Lensa – Writing and Willpower
Managing our most precious resource, ourselves
Many aspiring writers suffer from “stretch goals.” Goals that are over-optimistic and assume that somewhere within us lies a magic pool of inspiration and energy which inevitably, we fail to tap.
It might be factors outside of our control that impede us. Or that our magic pool is not as full as we thought. With introspection, we conclude that we never had, or squandered our energies on lesser tasks. And often, we conclude that those aspirations were grandiose.
But it does not have to be this way. We can redress the way we manage our workload and time, moderate our energy, define a path toward our goals, and then, we can deliver. By changing our mindset, we can re-fashion our attitude and behavior.
The Pool Has A Bottom
Hopefully, we will start every day properly rested, alert, and healthy. Our day starts with a full tank of energy to expend. We jump on to our first task enthusiastically. But as the day wears on, we feel we are not progressing as initially hoped. Nonetheless, we persevere, promising ourselves that through sheer determination, we can succeed.
Determination or willpower, as explained by Baumeister and Tierney (“Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength (Journal of Positive Psychology, 2012)“) is a finite resource akin to a smartphone battery. Its charge is limited depending upon the fuel which comes from diet, exercise, attitude, and social circumstances. As the day progresses, it drains; more quickly when we are indecisive and unfocused.
We can slow that drainage by:
- Dismissing any unimportant decisions and issues
- Making critical decisions quickly
- Being firm on the decisions we have taken.
And, if we set draconian ground rules from which we never waver, then even more so, we will stay focused and temper how much willpower we expend.
Charting A Path
Lofty goals are easily stated and sound impressive. We state them as they are more easily conveyed to others. But we also set them as our own internal goals. This is problematic as they are broad and not easy wins. Rome was not built in a day. It evolved brick by brick. Rather than focusing on the grand goal, we serve ourselves better by constructing a path of interim steps. And then break those down even further.
For example, say we start with an outline. We then divide that into smaller segments of story arcs and lines of character development. We continue deeper until we can dissect those strands into lesser units that we can deliver in a month, a week, and ultimately each day. Even better, we might set daily, word count targets.
Bite-sized targets reduce lofty goals to a series of little wins. Racking up many wins fills our pool of willpower and self-confidence, changing our mindset.
Changing Our Mindset
Every action and decision we take reflects how we look at the world. If we are pessimistic, then we will see failure around every corner. If we deliberately give ourselves impossible targets, then tell ourselves subconsciously that we do not expect to succeed.
Writing requires us to be both confident in ourselves and disciplined. Writers need to have the mindset of athletes. They need to “affirm” internally that they can accomplish their goals. “Affirmation” (using mantras) and “Visualization” (using images) foster positive thoughts that we echo to our psyche. We tell ourselves how we want to be seen.
Mantras re-wires our behavior. Eventually, our responses become automatic. Athletes have found that by visualizing the plays, they improve their overall performance (Effects of Visualization and Guided Imagery in Sports (Ekeocha, 2015). The same holds for writers.
We Are Management
As writers, even if commissioned, we are our own bosses. As managers we need to:
- Be realistic in our expectations
- Recognize that as a resource there are competing demands for our time such as chores and family commitments
- Re-prioritize our tasks as our understanding of conditions, requirements, other tasks, and impediments evolve.
This is difficult as we are always one person, but we flitter between being the creative producer and the focused pilot. The creative side always wants more time, but the rational hemisphere fears that time is running out. Sometimes the manager needs to pull the plug or command the creative persona focus.
Perhaps we realize that mornings are more productive. The manager side sitting in the background needs to push away any other tasks, turning a blind eye to chores that might be visibly begging for attention. It needs to calculate, given the time available and tasks outstanding, what takes priority and/or is impacted by other tasks.
As writers, we are both the management and talent. Lofty goals are easily set, but prone to failure. And to avoid such we:
- Should understand that our willpower is a finite quantity that we must manage
- Must control the rate by which we deplete our willpower by:
- being decisive
- setting policies to which we must adhere, and
- not revisiting our past decisions
- Ought to set bite-sized, easily achieved goals – such will reinforce our self-image of being determined
- Should change ourselves through affirmation and visualization, and create automatic responses that maximize our productivity and not squander our determination.