Unshackle Yourself From Mental Friction

Unshackle Yourself From Mental Friction
Photo by JJ Ying / Unsplash

It may win the battle but do not allow it to win the war.

Conception occurs at the primal level. I’m not being facetious when I stress, throughout this book, that it is better to be primitive than to be sophisticated, and better to be stupid than to be smart. — Steven Pressfield, Do The Work

A few regrets in life are inevitable. A life full of regret is unbearable.

For much of my adult life, I have been in this cycle of productive to unproductive. It isn’t a case of burn out or lack of focus. It’s a lack of confidence in my process and systems.

The mindset of continuous improvement and growth has served me well for most of my life. It has led me to several promotions in my 9-5 and has kept me open to new possibilities. But is it always a good thing?

Last week, I was flipping through my journal. One of my old entries was an entry of self-loathing and anger towards myself. I felt that my productivity system wasn’t working for me, and it was time to flip the table.

A few months before that entry, I wrote something thematically similar. A quick glance at the results, and it was obvious why I wanted to flip the table. I had not written a single article because of this new system. All the articles that I had written were adhoc from the system.

My obsession to be optimal, productive and seamless was holding me back.

What Is Mental Friction?

In any creative endeavor, you go into unknown waters and it can be frightening.

You can stare at the map all day, but you will not have an understanding of what it means until you start the journey.

A temptation to call a lifeline will simmer. It is only a few clicks away.

You give in and begin the path of research. You find 25 different ways to do the same thing and wonder which one to choose.

After narrowing those 25 different ways, you narrow it to a few, but the uncertainty is eating you inside so you research for confirmation biased videos on the few ways that you decided.

The labyrinth of indecisiveness becomes more confusing and complex than you ever realized. Hours will have passed, and you’re so mentally stimulated by the hundred small hits of dopamine that you don’t know where to begin.

“I guess I’ll do it tomorrow when my mind is clear.” You tell yourself.

Deep down, you know what the truth is. Your internal compass is broken. You don’t trust yourself or your processes, so every moment of friction that you feel sets off an alarm in your head.

How do you repair your compass?

Leaning Into Your Mental Friction

Our brains are wired to build habits. In fact, half of our daily actions are repetitive tasks. Some habits that require almost zero effort are habits like brushing our teeth or bathing regularly.

At the same time, we can start wiring loops into our minds that we cannot get out of. With the story that I wrote in the intro, my mind is wired to always look to improve upon something to a fault. This loop has caused me to always think that there has to be a better way to do something, without thinking about if that better way is going to add value or have any fallbacks to it. What are some ways to break out of this?

Outline it fast. Now. On instinct. Discipline yourself to boil down your story/new business/philanthropic enterprise to a single page. Is this easy? Hell, no. — Steven Pressfield, Do The Work

Go On Instinct

Instead of sitting around thinking about what I want to write about, I grabbed a pen and paper and wrote one sentence of what I want this article to be about. That sentence was, “an article on the mental friction that stops people from achieving their goals.”

The headline? I wrote the first one that came to my head and rolled with it. There’s no use in getting caught up in the headline or synopsis. Choose and move on. Next came the outline. My outline started with writing out a few basic headers, then underneath, I freestyle everything that came to my mind. Research is not allowed.

The research part is tempting because there were quotes I wanted to go look up, articles I wanted to re-read for inspiration and books like Steven Pressfield’s book, Do The Work that I wanted to “take a peak.”

Understand this, taking a peak is never taking a peak. Glancing at a video is never glancing at a video. Googling something is never Googling one thing.

There may be some people who have a more optimal way of working than this, and that’s fine. I accept that. If something works for someone else doesn’t mean that it’s going to work for me.

There’s something magical when you can blend going on instinct with structure. Once you obtain it, try not to do anything to mess it up.

Separate Tasks

Writing may be the greatest example of needing to draw a hard line in the sand when it comes to separating tasks. Most writers know how much the editor's brain can get in the way of the creative brain.

Separating the tasks like research, editing, writing and outlining. Make that your system. It doesn’t need to be on paper or on a computer. In fact, I don’t think it should be. The process needs to become so ingrained into your soul that it is something you can do in your sleep.

