Monday, April 25, 2011

On the Couch or On a Roll?

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I'm reading Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh's Delivering Happiness. In an early section of the book he talks about what he wants to accomplish in his life, and relates business and life choices with what he's learned about poker. At one point he realizes that if things aren't working out, he can always "change tables. Psychologically, it's hard because of all the inertia to overcome. Without conscious and deliberate effort, inertia always wins."

Nowadays when I read the word "inertia" I think "couch potato," but that's just because I've tried hard to forget all of the physics I ever had to learn. When I look up inertia the first definition includes words like "inertness; inactivity; sluggishness." But the second says, "the property of matter by which it retains its state of rest or its velocity along a straight line so long as it is not acted upon by an external force." In everyday words that means inertia describes the guy on the couch as well as the guy "on a roll." Inertia is sitting still because it requires effort to move, but it's also moving forward because it takes effort to stop the momentum. When it comes to our jobs these are very different issues, but inertia in any expression can cause trouble.

Everyone knows about the couch potato trouble, the can't-get-the-top-spinning kind of inertia. The best cure that I've found for this is Steven Pressfield's book The War of Art. He talks about Resistance, that thing that keeps us from doing what it is we're supposed to be doing. He talks about the many forms it takes, and he's funny and direct and helpful. I've read this book several times, and each time I find more relevance to more areas of my life. It isn't just about writing or creative work, it's about deciding who you want to be and then being able to make that happen. If you know what you want but you're finding it hard to do it, read this book. It helps.

Pressfield also has a new book called Do the Work. The Kindle edition is free. I'm reading it now and it's also excellent, even more help in this never-ending battle with Resistance.

This other side of inertia, however, has me stumped. I'll admit, I'm a workaholic. I'm not recovering. There probably isn't a cure. The intervention could come any day now. The point is, I can relate more to the "momentum" part of inertia than the "resting" part. On a work day, that's good. In the middle of a rush order, it's necessary. But on a vacation or weekend intended for family time, it's trouble. That's why I'm sure that Tony Hsieh was also talking about this aspect of inertia when he said, "Without conscious and deliberate effort, inertia always wins."

This is the inertia that can propel people into business growth that they don't want, partnerships that don't suit them, bigger, better, faster equipment and technology that doesn't work for their businesses or lives. When you're on a roll it's hard to stop. It's hard to slow down. It's difficult to change gears. I'm struggling with this right now, because I know that there's value in both: that spending a little more time on the couch is actually as good for me as working! I'm looking for new ways to stop and start with less difficulty. Do you have any suggestions?

Do you have trouble with inertia? When you take time off, is it hard to start back up again? When you're working hard on something, do you sometimes sit back and realize it's the middle of the night and you've been lost in the project? Are you on the couch or on a roll? What techniques do you use to transition between the two?


  1. Hi Emily! This is a great post, meaty and full of though provoking concepts. Just the way I like it! I want to zoom in on this

    "spending a little more time on the couch is actually as good for me as working!"

    I'm not sure this is true all of the time. I'm not talking about being on the couch as in "couch potato." We all need to be physically active to be healthy. But after your daily workout and self care, why is being on the couch (I'm thinking you mean "relaxing" here) as good for you as pursuing your passion in life?

    I'm sort of playing devil's advocate, but not really. Because when you truly love what you do -- so much that you become anxious thinking about it while you relax, because you're upset that you're thinking about it and not doing it -- what value does that add to your life?

    I believe we are at the point of no return on this. I've written about the "work-life" merger, where for creative entrepreneurs like us, the lines are blurred. No matter what we are doing, we are also pursuing our passion at the same time. We're either missing it, thinking about it, Tweeting about it, texting it, journaling it, savoring it, doing it, LOVING IT!

    Pulling this down to me, people think I work all the time. They think that this comment at your blog, because we are connected through INDIE Beauty, is work. They are so wrong.

    It's early on a Saturday and I have not had my workout today. I have also not spent time with my family yet today. I will do both of those things, but for now, I'm here. And this is not work. I can't think of anyplace on earth I'd rather be at this moment than having this conversation with you, and even though it is inextricably connected to my work, it is not work. It's fun, it's empowering, and it makes me wish you were right next door so I could come over with a cup of coffee and talk about this with you all day.

    If I could, I'd go to bed happy. I would have also done something to further my work.

    When you can invest the entire day (or as much of it as YOU want) doing what you love, why give it a name at all? Why call it "work?" It's not work. It's your life.

    Rather than label it, enjoy it.

    That's the view from my peanut gallery anyway. Looking forward to what you and others think.

  2. Hi, dM! I'm glad that you are here contributing to this conversation! I'll admit that my thinking about this has changed over time, and I expect it probably will continue to change. Lately, this is mostly about exhaustion. I do experience that anxious feeling that you talk about, and it's usually because I have set a schedule for myself (x number of blog posts this week, for example) that is difficult to accomplish; I may finish my work at 11:30, and if I indulge that anxiety instead of sitting and relaxing, I end up working on blog posts until 2 or 3 am. This has happened many times. I enjoy the quiet late at night, and I love blogging, but when I keep this schedule, I sacrifice quality work time the next day. So I'm trying to incorporate quiet, unplugged time at night. Sometimes I read, which of course invariably will end up in a blog post or a tweet. But sometimes I just try to be still without any TV or music or anything. I know people who don't ever do this and they're fine, but I seem to need it. When I say I need "time on the couch" really it's time to assimilate things, unwind from a stressful (or productive) day, stop running long enough to look around and make sure that I'm running in the right direction!

    I was thinking of Tony Hsieh's poker games and raves. Though he learned some important lessons from those activities that helped him in his work, I'm not sure that he thought of them as work-related while he was doing them. He seems to be someone who values recreation time. Yes, he spends that time with people from work sometimes, and he surely gets a lot out of those experiences, but he's not "working"...and maybe that's what you're saying. All of what we're doing is related to work in some way, even if it's fun. So why call it "work" or "play"? Then I guess part of my "work" involves quiet reflection time in order to be efficient!



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