I’ve been struggling the past several days on the writing front. My inner Austin Powers keeps bellowing, “I think I’ve lost my mojo…”
I can’t point to anything in particular. Just that post-holiday, new year malaise. Anybody else suffering from this malady?
How have I handled these mojo-less past days? Mostly by employing what I’ve learned these past several years doing spiritual work. Like what?
How the old David G. handled things
This is best explained by relating how the old me used to handle downturns like this. Which is that I used to tough it out, forge through, put the pedal to the metal…(insert whatever American-style work ethic trope suits your fancy). This was inevitably preceded by days of feeling lousy/guilty/losery about not getting anything done.
Here’s the problem with this approach — for me, and for most who pursue it. The motivating force behind it is the ego.
“Come on Gerken, you lazy schmuck! Get a move on! What good are you if you can’t produce?”
Where does this mind chatter come from? In my case, it’s origins lay in a high-powered, highly talented family, led by a dad who was ultra-successful (in the traditional sense).
For others, this may spring from tough parents or simply the influence of American culture and its lionizing of people like Elon Musk.
My Elon Musk story
Quick aside/non sequitur having nothing to do with this piece. Around ten years ago I sat next to Elon Musk at a dinner. My political friend Frank Luntz had been a guest on HBO’s Bill Maher show. Maher takes the guests and their friends to dinner after each show so Musk must have known one of the other guests.
So I’m sitting next to Musk and, having no idea who he is, ask what he does. He says, “I work at Tesla.” I say, “Cool. What do you do there?” He says, “I’m the CEO,” in that clipped voice of his. I say, “Oh. Great!” True story.
By the way, this is what I love about writing on Medium. No editor to tell me to cut this because it has absolutely nada to do with the subject of the article.
Okay, back to our regularly scheduled programming…
Ego based work ain’t that good
The work that gets done at the behest of the ego is, in most cases, not as good as it could be. Why? Because producing our best, to our highest potential, can only be done when the mind is calm and not responding to the fear of the ego. Whether it’s playing tennis, writing a work memo or writing the next great novel, the highest quality work derives from a place of stillness.
So what’s this other way of doing things that doesn’t involve the ego? In other words, what did I do to dig myself out of the low-mojo hole I found myself in?
Mostly I resisted the urge to plow through, get tough, etc. That has always been my default setting so step one was to NOT do that.
Step two: relax and stay calm
Fine, what’s step two? It’s staying calm and not panicking by thinking things like, “Oh my God! What if I never come up with another article idea? What then?”
It’s mostly about placing confidence in this process of “This too shall pass…” As it always does.
These tough work times — most writers would call it writer’s block — are inevitable. We aren’t always going to be “in the flow.”
The key is realizing that the best way to get back in the flow is to relax. Be good to yourself. Be patient. Eventually, the dark cloud that is raining on top of your head will pass by.
And that dark cloud will pass faster the LESS you try to force it to pass.
Forcing, in this case, would be bearing down and slogging through it the old-fashioned, American way. We all know that the work we do, especially writing, suffers when we’re slogging through.
A note about discipline
There is a caveat to all this. It’s about discipline. The more traditional type of discipline is that which entails toughing it out. Because what is discipline but getting ourselves to do something that we don’t feel like doing?
But there’s a different kind of discipline required here. It involves calming yourself and not defaulting to the egoic demands you normally acquiesce to. That’s not easy for most people. That’s why it takes discipline.
We also have to have the discipline to not be TOO easy on ourselves by saying, “Hey, I’m going to be good to myself and not sit my butt in the writer’s chair for the next two weeks, two months, two years…” This form of discipline is about calming ourselves and then when the cloud passes, getting back to work.
It’s a balance. Not too hard and not too easy on ourselves.
Next time you lose your mojo, try relaxing and letting the cloud pass. Your work product will be better AND you’ll feel better. You know what that is, don’t you?
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