The best defences take time to build.
We don’t get many choices in life, but we do get to choose how we respond when things we don’t like happen.
Some will argue that our reactions are not real choices — and they’d be right most of the time.
But we can train ourselves to act in a certain way to events until it becomes automatic. It becomes our spontaneous reaction.
Just as the fighter trains his counter-moves thousands of times until they become instinctive, so too we can train our reactions.
It’s not easy — I need to learn this lesson more than most — but it is possible. It just takes practice.
When angered or shocked, we can always say thanks.
When confused or disappointed, we can always say thanks.
When saddened or scared, we can always say thanks.
The best defence is always gracefully moving out of the way because it leaves our assailant few places to land except flat on their face.
Not so long ago, writing was my greatest fear.
A monthly article seemed too big a commitment, let alone a daily blog.
How could there be that many things to write about?
What if I ran out of ideas?
What would happen when I had nothing to say?
In the 355 days since this blog began, I’ve run out of ideas many times. There was rarely much in my notes that seemed interesting enough to write about.
The stress or distractions of my life often threw up a great wall between the muse and me. The glowing white screen before my eyes frequently mirrored an empty expanse behind them.
The pressure to write something meaningful or entertaining prevented me from writing anything at all.
On those days, I had no choice but to settle for writing about nothing and simply write. And before you know it, something was written.
Just like today.
People have worked remotely for thousands of years.
Before the Industrial Revolution, women in cottages across the land wove wool into cloth and sold it to manufacturers who turned it into clothes.
Technology developed, and it was more profitable to have everyone weaving together, so the factory was born.
Two hundred years later and we are going back to our homesteads.
Technology has spawned a new breed of the industry: cottage creators. Or perhaps, more aptly, condo creators.
Individuals or small groups can now produce content as well (or better) than most major studios and publishing houses.
Watching 5-a-side pick-up games on YouTube is more fun than the big leagues in many ways. We can even save lives with memes.
Supporting upstart musicians, independent journalists, and Instagram artists creates an explosion of cultural diversity and creativity that makes the Renaissance look barbaric.
It’s a part of an unstoppable wave of economic adjustment that will leave society unrecognizable in fifty years or less.
As we automate more tasks, we will need more entertainment, more ideas, more stories and more games than ever before. Or things could get nasty.
Now is your chance.
Save the human.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say.
It started as we all must: pretty poor. Just a cluster of farmer’s huts dotted across the hillside.
It’s not like anyone can just pick up a guitar and start playing it. Or read. Or walk.
Even simple things that we assume we can all do – like a star jump – don’t come naturally to the human body. We just forget how much effort we spent learning them. And often, how much help we had getting there.
There is nothing in this world worth doing that doesn’t take some practice. Nothing in this world worth having that won’t cost us some time in one way or another.
The best chance we can give ourselves is to start poorly and keep on plugging away until we fail better.
Or at least until we’re finished for the day.
Several years ago, I was staying in the back room of my parents’ house with little idea of what or who I wanted to be.
I knew that if I were going to survive in the world of work, or have any chance of success as a writer, I would need to learn to type.
People talk about how writing with a pen is more ‘connected.’ But it’s also slow and impractical in the modern age.
That connection is learned like any other, and so I decided to practice often to form that same deep connection with a keyboard.
So to start my day, and to instill the belief that I was headed somewhere, I would spend about 15 minutes every morning practicing touch typing. Then I would apply for jobs I didn’t want.
That bit of time invested has probably saved me hours since.
Today, the words flow through my fingertips onto the screen with the same ease as a pen and three times faster — faster than I can think.
The pen still feels snug in my hand. But when I sit down at a keyboard, the words just fly.
A lot of the science we learn in school is wrong.
It’s mostly either oversimplified or partially disproved by the time we hear it.
One myth is that the right brain is creative, and the left brain is logical, right?
The right side of the brain is best at novelty: identifying new problems and solving them, learning new things. Experimentation.
The left side of the brain is concerned with sorting the results and recalling them when needed. Matching them up.
When a student plays an instrument, their right hemisphere is firing all the time. But Miles Davis, the right side would be only simmering gently; the patterns of chords and melodies neatly delivered from the left side.
Even that is a gross simplification.
But it’s clear that by performing a creative task every day, creativity becomes muscle memory.
