Why Pushing Ourselves Makes Us Less Productive

When You ExhaleHow many times have you beaten yourself up for not doing more? And how much of the time do you disregard your small accomplishments because they’re not the big goal you promised yourself?

Have you noticed that when you bring this mindset to the writing of your novel you end up feeling tired, discouraged, and sometimes hopeless?

There’s a reason for that. It’s because this type of mentality blocks you in the present moment.

When you’re blocked in the present moment, you start brooding over the past and obsessing over the future.

Our culture tends to think of time as linear. It moves forward in a straight line. So if you want to get anything done, you need to move forward in a straight line as well. And the most popular method used in our culture to conquer this straight line is to push ourselves. This push is commonly referred to as “drive” or “motivation.”

We usually get behind ourselves and push forward. To-do lists, New Year’s resolutions, and habits based on restriction and force all belong to this get-behind-yourself-and-push energy. For various reasons, many writers really embrace this method. I suspect it’s because most writers feel guilty because they want to be writing more, and the guilt cycle works well with the push method. If you’re in emotional conflict about not feeling good enough, pushing yourself gives you the illusion of doing something about it.

But when you’re constantly pushing yourself from behind to get more and better things done, you’re never satisfied with where you are in the present. You’re always looking behind you to see the evidence of how much ground you’ve covered, or worrying about what lies ahead and how long it’s going to take you to get there.

However, we can choose to think about time in a different way.

We can imagine the present moment as a seed, or the bud of a flower. Our creative force is contained in that seed and we are also present with it. As it unfolds into bright colors, strong roots, and fascinating twisty branches, we can stand calmly with it and observe. We can savor the unfolding and have fun with the experience.

Using the method of standing in the present moment requires you to let go of a lot of familiar reactions and thought patterns.

Comparing your writing to that of others is totally incompatible with this energy. Beating yourself up is also not going to work. Being in the present with your creativity asks you to give gratitude for where you are, and who you are, right now in this moment.

If you are only halfway done with your sloppy first draft, this method asks you to give thanks that you’ve gotten this far, and savor the experience of being in the middle.

If you just realized your awesome idea for a story isn’t going to work, this method asks you to be grateful for your creative brain, and appreciate the experience of discarding the old to find the new.

If your book sales are not going well, this method asks you to have gratitude for being able to do the thing you love, and find satisfaction in the experience of learning more about it.

Pushing, force, and guilt make up a cycle that is always the same. No matter where you are or what you’ve done, you always have to push yourself more. It never ends and you never find that place of rest and happiness.

Working with the present moment provides you with continual rest, and so you’re constantly energized and ready for more.

You can try this new method right now. Take a few calm minutes to think about where you are in your writing work, and give gratitude for it. Honestly assess this moment and appreciate it. Once it’s gone, you’re never going to get it back again.

Most importantly, give gratitude to yourself for getting this far with your writing, and for being who you are in this moment.

If you enjoyed this article you might want to check out:

The Surprising Truth about Successful Writers

Why You Should Stop Listening to Other Writers

How to REALLY Conquer the Critical Voice Inside Your Head

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  • Reply Christy Esmahan 2 July, 2014 at 10:47 am

    Another “home run” blog post, Lauren! Bravo and thank you once again for your excellent advice. I’ve printed it out so I can re-read it when I need to remember not to think of time/my writing/book sales, etc. linearly! I love your plant metaphor!

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 3 July, 2014 at 9:08 am

      Thanks Christy! So glad you found this one helpful. 🙂

  • Reply Kathy Palm 2 July, 2014 at 11:03 am

    YES! That’s exactly what happens. Too much looking at what I didn’t do and getting frustrated when I’m not who I think I should be. Nice post! Made me realize I am doing this … now. *breathes deeply* Everything is good.

  • Reply Gisele LeBlanc 2 July, 2014 at 11:28 am

    So, so true! It really is about changing the way we look at things. Staying in the “now” is so important. Great, great advice, Lauren! 🙂

  • Reply Mari Biella 3 July, 2014 at 12:37 am

    That just about hits the nail on the head, Lauren. I’m always berating myself for not accomplishing more, and I’ve only just begun to realise that that is counterproductive and doesn’t change anything. It certainly doesn’t improve my output. It’s an interesting insight: perhaps creativity isn’t really that compatible with a goal-oriented, linear outlook.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 3 July, 2014 at 9:10 am

      I totally agree Mari. It seems that creative people don’t perform at their best when they’re solely focused on goals. For us, I think the experience itslef is a large part of why we create.

  • Reply Jon Simmonds 3 July, 2014 at 2:34 am

    I find this method works particularly well when you combine it with not writing in a linear style as well. Starting at the beginning of a story/novel and ploughing through to the end inevitably leads a writer to view their progress as linear. Moving about between the various time-points of the story really re-enforces your method. As someone who beats myself up far too much, I really appreciate this post Lauren.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 3 July, 2014 at 9:11 am

      Thanks Jon! I usually try to write using a linear method, but I inevitably end up skipping around. Certain scenes call me to write them and I have to answer the call.

  • Reply WHITNEY 3 July, 2014 at 9:04 am

    This was such a great post. I have felt this way so many times and I think I will start reframing the way I think about pushing myself. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply hilarycustancegreen 3 July, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa. I will try.

  • Reply Janice 5 July, 2014 at 8:20 pm

    Hi Lauren,

    Great article! I like your method on standing in the present moment to let go of negative thought patterns.

    And I totally agree with what you said about gratitude. Bringing gratitude into what you’re doing changes everything. It eliminates negative energies that prevents you from doing the work you need to do. Instead it makes you realize how far you’ve come and that fuels you to do more.

    Thanks for this great post!

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