Monday, June 01, 2009

Forgive Us Our Struggle

In addition to working on the newsletter and CD, during the last couple days I've been working on some "framework" issues on the book.

When I was writing the first version, each chapter was an adventure unto itself, with no particular standard way of organizing it.  This meant I had to come up with an organizational pattern from scratch, then try to fit it into the overall shape of the book, and find connecting themes within what I wanted to say.

And doing that usually meant writing a lot of stuff...

And then throwing most of it away!

In this second go-round, I don't plan to be so wasteful of my time.  I want to have roadmaps to tell me where the writing is going, to plan out my themes and connections in advance, so I can still write the same high quality, engaging stuff that people loved in the first version, but without so much angst and waste.

And what I realized in the last few days is that the part that caused me the most headaches, was trying like crazy to write everything so that a "naturally struggling" person (like I used to be) would be so motivated and fired up that they would actually do all the exercises and use all the techniques...

Even though, when I was a natural struggler, there's no way anybody could've gotten me to do that, no matter how persuasive they were!

Hell, when I first sat down to write the first version, I spent a ridiculous amount of time throwing away first-chapter drafts that basically amounted to me haranguing my past self for never doing anything I read in self-help books.

I really want to write a book that I could stick in a time machine, and send back to myself, 10, 20 years ago...  a book so vivid and specific that it would be like my hands were literally coming out of the pages to grab my younger self by the neck and yell...

"Do this!!!  NOW!!!!"

Something that would get past all my younger self's defenses and excuses and beliefs, and get him to take action.  To make him practice the skills of planning and focus and emotional control that I now value, but would've dismissed in a heartbeat back then.

And so, when I was writing the first version, any time I still felt like there was some excuse, some defense my younger self had left, I wanted to keep on writing, to nail down every last objection until there was nothing left.  And to cut even a tiny bit of it was agony - like abandoning my younger self to wither and die.

I know, the book's not really going back in a time machine, and it's not really written to my younger self.  But if you're in the same "naturally struggling" place that I was, then you are like my younger self, and I feel exactly the same about abandoning you.

Because I'm afraid that if I focus on making the book writeable and readable, I'll end up with "just another self-help book" - sure, one based on superior mind-hacking technology, but one that naturally struggling people will still find a way to fail at using!

But it occurred to me today that this attitude isn't really helping anyone.  Because even though they often seem to go together...

Love And Fear Are Not The Same!

And speaking of which...  wow.  Took a quick break to get a snack, checked my email, and found a really emotional comment on the Thinking Things Done site.  An anonymous reader is really really upset with me for not having the book done sooner, and calls me a fraud, among other things.  Ouch.

I fire off a smiling-on-the-outside, hurting-on-the-inside response.  He (she?) hit me right smack on one of the buttons I was just starting to write about in this article: the guilt of not having done more, and the fear of never doing enough.

See, as I told my subscribers in the April newsletter (and incidentally wrote a bit about here), the naturally struggling mindset is all about all-or-nothing thinking.  Either you're perfect or you're not.  You're good or you're not.  You did everything you could, or you're a terrible awful person.

Either-or, either-or, either-or.  Either you're a naturally successful person and therefore perfect all the time, free of all angst and self-doubt and never have any troubles whatsoever, or...

You're A Fraud And A Failure!

So my anonymous commenting friend actually did me a favor today.  Because it made me realize what I needed to do next about my own frame of mind.

After all, for many months now, I've been beating myself up in just the same way on the inside, as my anonymous friend just did on the outside.  Mostly, I'd just brush it off, focus on all the good things I'd been accomplishing, and then move on.

But it finally occurred to me today, that I've been just putting off the problem, by thinking it would be over when I finished the book.  Thinking that, once it was done and "perfect", that I would never have to worry about whether I was really and truly successful, or if there was still some chance I was just fooling myself.

And That's Just Freaking Insane!

See, brains don't do destinations.  We think they do, but they don't.  Imagining that you can struggle and be successful, is like thinking you can "fight for peace" or "fuck for virginity".

