The jackhammering outside my window has been relentless.
Just when you think it’s over—when that brief moment of silence generates a glimmer of hope that the piercing ratatatata sounds will finally stop—it starts again.
If this were happening a few years ago, I would be paralyzed, unable to do any writing. Back then, I had an unhealthy obsession with my writing routine. I would block off a few hours on my calendar, light a library-book scented candle (yes, that’s a real thing), make some coffee, close my door to minimize the noise, put on my headphones, tune in to the focus station on brain.fm, read a few pages from a great book to warm myself up, and begin typing.
I’d treat my writing like a space shuttle launch: All variables had to align perfectly for liftoff. If something was off, I’d abort the mission. Instead, I’d come up with a compelling story about how my routine had been disrupted and I couldn’t possibly write with the neighbor mowing his lawn or without my Chemex to make the perfect single-origin coffee.
Which meant I did very little writing.
The world is a chaotic and irregular place. If you’re not careful, your routines and habits can become traps. While you’re busy setting up the perfect morning routine, writing routine, and fill-in-the-blank routine, the universe is busy disrupting them. If you can’t adapt—if you’ve trained yourself to perform only under the perfect conditions—you’ll stagnate when the universe delivers you an unexpected hand (and the universe has a way of delivering unexpected hands).
The remedy is simple: Disrupt your routines. Abandon your “dedicated space.” Work from a different room or a different coffee shop. Drop your laptop and write that article the old-fashioned way, with a pen and paper (so that you have no excuses when your laptop runs out of battery). Don’t perform the same set of exercises at the gym. Instead, “shock the muscles,” (as the former California governator would say) by giving them exercises of varying types, repetitions, and weights that your body doesn’t expect.
Regular makes stagnant. Irregular makes nimble. When you defy the rules and break the routines, you’re training yourself to perform regardless of circumstances.
In other words, deliberate practice isn’t enough. Deliberate disruption is also necessary.
By deliberately disrupting my routines, I’ve trained myself to write in any environment. I write from cramped airplane seats. I write on my phone, and I write with a pencil and a notepad. I write when it’s noisy, and I write when it’s quiet. For me, with enough conditioning, I can’t write if . . . became I can write no matter what…
When the jackhammering started up again this morning, instead of aborting the mission or reaching for my noise-cancelling headphones, I opened my window to amplify the noise. Before, I would have considered this a torture technique. Now, I call it exercise.
In the end, you’re better off preparing yourself for the road instead of trying to prepare the road for you.