All in your head

Distraction.

It’s the thing that could destroy your productivity and send you down the rabbit hole of wasting time and achieving nothing. You will find yourself doing everything else but the one thing you need to be doing.

And you know what? The biggest problem isn’t with distraction. It’s not that video game. Not that Netflix show. Not that book. Rather, it’s you. You are the problem. You choose to play that video game, watch that show or read that book.

So why did you make that choice?

Is it because you lack the discipline?

Or maybe be that the thing you should be doing doesn’t have a strong enough draw to pull you away? Maybe it’s not as important as you think it is? And don’t kid yourself and be all defensive. After all, if it’s important, then why aren’t you doing those things? Why are you allowing yourself to be distracted?

It’s also a conversation that I’m having with myself every now and then.

As much as I like to think I have the discipline to work from home, it’s a lie perpetrated by me on me. The truth is being distracted is a recurring theme. There were so many projects that I want to do but ended up not doing them. I went with playing video games, stopped thinking like a writer and stopped thinking like a designer.

I even told my friends that I couldn’t find the time or concentrate on my stuff at home and needed to work outside. There’s just too many distracting stuff.

One of them said, “it’s all in your head”.

I won’t say I’m surprised. From what I have learned so far, it’s the truth. And the only truth when it comes to productivity.

And that’s a great reminder on who’s really in control.

No one else can make you concentrate or focus. You are the one who decide whether you can concentrate and do the work. Everything else that you say or fight against is just you finding an excuse.

What if you really think that your home has a ton of distractions and you can’t prevent yourself from utilising those distractions? Then go out there and find an environment to work in that allow you to focus. Otherwise, remove all those items in your house that distracts you. Move those distracting things, be it television, your internet router/access points, etc. to a storage unit. Smash them to pieces if you need to. You can always buy a new one later. It’s all about creating that environment you need to work.

And watch what you say to yourself. A lot of times, many of the comments or complains you make are just you being fancy and refuse to do the work. So shut up, and make a plan and execute.

Lack of experiences kill your creativity

It’s very easy for us humans to fall into the trap of sticking to what’s familiar. We like it because of how it make us feel. Comfortable is the word to use here. After all, who likes to struggle every day of their life?

I definitely don’t. But I recognised that it had crept up on me. I grew comfortable with what I’m doing with my life that my blog is suffering from lack of content. Comfort leads to writer’s block and that leads to no content created.

So being comfortable is bad.

Right?

Probably…

By allowing yourself to grow very comfortable and remain status quo, it’s very easy for you to find you are unable to think out of the box or come up with new solutions fast enough. It’s just a fact. Similar to how you keep doing the same set of exercises and your body has grown used to it, comfort leads to strengthening of existing neural connections that you have already established, and after a while the brain stops doing that because there’s no more necessary changes to the signalling.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with being comfortable. Comfortable sometimes could be you have reached the pinnacle of whatever skill you are developing. That means you could do that thing faster than before.

However, the key here is moderation.

New challenges and experiences forces the brain to create new connections and reshape existing ones. And when you keep doing that, the brain is constantly changing and reinforcing certain connections that ultimately results in its ability to come up with new ideas. This is where you can think out of the box when the time comes. If you keep practicing doing that, it can also make you more confident as a person when it comes to dealing with new problems as they come.

For those who are neurotic, constantly worrying about stuff or have low self-esteem, they would probably go like, “Are you crazy? Take on new challenges? I’d rather kill myself.”

I know. I can relate. It’s very difficult to get yourself to experience new things. Personally, I have this issue because of my innate desire for stability and consistency in life. I’ve lost count of how many times I need to will myself to do something different just so that I expand my knowledge and experience.

This is why you won’t see me asking someone to do something drastic just to increase or revive your creativity. For example, there is no need for you to jump out of a perfectly good airplane just so you can jumpstart your creativity. You won’t see me doing that either.

Yet, it’s not good either to leave the “lack of experience, can’t create” situation unresolved. Not if you want to grow any further.

Instead, what you probably could do is find and know where is your comfort zone. Then ask yourself if you are willing to go out of your comfort zone by just one or two steps. If you do, then do it. And if you do manage to go out of your comfort zone by three to ten steps, then it’s even better. If not, then it’s better that you don’t complain about your situation and just live with it.

And you know what?

Sometimes, the new experience can come from simply changing up where you stand or sit when you are riding the train to work or to go back home. Or having a drink at your local coffee shop. Or maybe just take a different route to go to your usual places.

If you are a pantser, here’s a useful tool for planning

There are two kinds of writers. One is a planner, also known as a plotter, while the other is a pantser.

To the uninitiated, planners or plotters don’t start writing until they got all the details about the story they want to tell down in a massive mind map or something. It is just as the terms meant. And there is nothing wrong with that as it’s just what they do. Pantser on the other hand doesn’t really plan and simply just write, allowing the story to take them anywhere. They are literally flying by the seat of their pants. Planning for pantsers is just not something they do.

For me, I’m a pantser and really hate planning. The very act feels very unnatural and boring.

But today, I was introduced to something that I thought could be useful as a tool to help pantser. It’s known as a Fishbone diagram or officially known as Ishikawa diagram. From the outset, it look like a really simple tool that doesn’t seem to boring when used.

Now, I know it is really a tool for product design or quality defect detection. It is also used in certain kind of investigative purpose like incident investigation and resolution. So you may wonder how it can be applied to planning out a piece of writing.

Here’s how I thought it could be used...

Fishbone Diagram

For the purpose of this discussion, we will be using the fishbone diagram above for illustration.

Let’s say you are going to write a piece of fiction that has some kind of conflict or problem to resolve. You can put that conflict or problem at the fish head.

