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How I've Been Sweating the Little Things

I tell myself that I don’t sweat the little things, that I’m really good at letting things go, but if I’m frank with myself and I take a hard look at the evidence, it’s clear that I do hold on to lots of little things. Many small, rather insignificant things that prevent me from growing and moving forward.

I came across a column article called How We Get Better, written by Steven Pressfield. Steven tells the story of his friend Paul who recently had a writing breakthrough and accidentally discovered his writing voice.

Steven explains how we get better by sharing the observations he made of his friend’s breakthrough. The observation that I found most interesting was number four: “This new voice was not the ‘real’ Paul; it was the artistic Paul.”

When I read any of my old writing, especially the writing that I feel is good, it never sounds like me. It’s as if there was someone else writing it. Was it because I was writing with my artistic voice and not my normal voice (i.e., the voice that I identify with)?

And if there was an artistic voice within me, what was holding it back when I wanted to write? Where was the resistance coming from?

Intrigued, I started scanning my collection of old unpublished drafts. I don’t know why I started there, but intuitively something told me that’s where I should go next, so I listened.

Within a few seconds I came across something that I had written nearly two years ago about not sweating the little things. The draft included two incomplete stories of events that caused me to start writing the draft.

While the stories were incomplete, I immediately remembered the events in great detail and recalled the importance and impact of their lessons.

In both events I had run into situations that seemed impassable. There seemed to be no possible resolution that did not come with repercussions.

But instead of stressing out, worrying, and taking premature action, I took a deep breath and released the situation to the universe.

Almost immediately the situation changed in ways that I never thought possible and both problems were resolved, like a magical missing piece to a jigsaw puzzle falling into a place that I didn’t know existed.

As I read this old draft and recalled the story and the lessons I learned, I realized that the resistance I most often experience actually comes from getting in the way of the natural flow of things.

The problem isn’t that I’m incapable of making more money, producing better writing, improving my social skills, or learning how to cook. It’s that I’m holding myself back from progressing forward by spending valuable time sweating the little things.

When I’m trying to learn how to cook, for example, I hold myself back by giving credence to thoughts of insufficiency.

Instead of looking up recipes online, buying ingredients, and then experimenting, I choose to worry about making something that won’t taste good, or wasting ingredients, or that my being too analytical isn’t compatible with cooking.

(In the past few weeks I’ve overcome a lot of this resistance and discovered that I love cooking, but more on that another time.)

When I’m trying to write, I resist forward progress by holding myself back by giving attention to needless thoughts.

“What if people don’t understand what I’m trying to say? What if I don’t know what I’m trying to say? What if my point is missed and my writing is criticized? What if I do more harm than good in my haste to publish?”

These thoughts, these unrelenting doubts and worries and questions, never seem to let up. They appear to be waiting for one thing and one thing only: for me to give up.

I’m realizing that the key isn’t to challenge these things that present resistance but instead to ignore them, like a raging river ignoring a large rock and flowing around it.

We get better by not sweating the little things but by letting them go and moving on to the next step with fearless bravado. It’s only when we try to take on the whole world, to shoulder responsibility for getting every single thing perfect, that we hold ourselves back from getting better.

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