Ear Brain Heart 28th November, 2022

What can you do in 12 minutes?

We have a limited amount of self-discipline each day. So how you use what you have is crucial. Robbie Swale started writing a blog post every week on the train in-between stops.

What started as 12 minutes every week ended up as an 80,000-word book. Robbie is now three books into a four book series about how to start a project, keep it going, and create the conditions for great work.

Key takeaways

  • Confidence comes from the actions you take, not the other way around.
  • Similarly, the mindset to take action rarely just appears. We need to take small steps to build up that mindset.
  • If you want to define yourself as “the type of person who does X ”, you can’t ever be that person without taking the first step.
  • Life will always get in the way. How can you leverage your practice so that it’s resilient in those times?
  • Build the rep of recommitting when you lose your streak.
  • Raise the activation energy for the tasks you don’t want to do, and lower the activation energy for the tasks you do.



Oh no, it's not a consistent countdown. Do we really?
Is it, is it gonna work? Is it gonna consistently record?
are we really? Yeah.
You're listening to Ear Brain Heart, an experiment in showing up. I'm Mark Steadman and I'm always on the lookout for ways to hack my own brain so that I can do the things that I'm sure I'm supposed to do when all I really want to do is w. Well, the things I want to do.
Helping me figure this out is Robbie Swale. Robbie created the 12 Minute Method, which might be the best solution For how to eat an elephant. I've ever come across.
Part way through this conversation. Robbie had something of a revelation for me, and I think for anyone. Who struggles with imposter syndrome or the idea of feeling into the role that you want to have. We'll get to that later. But I started by asking how Robbie's got on with a similar challenge. I set myself this year to appear on a hundred podcasts in 2022.
I love the, these challenges. This is probably the third kind of one that I've done like this in my business, and they're just great for getting me outta my head, getting. Thinking creatively and, um, in this case a great example, right? Asking for help. So I have a, I meet Frances for the first time. We've exchanged the messages online. I say a few things to her and suddenly she's connecting me with you. And like, that just wouldn't have happened without that, without me having. Maybe it would have, but I think without me having the challenge, I wouldn't have been asking for help and it wouldn't have been and so it's harder for her to help. Um, and so that's been great.
And when I told my friend about, uh, no, like, uh, December last year, I told my friend PET that I was thinking of doing this, and she was like, imagine if you only do half of them, how different it'll be when you think about talking about your work. And that is absolutely true.
Um, so it's been, it's been great. And then there have been a bunch of, you have to design these challenges. Um, so that you can, I can kind of like, uh, switch off enough and enjoy it and be attached to the right outcomes or I attach to no outcomes. Um, and one of the great, you know, there's been loads of unexpected things, including this is so obvious, like so obvious, but I hadn't even thought that I would get to meet a bunch of really interesting people. Um, and that's been one of the absolute pleasure of it.
Oh, nice. I set myself a challenge this year, uh, which was half of yours, and I'm nowhere near, like, I just, I haven't, I haven't pursued it enough. Uh, I think that's been, that's been the difficulty. Like I haven't really gone out and, uh, and, and really pursued it. I, you know, I, I had a few that came in and some people said, you know, as a result, they knew I was doing this guest. It was 52, in fact was my number. I thought, you know, one a week. Nowhere near
but I haven't, you know, still, I mean there's still time. Absolutely. Um, but yeah, I, I, yeah, I think I also like the fact that you've included, which I didn't do cuz my mine was specifically to Guest on other people's podcasts. You've included your own, which very smart. It's
I've include, I basically made that new show, that's the second podcast. I kind of made it like, I've been thinking about it for a while, but I looked at it and I was like, I'm nowhere near, I need to get, like, how can I get creative? And again, because I had thought, I think I was thinking about this yesterday because I'd, because I knew what.
Like the, I knew the reason I was doing it. I knew the real success, which is I wanted some people who would say I wanted it to make me more likely. Basically I realized that success for my books was people saying, I've wanted to do this thing for a long time, or been thinking about it and I came across your work and I've finally done it.
And then I realized that we don't have to read the books to do that. Um, so essentially then if that's success, then anything that I make or do that I wouldn't have normally done that is makes that more like. I can count because that's why I'm doing it. And so that's why that show is on there. But also it's kind of, it's a good example of like unintended consequence, which is I got about halfway through the year and was like, oh, I'm gonna have to, how do I make sure, how do I get some more of this back in my control, um, so that I can make sure I get a bit closer? And it's definitely beefed the numbers out.
Um, but um, yeah. It's interesting you say that about prioritizing it. I got super overwhelmed as is my kind of. Modus operandi, uh, in about February when I'd set this challenge and I was like, it was going nowhere. And then I realized that luckily the good thing about having written some books essentially about what you do when you're overwhelmed is I knew what to do. And so, mostly, not completely, but mostly I set aside 30 minutes a week to work on it and then added a few. To do the admin of like, okay, I need to reply to Mark and book in a thing on his Calendly um, or I need to, like, I didn't with Frances cuz she was, she did what she said. But if someone says they're gonna introduce me to somebody and they haven't, then I've got that 30 minutes I can go, okay, that guy said he would do that thing and he hasn't.
So now's the time I'm gonna do it, or now's the time. I'm gonna email my friend Daphner to see if she'll, if we can crowbar me onto her show and that kind of thing as well. So that was one of the things that made a real difference for me.
I think habits are so powerful and, and I, I wish, like so for a while I've, I've, I've, for whatever reason I've not kept this up, but I, you, you're just now making me think, I want to bring this back, but I think I might shorten it. I had a power hour, um, so every day, um, for work, it was. An hour spent doing some of the jobs that I knew I wasn't, or some of the tasks that I knew I wasn't gonna do. It's all the little, the tiny little tortoise, you know, things that, that, that move the need, like, um, finding new guests for the podcast or, um, yeah, like following up on that, on that LinkedIn conversation or whatever. These things that like, are so easy to put off, don't necessarily put them on your task list or they just get bumped, bumped, bump bumped. it was a way of, of creating sort of space and time. And I was even gonna, I was getting into the, uh, mode of like getting a little playlist together so that I, I made it an event, you know, I made it a thing to attend, um, and tried to sort of make it fun and, and kind of make it like, no, this is for purposeful hour spent doing this thing. And, um, yeah, I can't remember why I stopped. I think, um, I need to.
