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Why don't I do what I say I want

Ondrej Markus
Ondrej Markus
7 min read
Why don't I do what I say I want?

A month ago, I switched from a writing-only lifestyle to a part-time design job. I joined an innovation agency where I worked a year ago to lead a project with a big corporate client.

We agreed on four days a week because I wanted to keep one day for writing. I promised myself I will keep writing articles every week.

Well. I did not publish anything since then.

And I'm not happy about that. I miss writing a lot.

What happened here?

I don't have enough time to write.

Actually, that's a lie. It's not a question of time.

We often say we don't have time for things when we actually mean something else. Usually, it means the thing isn't the priority right now, so we keep hitting the snooze button on it.

Hitting the Snooze button on what I really want to do.
Hitting the Snooze button on what I really want to do.

But.

I really do want to write. I mean, I published 26 articles between January and March of this year. I enjoy this stuff.

So what is actually happening here?

It turned out very quickly that this design project will require my full-time attention. Four days a week would not be enough to do a great job.

Although looking at the last month, I wouldn't say I had no time to write. I even tried to squeeze in some writing sessions here and there. But I couldn't get anything out of my brain.

In other words, I had enough time, but I haven't been writing anyway.

Why?

The Attention Limit Hypothesis

100 % of my attention is on the job whether I'm physically working on it or not.

Leading this project is a big responsibility and it's fully renting my brain, which denied all my attempts to put any mental effort into other things – like writing.

A few months ago, I wrote about the TEA framework: How creating space for activities is about managing three resources at once – Time, Energy, and Attention.

3 ingredients of a good TEA
3 ingredients of a good TEA

Whenever we say, "I want to do X but I don't have time for it." it often means we do have the time, but we are too exhausted (not enough energy) or mentally overwhelmed (not enough attention left).

No matter how much time you have for a side project, if your mind is occupied somewhere else, it's difficult to make meaningful progress.

This seems to be my case over the last month. I was out of mental capacity (attention) to finish a single piece of writing.

My day job now is to lead a complex project so there's an endless amount of tasks my brain can chew on. More than enough to keep grinding information 24/7. Leaving no space for thinking about stuff I wanted to write about.

Hurry. Man. Chew for your life!
Chew for your life, man!

I underestimated how much pressure I would feel as the lead designer who has the responsibility to make the project successful. People depend on me to do a good job, and I don't want to let them down.

I don't like this. I prefer when the only one I can screw over with my laziness and bad decisions is me.

Anyhow.

I'm already committed. I want to do the best I can. And I have been doing the best I can for the last month. It just seems to be incompatible with writing about games.

So. Seeing how things worked out so far, I probably won't be able to write much until the project ends in June. One more month. That's not that bad.

However!

I already smell trouble in the air. And it smells like self-sabotage.

I have one more hypothesis to explore. Stay with me.

The Self-sabotage Hypothesis

Let's be super honest and a little paranoid for a minute. Shall we?

First, you need some more context: During my Q1 reflection, I decided I want to write about games and, in a couple of months, pursue a job as a game designer.

It was a surprise that came from weeks of calm strategic reflection. (I sincerely recommend everyone to take a month off to just think about life. It's magic.)

Anyway.

This means I wasn't postponing just writing, but writing about the topic that feels most interesting and close to me right now (games). And it's been very close to me for ages. I just never allowed myself to pursue it "professionally."

(Why not is for another therapeutic writing session. Maybe next time.)

A month ago, I decided to join the design project because I knew the team and, frankly, I needed the money.

At the same time, I really really wanted to keep enough time for writing and game design. At least one day a week. But it didn't work. Not even for that one day a week.

What might be the cause of this?

One explanation is the lack of attention capacity I mentioned above. And I do think it's true. I think the lack of attention is the bottleneck preventing me from writing about and designing games these last couple of weeks.

But.

What if I'm actually focusing on the job so much because I'm afraid of pursuing game design?

Wait a minute.

Why would I be afraid of pursuing the thing I say I want to do the most?

Well. Isn't it scary to try your best and fail at what you care about the most?

I mean, when we fail at things we don't really care about, it's easier to shake that off as "Oh well, that sucks, but it didn't really matter to me."

But when we do care a ton, we can't deflect the crushing fear of "What if I suck at what I love the most?"

And even though I believe all of us have to be bad before we get good at anything, I can't tell if my subconscious knows it too.

Do you, Steve?

Steve doesn't communicate in words. Thanks for nothing, Steve.

In any case: It's fucking scary to try your best at what you really want, because you might fail horribly and that hurts like a truck.

It's easier to find a decoy, an excuse, a target to blame and say: "Well, I would love to do X but I just don't have the time/energy/attention to do so right now. I'll do it next year."

So what if I'm creating this "attention deficit problem" to protect myself from failing at game design?

...

Ehm.

Well.

It's not impossible. It seems like something a human would do without consciously knowing about it.

I give it like 20% chance. Maybe 30%. 32%.

So, are my "practical excuses" really true?

Yee.. maybe.

I don't know.

And that's the really scary part: When you can't tell what's true and what's not among the things you tell yourself.

Humans are masters of self-deception in the name of preventing pain.

So how to tell what we really want?

By watching what we do.

It's one thing to SAY what I want, and another thing to actually DO it.

Prove your words with actions.
Prove your words with actions.

That's why I usually take anything I say I want as a hypothesis to be proved with action.

Sure, MAYBE I actually want this, but I really don't know until I see myself DO something for it. When I get off my butt and act, I know I wasn't kidding.

So far, I didn't walk the talk about game design and writing. I found a lot of excuses NOT to do it, yeah.

Suspicious.

For now, I'm okay with giving my all to the design job. I want to do my best work, and it seems it really needs my full-time attention. I can cope with that for one more month.

Until then I can at least write things like this: investigations into whether I'm bullshiting myself with excuses while subconsciously shitting myself in fear of failing at what I care about the most.

Happy times! :D

The deciding moment will come in July. Because, if I do a good job, everyone will want me to work on other projects. Damn you, peer pressure!

The easy thing to do will be to comply with what others want from me and say yes. The hard thing will be to say no and do my own thing again.

At that point, it's my choice whether I finally make enough space for writing and game design or not.

So let's challenge my future self right here:

I promise I will create enough space to pursue writing and game design once this project ends in June.

Now I'm more incentivized to follow through. Because if I don't, I will look very stupid trying to explain my way out of this with excuses.

See you then.

(Or maybe never if my brain decides the shame is unbearable. Yayx.)


Ending notes:

Hey there!

I'm sorry I didn't share anything in the last couple of weeks.

As I said: I was either very busy or very scared. Or both. Who knows. I don't.

Anyway.

I finally found what I CAN write about while I work full-time: It's writing about my doubts, struggles, and paranoid hypotheses.

Hurray!

Let me know if this is boring or not. And if you've ever been in a similar situation, I'm curious to know how you solved it.

Byye.

Reflections

Ondrej Markus Twitter

I write about designing your life around meaningful work you enjoy.


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