The Difference Between Professionals and Amateurs

I’ve started to notice (partially because of my own failures), that there is one skill that is so valuable that it will make you a standout in any area of life, no matter what kind of competition you face.

What is this skill and how can you develop it? Let’s talk about that now.

Every Day at 8am

Last summer, I was speaking with Todd Henry. Todd is a successful author and does a great job of putting out valuable work on a consistent basis.

I, on the other hand, do a remarkable job of putting out questionable work on an inconsistent basis. I started to explain this to Todd…

“Todd, what do you think about writing only when you feel motivated? I feel like I always do my best work when I get a spark of creativity or inspiration, but that only happens every now and then. I’m pretty much only writing when I feel like it, which means I’m inconsistent. But if I write all the time, then I’m not creating my best work.”

“That’s cool,” Todd replied. “I only write when I’m motivated too. I just happened to be motivated every day at 8am.”

The Difference Between Professionals and Amateurs

It doesn’t matter what you are trying to become better at, if you only do the work when you’re motivated, then you’ll never be consistent enough to become a professional.

The ability to show up everyday, stick to the schedule, and do the work — especially when you don’t feel like it — is so valuable that it is literally all you need to become better 99% of the time.

I’ve seen this in my own experiences…

When I don’t miss workouts, I get in the best shape of my life. When I write every week, I become a better writer. When I travel and take my camera out every day, I take better photos.

It’s simple and powerful. But why is it so difficult?

The Pain of Being A Pro

Approaching your goals — whatever they are — with the attitude of a professional isn’t easy. In fact, being a pro is painful.

The simple fact of the matter is that most of the time we are inconsistent. We have goals that we would like to achieve and dreams that we would like to fulfill, but we only work towards them occasionally; when we feel inspired or motivated or when life allows us to do so. It’s just easier that way.

I can guarantee that if you set a schedule for any task and start sticking to it, there will be days when you feel like quitting. When you start a business, there will be days when you don’t feel like showing up. When you’re at the gym, there will be sets that you don’t feel like finishing. When it’s time to write, there will be reports that you don’t feel like typing. But stepping up when it’s annoying or painful or draining to do so, that’s what makes you a pro.

Professionals stick to the schedule, amateurs let life get in the way. Professionals know what is important to them and work towards it with purpose, amateurs get pulled off course by the urgencies of life.

You’ll Never Regret Starting Important Work

Some people might think I’m promoting the benefits of being a workaholic. “Professionals work harder than everyone else and that’s why they’re great.” Actually, that’s not it at all.

Being a pro is about having the discipline to commit to what is important to you instead of merely saying something is important to you. It’s about starting when you feel like stopping, not because you want to work more, but because your goal is important enough to you that you don’t simply work on it when it’s convenient. Becoming a pro is about making your priorities a reality.

There have been a lot of sets that I haven’t felt like finishing, but I’ve never regretted doing the workout. There have been a lot of articles I haven’t felt like writing, but I’ve never regretted publishing on schedule. There have been a lot of days I’ve felt like relaxing, but I’ve never regretted showing up and working on something that is important to me.

Becoming a pro doesn’t mean you’re a workaholic. It means that you’re good at making time for what matters to you — especially when you don’t feel like it — instead of playing the role of the victim and letting life happen to you.

How to Become a Pro

Going about your work like a pro isn’t easy, but it’s also not as complicated or difficult as you might think. There are three steps.

1. Decide what you want to be good at.

Purpose is everything. If you know what you want, then getting it is much easier. This sounds simple, but in my experience even people who are smart, creative, and talented rarely know exactly what they are working for and why.

2. Set a schedule for your actions.

Once you know what you want, set a schedule for actually doing it.

Note: Don’t make the same mistake I have made, which is setting a schedule based on results. Don’t map out how much weight you want to lose each week or how much money you want to make. “Lose 5 pounds” is not an action you can perform. “Do three sets of squats” is an action you can perform.

You want to set a schedule based on actions you can do, not results that you want.

