“Once we realize that the boundaries between work and play are artificial, we can take matters in hand and begin the difficult task of making life more livable.” – DRIVE by Daniel Pink
I write full-time, which I often call “playing full-time” but in reality, I have three teen boys and a husband and home and a life, and it’s ALWAYS BUSY. Yet I strive to turn everything I do into play and mindful activity. Why? Because my life is FAR less stressful when I do. Also – I accomplish much more. Also, also – I end up doing those First Things First (Steven Covey: http://smarturl.it/SevenHabits), the ones that are important to me, the things I’ll regret not doing when I’m on my deathbed (typing out one more chapter…). Writing is one of those things, but so is hanging out with my son at the Starbucks talking philosophy. Or driving my other son to fencing practice even though he could drive himself just so we have time to chat about books and life.
RECAP: Motivation 3.0 is all about mastery, autonomy, and serving a higher purpose… and it’s the kind of soul-fulfilling work that more humans on the planet are insisting on doing in the 21st Century. Further, it’s the kind of work that we *need* to do to solve the world’s problems.
TURNING WORK INTO PLAY
Any kind of work can also be play. Even the most mind-numbing task can be approached creatively and turned into something inspired.
EXAMPLE: my son was instructed to memorize a list of 50 prepositions. Why? God only knows. This is the worst of all route-memorization tasks that I’ve seen in some time. But my son and I tackled this as a creative challenge – what was the *best* way to memorize a list of 50 random words? We researched memorization techniques on the internet. We tried several out – including writing a story with the words, singing the words, and visualizing paired images to go with the words. None of those worked. In the end, we had learned enough about memory and how brains worked that we invented our own method – it involved flashcards and drawings of cats up to various antics and smaller sets of words so they could be “clustered” for memorization, a proven technique according to SCIENCE (and also Learning How To Learn: https://www.coursera.org/learn/learning-how-to-learn).
That process involved all kinds of autonomous creativity, perseverance until mastery, and fed the higher purpose of self-understanding in hacking our own brains to figure out what worked for us. My son got 100% on the test, but that was moot by the time he got there. Grades are Motivation 2.0 – carrots and sticks. Nice but not anywhere near as yummy as the Motivation 3.0 mastery of the challenge.
This is an extreme example of turning work into play, but I regularly use mindfulness to turn just about any drudgery into a respite of anxiety-lowering calm. Because laundry must be done and dinner must be made, but they don’t have to be chores. They’re serving the higher purpose of an orderly household, but they’re also a chance to breathe, empty my mind, and relax. I can let my mind wander into Diffuse Mode thinking (where I unleash my subconscious to tackle that plot problem I was working on earlier), or I can just work on being present and reap the lowered blood pressure and calmness of mind of that.
I highly recommend The Practicing Mind for more on how to reclaim that kind of peace in your life.
If even the most mundane task can be turned into a JOY of creativity and/or mindfulness, then how much more so for this passion we have for writing?
Friends, it can be transcendent! (Even if you’re writing for money – in fact, you need to strive to find the joy in every part of your writing in order for it to sustain you.)
However, the stress of chasing after the carrot of selling books, or the endless To Do list of marketing, compounded with all the emotional baggage that comes with running a writing business (am I any good? Am I just a hack? What am I doing wrong? Why aren’t I selling more books?), and we can easily…
TURN PLAY INTO WORK
If you’re finding that writing has become a chore, the business is dragging you down, you’re depressed about sales, and all you want to do is run away and become a dentist… congratulations! You’ve taken one of the most soul-fulfilling play-endeavors and turned it into WORK!
Please don’t do this to yourself, my friends.
However, I understand all too well how it can happen.
It’s very easy to allow the pressures of life to rob you of the pleasure of your awesome writing endeavors. And before you list out all the reasons why your stressed-out state is COMPLETELY REASONABLE for all the burdens and expectations and problems that are pressing on you, answer me this: does it help you to be stressed? Like, does the stress actually HELP you to be happier, more autonomous, have mastery over your own fate and find the joy in creativity? No? Probably not. The stress is killing the joy you had in a thing that should be joyful – your writing.
GOOD NEWS: this is actually within your control. The circumstances of the world are not, but your control over your mental state *is*. There are LOTS (and I mean a whole lotta) ways to tackle the stress (again, back to the Practicing Mind for some of that), but you probably already know the ways that work for you, if you take a moment to think about it. Take a five minute meditation break. Go for a walk. Take a power nap. Find some way to play and be joyful, if only for ten minutes. Have small kids? EXCELLENT! There are no better teachers of play than children. Forget the dishes and deadlines, and immerse yourself in play with them. Rediscover the joy they have on tap. Then slowly, gently, reclaim your own joy in all the things you do.
You don’t have to be “perfect” at it. (HINT: you’ll never be perfect at it). You’ll still get stressed and yell at your kids and hiss at the cat on occasion. But once you’re on the path to claiming a more joyful existence, trust me, you’ll want more and more of it every day.
Journey well, my friends! I’m off to do some mindful decluttering of my office then some of the many things on my To Do list. My Wunderlist app makes it ridiculously satisfying to check those babies off. Somewhere along the way, I might get some editing and marketing done. But just taking the time to write this for you has already set my day on the right course (Higher Purpose of Helping Others Find Joy. Check!)
TL;DR – read the book http://smarturl.it/DRIVEDanPink