Three principles for greater writing productivity and satisfaction
For our writing productivity and fulfillment, of course we need time management, self-discipline, and all the pomodoros (Cirillo, 2018) we can muster. Sometimes, though, as ardently as we apply these, they don’t seem to be enough. I’ve found three additional perspectives very helpful. These are “laws” that are described simply and eloquently by author, speaker, and spiritual and practical teacher Deepak Chopra (1994) in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success.
The Law of Least Effort
You read it right. After all the blogs, posts, talks, and scheduling about deciding, committing, and buckling down, how can we be helped by a so-called Law of Least Effort?
The Law of Least Effort isn’t quite what the name implies. It doesn’t mean we loll on the couch with our earphones plugged in and wish our dissertation, article, or textbook into existence. Rather, this law “is based on the fact that nature’s intelligence functions with effortless ease. . . . If you observe nature at work, you will see that least effort is expended. Grass doesn’t try to grow, it just grows” (Chopra, 1994, p. 53). The idea is not to strive and fight but recognize and yield to what is before us and inside us.
Emmet Fox (1992), author, preacher, and spiritual teacher, describes it like this: “In all mental working, effort defeats itself. . . . When you try to force things mentally, when you try to hurry mentally,” and we might add, when you try at all, “you simply stop your creative power” (p. 24).
How to activate this law? Quiet down, ask inside, listen, and trust you will be led to the right materials, research database, colleague, coauthor, advisor, chair. Having set your goals and targets, trust that the universe (and your own inner consciousness) cooperates and collaborates with you.
The Law of Least Effort has three important aspects. The first is acceptance—accept this moment as it is rather than curse it because it isn’t what you think it should be. You can’t change it if you don’t accept it first. You can still wish for it to be different (“My article is finished.”), keep the goal of completion in front of you (“My article is finished.”), and take the necessary steps to finish your article.
But to rage against this moment when you can’t work on your draft because you’re watching the kids or your department chair loaded you down with reports for the weekend, or you feel defeated, just wastes energy you could be using later to research obscure articles on your topic. Instead, make a plan for after the babysitting. Talk to your chair about rescheduling the reports or parceling them out. Jump up and down for ten seconds to get yourself going.
The second aspect is responsibility. This means that you don’t blame anyone or anything else for where you are, “including yourself,” as Chopra (1994, p. 59) reassuringly says. Now you can respond creatively to the situation. Instead of blaming your mismanaged time, kids, chair, job, lack of sleep for keeping you from your work, open your mind to creative response. The best response is one you may have heard before in different ways from different teachers and cultures. Chopra reiterates: Every problem contains the seed of an opportunity for transformation into something we desire.
The third aspect is defenselessness. Granted, this is a hard one. Who doesn’t want to be right? This aspect may seem contradictory as well to the goals of scholarship. In defenselessness, Chopra (1994) notes, you relinquish “the need to convince or persuade others of your point of view” (p. 60). The yielding releases or redirects energy from such attempts to other more worthwhile pursuits, like figuring out how to test your hypotheses. In defense of scholarship, we can see defenselessness as not engaging in bombastic and indignant rhetoric but pointing out the gaps in previous research on your topic, recapping what’s been studied, and showing how you’re filling those gaps. All calmly.
You may bristle at defenselessness (“I’m no doormat.”), but if you entertain the idea, you won’t be tempted into arguments. You’ll develop openness to various points of view and save time by avoiding incensed rejoinders and self-defense. Besides, isn’t receptivity what the scholarly stance cultivates?
The Law of Intention and Desire
The second law, the Law of Intention and Desire, is grounded in quantum theory. The universe is composed of energy and information, from the largest galaxy to the smallest microorganism. Through our human nervous systems, we can become aware of the energy and information of our bodies and beyond. As we do, with our attention and intention we can consciously change the energy and information that come to us.
“Reality” changes with the observer. Hawkins (2012) writes in Power vs. Force, “The subjective and objective are, in fact, one and the same” (p. 44).
These assertions form the basis of spiritual healing, creative works of all kinds, and success in every project. “Whatever you put your attention on will grow stronger in your life” (Chopra, 1994, p. 70). Following from attention, our (good) intention will “bring about the outcome intended” (p. 70).
