My friend Alex Cespedes has come up with a very useful model for starting (and staying with) projects. His model outlines not the logistical, but emotional stages of any project.
You can read his blog post and listen to the podcast here.
The basic gist of this model is that there are three states of work.
The first state is “pain.” This manifest itself as sore muscles in the morning just before you start a run, cold air hitting your face, lack of caffeine. The beginning of the project is always painful and hard to dive into.
But if you stay with this project you reach a state called “flow.” In the flow state you’re getting quite a lot done and really working hard. You don’t notice that you’re doing work, you are simply executing with very little self-consciousness.
Flow leads to a great feeling called “bliss.” In bliss, you could keep going forever. You’re very proud of the work and you’re enjoying it too it’s fullest.
I tested it out in my own life.
I really wanted to finish a chapter in the book I’m writing. This chapter has intimidated me for a long time. There are several characters with complex subplots and sub texts. There’s action, props, and villain monologues.
In other words, there was a lot of pain associated with writing this chapter. Not only had I held off writing it for several weeks, I didn’t feel like my talent was quite up to the task.
Facing this pain, I just opened the document and began to write. I won’t lie, what came out was pretty horrible at first. I promised myself I would do at least three drafts of the chapter, which took about 15 minutes each to write.
I found that the first draft was extremely painful, the second draft was extremely painful but the third draft was quite easy and fun. Then, having finished the drafts I was able to go through and find what I wanted to keep. Some things were good indeed! When I put together all the elements I was very proud of what was developing and was having a great time. Pretty soon, a few hours had passed and I had progressed from the flow to the bliss state as I’ve put the final touches on my challenging chapter.
Alex notes that, like the golden ratio in nature, where small copies of broccoli stalks grow out of large copies of broccoli stalks, this principle works on micro and macro levels over an entire lifetime. Those who never progressed past the pain portions of anything end up living a nightmare I’ve repeated cycles of pain.
Think of it, if you start a project but quit before the flow state, only to start another project and quit before the flow state and on and on all day long, all week long, all month long, how exciting and fun does your life become? How much are you actually getting done? How much pain are you enduring?
Knowing that there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow makes chasing the rainbow a lot more fun and meaningful.
Many thanks to Alex for illuminating us on this topic!
Incidentally, Alex interviewed me for his very first podcast, entitled “01 Creativity and solving problems like an artist.” You can listen to it here.
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