Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A More Glorious Failure

I was in a jam last Friday. The middle part of "Unproven" (the new book I'm writing) still wasn't working. So I sat down to try to sort it out.

I wasn't actually intending to write anything. I was just going to type out my thoughts, on what I was trying to say, to try to get it into some kind of order.

But the funny thing is, whenever I do that – let go of intending to write, that's when the words start pouring out. Over the course of two hours, I wrote a ton of material that started looking like a new chapter, and maybe a nice blog article spin-off as well.

I quit when I got to the end of my workday, knowing I still needed an ending, but I figured I'd get to it Saturday.

It took maybe 20-30 minutes to finish it up the next day, and then I read back over it.

But my heart sunk.

This chapter/article thing, suffered from the exact same problem in miniature that I'd been having with the book. There were too many ideas trying to fit in too small a space. Two different metaphors, one at the beginning, one at the end, with awkward glue in between. On the one hand, lots of hints dropped to be picked up later, and on the other hand, various conclusions drawn without showing how they were gotten to.

It was going to need some serious work.

So I set it aside, thinking, "okay, I think I need to mindmap this or diagram it somehow, so I can untangle it, figure out what to move to other chapters. Maybe I can still turn the rest into an article or something."

But somehow, I never got around to it. Sunday and Monday came and went, without me getting around to even looking at the piece again, let alone diagramming it. There was always something more urgent or more attractive that needed doing "first".

It wasn't until Monday night that I finally realized what the problem was, while doing some mindhacking on something unrelated.

(Explaining that "something unrelated" would sadly take too much space here – it's actually a core concept within the same set of things that I'm still having trouble explaining in the middle of "Unproven"!)

Anyway, what I realized was this:

I am totally unwilling to lose.

To fail.

To make mistakes.

Like, intellectually, I know that it's the only way to learn, builds character, blah blah blah.

But, in practice, I am totally not willing to experience it.

For example, even if it's some silly little project like hanging a picture on the wall, I don't want to start it unless I'm sure I have everything I will need in order to complete it, and that I will have enough time to complete it no matter what sort of problem might come up.

And if, despite all that, I still don't complete it in time, I feel awful.

No matter how stupidly unimportant the project is!

(This, by the way, is an important sign of something that needs mindhacking: the fact that you respond with the same intensity to a certain kind of situation, regardless of how big or small the actual consequences are in that specific situation. When you respond, as it were, to "the principle of the thing"!)

To Be Vulnerable

Now, one of the big themes in the middle part of "Unproven" is vulnerability. It's the idea that, in order to actually live our lives, we have to be willing to experience certain states of mind that we'd rather avoid. Natural struggling is in fact the result of organizing one's life so as to avoid these states of mind. (Like, "not knowing" as I described in a previous excerpt/blog article.

And even though, while expanding on that theme in the book, I thought intellectually about how that related to mistakes and failure, I hadn't made the specific emotional connection to what I was doing with my own mistakes, whether actual or potential.

This is a great illustration of another basic mindhacking principle: action is not an abstraction.

Merely intellectually knowing about a concept simply will not change you, until and unless you can connect that idea on a concrete, emotional level to specific situations and actions in your life.

In other words, it's not enough to realize that "mistakes are good" in a general sense. You must realize they are good for you. Like that mistake in particular. And that other one back then. And so on.

It Has To Be About You

Without this specific connection to people, places and things in your life, your emotional brain simply doesn't take it seriously. It's just a random factoid, another answer on a test with no connection to the "real world" of your actual thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

And making this work is a conversation between you and your emotional brain: co-operation, not dictatorship.

You can't browbeat yourself into believing that failure is good; that's just starting a new argument with yourself.

However, if you ask yourself questions like, "How do I act when I think failure is bad?" and "What would it be like if I believed failure was good?"...

And if you actually give yourself time to reflect on these questions, not just spit back out a canned answer...

Then you will find that you can begin to actually think and feel differently about something, in a way that never would have changed without that reflection.

An Act of Rebellion

Now today (Tuesday), I started writing this, without being sure if I would have enough time to finish it before I have to leave the house this evening. It's just one of a dozen small steps I'm taking now, tiny acts of rebellion against my previous patterns of protection, my firewalls against failure.

Because I reflected last night on what kind of life I want to live, and how failure-proofing has kept me from really ever living at all (entirely aside from the procrastination aspect!), I am now seriously looking to expand the number of things that I am (potentially) failing at.

The funny thing, though, is that actually failing is harder than it looked! More often than not, the "attempted failure" seems to succeed anyway.

Because I wasn't just avoiding failure, I was trying to avoid the mere possibility of any imaginable failure.

And so there's a big gap between how difficult things actually are, and how difficult I was making them.

(Again, a classic mindhacking principle at work: our brain makes us think our limitations are out there in reality, when in reality, most of our limitations are only in our minds!)

And so, once you are actually doing things, instead of thinking about what kinds of awful things might happen, well...

Things seem a whole lot easier!

It's kind of a paradox: most of our limiting beliefs and feelings convince us that they are giving us something positive... when in fact the only way to get that positive thing, is to give up the belief.

Because all that time I was protecting myself from failure, it didn't make me feel strong or safe.

It made me feel weak and scared!

Yet now, as I find myself taking these "risks" (that aren't really risky at all)...

I instead feel strong and courageous.

And the possibility of "failure", feels nothing less than glorious.

Fail on!

—PJ

P.S. If you want to learn more about the trick of "not intending to" do something as a way of getting into "flow" states where you can effortlessly do all kinds of stuff, check out one of my newer books, "What Happens Now: How To Enter A Timeless, Effortless Space". It's free for Effortless Way subscribers and Mind Hackers' Guild members to download this month.