It was getting hard in the business. I was going through a stretch of a few months at the back end of 2020 where it just felt like hell.
Every day I was waking up exhausted. And for the first time in my near 4 years since starting my company, I didn’t want to get out of bed.
I have a journal habit. Each morning it was starting to get repetitively draining writing in it. I was documenting the same emotions, with no light at the end of the tunnel. I even once wrote, on 26th November: “I just feel battered, and I’m fed up of writing that”.
Anyway, I grinded through the following weeks to reach mid December, when I thought the answer to everything lied in rest.
So I decided to sleep to my heart’s content, frequently clocking 12 hours a night. It felt great. When the holiday period arrived, my plan was to schedule and do nothing. No work; just sleep and relax. Supposedly the ideal life.
Ironically, after a few days I started to feel more tired. I was sleeping, relaxing, doing nothing (even taking time off training), yet getting progressively more tired.
Then Christmas Day came. All plans cancelled. And I was twiddling my thumbs. We had the usual Christmas meal scheduled for afternoon, but I had no idea what else to do. I’d slept in, gone for a walk, even watched a bit of TV. Living the dream, exhausted.
So I decided to write for a few hours. The next day, the same. And the next. I was spending 3-4 hours a day during my ‘time off’, writing about the topic I’m most curious about: why don’t people stay in shape.
I was energised.
All the haze, tiredness and reluctance to get out of bed, suddenly disappeared.
What did I learn?
We have two types of fatigue. We have genuine fatigue, where rest is the only option. Your mind is fried, and your body is showing overtraining type symptoms - elevated heart rate, extra muscle pain, and similar. In this case, trying to push through is futile, and will make things worse.
Probably where I was at before Christmas. Which is why the initial rest worked so well.
The second type is more the ‘being in a rut’ fatigue. It’s when we’re doing all the things we shouldn’t be for too long, living out of flow, or just in a cycle of procrastination (like getting out of bed late). That’s the type of fatigue that is cured by one thing only: action in flow.
Which is why writing for a few hours a day, after a short total rest, was the best way for recovery.
Sort of like deloading in the gym. You take 3-5 days off totally, then start off with lighter loads to get you back in the groove.
The lighter load period is our way of overcoming the inertia that typically accompanies periods of nothing. A close friend of mine said yesterday that this was the first January he’s been able to hit the ground running from Jan 1st with no let up. Why? Because he took some genuine time off for a few days, then just worked lightly in his flow through Christmas, instead of the usual 2-3 weeks off of doing nothing.
All different strategies of managing fatigue and rest. Deciphering between the two is tricky - as I learned, yet each experiment is a way to build up my individual awareness to know when I need which. One thing for sure is that when I next take total time off, I must schedule in time to warm the tyres, else I may find myself in the parking spot for a few more weeks wondering why I'm still too tired to get going.
Action is always the best recipe for coming out of this type of rut.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna, “You have the right to work, but for the work's sake only. You have no right to the fruits of work. Desire for the fruits of work must never be your motive in working.”
In the pursuit of anything, whether it be a physique, craft, skill, career or business, we must always remain focused on the work.
Ultimately, that’s all we have control over. We can’t create in anticipation of the reception, or hope of a (successful) tangible result.
In focusing on the tangibles, we can miss the magic of intangibles: the bits you can’t track, measure or see. It’s in these intangibles that we often find the most pleasure (and all we truly want). Yet, it’s in the tangibles we find ourselves as a society focusing on. It creates pressure, fear and anxiety in us as we worry if things will work out, if it will make any money, or if there even will be a result.
Modern society loves this, as it keeps us rushing and searching for meaning at new shiny objects. Ironically, the meaning can always be drawn internally. It’s why we must validate internally vs externally. There’s too many external forces out there to rely on them favouring you. Sometimes, you may put in years and years of work for no tangible result at all. That’s okay, because in the work you may have found joy and pleasure. And that’s something most tangibles fail to give.
If we only focus on the work everyday, and showing up, we can be satisfied in knowing we’ve done our part. Let the rest take care of itself.
(I read the Bhagavad Gita in the middle of 2020 for the first time - an excellent read for people of all cultures and backgrounds. It gives a universal message that is important than ever, given the world we live in. This is the version I have)
200 crappy words a day.