One of the fallbacks countless people fall into with building a “second brain” is the attempt to offload allthe information in their brain.

You shouldn’t try to offload everything in your brain. There’s a reason why we take notes, and it’s not to set it and forget it.

The reason we take notes is to review and ingrain them into our memory. Especially when we are attempting to learn a skill.

There’s a reason why writing notes by hand is more effective than typing.

Our brains need to see usefulness in the skill. If we offload it and don’t use it, we will always be a beginner.

Kindle The Fear Within

Fear can be a fire within you. It can either paralyze you or it can be the driver to help you perform better.

I think back to that scene from The Dark Knight Riseswhen Bruce Wayne is stuck in the pit after Bane broke his back. After several attempts to climb out of the hole, he kept missing this one jump while wearing a rope. An old man who had lived down in that hole for many years told him that there was one child that ended up making the jump out of the hole, and that child wasn’t wearing a rope.

It was the fear of missing the jump that drove the child to unleash an inner ability that they wouldn’t normally have.

Fear can do the same thing for you. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are the consequences if I don’t do the thing I want to do?
  • How will I feel years down the road if I never accomplish this?
  • What level of regret will I have if I don’t do this?

You can choose to ignore your fears and stay paralyzed in it. The longer you ignore a fear, the more it festers within.

There’s a reason why we fear, and that is to stay out of danger. It can be because you’re trying to protect the ego from being hurt or stay out of real danger. However, it’s often the lowest version of ourselves trying to avoid danger that puts is in the most dangerous situations.

You Don’t Have To Go Through It Alone

If there’s something that you’re struggling with in your creative endeavors, try to find a colleague with similar goals as yours. The only thing I would be careful about with this is to not vent. People would rather not hear you vent about how you don’t have time to do something or make excuses for why you haven’t got anything done.

Venting can often become another loop that people get caught into. You can start to see yourself as the misunderstood artist. An artist who does nothing but complain how the entire world is out to get you. Believing, if things would go right, you would show the world how creative and wonderful you are.

Truthfully, those people wouldn’t see an opportunity if it smacked them in the face. Colleagues would rather not be around people who like that because they are typically toxic.

When you find someone who you can talk to about your ideas and hold you accountable for the struggles that you face, it’s a fantastic thing.

You might even find someone online who can sit on a camera with you while you both work on your projects. There are groups like that out there.

No one will force you to do the work. You have to do it yourself.

The mental trick that I use is to find as much joy as possible in the world that I am doing. If I treat myself like someone is holding a gun to my head if I don’t work, eventually I’ll resent doing it.

The small joys can be that I am sitting up in a sky lounge at my apartment building in Chicago writing. Something that I won’t be able to do forever. Whatever it may be, make sure that it’s meaningful to you.

Understand The War On Mental Friction Is Never Over

You build calluses on your feet to endure the road. You build callouses on your mind to endure the pain. There’s only one way to do that. You have to get out there and run. ― David Goggins, Can't Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds

David Goggins is cited as being the toughest man alive. He’s run dozens of 100 mile ultra marathons and a handful of 200 mile ultra marathons. He used to have the world record for the most pull-ups in a 24-hour span and has two books that I recommend.

Even he talks about how he has mental friction daily. He says some mornings he doesn’t want to go on a run and will sit there and stare at his shoes, trying to roll through every excuse in the book to not go for a run.

If he experiences mental friction, all of us do.

The war on mental friction will never be over. During a war, you can never let your guard down and slip into your old habits.

There will always be days that you feel mental friction. It may have happened with trying to get out of bed. It could be if you’re debating whether or not to go workout today.

The biggest trick to defeating mental friction is to act fast. If you’re having an internal debate in your head about whether or not you want to do something, make that decision quick.

Making the decision quick rips the bandaid off. It makes the rest of everything seem a little easier. When you do make your decision, make sure that you aren’t half way in. Mental friction loves half measures.

Mental friction will never go away. However, the more that you keep your guard up and defeat it, the smoother the friction will become.