Murder Your Darlings

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, writer and lecturer at Cambridge University on the subject of language and literature appears to have been the source of the aphorism, “ Murder your darlings.”

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”

Typically repeated by writing teachers to remind us to edit ruthlessly, Sir Arthur recognized the tendency of writers to fall in love with their writing and not see it clearly.

We all have enthusiasms, pet projects and dreams that we perennially hope to fold into one ideal career, work of art, or life.

The biggest obstacle to any goal is not time, money, talent or connections. The biggest obstacle is the other goals we have.

You can incorporate new habits into your life in 5 minute increments, but a goal means constraining and committing. Goals compete for attention, energy and mind management.

My clients often push back against constraint, but in the vast majority of cases it is the fastest way of achieving those long lingering projects and resolutions. It can feel a little like murdering your darlings, but if you haven’t been actively nurturing those darling goals, you’re already neglecting and starving them with inattention.

We think we just need a little more time, but what we really need to do is decide.

We want the success story to look like:
more money
better health
published bestseller
but Mark Manson* suggests we decide first what kind of pain we are willing to endure? Instead of thinking primarily of the rewards we want to enjoy, what costs are we willing to pay?

With a list of goals big and small, professional and personal, health and financial there is no way we can commit to the discomfort and challenge involved in achieving all or even some of them at once.

Choose one today- it really doesn’t matter which. Your brain will fight it, but cross the other darling goals right off your list and make the one goal your priority. You have just increased the likelihood of all those other goals one day coming into fruition simply by constraining your focus, your energy and your frustration tolerance.

Or you can keep those pale undernourished darlings languishing on your to-do list for another year or two or ten.

Coaching is the best way I know to get the support and focus needed to achieve goals with clear systems and powerful thought work. When we fall in love with our dreams, our to-do lists, and our vision boards we lose sight of what we are actually creating.

Constraint does not mean giving up on the other goals, it means giving them the respect they are due.


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