If You Completely Ignored Your Goals and Focused on This One Thing Would You Get Better Results?

Reblogged from James Clear’s blog here: http://jamesclear.com/goals-systems

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We all have things that we want to achieve in our lives — getting into the better shape, building a successful business, raising a wonderful family, writing a best-selling book, winning a championship, and so on.

And for most of us, the path to those things starts by setting a specific and actionable goal. At least, this is how I approached my life until recently. I would set goals for classes I took, for weights that I wanted to lift in the gym, and for clients I wanted in my business.

What I’m starting to realize, however, is that when it comes to actually getting things done and making progress in the areas that are important to you, there is a much better way to do things.

It all comes down to the difference between goals and systems.

Let me explain.

The Difference Between Goals and Systems

What’s the difference between goals and systems?

  • If you’re a coach, your goal is to win a championship. Your system is what your team does at practice each day.
  • If you’re a writer, your goal is to write a book. Your system is the writing schedule that you follow each week.
  • If you’re a runner, your goal is to run a marathon. Your system is your training schedule for the month.
  • If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a million dollar business. Your system is your sales and marketing process.

Now for the really interesting question:

If you completely ignored your goals and focused only on your system, would you still get results?

For example, if you were a basketball coach and you ignored your goal to win a championship and focused only on what your team does at practice each day, would you still get results?

I think you would.

As an example, I just added up the total word count for the articles I’ve written this year. (You can see them all here.) In the last 12 months, I’ve written over 115,000 words. The typical book is about 50,000 to 60,000 words, so I have basically written two books this year.

There were plenty of side effects too. I now have 100,000 people reading JamesClear.com each month. I was featured in articles on Forbes, Inc, and US News. And I have built relationships with all sorts of wonderful people who found me through my work.

All of this is such a surprise because I never set a goal for my writing. I didn’t measure my progress in relation to some benchmark. I never set a word count goal for any particular article. I never said, “I want to write two books this year.”

What I did focus on was writing one article every Monday and Thursday. And after sticking to that schedule for 11 months, the result was 115,000 words. I focused on my system and the process of doing the work. In the end, I enjoyed the same (or perhaps better) results.

Let’s talk about three more reasons why you should focus on systems instead of goals.

1. Goals reduce your current happiness.

When you’re working toward a goal, you are essentially saying, “I’m not good enough yet, but I will be when I reach my goal.”

The problem with this mindset is that you’re teaching yourself to always put happiness and success off until the next milestone is achieved. “Once I reach my goal, then I’ll be happy. Once I achieve my goal, then I’ll be successful.”

SOLUTION: Commit to a process, not a goal.

Choosing a goal puts a huge burden on your shoulders. Can you imagine if I had made it my goal to write two books this year? Just writing that sentence stresses me out.

But we do this to ourselves all the time. We place unnecessary stress on ourselves to lose weight or to succeed in business or to write a best-selling novel. Instead, you can keep things simple and reduce stress by focusing on the daily process and sticking to your schedule, rather than worrying about the big, life-changing goals.

When you focus on the practice instead of the performance, you can enjoy the present moment and improve at the same time.

2. Goals are strangely at odds with long-term progress.

You might think your goal will keep you motivated over the long-term, but that’s not always true.

Consider someone training for a half-marathon. Many people will work hard for months, but as soon as they finish the race, they stop training. Their goal was to finish the half-marathon and now that they have completed it, that goal is no longer there to motivate them. When all of your hard work is focused on a particular goal, what is left to push you forward after you achieve it?

This can create a type of “yo-yo effect” where people go back and forth from working on a goal to not working on one. This type of cycle makes it difficult to build upon your progress for the long-term.

SOLUTION: Release the need for immediate results.

I was training at the gym last week and I was doing my second-to-last set of clean and jerks. When I hit that rep, I felt a small twinge in my leg. It wasn’t painful or an injury, just a sign of fatigue near the end of my workout. For a minute or two, I thought about doing my final set. Then, I reminded myself that I plan to do this for the rest of my life and decided to call it a day.

In a situation like the one above, a goal-based mentality will tell you to finish the workout and reach your goal. After all, if you set a goal and you don’t reach it, then you feel like a failure.

But with a systems-based mentality, I had no trouble moving on. Systems-based thinking is never about hitting a particular number, it’s about sticking to the process and not missing workouts.

Of course, I know that if I never miss a workout, then I will lift bigger weights in the long-run. And that’s why systems are more valuable than goals. Goals are about the short-term result. Systems are about the long-term process. In the end, process always wins.

3. Goals suggest that you can control things that you have no control over.

You can’t predict the future. (I know, shocking.)

But every time we set a goal, we try to do it. We try to plan out where we will be and when we will make it there. We try to predict how quickly we can make progress, even though we have no idea what circumstances or situations will arise along the way.

SOLUTION: Build feedback loops.

