For the past few weeks, I’ve really struggled with my writing. I wake up in the morning and can’t think of anything to write about. When I do get something written, it’s nowhere near the quality I want.
But I keep writing anyway.
Years ago, I heard some advice given to a writer that was crippled by writer’s block. His coach at the time told him to write for the trashcan. The coach said, “Write 500 words on paper and then throw them away.”
It’s odd advice to receive when you believe you need to be producing all of the time, but the coach understood something many of us don’t.
When you do something without expectation, you stimulate creativity and will eventually produce something worth publishing.
I’m sure you’ve heard of Pareto’s Law. It’s the 80/20 rule. 80% of your results come from 20% of your work. This means that 80% of what is worth publishing comes from 20% of what’s written.
If you want to publish 1,000 words, you need to write 5,000.
The cool thing about Pareto’s Law is that it applies to everything. 80% of the money you earn comes from 20% of what you do. 80% of our daily language comes from 20% of our total vocabulary. 80% of your happiness comes from 20% of your relationships.
One place that people forget to apply Pareto’s Law is health and fitness. 80% of your physical results will come from 20% of your actions.
What does this look like in practice? All the time we spend trying to implement the perfect diet is mostly wasted. Often times, what is really getting us the results is only one or two of the changes we’ve made and the rest aren’t doing much. I’ve had clients struggle for months to lose fat while sticking to a super detailed diet and as soon as we add a small dose iodine supplement, the weight falls off.
Of the time spent in the gym, only a few sets are actually building strength. The rest are warm-up sets and aren’t doing very much to increase your strength.
What do writer’s block, fat loss, and earning money have in common?
You still have to do all the work.
Publishing 1,000 words requires writing 5,000. If you know you’re going to throw 4,000 away, might as well get them out of the way early and write without expectation. Getting stronger only requires a few sets each workout, but you cannot complete those sets until you’ve properly warmed up and completed everything leading up to the valuable sets.
Here’s the real kicker though. We rarely know which 20% is valuable. This applies to writing as well as fitness. We don’t know which 1,000 words will be worth publishing, so we have to write them all. We don’t even know which specific sets make us stronger. We might assume it’s the hardest, but I am not at all convinced that’s always the case. Because we don’t know what the valuable 20% is, we have to do 100% of the work.
The easiest way to get to the valuable 20% is to do all of it without expectation. I write knowing much of it will be garbage. As much as I may want to write impactful posts every day, I know that isn’t realistic. I write to build volume and trust that something valuable come out eventually.
When I workout, I don’t worry about how I perform. I know that some of what I’m doing will help me and most of it won’t. I don’t know which is which, so I just do it all. I train for volume and trust that the strength will come along the way.
I’ve been rereading Drive by Daniel Pink. It’s a book about motivation and it’s changed my world. You should absolutely read it.
One of the most interesting parts of the book explores what happens when we put expectations on ourselves and employees. When you tell someone they must perform in order to keep their job or receive a bonus, creativity drops instantly. People that are so focused on the result become narrow minded and struggle to find creative and efficient solutions to complicated problems.
We assume that the promise of a reward or threat of a consequence will motivate us to do our best, but that isn’t what happens at all. The more expectations we put on ourselves, the worse we perform.
What’s the best way to increase performance? Remove the expectations and complete the task because it is interesting and engaging.
Write because it excites your mind, not because you must publish so many words per day. Workout because it feels good, not because you want to get stronger every workout. Improve your diet because you want to give yourself the most nutrition possible, not because you want to lose 10 pounds.
Do it without expectation and you will get far better results.