I want my attention back.

Yesterday I found a blog linked by Tim Ferriss, which talked about how to set up an iPhone to encourage focus, to reorganize it as a tool for my use instead of as a tool various businesses use to leech my time and attention.

I’ve read all the literature on good habits and time management and I still get distracted.  I’d prefer to write songs with my attention, and do other deep work. My phone is currently the enemy of deep work.

So I dove down the rabbit hole, you can dive down it as well.

My big takeaways were:

1. I ditched my phone’s browser, for now at least.
2. I turned off all the badges, (annoying red numbers), and most of my phones alerts.
3. I set up “Do not disturb” time from midnight to noon on my phone daily.

If you read the article and try it out, let me know. I’ll report on how it’s working soon.

Practice, Songwriting, Writing

Sending Myself to My Room Without Dinner

I’m aiming to make fewer resolutions. 

My resolutions are all about making myself better: I’m going to play scales on guitar for an hour everyday, or I’m going to stop looking at my phone the moment I wake up.  They’re little ultimatums I lay on myself. They’re the equivalent of grounding myself or sending myself to my room without dinner. What’s the chance some sneaky part of myself isn’t going to sneak out the window and go out drinking with my friends?

I’m trying out a few things that offer me more dignity and agency. Things that sound less like a childish tyrant levying decrees.  Here’s one from Daniel Coyle’s “Little Book of Talent.”

After you’ve finished a practice session write down three things:

  1. What worked
  2. What didn’t
  3. Ideas for the next session

This practice says I have the intelligence to discern what works for me, and what doesn’t. It invites me to pay attention rather than instead mindlessly practicing guitar scales until I die. It says that tomorrow I can engage my curiosity and see what works again. 

Maybe what doesn’t work is the ordeal of forcing ourselves to doing things.    


David Burns/CBT, Shame, Songwriting, Writing

Messing up the song and changing it is the goal.

Editing is hard for me. I kinda hate it. It’s on my mental to do list daily, but I spend my time on other things. I learn David Rawlings licks. Re-binge “Breaking Bad.”

I’m learning I can melt my resistance to tasks I avoid, (tasks which scare me), if I give them some attention with a Daily Mood Log. I pulled one out and wrote “editing a song” as the specific event causing me strife.

I circled the emotions on the page which come along with editing a song for me: Anxious, frightened, inadequate, incompetent, alone, foolish, stuck.   

I wrote down all the negative blurts and thoughts as well, the first of which is; “I’ll mess up the song,” as well as things like, “it won’t be any good,” and “it will end up obvious I stiff and obvious that I workshopped it.”  

Soon I was looking for thoughts to crush the negative thoughts that have been holding me back this came to me:

“Messing the song up and changing it is the goal.”

Soon I was at work screwing up the song I wrote to improve it.

The Mood Log:




Rebranding Frustration

I’ve been feeling frustrated this morning. I’m learning the outward signs of my frustration include low grade anxiety accompanied by berating myself and procrastination. (I honed in on this by doing a Daily Mood Log from Dr. David Burns).

This morning my procrastination took the form of cracking open my notes to Daniel Coyle’s “Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for improving your skills.  (It also took the form of a two hour binge of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”). Scanning through the file I landed on a note about “The Sweet Spot,” the zone in which we gain the most skill from our practice efforts.  One assumes you’d like to get as much gain from your efforts as possible.

First, there are two other zones you might find yourself in. We’re aiming to get to “The Comfort Zone” which is when we are successful in our efforts more than 80% of the time.  It’s marked by a feeling of effortlessness.

There’s also the “Survival Zone,” when we succeed less than 50% of the time and feel overwhelmed and outmatched.  Probably want to find ways to avoid that zone.

The Sweet Spot, like Goldilocks, is right in the middle. It has a success range is 50 – 80%.

And it’s marked by feelings of . . .

Frustration, (as well as alertness to errors, and engagement with the task at hand).  

Eureka!  Frustration can be a marker of success. Frustration can tell us we’re in the right place, at the right time.  

For many of us, we focus a lot on avoiding frustration, getting away from it. That’s understandable.  Frustration sucks. But frustration coupled with engagement and alertness is a sign of growth. It’s a sign of the sweet spot.  It could be something to seek out. And to be honest, once we’re engaged with something it isn’t exactly frustrating anymore. So let’s rebrand. How about Funstration?  




I Should be Writing Everyday.

I’ve been stuck a lot lately with the thought; “I should be writing everyday.”

What I tend to do, is procrastinate everyday. I like to ride the bus to Kickstand Café with the intention of writing and then manufacture flashcards in Greek for two and half hours. Then, if I have the day off, I might seek comfort in a lunch of steak tips, french fries and a cold Sam Summer Ale. A nap is likely to follow.  

This may start to come across as self-denigration or flagellation, but it’s also not how writing gets done. Writing gets done by looking at our fears and distortions of reality and finding ways to converse with them.  Also, by sitting down and writing. Writers write after all. So let’s work with the thought, “I should be writing every day.”

The gold standard of writing seems to be rolling out of bed into a chair at a writer’s desk where I’ll spend somewhere between the ten minutes and ten hours scrawling away. All the famous writing teachers advocate some form of this from Natalie Goldberg to Julia Cameron to Steven Pressfield. My fear is if I don’t write everyday, I won’t be a writer, I’ll be a phony and a fake.    

Here, Dr. David Burns, podcaster and author of the book “Feeling Good” saves the day for me, (or more accurately, saves some days for me). David is one of the chief exponents of CBT, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I’ve found his tools to be immensely helpful, even more helpful than a one beer buzz and belly full of steak tips and french fries.  