So, so here's a, here's a question. I mean that it'll sort of slide us in really, it, there's gotta be, well, I was gonna say there's gotta be an amount of self-discipline, but as you've talked about, like finding 12 minutes a week shouldn't really take that much discipline should it
Yeah, but, but, but, but it does I think there's two things in there. So it's like, I think it would be wrong to suggest there is no self discipline needed. Right? That's not true. Some self, self-discipline is needed. If you want to take consistent, even small action over a long period. And one of the great lessons of my, the last, you know, is I've really slowed down on the 12 Minute Method work that I've done, including the books is like really seeing the impact of on me and on what I've made of small repeated impact over a long period.
Now you do need some discipline for that. And then there are two things to add to that. So one is that amount of discipline changes the longer you've done the. So, like for example, like I realized there was a point, it was two years in maybe where I was, I was in the pub on a Friday night. I usually wrote my, I wrote an article in 12 minutes every week and I, I was in the pub on the Friday night and I realized I hadn't written it. And it was then so weird that I hadn't written it, that I knew that when I got home I was gonna write it and post it. Right. So it's like there was a point at which it had.
It was a, I was a person who wrote a blog every week and that that does and can change and that then requires less discipline, less energy to do the thing because it's almost easier to, uh, it's easier to do it than not do it. And that's one of the interesting things we can think about.
And the other thing to think about is like, discipline is really hard. And as I understand it, in the research, we have a limited amount of it every, every day or, or, and, and potentially every week, but certainly every day. And so you've gotta be humble, right? You can't, like one of the things I've realized about productivity is I feel like I should be smart enough not to have to do a bunch of weird things in order to do the things I want to do. But I'm not smart enough. I'm just not Mark. And so I have to like put some things in place to protect from the fact. we run out of discipline in a day and you know, so my one was, I'm gonna do like one 12 minute blog post a week is enough. And then if that, if I know that, then it's really like I know that if I haven't done it, it's just excuses because I can find, I, you know, I think everybody can, if they're really honest. I think like the difference between 12 minutes a day and 12 minutes a week is significant. Like 12 minutes a day. I'm not sure. I think if I tried to do 12 minutes a day over a long period, I wouldn't have managed it. So like 12 minutes a week, like everyone can find in a week, no matter, almost no matter what is happening in your week, almost like.
mean, let's, let's be crude about it. It's a long poo, you know what I mean? It's, it's, we, we have, we, you know, the time is there.
Yeah. Well, and it's like, I didn't do it there, but that could be a good, like
a good way of doing it. A good way of setting a habit and starting it is to attach it to something that, you know, you won't forget to do. And that could be a good one, mark. I've never thought about it before, but it's like, you
We're all using our phones for something, why not write a blog post on that?
exactly. Mine was the train. But it could have been, it could have been the toilet. I didn't think we'd, I didn't think this is where we'd go, uh, five
nor did I, in fairness, I did not. I did not think we would do that.
Well, I know, I know you've talked about this, but I'd love you to, uh, get into this cause it's not something I usually do, um, but I think it feels pertinent really to, to this story is cuz I wanna talk specifically about your, the second book in the, in the 12 minute series. Um, how to actually keep going with this stuff. Cuz I, I have big start, uh, big start energy, um, but not so much big sustain energy and so I'd, I'd love to talk about that. But before we get into that, um, as I say, like a lot of people do the, let's get into your journey kind of thing. And I dunno how much that always helps, but, I think it, I think it, it has to for something like this. So I'd love to know what your process was for getting to the, the 12 Minute Method and, and thinking about starting and also being able to continue with things.
Yeah. Yeah. No, I get that. I get that. Um hmm. I mean, for me, really the 12 minute method emerged because, I was working with a coach, and one of the things you I do when I work with a coach is I, like, I'm thinking about what are the things in my life that I want to be different? And I noticed this thing happening in 2016, which was this theme emerged and it was a kind of coachy thing to say, maybe. Um, but it was like, sh there was this theme about sharing myself that kept coming back and, um, came back in all sorts of ways. This was, yeah, like I said, this was like summer 2016. We'd been working on it a bit, me and Joel, and. It was partly, I think, because I was starting, I'd started my business a year before and I knew that I wanted to be kind of present online, didn't have to be, but wanted to be. Um, it's partly just that it was an unpleasant thing in life that every time I wanted to like make a joke on Facebook, it carried this kind of anxious energy and I ended up, would end up rewriting and deleting and then maybe posting or maybe not, and then anxiously checking for likes and things. And it just didn't feel like a very, like, good
Wholesome sort of, yeah.
Yeah. And. And then another thing was I would, I'd sort of become aware that if of this idea that I learned from Stephen Pressfield, that who, who wrote a great book called The War of Art, amongst many other great books, the, the like, the places where we feel the most uncomfortable are often the most important places for us if we want to grow. Um, and he says it in a more poetic way, but that's, that's how I'm gonna say it today.
So there's all those things combined that we were working on this thing, Joel and I, and at one point he said, um, Joel used to be before he was a coach, and he's got a very successful training business for coaches called Coaches Rising. He used to be a visual artist as one of the previous parts of his career. And he said, do you know Robbie? When I was an artist, I used to like to paint a series of. Something like, and then he said something like, what if you, we just set you a challenge to write a series of articles, and we'd already talked about this little train journey I had, um, from batter in southwest London where I still live as we're recording this.
But I'm about to move away from, um, and to the center of London. And what I would do is on that train journey in the next two weeks, I would write an article on the train, start writing when the train started moving stop when it stopped, proofread it once, post it. , I thought I'll post it on LinkedIn because Facebook was a bit, uh, um, too, too anxious for me.
Um, and, and I thought no one really read LinkedIn. Um, and it turned out, I think it was 2016, so no one really did read LinkedIn. More people do now. But, um, and over those two weeks I wrote five, I think. Cause I was getting the train on five different days and basically it didn't feel nice or fun, but by the end of it, it kind of felt good, and I knew that I wanted to keep it going. There was something there. I didn't get many likes or comments, but I got a few and my fears didn't come true. Right? No one laughed at me. No one like said my writing was truly terrible. Um, and part of that was probably because I put a little thing saying, I wrote this on the train, call it the train series. So it's like, really? That was my way of be helping me be brave enough to take that kind of step.
