Practicing shipping

Maybe you've noticed...

I've been writing a blog post almost every day these past few weeks.

It's a deliberate practice I've undertaken since reading this post and this post by Seth Godin.

Basically, I am writing and publishing a post a day to get over my fear of putting things out into the world that are unfinished. I want to share from the heart, quickly and directly. And a practice like publishing a blog post a day is one way to do that.

Here's a quick and dirty manifesto around my practice:

  • 1 post a day

  • written in one sitting

  • edit in one and only one pass (no obsessing or worrying about grammar, punctuation, typos)

  • post it... no sitting on it. ( Seth's term is "ship it")

  • ability for people to comment — this setting is turned off (as Seth’s is on his blog)

Manifestos are helpful. Daily practices are helpful. Making myself do something I am scared to do is helpful.

I don’t know how long I will do this for, but I do know that I will become someone different on the other side of this practice?

What got you here won't get you there

One principle / distinction that I’ve been thinking about lately and have been using in my coaching is this:

"what got you here won't get you there."

Our strengths that got us to one level of success are not necessarily the ones that will get us to success at the next level.

Another way to say this is that the demands on our time and mind-space grow as we grow. If you seek a new level of achievement with old tactics and strategies, you will struggle. You are a different person now. You need new ways to approach the new world you created and now inhabit, and the new world you want to create and live into.

In my world, this distinction plays out like this: In my 20s and even my 30s, I could fairly easily find 4 to 6 hours a day to practice my guitar and write songs. 

Now, in my 40s, with a fulfilling relationship to nurture and grow, a team to lead in my music career (my social team and my VA), a coaching practice that lights me up and that I love working on and in, a desire to write more songs for myself and other songwriters, a self-creation / self-mastery practice (meditation, writing, gymnastics, backpacking), I have to work hard to find even an hour a day to practice my guitar.

I cannot expect to have hours and hours of time to get better at guitar and cannot keep operating as if it will happen, someday. As Ramit Sethi says “someday is code for never.”

I can’t muscle my way through as I once did. I can’t just expect myself to grind like I used to, stay up to the wee hours fitting in more things. Fitting shit into my life sucks now. It used to be how I operated. Now it hurts. It doesn’t work for me anymore. Now, with my other responsibilities, I create my schedule. I craft time for each activity. I deliberately say no. I protect songwriting time.

I also use my intuition now. I network and collaborate with people now.

I have acceptance for the things I can't do and I focus on my strengths versus trying to bring my weaknesses up to strengths. I find the best person for the job and then I empower them to do it, own it, and report back.

I let go more.

I am seeing how far I go and who I become and what is possible through letting go.

What got me here won’t get me there.

A parallel universe in which I got everything right?

When we’re centered there is no such thing as “doing it wrong.” It could be anything in our life: guitar playing, songwriting, washing the dishes, writing, working, exercising, eating, etc.

When we aren’t centered, when we are coming from fear, worry, comparison, being too far behind, not being good enough, not being farther along, when the voice in our head is beating us up about every single thing, then everything in our lives feels like a mistake.

Here is why that un-centered voice (the ego, the “I”) is full of BS: it looks at every single thing in our life and says that it should be (or should’ve been) different or better than it is (or was).

This is a total scam. It’s also a no-win situation.

The inner voice is insatiable. It’ll never stop criticizing you.

There is simply no way to be better or different in a way that will satisfy the ego.

As the Zen teacher Cheri Huber likes to say, there simply is no parallel universe in which you did / do everything perfectly and everything turned / turns out exactly as the inner voice wanted / wants it to.

There just isn’t. There is no amount of doing that will satisfy the voice in your head. Ever. Never has been and never will be. Its whole existence is based on getting you to do, do, do so that you are constantly distracted and thus not able to see its lies and delusions. It wants to keep you suffering and doing and striving and failing and achieving but yet not quite measuring up enough and scared and comparing and wanting and exhausted (do I need to go on?)…

When we notice this voice and begin to wonder why it’s so mean to us, we can sometimes catch a glimpse of what’s really here, what’s really true.

What’s really here and true is that Life is.

You didn’t do it wrong. Ever. Not before and not now and you won’t in the future.

There are no mistakes.

The possibility of astonishment

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities … offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope,” — Thomas Merton

I’ve written in the last few days about how we like to think we control everything.

