In Which John Cleese Saves the Day – Again.

It is snowing outside. Probably only for a few hours more, but it’s pretty as I sit here in the corner of my second-choice diner. I have been here a while, but it has begun as a day of interruptions. A tech support issue for a client. A snippet of copy that needed to be written for another. An appointment that needed to be changed suddenly. Another appointment missed.

None of them hard, but all of them interrupted the flow of my morning. It is 9:40 and I am just in a place to begin my morning routine: Devotions (done), and time writing (just beginning). The writing comes hard now. It’s amazing how we train our brains to work on schedules. My brain is trained to begin my day writing. It’s a habit built over years and years. Maybe fifteen or so. Yeah, I have a well-trained brain.

And when the flow of what the brain expects is jarred by interruptions, it’s hard to wrench it back into a new flow. Basic neuroscience. And I used to think I was just moody.

But it can be done. It’s just not easy. At least not for me. So I do what I am doing now. Write anyway. My brain, which has been jolted into work mode and is running hard and fast in that mode, is rebelling a bit.

That’s OK. I am used to an unruly brain. The diagnosis of depression all those years ago was the beginning of understanding that yes, my brain was unruly, that it would lie to me, but also the beginning of learning I could tame the beast. All I normally need is 20 minutes. I have John Cleese to thank.

Yep. John Cleese of Monty Python fame. He gave a talk on creativity to a group in Australia in, I think, the late eighties. It’s brilliant and worth looking up on You Tube. In it is talks about the greatest enemy for creativity – interruptions. He gives us what he calls the 20 minute rule.

When we are not feeling creative, Cleese says, keep at it for 20 minutes. No matter how much you are not feeling it. Force yourself to work at the creative work for 20 minutes. Plow through, even if everything you create in those 20 minutes is crap.

Why 20 minutes? Neuroscience! Our brain resists us doing things it does not feel like doing. Because our brain is basically lazy. It is counting on us giving up because that is the natural inclination. But, when we don’t give up, the brain gives up and decides it’s easier to help than to fight us, and it kicks in and begins to make it easier for us.

Cleese is talking about creativity, but early on, I wondered if the same principle might work on other things as well. Doing work I don’t want to do. Puzzling out hard things. Maybe even fighting depression. And guess what? Mostly, it works!

I teach this rule in my creativity classes (I have a new one coming up soon), and with my coaching clients. It’s powerful, and from time to time, I have to use it on myself. Like today.

And here I am, twenty minutes in. Feeling better. I think I will go write some poetry.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

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