Time, Values, & Getting S**t Done

“Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. We can subordinate feelings to values. We have the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen.” – Stephen Covey from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (PG 70-71).

If you’ve spent any time reading The Oatmeal, chances are good that you’ve met The Blerch.

Instead of hitting “the wall”, The Oatmeal talks about this fat little cherub who follows him when he runs that he refers to as “The Blerch.”

The Blerch does not want The Oatmeal to succeed. The Blerch wants The Oatmeal to get back on the couch and stuff his face with cake while watching a Robo Cop marathon.

In Buddhism we have Mara, a demon who took various forms (re: sexy ladies) to distract the Buddha from seeking enlightenment. Mara didn’t want the Buddha to succeed either.

Sometimes it feels like there are Blerches and Maras for creativity, creatures and demons that want to distract us from our work, because they don’t want us to succeed.

But these creatures and demons are mythical of course. The Blerch is a persona of The Oatmeal, a reminder of who he was before he started running. And in Buddhism (my humble interpretation of it anyway) “mara” is just another word for distracting thoughts that pop up during meditation…or, you know, sexy ladies or whatever you might be into.

Stephen Pressfield calls it Resistance. Other writers call it the Inner Critic. Whatever you choose to call it, its a part of you. The personas simply make it easier to separate yourself from them.

So if you’re going to identify with something different, then identify with the thing you value.

The Oatmeal keeps running, because his well-being is more important to him than cake and Robo Cop. The Buddha kept meditating because ultimately enlightenment was more important to him than sexy ladies. And while cake, Robo Cop, and sexy ladies (or whatever you’re into) are all tempting, some things are just more important than that. When you value something like running, enlightenment, or creativity, then the choice on how to spend your time becomes that much easier.

Making time is about the expression of that thing you value. When you spend time doing it, you’re telling the world that this is more important to me than That Other Thing.

But you have to make the choice. Even when its not easy, even when people tell you its wrong though you know its right, you have to make that choice.

A while back I wrote this blog post about making time versus finding time. There is a huge difference between the two. The writers who make time get shit done, and the writers that don’t are at the mercy of external circumstances.

And that right there is the difference between a productive writer and an unproductive one. A writer who gets shit done doesn’t wait for the right conditions to happen to them. They make the right conditions happen to them.

When you make the habit, your mindset starts to change. The habit gets you thinking, “How can I make this a part of my life?” When you have that shift in mindset, you think differently about your time and how your choices change. You begin to take control of how that time is spent.

The creative life will test you. There will plenty of days when its not easy to make this choice. You don’t get to breeze through the difficulty like one of those movie montages. You go through that crap in real time. For every choice you have to do creative work, you’ll have about ten choices to quit.The Blerch, Mara, or Resistance will open the Quit Door, enticing you over to the other side.

There’s nothing wrong with taking that door. Creative work is not for everybody, and those that know that about themselves will call it quits.

But if you’re truly serious about this practice, it will ask you to take ownership, to step up, and stretch yourself. Those that do that know the secret to getting shit done.

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