The Power of Incremental Progress
The Fearless Creative podcast. If you’d rather read instead of listen, I’ve included the abridged transcript below.
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Welcome, welcome, welcome to the show everybody. Today is Monday as I record this episode a little late. I had a pretty full weekend, so I did not get this episode recorded early as I usually do. So it’s possible you may be listening on the day this was recorded.
It is very hot in Colorado right now…We are seeing temperatures in the mid-90s…and as is typical along the Front Range, we do not have air conditioning. So the hot temperatures have been a really good reminder for me to slow down and try to do a little bit less…
If you know me, you know that doesn’t really work. But it does mean that instead of heating up the house with the oven on Friday, we went and had dinner at a cute little brewery that I had never been to. I’ve been trying to work with the season instead of fighting it, which means getting out to do what I need to do early, having a lethargic afternoon, and really appreciating the evenings when it’s cool.
I think as creative people, we all have to learn to surrender to some extent. As many of you know, creativity comes in ebbs and flows, and when we are not feeling particularly creative or we’re tired and worn down, it’s really important to allow yourself that time to recharge, relax, and rejuvenate.
On a more energetic note, I am very excited to announce that we have new listeners in Japan, France, and Lebanon! Now obviously I’m an American, and this just completely blows my mind that we already have listeners in 11 different countries.
If you are listening from outside the US, this might seem odd to you that my mind is blown…It may not be a big deal to you to be listening to a podcast hosted by an American living in the United States, but because the United States is such a big country, many of us living here (myself included) tend to fall into this trap of being very US-centric. And if we produce content that lives on the Internet, many of us mistakenly assume that our audience is exclusively American.
But now that more and more people across the globe are coming online, all of us — especially us creative entrepreneurs — have to start approaching our businesses with a global mindset.
With almost zero effort on my part, I sell e-books in Australia, Canada, the UK, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, Japan, and India. And those are just the marketplaces where Amazon distributes my books. Additionally, my blog Write With Tarah now has readers in Kenya, South Africa, Russia, Costa Rica, Poland, Belgium, Singapore, Romania, Sweden, Ecuador, Nigeria, Indonesia, Jordan, Croatia, Iraq, Hong Kong, and China.
China! Now, I was curious, so I also looked at the analytics for my fiction website, and I was shocked that I’ve had visitors from China there also. And too many visits to just be bots. I honestly thought my books would probably be banned in China, but apparently, they have stayed under the radar. That website is a lot older, and it has visitors from countries I’ve honestly never even heard of.
Why am I telling you this? Because I think to me it does a good job of illustrating the topic of today’s show. The topic is “The Power of Incremental Progress.”
Sometimes when I’m blogging or podcasting, it feels like I’m shouting into the void, so it’s really nice to see real tangible evidence that you all are out there listening to my voice.
It happens slowly, but it does happen eventually. This is the power of incremental progress.
And for creative entrepreneurs, this is a crucial lesson. It’s a lesson that I have to learn over and over and over again. And that is why I am making it today’s topic…Because sometimes I think I do the best job at speaking about the things that I am working on or struggling with in the moment.
But first, let’s get to today’s Discovery segment. This is the part of the show were I share something interesting or useful I discovered this week — usually a book, a podcast, or a TV show.
And this week, I really found myself enjoying an episode of From the Heart: Conversations with Yoga Girl, which is Rachel Brathen’s podcast. The episode is called “Be Yourself; The World Depends on it With LP.”
LP is a sing-songwriter who has written songs for stars from Cher to Rhianna. I’ll be honest: I had no idea who she was before I listened to this interview, but I found her so inspiring to hear because she is a person who has had several record deals — seven, I believe — and got screwed by a really major label. But when she was dropped from her big record label, she got picked up by a smaller one, and that incident actually allowed her to blow up in Greece, which has been instrumental to the success and fame she’s had more recently.
And one thing she said that really stuck with me is “I couldn’t do this if I was bitter.” She was saying that she couldn’t continue to make music and do what she does if she allowed herself to become bitter and jaded in an industry that regularly chews people up and spits them out like the music business.
And I thought that was really interesting and insightful because as a writer, it’s so easy to start to feel jaded and down on yourself when the market changes and you have to learn new ways to market your books.
Because at the end of the day, we’re all artists and we just want to make our art. But, of course, there is a business component to creativity — there always has been. And it’s really important not to allow ourselves to be corrupted by the business side of creativity. That is where the courage lies — the courage to show up and make our art in a way that is true to our souls. Even if that isn’t what’s most marketable.
Now let’s get into today’s topic: the power of incremental progress.
I wanted to talk about this today because, as I said, this lesson has been showing up a lot for me lately. And I know it’s important because it’s not just that I’ve had to relearn this lesson again and again in my business…This lesson is literally showing up in every aspect of my life right now.