It's an absolute contradiction in terms.

Because if your brain is set in the struggling mode, then struggling is what you experience.  If it's in the success mode, then success is what you experience.

And this is entirely independent of whatever "objective" results you produce -- or don't.  You can struggle and get things done, but still have your life suck, and never ever feel like you did enough.  (Been there, done that!)

Or you can enjoy making progress in your life, without it really mattering how quickly or slowly the results are coming.  (Am there, doing that!)

And as I wrote in some of my recent rewrite work on the book:

No, this book isn’t really about getting things done. It’s about having a life worth living... a life in which a lot of stuff just happens to get done.

Because the difference between these two mindsets, between success and struggling, is in your attitude towards setbacks.

After all, I've written and spoken over and over about how my naturally successful friends (like Josh Kaufman over at PersonalMBA.com) seem absolutely unable to even perceive or acknowledge failure for more than a split second before they snap back into focus on positive goals for their future.  They think "more", not "either-or".

But when you're a naturally struggling person, like I was, you tend to view life through the "either-or" filter, not the "more" filter.  So when I used to compare myself to guys like Josh, who's got his business way more in order than mine in some ways, I would always find myself wanting.

And I'd keep thinking I found the magic "it" that meant I was now officially a "naturally successful person"...  and then some setback would happen, and I'd lose my way again.

Beat myself up for having thought I was any good at it.

Brush myself off and try again.

But a few months ago, when I finally began to grasp the whole "or vs. more" and "fixed vs. growth" mindsets concept, I saw how I was getting this whole thing backwards.

Because if you measure yourself by the standards of a naturally struggling person, you will never be a naturally successful person.

Because it is that very process of measurement...

That Is Itself The Difference!

And the moment you truly realize that success and struggle are not an either-or thing, you are no longer naturally struggling.

You may not be very naturally successful, either, but you are no longer required to struggle!

Instead, the more you practice your "more" thinking, the more you begin to enjoy your life...  and incidentally, get stuff done.

Now, this was a tough idea for me to accept in some ways.  For years and years I had a really cynical attitude about self-help stuff, and an insistence on finding things that worked instantly, without needing a lot of practice, etc.

And what I have consistently discovered is this: blocks can be eliminated instantly, but growth takes time.  And even though blocks can be eliminated instantly, it still takes time to find and identify them.

Each block I remove frees up my life a little bit.  But at some point, it becomes less about removing the blocks, and more about actually developing as a person.  Learning new skills, and putting them into practice.  Growing new pathways in the brain.

Becoming more of the person I want to be!

Yeah, I'm still an impatient cuss.  I insist that any new practices I  teach (like the new IDOC and CALL processes) still be able to provide instant benefits.  None of that "just try it for 30 days" crap for me, thanks!

But the impact that my nightly CALL has on my attitude has been getting better and better over the last few weeks, as it becomes more and more natural to think in the positive way that it forces my brain to use.

I guess you could say that dropping a negative attitude can be done very quickly, but building positive attitudes is something...

You Do For A Lifetime

Just ask Josh, or any other naturally successful person.  Because every one of them that I know, is always looking to improve themselves and their lives.

Not because they feel that anything about their life is inadequate, but because they like more.  They like challenge.  Growth.  Opportunity.

You know, all those business buzzwords you hear from the go-getters and political weasels who don't really mean them.

But naturally successful people really do mean them.

Okay, so I got a bit off track here, but the above is all really important stuff to know.

Because, if you could really get everything I just said in this whole digression, you too would be a naturally successful person...

Right Now!

In practice, of course, I don't expect anyone to "get it" from just an explanation, any more than you can "get" how to ride a bicycle from just an explanation.

Because in practice, you need practice.  (Which is why I designed IDOC and CALL to provide specific, narrow, situational practices that provide immediate benefits and long-term practice in naturally-successful thinking.  But I'm digressing again!)