3. Stick to your schedule for one week.

Stop thinking about how hard it will be to follow a schedule for a month or a year. Just follow it for this week. For the next 7 days, don’t let distractions get in the way.

Setting a schedule doesn’t make you a professional, following it does. Don’t be a writer, be writing. Don’t be a lifter, be lifting. For one week, do the things you want to do without letting life get in the way. Next week, start again.

What This Looks Like in the Real World

Here are two examples of how I’m trying to go about my day as a professional right now. Feel free to try either of these strategies if you’re looking to become better at working like a pro.

Pushups — I’m currently working towards doing 100 strict pushups in a row. When I started in August, I could only do 36 in a row.

My schedule is to do pushups every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. And, except for a short span while I was traveling in Russia and Turkey, I haven’t missed a workout in five months. (If you’re interested, here’s a full spreadsheet of all my pushup workouts thus far.)

Writing — As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I have struggled with keeping a consistent writing schedule in the past. But now I’ve got one that is working and I plan on sticking to it.

The schedule is simple: publish one new article every Monday and Thursday on this site. I have followed that schedule for 8 weeks now. It’s just a start, but I’m working on becoming a pro.

You Are Not Alone

Everyone’s journey is their own, but you don’t have to face the pain of becoming a pro all by yourself.

Leave a comment below and tell me…

What areas of life do you want to be a professional in? What’s important to you?

This website is the home to a small community of committed people who are looking to become stronger and healthier, more creative and more skilled, and better friends and family members. We’re all looking to improve and I’d love to help you however I can.

And if I can’t do much, then perhaps another member of our community can.


  1. Great article James and stay the course on your pushups workout! There are a lot of groups in the month of January doing pushups to raise money for Children’s Cancer Research. Just search online and I imagine you will find a group you are a part of getting involved. Could be a good challenges The Art of Becoming Better to take on!

    James, how can we get in touch with other members of this community? Is the comment forum the best place to do this?

    Thanks and Happy New Year!


    • My man — thanks for reading.

      I’ll have to check out the pushup challenges.

      As for getting in touch with others — the comments are the best place for now, but I’ll be adding a forum in the future. Stay tuned.

    • Thanks I’m going to use this method to add weights to my work out. I need to change my method though I already have a time commitment. I to am working on building a professional mentality to my online sales and I think I finally have a system that is working thanks for your input. Della

    • I want to be an illustrator! It’s very painful to stick to a schedule, but it’s gotta happen. Thanks for the kick in the pants!

  2. James,

    Thank you very much for this wonderful post!

    I also tend to work on things inconsistently, when I have that moment of spark.

    One thing I’d like to become good at is playing the guitar! So far, I play individual notes and I don’t know all of the different chords, etc. I love listening to acoustic music, so I’d love to be the one playing it instead of just listening. When I see or listen to people who play it so proficiently, I think to myself, “I could never play like them!” But with practice and patience, it’s still possible as long as I play and work at it consistently. Right now, I’m going to focus on playing the guitar everyday this week. And do the same next week, and so on.

    Anyway, I just wanted to share my goal and thank you for this post (and many other previous posts!)!!


    • Lisa — first, thanks for reading. It’s great to have you as part of the community.

      Second, good luck with the guitar playing. Make sure to stop back and let us know how things are going (good or bad). I’m looking forward to hearing about your progress and I’m happy to help however I can.


    • Lisa,

      I’d just like to offer my 2 cents on your desire to become a better guitar player. As a beginner (I’ve been playing a little over 10 years) I found my best progress happened when I set aside 20-30 minutes of actual practice time. By that I mean taking a scale or a chord or a chord progression or a theoretic concept (whatever it is you are working on) and working on that and only that without distraction. After your practice time you can go noodle around and play songs! But I found that focusing on one thing at a time can lead to much greater results.

      • Hi James and Aaron,

        Thank you both for your encouragement! I will definitely keep you posted on my progress.

        Aaron, I appreciate your advice. It sounds like your method would greatly help, since I just tend to pluck individual notes. Playing this instrument is not easy, but I will keep at it!