One tool begins when I note what distressful thoughts I have. I Actually write them down. I read through my thoughts and find the fears and distortions in them, searching out ways they don’t portray reality accurately. David has a list of ten common ways our thoughts may distort reality which is helpful here. The distortions have names like overgeneralization, all or nothing thinking, shoulds, mind reading or fortune telling.

Sometimes merely discovering a thought’s distortion is enough to release me from its grip.  In the case of the thought, “I should be writing everyday,” I can see the nasty word “should” is at least part of the thought distortion that’s got me down–rephrasing it as “It would be preferable if I wrote everyday,” may be enough to help me feel a bit better.   

But there’s a paradoxical question that’s even better, basically the Brazilian Jujitsu of CBT:

“What about this thought shows how you I awesome and admirable as a human being?”

This question can make a mind go numb. It’s been helpful to hear David work on his podcast with other people to get some ideas. It can also help to take a different angle like; “What makes me want to write everyday?” That’s easier to answer:  

1. I’d like my writing to eventually earn some money for me or even help support a career.   

2. I want to share things I find useful and helpful with people.  

3. I believe talking about my own vulnerabilities and where I can find strength in those vulnerabilities might help others find strengths hidden in their vulnerabilities.   

So what do those three thoughts reflect about me that’s awesome and/or admirable:

1. “I’d like my writing to eventually earn me money or even help support a career.” This shows hope, ambition, and drive.  Is hope ambition and drive awesome and/or admirable? Yes!

2. “I want to share things I find useful and helpful with people.” This shows care and concern and a desire to help others out.  Is wanting to help others out awesome and/or admirable? Yes!.

3. “I believe talking about my own vulnerabilities and how I can find strength in those vulnerabilities might help others find strengths hidden in their vulnerabilities.” This shows openness, honesty, even humility paired again with the above desire to help others out.  Are these things that are awesome and admirable? Yes!

Hidden in a thought I was beating myself up with are a swath of thoughts and motivations that are useful and admirable. Six months ago, before I’d learned these techniques for David Burns, I couldn’t have done it uncovered the good in these thoughts alone. There are other fears and distortions that keep me from writing obviously. Things like; “What I write won’t be any good,” and “No one wants to read what I write,” are in the top ten of my brain’s playlist. But these are also distortions that can be worked with in similar ways.   

If you’ve interested in check out more of Dr. David Burns, his Podcast is here and his website is here.  Listening or reading may help you start to see how you could work with, and transform your own fears and distortions.


But Fearless?   

I call the challenge I periodically run the Fearless Songwriting Challenge. I named it the Fearless Challenge because calling it the “Write Seven Songs in Seven Days Challenge” lacked a certain verve.  

But Fearless?   

People who hear about the challenge say; “I’m not Fearless.”  And, “who wants to be fearless anyway?” It’s true!  Fearlessness is pretty often a synonym for foolishness. Fear is there for good reason. Fear is an important marker in our lives. But also fear gets in our way.

There’s a lot out there about how to beat fear. The nub of it is if we avoid a fear, it sucks, and the fear increases.  If we face a fear head on head on, it sucks, but the fear decreases. There are different ways to challenge a fear, but it seems exposure to a fear is compulsory to beating it.  So back in the 80’s Susan Jeffers had it right; you have to “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.”

This is the idea behind the Fearless Songwriting Challenge; know writing a song can be scary, do it anyway–seven times.

Saying; “merely do it,” does lack some empathy though, (not to mention some drama).  Empathy helps to take away the edge from a fear. And so, the unsolicited advice:

Don’t confuse your self worth with your accomplishments or your lack thereof.

Tell yourself; “If I write I am good, and if I don’t write I am good.”

Tell yourself; “If I write well I am good, and if I don’t write well, I am good!”

Give yourself that space.

If this sounds like airy-fairy magical bullshit, you’re probably right. Still, you might try it on for size, walk into the arena of your writing and see what happens.  

Remember, no matter what does happens, whether in your judgment or the judgment someone else, you’re good.  



List Ten Things, (and Go to Eleven).

It’s a grey rainy day.  My habit the last little bit has been to wake up, study a little Greek, play some guitar, read the news.  Pretty much do anything to amuse and distract myself before leaving for work. Not so say that none learning Greek or playing guitar are a waste of my time but what I’ve been wanting to do is enliven the Fearless Songwriter Group some.  Maybe offer thoughts on editing, songwriting, and generally getting on with it.

For instance, one way I like to get on with it is a list of then things. Here’s an example:  Ten things I could do to enliven the Fearless Challenge Group

  1. Ask members who they’re listening to these days
  2. Post some useful information about music theory
  3. Ask about what’s keeping members stuck
  4. Post some of Dr. David Burns’ work on beating procrastination
  5. Post some info on learning techniques.
  6. Talk about Fluent Forever, mnemonics, and the memory palace
  7. Create a Spotify list of artists/songs people are excited about now
  8. Talk about effective practice techniques?
  9. Ask others about how they practice
  10. Talk about how coffee makes the world better
  11. Look at CBT techniques that could be applied to writing and writing blocks

I like the list of ten things, (and I love making it go to 11). It’s useful brainstorming for me.  It’s a flexible tool and framework. I could ask myself an infinite number of open ended questions and get any number of answers. Some answers will suck. Some answers will feel scary.  But there are bound to be one or two that I can do right now, today. It works as a to do list. It works as a way to think about changes I’d like to make to a song. It works as a way to think up vacation spots. There are few times I’m unfocused, feel blocked, or need to think something through where it’s unhelpful.  

I never have to do all the things I come up with.  I find it’s rarely useful to save a list much more than a day. I just end up with an untenable pile of lists. In a moment where I feel stuck though, it’s pretty much always helpful for write out ten options (and go to eleven).