That’s why experts can see all sorts of patterns that a novice may miss. They just pop out. And those experts can get so used to seeing those patterns that they forget to experiment with them.
Art is experiementation. Science is experimentation remembered.
Now, remember your art.
Do it because you’re happy.
Do it because you’re sad.
Do it just because it feels good.
Or do it because it feels bad.
Do it because it’s easy.
Do it because it’s tough.
Do it because it fills up your cup.
And don’t stop till you’ve had enough.
Do it every morning.
Do it whenever you feel.
Do it just because you only live once.
Do it till it’s lost all appeal.
Bill was a bit confused by all the fuss.
The journalists, bored of the wildfires and plague, had pointed out that he had just dragged the New England Patriots out for full training in the pouring rain.
Bill Belichick replied the only way he knew how: with a sentence stoic enough to have tumbled from the lips of Cato or Marcus Aurelius himself.
One that has been echoed over thousands of years by warriors and athletes and artists and anyone who ever wanted to get something serious done:
“If it rains, it rains.
If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.
If it’s hot, it’s hot.
If it’s not, then that’s what it is.”
Circumstances are bound to change how we execute our plans, but we can’t let them get in the way.
The world is full of elements that are out of our control. Regardless of what they throw up, when we’ve got training scheduled, we train. Because that’s what training is.
Isn’t it terrifying that you know you could do it if you really wanted?
Deep down, we all know that if we put in the work — just that little bit every day for a long while — then whatever it is that we dream of would actually happen.
It’ll never look exactly how we imagine, of course. But often, it’s always worth the journey.
That’s the real reason behind every act of self-sabotage in my life.
It wasn’t the fear of failure. It was the fear that it might actually work, and then I’d have to actually do the work, and real people might actually hold me accountable for it.
All of that is rubbish. Ancient fear. It takes years of practice before we’re good enough to decide if we want to carry on doing it anyway.
Just pick something and stick with it for five years. No big deal.
The worst that can happen is you get better at it than most people.
And the best?
Well, I don’t think I need to tell you.
As a great pugilist once said, the fight is won long before we dance under the lights.
Just like the race is run a dozen different ways before we even cross the starting line. And the book is written over hundreds of early mornings, with words that are never read.
The training we do every day shapes our future.
What does your day prepare for you?
For a long time, I wasn’t a writer.
I had dreamed about it, but I didn’t have anything that proved it. Nothing had been written.
Evading and denying my inner writer caused great anguish and uncertainty in my life. Later, I found some solace because my work involved writing, but deep down, that wasn’t enough.
It was writing, sure, but it wasn’t my writing. Copywriting is all about writing for someone else in someone else’s voice, after all. But it paid the bills.
Writing to you every day changed everything. Just that tiny bit of doing, and suddenly, I was.
It’s not like it’s easy writing every day. Some days, it’s not even enjoyable. But I write every day because that is what writers do.
Doing is being. Either we do, or we’re not.
But when we are, and we don’t, that’s when things get really messy.
A friend of mine recently went on a bit of a health kick.
She started running and being mindful of her diet and all the other things we know we should be doing to be healthier.
The one that most interested me was this: every morning, she would get up and do ten push-ups. Then, a little before bedtime, she would do another ten.
It didn’t seem like much. But then my girlfriend started doing ten push-ups every morning, and of course, that meant it wasn’t long before I started doing them too.
Quite often, your ten little push-ups every day are helping someone else get stronger too. Even the smallest acts can carry great inspiration within them.
Ten push-ups aren’t much — barely anything — but they add up over time to something great.
That’s kaizen in a nutshell.
The secret to success is really quite simple.
Whenever we ask about success, the answer we get rarely satisfies because it’s so simple.
How can getting whatever you want in life come down to something so simple?
But when we listen closely, all the athletes, gurus, prophets, and poets start to say the same thing: just don’t quit.
Pick something you think is worth chasing, and never, ever stop.
It doesn’t matter what it is.
It doesn’t matter if you never get there.
The thrill is in the chase, and the chase is till then end.
Or at least until bedtime.
Donating a million dollars to charity is easy enough.
If you’ve got that kind of money lying around, the government even offers some very attractive reasons to give it away.
And for the good it may do, that money will disappear at a stomach-churning rate.
The surest way of actually changing the world is bit by bit.
Even tiny actions like waving to a neighbour or holding the door for someone can force a paradigm shift when repeated time and time again.
