Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: motivation

That Is Why You Fail

     I found out why you keep failing.  Why you can’t seem to get the things done that you want to get done.  Why you can’t pull yourself out of bed on time.  Why you can’t stick to that fitness routine.  Why you can’t write that novel.  Why you can’t reach that spiritual goal.  Why you just can’t.

     You believe the lie.

     You believe the lie that says you aren’t good enough.  You believe it so much that you continually tell it to yourself in some misguided attempt to make things better.  It’s killing you.

     It kills you because you set yourself up for failure every time you try.  You tell yourself that you’ll fail.  And your body and spirit takes it as a command.

     It kills you because it stops you from taking initiative and innovation.  Since you’ve always failed there’s no reason to believe that this time will be any different.

     It kills you because it pushes you down and kills all the impulses that want to lift you up.

     It kills you because it calls the positive ideas and motivations inside you vain, arrogant and even sinful.

     It kills you dead, friend.

     And it leaves you open to the real beast of getting things done.  Resistance.

     Resistance always wants to stop you from doing your work.  It pushes you down, slaps you around and tears at your heart.  When you agree with its accusations that you aren’t good enough, smart enough or skilled, you do the work for it.

     Don’t agree with Resistance. Agree with me. Because I believe in you. Seriously, I do. I think you can do great things. I think you can create worlds. I think you can commune with God. I think you can get healthy.

     Yes, you’re messed up. Sure, you’ve got problems. But I’d be willing to bet that your issues are not nearly as bad as you think they are. Stop convincing yourself to fail. Go win.

1,158 Words a Day

     You know what happens when you have certain writing goals and then you go and live in the woods for four days?
     It gets tough.
     And when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
     Where the hell they go, I have no idea. But they get going. Alas, I am not tough, so I have to stay here and work. Sometimes I wish I were tough so I could just leave.
     My counter says I need to write 1,158 words every day until the end of the month to hit my goal. That’s kinda serious. A thousand words is a decent day. That means every day has to be decent. But we all know that every day can’t be a good day.
     But that’s a really funny thing to say, isn’t it? It’s like all those times I used to hang out with friends talking about how we can be better Christians. And we’d always talk about how impossible it was to actually be good and how people who thought they would be good were bad because thinking that you’re good is bad and thinking that you’re bad somehow leads you to be good but not too good because you’re bad.
     Kinda defeatist, even though I understand why we used to talk that way. But whatever spiritual benefit there might be in self-deprecation, I don’t think there’s much to be had in other life pursuits. 1,158 words a day is doable today. What about tomorrow? Tomorrow doesn’t exist yet, so why are we talking about it? I know what I can do now. And that’s all that matters.
     Mleh. I should get back to work. Selasis is in the middle of a very awkward conversation, and he needs to have an even more awkward one right after that. Shyyl is hungry and bleeding and I probably shouldn’t leave him in that state for too long. Achae is pretty messed up, and its cruel to do that to a child. And Pari and Jaedon are still where I left them, and if I don’t get them out of there, I expect they’ll be dead soon. So for their sakes, I should stop writing this semi-narcissistic post and find out what happens to them.
     Toodles.

A Letter I Got This Weekend

My consciousness received a letter this weekend. I figured I’d share it.

Dear Matt,
Hi there. Remember me? You’ve been shutting me out for a while now. And I see you’ve been busy while I’ve been gone. Think you got a lot done, eh? Think you’ve made progress, eh? Well, I just wanted to drop you a line to remind you that you’re not actually getting anywhere. In fact, everything that you’ve been doing is a colossal waste of time. You’re not good enough. You’re not smart enough. You don’t have ‘it’. I’d prove it to you, but you already know it, deep down. You’ll never achieve anything worthwhile in your life. You’re too old. You’re too dumb. That’s just the way it is. So you might as well delete that laughable WIP with all of its shallow characters and glaring plot holes. Because people are going to laugh at it. The same way people laugh at you behind your back when you tell them you’re a writer. Quit trying. You’re no good.
Sincerely,
The Imp on your Shoulder

I sat around thinking about the letter for most of the weekend. Finally drafted a response last night:

Dear Imp on my Shoulder,
Sod off.

