Busy or Productive?

Day Two of 2018.  Exciting, isn’t it?  Did you make any New year’s Resolutions?  How many of y’all have already been to the gym?  How many of you have already missed a session at the gym?  No worries at all, it happens.

I do want to address one small issue, a common problem with New Year’s Resolutions, and goal-setting in general.  That is mistaking work, effort, being busy, with being productive.

You see this in exercise all the time.  Writing as well.  In the gym, you will see people doing complicated warm-ups or involved exercises like twisting overhead presses while balancing one-foot on an exercise ball.  And if the goal is balance, then kudos because that’s damn impressive.  If the goal is fitness, then…maybe you’re a step off the mark.  And if the goal is strength, hoo-boy.  Writing sees this same evasion.  I think everybody knows at least one person who has an absolutely massive folder full of notes and character references and plot ideas and narrative breakdowns and world-building and preludes and sequels…but no actual manuscript.

I don’t know if it is an American thing or a human thing or what, but this culture seems to abhor inactivity and would prefer wasted effort to rest.  This is a shame because rest is not the opposite of hard work, it is a part of it.  Just about every form of success seems to come down, in one way or another, to knowing when to be tense and ready and focused, and when to be casual, soft, and relaxed.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t set ambitious goals.  This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t try, and try hard.  But it is to say that, periodically, you need to ask if what you are doing is actually productive.  Are you doing a thing because it works, or because it is habit?  Do you keep doing a thing because you like the results, or are you afraid of losing some results if you stop?

See there’s the real kicker right there.  Fear.  A lot of people are afraid to stop a given activity, a given behavior, for fear of what might happen.  You see this with gym rats and body builders all the time.  A routine set when they were in high school or college, they will refuse to break for fear of losing the results they have built up.  Nevermind the foolishness of trying to maintain that level of effort, they never stop to ask if maybe cutting back might increase their success.  And even if it doesn’t, so what?  Would it really be so hard to build back up to where one once was?  If you lost something non-critical – like your single-digit bodyfat level or you couldn’t so quickly recall how to conjugate French past participles – would that really be the end of the world?  What if you lost it and had to work hard for a few weeks to get it back?  Or, scariest of all, what if you lost it…and discovered you didn’t care?

The goals we set last year, we may not share for this year.  The goals we had in high school we may not have in our twenties or our thirties or our fifties.  Consistency and reliability are critical to success, but so is honesty.  And you shouldn’t be afraid to look at a goal and say ‘nope, I don’t care anymore’ or at a method you use to pursue a goal and say ‘this isn’t working’.  You might want 9% bodyfat but dumbbell shoulder raises aren’t going to do a damn thing to get you there.  You might want to be fluent in Mandarin but running flashcards is only going to take you so far.

What if, instead of a New Years’ Resolution, you tried a New Years’ Tabula Rasa?  A clean slate.  What if for New Years, you wiped away everything on your to-do list and your goal list and abolished all the baggage from the previous year and previous years.  What if you looked at yourself in the mirror and decided, ‘I want to do…’.

Also, slightly off-topic, but here’s a tip: always phrase goals as things you want to do, not things you want to have or things you want to be.  Don’t set a goal to have a six-pack or to be in shape.  Set a goal to enjoy exercising, or to go to the gym three times a week.  Set a goal of doing, not possessing or have accomplished.  Set a goal involving a process, not relishing in the rewards.

Anyway, back on track.  Wipe away your objectives and your goals you set a decade ago.  Start over fresh.  Today, day two of 2018, ask yourself: What do I really want to do?




And the correct answer really should be ‘I really want to be at MAGFest this weekend’.  I’ll see y’all there.  I have copies of new books and a bunch of panels: Alien Worlds as seen through Video games (a panel on behalf of the Museum of Science Fiction), Bad Voice Acting, Video Game Movies, and the Top Ten Episodes of Transformers.  Come see them, come say him, and come have a blast!  See you in two days!

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