don’t work nervously

Posted on October 25th, 2012

I am a little obsessed by the work habits of writers. And I love Henry Miller. And I’m very grateful for these little work mantras Miller wrote for himself.

Mostly because it’s a reminder that everyone struggles to find the right mood, pace and approach to work, and the right way to balance work with our values and sense of well-being.

I work nervously, often. The nervousness stems from a fear I’m going too slow and that I have too much to do. But let’s break this down.

Too slow? For who? If it’s important stuff, then it’s worth doing mindfully. I have recently trained myself to stand back daily from my nervousness and remind myself that I do what I do because I chose it and it’s meaningful. So enjoy it, Sarah! Enjoy the slowness! Choose to enjoy it!!

Having too much to do? Again, it’s a choice of approach. I remind myself – again, daily – to choose to see that I have enough time. Sheer years on this planet tells me that everything gets done and that whether I have two hours or ten hours to do it, it will get done.

My work mantra just now is this: I refuse to get worked up. I repeat it daily. I simply refuse. It’s a choice in approach.

Do you have a work mantra?

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  • Katrin Helmreich

    I like the recently deceased Helen Gurley Brown’s mantra: ‘Get up and do it if it needs to be done, even if you hate it!’


  • Dianne

    I too love Henry Miller. My work mantra is a slight adaption of Florence Scovel Shinn’s – “I have a wonderful business in a wonderful way. I give wonderful service for wonderful pay” I have added “and I attract wonderful clients in a wonderful way” …


    Claudia Reply:

    Dianne loved it, think I will adapt and adopt myself! thanks!

    Sarah, so right!


  • I love this! I don’t really have a work mantra, but I need one 🙂 I like Dianne’s one above. Thanks ladies!


  • I struggle with this too, espeically at this time of the year. I’m responsible for 2 businesses and a team of staff, and when there’s too much to do, I either do everything badly or I have to choose 1 thing, do it well, and push the rest to the back of my mind.

    I think I need to find me a mantra. I ordered a poster from Zen Pencils the other day. It says “If you CAN solve your problem, then what is the NEED of worrying? If you CANNOT solve it, then what is the USE of worrying?”

    I might start from there and see how I go!


  • seeker

    what a wise man. he’s nailed it! i like no. 8 especially …

    many of us measure our self worth by how much we get accomplished each day. But I believe (and have to remind myself lots) that our self worth is not based on accomplishment but on our existence as a whole human being.

    it serves us to remember to try to find the upside to everything (life is a state of mind, right?!) – even our work, so it helps to do something we love/find the good in what we do … when we fear, we have moved out of the present moment …

    after all, who amongst us has the extra time to not live every moment fully?!

    i get it, and i need lots of reminding …. but just getting it is so liberating and comforting …


  • Steph

    Loving your blog so much lately, Sarah, and these comments by H Miller are great. I especially admire your recent posts about not wasting food. Great work! I have a similar mantra to yours, which I started saying to myself a few years back when I was having some issues with anxiety, which was basically “I refuse to let anxiety ruin the pleasure of my life.” It worked! By saying this to myself I was able to face the anxiety head on, accept it, and learn to sit with it until it dissipated. Gradually I experienced it less often, and now it is a bit player in my life. I recently gave a speech to a large and critical audience, and apart from minor jitters, I enjoyed doing it! Yippee! I completely agree that it’s so easy to let the things one does pass by without enjoyment, and it’s such a waste. I love number 8 on his list. 🙂


  • I love this so much. I work nervously too … a terrible feeling I get all of the time, that I’m not doing enough, that *I’m* not enough.

    I just lit all these candles and made beds and unpacked the dishwasher calmly, on purpose. If I operate with a sense of mindfulness, I travel better.



  • “One thing is Necessary”. That’s what Jesus told Martha when she was working her arse off. If I’m feeling overwhelmed I focus on getting the most important thing done that day, just the “one thing” not 101 things..I can handle that.


    Jo @ Shop Naturally Reply:

    That’s what I said 🙂 Sometimes I just have to put blinkers on and just doe ONE THING. Great to see I’m not alone.


    Vicki Reply:

    Let me know if you find a poster with that on it 😀


    Jo Roy Reply:

    You could create one!

  • Emma

    I love this post Sarah! I have recently started to discover the importance of mindfulness myself, where all too often we get caught up in how much needs to be done, and not enjoying the things that we are currently doing. It is an amazing sense of relief and enjoyment that comes with focusing on the moment, on the task at hand!
    Thank you!


  • Love this! I need to hang this!!


  • Here’s a link to the worry one.

