THE FORMULA for getting shit done is simple:
(Environment + action) x (values x attitude) = shit done.*
When we place ourselves in the right environment and take action, we will achieve a result. When we do the aforementioned, whilst knowing who we are, why we’re doing what we’re doing, and harness our independence and curiosity – then we’ve hit the magic bullet of making shit happen and getting shit done.
Step one is the environment.
ENVIRONMENT: WEAPONISED BOREDOM
One of the biggest things that’s always held me back in life has been my work ethic. I have, as a far as I’ve remembered, always had certain goals that I’ve aspired to pursue. However, rather than pursuing them, I would wait for some burst of motivation to spur me into work. The result was that, given how rarely I was spurred with motivation, I rarely engaged with any meaningful work, and my ideas never came to fruition or did so in some half-arsed, malformed way.
Because I’d waited for motivation, the effort wasn’t there, and because the effort wasn’t there, the result wasn’t there.
Years later, when I became jaded and angry at my lack of progress, I started looking into the lives of men of I admired. In particular, novelists I’d admired. One of the patterns I consistently noted was that they allocated a specific period of time, and sat for that period of time either doing writing, or nothing else.
In my article on Focus, I cited this as one of the principal methods for harnessing focus. But aside from being essential for that, it’s also a hallmark of motivation.
What I found was that when I stopped waiting for motivation to spur me into work, and instead sat at my desk and faced boredom – the work always won. Given the two options, my procrastinating, lazy, can’t-be-bothered-what’s-this-cat-video-on-youtube brain always chose work over boredom.
One of the reasons I believe this is is that I believe motivation fills whatever cup it’s given. Once you arrive at the desk, and you have no choice but work or boredom, the motivation begins to flow towards the work, as it cannot flow towards boredom. Likewise, once you arrive at the gym, you have no choice but to exercise or be bored doing nothing for an hour. You will begin to exercise. It doesn’t matter what the other option is, it will always be chosen over boredom.
And once you begin, the motivation starts gaining a momentum all of its own.
TIP – Stop waiting for motivation and instead choose an hour to show up. Then show up and either do what you’re meant to do or do nothing. No other options.
ACTION: IT GETS A HELL OF A LOT EASIER ONCE YOU JUST BEGIN
Once we’ve started a task, our brains enjoy seeing it through to completion.
It’s rare that I ever procrastinate during the middle of a task. Instead, procrastination is always summoned into existence by the idea that I am about to start work or should start work. As soon as work arrives in my life as something I wish to pursue, procrastination suits up like John Matrix in Commando and begins to take my ass down.
Except instead of throwing knives into my head, it has me reading articles about Wonder Woman’s box office success and learning how to build rainforest mud huts.
This sucks because I never start, but it’s worse because of how it feels. Aside from being aware that I’m procrastinating and hating myself for it, I’m also trapped in a state where I feel like I no longer wish to start work as it’s just so hard once I’ve begun. And that as soon I start, it’ll be revealed that I have no idea what I’m doing, and I’ll never enjoy myself, and I may as well go back to watching re-runs of Iron Man 2.
And this sucks, not because it stops me from doing anything, but because of how incredibly untrue it is.
The truth is that once you start, it becomes incredibly easy to continue.
Often thinking of work as an uphill struggle, we imagine that the longer a task takes, the more physically and mentally tiring it’ll be and that even commencing it is to sentence ourselves to a state of temporary suffering. But in reality, rather than being an uphill struggle, work is actually a downhill ski.
Once we have begun work, the act of continuing it becomes quite simple. Broken into small steps, each activity of work is just a continuation of the last multiplied across the time needed to invest until its completion. But even more important is that work begun is work unfinished, and work unfinished is work that we’re more likely to remember, and more invested in finishing.
We’re never further away from finishing work than we are before we start and we’re never closer to finishing work than we are after we start. This simple understanding sits within our minds and acts both to prevent us from starting, but also keep us going. As soon as we have engaged with the race, we begin to see the finish line – but before we engage, we only see the potential struggle.