Then draw the ribs out from the spine. The purpose of so call bones of the fish is to allow you to identify the causes that ultimately lead to that conflict. You can treat each rib as a category. The boxes at the end of each rib could be used to list the categories such as characters, location and/or incidents. It’s up to you to decide how you want to use it really.

Once you have the categories identified, you can draw horizontal lines out from ribs where you use them to create just enough detail for you to write your story.

And that’s all.

After that, you can refer to the diagram if you do happen to encounter some kind of writer’s block while writing. And since it isn’t so detailed, you get to have the freedom to change your story on the fly while it also ensure you stay somewhat grounded and have some kind of reference material.

Lastly, because it’s such a simple diagram, it doesn’t really bore you to death as a pantser.

I also didn’t forget about you planners. You guys can also use this as a complementary tool to whatever they are using now to write.

With that, I hope it’s helpful to you.

Updated 2020-May-22: Parts of the content was rewritten and fishbone diagram added.

Should you recycle your stories? Yes or no?

If you are a writer who’s any good, you’d probably accumulate a huge pile of writings. And maybe up to ninety percent of those have been published somewhere.

Then there comes a day when you realised the message you wanted to share with the world is really done. Done as in you have said your piece and there’s nothing more for you to share. Or maybe you are just suffering from a serious case of writer’s block.

Now, during your journey as a writer, you’d probably also come across the suggestion of recycling what you wrote in the past and publish them again. I’ve seen other writers done it. And there’s nothing wrong with it.

From a practical standpoint, it make sense. By recycling it, you allow your new readers to get new content while you don’t need to put in any effort to write anymore. At least until you found another message to share with the world. That way, you remain relevant in today’s highly noisy world in terms of the amount of content created and published online. This is where the 80/20 rule comes in. You put in barely any effort but you get the maximum reward because you could get new followers and you remain visible.

Isn’t that a good trade?

But from a moral or ethical standpoint, it’s probably doesn’t feel right. I know because I’ll definitely feel that way. It’s like selling people old stuff. So unless you are at a thrift shop or a place that sell pre-owned goods, chances are you want what’s the latest or new right? Well, in hindsight, I suspect it’s probably the only valid reason that one have when trying to justify to oneself they shouldn’t do it.

However, we should all remember that people do have very short attention span. There’s just so many things in life to distract us. Our memory can get fuzzy too. Unless the readers are your number 1 fan, or with a lot of time on their hand to dig out all your old articles, no one is really going to notice you put out a piece of old content. Hell, I didn’t even realise I read an old post that was recycled until I notice the comments in the comment section is several years old. And yet, I realise if the person hadn’t recycle that content, I won’t have known such a great piece exist.

So the answer is yes. Recycle your old stories whenever you feel necessary. It’s also a useful course of action to take to fill in the lull period until you find your groove back.

P.S. In fact, I almost wanted to do the same thing because I don’t have anything else to share for now, but the realisation that I didn’t write any decent piece of content in the past that warrant me recycling them forced me to find something to write about instead. So I shared my thoughts about recycling old content.

Focus on playing the infinite game

There are two kinds of games. Finite and infinite. Finite games are games that we all know about. Sports for example are finite games. In each sport, there’s a set of rules and end goals. Once you follow the rules and meet the end goal, you win the game. Failure to do so, you lose the game.

And what about infinite games?

Infinite games are games that have no end goal. It just goes on and on until the players in the game drop out because of the lack of resources. And by resources, it could be anything: mental energy, money, time. Some examples of infinite games are the game of life and your personal growth.

You might be wondering how is personal growth an infinite game. For the uninitiated, it might be a finite game.

Let’s take the scenario of you deciding to go for a quick course to get a new skill. It has a set of rules. You need to sign up for the course and that is the most important rule. Then maybe there are terms and condition you need to follow. And what about the end goal? Completing the course and get the certificate.

But, it’s mostly an infinite game because you don’t stop at that one course, right? Everyday, you will be experiencing new things and then learning something from those experiences. It doesn’t stop. There’s no end goal. You don’t win the personal growth game. If you have the slightest of growth mindset, you just keep growing personally until the day you run out of resources. By that, it means you are either too sick to continue or drop dead.

And that lead me to the next point.

In one of my previous post, I talked about the importance of knowing your ‘why’. It’s especially relevant now. Not only does it helps to reduce the odds of getting situational depression, it’s your anchor in this world. It enables you to play the infinite game because you have now found your purpose. So whatever you do from there will be to fulfil the purpose. Now, that is an infinite game.

Furthermore, knowing your ‘why’ will give you strength to ignore all the noise that you get from people you meet, especially now when there’s always something telling you how to behave, what to wear, what to eat, and who you should be.

When you focus on playing the infinite game of fulfilling your ‘why’ through actions, you will be happier and you also frustrate the people around you because they realise they can’t seem to influence you to do the thing they want. With that, they will lose out. And you will also command respect from people who understand the game you are playing.

However, that’s not to say it will be all bright and rosy. On some days, you will lose some, and on some days, you will win some. It’s frustrating. And that’s the nature of the game. Just do not give up. By giving up, you are dropping out of the infinite game.

Even then, it’s also important not to forget about the finite games of your life because they can affect the quality of your life in the short term or block you from progressing. For example, getting a house for your family, getting that degree that you always wanted, or finding a job to feed yourself. Just don’t make the finite games the only game you play in your life because they lead you nowhere good.

I know you might wonder what could you do if you don’t know your ‘why’.

There’s something else I believe to be an infinite game; identify and put your strengths in play whatever you do. Don’t focus on fixing your flaws because they only serve to take away your energy from the things that truly matter. Just acknowledge your flaws and get someone who can hide them for you in both your personal and professional life.