Pixar produced 98,173 storyboards to create WALL-E. How many are you willing to make?

This is How to Stop Sucking at Your Habits

Patrik Edblad
Nov 30, 2016 · 4 min read

In 1995, film studio Pixar released Toy Story — the first-ever computer-animated feature film.

Since then, the studio has produced 16 more movies, including titles like A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, and WALL-E.

This list of blockbusters has earned Pixar sixteen Academy Awards, seven Golden Globe Awards, eleven Grammy Awards and a bunch of other awards and acknowledgments (1).

There is a lot we can learn from how they go about creating their exceptional movies.

From Suck to Unsuck

It’s tempting to think brilliant companies like Pixar always know exactly what to do next.

Presumably, their workflow looks something like this:

  1. One of their genius employees comes up with a brilliant idea.
  2. The genius employee explains the brilliant idea to the rest of the uber-talented team.
  3. The uber-talented team executes flawlessly to turn the genius employee’s brilliant idea into an amazing blockbuster movie.

But in reality, that’s not at all how it works.

The truth is that each of Pixar’s movies goes through a process of relentless iteration before it’s finished.

Sure, an initial idea gets the project moving, but it will change many times before the film is released.

In fact, Pixar assumes that the first versions of their movies are going to suck.

And as a result, they are willing to tweak everything about it until it doesn’t anymore.

Their process is all about going from suck to unsuck (2).

A Mountain of Storyboards

For each movie that they create, Pixar uses thousands of ‘storyboards.’

These are hand-drawn comic book versions of the film that contains ideas for the characters and actions they take in each scene.

The people working on the project come up with a huge number of these ideas, most of which are never used in the final product.

And the number of storyboards they use increases for each successful movie they release. So far, they’ve created:

  • 27,565 storyboards for A Bug’s Life
  • 43,536 for Finding Nemo
  • 69,562 for Ratatouille
  • 98,173 for WALL-E.

Clearly, Pixar has no intention of slowing down their iterations.

And neither should you.

How Good Intentions Fizzle Out

We all seem to have this tendency to think that somehow our new habit will work out pretty much exactly they way we imagine.

If we just come up with a solid enough plan, we should be able to follow through without major problems.

And that might be the case for a week or two. But then it turns out that our plan has a hole or two (or a hundred).

Perhaps we notice that we don’t have enough energy to show up at the gym after work consistently. Or that the book we planned to read is boring. Or that there just isn’t enough time to prepare the healthy food we’ve been planning.

And so our good intentions fizzle out, and we quit.

Always Be Creating Storyboards

If you can relate to this, the problem isn’t that you’re lazy or lack willpower.

The problem is that you rely too much on the first version of your plan.

You heavily overestimate your ability to predict every obstacle that will show up in your way.

As a result, each time your run into a setback, you’ll perceive it as a failure and get discouraged.

And here’s why Pixar’s approach is so powerful.

Instead of thinking of your first plan as your definitive strategy, it becomes your first shitty first draft.

You’ll work under the assumption that it’s going to have plenty of holes.

And this approach allows you to face setbacks without getting discouraged.

You know that your plan is a work in progress so every time you run into an obstacle, you simply create a new ‘storyboard.’

How to Stop Sucking At Your Habits

If you struggle with creating and sustaining healthy habits, you need to change your mindset about it.

Just because you’ve failed a lot in the past, that doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It just means you’ve created a lot of storyboards.

And that’s a good thing because it means you have a lot of insights into what haven’t worked in the past.

Now all you have to do is create a new storyboard and try again. If that doesn’t work, you create a new one and try again. And again. And again.

Constantly refine your habit by using strategies like creating a trigger, rewarding small wins, raising the stakes, shaping your environment, and using accountability.

Conduct a weekly review to track your progress and readjust your approach.

Build Your Own Mountain of Storyboards

Pixar was willing to make 98,173 storyboards to create WALL-E. And they’ll continue to make even more for their future films.

They don’t waste their time worrying about setbacks. And neither should you.

The question isn’t if you have what it takes.

The question is how many storyboards are you willing to create?

As long as you do not stop, you are succeeding.

What storyboard will you create next?

Sources

  1. Pixar
  2. I learned this idea from Brian Johnson, who picked it up from the book Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries
    by Peter Sims

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Patrik Edblad

Written by

I write about timeless ideas and science-backed strategies to feel great and perform at your very best. Get more from me at http://www.selfication.com/medium/

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

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