I’ve been thinking a lot about failure lately.
It seems as if it’s haunting me at every turn, skulking along waiting to ambush me in every arena of my life like some kind of apex predator stalking its prey.
I had amazing word counts last year. Very few days of low or no productivity–only 71 non-writing days the whole year. This year I’m already at 23, and we aren’t even a third of the way into the year. I’m already a good six weeks behind my self-imposed schedule, which is half my fault, half the fault of the characters in this current book, who simply wouldn’t rest until I gave them a novel of twice the word count they were allotted (they were SUPPOSED to be a novella and released by now). This doesn’t bode well for the lofty goals I set for my productivity this year. Which, hey, I am the champion of preaching the idea that sometimes life happens, and don’t let it get you down. That’s the entire philosophy behind why I founded A Round of Words in 80 Days. Some days it’s really hard to practice what I preach.
On the Evil Day Job front, I’m currently in the midst of a project that’s very different from what we usually do in that it’s an epic collaboration between multiple universities across the country. Which means that every blessed thing is done by committee and there are too many people that have to agree to make a decision. It’s every school group project I ever hated, on crack. I was on a conference call last week where they spent FORTY FIVE MINUTES debating about the components of the participant ID number (should’ve been a 5 minute decision). And then someone said, “Hey y’all, productive meeting!” God save me from the inefficient. Pretty sure I’ve had a permanent eye twitch since this project started. Part of the reason I normally rock my job is that I have no problems making a decision and getting things done. Given I have zero control over things with this project and don’t have the authority to make those decisions, I’ve spent a lot of time feeling like the village idiot (not a role this type-A overachiever is accustomed to). I’m definitely not alone. Everyone ELSE on my team is in the same boat, but it’s incredibly frustrating (and has, probably, been somewhat contributing to the mental fog and poor attention that’s afflicting the writing side of my life).
But perhaps nowhere am I feeling the fail more than Operation Goddess In Training. I have simply been unable to get back into a proper fitness routine since Christmas. There’s been illness and injury that have meant I had to take it easy. But more than that, I just can’t get myself out of bed early in the morning. Getting up at 6 a.m. has become this Sisyphean task of trying to escape the tractor beam of my mattress–and the mattress totally wins most mornings. It’s like I’m caught in this loop of inertia. I had JUST managed to pull an ENTIRE WEEK of getting up on time, and then the #$^%^#$@$^#^ Daylight Savings Time started and screwed things up all over again. The moment DST starts, my quality of sleep goes down because it’s further off my natural body clock. I can’t go to sleep on time and then I can’t manage to get up in the PITCH BLACK DARK. I require THE SUN to wake up. That is the signal to my body that, yeah, okay, the day has begun. If it’s still dark outside, my brain is like “Go back to sleep. Nobody sane is up right now.”
Other than my taekwondo class, which is the ONLY thing I’ve been consistent with (apart from illness), I’ve been inactive long enough now that I’ve slid into just FEELING ICK. One of the frustrating things about fitness is that you have to do a fair amount of pulling a Nike (Just Do It) whether you have energy or not, to get into a place where you actually HAVE energy. It’s like that adage in business that you have to spend money to make money. Given that willpower is a finite resource, that is a big is part of why it’s so flipping hard to make those kinds of lifestyle changes in the first place. Add to that the fact that we have had gray and some form of wet precipitation for THREE STRAIGHT WEEKS, and I’m getting an epic case of spring fever on top of everything else. I would LOVE to start Couch 2 5K again, just to change things up–but it WON’T STOP RAINING. MAKE IT STOOOOOOOP.
But I don’t say all of this just as a general bitch session about the current state of affairs in my life. It’s more as illustration of some really negative thought patterns that I think we are ALL prone to falling into at one time or another, and I wanted to try and articulate the tactics I use to break them.
- Focus on the positive. This seems overly simplistic, but in our increasingly over-simplified, dichotomized world, if you’ve got to pick one side to focus on over the other, make a conscious choice to focus on the positive. Yes, I’m behind on my self-imposed deadline, but I’ve also written and put out a cookbook, written a class for writers on novella writing (goes live next week!), and listened to my characters to create a much stronger, more entertaining story than the one I’d originally planned for them. I’m absolutely getting stuff done. Just not what I planned in the first place.
- Accept the idea of failing small. I forget where I read this concept. I want to say it was something Tom Venuto (The Body Fat Solution) said–some fitness guru anyway. There’s this incredibly damaging mentality among a lot of people that if we fail at something, it’s all or nothing. We’ve totally blown it and that’s permission to throw away all of our progress (however big or small). So, like, we make a vow to give up sugar and end up in a showdown at the office because somebody brought in donuts Tuesday morning. We have a donut. A lot of people would then say, screw it. I’ve already blown it. I might as well forget it. Or I’ll start over again on Monday (meaning a full rest of the week of cheating). Y’all, this is all kinds of counterproductive. A much healthier way of approaching this kind of situation is to say, “Yeah, okay, I had a donut. I’ll have a salad for dinner and veggie omelets for breakfast the rest of the week.” If you miss a day of writing, okay. Life happens. Write tomorrow. Don’t accept a single failure as the end of all your efforts. That’s totally shooting yourself in the foot.
- What’s the least you can change? When you’re facing some seemingly insurmountable task and you don’t know how you’re ever going to manage it (right now, getting consistently out of bed in the pitch black dark at 6 a.m. feels like that for me), stop looking at the big picture and instead focus on the nitty gritty of the components. What’s the least you can change to take a step in the right direction? For me, that’s setting 3 alarms on my Fitbit, at 5 minute increments to overcome my very bad habit of turning the alarm off and sliding instantly back to sleep. I’m not trying to do everything at once. Right now, I’m just tackling the first step of getting my fanny out of bed.
- Focus on process, not progress. This one is hard hard hard for me. I’m a big Set Measurable Goals person, and I track a looooot of things. It’s possible I have an unhealthy love of spreadsheets. And yeah, okay, those measurable goals ARE important, but they aren’t all. Instead of focusing on a number on the scale and losing hope when it doesn’t change at the rate I want it to (because the number on that scale is not directly in my control), it’s far better to focus on the PROCESS, on the things that are most likely to impact that number–Did I work out today? Did I get all my veggies? Did I get adequate sleep? Did I drink enough water? On the writing, did I write anything (not just did I hit my target word count)? Did I think about the book? Did I make the story a priority? Progress is a direct outcome of process, and process is the thing that’s fully in your control.
- Connect with others to realize that you aren’t alone. Everything is easier to deal with when you realize it’s not just you. I’ve talked to dozens of other people who are feeling exactly like I am this year. Writers who have struggled right off the line with the goals they set for 2015. People who are having just as hard a time getting back into a healthy routine after the holidays. Many many others who have as many profane remarks to make about the continued existence of DST. Even better, engage in the buddy system. Being accountable to someone else adds another layer of pressure that helps with that deficit of willpower. So, whether that’s a shared productivity spreadsheet with another writer (waves at Lockwood Monk), participating in a writing challenge (Hey ROWers!), joining a community of other writers from all walks of life (Hey WANATribe!), or joining a Facebook Group where you can talk about your trials and triumphs with trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, go find SOMEONE to be part of that journey with you. You’ll be glad you did.