And then I made it a weekly practice. After that, I decided five times, two times a week, a bit like we were saying before, five times a week. Two, two or three, you know, it's too much. One a week felt about right. Um, and I've basically been doing that now for over six years. Um, now at some point I stopped getting the train and, um, as much, and I thought, what am I gonna do? It was important to me by then, what am I gonna do on the weeks I don't get the train? So that could have been a time when I stopped, but I, I didn't, I, and I just checked how long the train was the next time I got it, and it was 12 minutes. And so ever since then, Um, I set a timer for 12 minutes right when it's going stop. When it stops, proofread it Once post it, they're on, they're still on LinkedIn, but LinkedIn's quite hard to navigate to find people's blog posts. It's hard for me to find my own blog posts, so they're also on my website now.
But partly that, that thing about it being hard to navigate was an interesting moment because I kind of realized about three years in that, if for the, like two people that I thought might want to read, go back and read all my blogs, and I knew there were load of them by this point, it would be really hard to do it. And Seth Godin, who's a marketing, um, people who dunno, is like a marketing kind of guru, long term blogger, used to be head of marketing at Yahoo, I think amongst other things. He, um, he just published a collection of his blog and I thought, oh, I could just put all these articles into a book. Um, and then I realized that I had 80,000 words, written 12 minutes a week and a little accidentally, I realized that I had actually partly inspired by my friend Steve, who was gonna do a little bit of editing. I realized that actually I'd written a book about something.
So when I started to think, like I was gonna call it, I was gonna call the one book, I Wrote This Book in 12 Minutes. Cause I thought that, I thought that was funny. Um, not everybody does um, but I thought it was funny and Steve said, that's a great title. It's quite in your face. It kind of says, um, you know, uh, I did this thing in 12 minutes. Why haven't you done the thing that you, you, you kind of pretend you want to do.
But he, great point from Steve is like, but can the book actually help people with that? And that was a really good question, and it basically turned out it could. So I, in a coaching session with my coach at that time, by this point, it was woman called Katie Harvey. I, she, she helped me plot out like what do I, what did I believe were the important stages? If you're gonna make do something that matters. And I divided, I, I had four, came up with four. I printed off all, like, all 80,000 words of those first three years. And I dealt them out and they almost went, and this was kind of crazy for me. It's like I hadn't just written 80,000 words. I'd written 80,000 words, give or take a few articles that, that, uh, I took out or that overlapped, um, about something. And what I'd written about was that thing, was like, how do you do these things that you've been meaning to do or wanting to do and haven't done? And it's obvious, looking back to me why that is. It's because that's what I've been wrestling with. I've been wrestling with the fear around posting things online. I've been wrestling with building my business. I've been doing things I was uncomfortable with. I've been trying to grow and I've been coaching people cuz my business is a coaching business. And so I'd been helping people do all those things as well.
So, because when you write with 12 minutes , you haven't got time to think about what you're writing about. I've just been writing about what I was interested in, interested in, and then it turned out that that was quite useful to turn into a book and later decided to make that a series of books. Um, the 12 minute Method series, partly for the reason that you just gave.
So one of the, the first book is about starting the project. That's the first thing you have to. Some people have that down, but the second bit might be the bit that they actually want to tap into, which is keeping going. But some, or some people might be, once they're going, they can keep the discipline and they just need the help with starting. And so then people can just pick the book. But those books, the, there's three of them out as we're speaking. The fourth one will come out, um, by the end of 2022. And each of those books are the four other four stages.
it's interesting that the, the people that I speak with, certainly in, in podcasting, cuz that's, you know, that's my, my bailiwick, um, are the people that suffer from so much procrastination, uh, sorry, not, not procrastination, suffer from so much self-doubt and self, um, you know, negative self-talk and, and this kind of, this kind of thing. And. It seems so hard to be able to say to someone, what if you just did it? What if you just, you know, what, what if, what, what if you, you know, trying to sit with people.
Cuz there's an element of, of, of coaching and what I do, um, when I'm working with people, cuz it's, it's, it's now, you know, the technical stuff that, that's sort of, those are fairly easily answerable questions, but it's all the, the, the gooey stuff in between that, that trips us up.
it, it feels really hard to be able to, to not just say, just, just try it , you know what I mean? Um, because what, what's the worst that can happen or, um, I dunno, like, there, there has to be a, a more sophisticated way to, to be able to get into that. Do you know what I mean?
Yeah, a
Or is that, or is it just as simple as just doing it?
so I, I think I heard somebody say once point to the Nike slogan, right. Which you've kind of just been talking about, just do it. And really changed the way I thought about it, cuz I've always thought of it as a bit of a kind of annoying thing. Just do it. Yeah. What do you mean, just do it like, right. I would, I would if I could. Right. What's your
get off my back. You're not my real dad.
exactly. . Exactly. But someone pointed that just kind of has two meanings. It can make something small, you know, it's like this is just a little thing, but it can mean. And I think in a way, like that's the kind of thing that we actually need to get to only do the thing for now.
Like, don't, like all the other stuff, can wait, only do it. Like that's what, that's what that 12 minute practice was for me. And it's not easy, right? No one should pretend that only doing the thing is an easy thing, right? But when we can separate ourselves. From all that talk and, and look, let's face it, procrastination really is, is just a way of protecting ourselves from what our self doubt says will happen if we do the thing.
Like one of the key movement moments for me was, um, you know, reading Steven Pressfield's book, the War of Art, or his other ones, or Liz Gilbert's, um, Big Magic. You know, there are loads of books like this, wonderful books essentially about incredibly successful people who have made big things talking about how they have the.
So until that point, I'd taken me having the self doubt as a sign that I wasn't the kind of person who wrote a blog, started a podcast, did these things. Because if I have these things then I can't belong here because I don't see the inside of the head of all these people. And then you read something like The War of Art or Big Magic, and you see that in the head of these incredibly successful people who have written amazing books and and done amazing things is a load of the same stuff.
And at that point, I think we can separate. All the thought from the doing, and maybe we get closer to only doing right. And I, you know, just to be able, for me to be able to name, oh, the self doubt in Steven Pressfield's language, he calls it resistance, but different people call it different things. It's like, doesn't really matter.