I could stop there. I could leave this with a simple dismissal and get on with my day, but I feel like I ought to give you a bit more so that you’ll think again before writing me with your ‘advice.’

It’s true that my WIP is ugly and a bit malformed right now. I’m the first to admit it. It’s like a fetus. Kinda creepy looking and not meant to be exposed quite yet. Can’t stand on its own legs legs.

But I am good enough, smart enough, diligent enough to make it walk. No, I can make it fly!

I can prove it, too. I’ve done stuff, you see. I’ve written a book. I’ve travelled the world. I’ve learned another language. I’ve produced children. I’ve spread joy and love. I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!

What have you done, oh imp on my shoulder?

Nothing.

You’ve sat there for twenty-nine years bitching and whining. You’ve never helped me achieve any of my goals. You’ve never cheered for any of my successes. You’ve never been a meaningful part of anything good that I’ve ever accomplished. I’m not the waste. You are. And I won’t let you consume me. The very fact that I’m clever enough to push you away makes me clever enough to realize my dreams.

So sod off, imp. Precedent says you’re wrong. And even if it didn’t, I’d rather die with a thousand failed attempts than listen to you and try nothing.

Oh-so-very Sincerely,
Matt

Steve Jobs on Death

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

Trying to Fly

Joseph handed me one of his big story books and asked me to read to him the other day. The book was one of those large compilations of stories. I really have no idea where we got it, but he likes it. So I opened to the middle, picked a random story and started reading.

A mouse named McWhiskers was walking around with a friend when they heard the news that Bru the Bear was planning to fly that afternoon and had invited everyone to come watch. McWhiskers immediately identified himself as the nay-sayer of the forest, as he commented on how bears simply cannot fly. But he went along anyway. They arrived at Bru’s place to see him piling crates up and attaching a pair of wings he had made to his arms. He was ecstatic. McWhiskers tried to rain on his parade by pointing out, again, that bears cannot fly. Bru was undaunted, though, and brushed his negativity aside.

Of course, Bru’s attempts at flying failed. He leapt off the crates and flapped his wings hard, but crashed to the ground. McWhiskers had a polite ‘I told you so’ moment and finally convinced Bru to abandon his pursuit of flight altogether.

The end.

I decided to never read that story to Joseph again.

Most people would say that McWhiskers was right to stop Bru. I mean, how could a bear ever hope to fly? It’s impossible! Indeed, if God had wanted Bru to fly, he would have given him wings. Good for you, Mr. McWhiskers, for stopping your silly friend from making a fool of himself.

But was it really impossible for Bru to fly? Of course, the crude wings he made couldn’t do the job. But what if he built better wings? What if he devoted himself to learning about aerodynamics and trust and fuel and was able, after much work, to fashion a machine that would take him off the ground, just like we humans have? He would have flown. But he’ll never get that chance, you see, because McWhiskers talked him out of it.

Imagine how much we would have lost if all the Brus of the world had listened to all the McWhiskers. We would have never advanced beyond the bronze age. We would have never done anything difficult or time-consuming. We would have never chased our dreams.

McWhiskers, I think, is a cruel person. He himself had no ambition to fly, and so he saw fit to rob his friends of their ambition. And, in doing so, he became a murderer to dreams. Don’t be like McWhiskers. You never know when you may be cutting down a person who was destined to change the world.

When You Don’t Want What You Want

Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever been overtaken by a dream so vast and shiny that it becomes nearly all you ever think about? A dream that is attainable, for sure, if not for that one problem you face every time you sit down to carry it out.

You just don’t want to do it.

And who can blame you? There are so many other things in the world that you could be doing. Reading books. Playing games. Sitting in a soft chair staring off into the abyss of the nether-realm. Lots to do.

And the dream tickles and pokes you from behind. “Hey! Look at me!” it says. “You said you loved me, so where are you?”
“I’m right here, I just don’t feel like drawing you into existence just yet,” you say as you fill your mouth with candy.
“When, then?”
“In a minute.” But in a minute you’ve passed out, and when you awake you have nearly forgotten your dream.