        Thanks again. It’s great to be involved in a community like this :)


    • Hi Lisa,

      I recently returned to the guitar after many years away, so it’s like I’m beginning again, too. Aaron’s advice is excellent, by the way.

      Beyond setting aside time each day to work on a specific skill, I’ve found it very helpful to write out a diagram of the guitar fretboard with all the notes on it. It helps me to visualize where I want to go next when I’m playing patterns and individual notes, and it is the basis of learning how chords are created from the individual notes.

      Whether you move on to learn any music theory or not, knowing the notes each string and fret of your guitar make, and where they are, is invaluable knowledge to have.

      Best of luck with your playing!

    • Awesome — keep the streak alive, my man!

      And thanks for reading. I’m glad to have you be part of the community here, Tal.

  3. Whats going on boss!!! This is a great article that I can resonate with 100%. I have no problem doing what I’m supposed to at my primary business but I’m having a tough time sticking to a content schedule for my website. I get side tracked with Twitter, or the 30,000 view of the strategies that I keep missing the mark with the content. It’s driving me mad. For Q1, I just need to focus on getting 2 posts out a week. What do you say?

    • Yeah, sticking to a consistent schedule is key. Two times a week is good, but once per week is just fine as well. Producing the best content you can (but forcing yourself to do so on a consistent basis) is the key.

      Keep at it and let me know if you have any questions. I’m happy to help.

  4. Great article. If you have not already, check out “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield. It will be right up your alley.

    • Thanks for the tip, Michelle. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my list.

      p.s. Thanks for reading. Feel free to drop a line here anytime. :)

  5. Thanks for a wonderful post. This is exactly what I needed today.

    I am going to stop simply “being a photographer” and go about the work of crafting more creative images…without letting life get in the way.”

    Everyday this week, I will capture a creative image.

    • Glad to hear it, Kenneth! And feel free to stop back and share your images. I’d love to see what you created this week!

  6. It is SO refreshing to read such wonderful wisdom from someone who actually admits that they are living and working with the same hurdles as the rest of us. You did not come out of the gate saying that you have the “Quick way” or the “secret to success”. Thanks for your honesty and humbleness. So happy I found your blog and I look forward to reading more!

    • Thanks Liz! This is a community and I’m right there in the thick of things with the rest of you. We’re all walking the slow march towards greatness together.

  7. Hey, first of all great article. I just discovered your site via Nerd Fitness, a blog I very much enjoy reading.

    I’ve been working out 5-7 days a week for the past 3 months and recently I’ve learnt, to my great disappointment, that this could actually have a negative effect, blah blah blah! So I’ve toned it down to 3 days a week with “trying” to stick in cardio on my off days. (My current goal is weight loss, but the greater goal is all around health and fitness). Anyways, I’ve had little problem sticking to my workout schedule when it was on a daily consistent basis. Now however, when I’m only going 3 days a week, I find it much more difficult to commit to my schedule! Do you have any suggestions for me on this one?

    Your new reader,

    • Aaron — first, thanks for stopping by and saying hello. Steve is a good friend of mine, so Nerd Fitness readers are welcome here anytime!

      As for the workout scheduling, I wouldn’t fret. It sounds like you’ve already found the solution, you just need to modify it a bit.

      You said that you have no problem sticking to your schedule on a daily basis. That’s great. I would exercise daily then. You know it works for you, so don’t reinvent the wheel.

      What you need to change is just your definition of exercise. You don’t have to do a strength training session or cardio session every day of the week. The negative effects of working out everyday aren’t exercising everyday, then are from not allowing enough recovery. I would mix in some light walking and stretching a few days per week. Those can act as your “workout” for the day and then are light enough that they will actually promote some fat loss, reduce inflammation, and allow for recovery (these are all benefits of a light walking session).

      Here’s an example of how it would work (I’m not sure what type of workouts you’ve been doing, so adjust the example to fit your situation.)

