There are two schools of thought about telling other people about your intentions, whether those intentions involve eating less cakes, writing a Franzen-esque meditation on the self-destruction of America, or running the Leadville ultramarathon. One, championed by Dan John, is the Tell Everybody method – the idea being that you inform everyone you know of your intentions, so that they stop offering you cakes, buy you pens and constantly ask you why you aren’t running. The other, beloved of NYU psychology professor Peter Gollwitzer, suggests that announcing your plans to others satisfies your self-identity just enough that you’re less motivated to do any actual work. According to Gollwitzer, your brain perceives the thing you’ve announced as a new social reality, which gives you a premature sense of completeness and actually de-motivates you. Entrepreneur Derek Sivers suggests that to get around this, you should announce your intentions as dissatisfaction – ‘I’m too weak’ – rather than satisfaction – ‘I just joined the gym!’
I contend that there is another way. Announce your plans to everyone, then shut up about your progress.
This serves several purposes. Firstly, by telling everyone your plans – especially if you go about it with the right amount of confidence – you ensure that you’ll have at least a few people asking you how the novel/six-pack/running is going. Hopefully some will mock you about it, which should give you the right amount of rage to maintain steady progress. Secondly, by shutting up about the actual process, you avoid the feeling that you’re being productive when you aren’t. Thirdly, when you turn up one day with your trapezius muscles bursting out of your shirt and a fully-fledged novel on Amazon, it’s a nice surprise for everybody except the people that doubted you.
More importantly, you avoid the problem of internalising the idea that what you’re doing is hard or special, when it really isn’t. This is the problem with diets, Crossfit, and most people who start writing books. Think about it: if you’re treating every training or writing session as some sort of heroic effort, posting what you did on Facebook or Twitter or otherwise looking for approval, then it will always, always seem difficult, something that you should be lauded for doing and shouldn’t feel too bad if you skip or give up. If, on the other hand, you can start the process and then regard the actual work as something that just gets done, it’ll eventually become as integral to your life as brushing your teeth. I’m still not great at this, but I’ve been going to the gym and writing for years now, and I get jittery if I can’t do either – it’s actually harder for me to stop.
Need more inspiration? I’ll leave you with a quote from Mark Twight, formerly top-flight alpine climber, now trainer to the likes of the 300 cast and Henry ‘Superman’ Cavill, and a man who I have enormous respect for – especially since he doesn’t talk about his own achievements all that much.
‘If you keep saying it’s hard, it will be. If you treat training as a chore, it’s drudgery. The pretense of difficulty is just an invitation for social feedback. Change your attitude. Unfuck your head. Make an honest, unsentimental accounting of your present condition. Define what you want instead, clearly. Give yourself a deadline, and a penalty for missing it. Be realistic. Be consistent. Insist. And the road will rise to meet you.’
HOMEWORK: Whatever project you’re working on, shut up about it for the next seven days. No Tweeting that you’ve just been to the gym, no Facebooking about the thing you’ve just written. Treat making an extra effort as normal, and soon it will be.