Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

The Most Important Minutes of the Day

By Steven Pressfield | Published: November 5, 2014

Continuing on our theme from two weeks ago, personal culture: What is the most important part of the artist’s or entrepreneur’s working day?

world series

Rubbing noses and wagging tails

To me it’s the minutes right after the day is over. Why? Because that’s the time when it’s absolutely essential that you and I acknowledge our day’s efforts and give ourselves some props.

Self-validation.

Self-reinforcement.

Nobody else is gonna do it for us. We have no boss; he’s not gonna come in and give us a high five. Our spouses have got their own problems. Our kids couldn’t care less. We have no coach, no teacher, no mommy or daddy. It’s just you and me busting our asses in a room all by ourselves.

When the whistle blows and we shut down for the day, it’s oh so easy to head home thinking, “Well, that was a waste of time … I accomplished zilch today, etc.”

In other words: Resistance. The voice of self-sabotage and self-diminishment that inevitably rears its head at closing time. If you don’t believe me, make a note to watch yourself today when you finish work. Resistance knows we’re vulnerable then. It knows it can land a few body shots.

This is the moment when you and I must take deliberate and forceful counter-action.

I will literally stop and speak out loud to myself.

I’ll call myself by name and I’ll give myself some credit. If there’s a mirror nearby I’ll speak directly into it. I acknowledge my effort. I give myself a stamp of approval.

Have you been watching the World Series? I love the scene in the dugout when a batter returns from advancing a runner or scoring a run. Every single guy high-fives him. Players are pounding his back, swatting him on the head, congratulating him in every way possible.

That has to be you and me too. Even if we’re alone in our coldwater studio on Divisadero Street or writing our novel in the front seat of the taxi we’re driving. We have to stop, take a moment, and mentally enact that scene in the dugout.

It sounds crazy, I know, and even a little embarrassing, but we must acknowledge to ourselves and for ourselves the fact that, for this day, we have done our duty and served the gods. Nor does it matter that we’ve had a good day. Bad days count too. The point is, we put in the sweat. We tried. For good or ill, we got in there and rolled the pea.

Now: how is this connected to Personal Culture?

Remember that our job every day, above and beyond whatever artistic or entrepreneurial labor we may be performing, is to build and reinforce our personal culture—meaning our professional mindset, our private inner world of self-expectation and self-aspiration, of virtues we’re seeking to inculcate and vices we’re working to eradicate. In last week’s post I wrote about “thinking like a studio,” by which I meant that you and I as artists and entrepreneurs are competing against corporations and big-time organizations, and we have to think and act as professionally as they do.

Same thing with personal culture. Each of us as an individual has to create, reinforce, and maintain an interior culture that is as focused and as sustaining as the institutional cultures at Apple, at SpaceX, and at the New York Yankees.

Acknowledging our work each day to ourselves is the most important part of this. I’ve said this before in this space: I have a Sierra Club-type monthly calendar beside my desk and every day when I finish work I make a little notation in the box for that date. I write down the project(s) I worked on and I put a little check-mark in the corner. Sounds dumb, I know. But at the end of the month, when I turn the calendar page and I can count back and see 24, 26, 28 checkmarks, I feel damn proud of myself.

I am deliberately reinforcing the personal culture I’m seeking to produce and to maintain.

An axiom of that culture is this:

“I am a disciplined professional. No matter what else is going on in my life, I am the kind of person who does his work. I am not a dabbler or an amateur or a weekend warrior. I am the real deal and these check-marks are one proof of it.”

Do you ever watch Animal Planet? One scene you see over and over is the hunting band returning after a successful kill. Lions, wolves, whatever. Without fail the pack members nuzzle each other, roughhouse, rub noses. Just like the Giants and the Kansas City Royals, they are reinforcing successful pack culture. “Hey, Simba, I loved the way you cut off that springbok tonight. You turned on the jets, bro!”

It helps.

If lions are doing it in the Serengeti and Madison Bumgarner is doing it on the mound with the Giants, there must be something to it.

So, girlfriend, when today’s work is over, give yourself a high-five or even a pat on the butt. You’ve earned it.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

30 Responses to “The Most Important Minutes of the Day”

  1. November 5, 2014 at 4:43 am

    Oh-so perfect advice, spot on! It ties into meditation, and I believe any true professional needs to incorporate meditation into their work/life.

    Like you said in War Of Art, it’s about approaching your work with intention, and intention goes right on through to when you shut the factory down each day. Taking a minute at the end to visualize the work that was done is crucial, and it’s an important prep for next day’s work. You already come in excited the next day to get back to it, and know exactly where to pick back up!

    • Mary Doyle
      November 5, 2014 at 5:13 am

      Alex, thanks for the plug about meditation – I’ve just begun a meditation practice myself. It’s like nothing else I’ve tried before, but something tells me that I need to incorporate this into my life and to stick with it.

      • November 5, 2014 at 6:16 am

        That’s great news, Mary. Meditation (if even for 20min a day) is life-changing if done consistently. It helps in all areas of life, especially work.