      Let’s say you workout every day at 7pm. Here’s a typical week…

      Monday — Strength Training Sessions 1
      Tuesday — Walk for 20 minutes (slow to medium pace)
      Wednesday — Strength Training Session 2
      Thursday — Stretch for 20 minutes, work on breathing and meditating, strike a few yoga poses if you wish
      Friday — Strength Training Session 3
      Saturday — Walk for 20 minutes
      Sunday — Walk for 20 minutes

      Do you think this schedule would work better for you since you’re exercising each day? I’d love to know your thoughts either way. It’s a big help to me to find out what works and what doesn’t.

  8. Love the article man. Really like phrasing goals into actionable steps. Are you a user of the SMART goals? I find I try using it, but it hasn’t stuck with me.

    One thing I’m battling is am I trying to be a pro at to much. What are your thoughts?

    Currently, writing out the 2013 I want to be a pro as an athlete, coach, in business, in relationships, and personal finances. Feeling a bit overwhelmed.

    • Thanks man. It sounds like we’re struggling with the same things.

      I’m familiar with the SMART goals strategy, but like you, I haven’t found it very useful in real life. Goals are good on paper, but whether or not you achieve them comes down to your actions. I find that acronyms and formulas (SMART just being one example) are too much for me to think about when I’m trying to get things done.

      If I’m working on a goal in the gym, am I gonna ask myself whether my actions today are following the SMART framework? Doubtful. That’s not to say it isn’t useful, but I’ve found that having a core belief about myself or what I want to achieve is easier to keep in my mind and makes a better compass for determining whether I’m moving in the right direction.

      As for trying to be good at many things — I’m guilty of that as well, but here’s the conclusion I’ve come to…

      Pick one thing, get it handled, and then move on to something else. Would you rather be awesome at the snatch or average at every machine in the gym? You already know the power of focusing on one or two things on the platform. Give it a try in the rest of your life. Just get personal finances handled this year (it probably won’t even take a year to have a good system in place), then move on to the next thing.

      It’s easy to get inspired and want to fix everything, but if you keep it simple and get really good at one thing, then you’ll end up better off than 99% of people.

      Related: you could focus on finding one or two keystone habits that pull everything else in line. For example, you may find that if you train and get your personal finances handled, then everything else falls in line (you’re in a better mood, more open to new ideas, more pleasant in relationships, etc.). In a situation like that, you just focus on those two things and the rest takes care of itself. More on that strategy here.

  9. Wow! Wonderful post!

    I may have realized why every time I set my goals with a very specific schedule, at some point in the future I just stop doing them. What I end up doing is rescheduling every one of them, thinking that my issue was related to the schedule itself, because I should have felt motivated to do them every single time (if I wasn’t, then something wrong was with my plan).

    I now realize that sticking to the schedule, specially when I won´t feel like doing it, is exactly the motivation I need!

    I will now recognize those moments where I just want to quit for the day and think of some lame excuse for not doing the task (work out/writing session/etc), and I will just do it anyway! This exact feeling of wanting to procrastinate will now be the trigger I need to get up, and just do the thing!

    Thanks for the insight! I´m glad to be part of this community!

    PS. Sorry for my grammar mistakes, Spanish is my mother tongue.

    • Federico — welcome to the community!

      It’s great to have you here and I’m glad you found this post useful. I’ll do my best to keep the good stuff coming your way.

  10. Two words.. reignition and inspiration!

    Sticking to things is always been a struggle for me. I always push myself very hard to be a perfectionist, but mostly end up not taking the time to achieve the results I want to achieve. As we speak I am scrolling around on the internet (“to get inspired”), while I should be working on a school assignment according to my schedule. So this is a good time to start!



    • Manasse — first, thanks for sharing your thoughts. It’s awesome to have you as part of the community here.

      And secondly, I think the struggles you mention are something we all battle. Keep fighting the good fight.

    • My man — thanks for reading. It’s awesome to have you in our little community here.

