I’ve long held that my theology does not include the word “coincidence.” But I still find wonder in how diverse threads of conversations and seemingly random bits of data somehow show up in the space of days as if bearing little tags tied to them with the message, “You may want to pay attention to all this…”
In response to last week’s entry on mastery, Doug asks how to get his son to work past the hard part of learning something new. John comments on the same thing from a different angle. Then another friend, Hillary, relays her tale of summiting her first mountain and the wisdom passed on to her at a point where she was struggling, not sure if she could go any farther.
“There are two types of fun,” a seasoned climber told her. “The first are experiences where you have fun at the time of the experience. The second are ones where you are miserable at the moment, but have incredible fun and reward later looking back on the experience. Mountain climbing is almost always the second kind of fun.”
And that little insight got her to the top.
So what gets you to the top, figuratively speaking? What keeps you going, especially when you’re learning something new and the initial enthusiasm or the “This could be fun” feelings are but a memory?
At the risk of sounding trite, I will tell you the best advice I know:
You fake it till you make it.
Behaviorist psychology research has demonstrated that it is much easier to change an action than an attitude. That’s contrary to the popular notion that if you just get a better attitude – Happy thoughts everybody! Happy thoughts! – you’ll make it through your hard situation. But even Hillary received her encouragement as she was in the midst of trudging up the mountain, i.e. the words helped, but it was putting one foot in front of the next that got her to the top.
It’s really no different in marriage: You won’t always feel the passion for your spouse. Of course I ALWAYS do (just in case you’re reading this, dear)! But for most people, we go through dry periods in our relationships with loved ones and even our relationship with God. We do forget our first love. So then what do we do?
We fake it till we make it.
We remember why we once loved someone or something and that can help. But more than anything, we do the actions that will then change the attitude.
As Woody Allen once noted, “80 percent of success is showing up.” And as we noted last time, sometimes you have to just keep doing what you love (or once loved) until you love what you’re doing. That’s the heart of mastery; practicing through the dullness until the passion returns.
A few years ago, the New York Times Magazine ran a whole issue on inspiration. In summarizing everything that they learned about where creativity comes from, they articulated it with these few words. Note in particular their last line:
“(The enigmatic nature of creativity), it turns out, is often not so enigmatic. Step 1: Work. Step 2: Be frustrated. Step 3: Repeat.“
Yep. That’s it. Take all the different styles and techniques from writers, artists, musicians, directors and a host of other creative people and it all comes down to that: work, be frustrated, repeat.
Whenever you’re learning something new – and all creative (or at least innovative) work is, by its very nature, something new – you’ll hit a wall where practice or the work itself is no longer fun. Looking for inspiration from others can be a start. Remembering what you originally loved about it can motivate somewhat. But nothing will help you do it more than just doing it. Over and over.
And then, likely when you’re so numb to it that you just don’t care anymore, that’s when you’ll awaken to find something you thought was forever lost: your passion and inspiration. And when that happens, you’re almost thankful for the dry, hard season because the contrast makes the return so much sweeter.
So when (not if, when) you reach that frustrating point of learning something new, traveling when it’s no longer fun or rising above the plateau where you feel stuck, remember this tired old expression: Fake it till you make it.
For if you do, you will.