The principle of intention is not original with Chopra. In an often-quoted passage from his play Faust, the German poet-novelist-philosopher Goethe (2000 edition) gives forceful instructions for using the Law of Intention and Desire:
What you can do, or dream you can, begin it!
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
Only engage, and then the mind grows heated.
BEGIN, and then the work will be completed. (p. 30, emphasis in the original)
You can apply the law of intention and desire to your work. Focus on the work, ask yourself about it, and, as I’ve said, listen for answers. As you do, you will witness, probably with astonishment, the appearance of phrases, understanding, information, events, databases, and that expert statistician you sorely need.
The Law of Detachment
The Law of Detachment is inextricably connected to the Law of Intention and Desire, although the connection may seem illogical. The Law of Detachment is not easy, especially if you’ve grown up, as most of us have, in the acquisitive, grasping, and striving Western culture. This law tells us that to acquire anything, we must give up our attachment to it. Chopra (1994) clarifies that we don’t have to give up our intention, desire, and goals but rather our attachment to the results.
This mindset is likened to practicing yoga: “Let go of your attachment to achieving a ‘perfect’ posture and instead have the intention for your practice to deepen your awareness . . . . It may seem paradoxical, but by relinquishing your attachment to an idealized pose, your body will naturally release its resistance and become more flexible” (Chopra Center, 2018, para. 8). For “posture” and “pose,” substitute “dissertation,” “article,” or “textbook”; you’ll begin to experience a broader outlook, sharper insights, and probably a strange sense of peace.
Attachment is based on fear and worry that we won’t, can’t, even shouldn’t have something. Attachment is based too on our assumption that more, bigger, and grander will make us feel more important and superior. Then, we fondly believe, we’ll command respect. When we renounce our allegiance to such negatives, we’re declaring that we trust ourselves and the universe to supply what we need.
For example, when you no longer care about recognition first (even if you have to pretend) but immerse yourself in the work, then acknowledgment or fame comes (eventually). When you no longer crave your mother’s approval and stop trying everything get it, she bursts out with admiration for you and your accomplishments. When you stop yearning for the university’s faculty award for the Most Abstruse Article, you give the needed attention to your article and your daily classroom and committee duties and may even be pleasantly surprised by the announcement that you’ve won.
With your awareness on the work itself, you’re enacting your intention to make it the best you can. You’re staying open to the intellectual and visceral signals that tell you to keep improving and refining. Right phrases emerge, solutions arise, your arguments flow.
These “laws” may seem difficult to take in. Sneak up on them, though, and suspend your logic. They can help you stick with all your projects, academic and otherwise. You’ll enjoy them more, feel easier, and complete them with greater satisfaction.
Chopra, D. (1994). The seven spiritual laws of success. New World Library.
Chopra Center (2018). Yoga and the Law of Detachment. Retrieved from https://chopra.com/articles/yoga-and-the-law-of-detachment
Cirillo, F. (2018). The Pomodoro Technique. Currency/Crown. See also website.
Fox, E. (1992). Around the year with Emmet Fox: A book of daily readings (2nd ed.).
HarperSanFrancisco. Originally published 1958.
Goethe, J. W. (2000). Faust: A tragedy. Norton. Originally published early nineteenth century.
Hawkins, D. R. (2012). Power vs. force: The hidden determinants of human behavior. Hay House. Originally published 1995.
Adapted from Noelle Sterne, Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015).
© 2023 Noelle Sterne
Dissertation coach, nurturer, bolsterer, handholder, and editor; scholarly and mainstream writing consultant; author of writing craft, spiritual, and academic articles; and spiritual and motivational counselor, Noelle Sterne has published over 700 pieces in print and online venues, including Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Graduate Schools Magazine, GradShare, InnerSelf, Inspire Me Today, Transformation Magazine, Unity Magazine, Women in Higher Education, Women on Writing, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle has for 30 years helped doctoral candidates wrestle their dissertations to completion (finally). Based on her practice, her Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, September 2015) addresses students’ often overlooked or ignored but crucial nonacademic difficulties that can seriously prolong their agony. See the PowerPoint teaser here. In Noelle`s Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she draws examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets and reach lifelong yearnings. Following one of her own, she is currently working on her third novel. Visit Noelle at www.trustyourlifenow.com