The Power of Using Momentum to Stay Disciplined

Image by Krikit (Creative Commons)

When you’re about to start a creative project, there’s going to be things holding you back. Self-doubt kicks in. You rationalize why you shouldn’t work on this project today—unfortunately these reasons are actually seductive and convincing. You can’t, for the life of you, drag your sorry self to practice.

You’re not alone. I’m right there with you—yapping excuses. I’ve got a stack full of them. But there’s a way we can beat this inner friction: momentum.

For artists, momentum works like this: It’s Monday—you have killer self-doubt about a project or task, but you plough through it anyway. You show up and perform. The work may turn out horribly, no matter. Doing the work is what matters.

You can build off something, but you can’t build off nothing. You can improve upon Monday’s work, but you can’t improve a blank script or an empty canvas.

Get something down

Getting something down Monday gives you reason to show up Tuesday.

Tuesday comes with the same pestering doubts, the same self-criticism, but you grind through it anyway. At day’s end, you realize you didn’t get much done, and what you did get done was crap.

But Monday’s work placed on top of Tuesday’s is better than either alone. By Wednesday you’ll be more motivated to show up; you have at least something to work with.

By showing up every day and doing your best, your work will begin to take shape. It will grow into itself and become an entity separate from you.

It will start to know what it wants to be. It will have its own needs; it’s own message and voice. One day you’ll be astonished at how awesomely your project has matured. What was once a piece of crap is now a living, breathing piece of art.

Now you’ll want to show up to work. 🙂

A Gravitational Field 

This productive cycle will continue as long as you let it. This is the power of momentum—let it work for you. Steven Pressfield calls it a ‘gravitational field’. He believes that the more you work on something, the more forceful becomes its gravity:

As you start to work (and as the work accrues), an amazing thing starts to happen. The work generates its own gravitational field.

It’s like space dust coming together. A speck forms, which pulls in another speck, which becomes a mote, then a fleck, then a glob, a blob, a brick, a Volkswagen. Pretty soon you’ve got a bona fide orb … a sphere … a miniature planet.

Neglecting Momentum

What happens when you neglect momentum?

Momentum can work against us too. Anne Dillard in her book The Writing Life describes how failing to show up causes momentum to work against you:

I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend. During visiting hours, I enter its room with dread and sympathy for its many disorders. I hold its hand and hope it will get better.

This tender relationship can chance in a twinkling. If you skip a visit or two, a work in progress will turn on you.

A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight.

…It is a lion you cage in your study. As the work grows, it gets harder to control; it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your master over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room.

I think Dillard is spot on.

The more days I take off, the more the work spins out of control. My direction goes awry and my morale drops fast.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that can be avoided if I just flap my wings all the way past the finish line.

It’s difficult to get any creative project going. But consistently showing up and producing creates its own momentum, no matter how retched the work may be

Productivity breeds productivity.

Momentum is powerful. It will do its job as long as we do ours—showing up and keeping that ball rolling forward.

Best,
Aaron.

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