April 03, 2017
I had wanted to write something smart tonight. The topic was all picked out, I had researched it, and I’d even thought of an anecdote about how it related to my life. Then I started writing it and the wheels came off. I tried dozens of different approaches, variations, and tacts - none of them felt right. After several hours of effort, I was left with a few sentences that I was happy with, disparate thoughts that refused to gel, and thousands of words forming incoherent paragraphs. I was getting frustrated: I had told myself I would write and I felt like I was failing.
The thing is — I wasn’t actually failing. I had told myself I would write, I had made the time to write, and that’s exactly what I had been doing. Whether it was good or bad was not the point here. I had made the time and followed through.
The world failure can affect the way I think, so stopping myself before I went down a rabbit hole was important. I realized that though I hadn’t gotten the piece where I had wanted, this evening was not a failure. To think of it as one, would be viewing the problem strictly from an outcome-orientation. The awareness of my growing frustration meant that I was able to short circuit that process and take a moment to step back.
When I was able to gather myself and ask “why I am struggling?” the answers came in a flurry of thoughts. I slept poorly, basketball was on, my eyes burned, I need to budget, I’d had a long day, my back hurt… and on and on. As excuses, none of these are very satisfying. But I don’t need excuses, which are more useful when trying to explain away a shortcoming and mitigate a sense of responsibility. What I was looking for was an explanation which would help me understand why I had been frustrated and, more importantly, what I could do about that in the future.
The theme of the list was that a lack of attention was driven by a lack of energy. That’s why my mind kept wandering. Why was I tired? Well, I slept poorly, I had had a day with multiple hours of Deep Work, and I worked out this evening before having a fairly heavy dinner. Having diagnosed the problem, I could now move on to figuring out how to correct it - the appropriate next step according to the Do, Observe, Correct (DOC) method. (Notice, judgment is conspicuously absent.) Coming up with solutions was challenging, but, ironically, provided a second wind; unlike stewing in frustration, having to be creative and come up with solutions that might help me in the future felt productive, which I suspect had a lot to do with the energy boost.
Only thing left is to try - which begins with a good night’s rest.
Written by Stephen Weiss who lives in Chicago with his wife, Kate, and dog, Finn. Follow him on Twitter!