All these, all these voices in my head, they're just voices in my head. They're not the truth. They're not an accurate representation of what's happening in the world. Um, yes, there are lots of reasons to not make a podcast like there are. And there are, there are good ones, right? One is. It'll take you some time. Um, and you could be doing something else. And that's a, that's a true thing, you know, and there are lots of good reasons to do it. And often, yeah, when we are, when we are thinking about the, the really hard things that we're procrastinating on, there are some really good reasons for us to do it.
But, but I have needed lots of tricks, uh, on my mind to get me to doing those things. But the first, probably the first and most important one is to realize that. Chat going on in my head wasn't the truth. It wasn't me. It was just some chat that I have that lots of other people have and it's not a reason to not do the thing.
It's, yeah, Seth Golden. Uh, I think it was merely, merely ship. Uh, it's something like that. Yeah. He talks about, yeah, absolutely. The other thing I, I want to touch back on, cuz I think you, you sort of brought it up there as well, is defining ourselves by the things we do rather than doing the things so that we can then be defined by them.
So I am the sort of person who writes a blog post a week, therefore, I'm gonna write and it almost doesn't need that discipline because if you can believe that, if you can tell yourself that positive story and believe it, I am the sort of person who writes a blog, uh, who writes a weekly blog, then that I would imagine gets some, some fuel going. It's a little bit like, and you've alluded to this before in one of your episodes, the rich lit fin thing, um, about confidence coming from your actions rather than the actions breeding the confidence. Oh.
I think
I might've said the same thing twice there. . I think I
was just agreeing. Good catch. Good catch mark. Yeah, yeah. Rich's thing is, confidence is a result, not a requirement. So we shouldn't use it as a, as a requirement to take action. And, and I, I had this insight, um, earlier this year. This thought about the question, you know, that we, a lot of us ask ourselves.
I definitely do. I'm doing a talk tomorrow night. Oh, no, no. Thursday night. Don't turn up tomorrow, Robbie. It's Thursday night. Um, and I was thinking about, I'm probably gonna talk about it at the start. I get a lot of who am I to do this? I think that's like a question that we get a lot that's in the root of a lot of the self doubt.
And there are two, I think there are two smart ways to answer that question and you might need to do both. One is like to actually answer it, so it's like why am I the right person to be doing this? You know? But you might need some help with that cuz sometimes the self doubt can really get in the way.
But you know, it's like, You know, in your case it's like, well, you've got, you've been podcasting since 2008. Is it? You know, it's like, that's, that's as long as I've been listening to podcasts, you know, and I was quite an early adopter of listening to podcasts. That's in, you know, it's like there's a good reason that you are here making a podcast now, but also supporting other people to make podcasts. Not everyone will have that length of time, but you can find the ways to answer those questions for yourself. Other people can really help you with that. Coach can really help you with that, but, but your friends can as well, and really listen to them and write down the reasons.
But the, in some ways, the other more interesting one is, who am I to do this thing? Well, I'm not the person to do this thing yet because I haven't done it. And only when I've done it will I be the person who can answer that question and be the person who's done the thing. And like, that's only true of everyone. Um, and so, you know, it's like you can add up the things you've done before that are a bit like this, but pro like I've never done this show with you until we've done. Um, and then there we are, and then I'll know, um, I'm the kind of person that can be on Mark's show, and if you release the episode, you know, I, I'll be able to think I'm the kinda be person who can be on Mark's show and we can have a conversation that he thinks is worth once he's, you know, taking out the stupid things I say putting, putting on the internet.
That's given me, that's the, that's given me goosebumps actually, genuinely like that is re I, yeah. That feels kind of revelatory to me. To, to put it in, in, in those, in those simple terms to, yeah, like. You can't be the type of person who does this thing. If you haven't done the thing, you, you, you cannot, you know that yes, you can, you can have the self doubt about whether you can, but you absolutely 100% cannot if you haven't at least attempted, if you haven't done the thing. Um, that, yeah, that, that, just, that, just that, that's spark of something in me. So yeah,
Yeah. Well
should pay for a session.
no need, just listen to, listen back to this episode now. Um, I think it's a really important one and let's slow down on it cuz it, cuz it is, it is really important. Um, and I think it, it's like. So the reason if your podcaster shows up to speak to you and like, you know, there, there are like often, like you said, the text stuff for making a podcast. I had this right? It's like it's there and you need a couple of people that you trust. You know who you know or who've just made a video to tell you what to do and then you just need to do that thing, right? Like whatever they've said, you don't have to because you might wanna save a bit of extra money and buy a slightly cheaper mic. But, you know, I was like, I knew what I was like, and then when I was saying my podcast, I knew I have to just do the thing, um, that in my case I was like, find that article. I know Tim Ferris wrote about the setup he has and just if I can't find a better thing within five minutes, buy the stuff that do the stuff that he says that's the way I'll get through that.
And then there's a load of other stuff, like you said, that gets in the way when we're, if we're gonna make something like a podcast. And that feels really uncomfortable. And the reason that this Connects to what we were just saying is it's like, uh, if we want to have a sense that we are growing and being everything we can be, or more of what we can be, , we have to keep doing these things that we aren't, we we're not qualified for.
We have to keep doing the things that we dunno how to do. Like that's how we. That's how our confidence grows to use, uh, rich live's frame that you used before. It's also how we become more, right? I had to do, I dunno how many, I could probably work it out. It's in, it's, you know, I could Google it in things, but I dunno how many that, that event on the pub, in the pub where I was like, no, I'm someone who writes the, writes a blog in a week. Now, that didn't happen overnight, right? It happened I'd say at least two years into writing a weekly blog.
You know, I remember at least, least four years in, I think, you know, I was still having far fewer but some blog posts, I was still having ones where I was feeling real anxiety, tension about. It's like thinking about them really hard. Am I really, and I knew by then probably that I was, but like, am I really the person who's gonna post this? This feels edgy, really edgy for me. And now six years in, I don't think there really is anything right, that then I've really got to that point where I've like, I've written 260 of those 12 minute blogs or something like that, a bit more probably.
I don't, I kind of know by now I've become the person who can essentially write about everything. That's not quite true, but it's close. And so, but that is only through the practice. And only, and, and in a way, you know, as I've been publishing the books this year, cuz they've been in the work since 2019 and the first one didn't come out until 2021. So we can ask questions about what was going on there for me, like with publishing and, and procrastination and who am I to be an author and all that kind of stuff.
