Stop Being Ruled by Your Hyper Dog

If you have an active dog, training it to go to its crate on command can save you a TON of hassle, because whenever the dog gets too worked up or hyper, there’s an immediate place to send it to cool off, drink some water, play with a toy and relax its brain.

But with a hyper dog, this training takes diligence. And it’s easier just to tie the dog up and walk away. Even if 2-4 weeks of solid training can save someone years of…ten minutes messed up here, ten minutes messed up there, a chewed up sofa here…most people are unlikely to make that investment.

(yes, all dogs are different, yes, some are easier to train than others, no, this isn’t about shaming people who haven’t paid for expensive dog schools)

The same can be true of my own inner hyper dog. My habits, my goals, my daily choices, are easier to just push to the side rather than make real, substantive changes in.

Recently, the Farnam Street blog, which I have found immeasurably valuable, shared a pamphlet written for life insurance salesmen called “the common denominator of success.”

My first thought was “what is Farnam Street doing sharing this stuff?”

And then I read it, and I was struck by how it framed a couple of things. Be prepared for some Mad Men era success talk:

“Successful men are influenced by the desire for pleasing results. Failures are influenced by the desire for pleasing methods and are inclined to be satisfied with such results as can be obtained by doing things they like to do.”

I’m not one to so easily divide people into camps of success and failure. And yet. This struck home with me, because there’s a real difference between trying to get the results you want and trying to create a situation where you can keep doing things you like. Trying to retain your current level of comfort.

This gets VERY true in the creative fields, I believe, not just after someone has moderate success but even when someone achieves moderate praise. The intuition is to cling to what has elevated you.

But it was this passage that really got me.

“Many men with whom I have discussed this common denominator of success have said at this point, “But I have a family to support and I have to have a living for my family and myself. Isn’t that enough of a purpose?” No, it isn’t. It isn’t a sufficiently strong purpose to make you form the habit of doing the things you don’t like to do for the very simple reasons that it is easier to adjust ourselves to the hardships of a poor living than it is to adjust ourselves to the hardships of making a better one.”

That was a smack in the face. A good one. It’s easier to accept the status quo – even if the status quo is one of struggle – than it is to create meaningful change.

Look, I’m not of the theory that everyone who struggles does so because they’re too lazy to change their situation. Privilege is a real thing, and I have a bunch of it.

But if we were to NARROW this statement to a slightly more particular scenario: I must ask myself – IF there were room in my life to create change for the better, AM I doing the things that will get that result? Or am I just battling to maintain the current status? To NOT LOSE?

Am I going to train the dog, or am I going to just tie it up?

Worth a read.

Why do I Love Directing?

It’s the people, both real and imagined.

I love the actors. I love actors. I am an actor, I lived and breathed it for a time, and it hasn’t gone away. But after a while I became disillusioned with acting. Directing changed that. It made me realize what bright, mad, wonderful humans actors can be (and volatile, maddening creatures as well, but it’s all part of the fun).

I love the crew. I love the creativity and talent and perspective and power that a team of real creatives brings into the world. They make a process more than a process. I love seeing the connections made between people on those teams, as one idea bounces off another.

I love producers. When they’re good, my god, they’re good, they do things and make things happen in a way that I admire in the same the way I admire, I don’t know, superheroes.

I love the audience, I love the fact that they’re smart, emotional, and have high expectations. And when they’re engaged, I can feel that this is the completion of the work. When it works, it’s like we’ve built an invisible bridge from our hearts to hundreds, thousands, even millions of hearts in the human audience.

So I must tend to my own heart, that something worthwhile can cross that bridge.

And why do I so often want to sit in the middle of all these, as opposed to take some other role?

Maybe I’m just a glutton for both love and punishment, because as much as I love all these people, each of them have, through choice, or mistake, or the high demands of their own excellence, ripped me to shreds. And that’s just the good times.


I think it’s also because I love the stories, and the characters. And when I know I can see them, really see them, then other people will too, and it becomes a sensation, a momentum, a crazy interplay of the fictional and the real, that culminates in that bridge.

I think it’s because I love building bridges.

Be Patient, Keep Writing, Be Patient, Stop Writing

There’s a saying somewhere that it takes 15 years between the knowing and the doing.

I’ve known for a long time that if I want to be writer, it’s the habit that counts. Even if it’s a few hundred words a day, consistency is what compounds to create a body of work.

But my less mature self, the one that still thinks heroes perform in blazes of glory and bursts of divine inspiration, is in fact what prevents the habit from forming. Because 100 words, for that little self, is not enough.

Yes, I’ve had days where I knocked out 10 solid pages — they were even good pages! But the danger is in creating cycles of burnout.

On the other hand, trusting that today’s work can end because tomorrow’s will begin is an act of faith, an act of knowing that I won’t cease to be a writer simply because I only write a little bit today, I won’t cease to be a director simply because I only spent $50 on the latest film.