In Zen Buddhism, they talk about the horse that just needs one quick flick of the whip to start moving and the horse that needs to be flogged half to death in order to move. I am the second kind of horse, in case you were wondering.
The lesson that life keeps flogging me with is that no matter what you are trying to accomplish, you can’t expect results overnight. Instead, you just have to keep plugging away at whatever you’re doing day after day, and eventually — eventually — you will start to see results.
There are so many Buddhist parables along this very topic. Probably because to reach enlightenment, a lot of traditions tell you that you have to keep chipping away at the surface of the human mind and the mind’s reactions to all that is external to get to the part of us all that is timeless and boundless and perfect.
But in a business sense, I have a really hard time appreciating incremental progress. Anytime I decide I want to do something, I want to do it RIGHT NOW. I want to get it done. And I want everyone to know about it and for it to be a huge hit and be fabulous.
But that’s not how things work. That’s not how any business works. And it’s certainly not how most online businesses work.
Most online businesses grow through the power of incremental progress. By showing up consistently and producing content and gathering followers who know, like, and trust you and who may eventually become your customers.
In the book business, this happens simultaneously faster and slower. The buyer’s journey happens more quickly because e-books are inexpensive and often bought on impulse, but the process of building a loyal following happens more slowly.
But, even though I know this intellectually, any time I decide to take something on, I want to just throw myself into it and have it work out immediately.
I think I decided that I wanted to have a podcast at the beginning of April maybe. I immediately starting thinking what the podcast could be about and how it could work with the nonfiction business I was wanting to develop. I started researching hosting platforms. I bought a mic. I started. And I launched by the middle of May.
This is how I do everything, guys.
Recently, I also decided that I wanted to develop an online course for authors called Author Business Bootcamp. I decided it was a great idea and I ran with it. And, to be honest, I think I underestimated the amount of work that was involved — not just with designing the course and creating the course materials and filming and editing, but the sheer amount of time it takes from a technological perspective to render video and upload video…It’s just been this elephant project that has taken a really long time to get a handle on.
This is what I’ve been working on nonstop for a couple of months now. I was supposed to be launching end of June or beginning of July, but for the last several weeks, getting everything finalized has really been an uphill battle.
And then, of course — simultaneously — my husband and I have been building this house on our property in the mountains. And I’ve spoken about the house a bit on the podcast, but in a nutshell, my husband is a carpenter. He flips houses — he’s very capable — and he’s been building the house almost entirely on his own.
Of course, whenever you decide you’re going to build a house in the mountains or renovate a house in the mountains (as we have in the past), you need to prepare yourself that it’s going to take a lot longer than you think. And I don’t mean this in the traditional construction sense where things always take longer than you think.
In the mountains, you have a lot of severe weather to deal with — a lot of snow, especially. And this year has been one of the wettest years Colorado has seen in…I don’t even know how long. It’s certainly been the wettest spring we’ve ever experienced living here. He has spent I don’t even know how many hundreds of hours shoveling snow, taking a squeegee to the floor, and towel-drying the plywood so that it doesn’t expand or start to fall apart.
So that whole process has been wearing — especially on him — because it’s just relentless. Day after day. He has been framing this house for what feels like forever. Every time I go up, I can see he’s made a lot of progress, but it’s just been moving really slowly because it’s just him.
But then, just these last couple weeks, things started happening. I went up there this past weekend, and he laid the last piece of plywood on the roof.
We decided to hire someone to do the actual roofing, and to get the roof on we had to get our plumbing done because the plumbing penetrations have to go through the roof. And to get the plumbing done, I had to know the layout of my kitchen. So I had to go to a cabinet place to get the kitchen design finalized, which was exciting. And now I’m about to go on an HGTV binge to watch old episodes of Fixer Upper.
And one thing that was really instrumental in us starting to get moving on the house beyond framing was something my husband said. He said, “You know what? It’s getting to the point where we really just have to invest some money to bring in help on the house.” And so he brought on the son of one of our neighbors up there to help him finish the framing. He asked me to find us a plumber and an electrician. And this really got the ball rolling.
So this brings me to the first tip I have to give if you feel like you are wading through mud and just not making any progress: Do something — make an investment — that is going to supercharge your progress by giving you an enormous burst of energy.
For my husband, that was bringing on an extra set of hands because having someone working with him has meant that he has to be really organized so he can always keep his worker busy. He gets a lot more done every single day. And having someone to work up there with him has just been a big morale boost.
For me and my business, this investment came in the form of time. Devoting time to something else that would allow me to get something done and feel really energized by that accomplishment.
As I said, I’ve been struggling with the course. I’ve had some technical difficulties with the video editing platform I’ve been using, which has slowed me down quite a bit. And it was just really demoralizing not to have the course finished by July 1 as I thought I would.