Anyway, here's where I was going: when you're in the naturally struggling mindset, you expect perfection of yourself and others, because you see everything as either-or.  That's why both my anonymous commenter and I were both so upset at my "failures": (I was ignoring my successes, and s/he was ignoring all the good things they received from me for free.)

But positive and negative emotions are mostly independent, which means you can feel good and bad at the same time.  So I certainly still felt good about all the tons of things I've accomplished since I started my mindhacking journey, the massive improvements I've made in my quality of life and my productivity.

But I also felt bad, because it wasn't "enough".  I "could've done more".  "Should've done more".  And if my techniques were really so good...

I "Should" Be Perfect By Now!

And today, I let that comment get me down for a while, thinking in this way...  all the while completely overlooking the "either-or" thinking here!

That is, "either I'm perfect, or I'm a fake".  It doesn't matter how much I've accomplished, only that I haven't accomplished everything that's humanly, theoretically possible to do, entirely ignoring what kind of quality of life I might have in the process.

Now, let me ask you something:

Is This What You Expect Of Yourself?

God I hope not.  Because I'm sure as hell not going to teach you that.

Let's leave "no pain, no gain" to the Hardassians, eh?  They enjoy that sort of masochism.

What I teach is the Effortless Way of getting things done.  The way where things come naturally and you feel good about doing them...  and incidentally, they go a lot faster and better in the process.

Not perfectly.  Just faster and better.  And the more you practice, the more you get faster and better.

By the way, you notice how it's fast-er and bett-er?  That's because those "er" sounds mean more.

Improvement.

Growth.

Not "Or", But "More"!

Because the more you enjoy your work, the more you'll want to work.  And the more you work, the better you'll get at it.  And the better you get at it, the easier it gets...  and the more you enjoy it...  and so on, and so on, and so on.

More, more, more.  That's how natural success works!

I used to think that there was some magic ingredient that made guys like Josh so good at what they do.  Now I know, they've just had more practice.

But I beg you: do not, under any circumstances, confuse this "more loop" with the idea that "success is just hard work".

Because, in the naturally struggling mindset, that thought just reinforces the idea that you need to struggle.

And it's not like that at all!

Since I did the new outline for the book, I've been having an absolute blast working on it.  In some ways, it's "harder" than the work I was doing before, because I'm aiming higher.  But at the same time, it's far more exciting and enjoyable... because I'm experiencing more.

It works like this: you think, "the more X, the more Y".  Like, "the more I work on the book, the more excited I become about how cool it's going to be."

That's it.  That's all.  Simplicity in itself, although learning to believe it, and to drop any conflicting "either-or" thinking can be a bit more challenging.  (Hence the book, and the techniques.)

Which all brings me back to today, and the challenge posed by my anonymous friend.

After reading it, I find myself being down on myself, accepting the evaluation of "fraud", because, from the struggling mindset, how can I refute it?  Either I'm perfect or I'm a fraud, right?

Then I get even more down on myself, because, here I am, working on a CD about how to wake up motivated, and this has been like one depressing day from beginning to end.  Clearly my techniques suck and I am a poor excuse for a human being!

So I fire up the old mindhacking toolkit.  What bad thing happens if I don't have a perfect technique?  The answer pops back:

I'm Not "Real"!

What's bad about that?  "I'm a fake."  Okay, sounds logical enough.

What's bad about that?  "I'm tricking people."  I get an brief flash of kids in school promising me things in order to trick and humiliate me.  Ouch.

I ask a few more questions of myself, and also turn up a guilty memory of the one time in my childhood where I actually participated in bullying, not as the victim.  Ugh.

I make a few mental adjustments, drop the fears and guilts, and it's like the scales fall off my eyes.  Why does CALL need to make me 100% perfectly happy the entire day?  My attitude today was like 100% better in the face of the problems than it would've been even three weeks ago.  Overall, a day as bad as today would've had me burying my head in the internet to escape it!

