A way to breathtaking truth and discovery

A way to breathtaking truth and discovery

Header image source: Unsplash

So often the daily practice of writing can seem frustrating and lack purpose. There are the days that the words flow and there are the days that my brain goes missing in action. One of the ways that I jolt my writing into action is by typing up my post it notes from the books I read. The process serves many purposes. I re-engage with the ideas of great authors and do so at a pace that allows the words to percolate as I type them. I start to see patterns between ideas from one author and another and from there I start to create new meaning. I use the great thinking of others to look further.

Continuing my sticky note addiction

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders [sic] of Giants
Isaac Newton

Newton’s statement is pretty famous and one I thought was his own original quote. It comes from the latin “nanos gigantum humeris insidentes which means “discovering truth by building on previous discoveries“. This is exactly what I try to do with my writing process. I try to discover truth by building on the previous discoveries of intellectual giants. So much of what we learn starts with riffing on the ideas of others. In education, intellectual giants like John Dewey, Maria Montessori and Seymour Papert, still influence modern day thinking on pedagogy, curriculum and technology. This “copying” of thinking is not plagiarism. Austin Kleon calls this “reverse engineering”. There is a reason the words and thinking of giants jump out at us. There is a reason I sticky note particular passages in the books I read. The words are speaking to me. Unpacking the words is the first step towards new truth and discovery. Copying is our mirror neurons in action. We imitate when we first start creating.

“Start copying what you love. Copy, copy, copy, copy. At the end of the copy, you will find yourself.”
Yohji Yamamoto

Being a guitar player, I copy riffs that I love. I learn them not to pass them off as my own but to influence my own style. I learn them because they connect with me musically and emotionally. These discoveries are allowing me to discover new truths, and to see further. Once you have seen further, then it is your duty to allow others to stand on your shoulders and see further. This is the often the part where imposter syndrome kicks in and start to think like the two wise men below.

Image source: http://www.okmoviequotes.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/3-Waynes-World-quotes.jpg

Creating starts with copying. Our influences drive our initial thinking. The key part is to delve deeper and to explore those who influenced your influences. Read the books they quote or the research they highlight. Delve deeper into the giants they stood upon. Doing this will allow you to develop your own voice.

Just remember…

If you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism, If you copy from many, it’s research.
Wilson Mizner

Enjoy the research. Enjoy the view. You are worthy.

Want to actually have breakthrough success? Develop a daily habit!

Want to actually have breakthrough success? Develop a daily habit!

And just like that, it was gone!

It had such promise. It had been on your mind forever and you were determined that this time you had its measure. But it eluded you…again…as it always does. As the excuses pile up; “Life got in the way”,  “I ran out of time”, “It just wasn’t meant to be”, you reflect and are downtrodden.

Why does this happen every time?

Why can I not achieve this?


If this sounds like you, you are not alone. 

The path to mastery is long and winding. It is a blank canvas filled with hopes and dreams and no matter what your goals are, you begin with zest and determination and work hard for the first few days and/or weeks.  Then the motivation wanes, the determination disappears and the temptation takes over.  Sound familiar? What if you are going about the process of reaching your goal the wrong way?  What if you are setting yourself up to fail?  According to Art Markman, a cognitive scientist, the author of Smart Change and co-host of the “Two guys on your head” podcast, the process that most people use to try to achieve their goals is the perfect recipe for failure. Gyms, personal trainers, companies who sell weight loss products rely on this formula. So how do you set yourself up for success? The key to success according to Markman is to understand how your brain works, especially the motivational system.


How motivation works

Our brains are primed to allow us to succeed but are also on the flipside of that are primed for energy preservation and efficiency.  This is achieved by automating behaviours in the form of habits. Ever arrived home after a familiar drive remembering nothing about it? It felt like you were on autopilot. You may take the same way home every day on your drive and as a result, you don’t need to make conscious decisions about this. It is a habit. It is our brain’s autopilot. An incredibly efficient system designed to reduce the workload of our brains to preserve energy. Now, what happens if there are roadworks blocking your normal route home? All of a sudden, your brain needs to engage and make decisions on the fly and this requires energy to do this.  The autopilot is disengaged and you take back the wheel.  Habits allow us to use mental energy in the right spaces.


Positive habits to achieve your goals

Markman says we have two circuits that assist with motivation and sustainable behaviours.   He calls them the “Go system” and the “Stop system”.  Understanding the key components of our motivational system and how to utilise them to use our energy in the right spaces is essential to achieving personal goals.  The Go system has two parts – one which outputs effort to allow us to develop new behaviours and the other which automates the behaviours we do often in a more energy efficient way by way of habit development.

The Go system associates certain times and places with certain behaviours.  Do you go pull your phone out while riding on the train or put your bag in a certain place when you walk in the door?  These frequent patterns of behaviour are on autopilot and help us with decision fatigue. The Stop system is our ‘brakes’ system. This system requires mental energy and mental energy is a finite source. This is why all of our hard work comes apart in the afternoon. Our brains are tired and so the mental energy required to make the right choice is not there.  Trying to change a pattern of behaviour by constantly riding the brakes is not sustainable. We run out of energy this way. The key, is to find ways to make the behaviour we wish to develop, a habit. Create a trigger that prompts that behaviour. Build an environment which promotes this behaviour.