Each Friday, I spend 15 minutes filling out a small spreadsheet with the most critical metrics for my business. For example, in one column I calculate the conversion rate (the percentage of website visitors that join my free email newsletter each week). I rarely think about this number, but checking that column each week provides a feedback loop that tells me if I’m doing things right. When that number drops, I know that I need to send high quality traffic to my site.

Feedback loops are important for building good systems because they allow you to keep track of many different pieces without feeling the pressure to predict what is going to happen with everything. Forget about predicting the future and build a system that can signal when you need to make adjustments.

Fall In Love With Systems

None of this is to say that goals are useless. However, I’ve found that goals are good for planning your progress and systems are good for actually making progress.

In fact, I think I’m going to officially declare 2014 the “Year of the Sloth” so that everyone will be forced to slow down and make consistent, methodical progress rather than chasing sexy goals for a few weeks and then flaming out.

Goals can provide direction and even push you forward in the short-term, but eventually a well-designed system will always win. Having a system is what matters. Committing to the process is what makes the difference.

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James Clear writes about using behavior science to master your habits and improve your mental and physical health. If you enjoyed this article, then join his free newsletter.

How to Chase Your Dreams and Reinvent Yourself

Reblogged from James Clear’s blog: http://jamesclear.com/reinvent-yourself

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In 1965, a young man named Tom graduated from college with a degree in English.

Soon after, Tom took a job with an insurance company in Connecticut. After working there for seven years, he transitioned to a new role in the industry and started working for an insurance agency. He worked at that insurance agency for the next eight years.

In 1980, he decided to buy a small insurance agency. At this point Tom had been working in the insurance industry for 15 years, but he was beginning to feel an internal pull to do work that really excited him. He had always wanted to write a novel.

He started by writing in his spare time. Then, he started cutting his work day short so that he would have more time to write. Eventually, he was working on the novel whenever he could find time.

His wife, Wanda, recalled Tom’s early writing years by saying, “He was writing at home every weekend. I told him he should go back to selling insurance.”

In 1984, after working for almost 20 years in the insurance industry, Tom Clancy finally published his first book, The Hunt for Red October.

He was hoping to sell 5,000 copies. By the end of the decade it had sold more than 2 million.

It’s Never Too Late to Reinvent Yourself

Unfortunately, Tom Clancy passed away earlier this month.

He was one of the most successful authors of his generation. Focusing primarily on military story lines, Clancy wrote 17 novels that became #1 New York Times best-sellers. In total, his books sold more than 100 million copies. Many of them, including The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and The Sum of All Fears were turned into major motion pictures. Others became the basis for popular video games like Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon, and Splinter Cell. For millions of readers, Tom Clancy is a household name.

But even with all of those amazing achievements, what I found most amazing about Clancy was his willingness to reinvent himself.

We all have goals that we say are important to us — getting in shape, building a business, writing a book, and so on — but for most of us, the inertia of life holds us back. This is especially true when we’re living a relatively comfortable life. Most people in Tom Clancy’s situation would probably continue their insurance career rather than chase the dream of becoming a novelist.

It’s easy to look at someone with the success of Tom Clancy and claim that he was destined for success. 100 million copies sold? He must have been born to be a writer. But if you were to look at him at any point during the first 20 years of his career, you wouldn’t have seen a writer at all.

And that raises an interesting question…

What made the biggest difference in Clancy’s life? Was it his level of talent? Or was it his willingness to make choices and take action?

There are plenty of talented people who never make a choice to do something different, to reinvent themselves, and to pursue their dreams. It’s hard to work up the guts to try something new. Nobody wants to feel stupid and start from the beginning all over again.

But talent isn’t worth a thing without the willingness to take action. It’s great to have a dream, but it’s better to pursue it.

How many Tom Clancy’s are out there right now, holding their dreams inside and letting the inertia of life pull them in the same direction they’ve always gone?

Tom Clancy’s Advice for Writing (And Life)

You learn to write the same way you learn to play golf. You do it, and keep doing it until you get it right. A lot of people think something mystical happens to you, that maybe the muse kisses you on the ear. But writing isn’t divinely inspired — it’s hard work.
—Tom Clancy (source)

There’s nothing special that happens to the people who choose to reinvent themselves and chase their dreams. It’s not any easier for them than it is for you. It’s just that at some point, they choose to do the work. They choose to take action. And they choose themselves.

Reinventing yourself and developing a new skill is hard work. Going from out of shape to the best shape of your life is hard work. Transitioning from corporate desk jockey to proud entrepreneur is hard work. Moving from life-long insurance salesman to best-selling novelist is hard work. And so is pretty much every other goal worth fighting for.

As Clancy says, there’s nothing “mystical” about it. You won’t feel “divinely inspired.” The first steps toward any dream are slow, unsexy, and inconvenient — sort of like writing a novel on the weekends while you’re still running a small insurance agency.

And to further complicate things, reinventing yourself is particularly hard because nobody is going to praise you for it — especially in the beginning. Tom Clancy’s wife told him to “go back to selling insurance.”

