Relaxed focus

TL;DR – Stop trying too hard, and chances are you get stuff done.

In elementary school, we would regularly write essays. We were given a subject or a few to choose from, and the rest was up to us. It was practically impossible to finish it during the hour and a half, so I would usually finish it in a flurry of frustration on the evening before the return date.

I hated it. I hated writing by hand, and I hated having to come up with lots of text nobody (including me) would care about. The teacher would rate the essays based on their grammar and content, and some of us would have to read them out loud in the front of the classroom. Usually I did pretty well, although I hated having to show them to anyone, since I felt like I didn’t write them voluntarily in the first place. I remember once ending my splendid adventure story with a cliffhanger, just because I didn’t bother writing more. Or my imagination ran dry. All in all, the more I tried, the more frustrated I would get.

This one time, something funny happened. Our essays were to take part in a writing competition organized in cooperation between the city school board and the local construction workers’ guild. The subjects given were somehow related to the our city, our neighborhoods, and the like. I decided I wouldn’t care at all how it turned out, and wrote a very sarcastic piece about how AWESOME and SPLENDID my own suburb was. There was water, trees, a grocery store, and lots of grass! Eeexcellent!

What happened, though, was that I placed second in the competition. The first place went to a girl who had actually written a very emotional piece about the meaning of home, whereas I had just written down words the instant they came to my mind.

Fast forward 9 years. I’m studying in the University of Tampere, desperately trying to finish my Bachelor’s Thesis. I’m making little progress and getting anxious, until one day I have a conversation at work with my colleague. He tells me how it made all the difference to him when he realized the thesis is only a mandatory stepping stone and whoever reads it through couldn’t care less about the actual contents.

This made all difference to me as well. I stopped worrying too much, and my frustration seemed to ease away. My writing became a whole lot easier, and I soon finished the thesis. Not only that, but it turned out surprisingly good.

I find it fascinating that by relaxing my control of something, not only does it get easier to make things happen, but also the end result might get surprising benefits from not trying too hard. This has been my experience with writing, but I’m confident it applies to a number of other things as well.

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