Any creator, and by creator I mean anyone who engages in, or pursues, an enterprise that involves an intentional act of creativity (so this would include any entrepreneur, writer, artist, consultant – basically anyone whose job isn’t just to take and perform exact orders) has to confront the “blank page” of their respective enterprise:
- The business won’t launch itself, nor will the products market themselves;
- The book won’t write itself;
- The music won’t compose itself;
Therefore, the “blank page” must be confronted. A positive act of creativity must be engaged before an enterprise of any form can be launched.
When a positive act of creativity is required, an equal, if not more powerful force of “resistance” (as author Steven Pressfield calls it) presents itself.
Resistance can take many forms (self doubt, and fear, for example). One of the most common forms of resistance is the act of substituting the more difficult (and fulfilling) work of creating something, and doing “busywork” instead.
Ayn Rand once gave a series of lectures on the Art of Writing Non-Fiction. During one of these lectures she discussed this point using a great metaphor (the “White Tennis Shoes”)
Years ago I read an article in The New Yorker by a writer who described what she does in the morning before writing. What she describes is universal. When she sits down she knows she does not want to write. Here is what her subconscious does to “save” her from that difficulty. She thinks of everything she has to do. She needs to call a friend on business, and does so. She thinks of an aunt she has not called for months, and calls her. She thinks of what she has to order from the store, and places the order. She remembers she has not finished yesterday’s paper, so she does. She continues in this way until she runs out of excuses and has to start writing. But suddenly she remembers that last summer (it is now winter) she never cleaned her white tennis shoes. So she cleans them. That is why I refer to this syndrome as the “white tennis shoes.”….
In steelmaking, a blast furnace must be heated for weeks before it is hot enough to forge steel. A writer getting himself into the writing mood is like that furnace. Nobody likes to get into that state, though once you are in it you want no other, and would probably snap at anyone who interrupted you…. [I]n the case of the “white tennis shoes,” you must force yourself by sheer will power immediately to stop procrastinating and begin writing.
This concept can be applied in so many ways. Its application is not limited to writing.
- It applies to business and particularly sales (making calls);
- It applies to building and maintaining relationships of all forms.
The problem of White Tennis Shoes (metaphorically speaking) is ubiquitous. It really impacts all aspects of our life. There always seems to be something in the way of our doing the more important work (especially if that work is difficult), right when we should be doing it.
In my life I have realized the danger of the White Tennis Shoes and as a result I’ve built “systems” that protect against my “lesser self.”
I know that I am as susceptible to the problem of the White Tennis Shoes as the next person, that is why having a system is so important. The better my system is, and the more resolve that I have in maintaining it, the more likely it is that my important (and creative) work will get done.
Here are some of the systems that I use to guard against my lesser self:
- I organize my day so that I set up “flow chunks” where I do the important but difficult work (this includes any creative venture, but it could equally be applied to any other type of work where the metaphor of White Tennis Shoes could be used to prevent the work from happening). I specifically set out chunks, usually in hour or two blocks, that are going to be “creativity zones”. These creativity zones are also “busy free zones” (ie. no busy work is allowed in these).
- During these “creativity zones” I turn off my cell phone (so that I can’t be interrupted by the ping or buzz of a new email, or social media mention) I also turn off my business line. The world can wait for a hour. There is rarely an urgency (other than an immediate injury to my family) that can’t wait an hour. Also I make sure that my Internet browser is closed.
- I embrace an internal sense of satisfaction when I accomplish something creative or “resistance filled”. Whether it be doing a blog post, writing 500 words on a new book, taking hard but critical action in a business venture (like calling someone I need to call but don’t really want to).
- I track the actions that I do that are susceptible to the White Tennis Shoes problem. I write them down in a daily journal that I keep. By writing the actions that I take I reinforce the sense of internal accomplishment and also look forward to doing it again tomorrow.
These are just a couple examples – there are many more. The important thing is that a habit of defeating internal resistance and accomplishing meaningful work is created by guarding against the distractions that so easily keep us from doing the difficult (but meaningful and rewarding) tasks in our life.