The good news is that the path to doing work you love might not look the way you expected, but it can still get you to where you want to go — if you make the choice to try something new.

It’s never too late to reinvent yourself.

References
1. Special shout out to Julio, the awesome reader who originally sent me the Tom Clancy quote.

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James Clear writes about using behavior science to master your habits and improve your mental and physical health. If you enjoyed this article, then join his free newsletter.

 

 

Haters and Critics: How to Deal with People Judging You and Your Work

Reblogged from James Clear’s blog: http://jamesclear.com/haters

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It doesn’t matter how you choose to live your life — whether you build a business or work a corporate job; have children or choose not to have children; travel the world or live in the same town all of your life; go to the gym 5 times a week or sit on the couch every night — whatever you do, someone will judge you for it.

For one reason or another, someone will find a reason to project their insecurities, their negativity, and their fears onto you and your life, and you’ll have to deal with it.

With that in mind, let’s talk about being judged and criticized. And just for fun, I’ll share some of the most hateful comments I’ve received on my articles. And more importantly, the strategies I use to deal with them.

Here’s what I’ve learned about dealing with the people who judge you, your work, and your goals.

The Biggest Critic in Your Life

It’s easier to complain about the outside critics, but the biggest critic in your life usually lives between your own two ears. Working up the courage to move past your own vulnerability and uncertainty is often the greatest challenge you’ll face on the way to achieving your goals.

When I started my first business, it wasn’t the criticism from outsiders that held me back. It was my own mind worrying that people would think I was a loser because I skipped getting a “real job” to “start some website.” I didn’t tell most of my friends about what I was doing for almost a year because I was so worried about what they would think about it.

When I started writing, it wasn’t the hurtful comments from readers that prevented me from getting started. It was my own fears about what they would think if I wrote about the things I cared about. I wrote my ideas in a private document for a year before I worked up the courage to start sharing them publicly.

Those are just two examples of the types of internal fears and criticism that so often prevent us from getting started on our goals. It can take a lifetime to learn that just because people criticize you doesn’t mean they really care about your choice to do something different. Usually, the haters simply criticize and move on. And that means that you can safely ignore them and continue doing your thing.

But that is easier said than done because we all like to be validated. Some people like it more than others, but everyone wants to be respected and appreciated to some degree. I certainly do. I know that whenever I choose to take a risk and share my work with the world, I wonder about what my friends will think, what my family will think, and how the people around me will see me because of that choice. Will this help my reputation? Will this hurt my reputation? Should I even be worrying about my reputation?

Especially with writing, these questions created an internal struggle for me.

On one hand, I believed in myself and I knew that I wanted to contribute something to the world around me. But on the other hand, I was scared that people wouldn’t approve of my work and would criticize me when I started sharing the things I cared about or believed.

I’ve written previously about the challenge of putting yourself out there by saying, “You can either be judged because you created something or ignored because you left your greatness inside of you.”

Eventually, I decided that it was more important to contribute something to the world than it was to protect myself from criticism.

The Truth About Criticism

The truth about criticism is that it’s almost always in your head.

Here’s an example from my personal experience…

In the last 9 months, my articles have been read by more than 1.2 million people (250,000+ on my site and over 1 million on other sites that publish my work).

Of those people, about 98% of people have read a particular article and moved on with their life. About 2% of people have read an article and decided to become part of our little community by joining my free newsletter. (Thank you! It’s great to have you here!) And about 0.000008% of people have decided to be a jerk and send me a negative comment or email.

Even though the vast majority of readers were positive or neutral about my work, the critics were still heard loud and clear.

Apparently, the tendency to hold onto negative criticism is natural for most people. According to Roy Baumeister and researchers at Florida State University, we remember negative emotions much more strongly and in more vivid detail.

In a research paper titled, “Bad Is Stronger Than Good”, Baumeister summarizes academic studies that prove that we are more likely to remember negative criticism than praise. Baumeister found that even happy people tend to remember more negative events than positive ones. In fact, Baumeister and his team say that it when it comes to your brain, it takes about five positive events to make up for one negative event.

I’ll talk about a strategy for getting over this in a moment. But first, I want to share some of the criticism I’ve received recently.

Pour Me a Glass of Haterade (My Most Hateful Comments)

Each month, there is usually someone who whines about how my articles are totally worthless. For example, one reader recently left a comment saying, “I should have known better than to waste time reading this.”

Another reader so eloquently wrote, “What’s interesting here is the author firmly believes that there are millions of dumb people in this world who believe in this crap.”

At least those people commented on the actual article. Hate mail gets even better when people start ignoring your work entirely and make judgements about you as a person instead.

Earlier this month, someone said that I was clearly “someone with a job with limited travel and without a busy lifestyle. Oh, to have no responsibilities…”

Another kind gentleman just got straight to the point and said, “This author is a waste of skin.”

All of this hate for someone who writes about building better habits, being healthy, and living an adventurous life. Could you imagine if I wrote about something that was actually controversial like politics or religion?