    I have ordered a print, put you can at least pop it on your desktop to remind you. The Zen Pencils guy is an aussie and spoke at the Blogging Conference Sarah was at recently. His stuff is awesome!!


  • I also like this one on happiness.

    Happiness is like a butterfly. The more you chase it … the more it will elude you. But if you turn your attention to other things … it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.
    – Henry David Thoreau

    This one is beautifully illustrated. It’s well worth the look while we’re all being zen 🙂


  • Love love love this Sarah!

    Especially the point about not worrying about the books you want to write only the one you are writing. What great reminders.

    I’m trying a new mantra at the moment –

    Do what I can. Start where I’m able. Just take one small step. And release the need to have everything perfect.

    We will see how it goes, my tendency has always been to work furiously and with panic and anxiety, managing to suck the enjoyment out of even my favourite tasks by putting strict deadlines and rules around them and then adding 10 new projects into the mix! I think I might start refusing t get worked up as well 🙂


    seeker Reply:

    as a virgo i relate to this kat!! …

    and i agree with you – one small step …

    i often give this advice; both to myself & others i care about:

    take little steps in the direction of where you want to be.
    be kind and gentle to yourself.
    it is what it is … so respond as opposed to reacting.
    take a long breath out and think of the things for which you are grateful.
    notice what your mind is saying and then ask yourself – do you really agree with it?!!!
    stop, listen, question/notice.
    choose positive & nurturing thoughts/actions.
    soften your face & follow your heart.
    🙂 xo


  • Not a mantra but a daily reminder to be a gentle, nurturing boss to myself.


  • After reading Steven Pressfield’s ‘The War of Art’, my work mantra is ‘be professional’. It covers it for me. What would a professional do? They would damn well sit down at their desk until their allotted work was done. Boo-ya!!!

    Can highly recommend this book for any struggling creatives out there…


  • I just might have to pinch your work mantra, I love it!
    I get a lot of anxiety with my career, I think different nervousness to what you’re talking about, but I’m still often amazed at how much power we have over our own mood. No more nervousness. Calm, joy… I might exclude reckless though!


  • Amanda

    “There is nothing to fear but fear itself” – helped me with my first labour & I remind myself of it when faced with possible, though unlikely, stressful situations. Really, what is the absolute worst thing that could happen? If it is unlikely to result in death or severe harm, it’s not a valid fear.

    And when having a crappy day to remind myself “if this is as bad as it gets, it really isn’t that bad” – again to put it into context!


  • Do what you love…


  • Sarah, this is exactly why I LOVE your work. I needed to read this today. I am always working on this sense of nervousness and panic. I leave things until the last possible moment then speed work rather than actually taking the time to enjoy what I’m doing – and I do enjoy what I do. I don’t know why I do it, in my mind I have this fantastic idea of how I’m going to work through each project – one by one then it comes down to it and I just don’t do it.
    I also have a terrible habit of not doing things one at a time. Instead I try to do six different tasks at once then I end up achieving nothing.

    So Sarah you’ve inspired me. I’m going to finish a task that I need to deliver by the end of the day. Then I’m going to stop, get out the planner and organise myself and actually stick to the plan rather than continuing to do this headless chicken routine I’ve been working on for so long.


  • Anthony

    yes Henry was a good writer. but he forgot to mention that he took time for sex. He was famour for the quote about his relationship with Anis Nin in Paris. He famously called it the Fuck Feast.he still managed time to write too.


  • Kat

    Love this post, thanks Sarah.

    My work mantra is based on one of my favourite coaches – Artemis Limpert.

    Her company mission statement is:

    Success through ‘Living in the paradox’…

    Strong enough to be open

    Successful enough to fail

    Wise enough to say “I don’t know”

    Serious enough to laugh

    Knowledgeable enough to ask questions

    Controlled enough to be flexible

    Planned enough to be spontaneous

    Responsible enough to play

    Assured enough to be rejected

    Industrious enough to relax

    Leading enough to serve


  • Sarah – Thanks for sharing Henry Miller’s schedule. Love it!

    Just wondering though, what do you think about turning your mantra into a positive? Instead of saying, ‘I refuse to get worked up’, could you say ‘I work calmly and creatively’ or something else that resonates?


  • Nicole

    I have a crap job, I can do little to change it right now. Its getting me through a phase in life so I remind myself daily that I am lucky to have an income, a loving family and some semblance of health. The mantra that gets me through? “I’m not paid enough to care” I say it softly and clearly to myself when life gets tough. I also read the Desiderata as a sort of 5 minute reflection/ meditation when things are harder than normal.