I can't believe what a freakin' jackass I've been, not only beating myself up, but doing so recursively.  CALL is a technique for waking up motivated, and looking forward to your day.  And so far, it works 100% for doing precisely that.

In fact, when I think back on it, I quickly realize that I've actually still been looking forward to the same things all day long, it's just that there have been lots of annoying interruptions, and an interlude where I depressed myself using inappropriate "or" thinking.

Duh!

See, this is what it's like to be a naturally successful person: you bounce back.  In fact, until I let myself get down about the process, I was bouncing back all day.

Sure, it doesn't mean you always instantly bounce back from everything.  It means you progressively get better at bouncing back without needing to think about it, and sometimes, you need to consciously do something to bounce back.

And if you don't automatically bounce back, it doesn't mean you failed somehow, and are now a naturally struggling person again!  (The way I kept thinking for a good chunk of last year and part of this one!)

So the hardest thing about becoming successful, is giving up on struggle.  To stop evaluating everything through the either-or looking glass, that makes everything you do a failure.

Because to do that, you have to forgive yourself.

Not just in some intellectual way, where you decide that you ought to forgive yourself, "in principle".

But in an emotional way, where you actually experience and acknowledge the harm done to you, or by you...  like I did today with the kids who tricked me, and the one I tricked.

And what I also did, with the thing I first sat down to write about today!

Because, like I said, I'd been thinking about how to make the book get certain things across to my younger, naturally struggling self.

And earlier today, before I started writing this, I'd realized there was a reason I was so uptight about trying to talk naturally struggling people into doing what they need to do to change:

I'd never forgiven myself for not changing sooner!

All those years I wasted, reading self-help books, but never doing more than the tiniest fraction of the exercises in them...  exercises I now realize, from a naturally successful person's perspective, could have shaved literally years of struggle off my journey.

Because I always thought that just reading about something was enough, that I could easily just imagine what it would be like to do an exercise, and not bother with ones that didn't seem important.

What a fucking idiot I was!

So up till now, when I've been working on the book, I've been mentally projecting my own past stupidity onto my readers, and trying to figure out how I could write something that could've broken through my own thick skull, back in those days.

(Not gonna happen, of course.  I was just too boneheaded.  Short of seeing myself come back in a time machine and hand myself the book personally, I think I probably still wouldn't have listened!)

So in the first draft, I wasted chapter after chapter on building an airtight theoretical and metaphorical case for my methods, so that by the time I got to anything practical, my younger self would have to be absolutely convinced I was the real deal, and be ready to listen.

(Like that would've gotten my sorry ass out of a chair long enough to get a paper and pencil, let alone doing anything more complicated!)

But even after the main re-organization for version 2, I still had a lurking voice in the back of my mind, trying to make every chapter absolutely airtight, so that no critic or reader using "either-or" thinking would ever be able to find the slightest flaw or excuse to not do what I recommend trying.

Which is also never gonna happen!

Because nothing anybody ever says will ever be able to convince every naturally struggling person.

Because, when it comes right down to it, we all have to decide for ourselves.  We can be led to the water, but it's always up to us whether we drink.

So I forgive myself, again, this time letting go of the pain I caused myself by not taking action sooner.  And the little voice drops away, taking with it my fear of failing my readers and my alternative-universe past-self.

And once again, as the fear goes, the clarity comes: all I need to do is include a brief section in each chapter, where I'll explain how my past self would've fucked up if he were reading that chapter, and pointing out that if you, dear reader, can simply manage to avoid those particular modes of fucking up, then you will, in all probability, advance to the next level a hell of a lot faster than I did!

And that is enough.

Because I don't have to be perfect.

And neither do you.

We just have to be forgiven.

--PJ

P.S.  If you're interested in learning the Fourgiveness technique I've been using to make these changes today, you might want to check out my Instant Self-Esteem workshop.  As for the CALL technique, it's featured on the May CD of my Effortless Way monthly subscription program, which you can still get as a bonus download if you subscribe today.  (The April newsletter and CD are no longer available.)