      And, of course, I’m glad you found it useful. Until next time…

  11. This was a great post! This really hit home. At work, I’m known for my ability to get a lot accomplished in a short time. It’s actually something I’m quite proud of. I’m able to so this by following the steps and suggestions you’ve outlined above. However, I never thought of doing this for my personal accomplishments. Maybe it’s because I’m the kind of person who is very aware of work/life balance. In any case, I’m going to give this a try with some of my personal goals. I’m excited to give it a shot!

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Peggy. I’d love to hear about how you implement this in your daily life. Feel free to stop by anytime and share your progress.

  12. Thank you for a wonderful piece of writing and some validation and confirmation of thought. I have been all too often criticized for being an “overachiever”, yet thats not it at all. I tend to be very focused at the task at hand, whether it be running a busy urgent care clinic, working on my PhD in Epidemiology, being a photography fanatic, jeep off road traveler, and chronic and supportive mother. I don’t find this at all difficult. I too, like you, start early and have a plan. I also have the “no plan” time where spontaneity kicks in and I just go. I find it sad that some get drowned out by the tasks of life that hit us all. But then, I tend to be an actor……and not a reactor, and that makes all the difference.

    Thank you for reminding me that I am NOT, indeed, crazy!

    • Cathy — first, thanks for reading. And second, thanks for sharing your experiences. It’s great to hear how you approach your busy schedule. Keep up the good work and feel free to share your thoughts here anytime!

  13. Hi James. I look forward to every one of your tweets. Perfect blend of the practical, mental and spiritual. And you’re so down to earth that I “get” and can implement what you say. Like this morning after reading your post I hopped on my stationary bike and did my Peak8 interval training which gives me the energy and drive to do all those other things I was going to postpone.
    Thank you!

    • I love hearing that, Nancy! I’m so glad that you’re able to take action on the ideas I share. I do my best to make things practical and useful.

      Thanks for reading! It’s great to have you as a member of our little community here.

  14. Man I can write a whole article about this idea because I RECENTLY happened to discover that this is much better than the traditional GTD system.

    See, people spend so much time trying to get something DONE, when really that’s like a trap waiting to make them procrastinate and hate what they do. If you think about it, talented peoples aren’t just “talented.” They just happened to do things more repetitively than other, and are therefore more familiar with common obstacles and techniques. This is why failing isn’t a problem for the talented and why passionate people can endure problems.

    Talented people just want to spend time doing something they enjoy. They don’t only want to get something done either, because that would defeat the purpose of it being pleasurable. This is why you have passionate people who are patient about things. But when you think about it even more, when people want to get something done, it’s because they want it done NOW, and that tendency to get something done “soon” makes them impatient and anxious when things start to go south. This is why, I think, people start to lose motivation without even realizing it. But this is also why I stopped focusing on deadlines and started to just spend time on a task or project each day. Just by putting in 30 minutes on something I don’t feel like doing made all the difference the next day or week, and my next encounter felt MUCH less tense.

    …But I’m no psychologist, or whatever it is that I’m thought to be. I just happened to have thought about this concept recently, and it all made sense to me. This article just affirms what I was talking about is true and that it really does work. I mean, I looked at your spreadsheet, and it’s obvious that your dedication to doing pushups every day has become more of a talent than just something you do. You went all the way from 10-15 push-ups PER SET to 30-60 push-ups a set. Man, if I did 30 pushups, I’d be like “I’ll just do 30 more before I go to sleep.” You can do 5 times more than me, and that’s not just a skill, but a talent after 8 months of dedications. And the crazy part about it is you stuck with a routine and didn’t even do your best every time, which is my point: you don’t have to do your best every time, you just have to stick to it. And that just so happens to be exactly what you were talking about.

    But like I said, this just affirms that a routine is better than wanting to get something done. Thanks for the article man.

    • Love this post! And all the comments too! So happy to join this community of wonderful people striving to be the best we can be. I struggle with staying on schedule…. Blog posts, Facebook posts etc for my photography business, and also to work out regularly, and last, to still have time for my own personal photography. But now after reading this, I see the problem is around determining the action steps and making a schedule. Wow, i will sit down now and make a schedule that is reasonable and that I will implement . Thanks, James and everyone else here as well.

