If you’re into fitness and sharpening your mind with your body, I can’t recommend the articles and podcasts of Alexander Juan Antonio Cortes enough. The man’s output is prolific, encouraging writers like me to put my ass in gear and get more things posted. If you subscribe to his email list you will receive three emails. Everyday. His podcast output is also plentiful.
His articles are my type of style: No bullshit tips on fitness, mindset and motivation. A few weeks ago, he addressed something that had been on my mind. The idea of how self-help books become a form of paralysis by preparation or as he put it Motivation Masturbation.
Money quote: “An overwrought obsession with hacks, rituals, and lifestyle design preparation neglects the reality of simply sitting at a desk and writing, working, designing, publishing, emailing, taking phone calls etc.”
And towards the end of the piece, there’s another money quote: “If you are not actively and repeatedly DOING the thing you want ‘success’ in, all the routines, tools, books, podcasts, Tedtalks, and hacks mean precisely FUCK ALL.”
Funny thing is, I’ve been experiencing some writers block. I meant for this post to drop around a week ago. But I got busy. I hit a wall. Life happened is all I can say. I started writing this piece but stopped at the paragraph above then got sidetracked.
I knew I had to finish this post, but just couldn’t get the motivation to complete it. Ironically, enough, I read the latter quote and it gave me the motivation to finish this piece. It may not be my best work but so what? It’s about the grind, putting the work in and showing up.
I’ve read my fair share of motivation and self-help books. Some I’ve reviewed on this site. Were they helpful? The ones I reviewed were. But they were only helpful in the sense that they put ideas in my mind to take action.
But I had to do something or reading those books were a fruitless exercise.
I know many people who are addicted to these books and now websites/blogs. With the advent of all the technology that presents everything at our fingertips, there’s no shortage of helpful and motivational advice. And the addicts to this material have no problem dispensing the advice they read regardless of topic: weight loss, investing, starting a business, relationships etc. But a lot of those who provide weight loss advice are fat. Investing? If they’re your neighbor or co-worker, good chance they haven’t made a lot of coin. Business? Once again, are they successful in their field (like selling air conditioners) or is the advice, once again, from someone who has just read a lot of books and “studied up” on the subject (like a college professor)? Relationships? Yes, singles have tried to lecture me about marriage (if they’ve been divorced they might have some wisdom about what NOT to do).
They might all mean well but aside from the fact they have nothing to show for their advice, there’s also some other factors at play here: 1) Technology causes a ton of distractions. 2) Due to said tech, there’s a glut of information out there 3) This causes inertia because you just get stuck reading stuff never feeling quite secure in moving forward because you don’t possess all the knowledge 4) And most maliciously, due to the long tail game of internet niche communities, people can make money selling advice—this can be both a positive and a negative.
In Peter Thiel’s excellent book Zero to One, he discusses looking for secrets to help create a new market for a start-up. Well, here’s one secret I know: In the realm of creativity (writing, painting, videography etc), there really isn’t much you need to “know” before getting started. You learn by doing. But the internet/blogosphere/social media runs counterintuitive to that because there’s so much information. One doesn’t know where to start. They could easily just get lost in the bog.
Even worse, there’s a number of charlatans out there—especially in the writing field. There are people who actually haven’t made money selling books. But they have made money selling books and information about how to sell books. Honestly, the advice/motivational field seems to have become an inverted process of people selling how-to books on how to sell how-to books.
Full disclosure: My novel sells haven’t met my expectations by a long shot. You’re not gonna find me selling a handy little guide along with personal coaching sessions where I charge upwards of $700, as I try to move you along my sales funnel. I’m not going to tell you how to sell books because I haven’t done it successfully—yet. Unfortunately, some aren’t as principled.
In the realm of writing, there’s really only 2 books I can recommend: Stephen King’s On Writing and The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. And those may not even be helpful to you, they were just helpful to me. They have good practical advice. But that’s really not an authoritative statement (yet) because I’m not a “successful” writer…yet.
But even something meant for your good—a book written by a true successful pro—can still weigh one down. With someone like Pressfield, I found myself lost in the thickets reading all his books and blog posts. Reading about resistance actually became a form of resistance for me. I’ve gotten more accomplished, created more of a following—even released a novel—since I unsubscribed to Pressfield’s email list and stopped reading his books. In retrospect, I should have stopped at the The War of Art. You learn from your mistakes.
Nothing against Pressfield. He’s made his living writing screenplays and novels so I’ve nothing but respect for him. But how did he do it? He wrote. He grinded. And was eventually successful.
I may not be a financially successful writer yet but I’ve had success in other fields, like weight loss. How many weight loss books did I read? One. Did it help? Nope. It took me a couple of more years to lose weight. How’d I do it? I just started walking every day. I then started being mindful of how much food I ate. I read articles along the way and talked to people.
I acted, made mistakes, learned from those mistakes, made improvements, lost 120 pounds and I’m still learning. That’s why I’m reading Mr. Cortes email newsletter. I want to get better (I want to get shredded honestly). But I lost the weight before ever becoming aware of him. Will I write a book about weight loss? Maybe. But I’m unsure if there’s really any revelatory information I can give because it’s simple: Diet and exercise. Read along the way but don’t get stuck.
I’ve learned more about writing, WordPress, and publishing starting this site then I ever learned reading about it. Don’t get distracted. Just do it. You will probably fail but you’ll probably get better if you keep trying.
Pretty basic stuff, isn’t it?