3 steps to develop an Unstoppable Work Ethic
Disclaimer : Everybody’s mind works differently. This is not a universal guide, in any way, and should be treated as mere pondering of the writer.
The monkey mind is not easy to fine-tune for the modern-day work requirements. Essentially, minds similar to those of people 5000 years back are now working on building businesses, space ships, saving people’s lives etc. Given how easy it is to live a difficult life or worse screw it up badly, it helps to learn how to direct this monkey mind to tasks we deem necessary and important. We are obviously not optimised, as biological creatures, for working productively for 8hrs per day and more. I’ve come up with 3 requirements to build a lifestyle of high performance, considering the utter ineffectiveness of our monkey minds. It’s insane how suboptimal and flawed our minds are. We’re all doing so much cognition with our pre-frontal cortex everyday but we weren’t even built for this. We were built for a whole other game of survival and reproduction. Our starting point is so low. Fuck! We need to be very careful in designing this lifestyle, building it one piece at a time, overcoming the obstacles to success one at a time. I’ve personally had months or even years of struggle to adjust to this and fall into a sufficiently productive daily routine. Still going through hurdles and dealing with this mind everyday. You can’t escape it. The only way out is to learn to edge it towards the most desired outcome. Anyway, let’s look at these 3 things.
Step #1 : The WorkPlace
Be in an undistracted calm environment with all the necessary tools to work. I personally prefer a library. It just does it for me. When I walk into a library, I feel like a kid on christmas eve. “Oh my god. So much books to read, so many educated people around, such silence and WiFi too!”
The right environment is a crucial factor in deciding your overall mood during work. It can make or break your productivity. Some people are blessed with a natural ability to ignore distractions and work anywhere. But not me and I’m guessing not you too(even if you think otherwise).
Have you noticed that when you go to a temple, church or other religious places, you suddenly go to a calm and soothing state of mind? The effect of the environment on your mood is underrated. A friend of mine recently told me that there is a practice in yoga/spirituality of identifying, absorbing and releasing energy from a physical area. People go to one specific spot everyday and do meditation etc and that spot apparently holds those vibrations and energy. So when they go back to the same spot, they can quickly go back to vibrating with the same frequency — something along those lines. But the bottomline is : Find a good nourishing workplace.
Step #2 : The Routine
Make it a habit to come to the workplace no matter what. Even if you get bored the shit out of your head, do something to pass the time until the clock turns 8pm or whatever time you go home. If you’re bored, wander around, talk to people, brainstorm on ideas etc. The goal is to develop a habit out of delaying gratification and developing self-discipline. I call this going to the island, in reference to the movie Cast Away. The idea is that if you have nothing else to do, boredom will make you do the required work. Everything else becomes so boring that doing the work is the only interesting option left. After 3–4 days, you’ll develop the confidence that comes from having stuck to the routine. And this confidence leads to more inclination to follow the routine which leads to more time spent at the workplace which leads to more confidence….and so on and so forth. It becomes a positive self-feeding loop. Find the loop and trigger it.
Once you start going to the workplace and initially feel uncomfortable with this new habit, you will most likely feel like going back to your safe-zone. This is natural and the reason is this : Endorphin release in the past for staying in your comfort zone have rewired your neural circuits and when you step out of your comfort zone, your brain(amygdala) associates fear & pain to the “new experiences”. This is an evolutionary conditioning we’ve picked up over the years. Check out my article on Crushing Your Comfort Zone.
When this urge to fall back hits, I’ve come to train myself to see that Quitting is for Cowards. I personally had a negative self-loathing experience one day when I came back home from work because it was too tough — too many hard problems to solve and too less clarity. That single experience now fuels my drive to stay at work till night. “No matter what, I won’t run away from discomfort like that ever again.” That’s a past failure now fuelling my present and future work ethic. At that time, it felt horrible. But now I’m glad I had it. And that’s how negative experiences turn into positive ones. It’s just a natural part of growth and personality development. I’m not trying to sound cocky or dogmatic here. Just documenting my thoughts and experiences. So fuck off, haters :D
“What haters? Nobody’s even reading this, bro.”