  15. It’s interesting reading your post. The reason being I have gone through some of the things you talk about. It is like a confirmation of the idea that I have in mind. I started doing reading and writing in the morning before my family members are awake because I am not distracted and fell more freedom. You see I began to wake up at 5:00 AM every morning. I am yet to formulate on the schedule and workout I will be going. However, I’m catching the idea.

    It’s a great post. Thanks.

    • You bet! I’m happy to help. I’ll do my best to keep great posts coming your way.

      And that writing habit sounds like it’s really working. Well done. Keep it up!

  16. This could not have come at a more perfect time. Starting May 1st I made myself a whiteboard with 8 tasks to do each day (including fitness, learning, biz dev, etc) and am focusing one day at a time at completing all eight. A completion gets an x a non completion gets an o. As each day has progressed I’ve found myself seeing a lot more x’s than o’s and aim never to have more than two o’s in a row. I feel like such a small change will end up making a big difference.

    • That’s awesome, Liz! I’m glad you found the article useful.

      How is the whiteboard strategy working out?

      Thanks for reading! Keep up the great work. Your thoughts are always welcome in our little community!

  17. Hi James,

    Great article, I recently started to write a list 10 to do things every day, the ones that don’t get crossed of the list, get written down on tomorrows list, and so forth. I have found that it helps me focus.

    • Darren — I like it. A simple strategy that keeps you focused on action. Keep up the good work!

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

  18. Hi James,

    Out of interest how would define a “strict push-up”? (fantastic post btw! – from a new subscriber)


    • Steve — welcome to the community! It’s great to have you here!

      My definition of a strict pushup: keep your body as rigid as you can (a relatively straight line). Go down until your chest touches the ground (elbows should be bent at or beyond 90 degrees) and then press up until your arms are extend (not necessarily locked out, but fully extended). Repeat.

      Thanks for reading!

  19. This post is just what I needed today.

    My “distractions”: I am in my sixties, and I’m coming off two years of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome followed by a year of severe colitis. I have a husband with heart trouble and a mom who has dementia.

    Goals: Build physical stamina. Finish the novel I started years ago! Reconnect with extended family and friends. Professionalize my writing by using the same principles you promote, especially refusing to allow the demands of daily life to overwhelm me.

    Actions: For health, I bought a used treadmill. First day: one-tenth of a mile. Exhausting. (Yeah, I am really deconditioned.) Now, two weeks later, I’m up to six-tenths. And, I have used the thing every day since I got it.

    Thanks for a dose of information and, especially, inspiration!

    • Elizabeth — this is great! I love the one-tenth of a mile story. Building up slowly and not missing workouts is the secret.

      Keep up the great work and keep showing up. The results will follow naturally.

      Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts! It’s great to have you in our little community.

  20. The Correct Term For A Professional is that you get a steady Income for your profession. An amateur is when what you Do is simply For Pastime.

    • Hi Vincent — thanks for reading!

      I think you’re confusing dictionary definitions with point of the article. The point is: people who approach their goals in a professional manner set a schedule for their actions and perform on a consistent basis. Meanwhile, people who approach their goals in an amateur fashion only work on their goals when it’s convenient or when they feel motivated.

      Hope that makes sense and helps you get something out of the article!

  21. Hi James,

    Thanks for this article, so true! When you know what your goal is, well, that’s the easy part. But what when you have so many things you want to do (and won’t miss)? Oh yes, my workout every morning, that’s no problem at all. I even miss it when I’m in a hurry and can’t do it. My swimming before going to work? No problem at all. They have become parts of my life like taking a shower every morning. But what about my art? Oh yes, I want to become a prof (I even think I am, but reading your article I suppose I am not), my writing same story. And these are only a few things. So choosing that is the problem for me. But do I want to choose?

    Have a great day. Nice reading your articles.


  22. James I absolutely love your work and resonate with it so strongly.

    I’m hugely goal driven and love this topic, feel like I research it to death but have never heard it expressed quite like the unique way you have.