And that brings us to the main point: it doesn’t matter what you do, there will always be someone who finds fault in it. So how do you get over it and move forward anyway? Here’s one approach that might help…

Focus on the Road, Not the Wall

Many racing experts consider Mario Andretti to be the most successful and versatile racing driver of all-time.  During his career, Andretti won the Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500, Formula One World Championship and the Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb. He is one of only two drivers in history to win races in Formula One, IndyCar, World Sportscar Championship, and NASCAR.

During an interview with SUCCESS magazine, Andretti was asked for his number one tip for success in race car driving. He said, “Don’t look at the wall. Your car goes where your eyes go.”

When young drivers are starting to race, this is one of the most critical lessons that they learn. When you’re driving at 200mph you need to focus on the road in front of you. If you look at the wall, then you’ll end up hitting it.

The same could be said for your life, your work, and dealing with critics.

Criticism and negativity from other people is like a wall. And if you focus on it, then you’ll run right into it. You’ll get blocked by negative emotions, anger, and self-doubt. Your mind will go where your attention is focused. Criticism and negativity don’t prevent you from reaching the finish line, but they can certainly distract you from it.

However, if you focus on the road in front of you and on moving forward, then you can safely speed past the walls and barriers that are nearby.

This is my preferred approach to criticism. When someone dishes out a negative comment, use that as a signal to recommit to your work and to refocus on the road ahead of you. Some people are determined to take things personally and tear down the work of others. Your life is too short to worry about pleasing those people.

Focus on the road, not the wall.

How to Respond to Haters

Most people need love and acceptance a lot more than they need advice. —Bob Goff

In rare circumstances, you may want to respond to the people who dish criticism your way. If that’s the case, then I think Gary Vaynerchuk provides a good example of how to do it.

When Vaynerchuk published his best-selling book Crush It, he received dozens of 1-star and 2-star reviews on Amazon. Negative reviewers claimed that the book was “absolutely awful” and called it a “piece of crap with no value whatsoever.”

And this was for a book that was a best-seller!

Rather than fight back and justify his work, Gary decided to respond to many of the negative reviews with a sincere apology. For example, a reader named Frank left a 1-star review for the book in which he complained, ”How did this book ever get published?”

Vaynerchuk responded to him by saying…

Frank I am so so sorry I under delivered for you, I hope to meet u and spend 15 minutes apologizing and answering any questions u may have, I guess I needed more details in there for u, I am so sorry.

Despite using grammar from a high school text message, Vaynerchuk ended up getting Frank’s number and called him to talk things over.

After their conversation, Frank wrote a followup comment on his book review saying, “If Amazon had a people ranking system, I’d have to give Gary 5 stars. One can not help being impressed by someone who gets back to you so quickly and handles criticism so graciously.”

If you’re going to respond to your critics, then getting a response like that should be your goal. Rather than beating the haters back with insults, win them back with sincerity. Most people don’t want to be convinced that your work is wonderful, they just want to know that you care.

Where to Go From Here

I’ve said this many times before, but it bears repeating: I don’t really have anything figured out. I’m not an expert and I don’t have all the answers. I’m still learning to deal with criticism like everyone else.

But in my limited experiences, here’s what I can summarize about dealing with haters.

  1. First and foremost, don’t be the hater. Don’t be the person who tears down someone else’s hard work. The world needs more people who contribute their gifts and share their work and ideas. Working up the courage to do that can be tough. Support the people who display that courage.
  2. If you’re dealing with criticism, then don’t let the wall keep you from seeing the road. Focus on the path ahead. Another way I heard it put recently, “Ignore the boos. They usually come from the cheap seats.”
  3. If you choose to respond to the haters, then surprise them with kindness. You might just win a new fan while you’re at it.
  4. Finally, and most importantly, make the choices that are right for you. People will criticize you either way.

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James Clear writes about using behavior science to master your habits and improve your mental and physical health. If you enjoyed this article, then join his free newsletter.

 

The Daily Routines of 12 Famous Writers (And How They Can Help You Succeed)

Reblogged from James Clear’s blog: http://jamesclear.com/daily-routines-writers

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How many people die with their best work still inside them?

We often assume that great things are done by those who were blessed with natural talent, genius, and skill. But how many great things could have been done by people who never fully realized their potential? I think many of us, myself included, are capable of much more than we typically produce — our best work is often still hiding inside of us.

How can you pull that potential out of yourself and share it with the world?

Perhaps the best way is to develop better daily routines. When you look at the top performers in any field, you see something that goes much deeper than intelligence or skill. They possess an incredible willingness to do the work that needs to be done. They are masters of their daily routines.

As an example of what separates successful people from the rest of the pack, take a look at some of the daily routines of famous writers from past and present.

At the end of the article, I broke down some common themes that you can apply to your daily routines — regardless of your goals. To skip straight to those suggestions, click here.