What gives? Why don’t we want to do what we want to do? Or, better yet, how can we want it?

I don’t really know, but I have some guesses. For whatever they’re worth, here they are.

  • Discipline is the price of freedom. That’s an old adage that has clung to me since college. The truth of it seems stronger every day. Without discipline, you’ll never get out of the chair. The trick is getting it. Wooing discipline is like trying to flirt with a nun.
  • Remind yourself of why you love your dream. When you can’t seem to work up the will to work, close your eyes and imagine the day when the work is done. In fact, take a second and do it now. Nice, eh? That could actually happen, y’know. Fall back in love with the dream.
  • Look at the next step only. I once heard that imaginative people are the worst procrastinators because they can very clearly imagine all the work required to finish a project. And that drains. So quit looking at the whole thing. Just look at what needs to be done today. Look at tomorrow’s stuff tomorrow.
  • Stay in shape. The body and mind and spirit are all woven together in a beautiful and frustrating dance. When one goes, they all go. So jog or something. And stay away from the donuts!
  • Do it now. Quit planning. You don’t need to plan nearly as much as you want to. Good plans are useful, but not nearly as useful as doing the work. So just do it. Now. Don’t worry, this blog will still be here when you’re done.
  • Don’t be perfect. They always say ‘Anything worth doing is worth doing well.’ True enough. But anything worth doing is also worth doing is also worth doing half-arsed, too. Better a shoddy dream that lives than a perfect dream that’s dead. Besides, with most things you can always go back and tweak it when you’re done.
  • Stop talking to others about it. We want others to endorse our dreams. And so we blab and tell them. But the response we get is almost never what we’re looking for. In fact, it seems that most people can’t understand our dreams. And why should they? The dreams are yours and yours alone! So keep it to yourself, or a small group who thinks like you, and truck on!
  • Enjoy it. I often don’t know how to do this. But having it as a goal in my head seems to help a little. Enjoy your work. Enjoy building your dream. Heck, if you can pull that off, you won’t need to worry about any other strategy.

    PS – Congratulations to Eric and Alex Edwards who won the shameless contest. Send me an email letting me know which book you want and it’ll be shipped out to you pronto!

  • Keeping Your Options Open

    A while ago a great poem was posted on one of my favorite blogs.  Here it is:

    The small man
    builds cages for everyone
    he
    knows.
    While the sage,
    who has to duck his head
    when the moon is low,
    keeps dropping keys all night long
    for the
    beautiful
    rowdy
    prisoners.
    Basically, the poet is saying that small, insignificant people make it their business to disable and contain others.  Maybe they do this so others won’t notice how small and useless they are.  But the great man, the sage so large that he needs to duck when the moon is low, makes it his business to set these people free.  Nice thoughts, eh?
    You know who is a great man?  Jesus.  So why, then, do people assume that follow him means a limiting of freedom?
    We’ve all heard people say stuff like, “I wish I had had more fun before I became a Christian.”  Implying, of course, that being a Christian is no fun.  And people have reason to say that, don’t they?  They way many religious people talk, you get the impression that following Jesus is about refusing to do fun stuff.
    But I think it’s not like that.  It seems to me that following Jesus actually opens your options.  Jesus frees you to do wild things.  Jesus freed Ruth to get a bunch of cash, head off to Pakistan with two little kids and throw the money and love at widows and orphans.  Jesus enables us to create and enjoy things in such a better light and for such a better purpose.  Jesus adds depth to all our relationships and fun.  Jesus frees me to be unconventional and counter-cultural as I try and figure out how to show him off in the way I live.  Jesus is the ultimate great sage, dropping keys that open the cages of every single problem we have created for ourselves.  Yay for Jesus!