Move from aspiring to practicing

The Go system is all about habits. The Stop system is all about goals. In this great Farnam Street blog post from Shane Parish, he highlights the power of habits over goal setting in the pursuit of excellence. Goals have “endpoints and require willpower and self-discipline”. Habits once formed are automatic. They are easy to complete. This is so on the money. Writing for me has always been a passion. I was, like Joshua Fields Milburn from the Minimalists, an aspiring writer. Always aspiring to write but never actually getting it done. I set myself goals of one blog post a week which seemed like a pretty reasonable target but I rarely achieved it. The #youredustory challenge helped me do it for one year but I dropped the ball after that. The writing was hard. I would sit down and nothing would come out. I struggled for content. Since I started writing 750 words daily, I have written over 50,000 words in two months. That’s a book worth right there. Through the habit, I have written two and sometimes three blog posts a week. My work writing is easier. The words just flow. Now, not all of this writing is brilliant but there are speckles of gold in there and it feels natural every day. To start writing is easy. To finish is easy. I sit down and it just happens. This was not the case when I set goals to write. My dream has changed from aspiring to write a book to writing a book. I have applied the same changes to exercise, meditation and reading. I do them daily at the same time (most days) and it feels unnatural not to do them. I have harnessed my Go system and made the process easier. It is the power of incrementalism. One step, every day and you get to where you want to get to.

Four strategies to help you build your writing capacity

Four strategies to help you build your writing capacity
Your laptop is ready. A cup of freshly brewed coffee sits next to you. You’re ready. You sit poised. You start. Then nothing comes out. Nada. Zilch. Nothing. Sound familiar? Writing is challenging. I’d like to say that the words flow from my fingers but I would be bullshitting you. There are days where it does and there are days of tumbleweeds. The thing I have learnt over the past two months of writing every day that it does get easier to write. But those two scenarios don’t disappear. Writing is equal parts cathartic and despairing.
This post will share a few strategies that I have borrowed or concocted to build my writing capacity. The first one is the maintenance of a daily habit. I have written here about this. A daily habit is the engine room behind consistent writing. I have written some work I am proud of over the past few months and some work that may not pass Year 7 English. I liken it to my guitar playing. I have riffs I have written that I love and then a whole lot of crap. The joy of writing a great riff is what keeps me playing. Same goes for writing.
The next part is feedback. It is sad to say but in the hyper-connected world we live in, this is not as easy as pressing publish. There are a few people who I can always count on to engage with my out loud thinking (Thanks Aaron!). Medium is a great space to reach an audience that lives outside the world of my PLN. To get feedback on my writing structure I use an app called Hemingway app. This has helped to improve the clarity of what I’m trying to say.
The hardest part is figuring out what to say in a post. This is where we battle ourselves for original ideas. Don’t. Austin Kleon says it best in his book “Steal like an Artist”,
“What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.”
The Beatles and Rolling Stones began as cover bands. Be inspired by the work of others. If we continue with the music analogy, most of my blog posts riff off of the original ideas of others. I write to understand them further. I write to engage with the opinions of others. I attribute their work but in essence, I’m borrowing their ideas. I’m intrigued by their work. Kleon also says that “if we copy from one artist, it is plagiarism. If you copy from many, it is research. Copying is reverse-engineering”. The key is to connect with a multitude of angles and ideas. Be a cover band of many artists!
The next strategy I use I have borrowed from a multitude of people. In “How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen”, Ewan McIntosh calls it the “Bug list and Idea Wallet”. Kleon calls it the “Swipe File”. McIntosh’s Bug list is a space (digital or physical) where you gather “things you notice that just don’t work as well as they could do.” The Ideas wallet is a space to capture inspiration as it happens. This is similar to Kleon’s Swipe file. A Swipe file is where you swipe ideas you connect with. To achieve this, I use a Trello board. Trello is a huge part of my daily workflow and it works with so many modes of media. I like that I can send items via email. I can copy links via the browser. I can type ideas straight in. It provides me with a great space to revisit to find an item to riff off. Often this leads to a rabbit hole of inspiration and then I’m off.
My bug list and idea wallet
I also read and read and read (a post coming shortly discussing some my recent favs). As I read, I sticky note the heck out of the book. Quotes, research, other books to check, important facts, interesting stories, anything that jumps out at me. I then revisit these notes once I have finished the book and type them up in OneNote. I started this practice for two reasons. Firstly because I wanted to continue to connect with these thoughts and insights. I wanted access to these thoughts when I was writing. Secondly, I didn’t own the books, having borrowed them from my awesome local library. It is a practice I wasn’t sure I would sustain but I have. I enjoy it because it is like compiling a mixed tape of my favourite parts of the book. I often find myself jumping back into the book to continue to explore. I then revisit these ideas long after I have returned the book. It is an interesting way to connect with the ideas. Typing them out connects me physically to them. The ideas roll out around in my head as my fingers pound the keyboard. While it may appear a mundane process, it does work.
Continuing my sticky note addiction
My mix tape collection of ideas in OneNote
Having these strategies in place helps with the conditioning required for regular writing. Like stretching and eating right work for exercise, these strategies work for my writing. For the regular writers out there, I would love to know what you use to help you with your conditioning. As always, thoughts and feedback welcome.