        If you think about it, we’re born with the most powerful tool one can have, a mind, and although we learn math & english in school we never take time to learn the inner workings of this powerful tool. It can bring great benefits or great tragedy depending on how well we learn to manage it. Congrats on starting the journey!

        • November 5, 2014 at 12:15 pm

          Alex/Mary,
          Ditto on the meditation comment. Critical. However, from the perspective of an overly ADD/ADHD addled mind–I’d recommend & encourage even 5 minutes as a starting point.

          I’ve read about meditation for years knowing that it was important, and I’ll die by 50 if I’ don’t incorporate it. Fact is, doing 20 minutes once or twice a day was akin to me attempting a back-to-back ultra Ironman Triathlon without a scintilla of training.

          I would start counting my breaths–and within about .5 seconds be thinking about lunch or work or sex or boogers or ANYTHING other than my breath. I’d immediately think, “DAMN! I suck at this. I’m not cut out for it. I quit.”

          So one day I thought of jumping pullups. I did those before I could do any serious pullups for a CrossFit WOD. Eventually I could do normal pullups. That was the analogy I needed to begin meditating. I gutted out 5 minutes no matter what every day. It has since grown, and I have an app that reminds me to do 2 minute intervals throughout the day (U of Wisconson is studying the efficacy of ‘burst meditation’).

          Also, for hyper-critical folks like me–everytime my mind wanders, I think of it as a rep. That’s the point. It is the practice of catching our minds, and bringing it back to focus. So instead of self-defeating, I feel like I’m actually doing a repetition.

          …for what its worth…
          bsn

          • November 5, 2014 at 12:36 pm

            Good point, Brian. I started at 5min myself and so far worked myself up to a minimum of 20min per day. Love the analogy of each time you bring your mind back it’s a “rep,” that’s the whole point, the act of bringing the mind back is what makes us better. Keep us posted if you find any other ways to make meditation more accessible!

          • November 5, 2014 at 10:18 pm

            Alex/Mary,
            I just came across this article this evening about meditation. Small bites is still effective. Sian Beilock wrote the article, she is also the author of Choke. Here is the link: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/choke/201110/meditation-small-dose-big-effect
            bsn

          • Barry
            November 6, 2014 at 10:13 am

            One thing I’d like to add is that for us ADD/ADHD types, meditation outside and moving meditation’s like Tai Chi may be more helpful, especially on the front end. If you are meditating outside there are all kinds of factors (sounds, wind, smells) that can help settle your mind.

  2. Mary Doyle
    November 5, 2014 at 5:10 am

    Important advice! Six months ago I started writing my word count every day on the wall calendar in my office. It’s a valuable reminder on the days I get discouraged about my progress. Plus, I refuse to leave any of those little daily squares blank, so it’s become an effective weapon against Resistance. Whatever it takes!

    • November 5, 2014 at 7:38 pm

      Mary, I’m working on book number five. And just now I started to think that victories are small, day to day events. Writing THE GREAT NOVEL is pretty daunting. Writing 1,000 good words today is do-able.

  3. November 5, 2014 at 6:15 am

    Writing is such a lonely, solitary process it’s ESSENTIAL that we acknowledge our tiny efforts day in, and day out. Thanks, SP!

  4. Barbara
    November 5, 2014 at 6:39 am

    God, Steven, you are wonderful — thanks for keeping us on target, on path, going at it again.

  5. Lea Page
    November 5, 2014 at 7:00 am

    I could say that I needed to hear this today in particular, but I could say that about any day. A while back, I mentioned in a comment that I had just finished a book and wasn’t sure what to write next. You, Steve, reminded me that this was the most dangerous time, that resistance would come at me full bore unless I stuck to writing, even if I didn’t know what to write about–in other words, to be professional and do the work. I might have thought it was a leap of faith, but now I understand that it is simply discipline, and despite the harpies in my head telling me that I was so done as a writer, I am now halfway through a third manuscript. Thank you. Thank you for the enCOURAGEment.

  6. November 5, 2014 at 7:03 am

    Thanks coach!

  7. Suzie
    November 5, 2014 at 7:23 am

    Great advice at the end of my day now (2 am in Australia) – will give myself a high 5 on the way to bed! I love the idea of noting the work done in my diary. Otherwise, I sometimes forget I have done any work! Thanks!

  8. Jackson Sandland
    November 5, 2014 at 8:28 am

    I am sitting ‘alone’ in a cafe though with all of you – and literally sitting in a coldwater studio on Divisadero Street in San Francisco, battling resistance, and winning for today. I will be getting a calendar to fill with checkmarks – a great addition to the daily battle for a winning interior culture. Long live the Anti-Resistance Militia!

  9. November 5, 2014 at 8:40 am

    I use one of those iphone daily checklist apps. Simple “Did I brush my teeth today y/n” type.

    One of the three things I have in there is “Did I do 3 hours of programming at work today”. So not 8 hours of successful brainstorming or 8 hours of successful meetings or whatever, no, just at least three hours of solid programming time.

    Doing that for two months now and it helps to be happy with the day, whatever the outcome, by simply recording if I put in the three hours. If so, I’m grateful for the day.

