Wandering the interweb looking for a new guru I came across an article by Benjamin Hardy on Medium:
30 Behaviours That Will Make You Unstoppable in 2019.
I’m not sure what it is to be unstoppable, or if it’s at all desirable, but I couldn’t resist having a look. Might it help me achieve my dream of being able to pay my way through writing? The article is huge, over ten thousand words, so I decided to break it up into manageable chunks and look at these thirty behaviours individually. The first six are:
1. Wake up earlier. Earlier than what? Earlier than whom? And how much earlier? He gives a bizarre example of a young missionary who was having a problem relating to others until he started to wake up earlier. Fine, but I’m neither having such problems, nor a morning person. I decided to give this one a miss.
2. Drink more water. I already drink quite a lot of water, but, to get into the spirit of this, I am now drinking an extra glass first thing in the morning. The result is that my bladder has become unstoppable.
3. Write your goals down, every single morning. Another thing I already do. It reminds me why I mustn’t sit here reading old copies of Vogue all day, and playing solitaire on my computer. But I just list mine, 1, 2, 3, and leave it at that. For Hardy there’s much more to it, it involves actually visualising yourself having achieved these goals and writing that visualisation. This, he says, will make you focus more clearly on achieving them, and help you prioritise. So I gave it a go.
The list of goals I write each days are: Earn a living from my writing. Be the best possible wife to Dave. Contribute to world eudaimonia. The story I composed around them is:
I earn a living from my writing. That is, enough people in the world are willing to pay for the things I write, and this enables me to continue writing. Thus I get to travel to small Scottish islands and experience the views from cliff tops: white tailed eagles flying overhead; orcas swimming in pods just off the coast; seals honking on rocks. I eat in small, owner run cafés and chat to locals about their lives, and, thus, learn what it is to live in such communities. I get to poke about in the archives of small museums, handle Roman glass found in peat bogs; turn around in my hands such delicate exhibits as a puffer-fish on a stick, and a once rabid house cat.
I also travel to grand and beautiful cities, now a little shabby in places, but full of the hopes of our ancestors. In these cities I eat local food, traditional and modern: interesting combinations of fish and edible flowers, local brewed vinegars, old wines and new. I walk the streets and feel the history and the now, all as one. Happen on serene courtyards with broken fountains; dip my toes in now clean rivers and wonder that they once carried diseases due to the sewage that was unthinkingly dumped in them.
And I get to write on my own terms; make stories and poems with the freedom of not having to worry about pleasing others, and thus my writing is authentic, which pleases others. Sometimes I’m invited to literary festivals to talk about my latest works and writing process, and sign books for happy readers.
Through all of this Dave is with me. He may not always come to the book festivals preferring, instead, to fish in clear streams and lochs, or off rocks in the sea while I’m doing my thing. But we get together in the evenings to eat and talk about our day, the books we are enjoying, and the music. And we always go to bed and wake up together.
I teach what I know about writing and literature to small, eager groups, some of whom go on to earn a living from their writing too. Thus, I feel, I add a little to the happiness in the world.
I’m not quite sure if that’s what Hardy has in mind, but it has made me think a little bit about all the things I do in my actual life that don’t feature in my fantasy one.
4. Put your phone on airplane mode more often. As I often forget to take my phone off airplane mode in the mornings I don’t think I need concern myself with this.
5. Go on walks as much as possible. If I lived in the centre of a city I would go out and Flaneur every day. It’s also possible that I’d go walking if I lived in a French village, especially if it was on the coast, but I live in a town so small I’d either have to walk round in circles or up dull, muddy tracks. I know lots of people who live here and do go out walking, and enjoy it, but I am most unlikely ever to be one of them. Instead, to get a little exercise, I use a mini-trampoline in the house.
6. Clearly Prioritize Your Life. As I didn’t know what he meant by this I decided to give it some attention, he begins with the quote:
“If you have more than three priorities in your life, you have none.” — Jim Collins
No idea who Jim Collins is, but this strikes me as absurd. I should have no more than three priorities in my whole life? What does he mean by ‘priorities’? Luckily Hardy expands, and in so doing negates the quote he starts with. He begins:
Your priorities are more important than your values and goals because quite literally, your priorities are where these things become real.
Your priorities reflect your [values] and goals.
If you are not doing something in your life, like exercise, for example, it’s not because you don’t have time. Rather, it’s because it is not a priority to you.
Anything you are not currently doing on a regular basis IS NOT A PRIORITY TO YOU.
If you say spirituality is a priority to you, but you rarely engage in it, then you are lying to yourself.
If you say investing in your future is a priority to you, but you spend most of your time distracted on the internet, then you are lying to yourself.
Your daily behaviors are a mirror — an honest assessment of your priorities in life.
So, Hardy is saying here that the things you don’t do every day are not your priorities. Does that mean the things I do do are, if not my actual priorities, a reflection of them? I think that’s what he’s saying.
Just for the fun of it, and to get me started, I decided to make a mind map of my practice:
This map is quite an accurate depiction of the inside of my head. It’s a stew of all the activities and responsibilities I engage in that feed my work. The things to the right are purely personal endeavours, the centreish ones include other people, groups and organisations, but are strongly reliant and related to the things on the right. They are also the means by which I earn the small amount I do. Those at top left are all quite separate from my writing, but not discrete. They are my voluntary commitments and the means by which I interact with the outside world. The world not tied to art. They provide me with the experiences I need to have something to write about. It strikes me now that I could, and probably should, add quite a lot more: the book I’ve promised myself I’ll have ready by the end of the year; the magazines and competitions I mean to send work to; the funding bodies I really should apply to.
To get back to Hardy and his list of daily actions, the things I do every day (or most days, some do get hijacked) are:
1. Write. It’s a very rare day indeed when I don’t write a) In my journal for a good hour, often more; b) a story or part thereof and, c) a blog post. I’m also want to write a scrappy poem, and often work on an essay, not to mention a lesson plan. It’s safe to say I spend seventy percent of my day writing.
2. Talk to Dave in the morning over tea in bed, and at odd times during the day, usually over a fag at the kitchen table.
3. Cook so Dave and I can eat together.
4. Read: I try to read at least one poem; one short story; one essay (currently from Natalia Ginzburg’s book The Little Virtues); a chunk of a novel. And some days I also read student work.
5. Read and respond to missives (emails, FB messages, blog comments, Twitter messages, Whatsapp messages (this is how I keep in touch with my family). Most of my emails and Facebook messages are to do with the voluntary community work I do. I only ever go to these channels once I’ve done some writing, unless I’m in the middle of some collaborative project, or have a meeting to attend. My voluntary work can get in the way of my writing practice at times, and I’ve often fantasized about chucking the lot, but then I feel guilty.
I still haven’t worked out my priorities in a ‘Clearly Prioritize Your Life’ way, but it seems all the things I do on a daily basis are a reflection of my life goals: to earn a living from my writing; to be the best possible wife to Dave, and to contribute to world eudaimonia. Maybe Hardy is wrong, and my goals are my priorities, no separation. Whatever, this has been a very useful activity.
Next Friday I’ll share how I get on with a few more of his thirty behaviours including: being more playful; creating ‘peak’ experiences; and eliminating non priorities.
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