How To Resist Temptation and Get It All Done

01: Creativity

In my junior year of high school, I joined the cross country team.

Unfortunately, the simple act of signing up did not magically make me a runner. But that was alright. I didn’t really join the team to become a runner anyway. I joined the team to make friends and get out of the house. My best friend from middle school had been on the team since his freshman year, and lacking the physical skills to compete in any other sport, I figured at the very least, I could lace up my tennis shoes and jog around the block.

Practices were grueling—they were what many other teams were forced to do as punishment. We’d show up, stretch, run five or six or eight miles, and go home. I struggled to keep up with my friend (not to mention the rest of the team). In our Saturday meets, my sole objective was to not come in last place (out of the hundreds of kids in the meet, not just our group). And I’m happy to say I achieved that goal, if barely.

I write all this not to complain about running (which I do hate), but to point out that cross country was something I did by choice. No one, not even my parents, were encouraging me to run. But I kept at it, because for a couple hours on a Saturday afternoon, after a meet was over and I’d run five kilometers, I felt good. I felt like I’d accomplished something. And that feeling was powerful; it was worth all the pain.

Creative work isn’t so different.

steal like an artist chart of the dark side of creativity
via Austin Kleon

I would be lying if I said that I woke up each morning excited to write this newsletter, excited to work on book projects, excited to write billboard headlines. That’s the hard part; that’s the running. The fun is in finishing, in holding something up and saying “I made that.”

Much like my short-living running career, no one is making me send this newsletter, but I keep at it. Hitting send each week, connecting with each of you, reading your thoughtful responses, is worth every bit of pain in bringing it to life.

02: Improv

One of the improv classes I’m teaching is called Group Mind. Seeing as it’s a concept from the great Del Close, I assume many people know what it’s all about. But I hadn’t heard of it until last year.

A quick explanation from Liz Allen:

“Group mind is the collective subconscious we share as connected human beings. Think of it as a giant all-knowing brain that forms when we put all our brains together to create something. When we improvise, we must trust that this giant collective brain knows more than any of us individually.”

The concept is a bit esoteric. It feels a little granola-y. The exercises we do and the lessons I’ve been teaching reflect that. They aren’t what you’d expect when you sign up for an “improv class.” We hold hands and complement one another. We create and memorize group monologues. We silently walk around the space. Each class is kind of like a two-hour warm up.

I always worry that students go home afterwards and wonder what any of this has to do with making people laugh.

Whether or not they truly think that, I don’t know. But it’s my greatest fear. To compensate, I leave twenty minutes at the end of each class for a freeform montage of scenes—something fun, easy, and more directly related to improv comedy. It’s the dessert they can look forward to if they’re not feeling some of the more touchy-feely parts of class.

One thing I’ve noticed (and that I think they’ve noticed as well) is that their scenes are getting better and better, even though we spend very little class time on scene work skills. We’re discovering together that the more they invest in these crunchy, non sequitur exercises, the better they get at “real improv.” The connection is there, even if we don’t see it, and that makes the weird work worth doing.

03: Life

I used to live alone in a two-bedroom apartment during my senior year of college. I’m not nostalgic for that time, but parts of the experience were grand. I did laundry not enough, cleaned my apartment rarely, never vacuumed, hardly cooked, had few responsibilities, played many video games. But ever since then, my chores have grown exponentially. Now I cook for two people, own three pets, do laundry too often, run the dishwasher every day, and (sadly) own a vacuum.

I rely on a trick called temptation bundling to make getting these tasks done a little easier. From the Freakonomics blog:

“‘Temptation bundling’: the idea of tying together two activities — one you should do but may avoid; and one you love to do but isn’t necessarily productive…”

I’m a podcast addict. I listen to nearly forty shows a week. But I really only listen to them when I’m engaged in an activity I’d rather not do—commuting to work, walking dogs, shaving (I really hate shaving), doing dishes, cleaning the house.

Although I dread these chores, I actively take them on. I don’t want to stop listening to my shows, so I’ll move seamlessly from dog walking to dishes without a second thought. It seems like such an obvious trick, but it actually works. Except when it comes to vacuuming. That’s still miserable—I can’t hear the audio over the hum of the machine.

Each week, I write a new article helping busy people find meaning and fulfillment through sustainable creative habits. If you enjoyed this week’s letter, you can sign up to get them delivered to your inbox each week by digital carrier pigeon.