Brain Food #615

Working on what we don't enjoy

Thoughts of the day

I recently finished reading The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman, a lesser-known book than most within the category of self-improvement. Perhaps because, as Burkeman suggests, the more we try to improve or help ourselves, the more difficult we will find it to do so. He compares this to the act of frantically moving our limbs to stay afloat in a body of water, something more likely to waste our energy and cause us to sink, when all we need to do is stay still and relaxed.

The book continues to focus on paradoxes, on how doing what is counter-intuitive and anxiety-inducing is actually what can relieve us from our perils.

Similarly, he talks about the act of getting things done, and how we have been taught that motivation is such an important ingredient of working, that without it we should freeze, and simply wait for it to arrive.

“Who says you need to wait until you 'feel like' doing something in order to start doing it? The problem, from this perspective, isn't that you don't feel motivated; it's that you imagine you need to feel motivated. If you can regard your thoughts and emotions about whatever you're procrastinating on as passing weather, you'll realise that your reluctance about working isn't something that needs to be eradicated or transformed into positivity. You can coexist with it. You can note the procrastinatory feelings and act anyway.”

He goes on to quote American artist Chuck Close: “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.”

Perhaps success is not to be found in doing things we enjoy every minute (an idealistic thought in many ways), but in doing the things we do not enjoy, the tasks we do not have motivation for, with the same values and consistency.

If inspiration and motivation are both fleeting sensations that come and go unexpectedly, then waiting for them to arrive before we start our work is as helpful as waiting for life to start tomorrow, when life is, in fact, happening right now, before our very eyes.