But they're out now. And one of the things that's, that's really shown me as I've been thinking about it this year, the transformational effect on me, of being someone who has written that many blog posts, but I couldn't have told you that at the start. All I could have told you that is that I wasn't someone who could have done who I wasn't. Who am I to do this was a good question to ask at that point. And now six years in, like a lot's changed from doing essentially the things that I doubted that I could do.
That gets me to, to something I wanted to talk about is, and I, I think, I think you'll, you'll probably help me flip this on its head, um, because I think there's some, some sort of wrong thinking in here. If I think about any kind of long term habit, I think about. Not necessarily an end goal, but a long term goal. And it sounds like you didn't have that in mind. You, you, you just thought, well, I just wanna do this thing, as opposed to if I keep doing this thing, I could write a book or I could release a thing. Or if I got on the bike every day, um, my, my cal would be like, uh, steel, um, within this amount of time rather than actually, if I got on the bike every day, I'd be, I probably feel better about myself if I just did it every day rather than I will get this thing at the end of this path. Because again, I guess what that's supposing is that there is an end rather than it it, it is a habit.
Yeah, no, I think Mark, I think there's like loads of stuff in there that I mostly, I completely agree with that. I think the thing that I've noticed, and so my, um, uh, I've got a 12 Minute Method podcast now, and really that's me. It's mostly like I'm trying to use the stuff that I learned from the writing practice in, in a different place.
And I've done that in different ways, at different times, but, I realized that for me to do that, one of the things I needed to think about was, what am I here to learn? Um, and I realized it would be great to, basically the podcast is me analyzing the things that I didn't do for a long time and then managed to finally do, and what are the patterns?
And one of the patterns has been for me, but this is just for me, detaching like. Detaching from the outcome. So I think that is the thing that you're talking about now. It's not quite true that I didn't have an outcome. I didn't think about it this clearly. But when I look back on that, that conversation with Joel, you know, I wanted to be someone who could share myself on the internet without having that feeling that I had, so that there was a, there was a aim, but it wasn't a aim of write a book books in this way. Um, create, uh, you know, have 260 blog posts over the next six years. Uh, have a certain number of likes. I didn't have those aims. I had a who do I wanna be, aim. And when I guide people through or offer people a framework to guide themselves through setting up a 12 minute practice, that's how I would recommend people start.
Who, who do you want to be? And you can put the timeframe on this in say, five years. And what is a person who's like, Uh, do. So it's like, who do I wanna be? I wanna be somebody who can share them work without getting super stressed out about it. What does someone like that do on a regular basis while they share something they've made on the internet, could be announced to that. And then how do I do that in a small amount of time on a weekly basis? And that's right, an article in 12 minutes.
Now, it's not to say that you can't. Uh, you should not say you can't do it in that way. So one of my favorite 12 minute method stories is in 2019 when I thought I was about to publish that, you know, the first book, I Wrote This Book in 12 Minutes, I did a talk to about a hundred people at kind of online festival. And, um, at least two of those people, I've got the books somewhere. I can't show you them because they're not, not right here. But at least two of those people published their books, written and inspired by the 12 minute method before I published mine. So it's like they.
a cruel irony.
I know. Well, I loved it cuz it's like, oh, it's fantastic. You know, in a way it's better than me doing it first. Um, but like the, because only the story, right? It shows the power of a little story about how I'd beaten my procrastination. Only the story was needed to get them to do that. And they, they wrote really lovely things. They're in the impact section, the kind of testimonials at start of my books that, you know, Karina and, and David, you could check out, um, they're books. It's Karena de Souza and David Reynolds, and they've written books called, um, contours of Courageous Parenting is Karena's and, uh, Lead Learn Change. I might have butchered those titles, but if you Google that stuff, people find them.
Um, and, and so they did set out to write in that way. So you can absolutely do that. And for example, thinking about the exercise example, you know, I've got a client at the moment and her goal is absolutely to get fitter. She's seen that as a kind of. Uh, what would you say As like a, an enabler of other good stuff in her life. But the thing that unlocked it for her was really long-term thinking. It was like, what do you like, what do you want to have happened in? I don't know. I think we might have gone as far as like, the end of her life, and for her it was like, well, I, I don't wanna be, I can't remember the exact language. I don't wanna be held back by my health when I could have done something about it in my retirement. I wanna have done something about it now. And really opening things up for her was, oh, if I just do two little bits of exercise every. Should imagine on the impact of that over 10 years versus doing nothing.
And so I think that there is that real power in Yeah. In defining yourself by the process rather than the outcome. Success is write the article in 12 minutes, post it online, not how good it is, not how many likes it gets, and then you can get interested in that stuff later. But if we go back to only do it. Um, like we get a lot. There's a lot of procrastination, self doubt, and like another form of procrastination, like strategic thinking around, um, oh yeah but if I make my podcast like this, then I'll get the thing. Yeah. But if you don't make a podcast ever, because if you're too busy thinking about how to make it a top 10 podcast, then that's much worse than, than, than, like it's much better than, like, it'd be much better to make do an average podcast that exists than the perfect podcast that
The, the, the, yeah. Absolutely.
So one of the things that I talk about and, and try and help people guard against is life getting in the. Um, it can happen in podcasting, um, because you might be reliant on guests there, there might just be all sorts of things that that come up.
Are there ways that we can, in order to, to continue, um, you know, for, for want of a, a another phrase, you know, a healthy habit, um, are there ways that we can sort of guard against when, when life gets.
Yeah, I mean there's probably two important things to say there. One, yes. And two, it's just important. I think it's really important. You said like life will get in the way.
Um, I mean, so the second book, the second, so start is the first part of the process. The second book is keep going. It's called How to Keep Going when you want to give up.
The, the, the final section of that, um, is called like lessons for the dark days or from the Dark Days or something like that. And a really, a really interesting aspect of writing a book in the way that I wrote it is some of it was organic. So some of it was like I was reading the piece and I was like, this feels like it does fit in the keep going bit, but what is this pattern of pieces that are going in the Keep Going book?
Telling me about how you keep going. There's a whole set of them that were written cuz it was written over three years. There were a lot of times when my life was difficult. I mean, you know, I, you know, there was death, there was illness, there was all these things happening in life cuz that's what happens in life.