E.B. White: “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

In an interview with The Paris Review, E.B. White, the famous author of Charlotte’s Web, talked about his daily writing routine…

I never listen to music when I’m working. I haven’t that kind of attentiveness, and I wouldn’t like it at all. On the other hand, I’m able to work fairly well among ordinary distractions. My house has a living room that is at the core of everything that goes on: it is a passageway to the cellar, to the kitchen, to the closet where the phone lives. There’s a lot of traffic. But it’s a bright, cheerful room, and I often use it as a room to write in, despite the carnival that is going on all around me.

In consequence, the members of my household never pay the slightest attention to my being a writing man — they make all the noise and fuss they want to. If I get sick of it, I have places I can go. A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.

Haruki Murakami: “The repetition itself becomes the important thing.”

In a 2004 interview, Murakami discussed his physical and mental habits…

When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m.

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.

Ernest Hemingway: “I write every morning.”

In an interview with George Plimpton, Hemingway revealed his daily routine…

When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there.

You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that.

When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.

Henry Miller: “When you can’t create you can work.”

In 1932, the famous writer and painter, Henry Miller, created a work schedule that listed his “Commandments” for him to follow as part of his daily routine. This list was published in the book, Henry Miller on Writing.

  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.”
  3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  5. When you can’t create you can work.
  6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
  7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
  9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.

10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.

  1. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

Kurt Vonnegut: “I do pushups and sit ups all the time.”

In 1965, Vonnegut wrote a letter to his wife Jane about his daily writing habits, which was published in the recent book: Kurt Vonnegut: Letters.

I awake at 5:30, work until 8:00, eat breakfast at home, work until 10:00, walk a few blocks into town, do errands, go to the nearby municipal swimming pool, which I have all to myself, and swim for half an hour, return home at 11:45, read the mail, eat lunch at noon. In the afternoon I do schoolwork, either teach of prepare. When I get home from school at about 5:30, I numb my twanging intellect with several belts of Scotch and water ($5.00/fifth at the State Liquor store, the only liquor store in town. There are loads of bars, though.), cook supper, read and listen to jazz (lots of good music on the radio here), slip off to sleep at ten. I do pushups and sit ups all the time, and feel as though I am getting lean and sinewy, but maybe not.

Jodi Picoult: “You can’t edit a blank page.”

The last seven books Jodi Picoult has written have all hit number 1 on the New York Times bestseller list. In an interview with Noah Charney, she talks about her approach to writing and creating…

I don’t believe in writer’s block. Think about it — when you were blocked in college and had to write a paper, didn’t it always manage to fix itself the night before the paper was due? Writer’s block is having too much time on your hands. If you have a limited amount of time to write, you just sit down and do it. You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.

Maya Angelou: “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”

In a 2013 interview with The Daily Beast, the American author and poet discussed her writing career and her daily work habits…

I keep a hotel room in my hometown and pay for it by the month.

I go around 6:30 in the morning. I have a bedroom, with a bed, a table, and a bath. I have Roget’s Thesaurus, a dictionary, and the Bible. Usually a deck of cards and some crossword puzzles. Something to occupy my little mind. I think my grandmother taught me that. She didn’t mean to, but she used to talk about her “little mind.” So when I was young, from the time I was about 3 until 13, I decided that there was a Big Mind and a Little Mind. And the Big Mind would allow you to consider deep thoughts, but the Little Mind would occupy you, so you could not be distracted. It would work crossword puzzles or play Solitaire, while the Big Mind would delve deep into the subjects I wanted to write about.

I have all the paintings and any decoration taken out of the room. I ask the management and housekeeping not to enter the room, just in case I’ve thrown a piece of paper on the floor, I don’t want it discarded. About every two months I get a note slipped under the door: “Dear Ms. Angelou, please let us change the linen. We think it may be moldy!”

But I’ve never slept there, I’m usually out of there by 2. And then I go home and I read what I’ve written that morning, and I try to edit then. Clean it up.

Easy reading is damn hard writing. But if it’s right, it’s easy. It’s the other way round, too. If it’s slovenly written, then it’s hard to read. It doesn’t give the reader what the careful writer can give the reader.

Barbara Kingsolver: “I have to write hundreds of pages before I get to page one.”

The Pulitzer Prize nominee has written over a dozen books, the last nine of which have all made the New York Times bestseller list. During a 2012 interview, she talked about her daily routine as a writer and a mother…

I tend to wake up very early. Too early. Four o’clock is standard. My morning begins with trying not to get up before the sun rises. But when I do, it’s because my head is too full of words, and I just need to get to my desk and start dumping them into a file. I always wake with sentences pouring into my head. So getting to my desk every day feels like a long emergency. It’s a funny thing: people often ask how I discipline myself to write. I can’t begin to understand the question. For me, the discipline is turning off the computer and leaving my desk to do something else.

I write a lot of material that I know I’ll throw away. It’s just part of the process. I have to write hundreds of pages before I get to page one.

