The Welcome Debunking of “Grit”

I'm happy to report that "grit," that awful, victim-blaming concept, has largely been debunked. An Education Week piece by University of San Francisco psychology professor Christine Yeh reports that Grit author Angela Duckworth has been forced to walk back some of her book's key claims: “Much Ado about Grit: A Meta-Analytic Synthesis of the Grit Literature” by Marcus Crede and colleagues analyzed 88 separate studies on grit and raised three main concerns: The effect sizes in Duckworth’s research were inaccurately presented to appear larger, the influence of grit has been overstated, and the characteristic grit is not much different from the concept of conscientiousness—a concept already well-known and well-researched by psychologists.In a email exchange with NPR in which she responded to these criticisms, Angela Duckworth agreed that, although the statistics in her paper were factually accurate, the language was such that the effect of grit could be misconstrued as greater than it actually was. Secondly, … [Read more...]

When a Success Leaves You *Less* Able to Do Your Work

I use the term "situational perfectionism" to describe circumstances that cause your perfectionism to spike. A failure (or perceived failure) can do that, but so, paradoxically, can a success, especially if it causes you to feel more visible or scrutinized. J.K. Rowling experienced this after the exceptional success of the first Harry Potter book, but fortunately was able to move past it. Other writers aren't so lucky. From this week's obituary of writer Bette Howland: "In 1984 Ms. Howland received a MacArthur Foundation award — the so-called genius grant. But her literary output dried up. Jacob Howland sees the two things as related."“I think the award may have sapped her confidence,” he told the website Literary Hub in 2015. “If people don’t expect great things from you, it’s easier to please them. But people expect great things from a writer who has won the MacArthur.”" It's always best to approach projects with a "clean mental slate," as free as possible from past history and future … [Read more...]

Michelin Chef Says Non! to Relentless Competition

I was inspired by the news of the Michelin chef who has asked to be removed from the prestigious ratings system: "One of France’s most celebrated chefs, whose restaurant has been honoured with three stars in the Michelin guide for almost 20 years, has pleaded to be stripped of the prestigious ranking because of the huge pressure of being judged on every dish he serves. "Sébastien Bras, 46, who runs the acclaimed Le Suquet restaurant in Laguiole where diners look over sweeping views of the Aubrac plateau in the Aveyron while tasting local produce, announced on Wednesday that he wanted to be dropped from the rankings of France’s gastronomic bible. "Michelin said it was the first time a French chef had asked to be dropped from its restaurant guide in this way, without a major change of positioning or business model. "Bras said he wanted to be allowed to cook excellent food away from the frenzy of star ratings and the anxiety over Michelin’s anonymous food judges, who could arrive at his restaurant at … [Read more...]

Parenting Is Not a Zero Sum Game!

From Evelyn Tsitas, an exceptionally useful blog post about what it took for her to write her thesis: Admit it, if you are a mother, there is always that nagging voice somewhere – yours or some critic – that says ‘intense focus and study at the expense of much of everything else in your life will be bad for your young children.’ Rubbish. Low expectations, complacency and laziness* are limiting. Constantly pushing your boundaries and challenging your comfort zone, on the other hand, teach children not to be limited in their aspirations while at the same time reinforcing that anything worth achieving takes hard work, and sacrifice.If you are completing your doctorate and fretting about your children taking a back seat, don’t worry. The mum up late studying, turning down social invitations, spending holidays at the computer or university library may be absent from her children’s lives in some ways, but she is abundantly present in ways which matter in the long term. I can tell you first hand that far … [Read more...]

Self-Care Now More Than Ever!

Here's a reminder that self-care becomes even more important during stressful times. The need for self-care would seem obvious, except that some on the right deride people who ask for it as weak, and a culture that supports it as dysfunctional. That attitude diffuses into the general culture and causes people to feel guilty about wanting or needing self-care. Some good people also feel guilty for "taking time off" to care for themselves when there's important social justice work to be done or others in need of serious help. But your disempowering yourself through self-neglect isn't going to help anyone. (To paraphrase the airlines, you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others.) Many successful activists (and others, of course) devote hours each day to exercise and other forms of self-care, which helps them maintain not just their health and energy, but motivation and focus. As the poet and activist Audre Lorde famously wrote: "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is … [Read more...]

