William E. Stafford was one of the prominent American poets. Every day he got up at 5 a.m. and wrote a poem. He left 22,000 poems, of which 3,000 were published.
What allowed him to be so consistent? What skills of features did he possess that enabled him to be so consistent?
In one of the interviews, he was asked: “What if the poem is not good?”.
I have built many habits or customs, and some of them are very easy. Sometimes they are burdensome, but still easy. Let’s take the morning gymnastics: it is enough to wake up, put training clothes on and start. The rest is easy. Or teeth brushing. It is enough to enter the bathroom in the evening and take a toothbrush into your hand.
But some habits are much harder and I struggle with them. It is, for example, regular writing. I can start the activity, but I can’t finish. Almost every time I am disappointed. I wanted to write something good and – look, what I have. At most several loose jottings.
If I would try writing a poem every day, I would give up because of disenchantment with my verses. It is impossible to get up every day when almost every day you feel like a failure.
Was Stafford genius writing a poem every morning for fifty years?
No. He hadn’t answer: I do not have weak mornings. He said something else: “Then I lower my standards”.
But his standards lowering had nothing common with sloppiness.
Stafford explains that writing is for him like fishing, you never know you catch anything, and to do it you must be receptive, mindful and willing to fail.
If you judge everything you wrote, you are like a fisherman who will see nothing smaller than a whale. Your judgment makes you blind. You have something important before your nose, but you can’t notice it.
Customs or habits are necessary if you want to learn something more complicated than making scrambled eggs or playing Black Peter. Being repeatable is essential for forging new pathways in your brain.
But you need also mindfulness–the ability to taking new perspectives, being open and withdrawing for a time your judgments.
It is not enough to be consistent; you have to be open and accept the effect just as it is.
When learning something new, day after day you feel like a failure, lower your standards. Say: something wonderful happens. My mistakes are just as good as a success. I just need to see it from a different angle.