For the whole of my career as a novelist, I have also been a mother. I was offered my first book contract, for The Bean Trees, the day I came home from the hospital with my first child. So I became a novelist and mother on the same day. Those two important lives have always been one for me. I’ve always had to do both at the same time. So my writing hours were always constrained by the logistics of having my children in someone else’s care. When they were little, that was difficult. I cherished every hour at my desk as a kind of prize. As time has gone by and my children entered school it became progressively easier to be a working mother. My oldest is an adult, and my youngest is 16, so both are now self–sufficient —but that’s been a gradual process. For me, writing time has always been precious, something I wait for and am eager for and make the best use of. That’s probably why I get up so early and have writing time in the quiet dawn hours, when no one needs me.

I used to say that the school bus is my muse. When it pulled out of the driveway and left me without anyone to take care of, that was the moment my writing day began, and it ended when the school bus came back. As a working mother, my working time was constrained. On the other hand, I’m immensely grateful to my family for normalizing my life, for making it a requirement that I end my day at some point and go and make dinner. That’s a healthy thing, to set work aside and make dinner and eat it. It’s healthy to have these people in my life who help me to carry on a civilized routine. And also to have these people in my life who connect me to the wider world and the future. My children have taught me everything about life and about the kind of person I want to be in the world. They anchor me to the future in a concrete way. Being a mother has made me a better writer. It’s also true to say that being a writer has made me a better mother.

Nathan Englander: “Turn off your cell phone.”

Englander is an award–winning short story writer, and in this interview he talks about his quest to eliminate all distractions from his writing routine…

Turn off your cell phone. Honestly, if you want to get work done, you’ve got to learn to unplug. No texting, no email, no Facebook, no Instagram. Whatever it is you’re doing, it needs to stop while you write. A lot of the time (and this is fully goofy to admit), I’ll write with earplugs in — even if it’s dead silent at home.

Karen Russell: “Enjoy writing badly.”

Russell has only written one book … and it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. In an interview with The Daily Beast, she talks about her daily struggle to overcome distraction and write…

I know many writers who try to hit a set word count every day, but for me, time spent inside a fictional world tends to be a better measure of a productive writing day. I think I’m fairly generative as a writer, I can produce a lot of words, but volume is not the best metric for me. It’s more a question of, did I write for four or five hours of focused time, when I did not leave my desk, didn’t find some distraction to take me out of the world of the story? Was I able to stay put and commit to putting words down on the page, without deciding mid-sentence that it’s more important to check my email, or “research” some question online, or clean out the science fair projects in the back for my freezer?

I’ve decided that the trick is just to keep after it for several hours, regardless of your own vacillating assessment of how the writing is going. Showing up and staying present is a good writing day.

I think it’s bad so much of the time. The periods where writing feels effortless and intuitive are, for me, as I keep lamenting, rare. But I think that’s probably the common ratio of joy to despair for most writers, and I definitely think that if you can make peace with the fact that you will likely have to throw out 90 percent of your first draft, then you can relax and even almost enjoy “writing badly.”

A.J. Jacobs: “Force yourself to generate dozens of ideas.”

In an interview for the series, How I Write, Jacobs talks about his daily writing routines and dishes out some advice for young writers…

My kids wake me up. I have coffee. I make my kids breakfast, take them to school, then come home and try to write. I fail at that until I force myself to turn off my Internet access so I can get a little shelter from the information storm.

I am a big fan of outlining. I write an outline. Then a slightly more detailed outline. Then another with even more detail. Sentences form, punctuation is added, and eventually it all turns into a book.

I write while walking on a treadmill. I started this practice when I was working on Drop Dead Healthy, and read all these studies about the dangers of the sedentary life. Sitting is alarmingly bad for you. One doctor told me that “sitting is the new smoking.” So I bought a treadmill and put my computer on top of it. It took me about 1,200 miles to write my book. I kind of love it — it keeps me awake, for one thing.

Jacobs has advice for young writers, too…

Force yourself to generate dozens of ideas. A lot of those ideas will be terrible. Most of them, in fact. But there will be some sparkling gems in there too. Try to set aside 20 minutes a day just for brainstorming.

Khaled Housseni: “You have to write whether you feel like it or not.”

In an interview with Noah Charney, Housseni talks about his daily writing habits and the essential things that all writers have to do…

I don’t outline at all, I don’t find it useful, and I don’t like the way it boxes me in. I like the element of surprise and spontaneity, of letting the story find its own way. For this reason, I find that writing a first draft is very difficult and laborious. It is also often quite disappointing. It hardly ever turns out to be what I thought it was, and it usually falls quite short of the ideal I held in my mind when I began writing it. I love to rewrite, however. A first draft is really just a sketch on which I add layer and dimension and shade and nuance and color. Writing for me is largely about rewriting. It is during this process that I discover hidden meanings, connections, and possibilities that I missed the first time around. In rewriting, I hope to see the story getting closer to what my original hopes for it were.

