Throwing a rock into a hard place

Stuck between the intention and the act, we often fail to carry out what we’re meant to do. 

Motivation is fickle. Distractions are plentiful. Doing is not a matter of talent but discipline. Every repetition is a bicep curl for the brain. 

Wrote William James in The Principles of Psychology: “This very day I have been repeating over and over to myself a verbal jingle whose mawkish silliness was the secret of its haunting power. I loathed yet could not banish it. What holds attention determines action.”

What holds attention predetermines action and protects us against the pitfalls of the next shiny object or stirred emotion. 

Focus is our only guard, without all the narrowness of attention. We need to keep our eyes on the donut over the donut hole. 

So we keep going, showing up despite there being no guarantee of happiness at the end of the tunnel. 

Greater use of the palette insulates the individual from the dizziness of anxiety and the needless aim for the pedestal of fame.  

A creative flow hardens the brain’s sticktoitiveness and summons a type of artistic unity. 

We throw the rock into the hard place. The daily practice is our only durable storage. 

Crafting confidence

Confidence is fickle. Better to start before you’re ready than wait until you have full faith in yourself. 

The key to crafting confidence starts in the imagination. If you can armor yourself with enough courage — even if it means acting slightly overconfident — you’ll have revved the engine for risk-taking. 

Synchronicities also tend to happen when you’re feeling more upbeat than depressed. Anxiety and darkness, while integral to artful thinking, impair memory and squanders productivity. The maker wants to establish a long-term rhythm of creating rather than weaning off the fickle energy of short-term dopamine.    

Even the wisest men need psychological tactics to regulate the monkey mind. Expectations drive achievement. Of course, one should expect sensible outcomes — no one becomes the best or gets rich by merely thinking it. 

Patient with results, impatient with action

Pace, purpose, and practice are everything. Only a few are geniuses; most are late-blooming opsimaths. Like the Japanese artist Hokusai once said, Until the age of 70, nothing I drew was worthy of notice. At 110, every dot and every stroke will be as though alive.”

Do anything enough — even if it takes decades — and you’ll begin to find your own style and workflow. Hard work usually compounds into something greater than expected and ultimately supports the joy of living.

Never mind the mood

The work doesn’t begin or end at the mercy of mood. Feeling lazy or prepared is neutral — both are non-starters. The mood’s texture remains unchanged. 

Having a daily discipline is the best way to keep the shipping alive. Habits are stronger than moods. 

If your emotions or conditions get in the way because you’re either unmotivated, too sick or cold, exhausted, or missing the perfect seat, you’re screwed. 

Show up and ride the wave of frequency

Sitting in the chair and beginning promptly by 10 AM is non-negotiable. By sticking to a schedule, you alleviate the pain of starting while forcing yourself to dance with all the anxieties that arise. 

If you get frustrated or stuck, try running out the clock. So be it — you showed up but didn’t produce. 

Dissatisfaction is part of the creative process. Afterward, rest or take your thoughts for a walk to digest the reality of incompleteness. A blank canvass with even the most disappointing attempts is a refreshing experience. There is always tomorrow!

When your perspiration and dedication are the muses, the creativity always comes back because the motivation is the same. The sink keeps dripping. 

Even while going about your day, discipline pays off. Deep work compounds, as the brain uses rest periods to reconvene, reconnect, and make sense of all the input. 

Creativity is complicated, but moods are untrustworthy. Once you’re committed to the process while following your curiosities, there’s no wasted time. 

Imagining life without work

Some people are obsessed with work. It defines them, gives them a structure. Without work, they’d sail away at the mercy of the waves and get lost at sea.

But technology facilitates creativity. The accountant becomes a music producer at night, a photographer, or YouTuber on the weekend. He or she identifies more as being an artist than a professional who crunches numbers. Their online persona seeks some greater truth beyond the work, more aligned with who they want to be. 

Everyone wants to pursue something meaningful. We want to do something that matters while working hard without working hard. As the musician Brian Eno reminds us, “Try not to get a job.” 

Whether it’s the day job or an artist, work is supposed to reflect our life philosophies. Most jobs, though, are solutions to a practical problem: we need the cash to live. The money fact keeps man awake at the clarion call of labor.  

The pressure to blend work and life results from our obsession with careerism in a twenty-four-seven hyperconnected world. So what would we do with all that free time if we didn’t work? 

We’d just do stuff rather than getting stuck in a career. We’d read, hang out with friends and family, watch and play sports, and listen to music. It would be like all the activities we’ve immersed in during the extra free time of COVID lockdown, minus all the social distancing and depression. The future of work would look less like a vocation and more like an extended vacation.

Will we be ok when the robots take over and the concept of labor fades away? Will making art suffice? We’re born off balance. It’s how we dance with the uncertain future that shapes who we are.

Through the wire

The world grows numb to the air of distraction. We’ve left the world of 2-D consciousness in exchange for the anesthesia of the brite lite’s bits and bytes.  

Freedom to do anything is the freedom to do nothing. Technology makes us more curious and ever-more cautious. But like a video game, unfettered space uses up attention and propels excess consumption.

