Stop Trying So Hard

We are always striving to be better. We’re always wanting to change ourselves.

All this judgment—all this trying to change—is exhausting and detrimental to the creative process. It constantly introduces self-doubt and expectation of failure.

If you’re spinning your wheels, or not seeing the results your efforts should be producing, or if you feel like there’s never enough time in the day to pursue all that purposeful stuff you really want to get to in this life…

I might have some ideas about how we can bust out of these prisons of our own making. I’m ready to try something different.

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49 - Stop Trying So Hard


Arrival film

3x3 Strategy

The Magicians TV show

Krish Surroy - Mavericks Unlimited podcast


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I don’t know about you, but I am exhausted with trying. With working, with doing, with straining, with pushing and reaching… With clenching and holding my breath and … JUDGING myself.

On the one hand there’s discipline and all that—and I’m very disciplined, slow and steady, committed to assigning blocks of time to all the things I want to get done and fiercely protecting them from Resistance.

But … ugh. If I’m so good at being disciplined and productive, why am I talking to myself like I’m not?

There has to be some middle ground.

I think what I’m experiencing here is a pendulum swing in the other direction.

Introducing podcasting into my work and my schedule was a big requirement of discipline and establishing systems and discovering which rules I had to follow before I could start throwing them out and …

I’m ready to ditch some shit, guys.

No more To Do Lists

I’m lumping iPhone reminders in with this. That’s my To Do of choice.

if it is important but kind of small, it will get done immediately or, it's too big to forget, and it will hang in the sky like a spaceship in the movie Arrival until I engage with it.

I’m not going to forget an enormous flattened black shard ominously looming over my landscape. I don’t need to write that down.

“Remember to make contact with large alien space craft.” Ridiculous.

That doesn’t need to be on a list.

I have friends—and I’m not singling anyone out if you’re listening, so don’t think I’m talking about you, I can name a dozen of you and at least ten are worse than you about this—I have friends who claim to be addicted to having a physical day planner. They all say the same thing: they need to see it there in writing, physically, or they feel like they can’t manage it. It gives them a feeling of control over all the stuff they have to keep up with.

By the way, this is the same impulse hoarders have. They feel less anxious if they see all the stuff lined up on top of physical surfaces. Things put away, tucked in cabinets and organized in bins, might get lost.

Having all the stuff at your fingertips, carrying it around with you even, in a tote bag or a ginormous purse, helps you feel less anxious and more in control.

But … Does it really? Or does it really only create artifacts? Tiny physical manifestations of your anxiety.

What happens if you go planner free?

Anybody wiling to try it?

I’m not talking about client appointments, doctor’s appointments. Things that involve other people’s businesses. Your shared family and kids calendar on the kitchen wall.

But consider how much you are duplicating. That’s where we might find the real issue. Anxiety-fueled duplication. CC’ing the crap out of every facet of your life. Making a backup and then a copy of the backup.

If you have an appointment card under a magnet on the fridge, is it also on a to do list, on your phone calendar (you have more than one digital calendar too don’t you) and then on your phone reminders and then physically written in your day planner and put on one of those list pages in the back of the planner or in the margins. Maybe you throw it on a sticky note too and leave it on your desk right in your eye line, just in case.

No seriously, are you doing this?

THIS is what I’m talking about with all the trying. It’s layers and layers of self-doubt and expectation of failure.

No more big email lists

I’m exhausted with carrying big lists. This is the dick size/ bust size of internet business posturing. It is super important. It is more important than money. Your contact list is the most important thing ever. It’s true. I will continue to beat that drum.

But the size, beyond the 1000 true fans, is meaningless. Worse than meaningless. It’s actually the inverse of meaningful.

It literally costs more money to maintain large lists. You’re buying tickets for every friend you have, even the ones who never show up and are never going to.

I am pruning my lists.

(I hear gasps from all the people with internet based businesses.)

I’m cutting dead weight. Deleting those who don’t read and click and interact with me. There’s 30k, 40K zombies I’m carrying around. 2000, maybe 3000 of you are actually truly participating. That’s more than enough to support my work.

If you’re hearing the sound of my voice at this moment, you are one of the chosen. You chose yourself, you chose me. Thank you for being here.

The rest are kept around because of fear of missing out, I guess. Fear of someone asking me how big my list is and not having a huge number to impress them with. Sometimes, it’s a barrier to participate. I am no longer asking my collaborators about their list size. I’m going to start by removing my energy from the hive mind on this issue.

It’s not a requirement to be a guest on my show. Your personality and your message and your energy and the cool thing I like about you is what matters. And I am getting rid of statistics in my business dealings that don’t reflect that.

It may hurt. When someone says “You need 5000 people on your email list in order to participate in this author cross promotion” I may regret pruning 25,000 people. Gulp. Whoops. They weren’t going to bring anything to the game.

And if I’m not being invited because of who I am and what I do in the world, then I don’t want to play with you anyway. I don’t want to be member on your panel or whatever.

"What if I don’t do the thing everybody told me to do and I end up regretting it?"

(Sidebar: That’s an ever present thought, it’s a mind virus—you probably have your own strain of career mind virus specific to your work and field. But if I stop and analyze that. It’s really never true. I can’t find one instance where I intuitively broke from the herd and regretted it at a deep soul level for months and years later. Anything that might kind of look like that, in the moment, ends up being a detour I was meant to take and so it’s okay further along in my story.)