I have met so many people who say they’ve got a book in them, but they’ve never written a word. To be a writer — this may seem trite, I realize — you have to actually write. You have to write every day, and you have to write whether you feel like it or not. Perhaps most importantly, write for an audience of one — yourself. Write the story you need to tell and want to read. It’s impossible to know what others want so don’t waste time trying to guess. Just write about the things that get under your skin and keep you up at night.

How to Apply This to Your Life

These daily routines work well for writing, but their lessons can be applied to almost any goal you hope to achieve.

For example…

1. Pushing yourself physically prepares you to work hard mentally. Vonnegut did pushups as a break from writing. Murakami runs 10 kilometers each day. A.J. Jacobs types while walking on a treadmill. You can decide what works for you, but make sure you get out and move.

2. Do the most important thing first. Notice how many excellent writers start writing in the morning? That’s no coincidence. They work on their goals before the rest of the day gets out of control. They aren’t wondering when they’re going to write and they aren’t battling to “fit it in” amongst their daily activities because they are doing the most important thing first.

3. Embrace the struggle and do hard work. Did you see how many writers mentioned their struggle to write? Housseni said that his first drafts are “difficult” and “laborious” and “disappointing.” Russell called her writing “bad.” Kingsolver throws out a hundred pages before she gets to the first page of a book.

What looks like failure in the beginning is often the foundation of success. You have to grind out the hard work before you can enjoy your best work.

Note: Special thanks to Brain Pickings, Barking Up the Wrong Tree, and The Daily Beast, where I originally found many of these stories.

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James Clear writes about using behavior science to master your habits and improve your mental and physical health. If you enjoyed this article, then join his free newsletter.

Successful People Start Before They Feel Ready

Reblogged from James Clear’s blog: http://jamesclear.com/successful-people-start-before-they-feel-ready

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In 1966, a dyslexic sixteen-year-old boy dropped out of school. With the help of a friend, he started a magazine for students and made money by selling advertisements to local businesses. With only a little bit of money to get started, he ran the operation out of the crypt inside a local church.

Four years later, he was looking for ways to grow his small magazine and started selling mail order records to the students who bought the magazine. The records sold well enough that he built his first record store the next year. After two years of selling records, he decided to open his own record label and recording studio.

He rented the recording studio out to local artists, including one named Mike Oldfield. In that small recording studio, Oldfield created his hit song, Tubular Bells, which became the record label’s first release. The song went on to sell over 5 million copies.

Over the next decade, the young boy grew his record label by adding bands like the Sex Pistols, Culture Club, and the Rolling Stones. Along the way, he continued starting companies: an airline business, then trains, then mobile phones, and on and on. Almost 50 years later, there were over 400 companies under his direction.

Today, that young boy who dropped out of school and kept starting things despite his inexperience and lack of knowledge is a billionaire. His name is Sir Richard Branson.

How I Met Sir Richard Branson

Two weeks ago, I walked into a conference room in Moscow, Russia and sat down ten feet from Branson. There were 100 other people around us, but it felt like we were having a conversation in my living room. He was smiling and laughing. His answers seemed unrehearsed and genuine.

At one point, he told the story of how he started Virgin Airlines, a tale that seems to capture his entire approach to business and life. Here’s the version he told us, as best I can remember it:

I was in my late twenties, so I had a business, but nobody knew who I was at the time. I was headed to the Virgin Islands and I had a very pretty girl waiting for me, so I was, umm, determined to get there on time.

At the airport, my final flight to the Virgin Islands was cancelled because of maintenance or something. It was the last flight out that night. I thought this was ridiculous, so I went and chartered a private airplane to take me to the Virgin Islands, which I did not have the money to do.

Then, I picked up a small blackboard, wrote “Virgin Airlines. $29.” on it, and went over to the group of people who had been on the flight that was cancelled. I sold tickets for the rest of the seats on the plane, used their money to pay for the chartered plane, and we all went to the Virgin Islands that night.

I took this photo right after he told that story. A few moments later I stood shoulder–to–shoulder with him (he’s about six feet tall) and thanked him for sharing some time with us.

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Sir Richard Branson in Moscow, Russia. Photo by James Clear.

The Habits of Successful People: What Makes the Difference?

After speaking with our group, Branson sat on a panel with industry experts to talk about the future of business. As everyone around him was filling the air with business buzzwords and talking about complex ideas for mapping out our future, Branson was saying things like: “Screw it, just get on and do it.” Which was closely followed by: “Why can’t we mine asteroids?”

As I looked up at that panel, I realized that the person who sounded the most simplistic was also the only one who was a billionaire. Which prompted me to wonder, “What’s the difference between Branson and everyone else in the room?”

Here’s what I think makes all the difference:

Branson doesn’t merely say things like, “Screw it, just get on and do it.” He actually lives his life that way. He drops out of school and starts a business. He signs the Sex Pistols to his record label when everyone else says they are too controversial. He charters a plane when he doesn’t have the money.

When everyone else balks or comes up with a good reason for why the time isn’t right, Branson gets started.

Start Now

Branson is an extreme example, but we could all learn something from his approach.