That’s all it takes to move the needle forward in your writing.
I’m often asked the best ways to start writing, and then, how to improve it.
My answer is always the same: 200 crappy words a day.
I can’t remember where I originally heard it from. A quick Google search points to a story told by Mark Manson about a prolific writer who’d created 70+ novels. That amount of output is no mean feat. His answer to the method behind the madness was simple: 200 crappy words a day.
What happens is always something special. By lowering the barrier to ‘crappy’, you take away all expectations. All you need to do is write.
It also takes away the fear of bad writing. The hardest bit about writing isn’t writing. It’s sitting down to do it daily without fear. Fear of writing something you won’t like. Yet, it’s in this writing of 200 crappy words you always stumble across a few golden sentences, a ground breaking idea, and if you’re lucky, flow state to keep you writing for 1000+ words.
I always think to the best creative geniuses of our past, and their courage to ship daily. Tupac Shakur comes to mind. In the space of five years, he created a dozen albums (and in total produced somewhere around 700-900 songs), eight films, music videos and even two books of poetry – all by the age of 25. Mind boggling.
Tupac’s best work changed the face of the music industry. But what we forget is that he also had clunkers and flops. Bad songs that no one remembers, or lyrics that don’t make any sense.
Yet the real question is: would songs like California Love, Dear Mama and Ambitions Az A Ridah have come without these flops?
Probably not. The presence of the remarkable often renders the rest irrelevant.
That’s why 200 crappy words a day works. Because it gives you permission to produce bad writing. It also gives you permission to stop at 200 (I’m now at 339).
What will happen over the days and weeks is you’ll get a bit better each time, and most importantly, you’ll find your authentic voice.
Write 200 crappy words a day from the heart and watch the magic unfold.
It’s not a health and fitness one, don’t worry. That’d be quite ironic given I literally wrote a book condemning them.
Instead, it’s about decluttering. Not Marie Kondo style, but an inspired activity from the new Netflix documentary, Minimalists - Less Is More.
The key message from the documentary was about having too much stuff. And how all the stuff we think is making us happier, is actually creating more sadness.
There were a few bits I loved, such as the push for more purpose, community and healthy focus in our lives, versus materialism and excessive consumption.
Luckily, I don’t have much stuff. But I could always do with less. So I thought I’d take on the challenge they promoted at the end:
These things can be anything, and you can donate, recycle or sell them. My day 1 thing was a pair of trainers I’d worn out beyond repair. Ironically while watching the show, my joggers had a hole on my kneecap, and my T shirt had three on the torso.. Maybe I need new stuff!
What was interesting in the documentary was hearing how much materialistic behaviour is driven by a feeling of not being enough, and that consumption serves to fill a void.
I’ve written about crutches a lot in the realm of transformation, but I’d not ever thought about shopping as one. Probably because it doesn’t (directly) impact body composition.
Though, in the Amazon Prime world we live in, it’s just as instantaneous and fast acting as drink and drugs.
I’ve always liked having less stuff. In 30 days, I’m not sure if I’ll have much stuff left at all. Let’s see how it unravels.
In the opening scene of the new Disney movie, Soul, Joe Gardner - the middle school band teacher tells Connie to “go for it” on the trombone.
What happened instead is she went totally off piece and into her own realm. She entered the beautiful state of flow.
After a few class laughs, Joe describes his visit to the jazz club with his dad, where he saw a piano player start with a few chords, and then, in Joe’s words:
“And I swear the next thing I know it’s like he… floats off the stage. That guy was lost in the music, he was in it. And he took the rest of us with him. That’s when I knew, I was born to play.”
As he’s describing this, you can see his own floating into another realm.
Later on, when he’s playing for a part in a band set, he does the same thing as Connie. He starts in sync, then goes into his own world where everything stands still but the music.
It tells of an important lesson for us all to find our own flow. Where time stops, everything around you is a distraction, and you feel different. Your state of consciousness is heightened and you’re oblivious to people and things around you.
If someone was to speak to you, you’d mumble a few words or make a few sounds. You don’t really know what they’re asking, all you want them to do is leave you to it.
That’s flow state.
It’s the state I seek everyday. Nothing replicates it. Writing here gives me an excuse to find it, and for this piece, write about it too.
Go check out Connie and Joe.
Then go find your flow.