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    Book of the Fallen

    I just picked up the first book of a fantasy series written by Canadian author, Steven Erikson.  The series is The Malazan Book of the Fallen and I’ve heard good things about it.  I haven’t even started it yet.  I opened the first few pages, though, and saw a forward written by the author.  He was talking about how he and a friend had some great TV scripts they were trying to sell.  He got nothing but rejection slips, it seems, and he reproduced one:

    Wonderful!  Unique!  Very funny, very dark … but here in Canada, well, we just can’t budget for this stuff.  Good luck. … Try something simpler.  Something like everything else out there.  Something less … ambitious.

     Erikson’s response: “Well, screw that.”

    That’s all I’ve read, and I’ve already fallen in love with this guy.

    I’m not 100% sure, but I get the feeling that society generally rewards mediocrity.  And it punishes wild excellence.  Why?  I think, perhaps, because most of us are unwilling to rise above mediocrity.  Ambition is risky.  Excellence is dangerous.  If you bet all your chips on one hand, you just might lose.  Better to not play at all, right?

    Well, screw that.

    We were made for excellence.  We were made to reflect greatness.  And we’re not going to be able to do that by running through the same motions we’ve always run.  I think that people who love Jesus should be on the front lines of producing the greatest art, music, literature, business and products.  But since we often try to marry Jesus to religion and money, most Christian products are unoriginal and shallow.  I think this is because unoriginal work is both religiously safe and lucrative.  Hurts, I know.  But true.

    What do you do?  What do you want to do?  Excel at it.  If you refuse to do that, you dishonor the divine image stamped on your soul.

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    Resist Resistance

    I read a good blog post the other day.  You should read it, too.

    Have you ever had an idea?  One of those, I’m-going-to-turn-the-world-upside-down ideas?  One of those It’s-so-crazy-it-just-couldn’t-work-but-wow-if-only-it-could-it’d-be-great ideas?  I did.

    You’ve have one or two, too.  You know you have.  Hasn’t everybody, at one time or another?

    My wife’s got one.  She’s gonna share it in a little while.  She’s moving forward with it.  I find myself wondering, why?  Why is it that my wife has started moving forward with her idea while most of us just tuck our ideas deep down inside and wait for them to suffocate and die?

    That post I linked at the beginning has some good reasons.  They’re all the reasons that I haven’t moved forward with my earth-shattering ideas.

    But isn’t it better to just move forward with those ideas?  I think it is.

    You know who had a great idea?  David.  There’s this nasty giant guy who threatens the nation.  That’s a problem.  Ought to be solved.  And the king’s offering his hot daughter to whoever solves it.  Logic screams, “Be the one to solve it!”  Resistance simpers, “They’re all going to laugh at you.”  David takes care of business, saves the world and gets the girl.  No one’s laughing at him now.  They probably laughed at him when he started, but not when he finished.

    Yeah, they’ll probably laugh at you when you start.  They might laugh at you the whole way through.  But it’s better to be laughed at and save the world, than to be ignored and…not.

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    3 Labels

    Think about what you are going to do today. Get at least six things. I’m pretty sure you can break them down and organize them into three labels:
    – Things you need to do. This is your basic, I-do-this-so-I-can-eat stuff. Your bread and butter. Your 9-5. This is what puts food on the plate and money in your landlord’s pocket.
    – Things you ought to do. These are things that are good, in and of themselves. Hanging out with family. Talking with neighbors. Volunteering. Telling people about Jesus. Working out. Good stuff.
    – Things you want to do. That which is fun. Hobbies, games, travels, etc.

    On how many tasks can you put more than one label?

    For most people, I think, very few of their tasks can hold more than one label. The things you need to do are usually very different from the ought and want lists. And as our tasks get more and more separated and are more and more exclusive in regards to these three labels, we get more stress. Think about the man who works a 9-5 job moving money around in a bank. He needs to do it. But it’s not what he wants and he can’t see much of an ought being fulfilled in it. Once he does what he needs we goes home and, since his day is mostly gone, he has to choose to either do what he wants or what he ought. Sucks.

    But what if we pulled the three lists together? What if you could put all three labels on one task? Or on most of your tasks?

    Happy.

    That’s the dream, I think. To support yourself and your family while doing what is right and fun. How many people get that? How many of you are there? Are any of you on your way?

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