Our ego, the self-identified “I”, the I at the center of our universe, is under the illusion that it can influence everything around us. That by doing more, better, faster we’d be more and better and have already arrived there. And ego wants it exactly as it wants it. It likes and dislikes all day long.

When we step outside of this incessant, nagging voice in our head for even a brief moment, we see that there is something else available. That something else is peace, possibility, joy, delight, surprise.

When we can get away from the voice of the ego for even a bit, and we are open to the astonishing world we inhabit, we realize that Life serves up wonders and amazements that the ego could never dream up.

Your (my) little terrified, square, nagging, angry, bullying little ego would never dream up how incredibly wondrous this world is — how almost everything I do today is a miracle.

On mundane morning example of the amazingness of every minute of my day: that I can press a button and my glossly black french roast coffee beans (that came from Africa originally, but were transported to and roasted in New York) are perfectly ground and pressed and hot water (that is clean and heated to the perfect temperature) is passed through said grounds. Then a delightfully smokey brown liquid drips into a beautiful clay cup I have placed under the spout. All this happens in under a minute. And whenever I feel like it.

It is simply astonishing when I get out of my tiny little world, when chose to ignore the nagging likes and dislikes of the ego that drone on in my head.

It is possible to be astonished every single minute of the day by how much LIfe wants to and does offer us, if we’d only let it.

The 1 second commitment

When we make a commitment to practicing something, anything — say playing guitar for an hour a day, meditating for two minutes in the morning, turning our phone off at night — that practice is not actually about playing guitar, about meditating, or about time away from the phone.

It’s really about training the muscle that says no to the voice in your head that wants to talk you out of doing that thing you committed to doing.

We want to get to a point that no matter how we feel (I’m not getting anywhere, I’m miserable, I’m too exhausted, I’m hungry, I’ll do it tomorrow) and no what what the voice in our head is saying, we simply keep our commitment.

Most of the world thinks they get credit for reading about how to keep a commitment or listening to a podcast about how to keep a commitment, or, if they are feeling a little bit more energized, that they get credit for “trying” to keep their commitment.

These things don’t count, I am sorry to say. I wish they did.

Keeping a commitment to yourself is a form of training. As the Zen coach Cheri Huber says, “We are training to be the person we have always wanted to be, the person we can trust with our life.”

Keep your commitment to yourself as if your life depends on it. Because it does.

If you have to scale the commitment back, do that. Don’t skip the practice all together. If your commitment is to play guitar one hour a day and you just don’t have time and the voice in your head is saying all sorts of things to you about what is more important, then play for one focused minute. If you can’t do that, just simply pick up the guitar and hold it for 10 seconds or 10 slow breaths.

I know that sounds absurd.

But only the person who has not yet had the courage to keep even 30 seconds of her commitment would laugh at such an idea.

Guitar and Meditation

I've been seriously dedicated to meditation for three years now. (I've given up keeping track now, it is so ingrained in my life.) And I've been playing my guitar since I was 11 and seriously practicing it since I was 18. 

Here's what I notice about the practices of meditation and guitar playing:

The enormous life-changing skills of presence, awareness, focus, concentration, letting go ... these are what I work on in tiny increments everyday in my meditation practice (10 to 20 mins in the morning and, when I am at my best, at least 10 minutes in the afternoon).

When I bring these skills to the woodshed (a jazzers term for "practice room") and to the time I spend with my guitar on my lap, I notice that I learn better, I am more calm and less overwhelmed by all the I still want to be able to do on my instrument. My guitar practice sessions are more focused, less scattered. There is a glow and restorative aspect to this time. My mind is refreshed and still. This is new for me. Before, my practice session were always, basically, demoralizing -- showing me only how far I had to go and how painstakingly, achingly, terribly slow my progress was, if I wasn't backsliding, which I often felt like I was.

Learning to see that meditation is a way of practicing my guitar and that practicing guitar is a kind of meditation has made both activities exponentially more gratifying and deep.

There is a rich and satisfying inner life to my guitar work now that I am sure was always there somewhere, but I could never see it. I was moving too fast, trying too hard, too attached to what I couldn't do, hadn't done. 

My friend the great saxophonist and human John Ellis once mentioned to me that he felt he needed his time in the practice room with his saxophone everyday as a way to stay grounded and sane. At the time, I caught his drift -- that he meant that his practice was, spiritually, more than just practice. 

I -- finally -- get it.