By Steven Pressfield | Published: March 17, 2014
This week on Ask Me Anything we take a question from Scott Culley.
Not related to this week’s question, but this is on my mind a lot lately. What do you do when you’re not “having fun” anymore? What do you do when a project has just become so overwhelmingly frustrating that showing up everyday becomes more of an exercise in frustration where the work isn’t moving forward? What then?
Listen to the podcast, and then read this.
Shawn: Well . . . Here’s my take on this. It’s not going to be fun every day. There’s going to be a lot of days where you just have to do it. And, you’re going to get frustrated and you’re not going to make any headway and you’re going to grind and you’re going to grind, but those days are kind of what separate the men from the boys, because it’s like a relationship or a marriage or a partnership. Sometimes things go terribly wrong and, you don’t necessarily . . . You’re not as enthralled with the person in those moments that you were when you’ve initially met. Now this has never happened to me, [laughter] but those are the moments when it’s called for better or for worse, in sicker and in health or whatever, and there’s a reason why, because you’re not always going to be having fun. When it comes to creative projects, the moments when you’re not having fun and you’re grinding, and it might be a week, it might be two weeks, it might be a month, um . . . . Those are the times when you’re churning . . . You’re churning through bad ideas and it’s going to take a while, but you’re going to find a solution eventually. So try and make a game out of it and just say to yourself, “Hey, there’s another day at the sweat shop. I’m going to go there and I’m going to grind and I’m going to do the best I can and maybe I’ll move the boulder up a centimeter, or maybe it’ll come down a little bit, but I’m going to go in there and I’m going to push the damn thing.” And, so that’s what you have to do. If the project is so important to you that you’ve invested at least 40, 100, 1,000 hours in it, don’t quit, because that is Resistance at its meanest, because you’re probably right at that moment where you’re going to lick it. You’re going to beat it and that’s why Resistance is really pressing down on you.
Steve: Great answer and a great topic, Shawn. Let me add a little something to that. This is again on the concept of looking forward for an entire year and mentally preparing yourself for that full year, and there will be those dead spots in that year. There will be crises in that year, there will be moments of panic in that year. You just . . . You have to . . . An analogy is if you’re running a marathon, there’s a famous thing of you hit the wall at what, 22 miles or something like that? It’s a physiological thing where the body runs out of glucose or something at that certain time and it’s an absolutely predictable thing that every runner will hit the wall at that time. So, if at the start of the year, let’s say your year is your marathon, and you say to yourself “I know sometime around November (or wherever), I’m going to hit the wall. I’m going to come into the place where I want to quit, I want to throw this project away, I hate it.” If you’re mentally prepared for that, then you can simply say, “Oh, this is the wall. My glucose just ran out. I have to keep going. Take some Gatorade at the next stop,” whatever it is to keep going. If you’ll forgive me for plugging my own stuff, my book Do the Work that you have to order on Amazon, that’s the only place that it is, talks about this. It talks about kind of the predictable resistance points over the course of a book. There’s a projectable resistance point at the start when you first plunge in, it’s very hard to start. Then you get kind of the momentum and the fun and the rush or starting, and that lasts maybe a month, and then there’s a predictable resistance point where you suddenly go, “Oh my god, I’ve got to keep going for a whole year,” and you start to panic at that point. When that hits, it is great to know that this is predictable, everybody else is having that same problem. And, then there’s another predictable point, which is in the middle of act 2, the middle of whatever you’re working on. People always get lost, they always get bogged down, they always have that moment of “Why did I start this thing? What was I thinking? I’m never going to get through this thing.”
So, again, at the start of the year if you mentally prepare for that and you say “I know this is coming”. Again it’s kind of like if you’re sailing to Tahiti, you have to say to yourself, “Somewhere along this voyage, I’m going to hit a big storm and I better be ready for it when it happens.” And. then when it does happen, it’s not as bad as if it comes out of nowhere. There was something else I was going to say, but I forgot what it was. The idea is prepare mentally at the start of the year for the real sticking points and the panic moments that are going to happen along the way so that when they do happen, you don’t drop the ball. You just sort of take them in stride and say, “Ah, this is how it works. This is a normal part of the process and I’m going to keep going.” For instance, one last thing. I know I’m blathering on here, but . . . A real predictable resistance point is at the very finish of a project. The closer you get to the finish line, the more resistance there will be. And, so . . . Be ready for that. It’s a good thing . . . We were talking about doing a first draft in nine months . . . Part of that is to say to yourself, “At eight months and three weeks, be ready for a hail storm of Resistance,” and figure I’ve just got to put my head down and get it over the goal line no matter what.
Shawn: I’d just like to follow up on the importance, and this goes back to what you were saying earlier Steve, about Foolscaping a year. The importance of when these moments happen, if you have done an early sort of projection of your year—the Foolscap of your year—and you have your beginning, middle and end, what I like to refer to as your hook, your build and your payoff. If you know going in generally, you don’t need to know . . . It’s Foolscap; it’s a general battle plan. It’s not tactical tactics. So, if you know exactly where you need to be at the end and you hit one of these moments and you’re not sure how you’re going to get to the end, at least you know where you need to go. But, if you haven’t Foolscaped it and thought of where this story, where this novel, where this business plan is ultimately going to go, then these are the times when it’s not fun, that you can just . . . You give yourself almost . . . You set yourself up to fail. You set yourself up to throw in the towel because you can go, “I don’t even know where this thing is going, so I should just start something new. I don’t know where it’s going to end.” So, if you know, “Okay, I’m going to write a movie about space,” like that gravity example you always use Steve, which I love.
Steve: The only movie I’ve seen.
Shawn: No, but it’s great. It’s like it opens with an astronaut in space and all of a sudden, she’s untethered—and so that’s the hook. How is she ever going to get back to earth? So, the filmmaker knew and the screenwriter knew, “Okay, that’s where I’m starting. I have to end up with her getting back to earth somehow” And, so if he gets stuck in the middle, he knows, “Let me walk it back again. Okay, she’s going to eventually land on earth. How is that going to happen?” And, you can do that with setting up a new restaurant or a new business. So, since the theme here is, ‘How to plan a year,’ I think you really need to star with, ‘What is your payoff? What is your hook?’ I want to have a finished draft of my manuscript by the end of the year, so that’s your payoff. Then, you take that and you apply the Foolscap to the actual story. You can Foolscap your life.