Cultivating Obsession


Like most of you who are old enough to suffer from self awareness, I have a pretty solid idea of what I have inherited from my parents. I don’t mean the brown hair or a face void of chin. I mean the little things that end up making you who you are.

From my mom I got the inability to stop moving around my house tweaking things. From my dad I got a sense of personal duty that borders on (see: lies fully within the boundaries of) obsession.

Obsession sounds like a bad word, a thing which motivates and drives bad guys in movies and books. If you are an obsessive person, you know that obsession can have its downsides, but as optimists, we have to look on the bright side. And that bright side is that obsession is just how shit gets done.

I am obsessive about two things in life at this moment: writing and exercising. If you have known me for a long time, then one of these things made you laugh. Well, poop on you. Obviously, cultivating obsession in these particular areas of obsession doesn’t happen overnight; they’ve been several years in the making. Here’s how I developed as an obsessive.

Write in a Journal

For me, this is best done in the morning; for others it’s the evening. I like writing in a journal because I can plan out my whole day. This is in no way sexy writing. I do not craft and I do not consider this towards my day’s writing, it’s simply a way for me to map out my whole day.

I write it almost as a series of directives to myself. I will write 1,500 words for the book. I will make notes on two podcasts. Exercise will be pushups and crunches.

Sounds pretty banal and robotic? Good. That’s how it’s supposed to sound. Oh, just for poops and giggles, I always tell myself to have a great day.

Think Deep Work, Not Huge Sessions

One of the ways I used to screw myself out of writing was by thinking of my writing as something that could only happen in one 2.5 hour block. This is of course ideal, but as a working person it’s not always realistic.

Say I teach at 10 am. This means I have to leave my house at latest at 9 am. Now, that means to get a 30 minute workout and 2.5 hours of writing in, I have to get up at about 5:30. This is not impossible, but it’s not really for me. I love morning and writing in the morning, but I’m not at my most creative or functional in super early morning.

As you can probably imagine and relate to, writing started getting pushed off to the wayside. But this was because I only thought about my writing as one big block. Far better for me was to set my daily goal at 2.5 hours of “deep work.” This simply means that by the end of the day I’ll have completed 2.5 hours of uninterrupted, focused work and it can be broken up to how it fits into my day. So if I got an hour of deep work done in the morning, I could schedule two more 45 minute periods throughout the day. Don’t discount shorter sessions of work; they add up!

Schedule Exercise

Even though I love exercising, I hate exercising. More accurate would be to say that I love having just exercised. The number of hours I have spent cleaning my apartment or scanning Facebook while dressed in my workout clothes could be estimated in months. But, here’s the thing, I get it done every day.

That is because I schedule it to a specific time. That is, I know exactly when I have to leave my house, and I know how long my workout lasts. So I know when I can’t dilly dally anymore. So I’ll set my exercise between 1:30 and 2 pm if I need to leave at 3 pm, because even if I get to it at 2, I’ll still have time to do it.

I have recently read an article which suggested that people who schedule a habit they want to begin undertaking are far more successful than those who don’t. For one, it’s much harder to blow something off that’s literally scheduled for a certain time than it is an even that is vaguely supposed to take place “this week.”

Make this part of your obsessive morning journaling; it’ll work.

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