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Relinquish Results

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Updated November 3, 2022

You’re reading an excerpt of Creative Doing, by Herbert Lui. 75 practical techniques to unlock creative potential in your work, hobby, or next career. Purchase now for instant, lifetime access to the book.

Throughout the years, we are conditioned to do things well and to constantly improve. If we’re not doing that, we’re led to believe we’re getting worse. If we regress, we are failures. These beliefs are all based on the flawed assumption that progress is linear.

At an extreme, this could lead us to chase perfection. If we can’t do something perfectly, we just won’t do it. Perfectionism creates an impossible standard for us to meet. This is just one of many reasons we start procrastinating and get blocked.

In his book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman recalls an art class when he was instructed to draw without looking at the paper. He was impressed with the results, noticing a “funny, semi-Picasso like strength” in his work. He knew that it would be impossible to draw well without looking at the paper, so he didn’t consciously try. He writes, “I had thought that ‘loosen up’ meant ‘make sloppy drawings,’ but it really meant to relax and not worry about how the drawing is going to come out.” The solution is to do something without caring about the results.

The immediate goal is for you to take a very small step closer to the thing you want to do. You already know your form’s most essential element; now it’s time to build something with it. If you want to write a book, then write at least one sentence in a notebook today, building up to a daily writing practice. If you want to draw, sketch out a person or an object—don’t think too hard, just choose something in front of you and draw. If you want to make music, hum a melody into the voice memo in your phone and try to create it on an instrument or in your computer.

If you’re uncertain, then follow the first thing that pops into your head after 30 seconds. Or do the thing you think you want to do. Or do the thing you think your best friend thinks you want to do. Or write a list out and roll dice. Don’t make your goal to “finish a thing”; make it to “start with anything.” By design, the task should never impose on your schedule. It should be small enough that you can do it within a minute or two. That short time makes it difficult to do anything well, so hopefully you will put that possibility out of your mind and focus on the process. There will be a time and place to care about results—but it’s not while you do the work.

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