What to Do When Your Gingerbread House Collapses

I have no idea what went through the mind of whoever built this gingerbread house when it collapsed. But I'm guessing she (or he) didn't get all self-critical and perfectionist about it. Perfectionism is an obstacle to creative problem solving, admirably on display here. Happy holidays, and remember that the secret ingredient is always compassionate objectivity (nonperfectionism). … [Read more...]

“My Productivity Has Increased Tenfold.”

A heartfelt thanks to artist and coaching client Sonja Cillié for the below testimonial on our recent work together: "I have benefited tremendously from our coaching sessions. My productivity has increased tenfold. When I come across a barrier now it doesn't derail me completely anymore, I can get back on track the same or at the very least the next day. I am very aware of my perfectionistic thoughts and am able to be more compassionate (most of the time)." Coaching will help you get your new year off to a productive and confident start. All coaching begins with a $375 Needs Analysis / Action Planning Process, and that may, in fact, be all you need! Sign up now, or learn more about my coaching here. Also, order a paperback copy of The 7 Secrets of the Prolific directly from me and I'll custom-autograph it for you or the person of your choice. (You'll also get an e-copy!) Be sure to write the desired inscription in the memo section of your order form. (You can also get it from Amazon and iTunes, of … [Read more...]

What’s the Right Number of Drafts?

"What's the right number of drafts?" Meaning: how many drafts does it take to produce a polished piece of work? When I ask that question during workshops, people usually reply between two and five. (People who are familiar with my work and think they know where I'm heading usually answer with a higher number.) But if there's a journalist, or former journalist, in the class, they always give the right answer: "As many as it takes." I guess journalists are taught this by their teachers and mentors. I was reminded of this by a recent article on writing by the brilliant Rebecca Solnit in which she mentions, "I’ve seen things that were amazing in the 17th version get flattened out in the 23rd." I imagine some readers were all: "Wait--what? 17 drafts?! 23 drafts?!!!" For me, 17 is nothing. I probably rewrite every word of my books two or three dozen times. Even "simple" blog posts like this one get rewritten five or ten times. This sounds like a lot of work, and it is. But it might not be as much … [Read more...]

How to Bingo Your Way to Fun Productivity!

In a recent newsletter I mentioned how I sometimes roll a die to decide which section of my project to work on. When you pick a section at random it’s hard to take the work too seriously or otherwise get perfectionist. Reader Nathan wrote in with another great randomizing technique from Viviane Schwarz: bingo cages (a.k.a., wheels). "One of my most important work tools is a bingo wheel which I throw wooden balls in labelled with the projects I need to work on—I've found it absolutely impossible to run a schedule based on priority, they all need work all the time and thinking about which one is the most pressing is just wasting time. I spin out a project, set a timer and work on it for half an hour or an hour to take it forward, then I spin again until it's time to stop working. It sounds quite ridiculous but it beats every other system I've ever tried for productivity; you just have to make sure the right balls are in the cage, throw in more if a deadline is approaching or take some out if something … [Read more...]

Tips for a Distracting Time

It's been a crazy and, in many ways, difficult week here in the U.S. If you're having trouble working (as I am and I know many others are), grab your timer and do short intervals. (Even a minute or two!) You will make progress and, perhaps even more importantly, keep the material fresh in your head so that you can re-enter it more easily when you have more focus. And who knows? Maybe a couple of minutes will lead to a couple more, then a couple more, etc. Did I tell you I sometimes use dice? I have a great purple set from Chessex (gamers' choice; a cheap indulgence). Sometimes I roll a die to decide which part of my manuscript to work on. (Which chapter or section; they're all numbered.) It adds a bit of color and fun to the process, and randomness is a great tool against perfectionism because you can't really take a piece of writing that seriously when you're only working on it because you rolled it. For those (understandably) upset about the U.S. election, a few tips: Don't perfectionistically … [Read more...]

Do You Have a “Room of ReQUIETment?”