    What misses compared to your post is that it contains a negative aspect if I didn’t put in the three hours of programming and instead did highly useful other work. Ah well :-)

    Reading these posts is helpful! It *did* already put me more in a “I did my work” instead of a “what did I accomplish” type of mindset.

    Thanks,

    Reinout

  10. November 5, 2014 at 9:09 am

    I thought for sure you were going to say the morning was the most important part of the day! This was a nice surprise! I think support is so important. The most successful people I know have a small army behind them. You have to find your own support sometimes. This is a good first step.

  11. Jeannine
    November 5, 2014 at 10:11 am

    I thought that the moment you open your eyes and realize that you have been blessed with another day was the most important moment of the day. I never would have thought about congratulating myself at the end of the day. You know why not? I never do this for myself! I’m going to implement this practice starting today. I also like the idea of checking days off on a calendar. I know that once I get a streak of check marks going that I won’t want to break it and that bit of near-obsessive flair will motivate me. I think I will also start verbally high-fiving my family as we come back together after a day of work and school. It sounds like a fun way to celebrate the work portion if the day. Thanks for the new perspective!

  12. November 5, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    Steve & fellow fighters,

    Again, spot on. My brother and I just checked off a bucket list item 2 weeks ago, we completed the Marine Corps Marathon.

    How does this fit? The absolute knife fight I was in with myself for the last 90 minutes of running was Resistance unlike I’ve ever experienced. The least rational decision is to continue to run. Mile 22-26.2 was a second-by-second death match. I won. But it was bloody. 4:04. I’ll take it.

    Good practice. I have been thinking about what this means for the last couple of weeks.

    The idea of congratulating oneself is such an unnatural act. It feels so corny. My favorite meditation from an app is a led ‘loving-kindness meditation’. First you think of someone easy to love (child, pet, innocent love) and wish loving kindness upon them. Too easy.

    Second is to picture yourself, and wish the same. IT IS NOT EASY! Then you picture others, then the world. How is it that I can honestly bring about loving kindness thoughts and emotions to some of my most difficult adversaries in life, but have a hard time wishing this upon myself?

    It takes practice. Forever. Still a rookie, but playing ball.

    Thanks to all.
    bsn

  13. November 5, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    Such great advice, I had to read it twice. To me, this is a smart, practical blend of the science and wisdom of positive psychology with good old fashioned self-discipline to get the benefits of both in the battle against resistance. Good stuff, again!

  14. November 5, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    Another on point post! Great advice and applicable to many contexts. I like to create “grids”, kind of like your calendars, where I give myself a check each time I defeat resistance in some way (like making 5 calls on my business, or writing 1000 new words). Amazing how good a little “check” can feel.

  15. Tim Forbes
    November 5, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    Love the calendar checkmark concept – and particularly the fact that those checks are a physical, tangible, at-a-glance validation of not just the work done that day, but others as well. If only there was a Steven Pressfield Online desk calendar…or maybe a Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid version. Inspiration and utility merged. You’d sell a boatload of ’em!

  16. Grace
    November 5, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    Facing down the last hour of my day (1-2am) just now and am painfully aware that I have done EVERYTHING ELSE but write today. Was just procrastinating by looking at my email…and thinking of going to bed early…until I saw this article. Taking time to post this comment…then getting to work! I believe this will prove to be a pivotal moment in the project I’m working on…thanks SP!

  17. November 6, 2014 at 12:39 am

    Once again a great article! Thanks for that! Requesting you again for the free copy of the Authentic Swing

  18. Diana Welsch
    November 6, 2014 at 5:06 am

    A great post. Will start doing the calendar and pat on the butt!

  19. November 6, 2014 at 7:38 am

    Maybe…it’s got to be earned. Did you accomplish and/or exceed your goal for the day? If so, you get to pat yourself (quietly) on the back. If not…get with the program and hustle!

  20. Virginia B
    November 7, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    I’ve been reading these posts for quite a while now and I love them. I find this can also apply to sewing, which is my passion. I’m still an amateur, although I’ve done it for many years. I do some alterations for other people but have a hard time getting to my own sewing. Resistance, you know. I’ve had many failures and my confidence level is in the basement! I was excited to find some really helpful classes online so I’m hoping things will get better. The check marks on the calendar is a really good idea. When I work on my own stuff, I will put a check mark on the calendar…… a really big one.

  21. Brent Carr
    November 8, 2014 at 6:03 am

    Steve, you are the best at teaching us how to coach ourselves. You really drive it home.

    I’ve been tracking my “Daily Score” in my journal by how many Pomodoros completed that day. A Pomodoro is a 25 minute, highly focused, burst of effort on any task. Google Pomodoro Technique.

    Brent

  22. Connie Smith
    November 8, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    I am going to print this one out. Another great write-up. As a beginning painter it is too easy to get distracted, play spider solitaire, etc., anything but do the work to get the results. I’ve been able to incorporate other disciplines into my life, but this one has been hard.

  23. November 9, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    Yes celebrate, celebrate, celebrate!!! Although, if it wasn’t for procrastination my car would never be washed nor would the vacuuming get done. Hahahaha

    Thanks Steve, pure gold.