Live Curious, not Constricted

There are two different ways you can make decisions: from a place of curiosity, or a place of constriction.

If you’re making decision from a curious standpoint, you’re pursuing opportunities because you wonder “what if.” You’re curious about what might have been, what might be now, or what could be in future. You’re curious to learn more. You’re driven purely by a desire for knowledge — not afraid of anything besides not knowing.

You can use this curious mindset to approach a wide array of things — work, school, the things you study, the projects you take on, and the parts of the world you choose to explore.

On the flip side, the constricted mindset can be equated to operating from a place of fear. You’re making decisions because you’re afraid of potential future consequences. For every risk you take (however small), you have to think about the potential repercussions, and the price you might have to pay.

When you make curious decisions, you’re operating from an abundance and opportunistic mindset.

When you make constricted decisions (more commonly called “fear-based decisions”), you’re operating on a very small plane of existence — limited by what you already know and what you already know is safe.

Think about both options as you’re making decisions. Which approach is more fulfilling? Which is a story you’d rather be existing in?

Make Idea Capture Part of Your Day

We have a lot of valuable thoughts that we waste.
We think a lot throughout the day. A lot of our thoughts are fairly pedantic — pertaining to the things we’re focused on in the moment, and not terribly relevant outside of that context. But we have a number of thoughts throughout the day that are valuable in other contexts. The more we live, the more knowledge we have, and the more interesting we become, the more valuable these thoughts become.
We do very little (if anything) to capture them.
When we do capture them, they become a gold mine we can dig into later for idea generation, blog post topics, project inspiration, and content.
One of my most valuable habits (practiced patchily, but with overwhelming returns when consistent) is idea capturing.
Evernote is brilliant for this (it’s what I’m using to write this post now). All the little things throughout the day that are even vaguely more interesting than the context I’m thinking about them in get logged. Notes from advising sessions I might use to write blog posts later, interesting philosophical questions I want to explore, descriptions or visual snapshots I want to incorporate into my writing. All of it gets logged.
Even if I don’t use this log as a record to sift through to look for ideas, the act of writing an idea concretizes it and captures it, so I’m more likely to remember it later when creating content.
If you don’t already keep a journal, do. If you don’t already log ideas you encounter throughout the day, do — religiously.
Train yourself to treat as habit the act of identifying useful and interesting ideas, and logging them immediately for future reference.

The Pain of Doing vs. The Pain of Not Doing

As Steven Pressfield so eloquently explains in his book The War of Art, there’s a force called Resistance that stands in direct opposition to all creative endeavors. The force of the Resistance is equal to the force of the creative energy begging to be made tangible. It hates the fulfillment of creative vision with the same passion that the muses love it.

It’s similar to the concept of resistance in weight training; a force that’s pulling you in the opposite direction as the one your body is moving in. The resistance is what makes us stronger. It’s also a natural force of nature

Whenever there’s a force moving in one direction, there must be a counter-pull in the other direction. (This is a common mechanism in storytelling — called tensive pulls).

Resistance breeds procrastination. Procrastination kills creative ideas before they’re ever born.

But sometimes we win, and procrastination is defeated, and it’s a simple framework that identifies when procrastination will or won’t be won over.

It’s similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (a very useful framework for a lot of things). Some things are more important than other things, and whichever thing is most important wins. If writing a blog post is less important than feeling comfortable (the sensation we experience when resistance wins, and we don’t have to endure the pain and energy expenditure of pushing through it), the comfort wins. If going through the pain of writing a blog post is less bad than enduring the consequences of not writing the post (for example, falling short on a commitment you made to another person), then the lesser evil wins, and you write a blog post.

This is why external accountability is so valuable — because if the prospect of the pain of not living up to your word is less evil than the prospect of the pain of creative expenditure, you’ll follow through on your commitments and do the creative work.

Because you aren’t wasting time fighting yourself over doing it/not doing it, it might not even be that painful of a process.

Procrastination dies when the pain of not doing is worse than the pain of doing.

Precision, Not Pretention

Mastering the art of writing requires becoming precise.

The best writers are deeply precise with their language usage. They don’t need many words to tell the truth; but the ones they choose are the right ones. If truth is the fine edge of a knife blade — sharp when it cuts you, and so narrow you might miss it — then the words to describe the truth must be precise enough to balance on that knife blade, to fit it. Good writers know how to find that balance.

