Be Strict about Showing Up. Be Lenient about the Results.

George Kao
6 min readFeb 12, 2018

A client was wondering how I am able to stick to a regimented schedule, yet remain calm and joyful as I work. Even with a full day of appointments and other work — whenever I meet with clients, they don’t feel like I’m in a hurry. I can focus on being my creative self with them.

Every workday, I stick to a schedule, getting a lot done in an easeful manner, without undue stress or strain.

It’s taken a lot of practice to get here. Here’s the key philosophy:

I’m strict about showing up, lenient about results, and gentle to bring myself back to focus again and again.

This is opposite of what many people do.

People who are heart-centered givers (many who are reading this right now) tend to be lenient about showing up on time for their own work, yet they are so strict with themselves about the results (perfectionism and self-doubt) and whenever they realize they’ve gotten distracted, they tend to engage in some self-blame.

If that describes you, it’s no surprise that you procrastinate — you don’t want to feel the pain of self-doubt and self-judgment. You’re treating yourself harshly. There’s the strict judge in your mind about the results. You are reluctant to show up because you’re afraid of self-punishment.

I don’t blame you at all.

You weren’t raised with a philosophy of joyful productivity.

I wasn’t either. My early education was in a strict country (Taiwan) that physically punished us for not getting top grades. It wasn’t just about showing up, it was about the perfection of the results.

It has taken years of experimentation and reframing to come to the understanding that we only need to be strict about showing up, yet lenient with results, and gentle about re-focusing.

Here’s an example:

I didn’t feel like making this video. I was visiting my parents for the weekend. I wasn’t in a place I was comfortable making videos, and wondered what people in the park would think. I wasn’t feeling inspired.

But I showed up anyway to do it.

I just started recording, and allowed myself to speak the main points I had planned. (A few days earlier, I had been strict about showing up to outline my content.)

I didn’t worry about the result of the video. Sure, I did 2–3 takes, but that’s normal. It took me 15 minutes to make this 5-minute video. I couldn’t spend more time on it, because I had to move onto my next video. (Back then, I was making 3 videos each Friday afternoon, to publish the coming week.)

This is an example of being strict with my time, but very lenient on what happens during that time — as long as I’m doing what I planned. If I get distracted temporarily, I gently bring myself back to the task at hand.

It’s like in meditation or prayer: when your mind wanders, there’s no need for self-blame. Just gently bring your mind back to your meditation or prayer.

The key: no matter how I’m feeling, I show up.

Here’s a secret — I never feel like making my weekly videos. And I never feel like writing my blog posts. Why? Because of creative discomfort: the potential anxiety or fear of not knowing what to say, or of saying the wrong things, or of being judged by others (and by myself).

But I’ve learned that if I show up anyway, I will always eventually find a flow after the initial discomfort. I just need to be strict about showing up and starting and seeing what happens with continued action.

Skill and results will naturally grow over time.

If you are strict with staying on task —if you prioritize focus — you will, over time, naturally increase your skills and inevitably improve your results. Don’t force yourself to have “good results” during any specific work period. Look at “results” from a long-term perspective: the gradual process of improvement.

Just show up and do the work and stay on task, gently bringing yourself back again and again into focus.

I’m lenient with my results in that I don’t worry about the quality of what is produced during that hour, as long as I’m doing the work I planned. It might end up as a crappy video, or a poorly-written blog post, or studying a subject without understanding it. Those are self-judgments, which are usually much harsher than how most others will judge us.

I avoid the self-judgment completely. What matters is that I keep producing. With the consistent practice of work, I will naturally increase my skill, and my work results will inevitably improve with time.

How does one become free of self-judgment?

There are various modalities for this. If you reflect on what has worked for you in the past, you might have some process of becoming internally free. Use whatever method works for you.

What works for me is the energy reboot:

Basically, I begin the work period by gently reminding myself of what I believe to be true about Life: that we are all eternally secure in an inevitable path towards complete Goodness. We are lovingly taken care of, in deeper and grander ways than we can imagine.

I don’t have a trust fund, but I feel secure because of an inner spiritual resource that is inexhaustible. I’m so grateful that I can tap into it anytime.

It’s our higher work to keep tapping into our inner resource, so that we can do our daily work in a state of gentle focus — being reliable to show up on time, not only for others, but for ourselves too.

Be strict about taking breaks, too.

I’m strict about breaks, even when I don’t feel like it.

This is opposite of what many people do: they only take a break after they’ve exhausted themselves. So many of us just work in one position (sitting down) for long periods of time.

I believe in frequent creative rest.

If we take breaks and renew ourselves before we get tired, we will tend to enjoy our work more and find more creativity because when you move the body, you move the brain.

What I usually do is set a pomodoro timer — working for 26 minutes, and resting for 4minutes.

On a regular basis (e.g. every 25–50 minutes) get up! Move around. You’ll find new ideas coming to you with less mental effort.

If you haven’t been producing as much work as you’d like to, or if you’re not working joyfully, then I recommend that you give this philosophy a try.

Be strict with showing up on time for your own work, no matter what.

No matter how you feel, just get started.

Be lenient (not self-judging) about the results of your work, knowing that it’ll get better over time.

Be “gently strict” about the whole process, continuing to bring your attention back to the planned work.

Be strict also about taking breaks!

Since this blog post was published, I’ve received some comments that you might find encouraging too:

“I was struggling to complete the course. After discovering this philosophy, I decided to be strict about showing up to study every morning, even if it was for just 15 minutes, and lenient with understanding and completion.When I felt like blowing off the studying and getting straight to work, I would repeat the mantra “strict about showing up-lenient with the results.” As progress occurred, it inspired me to keep going, and here I am three weeks later with this course completed and under my belt! I am feeling such a sense of relief and accomplishment.” — Joanne Diepenheim from this comment.

“Gentle persistence. It leaves less space for resistance. And allows creative flow.”
— Arlene O’Reilly from this comment.

I hope you will also try out this philosophy, and let me know how it goes for you!

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George Kao

Authentic Business Coach & Author of 4 Books including "Authentic Content Marketing" and "Joyful Productivity"