No more paid advertising

I’m so sick of worrying about whether or not you are my “target.” In marketing we are constantly told to define our “target market” and I’m here to say, after 15 years of hearing that, your audience, your followers, are not targets; you’re the target.

You’re their target.

Be one thing. You. Do the hell out of it. Let everyone decide whether or not they dig you. End of story. They’re shooting queries into Google, into the universe, and they hit something you made. Bulls eye. Awesome. They will know it; you don’t even have to.

Which is easier? To be a big deep bright red authentic cool relatable target hanging out there for everyone to find, or to shoot a million differently tweaked arrows at a gazillion abstractions of human beings?

No. Not doing that. Not even trying anymore. Taking back that energy.

No more writing to market

This goes along with target. Trying to play this fortune-telling educated guess about what creative projects to pursue based on their potential to sell.

I gotta tell you. Nothing makes me feel like I’m trying too hard more than that. Many authors and speakers and artists and business people do this with practical success.

But, when it’s just you, and it’s your passion, and you’re intending to inject something with pieces of your soul and hang it out in the world.

It is exhausting and detrimental to the creative process to constantly introduce self-doubt and expectation of failure.

Put simply—I’m going to pivot from this trying mindset and create things that are deeper, more specific, more narrow … for fewer of you. Beautiful novels that only a special (possibly smaller) group can appreciate.

You’re either mass marketing some shit, or you’re making custom, luxury items.

Get really clear about which one you want to do. This is true of your purpose of your work. I think it could be true of your relationships as well. How many of you maintain fewer but deeper friendships?

It just occurred to me as I’m talking about all this. That the word TRYING also means getting on your nerves. Exhausting you.

Here’s what I've been thinking about a lot in the last few months and how I’m going to go about changing it.

Whatever I’ve done in the past, whatever I’ve been doing. Especially systems that I have in place, I’m going to look at and ask myself “does it have to be that way?”

Ex. I’ve worked weekends for 15 years. Why? I know why I did in the beginning. Why have I continued to do it?

Example - my podcast show notes

I sort of tried to do what other people do—always a good way to start. But after doing them for awhile, I find they are awkward to execute in their current format. So I might change those to more accurately reflect the process I naturally use to put them together.

If you want to participate in this mental exercise with me, ask yourself these questions

  • Where am I entrenched?
  • Where am I grasping?
  • Where am I continuing to push and not seeing much in the way of results?
  • Where am I afraid to stop trying so hard?

I’m kind of thinking:

What’s the opposite of a 3x3 strategy?

I know, I spent all last year teaching you one of my productivity techniques, and now I’m telling you I’m gonna throw it out.

If it’s important enough, it’s not like I will forget its existence. I tend think about projects and work that needs to be done until … the day I pounce on it.

I just do it. This moment suddenly feels like the moment, and I just execute. Or start.

I have these rhythms that feel good—my dedicated blocks of time I’ve told you about. There are writing blocks, and client blocks, and reading blocks, and recording blocks, and blocks for exercise and downtime… I don’t decide what I’m going to do in those blocks sometimes until I get there. And then I spontaneously work within the block. It’s a loose set of rules that feels powerful and flexible to me.

And then there are some rhythms that do not feel good to me. (working on weekends)

That started because of Sunday’s at the cafe. My posts used to get picked up by my email service provider for afternoon Sunday delivery, and so if I wrote the post by a certain time on Sunday morning, that was my deadline.

I don’t remotely do that anymore. I schedule it all in advance. Why am I still working on Sundays if it’s not my routine and it feels bad?

That’s insane.

I’m gonna stop scripting my solo episodes.

I’m going to stop using a template for interviews.

I’m going to stop weighting myself on a scale and stop obsessing over portions and look at quality of what I eat and how I feel in my body and in my clothes

Doesn’t mean I’m not exercising.

You don’t have to do any of what I’m going to do.

This may represent advanced material and advanced approach for you. You can certainly use all my old tools and all my old advice it will get you there. It will work the way I said it did, especially if you’re at the right point.

But if it feels good to you what I’m saying right now about letting it go, about not trying so hard, maybe that’s what you need to do to. Maybe relaxing is going to allow you to move forward.

I have a proven track record of producing and shipping and getting it out there and making money from it and getting people to hear me. So you can’t fool yourself here. You can’t use this as a way to procrastinate and avoid. You can only use this if it allows you to run.

If it allows you to expand.

If it sets you free.

I may find out this is a terrible idea. A year ago I was telling you to do something completely different. If this is a disaster I’ll come back and tell you that too. And I’ll also tell you what I discover if it works.

I am tired of trying so hard. of clenching, straining, controlling.

I need a name for this approach. Naming things is a part of my magic I want to keep.

Maybe I will call it something like … Freestyle.

I’m going to try Freestyling in as many areas of my life as it seems applicable.

Look around in your life

Are you the only one doing what you’re doing?

You’re probably doing something right. You might be on a better path. Please consider this along with what everybody says you should do.

We are always striving to be better. We’re always talking about changing ourselves.

I heard a great quote a few weeks ago on The Magicians (the TV show on SyFy) "Instead of trying to change, maybe the brave thing is to be you and accept the consequences."

I love that. It’s wicked, subversive, rebellious. I need a hit of that. That’s what was missing from my New Year.


  • What is all my stuff reminding you of in your own life?
  • What is it bringing up for you?
  • Where are you clenching and grasping and trying too hard … and what might happen if you stop?

As always, there's an Oracle Message at the end of the audio show...