Be Strict about Showing Up. Be Lenient about the Results.

One of my clients asked me how I can stick to my regimented schedule… and yet remain calm and joyful as I work. Despite a day full of appointments — including my own work — whenever I meet with clients, they don’t feel like I’m in a hurry. I can focus on being my creative self with them.

Every working day, I stick to a schedule, getting a lot done in an easeful manner, without stress or undue strain.

It’s taken a lot of practice to get here. Here’s my philosophy on this:

I’m strict about showing up, lenient about results, and gentle to bring myself back into focus again and again.

This is opposite from what a lot of people do:

Many people are lenient about showing up on time, yet they are too strict with themselves about the results (perfectionism) and whenever they get distracted, they engage in some level of self-blame.

If that describes you, it’s no wonder that you procrastinate on important projects — you don’t want to feel the suffering of self-judgment. You’re treating yourself harshly, having a strict judge in your mind about the results. You are reluctant to show up, because you’re afraid of self-punishment.

I don’t blame you at all…

You weren’t raised with a philosophy of joyful productivity.

I wasn’t either. My early education was in a strict country (Taiwan) that physically punished us for not getting top grades. It wasn’t just about showing up, it was about the perfection of the results.

It’s taken years of experimentation to finally understand the joyful productivity idea of Strict only with showing up, yet Lenient with results, and Gentle about the process of re-focusing.

Here’s an example:

I didn’t feel like making this video. I was visiting my parents for the weekend. I wasn’t in a place I was comfortable making videos, and wondered what my parents (and the other people in the park) would think. I wasn’t feeling inspired.

But I showed up anyway to do it.

I just started recording, and allowed myself to speak what I had planned. (A few days prior, I had been “strict” about “showing up” to outline my content.)

I didn’t worry about the result of the video. Sure, I did 2–3 takes, but that’s normal. It took me 15 minutes to make this 5-minute video. I couldn’t spend more time on it, because I had to move onto my next video. (I make 3 videos each Friday afternoon, to publish the coming week.)

You see, I’m strict with my time, but very lenient on what happens during that time — as long as I’m doing what I planned. If I get distracted temporarily, I gently bring myself back to the task at hand.

It’s like in meditation or prayer: when your mind wanders, there’s no need for self-blame. Just gently bring your mind back to your meditation or prayer.

If you are strict with staying on task — i.e. “focus” — you will, over time, inevitably increase your skills and improve your results. Don’t force yourself to have “good results” in any work period. Just show up and do the work and stay on task, gently bringing yourself back again and again into focus.

Look at “results” from the perspective of a long-term process of improvement.

I’m “lenient” with my results in that I don’t worry about what is produced during any one work period, as long as I’m doing the work I planned. It can end up being a crappy video, a poorly-written blog post, or an ineffective webinar. Those are self-judgments, which are almost always much harsher than what others will judge it as.

I avoid the self-judgment. What matters is that I keep producing. With the consistent practice of work, I will naturally increase my skill, and my work results will inevitably improve with time.

How does one become free of self-judgment?

There are many modalities for doing this. If you reflect on what has worked for you in the past, my guess is that you also have some process of becoming internally free. Use the modality that works for you.

As for what works for me, it’s called the energy reboot:

Basically, I begin the work period by gently reminding myself of what I believe to be True about Life: that we are all eternally secure in an inevitable path towards complete Goodness. We are lovingly taken care of, in deeper and grander ways than we can imagine.

I don’t have a trust fund. But I do have an inner spiritual resource that is inexhaustible, that I can tap into anytime for that spark of joy. I believe you have that as well.

It’s our higher work to keep tapping into that inner resource, so that we can do our everyday work in a state of being gentle with ourselves — yet being reliable to show up on time, not just for others but for ourselves too.

Strict about taking breaks, too…

The other way I’m strict with time is that I take breaks, even when I don’t feel like it.

Again, this is opposite of what many people do: they only take a break after they’ve exhausted themselves.

I believe in frequent creative rest.

If we take breaks and renew ourselves before we get tired, we will be more creative, and enjoy our work more.

What I usually do is set a pomodoro timer — working for 25 minutes, and resting for 5 minutes.

The benefit of breaks and rest are many, including staying healthy, enjoying our work more, but also staying more creative. When we move our bodies, we move our brains. So many of us just work in one position (sitting down) for long periods of time.

On a regular basis (e.g. every 25 minutes) get up! Move around. You’ll find new ideas coming to you with less mental effort.

If you haven’t been producing as much work as you’d like to, or if you’re not working joyfully, then I recommend that you give this philosophy a try.

Be strict with showing up on time for your own work.
Be lenient (not self-judging) about the results of your work, knowing that it’ll get better over time.
Be “gently strict” about the whole process, continuing to bring your attention back to the work at hand, and also being strict about taking breaks!

Try it out, and let me know how it works for you.

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