  • Elly May

    I needed to read this read this post today. I just left my job as a full-time writer because there was so much emphasis put on the speed of my writing. My employer was always delighted with the quality of my work but it got to a point where I couldn’t even construct a sentence because I felt I was already working too slowly before I had even started! I used to get so much satisfaction out of getting paid to do what I love but writing quickly became something I wanted to avoid because of the nervousness and anxiety that became a major part of it. I now plan on working for myself and if it takes me all day to write a paragraph, good for me!


  • A lovely and timely post, once again Sarah! X


  • I don’t have my own mantra but just wanted to say a huge THANKS for the timliness of this post. As I work through at least 3 different projects, I am, more often than I would like, getting distracted and side tracked. Some of Henry Millers mantra’s / commandments are just what i needed.


    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    you’re welcome!


  • I wish I had read this yesterday. I had a typical day of giving myself a hard time because I hadn’t slept well and was finding it hard to focus or concentrate on one thing. On days like those my work mantra tends to be “I’m going to have some ‘off’ days so I may as well accept this one and work with it” I think of other activities that will suit me better on these days rather than trying to force out things.

    I guess working and productivity is all learning in itself. It’s nice to share and understand what others do so comments on this post were really nice to read.

    Also slower days make you feel the relative speed of others!


  • Me

    I took a new job 2 months ago… I didn’t really want it but because I had waited so long for an opportunity to get into the industry I’d been studying so hard for I felt like I should. Others said that I should. Funny thing is, my gut instinct was telling me no – I was sick with anxiety yet I ignored my body, rationalised it all and ended up in a job that is no good for my health. I now have terrible anxiety on a daily basis and had to go back on medication just to survive my workdays. On top of this I have a boss who only believes in “constructive criticism, i.e. negative feedback.
    I work 10 hour days with no lunch break for a boss who sees me as a servant. There are days I really wish I hadn’t left my old job. But it’s a lesson for me and I will appreciate the next role I have so much more.
    My favourite mantra is “this too shall pass” – enjoy the good times and take comfort knowing the bad won’t last.
    Ps. I’m chucking a sickie on Monday. Because my physical and mental health deserve it.


    Michelle Reply:

    oh gosh that sounds awful. Good on you for taking the sickie and hope you can extricate yourself from the job very soon.


  • Oh man, I needed to read this today. I’m in a thyroid fug, I worked double last week what I normally do and this week sees me do something I’ve never done before. I think I’ve moved beyond nervous.

    I have started adhering greatly to “I am enough” from the Brene Brown TedX presentations. But otherwise I try to remind myself “bird by bird” – a wonderful expression from author (and her book of the same name) Anne Lamott. Basically it means one thing at a time.


  • Thanks for sharing Sarah! Each of Henry Miller’s Commandments is so expansive, I can’t pick a favourite…for me, each Commandment goes beyond our mainstream understanding of what constitutes ‘work’ these days. I think that’s what I love about this list the most actually.

    That bigger picture idea of ‘work’ and the routines around I put around mine is in the front of my mind at the moment, so I REALLY appreciate your perfect, timeless reminder that whatever our schedule; it’s our choice. I choose to work in particular ways… I have power over that. Ultimately we all have control over our schedules. I can choose: my approach to my work schedule; my approach to life.

    Thanks again, and I hope you’re feeling comfort with your schedule today! x


  • Do Something Every Day.

    That’s it. If I keep it simple I’m more likely to succeed.


  • Thank you Sarah! Just what I need as I sit here trying to finish my final journalism assignment for the semester.

    Then I need to finish the reading for the semester that somehow got missed.
    Then I need to get back to my poor neglected blog.
    Then I need to think about that book I want to write.
    Then I need to do all the work/reading/actions from the business-y program I just paid a small fortune for.
    Then I need to start making money from that.

    Appreciating everyone else’s comments too – I get so much from them as well.


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  • Great post Sarah. One of my mantras is ‘whatever is on my desk make it my best’ this keeps me motivated particularly when I am working on something that feels tedious. A few years ago I was writing reviews that were beginning to feel tedious but I applied my mantra and when the editor saw my work she asked me to contribute to a weekly newspaper column. It paid off! The time thing is a tough one but when I fall into that trap I remind myself ‘everything is happening in perfect order’. I believe there is a grand plan bigger than us all, not just the one we imagine for ourselves its good to be open to the bigger picture.


  • ‘Work is play’


    ‘Remember, just ONE thing at a time’

    Great post and great comments. Thank you


  • Just to tell you that this is one of the best writings i have ever read.Thanks for this post.And best regards ..Big Bear