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Exercising the idea muscle

Comparison abolition.

Sometimes I get buried in the writing of philosophers and political commentators. I indulge in them regularly, because I want to feed my spirit and develop a strong foundation of values.

These writers possess extraordinary writing styles, clarity of thinking and expression. Most of them are polymaths that intimidate and inspire their following with their intellect and wisdom.

There is a lot to look up to. These are the real thought leaders. They are humble and disciplined, their writing is perfect and their speech is crystal clear.

I look up to them and their teaching. But there is a problem.

What do Casey Neistat, Seth Godin and James Altucher have in common?

Nerdwriter does a great essay on what it takes to make films like Casey Neistat.

Their content is so well put together, so accessible, so fluent that it seems effortless. It seems like everyone could do it.

It inspires. It makes you feel that you could do it. It makes you go out and try it.

And that’s the point. Because when you try you may realize that you love doing it. Then all it takes is what you don’t see.

The thousands of hours of practice.

Reading for education vs. reading for inspiration

When I read those philosophers I find myself judging every idea that comes up in my mind. I overthink every sentence and I’m shameful of my stuff.

“You call that a sentence?”

That never goes anywhere. It’s the shameful perfectionist inside me, the critic that says “you’re not good enough. Your writing doesn’t even compare to what that other guy wrote.”

Yea, yea, comparison is the thief of joy and all that. I don’t consciously compare myself to anyone. It’s what Steven Pressfield calls the Resistance. The Resistance is the mythical force that wants to keep things as they are. When you’re creating something, when you’re thinking, you change things.

You’re hoping to inspire change. Even if you’re not shooting for it.

So the quote here should go like this:

Prolific is better than perfect.

I don’t know who said that. The point here is to watch your influences and optimize for the least resistance.

Design an attention diet that is optimized for inspiration vs. perfection.

For me, it’s mostly watching my reading discipline. It’s not a question of reading more.

The ratio of reading for information vs. inspiration must lean toward inspiration. And the time spent reading must be proportionate to the time spent writing.

Create > Consume

These ideas must go in and go out, otherwise, they get stuck. And then I get stuck in the judgment and pathetic perfectionist excuses.

Yes, pathetic. It takes courage to be creative. An actual quote here:

A lot of people have taste, but they don’t have the daring to be creative.
— Bill Cunningham

Idea creation is a muscle that must be honed. No one is born with great ideas.

Work on it. Think and make stuff every day.

Compare yourself to yourself only. If you must, think and compare yourself to your heroes at the beginning of their journey. At the start of their career. At year two of their creative writing practice. Even that will make no justice. Our outcomes are all determined by endless streams of influences throughout our lives. And the lives of our parents and those of our immediate social groups.

So you might as well abolish the comparison habit.

Just go ahead and make something every day. And show it to people.

And remember that ideas are borrowed.


Good work is enough

Attach to the act, not the result.

I recently stumbled upon a post in a group for creators on Facebook. We encourage and help each other to challenge ourselves to make stuff and create on YouTube.

A fellow member was sharing how he wasn’t happy about the way his channel was going. He was worried that the followers he amassed on his channel were taking his content in the wrong direction.

Is it right to worry about this? Or is it the wrong question to ask?

Why Am I Doing This?

When we create, when we put something out there, it’s a piece of art, it’s a piece of us. It must come from the internal, as opposed to external motivation.

Internal motivation is a form of motivation that fulfills an inner desire for achievement. External motivation, in contrast, ties to external validation such as attention, fame, money etc.

The focus must be clear at all times. You have to course correct regularly.

Imbalance of external vs. internal motivation can lead to impersistence and inability to complete tasks, especially in an area as scrutinized as creative work.

“What matters to an active man is to do the right thing; whether the right thing comes to pass shouldn’t bother him.”

— Wolfgang Goethe

I get there too sometimes. Balancing the internal and external is a game we strive to master all our lives. It’s the battle with ourselves, against our own egos.

I want and need to share my work. Otherwise, I wouldn’t finish it, hence wouldn’t make anything. But when I post online and get the feedback I ask for honestly, I catch myself drawn towards the wrong questions:

This seems to resonate with people, should I do more of this?

Maybe I should do more of that other thing?

Should I do what the other guy is doing?

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
 — Theodore Roosevelt

That takes me to compare myself with other creators, which is utterly counterproductive. I’m not competing with anyone, I’m learning and growing.That’s my why behind all of this.

I’m making something special. And it’s not for everyone, but it is for someone.

We need clarity. Seth Godin has said that the right thing to ask yourself whenever you make anything:

1. What’s it for?

2. Who’s it for?

If you answer these and stick to it, there is no way you find yourself hating what you’ve created. You might resent it over time, but that’s encouraged. As we grow, we should be embarrassed by our previous work. But never should we question why we did it.

Doing good work is enough.

The only way we can do good work and do it well is by doing just that. Doing good work is enough. The less attached we are to outcomes the better.

We cannot control the outcome. We determine the value of our work by doing it well.

What we can control is the action.


Originally published in The Startup on

Martin UhnakPopular Posts