Um, and so there is this whole pattern and so I'm really glad, you know, it's a, it's, if I'd sat down to write it, I'm not sure if I'd written how to keep going when you want to give up by just sitting down and writing it. I'm not sure I would've seen that as clearly. So it is really important to say. Your life is going to have some things that you wish didn't happen, happen in it. You know, you'll get ill one day you'll die. People you love will get ill. Sometimes they'll die, right? These are just like, we can pretend they don't happen, but that doesn't help, like, help you in life really. Um, and so like there will be times like that. So that's the first thing to say and kind of feels a little bit hard to bridge from that.
But, but the second part of it, And is like, so I guess then if, if we're thinking about the power of doing things regularly over a long period, so you don't have to use that, right? There are times when extraordinary levels of action over a short period are a really good way, like the hair, the tor, and the hair from esop, right? There are times when if you can do the hairs sprint, that's actually a really useful way of getting, getting the things you want to get done done.
12 Minute Method for me is a story about the tortoise, right? It's like how to leverage the tortoise in your life. And the way to do that essentially is how do you make a thing that if you do it a lot for a long time, but a very small amount every week, say extraordinary things will happen. So if you write for 12 minutes a week, in the end you'll get to 80,000 words. You don't necessarily know when that'll be. It won't be exactly the same amount of time that. Um, but you'll get there in the end if you keep doing it. Um, as long as you don't die first, . Um, and like, that's like, that's like a good thing to know. It's like I always give myself a really, that's, that's always a real relief to me.
It's like, okay, so I, for example, do a quick sidebar. I. In Covid in London, getting stir crazy. I grew up in the countryside in Yorkshire. It was never useful for me to ride a bike. So I, I'm not a skilled bike rider or I wasn't because like my friends live 12 miles away. I was never gonna cycle 12 miles along the A 65. So like, what's the point in riding a bike? Um, so I hadn't really practiced in Covid. I knew that I wanted to get out of this corner of town and so I got a a Boris bike membership, which is the kind of bike membership you can get in London and practised. And because I'd had this insight, I was like, well, look, it's quite a safe time to practice cuz there's not many people on the roads. If I practice enough, if I just keep practicing, I'll get better at this. So instead of this reason to not ride a bike that I had for a long time, which is I'm rubbish at riding a bike and I'm scared of the traffic, I've then got this thing, which is if I just keep doing this enough in the end, I'll get good enough to ride in London traffic. And I did, right?
So if you want to leverage the tortoise, though, and you know that, that things are gonna happen in your life. Life is gonna get in the way. And it, it doesn't have to be big things like, like death and illness. It can be like your kid's getting ill for two weeks and you're having to like cut a load of your work cause you have to look, look after them. Life is gonna get in the way. So then if you wanna leverage the tortoise, how do you build the practice to be doable even in those times. So it's like you can plan for this in advance.
And you know, one way is to make the actual practice. As frictionless as possible. So all I need to write my blog is, um, a timer, uh, which I've got on numerous devices. I used to do it on my phone on the train, so I know I can do that if I need to. I kind of preferred it on the laptop cause I can write slightly more and, and, and quicker and that kind of thing, do have to deal with auto correct, you know, and, you know, take a picture from where I am.
So I used to like get wrapped up with blog posts about finding the perfect picture. Bay or whatever thing I was using. And I realized that was resistance and if I was, you know, so I just take a picture from my blog wherever I'm writing it. So most of them are the same picture of the skyline. They used to be the pictures of the train. So make it as frictionless as possible.
Podcasting's interesting because, um, there's lots of ways to, to create friction. There's lots of bits of it that, you know, depending on how much energy you're gonna put into your show, and I dunno what you think about this, mark, cuz you're in this a lot more than me, but like, you know I started getting help with editing. So I have two podcasts. I have a kind of interview podcast and that one, that's just me. The interview one is, is for coaches. I was doing all the editing. At first, I was writing the copy, I was setting up the show notes, and I just realized this is not sustainable in the medium term, and so do I want to be doing it.
I make it, I made it monthly to make it sustainable. That was one thing I did and I also got some help. Um, and if I hadn't done that, I probably would've stopped it by. Um, so it, so there is, I think there's two sides of it. One is just acknowledge that life is gonna get in the way. This is a really long answer to your question, and then the other is, um, build the habit to have as little friction as possible.
Part of what, what that says to me is, you know, if I, if I think about certain habits, like I'm very, I think I get very focused on time. Like it's gotta happen at a certain time, not just in a certain time, but like, this is the time when this thing happens. But of course, yeah, if, if life has got in the way or if there's a really important call that needs to happen during that time and you, you can't move it.
Or you know, if, if you've ever done anything related to, you know, to diet or exercise. And then you go away and you go to a thing. It's like, you know, um, being able to build in that sort of resilience to this, to the sys in the system to be able to say, well, however we make this happen, it doesn't have to happen on that day. It doesn't have to happen under the same circumstances.
Um, but, yeah, like I remember, you know, back in 2014, I, I got into sort of, this is not just a whole conversation about losing weight, but it's, it's been on my mind. Like I go into a whole thing running and, and, um, like when, when I'm in the right mindset, and that's really interesting. Like I, you know how, one, this is why I need to read the book is how one gets in into this right mindset. But when I was in that point, I remember being away in Germany and the hotel we were staying in had a gym. And so I was there, you know, I was there at the gym, um, because I was running every day. And so I was the sort of person who ran every day. So I went and ran on the treadmill or, or used the cross trainer or whatever it was.
And those aren't things I enjoy, but they were, they were just the things that I did. And that was part of, part of my thing. It's very easy. I find it very easy when not in that mindset and this, you know, this is gonna be true of any kind of work, anything creative, anything that, that, that relies on that, that sort of habitual, um, presence. Um, it seems very easy when you are not in that mindset to, to kind of think, God, how could I even be in that mindset? And I think it comes back to what we were saying about you don't, you don't just appear to be in that mindset. You do it by the doing. You know what I mean? Does that, does that seem right? Like you, you know, you do it by actually showing up and doing the thing that you say that you are the person who does the thing.
