Jason Segal on Breaking Ambitious (but Destructive) Cycles


I am wrapping up one of the most ambitious twelve-month periods that I’ve ever experienced. Besides my job, which is both emotionally fulfilling and time filling, I’ve been working on a book (which I’ll discuss more in the next month or so), this blog, and a culture management tool. Include this with being an active dad and you can imagine the daily schedule I try to keep.

I heard an interview last week with Jason Segal on WTF Podcast with Marc Maron that really hit home. He was discussing his workload, balancing acting with writing scripts, and how he’s achieved his success. It turns out that, according to Jason, I’m on the tail end of a not-so-healthy cycle.

I was doing How I Met Your Mother and so, for nine year, I was filming a TV show during the year, writing the script that I would do that summer, and then filming the movie over the summer. And it was a real cycle where I don’t think I took much time to stop and think about what I wanted…I have this vestigial fear that it could all go away, ‘If I take a summer off will they forget me in the movie world?’ That impulse was still in me and so I think, and its my own doing, I think I got caught up in a cycle of ‘Okay, I found something that works, let’s just keep doing it.’

It is incredibly easy to get it all done through a merciless routine. More hours in the day can be created if sleep and relaxation take a backseat. And the longer you maintain this routine, the more it feels normal. The truth is that this is not sustainable. You may get more done now, but quality will slowly deteriorate as you burn yourself out.

We often feel that we have the self-control to stop ourselves before our ambitious nature gets the best of us, but it happens gradually without us noticing that it is taking hold. So before your routine becomes destructive, consider these tips from the Zen practices of Leo Babauta’s A Guide to Changing Self-Destructive Behaviors:

  • Feel the pain. Sometimes we can’t change until we’re nearing rock bottom. Therefore, allow yourself to feel the pain. Then assess it and determine whether you’re ready to improve your situation.
  • Turn towards the problem. To break a destructive cycle, you need to face it head on. Don’t deny it, minimize it, or distract yourself from it. Instead, analyze it, acknowledge it, and accept it.
  • Pick one small, distinct change. Once you’ve decided to make a change, don’t overwhelm yourself with lofty goals. Pick one, realistic thing you can do differently. Then another, and another.
  • Commit big time. Nothing changes with a commitment. You can make public proclamations and ask others to help you stay the course, but in the end, you have to decide that this is what you want.
  • Create the right positive and negative feedback. Create a feedback cycle that supports your change. When you do something “on plan,” reward yourself. When you don’t, what are the consequences? And, by the way, shame will not help; your consequences should hurt without hurting your confidence or self-esteem.

Let’s start playing the long game. Instead of focusing on today’s tasks, consider your end-goals. Once this is in place you can develop a strategy that is results-oriented and can be practically applied. We aren’t lowering expectations, just utilizing our tools in the most efficient and effective means possible. This will help avoid burnout, maximize peak performance, and maybe carve out some well-deserved pool time.

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