Step #3 : The Interest
You need two things to get shit done. Build momentum. And sustain momentum. If you follow step-2 properly, you develop the bedrock of all productivity — discipline. You now know that no matter what, you will go to the workplace and spend your time there. Without this, you cannot hope to have a long-term guarantee of success. When you know you can sustain momentum, your next goal is to spark the fire. To start the snowball. To generate enough interest for taking action. Here are some tips to do that.
Tip #1 : Don’t finish the task
Leave the workplace on a cliffhanger with a high-note. For example, if you’ve built all the individual components of your product and all that’s left is to integrate them to finish the product, don’t do it at the end of the day. Don’t get closure. Leave it there. Let the surprise tingle your brain in your dreams. This is how you keep the flame going. This is what gets you hooked and makes you come back. This is something I practiced while working at my job and also something I’ve recently found out from Tim Ferriss’s podcast. The brain works through associations. When you leave it unfinished on purpose, you feel mild anxiety, enthusiasm which are essentially the cousins of interest.
Tip #2 : Start small
Start with something small that is likely to be exciting. Take a pen/paper, draw and design stuff instead of plunging into hardcore problem-solving.
Kindling that fire needs to be done carefully without distractions and external forces that may put out the fire before it’s even lit. Also, it’s important to figure out what motivates you specifically and then tweak accordingly. For example, something that motives me is adventure and the thrill of the new. So I ask myself “what is the new in this? what adventure can be had?”.
Tip #3 : Be part of a buzzing community
Talk to other people involved with your work, watch tutorials or youtube videos, go to meetups or other events. Collaborate with other experts on a project. If you’re isolated and have only your cat to talk to, you will not only miss out a lot but also find it tough to sustain long-term interest in a project. A senior of mine in college said, “Coding is fun. But it is 10X more fun if you do it with others.” The advantage of the community is that they will take you along the journey and make it much easy for you. They might not do your work but they will definitely help you spark the interest.
Tip #4 : Therapy Talks
I recently wrote an article on the importance of documentation. Talk to yourself, have that inner mental dialogue. Convincing yourself to drop the mental walls and flow. The mind erects walls when it doesn’t want to do something. Your job is to dig deep and find the reason behind this and solve it somehow. This is a very difficult thing to do. My mind is very rigid. Once the walls are erected, it takes me hours of self-talk and introspection to bring them down temporarily. This is possibly the most important step of the whole process(consider 80/20 analysis). If you can develop an insatiable interest in your work, nothing will stop you. This is why, in the book Think and Grow Rich, Desire is the first step to success. You can effectively develop enough interest to override discipline or lack of a proper workplace. You will be able to sit in a noisy room full of distractions, have 10 other things to do, have other things you need to take care of….and yet, if you’re deeply interested in your work, you will eventually swim toward it no matter how hard it is. I’m still working on my own way of developing this interest. And it is understandably hard. If you can develop interest at will, there is theoretically nothing stopping you from doing any kind of required work. You will be able to flow like water. Do what is necessary. We all can think and figure out what is necessary. But to actually get yourself to do what is necessary is, in my experience, really tough unless you have somehow developed a natural passion for the involved work (which also is not an optimal scenario because you can’t stay detached and put your focus on something that’s not your passion (unless you somehow have a natural passion for all the necessary areas of work which is very unlikely)).
This whole process of developing interest is filled with lots of self-doubt, frustration and hopelessness. It deserves it’s own book or a couple of books. The reason it’s necessary for developing a work ethic is that discipline will only take you to the gates. To go inside and do the magic, you need interest. No amount of discipline can make you solve hard problems that require a lot of brainpower. It’s just not possible to sway your mind like that.
So there you have it. Follow these tips, figure out your own and focus on developing the work ethic. Work is Worship. I truly believe that salvation from this ridiculously flawed brain is to work super hard to be rid of imperfections and be one with the flow. Too deep?