The simplest action we can take is to just begin. This can be the smallest action from setting up your work desk, to putting on your gym gear, to writing one sentence; as once we’ve begun, it starts to become incredibly easy to finish.
TIP – Start. Do the smallest possible thing you can. Write one sentence. Do one set. Swim one length. Once you’ve started, the motivation will take on a life of its own.
VALUES: WHY THE HELL ARE YOU HERE?
One of the easiest ways to struggle to get work done is to fail to engage with it on any emotional level. When we cannot identify with the work we are doing, and we feel it has no bearing on our lives or no connection to who we are, it ceases to capture our focus and ignite our motivation.
This makes perfect sense, because why would you want to do anything that you have no connection to? If you feel no investment in it, it’s no better than a chore.
This is the conclusion I usually make. Any task that doesn’t feel necessary, or worthless or a boring use of my time I immediately disconnect from and slog through with a sour, childish face and dull mood.
But this is a false conclusion.
For every boring piece of housework, there is someone who values their cleanliness. For every irritating bill, debt and piece of life admin, there is someone who values their organization and problem-solving. For every irritating, unenjoyable piece of work, there is someone who values solving problems and values doing the hard work that usually turns others away.
For anything that feels worthless, there is a value that makes it priceless.
When we take the time to understand who we are, and what we truly value in life, we allow ourselves to connect the difficult and monotonous parts of our lives to the values we care about and wish to live true to. When we fail to do this, we not only fail to actualize ourselves, but we fail to value struggle.
In any element of work, there is struggle. As nothing is achieved without effort, we must always find work, in some way, difficult. When we understand our values, we understand the difficulties that we are happy to take on, and we begin to derive enjoyment from taking those difficulties on.
When we do not, we doom ourselves to struggle through struggle.
TIP – Make it easy on yourself. Figure out what your values are and connect your values with your work. Then your work becomes an extension of what you want, and who you are. Your work becomes a part of your identity, and the struggle becomes the obstacle that defines you.
ATTITUDE: FIND THE SOLUTION, DON’T ASK FOR IT
I’m sure that at one point in your life, like anyone who’s ever drawn breath, you wanted to do something, but at the same time thought ‘I don’t know how to do that’. And it’s that ‘I don’t know how to do that’ that’s usually stopped you from doing it.
When asked to give advice on how to become a filmmaker, James Cameron replied:
“If you have to ask, it’s not going to happen.”
It’s a response that might seem like a snarky, arrogant and rude withholding of what should be a master explaining everything he knows about success – but it, in fact, holds within it the gold dust of attitude that is going to carry someone the distance.
Too often, when people wish to achieve something, they look for some guide on how it’s done. They read a blog on how to be confident, they listen to a podcast on success secrets, or they attend a seminar on how to pick up girls. Whatever their goal, there is something that they can learn in order to make themselves achieve it.
This, in itself, is fine, but the motivation for it usually isn’t.
There is a huge difference between someone looking for what to do in order to do it better, and someone looking for what to do in order for them to be able to do it.
When our attitude towards our goal is that we cannot do it, we will look to others who have what we want, and try and find some trick or technique to turn ourselves into someone capable of doing it. When our attitude towards our goal is that it is definitely something we can do, we will look for ways to achieve it quicker, as it is something we are already actively pursuing.
The difference between the two is enormously subtle but essential for understanding. Are we looking for a way to get us there faster? Or are we looking for something that’ll make us believe we can?
To relate this back to Cameron’s statement. The latter “has to ask”, whereas the former “finds out for himself.”
This attitude of self-reliance and belief underpins the actions that we’ll take. When we’re constantly looking to be guided on what to do we fail to take action, but when we proactively look for solutions which we can action, then we usually achieve more, learn more, and understand more about what works and doesn’t work for us. In other words, we use the advice of others to develop our own style, rather than using the advice of others to mimic them.
TIP: Don’t ask. Find out for yourself.
*Environment and action are both necessary for any result. Values and attitude multiply as they feed into one another and add originality and motivation to what you’re doing.
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