Yeah, absolutely. Like I, there's two important things I wanna pull out of that mark, you know, just cuz I really feel really fundamental. One is that thing you've just said. So, um, there's a quote, there's a guy called, is he called Somerset Maugham or something like that, who is a kind of prolific, uh, writer in the, let's say twenties might be, I'm, I'm guessing so people can Google him. He said a great thing he said, um, I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at 9:00 AM every. You know, which is, well, his way of saying don't wait for inspiration to do your writing. Don't wait to feel like exercising. To do your exercising. Do it at the time. And then what you'll find is, um, this is one of the things that's on like the first page of Start When You're Stuck, you know, our inspiration is basically always around us and it's when we make a start that we let inspiration in.
So like, yeah, exercising in the morning, for example, doesn't feel like the right thing to do. . I'm not in the mindset for it, like I feel. I often feel miserable in the mornings. That's just my, one of my rhythms and I'm, I've done quite a bit of work on it, but it's still sometimes there and you know, but I know to a certain extent that doing the thing, um, the exercise will change that will get me in the mindset for doing it, or will by the end of it, have me in a different mindset.
So it's, you're right. I think it was one thing which is don't wait for the mindset. Don't wait to feel like it. Like you might learn some things by trying the thing at different times of day, for example, with exercise and being like, oh, it's much better for me. What one of my clients was saying recently, it's much better for him to do it at lunchtime. It changes his, it's exercise in the afternoon. So it his mindset in the afternoon so much to do his exercise at lunchtime versus the morning. You, you might learn things by trying at different places, but don't wait to feel like it to do it. That's one thing. It's a bit like confidence comes after the feeling comes after.
The, the other thing, mark, that that, that struck me when you were talking about that is, I, I feel like this is, you know, if you write a lot of blogs, you realize that most, I realize that mostly I'm not saying anything that feels original. Like it's another thing that, that I needed to get out of my way, right? I needed to get out of my way. That everything I write needs to be original cuz it doesn't. Right. There's you, there's, I think there's a strong argument, there's no new wisdom in the world. That doesn't mean it's not worth me saying it, cuz if it, if it changes one person, like for me, that's worth it. That's my, that's one of my mind tricks that I use to get going. It's like if one person is changed by this, that's worth it.
But one of the possibly original thoughts that I had was this, which is, I once heard Tim Ferriss, who I mentioned before, so I've been listening to his podcast for a long time, not quite since 2008, but, but for a long time I heard him say once that the key shift for him to get into meditation was realizing what the rep is. So what's the in, you know, in exercise, like what's the thing, the lifting in meditation. And he thought it was like holding your attention in one place for a long time. And if it's that, that's really dispiriting because it's, if anyone has tried meditating, knows that's a really hard thing to do. And basically you won't manage it. So if, if the success is holding your attention, that's the rep, then you're in for trouble. And you'll do a lot of berating yourself, cuz you won't be doing that. But if the rep is bringing your attention back to whatever it is you're supposed to be focusing on, that's different. Cause then every time your attention drifts, you realize it's drifted, you have a chance to do the rep, which might be to bring your attention back to your breath. And if your attention drifts, you get another chance to do the rep. And suddenly success is bringing the attention back as many times as possible in the time that you're doing it. And that feels a lot, uh, what we say like, that. So just a lot of a nicer feeling and a lot less berating of myself happens when I, when I do that.
Um, and I realized that with commitment, with building the discipline, what really matters is what you do when life gets in the way. So what do you do when you have missed, uh, the writing for that week? What do you do when you've been injured so you haven't been able to run? What do you do when, um, your kid gets ill? So you can't record the conversation with your Guest, so you actually have to miss a. Like, you know, you get two choices essentially. You can either give up at that point or stop for the next five years, which you know, lots of people do. Or you can do the rep of building your ability to commit to things, which is you choose to start again. You recommit in that moment.
And that came up for me because my coat Rich live in who he talks about before who was my coach for a while. He sent me a challenge once. Um, I was talking about how the sharing yourself thing, again, really the theme put you. Putting my hand up at an event to ask a question would fill me with anxiety. I would always have a question. I would never put my hand up and I would listen as other people ask less interesting questions, but, and I would keep thinking, I'm gonna put my hand up, I'm gonna put it up, and I would never do it. And he sent me a challenge at one of his events to, um, put my hand up every time there was a call for questions, not knowing what it was. And then I watched myself, I wrote an article about this once, like I watched myself not doing it repeatedly, like despite the fact that Richard had asked me to do it, I used a slightly out of body experience sitting in the room. Rich says Any questions, 150 coaches there. Um, and I, my hand does not go up again and again until it did. And that the only reason it went up is cuz I didn't say after the third or fourth time that I hadn't put my hand up. I didn't say, I'm gonna stop trying now. And then on the third or fourth time, um, I put it up.
And then hilariously someone at the, towards the end of the event was like, ah, yeah, you are that guy, you've asked all those great questions. And I was like, I've asked two questions out of 15 opportunities or whatever, but like, you know, anyway, so that was where I learned it was like what mattered to me in creating that change in myself where I put my hand up was what did I do when I didn't do it? And I, what I did was like recommitted to the challenge of putting my hand up.
I like that a lot. Um, one of the last things I, I think about and uh, with any, any kind of work like this is I actually, and I dunno if this is how. True. This is for everyone, but it feels like for me, and I've spoken to other people about this, and it may be in neurochemistry, you, you know, neurotypical brain chemistry, whatever thing. But it feels like a lot of the time the difficulties not in actually doing the thing, it's turning up. It's the transition period. It's, you know, in exercise terms, the way you clear the way is by getting your clothes, you know, your exercise gear ready. Putting that out the night before, so that all you've gotta do is just jump straight into them. In writing terms, you know, it's getting everything, getting the me on send, uh, or the me on plus getting everything set up for you so that then. Because it feels like a lot of that resistance to, oh God, I've gotta do the thing is actually not necessarily in doing the thing, it's in that transition between whatever it was you were doing now and this thing. And so, you know, there's gotta be ways that we. Clear that path in those early stages so that then we're creating that neural pathway that it then just becomes a little bit closer to second nature.
