it enough to do whatever it takes. Keeping your goals in front of you stimulate the visions of it in your mind. They help you visualise having it and becoming the sort of person that achieves it. They also help fan the flames of desire until you are going after it with all you got.
Keeping your goals front and centre in your daily life is a small thing, but can have outsized effects. You can do this in many ways. You could keep a vision board close by, in your office, in your room. You could do as I did and dedicate pages of your daily planner to it. You could make it your phone or computer wallpaper, or place post-its all over your apartment. Whatever works for you.
Keep your goals in front of you, and they becomes that much easier to follow through.
Thank you for your attention and reading this to the end. If you enjoyed this post, please share with someone who you think might benefit greatly from it.
A lot of the times when I sit down to write, I have no idea what I am going to say. But I trust that as I sit and begin, that the idea will reveal itself. That’s what has happened as I have sat down this Sunday evening to write the first blog post for the year.
It’s been a while away from the page and I wonder…do I still have what it takes? What if I have finally run out of ideas. Yet I must face the uncertainty and create. The blank page is before me, the blank canvas of an entire year lies ahead. We must begin.
And to be honest, there is something that has been on my mind lately and in turn something to write about. (And weirdly enough dovetails very nicely into the podcast topic for this week)
The past week was chaotic, and it seems like I wasn’t the only one. Apparently 3 planets are in retrograde…if that actually does apply to anything. But it was a rough one. I personally dealt with turmoil in my relationships and friendships. I am just glad that I had the presence of mind to be proactive in dealing with and resolving the issues. But that didn’t change the fact that it felt like shit, like the week at some points felt like such a slog. That it was painful to go through.
It’s also the beginning of the year. Things are still slow. Things are gradually picking up. In a month or two, the year will be in full swing and things should be moving all around. But for now, we remain in the dip, especially if you are in the freelance or contract space. That comes with its own anxieties.
And as we move through this inevitable slog, I find myself thinking about a concept I’ve written about a few times on this blog here, here and here – learning how to suffer.
I like to look at life as the weather. So even with weeks like the last one, I am reluctant to call it a bad week. I’d just say that the weather was bad. Life is fine, there was just a bit of turbulence.
And that is okay. Because there must be variety. Things aren’t always easy. Things won’t always be chilled. Sometimes it will be rough. Sometimes there will be trouble. But in all these things, you can remain even keeled. You can practice virtue. You can do your best. You can be patient and consistent.
I think it is a good thing to remind the self from time to time. About the need to be able endure suffering, to embrace the pain. How to get back to the grind, how to hustle, how to push the body past its limits. How to focus and get things done when all you want to do is relax and Netflix. How to let the past die. How to stick to your guns and do what’s right even when your heart is pining to do different.
It is a crucial skill to remember. Because the year is long, and we have only just begun. We have another 12…well 11 now, months to go before this cycle is done. That is 11 months to move forward, to improve, to put to practice and to practice. To act on everything we have learned in the year(s) before.
It will take a lot from us. It will demand our energy, our concentration, our focus, our discipline. And there will be rough spots. Times we feel defeated before we begin, times we feel like we have wasted years, decades with nothing to show for it. Times we can’t see the results.
We must remain calm, and focused on following the plan, on doing the things we know to do. To weather the storm with an eye still firmly fixed on the goal. To not suffer needlessly with things that can be easily avoided but to suffer well in service of the path we take.
Because it will get easier. We will get into the groove of things and the wheel will begin to turn. And as we embrace the pain, we will get stronger. Our muscles will grow, and we become more capable. Our minds sharpen and our hearts get more resilient and we are able to carry more, to be the strong pillar in life’s inevitable storms.
Soon we will be back in still waters, in crystal clear oasis and sunny skies. And we will enjoy the harvest and live the good life. And when the next storm rolls in, we will be ready to do it all again.
I picked up this lovely little yellow book the other day – Brief Lessons in Creativity by Frances Ambler. And it is quite the gem, helping to inspire and nudge me deeper down a path that has been on my mind on-and-off for years now.
See, I work in the creative industry. I genuinely create something almost every single day whether it is content, or client work, whatever. I am always making something. However, it can become quite mechanical. You have your set of tools, your set of trusty techniques and ways of doing things. You can competently create on demand. But it is also very easy to stagnate and get stuck doing the same things over and over again.
It is difficult to grow and break ruts, to grow new skills and ways of looking at the world, and yet we must. To keep fresh, to honour the muse, to have longevity in the game. It is important to keep exercising the muscle of creativity and stretching it to new places.
I’ve always wanted to live a more artistic existence, and I suppose this has always been an underlying reasoning behind my life path. Working for yourself gives you control of your time. It then becomes up to you to optimise that time and be able to spend it how you want to. But it is very easy to get stuck in the day to day business of commerce, and not having enough time or energy to explore the possibilities.
Yet, if you want it, if you want to become better, to experience a new level, to maybe even become great, then somehow the price must be paid. We must incorporate practices and rituals, spaces and times to nurture the soil of creativity, to improve how we see, how we process, and the techniques of creation. To become better creators and artists.
Here are some ideas inspired by Frances’ book.
Just start/Begin anywhere
The blank canvas can be very intimidating, especially if we have not created in a long time. We might hold some romantic notion of how we ought to be as creatives, of how good the artwork has to be, or of how good we should be. We should throw all of those concerns away and just begin from anywhere. Just start. Take a piece of paper and make a scribble. Write a few random words in a notepad. Record a couple random melodies. Make a mess. Do something.
Doing this will shake out the cobwebs so to speak, limber up those stiff limbs and get you back in the groove of creating.
Follow your curiosity
What interests you? Put some time aside and do a real deep dive into it. What ever piques your curiosity. Maybe you always wondered about UFOs, or medieval weaponry, or knitting. Whether it is something mundane or something outlandish, allow yourself the space and time to dig into it. Do some research, go down an internet rabbit hole, visit sites, connect with people. Follow your curiosity, you will find new things, good, bad, boring, interesting, and it will fill your tank with new ideas and new references.
I have blogged at length about the need to create and protect creative space. To be able to cultivate and nurture your creativity, you need to have the space and time to devote to it. You need a place to make your art, whatever that is. This space needs to stimulate or support you as needed. It has to be sacred and set apart. This is an important time of enquiry, of experimentation, of worship.
Collect stuff. In your travels, in your movements around the world, you will come across things – signs, images, discarded objects, places. Bring something back with you, take a picture, make a film. Build and curate a storehouse of inspiration, of little odds and ends that you can come back to, study in more detail or tap into for ideas and direction. You are only as good as your references.
Try different things. Start your process from the opposite end, or start from the middle. Create in a different medium or work with a different technique. Try creating with your less dominant hand, or in a different environment. Keep pushing the boundaries of what you create and how you create it. Shake things up to unleash new skills, new perspective and fresh takes.
Move around, it could be as close as a walk around the neighbourhood, or as far as moving across continents. But exposure to new places breaks up monotony and allows us to see things with fresh eyes. And it brings us in contact with new people, ways of living, and ideas.
We could all gain wonderfully from cultivating an artist’s eye and mind. Beyond the boons to creativity, the work of creating pushes one into a deeper state of being. A space where one must be still, and observe, really look, or really dig in and think and draw from the depths to birth something new. It is in these spaces that we learn about ourselves, that we tap into our powers, that we create something tangible, something truly us. It is here we meditate and connect to the sublime. It is here that we discover, that we learn, that we break through.
It is through the way of the artist, that we can become even more ourselves.