Lesley Garner
Lesley Garner
Who Am I? Journalism
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Life Lessons
Everything I've ever done
that Worked
- Introduction
- Reviews
- Extracts
Everything I've ever
Learned about Love
Everything I've ever
Learned about Change
The Times of Our Lives

Everything I've Ever Done that worked

The Magic of 20 Minutes

When people learn that I’m writing a book about everything I’ve ever
done that worked they are puzzled and polite. I try to explain that it’s not about
how to unblock the sink, more about how to unblock themselves. If you were
really stuck in a place you didn’t like – a bad relationship, an unfulfilling job, a
work crisis, a creative impasse, an emotional loop – and something in this book
got you unstuck and flowing, I would call that a result.

When people hear this, they go a bit quiet. Then they might say, ‘Have you
got anything about being blocked?’ Or, ‘Have you got anything to help creativity?’
Or, ‘My biggest problem is focus.’ Or, ‘I’m so overloaded, I could cry at any
minute.’ To all of them I would say, ‘Yes, I know a trick or two that can help. Try
writing a letter to God, try the Emotional Freedom Technique, try expressing
gratitude, even when you’re feeling overwhelmed by fear. Try writing it down.
Above all, try pulling focus. Get very, very small. Get as small as 20 minutes.’

When I feel stuck or unfocused or miserable, everything feels huge and
insurmountable. The problem I’m blocked on seems overwhelming and too big
to tackle. And what this makes me feel is that I can’t, and don’t want to do it at
all. My resistance is huge so I’ll put it off till tomorrow, or some time when I feel
like it. That’s what ‘procrastination’ means, by the way. Pro. Cras. For Tomorrow.
And we all know when tomorrow comes – never. Which is why the problem
doesn’t get solved, the focus doesn’t get pulled, the great creative breakthrough
doesn’t happen, ever.

What works is to do the smallest possible thing you can contemplate
doing. Can you sit down and write a symphony? No. Can you write a movement?
No. Could you write a few bars, 20 minutes’ worth? Could you sit at your piano
or your music paper for 20 minutes, undistracted by fear, self-criticism, other
tasks? It’s only 20 minutes. Yes, you could do that. And having done that you
might find you could manage five minutes more. And so on.

Never underestimate the power of inertia. It takes far more energy and
fuel for a plane to take off than it does to cruise. Cruising is the easy bit. That’s
why the kind of people who finish projects have many ways to get themselves
onto the runway and taxiing off. Some writers finish work in the middle of a
sentence so that they can start again the next morning. Some begin by writing
their own name over and over until their hand and brain start to write something
more interesting.

Above all, you have to stay where you are. Artists go into their studios and stay there, pottering, going through the motions, until something clicks in
and ideas begin to work. It might take all day for an original idea to happen, but
the action of turning up in the studio or at the desk and staying there lets your
unconscious know that you’re serious. It’s like unblocking a sink, after all.
Nothing happens and nothing happens, but you keep trying and then, with a
glug and a burp, things start moving. And it’s the small things, the increments
of 20 minutes, that can bring the shift.

Journalism taught me that the breakthrough often comes with the one
extra phone call you don’t feel like making. You’re getting nowhere and you
want to give up and then the last question in the interview gives you the extra
insight, the one great quote you’ve been waiting for. Art training taught me that
the creative solution or original idea comes when you’re tired and working, not
when you are planning a project from the outside. Somehow, if you stick with
the work, you reach a point where your controlling mind let’s go and a fresh
connection sparks. It often happens when I say to myself, ‘I’ll just do another
20 minutes.’

Whatever it is, you have to be there, with your attention focused. Even,
let’s say, if you’re in the biggest emotional mess and you don’t know where to turn or how to think, allow yourself to really feel, really express, sob, howl, rage
for 20 minutes and you may find that 20 minutes will take you through to a
temporary calm, a small clearing where you can begin to think straight. And
after that, another 5, another 20...

It’s about leverage. Archimedes said that if he had a place to stand he
could move the world. In a tumultuous, frustrating, intransigent world, 20 minutes
is our place to stand.

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