If you want to summarize the habits of successful people into one phrase, it’s this: successful people start before they feel ready.

If there was ever someone who embodied the idea of starting before they felt ready to do so, it’s Branson. The very name of his business empire, Virgin, was chosen because when Branson and his partners started they were “virgins” when it came to business.

Branson has started so many businesses, ventures, charities, and expeditions that it’s simply not possible for him to have felt prepared, qualified, and ready to start all of them. In fact, it’s unlikely that he was qualified or prepared to start any of them. He had never flown a plane and didn’t know anything about the engineering of planes, but he started an airline company anyway.

If you’re working on something important, then you’ll never feel ready. A side effect of doing challenging work is that you’re pulled by excitement and pushed by confusion at the same time.

You’re bound to feel uncertain, unprepared, and unqualified. But let me assure you of this: what you have right now is enough. You can plan, delay, and revise all you want, but trust me, what you have now is enough to start.

It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to start a business, lose weight, write a book, or achieve any number of goals… who you are, what you have, and what you know right now is good enough to get going.

We all start in the same place: no money, no resources, no contacts, no experience. The difference is that some people — the winners — choose to start anyway.

If you’re having trouble getting started, then read this article: How to Stop Procrastinating.

No matter where you are in the world and regardless of what you’re working on, I hope you’ll start before you feel ready.

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James Clear writes about using behavior science to master your habits and improve your mental and physical health. If you enjoyed this article, then join his free newsletter.

 

How to Stop Procrastinating by Using the “2-Minute Rule”

Reblogged from James Clear’s blog: http://jamesclear.com/how-to-stop-procrastinating

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Recently, I’ve been following a simple rule that is helping me crush procrastination and making it easier for me to stick to good habits at the same time.

I want to share it with you today so that you can try it out and see how it works in your life.

The best part? It’s a simple strategy that couldn’t be easier to use.

Here’s what you need to know…

How to Stop Procrastinating With the “2–Minute Rule”

I call this little strategy the “2–Minute Rule” and the goal is to make it easier for you to get started on the things you should be doing.

Here’s the deal…

Most of the tasks that you procrastinate on aren’t actually difficult to do — you have the talent and skills to accomplish them — you just avoid starting them for one reason or another.

The 2–Minute Rule overcomes procrastination and laziness by making it so easy to start taking action that you can’t say no.

There are two parts to the 2–Minute Rule…

Part 1 — If it takes less than two minutes, then do it now.

Part I comes from David Allen’s bestselling book, Getting Things Done.

It’s surprising how many things we put off that we could get done in two minutes or less. For example, washing your dishes immediately after your meal, tossing the laundry in the washing machine, taking out the garbage, cleaning up clutter, sending that email, and so on.

If a task takes less than two minutes to complete, then follow the rule and do it right now.

Part 2 — When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.

Can all of your goals be accomplished in less than two minutes? Obviously not.

But, every goal can be started in 2 minutes or less. And that’s the purpose behind this little rule.

It might sound like this strategy is too basic for your grand life goals, but I beg to differ. It works for any goal because of one simple reason: the physics of real life.

The Physics of Real Life

As Sir Isaac Newton taught us a long time ago, objects at rest tend to stay at rest and objects in motion tend to stay in motion. This is just as true for humans as it is for falling apples.

The 2–Minute Rule works for big goals as well as small goals because of the inertia of life. Once you start doing something, it’s easier to continue doing it. I love the 2–Minute Rule because it embraces the idea that all sorts of good things happen once you get started.

Want to become a better writer? Just write one sentence (2–Minute Rule), and you’ll often find yourself writing for an hour.

Want to eat healthier? Just eat one piece of fruit (2–Minute Rule), and you’ll often find yourself inspired to make a healthy salad as well.

Want to make reading a habit? Just read the first page of a new book (2–Minute Rule), and before you know it, the first three chapters have flown by.

Want to run three times a week? Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, just get your running shoes on and get out the door (2–Minute Rule), and you’ll end up putting mileage on your legs instead of popcorn in your stomach.

The 2–Minute Rule isn’t about the results you achieve, but rather about the process of actually doing the work. The focus is on taking action and letting things flow from there.

The most important part of any new habit is getting started — not just the first time, but each time. It’s not about performance, it’s about consistently taking action. This is especially true in the beginning because there will be plenty of time to improve your performance later on.

For more ideas on making it easier to get started and about the importance of focusing on the process and not the result, read this article and this one.

Try It Now

I can’t guarantee whether or not the 2–Minute Rule will work for you. But, I can guarantee that it will never work if you never try it.

The problem with most articles you read, podcasts you listen to, or videos you watch is that you consume the information but never put it into practice.

I want this article to be different. I want you to actually use this information, right now.

What’s something you can do that will take you less than two minutes? Do it right now.

Anyone can spare the next 120 seconds. Use this time to get one thing done. Go.

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James Clear writes about using behavior science to master your habits and improve your mental and physical health. If you enjoyed this article, then join his free newsletter.