It’s what we push ourselves to do when we really don’t want to that refines our sense of self-esteem and makes the difference in our journey.
Take going to the gym: I’ve always disliked it. My father always said, “Son, why don’t you go outside and mow the lawn or play a school sport instead of going to the gym?” I agreed with him. Only later in life did I discover the solid science behind resistance exercise. Combined with a good diet and regular sleep, it’s the fountain of youth! Most people know it, but many won’t do it.
God knows I tried. I started and quit so often I felt like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day: always starting the same routine and never getting past a certain point.
Until I found the secret. Do you want to know what it is? Of course you do. We all want in on the secret. Well, here it is: there isn’t one.
I know you feel ripped off after such a big build-up, but I found it was a very important feeling in my journey toward becoming consistent in my journey. Follow through with me here.
Once I quit searching high and low for a secret, or when I was finally honest enough with myself to call it what it really was—a shortcut—I looked around and found myself right back at the beginning of my journey.
Only now, I was many years older and laden down with feelings of guilt mixed with heaping amounts of personal inadequacy. I didn’t admit these feelings to others. Hell, I hardly ever admitted it to myself, but the feeling was there every morning when I looked at myself in the mirror, and every night when I reviewed the day.
It’s a shitty place to live. Can anyone else relate to these feelings?
And here’s the really nasty trick I played on myself. Every time I quit and started my exercise regimen over again, I would go through a period of pain while my body adjusted. I felt stiff and sore every morning, and every evening when I was supposed to be working out, the temptations would rise up around me like songs of the Sirens encouraging me to throw in the towel. And I did... Again.
So there I was, bereft of willpower, without secret and naked in the cold of reality. And I realized a bitter truth: nothing was going to happen unless I made it happen. There was no help anywhere to be found. Period.
I got mad at myself. Not in a destructive way this time; more like my inner parent grabbing hold of my inner spoiled child and laying down the law in no uncertain terms. I knew if I really wanted to be in shape, it wasn’t going to be any fun. I just had to make working out a routine I did every single day, no matter what.
I set the time, the place and the agenda. I adjusted my environment. I set out my work clothes the day before. I expressed my purpose with my family. I set myself up with the gym attendants… All the things I had done before, but this time I wasn’t really excited about it. I just got through it. And when the first day came when I didn’t want to go to the gym one night and temptations raged around me as strong as ever, I just excused myself and got to the gym. When I had a bad cold, I went to the gym. When I had a hard day of writing, I worked out my frustrations at the gym.
I’ve been doing it for a while now, and I’m seeing some pleasing results to my health and physique. Is it getting any easier? Not really. The only thing that is different between now and then—really, the ONLY thing that is different as far as I can tell—is now I know I CAN resist the temptations, I CAN work through my physical or mental pain, I CAN follow a routine. And I can tell you this: every single time I go to the gym despite the hurdles, I feel better about myself. And that changes everything.
Now, I can hear you asking, “What the hell am I reading about going to the gym for? I thought this article was about writing!”
The experience with the gym is my experiential guide for me to develop my ability to write as a regular practice. Because when you master something in one area of your life, it has the ability to spill over into all the other areas of your life, when you let it.
If you, like me, have struggled to become a regular writer meaning you actually write each and every day, then I encourage you to diligently review your writing practices. What actually works for you? Writing in the morning or evening? Ending your last day's writing with an incomplete sentence? Visualizing the cover of the book next to you as you're interviewed by Jimmy Fallon on the Late Night Show? Get creative, because you are!
You need to create uninterupted spaces and times to do your writing, to bear down and gut it out. Make that your priority.
In his book "Deep Work", Cal Newport shares the story of how Carl Jung built himself a two-story stone castle as a retreat where he did his deep thinking and his prodigious amount of writing which changed the world. Find a way to build your own stone castle - a place you go to get that writing done.
Mastery of any craft is much more difficult in our modern age of distraction, but it's so worthwhile.
William Hutchison Murray said it brilliantly, and I’m going to end by paraphrasing his quote:
“Until one is committed to write, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of writing, there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid stories: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no writer could have dreamt would have come their way."
Whatever you can write, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!”
Enjoy Your Day and Write Your Way!