Yeah. So I think there's a really important point here. So I think in the research, they call it the activation energy of a task. So what we might wanna do is we might raise the activation energy of tasks that we don't want to be doing and lower the activation energy of tasks that we do want to be doing. So raising the activation energy thing that I, for example is, I don't wanna be distracted by finding myself scrolling Facebook 30 minutes after I thought I was doing something else. So what do I do? Well, I can uninstall the app from my phone cause that makes it a bit harder. But what, what actually happened when I did that was I just got really good at going to Chrome on my phone, f, pressing return, and being scrolling 20 minutes later.
What it turned out made a difference was when I logged out of Facebook on the browser, on my phone, I hit the login page and that was enough activation energy for me to choose. So at that point was able to go, why do I have to log in? Oh, it's because I really don't wanna be on Facebook, so I'm not gonna go on. So that's an example of raising the energy.
Lowering it is exactly like you say. There's a, there's a research called Sean Aker, and I was reading about this in his book, um, I've forgotten what it's called, his book about happiness and he. His gym. One was, it didn't work, getting the gym clothes out enough to, because he would still ignore them. What worked was he had to go to sleep in his gym clothes.
Oh wow.
a, he was a, like a kind of postdoc living in a university hall, so he didn't have a kind of partner who would say, Sean, what are you wearing at that point, as far as I know, but if he went to sleep in his gym clothes, we get back to that thing. It's like, It's almost, it'd be like harder for him to not go to the gym at that point or go for a run
That's an outstanding hack.
Exactly. Than it would be like you'd have to change out of the clothes. And at that point he'd be like, what am I doing? This is not who I wanna be. He also had, and see you've got some guitars behind you. His guitar practice One was he had to get his guitar on a, on a stand, a free stand and put it in the middle of his room. Cuz then he would have to like kind of climb over it to avoid practicing and he would be able to go, no, no, look, I'm just gonna do my 20 minutes now cuz I'll have to climb over it.
So yeah, we can, we can do some work to lower the activation energy of whatever it is we want to do repeating. Now there's one little thing to say, right? So the third book, the third stage of the, of doing these things, slash the fourth one for a reason I'm gonna talk about is how to create the conditions for great work. So we have to be really careful with setting up our habit with lowering the activation energy that we are actually lowering the activation energy. We're not doing things that we think we need to do, but we don't actually need to do to start the thing.
of projects are wrecked on the idea of like, oh, I'll start exercising when I finally got my home gym room setup, or I'll.
shoes and the right, whatever
when I've actually got the right microphone, like the actual, I know for sure it's the right mic, then I'll have the podcast. When I know for sure when I like those kind of things when it's perfect. So we've gotta be really careful. So you know, really the create the conditions for Great workbook should be the last one because the most important conditions for great work are start, keep going and share your work. But it like, it felt weird to have the share book, not be the fourth one, cuz it's like that's what happens when you don't. So, you know, maybe I should have made that the fourth one.
But it's. If you lower the activation energy, but it's a kind of, it's a kind of 80 20 analysis that we need to do the whole time. It's like, what's the 20% lowering the activation energy that will give me the 80% result that I'll be able to sit down and write my thing, because they'll never be a, an absolutely perfect morning to write your blog or time to start exercise or start your podcast or start a business, or whatever the thing is that you do.
Amen to that, that that is a, that feels like a conversation that I've had a lot this, this year, and it's, it's, yeah. Timing, you know, the timing's not right. Well, there's, you know, there's always a reason to not do something. Um, yeah, there's, the timing can fine. I'm just, I'm just reiterating the point you've already made.
That's absolutely right. The timing will never be perfect. Like never, um, I guess the, the other thing to just add into that though is the timing will never be perfect and actually once you've done your thing a bit, you'll learn a lot more. So it's okay that the, like the first five of my training series articles are kind of rubbish compared to the ones I've written recently. Like, they're not, the storytelling isn't as good. Same with my first podcast episodes. Like, you know, it's okay for the first things to be less perfect than the later.
Well, um, this has been, uh, this has been a real, a real pleasure and. I, I think, I think it went in different directions than I was expecting, and I've, I've, I've thoroughly enjoyed it, which is why I like to try and keep things as sort of fairly loose as possible. So, um, I thank you for that. Um, Robbie, where can people, uh, well find you, find your work, find your books, um, and enjoy, uh, lots of more, um, than we have had in this small slice?
Thanks Mark. It's been an absolute pleasure. It's flown by, um, so like you can find me at robbieswale.com. Um, the thing about having a semi unusual name, my parents were sort of anus type, so they made up a name. For me. So there's no, there's very few other swales. There are some, um, so you can find Robbie Swale if you find that it's always me. Um, and, uh, my website is, is a little bit, needs a little bit of work probably because I've, the problem with overcoming procrastination for yourself is you end up doing a lot of stuff, Mark. It's a good problem to have, but it's, it's a problem of like, my website is now hard to navigate because there are two podcasts that you might wanna find your way to, 260 odds, more blog posts, three books, all kinds of other stuff, coaching stuff on there. So you can find, also, you can find the podcasts, the coaches journey, and the 12 Minute Method. They're in all the podcast places. You can find the books on Amazon or if you're in the uk, they're in other places like Blackwells and Waterstones websites, those kind of places. And like I'm on all this, not all the social media. I'm on a few of the social media. Um, but the one that I go on and use a bit more actively, um, is LinkedIn. So if people wanna, because, because of the blog basically, cuz that's where it was. So if people wanna find me on there and add me, that's great. Just let me know that you heard about me here because sometimes I get a lot of people adding me who wanna like sell me stuff, so I sometimes ignore them. Um, but that means I probably sometimes ignore nice people because they haven't said, I heard you on Mark's show and I wanted to connect. So always love to hear from people who have heard things.
And especially for me, if, if this has in some way inspired you to do a thing that you've been meaning to do for a long time. Cuz when I slowed down and thought about what real success is for me in this work, it's actually just helping people do those things. Cuz it, it makes such a difference. I know whatever difference it makes internally to people and usually the things that people make, make a difference to other people too.
My huge things to Robbie swale, you can check out all of his books along with links to everything we talked about at earbrainheart.com. If you enjoyed this chat, please share it with someone who needs to hear it. Just point them to earbrainheart.com, or show them how to follow the podcast on their phone. Take care of yourself, and I'll be back with you again very soon.
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Ear Brain Heart

A discussion with creative, purpose-led entrepreneurs and change-makers using their powers of persuasion for good. Through weekly discussions, I explore how we can combine creativity and compassion in our marketing.

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