The inability to disconnect and steer clear of the shiny object suffocates our attention. Restraint, on the other hand, is why limits are also so magnetic. They help us protect against an addictive environment. 

As we gravitate toward constriction, we stymie the possibilities of distraction.

We do more crucial work in stillness and silence than we do fritter time away in the tangled wires of freedom.

Beware the mind virus

Creativity dwindles with age. First, school sucks it out of you, and then corporate work puts the nail in the coffin. 

Patterns of normality and absolutes are leaches. Like a mind virus, they try to kill off the imagination and train your organic reflexes into compliant sheep. 

If you’re lucky, you’ll have no choice but to follow the siren song of vocation. Suppose that means becoming an artist; if it’s a bank teller, ditto. Follow up your calling way with the utmost passion. To echo Mark Twain, “The secret of success is making your vocation your vacation.”

Never let your ambition slip out of sight. The happiest people chase their human truths to exploit time. 

As the musician Brian Eno reminds us, “Try not to get a job. Try to leave yourself in a position where you do the things you want to do with your time and where you take maximum advantage of wherever your possibilities are.”

Following the herd is a mind virus. Ride the mind wave of opportunity instead. 

Creativity is a fancy version of productivity

People confuse busyness with productivity. Answering emails all day is mostly a waste of time, as is instant messaging co-workers. Doing something — typing into little boxes all day — fulfills the human desire to feel useful.

People also perceive what artists do is an unnecessary use of time. But creativity is a fancy version of productivity.

Nothing gets wasted when it comes to painting, songwriting, and any other artistic vocations. Scraps and shitty rough drafts give us something to play with. The art of gathering string — doing the hard work, heart work, and head work — expands the reality we perceive.

Sensible work gets us paid. Yet, when we photograph everything, we look at nothing.

Without propelling the imagination and practicing our craft, we’re just procrastinators and waiters. The whole point of making art is to do and ship something interesting.

More than a job

The photographer’s job is to capture. They get a pass on intrusion despite a face of expressive flesh. So too does the scientist who uses their more elusive hands to dabble in a dangerous experiment.

The maker needs no excuse to have skin in the game, as they should feel free to explore via an aura of invisibility to discover and connect the seemingly unconnected.

Creativity is an imaginative process that makes one bolder. Both the artist and scientist live to be more than proactive, to think and feel something beyond the sheath of obviousness.

Should palette beget the pedestal, fame and earned respect follow from doing what matters.

From seeing to believing

Obvious to you, not to others.

It’s the human condition to see patterns but leave them to abstraction.

Identifying the gaps is only the start. No one gains from keeping silent on the puzzle of opportunity.

What occupies the rest of the grey space is doing the work.

Creators play the dual role of keen observer and competent persister. They control the master switch between idea and reality, optimizing their time, energy, and luck while never having all three simultaneously.

Anyone can learn how to see — how to build off a concept, sell the story, and contribute something meaningful is the worthiest challenge.

The streak goes on

Writing can be a painful activity. The idea of thinking and starting from scratch every day frightens the resistance.

But just as in exercise, the trick is in getting started.

Knowing that we can remain uncharged by the underground voltage of curiosity and enthusiasm, we have to depend on a non-thinking routine.

Showing up to practice is the number one priority. Then one writes poorly and gradually with more force, putting the bones in our words.

Discipline is a secret hidden in plain sight, only visible in the long look beyond the glance.

Swimming in impulses and doubt — remembering the possibility of revision helps tame the symphony of perfection.

Relaxed in the process, mincing and mixing words into a jigsaw puzzle of sentences holds material and belief more firmly.

We finish another day until the brain strains for another run tomorrow.

Addicted to vocation, flush with anxiety, we numb all feelings with the most adamant flow.

The burn of discontent

Everything starts and ends from the burn of discontent.

We all have an inkling for something, a dormant enthusiasm, waiting to erupt so we can pour our hearts into it.

But the wait is killer. Toiling in anonymity while practicing in mediocrity needs a special kind of patience.

The resistance can only win at our own capitulation. The work is all that matters. 

As they say, “the only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.”

If self-promotion along the way helps one build up the confidence to ship, by all means, do it. We must seek the respect we deserve.

We are the audience and actor in the play of life, trying to step back and compose with the highest quality. 

No one is going to announce our emergence. All we can ask for is to be consistent with our time. 

Show up. The only talisman is the heart and head work.

Streaks

The artist never stops, continuing a streak of a thousand days.

Each day, rain or shine, they either pop with energy or force it. Discipline is freedom; fulfillment is worth every penny. 

Consistency is not neutral. Bowing down to habit ensures the only possible outcome. 

The brevity of life requires a sense of urgency and provocation. And a daily routine gives us space to be creative and thoughtful.

How one navigates the tension between doing and knowing is less important than showing up and doing the work. 

As a library of longings, there is propulsion of curiosity in feeling undone. No one will ever finish all the books in the world, yet we read on anyway.

Ignorant of what the future holds, the only schedule worth keeping is one that begs us to do it all over again tomorrow. 

Real artists build their own adventure and persevere. They’re numb to discomfort. When done, they work on shipping the next.