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How To Write Better Without Becoming A Better Writer

(this story first appeared here: The Writing Cooperative)

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Andre Iguodala, the 2015 NBA Finals MVP, likes to sleep.

It didn't always used to be that way though. He used to have terrible sleeping habits. He used to stay up until 4am, watching the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and only then would he fall into a restless sleep for just a few hours. Then he'd sleep for a few more hours before playing a game in the evening. This was considered a "supplement" to the few hours he'd sleep at night.

Unsurprisingly, he'd end up exhausted during the game. More exhausted than a professional athlete should be.

It was only when he decided that enough was enough - the thing that happens before every big change in our lives - that he sought out a sleep therapist.

It worked. Iguodala experienced a 29% improvement in points per minute, and a 37% decrease in turnovers per game when he slept for 8 hours. Meaning 8 hours in row - not some split of a few hours here and a few hours there.

Another quick stat: players shoot 9.2% better from the 3 point line when they get 10 hours of sleep. For context: a player shooting 35% from the three-point line is an average three-point shooter. A player shooting 44% from the three-point line is an elite three-point shooter. More context: for this NBA season, shooting 44% would've made you the 5th most accurate three-point shooter in the NBA. Shooting 35% would've made you the 90th most accurate.

More sleep is the difference between average and elite.

And we still denounce sleep because we want to be "more productive"?

Can we be done with this myth already?

Or - more accurately - can I be done with this myth already?

Because writing has been easier than ever for the last couple of weeks.

Not because I'm using some writing tool. Or because I've spent more time writing. Or because I'm using some "hack".

It's because I've been taking care of myself.

This is how:

- I've been prioritising my sleep. I admit that I got completely sucked into the whole "entrepreneurs only sleep 4 hours a night" thing. I thought that's what it took to be successful. I thought I had to work that "hard" to get what I wanted. That is false. If nothing else, Iguodala proves that. He slept more and performed better. And that's exactly what's happened with my writing. I've slept more, I've slept better, I've written better. It's just like Iguodala says: "Sleep good, feel good, play good."

- I've eaten like I love myself. I spent my whole life playing either football or basketball and so I'd get away with eating pretty much whatever I wanted. When I was at university, I used to drink two 500ml bottles of Pepsi during every basketball practice. Yeah. I know. But when I stopped playing basketball and started writing all the time, I got out of shape. Much more out of shape than I'd ever been. Fatter than I'd ever been. And then came the yo-yoing. I'd eat healthy, and then I'd eat a load of crap again. And then I'd get sick of myself and eat healthy again. And then I'd get bored and buy Krispy Kremes. And then I'd... yeah. I know.

Eating like this gave me no energy. No real energy, anyway. I'd maybe have a burst, but then I'd feel lethargic and demotivated and disgusted with myself.

I thought I wanted to eat junk food because it tasted so good. I didn't think I wanted to eat healthy food because it didn't taste as good. But all that said about me was that I was valuing how food tastes over what it does for me. How can that be right?

After yo-yoing one too many times, a couple of weeks ago I decided that I was going to stop that. Because that behaviour wasn't serving me. I knew what behaviour would serve me - eating healthy food - and I started doing that.

I've had more energy. I've found it easier to focus. I haven't felt tired. I've felt more engaged with my work. I've just felt better while I've been writing, and while I've been being.

- I've been saying NO. To checking my phone. To checking Facebook. To replying to emails and messages and comments. To "opportunities". When it's time for me to write, I've been saying NO to anything that isn't writing. Have I been perfect at it? Yes, of course. I'm perfect at everything I try.

Ok, so I haven't quite been perfect. But I've been much better than I was before.

I find it hard to say NO. But I've found out that my life is harder when I don't.

- I've been more disciplined. I used to despise the thought of having a routine. I used to think I was above it. That I didn't need one. That I'd never have one.

And then I started working for myself and that completely changed. Now I agree with Jocko Willink: "discipline equals freedom."

I NEVER would've believed this a year ago. Not at all. I would've looked at you like you were a moron.

Then I tried not having a routine. And you know what happened? I honestly felt like my life was falling apart. I wasn't eating right. I wasn't sleeping right. I wasn't writing consistently. I was writing every day... but it was sporadic. And unplanned. And a constant struggle.

I didn't get it. Wasn't NOT having a routine supposed to equal freedom? Wasn't freedom doing whatever I wanted to do?

Apparently not. Because ever since I started using my routine, and ever since I became even more disciplined about it in the last couple of weeks, my life has been so much better.

I've been eating healthy food. I've been sleeping great. I've been writing consistently for a few hours every morning.

I've had more energy. I've been happier. I've been able to do the things I tell myself I want to do, and isn't that freedom?

And is it any surprise that I'm writing better?

- I've removed my ego. Something I'm already realising about removing my ego: it's a practice. Earlier today, my friend told me about how many email subscribers he has. He's catching up to me. And I didn't like it. My ego reared: "but I'm better than him! Why is he catching me up? I hope he slows down." Ugh. How arrogant. But at least I was aware of it. I was aware that I was taking his accomplishments as a reflection of me. Which, when phrased like that, is absurd.

I've been practicing removing my ego for the last few days now and I love the results so far. I'm happier. I'm more at ease. I'm calmer. And - for the pragmatic - I'm more productive. I'm writing more. I'm writing better. Because I'm worrying much less about whether or not my work is good enough. It might be, and it might not be. It's just not worth the energy it takes to worry about it - especially when I could be putting that energy into the work.

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