Hemingway was able to leave off writing mid-sentence, because he trusted his future self to return to that page.

Building a creative habit is about building trust with myself. So a habit of writing, for example, is as much about the stopping of the writing as it is the starting.

Starting to write, at a consistent time, is the habit, it’s where the barriers lie.

Directing regularly, despite limitations of time, space, or budget, is the habit.

But maybe the stopping is just as important, because consciously stopping sends a message to that inner self that I trust myself to return.

And trust, in turn, motivates me, so tomorrow’s return might have a little bit more energy.

How to Make Great Things Fast

Across all the professions I’ve happened to work in, I’ve realized there’s a common phrase all the seasoned professionals have said to me at one time or another.

“Don’t rush.”

Acting, directing, fight choreography, personal training, fundraising, construction, writing…in all of these, at one time or another, one or more old pros have said this to me. “Don’t rush.”

At the same time, across all the jobs I’ve held, I’ve always had times where we had to deliver fast. In fact, a demand for speed is absolutely the norm.

So what gives? Why do all the people who know their stuff say “don’t rush” but at the same time we are constantly demanding speed out of our work?

First of all, yes, there are times when the boss is demanding impossible speed, when the market wants something before it’s ready, when I myself am demanding too much out of my own capacity to deliver. Sometimes somebody has to be told things will have to slow down or else things will fall apart.

But the boss isn’t always wrong. And sometimes great things get done quickly.

So there must be a difference between speed and rushing.

Rushing is blind – it’s focusing on the finish line, it’s cutting corners. It’s heedless – let’s just get something to show that we’ve done something. I’m going to write 5 pages today so I can tell myself I wrote 5 pages. For me, it often comes from a place of needing to validate my identity as an artist, a writer, a mature person, what have you.

Speed is different. Speed requires focus, concentrated energy drilling down on the immediate problem. You can’t rush a screenplay, but a professional knows how to focus in and work on THIS scene, THIS character moment, THIS line, this action beat. And then how to step back and assess it QUICKLY against the mechanisms of the whole story, then dive back into the immediate.

In weightlifting, I’ve encountered a phrase that I think is a key concept, perhaps even worthy of being called a mental model. I first encountered it specifically in Olympic lifting, which is a VERY technical art form, and can result in a lot of bodily pain if done wrong, repeatedly. The phrase is this:

Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

It doesn’t mean move in slow motion. It means give every overlapping portion of the movement its due – there’s a setup, an initial pull off the ground, a movement of the hips, a pulling from the shoulders, almost pulling yourself DOWN under the bar as it moves up over your head, and a solidifying of the body as you land beneath the bar.

It’s a lot different from “throw this bar over your head 20 times.”

So if you’ve trained each movement, separately, and also how to move from one to the next, a more complete movement emerges. A smooth one.

But this also refers to taking action. When you slow down your mind, you focus on the moment, and then the next moment can follow smoothly, and the next, and the next, and because you’ve smoothed out the motions, the bar travels upwards at unbelievable speeds. Instead of focusing on several movements, you’ve re-integrated them into a single smooth motion.

You can muscle things out, or you can remove the friction. One beats you up. The other doesn’t, and leaves you ready for the NEXT movement.

So when the old timers have said to me “don’t rush” they didn’t necessarily mean “don’t ever move fast.” Rushing, to me, means I’m prioritizing muscle over removing friction.

You can’t rush writing. You can’t rush acting. You can’t rush directing. You can’t rush producing. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t go fast. The key components, then, are knowledge and focus. KNOWING what to focus on, one moment at a time. Knowing HOW to slow down in order to speed up.

Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

(To be clear – I think this quote originates the Navy SEALS, referring to how to train for operations, and also execute them. I may have gotten it from Jocko Willink, Tim Ferriss, or Dan John – I honestly don’t remember)

Knowing What the Work is

…is sometimes the hardest part.

If I only think that writing is putting words on the page, I might not be giving time over to thinking about the basic elements of the story and putting them in order.

If I only think that directing is about figuring out good shots, I might get stuck because I haven’t done the other work of figuring out how humans might operate in this space. Or I may have not done the work of really reading the script and figuring out which humans and in what space in the first place.

In my rush to check off the box of “shot list” or “script” or “schedule” I might be missing all the boxes that come before it.

But it’s hard to sit quietly and stay on the task of something that doesn’t feel like work. I don’t mean reading the script – we were trained in school that reading counts as homework. But stopping the reading, thinking about it, pondering ideas and turning them over in our heads – the ephemeral work of Digesting – it’s hard, it sometimes brings more questions than answers, and most of all we don’t Look Like We’re Doing Something.

And of course, the time comes when the work *is* putting words on the page, *is* placing the shots and making the list. I can indeed waste time in that preparatory phase. That’s the whole idea of phases. You must move between them. You can even cycle through them quickly, with experience.

But when I skip a phase, or short change it, it shows.

“How hard am I working?” isn’t enough.

So: I must know my phases.