Remember this. Tattoo it on yourself if you have to. Write it on a sticky note and put it above your desk. But remember — the point isn’t the impressiveness of the words you choose, but rather, the preciseness of them.

As one honing their writing craft, there’s a temptation to fall too far in love with the art of finding the most impressive word — or worse, words. Precise and impressive are not the same thing.

It”s easy to get lost in the folds of your own words, to spin webs with them (like a multi-legged spider) around the point.

Writing is a very singular craft, and a very personal one, and it’s easy to become arrogant when you feel as though you’re mastering it — but arrogance gets in the way of truth, and as Hemingway said, good writing requires truth.

Becoming good and becoming arrogant are two very different things, but they often stem from the same place — the pursuit of improvement. Mind the difference.

There’s a fine line between precision and pretention. It’s easy to choose a word that sounds impressive and think it’s good (pretention), but miss the truthful word (precision). Don’t fall so far in love with the sound of your own voice that you get lost in it — as Narcissus got lost in his reflection — and get in the way of your own mastery.

Rules for Writing: Sentence Echoes

An important rule for good writing: always end a sentence with the most important word.

The last word in a sentence lingers in the reader’s mind. Think of it as having a resonance, or an echo. The sound holds long after the rest of the sentence has died, and it plays a significant role in the shaping of the sentence’s tone.

For example:

“… and they’re unprepared for the world of finance, specifically.”

The word that hangs in the reader’s mind here is “specifically,” which doesn’t make sense. There’s no value to having this word hang in the air. The reader is much better served if the most important word is featured:

“… and specifically they’re unprepared for the world of finance.”

Hear how much better that sounds? It’s more balanced and more polished, and most importantly, the word “finance” echoes long after the sentence is finished, leaving a distinct air about the room.

Always end your sentences with the most important words!

Remember That You’re in Control

I was talking to a Praxis participant today about the upheaval of moving, and the stress of getting settled in a new city. Finding a place to live, coordinating logistics, and working on a tight timeline for all of the above can be incredibly overwhelming.

As someone who’s getting ready to move for the fifth time in the past 15 months, I understand the stress a lack of certainty can bring. Multiple moves have been made on tight timelines, when I committed to moving before I had a place lined up to go. Stress ensued. I felt like I was a victim of my circumstances, and like the situation was outside of my control, and I was only reacting to it, which is a terrible feeling to have. If I couldn’t solve this one specific problem, I’d be hard up and out of luck.

Except — I wasn’t. And when I reminded myself of this, the stress dissipated.

Here’s the thing about most situations we find ourselves in:

  1. Even if we didn’t intend to end up here, we chose the things that brought us here.
  2. We have complete agency in choosing what we do about it.
  3. No one forces us to make any decisions — including what we prioritize. We make choices based on our values.
  4. We can problem-solve no matter what happens.
  5. If we don’t like where we end up, we can deliberately choose our next steps and actions to get us somewhere better.

In the example of housing, even if we didn’t intend to end up in this city (or looking for housing on this timeline), we chose the circumstances that brought us to be looking here. I didn’t choose Charleston, but I chose my job, which brought me here. This reframes the conversation as one in which I am an active player and have agency, not someone who’s reacting to random and unpredictable things.

When I’m house-hunting, I can choose whatever solution I want to use. If I want to find roommates vs. a 1-bedroom, a house vs. an apartment, a lease vs. a sublet, or rent off of Airbnb — I have the power to choose whichever I want.

I also have the power to leave. I’m trapped in the situation only because I prioritize my job over the physical location in which I live. The situation stops being an unchosen absolute and becomes a contractual, transient arrangement.

And most importantly (once I’ve regained my agency), I concoct a backup plan. One of my favorite life strategies is knowing what to do when I don’t know what to do. Taking a big jump always feels less scary to me if I know what I’ll do in the worst-case scenario if it doesn’t pan out.

If I move to a new city looking for housing and can’t find anything, worst case scenario is that I leave and drive back. If I make a career jump and it doesn’t pan out, I can apply to these specific opportunities the very next day.

Reminding yourself that you have a backup plan in place, and that you chose this situation in the first place, does a lot to quell your anxiety — which in turn clears your mind, sharpens your focus, and makes you far more likely to avoid your feared outcomes in the first place.