Continuing on last week’s Harry Potter theme, I want to ask you: Do you have a “Room of ReQUIETment?” Of course that’s a play on Room of Requirement, the fantastic room at Hogwarts that could be anything, supply anything, a student needed. Back in 1929, Virginia Woolf published A Room of One’s Own, which discussed, among other things, a creative woman’s need for space and privacy. (Of course, men need these things, too—it’s just that fewer women had them in Woolf’s day.) But physical space isn’t enough. You also need a quiet, capacious mental space that’s free of judgment, worry, and external concern; and in which you can invent and play and create freely. I call that your Room of ReQUIETment. Create it using the nonperfectionism techniques I’ve written about in The 7 Secrets of the Prolific and elsewhere. See also: Joyful Productivity and The Woodland Trail Metaphor Harry Potter and The Boggart Perfectionism … [Read more...]

Beware Post-Summer Situational Perfectionism!

Note – this one's a bit late, partly because Labor Day was late this year. But hopefully it will still be in time to help a few people. In any case, the principles apply after any break, so if necessary consider it a piece of early advice for the upcoming holiday season! - Hill A few people have told me they've been having trouble getting back to work after summer vacation. They're telling themselves (and others, unfortunately, are also telling them) stuff like: “Okay, summer's over. I've had my break. Now, I'd better get back to work. In fact, I need to work extra hard to make up for lost time.” That's an example of situational perfectionism, which is any condition that causes your perfectionism to spike. And, like all perfectionism, it's a dead end. Putting pressure on yourself only causes your creative, productive self to rebel and shut down. Also, let's not forget that many vacations are not actually that relaxing. One person I spoke with did a “service vacation” where she nobly but stressfully … [Read more...]

“If You’ve Made Them Cry, You’ve Succeeded In Getting Your Point Across.”

A Success Academy charter school teacher was caught on film harshly criticizing and publicly humiliating a first grader. She literally tore the girl's classwork into pieces and flung them aside! The school is claiming that the incident was an exception, both for this teacher and the system in general. However, there's plenty of testimony that it isn't. The title of this newsletter is a quote from a former assistant principal who says it sums up the system's overall culture. She also notes that, "embarrassing or belittling children for work seen as slipshod was a regular occurrence, and in some cases encouraged by network leaders." You don't have to be an expert on perfectionism to understand that this kind of degrading treatment is totally inappropriate to inflict on anyone, much less a child. What most people don't realize, however, is that even a single incident like this can catalyze a lifetime of underproductivity. I know this because I hear it all the time in workshops. I'll be discussing a … [Read more...]

If We Could Turn Back Time: Cher Models Nonperfectionism!

I've always loved Cher's tweets: they're so playful and sincere, even when she's making a sharp political point, which she does often. So naturally, I loved this New York Times piece about her Twitter style: She pays little to no attention to rules of grammar, like punctuation or sentence structure, and she capitalizes many words individually, causing her messages to read like bad novelty T-shirts or mock propaganda posters. She frequently — and comically — tacks on extra signoffs at the end of her tweets (“I was looking at tweets & saw that i really hurt someones feelings ! Im sorry. It was light blue background with white egg shape . Bye” ). She loves to load her tweets with emojis — her favorites include the birthday cake, sweat droplets, prayer hands and the American flag — even if they aren’t related to the subject matter of her message....The day after Christmas, she wrote, “Adults are SO PACMAN,” and a few weeks before that, she posted a message that simply said: “We Should B Vigilant, Aware Of … [Read more...]

How John Scalzi Meets His Deadlines

This week, bestselling author John Scalzi blogged about how he's going to meet his 2016 deadlines: "For me, the major problem is not writer’s block or plot issues or anything structural involving the novel; I generally don’t have problems with those once I start, and with this new novel, thankfully, I didn’t have any real issues starting. "No, the problem is that the Internet is an attractive nuisance. And not just in the sense of that it distracts me when I need to be writing. No, as I get older, I find that actually plugging into it before I do any novel writing scrambles my brain enough to make it hard to get any appreciable progress made for the day. I think this is a combination of me getting older and the Internet just plain doing a better job of angrying up the blood or otherwise distracting me. I also think it also has to do with a certain amount of habituation, i.e., if I’m checking email, by brain just goes “Oh, we’re on the Internet now,” and just fires up those parts of my brain that work on … [Read more...]