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November 2013

Post image for The Four Horsemen of Procrastination (and how to defeat them)

This article was originally about writer’s block — a particular kind of procrastination — but as some readers have pointed out, it applies to anything you’ve been avoiding. Writing is my example here; you know better what it is you’re avoiding right now.

Getting myself writing used to feel something like trying to start an old lawn mower. Occasionally I’d get it running right away, but most of the time it would take at least a few rips at the cord, and I was always aware that I might not get it to turn over at all that day.

This made it feel like there were days I could write and couldn’t write, and I could never do much more than hope it was the right kind of day. Some time in the last year I lost most of my fear of writing, or at least by now I’ve experienced enough of that fear that I can see it has a rather simple and predictable structure.

I’m not saying I’ve defeated it, only that I understand it enough that I can always get myself to the point where I actually write something. I still encounter creative fear every day, but it arrives in only a few predictable forms and I know what to do for each one.

There are four forms, and almost every day they ride out to confront me in the same order. I call them the Four Horsemen of Writer’s Block, but they are undoubtedly the same evil forces that stifle creators of all types.

Initially they come in disguise, seducing travelers away from the creative path. Often they defeat you without your even knowing it. Once you know their names and their strategies, you begin to see your encounters with them as an everyday part of your job that need cause you little trouble. But be careful. Even if you’ve defeated them a hundred times they will still be capable of tricking you — in fact, my overconfidence allowed the first one to outsmart me yesterday on the piece you’re reading.

Know which you’re dealing with and what to do for each.  Read More

Post image for Accept it whether you can change it or not

The most valuable part of my post-secondary education happened during the ten hours a week I spent riding the bus between the campus and my suburban home. For a shy, high-strung, claustrophobic young man, these crowded bus rides served as an intensive hands-on program in acceptance.

The older buses were unpleasantly warm in the summer, but much worse in the winter. The driver sits next to the front door, which must open every other block to let in a few more people. Even though it was often thirty below zero, he would always be wearing only a company-issue fleece — his parka would take up too much of his limited workspace. With each opening of the door comes a blast of arctic air, and so in order to stay halfway comfortable the driver keeps the heat dialed up all the way.

This creates, for the passengers in the back of the bus, a microcosm of runaway climate change. As the bus creeps across town, it fills up with Gortexed students until they are bulging against the yellow line at the front, and the temperature inside each parka rises to tropical levels. Nobody dares open a window because it would it would mean the person sitting nearest to it would have his face frozen even as the rest of his body sweltered.

Faring the worst is the person who lets himself get angry at this arrangement, because this sends him down an even steeper spiral — he fumes into his parka and long underwear, cooking his body faster and bringing his mind to a full boil. Then he is defenseless against everything, inside his mind and out. He is physically trapped, and the context of this powerless feeling expands to the rest of his life. Academic worries descend on him. His relationship suddenly seems unsatisfactory. He begins to hate the institutions which torture him like this every day: the transit service, the college, the commercial sector for which he is going to school to please, and all of their unsympathetic expectations.

He may, at this moment, remember a familiar prayer along these lines:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

But he finds this does not help him accept his physical state, or the chaotic life situation swirling around it. Acceptance of this sort is not something he tries to do often, because it doesn’t occur to him except in moments where he feels powerless. He has been trained that acceptance is difficult, and is always an act of great willpower.

He may learn, after a few years of crosstown winter bus rides, that acceptance is more of a learned reflex than anything, and shouldn’t be reserved for things that cannot be changed.  Read More

Post image for What would you like to see?

Dear Reader,

By the time you read this I should be somewhere in Colorado, taking photos and helping Mr. Money Mustache build things.

I had just gotten back from a bucket-list-related trip to Minneapolis, and hit the road again three days later. When I get back from Colorado I’ll begin stockpiling tea and used books, settling in to brace for the harsh Canadian winter, given that my next trip is a whole six months away. So for the first time in my life I’ll have ample time to write, which allows me to tackle topics that I had never had the space to address thoroughly.

There are a lot of directions to take, and so to reduce option-paralysis it would help if you’d tell me what topics you’re most interested in reading about. It could be something I’ve written about before, or something new. Different readers can be interested in totally different things, from Buddhism to capitalism to antidisestablishmentarianism, and I want to know what -isms, -alities and -nesses I’m neglecting in the eyes of the general audience. If I wrote, say, a 3000-word piece on floccinaucinihilipilification, and most of you have been dying for me to comment on the process involved in overcoming asseocarnisanguineoviscericartilaginonervomedullarial issues, then that is a missed opportunity for all of us. Or perhaps many of you suffer from hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia and I’ve been inadvertently terrorizing you with my choices. Such perfidiousness on my part! So the more responses, the better for everyone.

So far there have been a lot of requests for more on procrastination, Douglas Harding, non-religious spirituality, lifestyle design and overcoming shyness, but I want to lengthen the list. That way I can queue up topics and keep going with another article as soon as I’m finished one.

Please tell me in the comments what you would like to see more of here. Even if you never comment, I would love to know what I’ve written about that you’ve especially liked, or what I haven’t written about that you wish I would. A one-liner is fine.

Thank you for your contributions, you make this place what it is.


Photo by David Cain
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