Any small thing — money, love, kindness, reading, meditation, music — when repeated consistently and often, grows into something significant.
It’s just how it works.
Now, how about that glass of water?
Some days just don’t have you in them.
We wake up feeling terrible.
We drag ourselves away from the soft, warm sheets and out to the cold, hard day.
We take a swing and miss.
And we miss again.
And we miss again.
And just when it seems like another miss might mean the end of it all…
It’s time to go back to bed.
You can’t hit a home run every time you play.
But that doesn’t make you any less of a big hitter.
Soon after discovering the monumental Seth Godin, I unsubscribed from his email list and decided never to think of him again.
Not only was it frustrating that some of his blogs were just a couple of lines — not even paragraphs — but it was frustrating that I had written nothing at all.
Writing a daily blog always seemed like the sort of thing I should be doing and yet, for some reason, could never quite manage to do.
Seth’s wonderfully elegant and effortless scrawling reminded me that for all I called myself a writer, I could never do that.
It was magic if I wrote once every six months. And a miracle if it got shipped once a year. Whatever it was that people like that had, I didn’t have it.
I could never do that.
Seven years later and Seth Godin pops up in my life again, talking about The Practice.
And suddenly, it all made sense.
The outcome wasn’t the point; just like ‘enlightenment isn’t the point of meditating.
Don’t write to sell a book. Don’t write to get rich (good luck with that). Don’t write to get famous.
Write every day because that’s what writers do.
All those years spent trying to change into someone worthy of writing every day — a real writer — were just me hiding from myself.
All it took was actually doing it, and all of a sudden, I was.
This week the internet introduced me to a guy called Kofi who made a great album a couple of years back. If you like good words and chill beats I highly recommend it.
The title track is a great little story about people and making art…
One cold night in Birmingham city center, Kofi stood on a corner rapping as the world walked by.
For hours he spat into the void but folks were too busy Christmas shopping to stop and listen. He knew they could hear and he was happy doing his thing so he kept on going. For hours.
Eventually one person stopped by to listen to him and before too long a large crowd formed. Because when you’re creating, Nobody Cares Until Everybody Does.
And I’ll bet Kofi will be making music long after people stop caring because that is what we do when we decide to create.
Thanks for being the first to stop by and listen.
I hope you stick around.
Talents are pretty much useless.
As Calvin Coolidge said, “Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.”
There’s an ancient story about talents that goes like this:
Once upon a mountain, an old lord went travelling, leaving his favourite servants with some silver coins (called Talents).
When he returns, the servants have all done something different with their Talents:
- The first servant — who got five Talents — blew it all on drugs and women and fast donkeys.
- The second servant — who got two Talents — was terrified he’d lose them, and so he buried them deep in the ground, where nobody could find them.
- The last servant — who only got one Talent — put it to work every day, investing in other businesses and earning interest on loans. By the time his master returns, he has ten Talents.
If we don’t show anyone our talents, they’re just going to stay buried and useless.
There are thousands of talented ‘geniuses’ who put in minimal effort and end up with nothing. And there are thousands of idiots who’ve made millions because they knew they weren’t talented and decided to outwork everyone instead.
We don’t need talents to be successful. We just need to show up and do the work every damn day.
That’s how you become ‘talented’ at anything.
Failure is frustrating, so it’s important to remember that we all start out crap.
Whenever we try something new, our first attempt is always terrible. And we usually stay pretty terrible for many more attempts after that.
It’s normal to be shit at stuff.
As James Clear reminds us:
“Your favourite athlete’s first workout was just as bad as yours.
Your favourite chef’s first meal was just as bad as yours.
Your favourite artist’s first work was just as bad as yours.”
Your heroes and idols embraced this fact of life and kept going until they made something awesome.
Keep going, and you will too.
Nobody knows who said this but I suspect Mark Manson made it up in his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck.
In the story, he asks a prolific author how he managed to write 70 novels.
The author’s answer is simple: 200 shitty words a day.
That’s it. That’s the secret to motivation. The ‘secret’ to creating prolific work — and to success.
Motivation isn’t outside ourselves, it’s something we give to ourselves through doing.
If you want to get motivated, just do something; anything.
It could be as simple as making your bed.
Because when you take that one little step forwards and you’ll create momentum that makes the next step easier.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t even have to be good.
You just have to get it done.
And thanks for reading mine.