So last week, I took a few days away from the big mega course and I designed and filmed a short little mini-course with five videos that would be delivered to people’s inboxes over the course of five days. It’s a free course, and it was just such a huge feeling of accomplishment to actually feel like I could close the book on something.
So if you fancy yourself a writer and you’ve always wanted to write a book, you can go get your free mini-course taught by me. It’s called “Stop Procrastinating and Write the Damn Book.” It’s fabulous. I give away all my best tips to beat distraction and actually get your book done. It’s short. You can do it just five minutes a day over the course of five days.
So to me, writing a book is the ultimate demonstration of the power of incremental progress. When you write a book, you write maybe a few hundred words a day or a thousand words a day, and eventually, you have a complete book. It feels incredible once it’s done, but you have to love the process. If you can’t fall in love with the process, being a writer will not be fun for you.
Personally, I think that writing allows you to really appreciate the power of incremental progress because with writing, you can see yourself progressing in terms of word count or the phase of editing that you’re in, so that is really gratifying.
But sometimes, in life and in business, it feels like you take two steps forward and one step back. That’s how I’ve been feeling with the course and how I feel a lot of times in yoga. Because I’ll be really consistent for a few weeks and start to see that I’m able to get into deeper expressions of a posture…and then I’ll be really busy another week or I’ll do a lot of hiking that gets my hips really tight, and suddenly after a week of no yoga, I feel like I’m back to square one.
So with these types of things, I think it’s really important to keep a record of your progress if possible so that you can see that you ARE making progress even if it feels like you aren’t.
With the house, anytime I look back at old pictures, I can see how far we have come. With yoga, I know that when I started, I didn’t have the strength to do a headstand. Then I could do it, but only if I kicked up to the wall. And now I can do it without the wall. So even though the inversion I’m on is still a headstand rather than a forearm stand or something more advanced, I have a clear record of my progress.
This is why if you are working on a big creative project, I’d really encourage you to keep a log of what you’ve been working on. For writers, this is really straightforward. I encourage all my coaching clients to keep a writing log of their daily word count.
For visual artists, maybe you just record when you started on a piece and the different phases it’s gone through. Or even a journal. I find that even just being able to point to a date when I got the idea for something and see that not much time has really passed really helps me feel a sense of accomplishment.
You have to believe me when I say that if you just keep plugging away at whatever you’re doing and you’re consistent, you will start to see results. It just may happen more slowly than you would like.
The last thing I want to talk about is kind of my “in case of emergency” tip. This is something that helps me mentally when it feels like I am just working so hard and it still feels like I’m wading through mud…
One thing that is really gratifying that always helps me is to give myself an unrelated project I can do that will make me really happy that I can knock out in a day or less.
So if you like to garden, gardening is a really good outlet for creative frustration because you can go get some plants and some mulch…You can get really physical digging holes and planting your flowers and then at the end of the day, you have this little area that’s all beautified, and to me, that is just so satisfying.
I did that a couple weeks ago…I went up to our property and gathered a bunch of native plants to transplant to our house down in the city. I dug all these up in the afternoon, and they were in the ground by dinnertime.
A week ago, my sister-in-law and her family came to visit…And Ben’s sister Kate is so crafty. Crafty like a fox, she says, but crafty as in Pinterest crafty. And she lives in this beautiful old historic home and she’s always repainting things and refinishing furniture and doing all kinds of crafty things. I always admire from a distance because I just don’t have the patience for multi-day home improvement projects.
But this past weekend, I realized what I really wanted was a little side table for my back porch so I’d have a place to set my coffee when I went out there to sit in the mornings, so I went by the thrift store and rescued this little solid wood table that was just slightly beat up…I stripped it and spray-painted it a bright sunny yellow. And I set a little potted succulent arrangement on there, and it makes me so happy. It’s gonna sit out with my turquoise chairs near where I just did all that landscaping. It’s going to be glorious.
So if you’re feeling discouraged or worn down by the big things you’re trying to accomplish with your creative business, get yourself to a thrift store and Ace Hardware and just go to town on an old piece of furniture. It’s very cathartic and satisfying.
But remember: Whatever you’re doing, you are getting there. It just takes time and consistent effort.
Wherever you are, whatever you’re working on…I believe in you. Try to enjoy the journey, if you can. And if you see me, make sure you tell me that I’m making progress and that the house and the course will get done eventually. Because I need to hear it, too.
That’s it for this week. As always, if you enjoyed this episode, please take a moment to leave a rating and a review wherever you get your podcasts. This helps other creatives find the podcast and their home away from home on the Internet.
I’ll see you next time, and happy creating!
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Photo by Krzysztof Niewolny