    I too am guilty of trying to change too much at once — I logically know that one thing at a time works better. Maybe I’ll start with patience … lol :)

    Hugely passionate about nutrition, fitness and psychology so your work is right up my alley and I’ll be reading every article.

    Thanks! Stay awesome!


  23. Hi James,

    Thanks for a wonderful post. I’m glad to have reached your site and be able to read what you’ve written. Like most of those who commented on your post, I am inconsistent, too. I have always wanted to be a blogger and develop my own blog but I always feel uninspired every now and then. I have been trying to write (through a single blog entry that is required in my work) but whenever I get the idea or a topic I want to write, I am always impeded by the result. Like the result or the end product is what’s more important. I instantly consider myself a failure even before I start something. And this is hurting me.

    Through your post, I have decided to stick to what I want- that is to develop my writing. After writing this, I will start mapping out a new writing schedule for me, as well as get back to doing yoga at least twice a day for my well-being.

    I’ll let you know the result as soon as I get comfortable with things here.

    Thanks again and thank you for writing! :)

  24. I’m looking at more income generating outlets for myself, and it takes more inner calm than I can often muster to commit to prospecting when I know it may only indirectly lead to results. Nonetheless, your article reminds me that I chose these activities because they mean everything to me. This reality calms me down and gets me back into a direct experience and keep rowing, so to speak.

    Here’s where I think I’d like your opinion and our community’s input:
    Sometime’s I think that putting something on my calendar means that I’ll really stick with it, but it ends up inoculating me to the nagging pain of avoidance. Here’s an example: I have worked up the levels in long-form comedic improv here in NYC. There are routine open jams at a few of the venues, and while I was in class, I wanted to catch all of them. Now, an open event reminder will appear on my calendar, and the first thing I’ll think is “that’s optional. Disregard”

    Having an alert on such an event just makes the numbing sensation worse-it’s reinforcing a sense that nothing is sacred in my calendar.
    I find that just about anything that is optional (Met Museum Always Free on Tuesdays), or stating a fact (Dec. 26th Boxing Day) should either have it’s own calendar (“Data”) or be decided on whether I’m going to do anything about it before it gets on the calendar.

    And that’s where I’ve had issue with scheduling time for myself. I get having routines, I get triggering habits, having deadlines, working a task list, or a project management system. But what I don’t get is scheduling activities that don’t involve other people and are not inherently imbued with a place, a time, and a meeting.
    The CEO of zappos blocks out every morning to work his email. This is important to him because their very principle of business is attentiveness to people. This wouldn’t necessarily be great for a person like me who would like to save my best decisions for the production studio. But what I really don’t get is the consequences of putting this in a calendar. If I run late for the office, should I then punish myself somehow? What then happens to the sanctity of the events I commit to? In reality, that grayed out block in my calendar will sooner or later remind me that I can avoid grey colored events in my calendar.

    To me, many objectives live larger than the scope of a calendar-I’d rather use a Kanban system for example. Or for scheduling, I’d rather have a daily routine that I set a timer to. Then if one day my writing session starts at 8A and another day it starts at 8:20A, I don’t feel like a hypocrite for having committed the same fixed amount of time.

    Does this sound consistent? Do you think I’m just avoiding something more deep-rooted? What’s worked for you?

  25. Hi James,

    It’s awesome feeling after reading your article in positive thinking and above article. I also want to be pro in life. But I can’t because I am lazy person. I don’t do my own tasks in a timely manner. Please explain to me how I can prioritize my tasks and how be a better schedule planner.

  26. Great post!

    An excellent coach I know says there’s Motivated and DEDICATED. Dedicated is doing it every day (or whatever the schedule is) no matter what. (Within reason, you can’t do bench press with severed triceps, but you get the point.)

  27. I really enjoyed this article. I feel it explained a lot of what I experience as an aspiring writer, film maker, guitarist, physically fit person and over all “Tryer-of-New-Things.” I love the idea of being great in the things I love. I also love the idea of doing them frequently. Although the reality is that I am not living my ideal life. I am not doing the things I believe will make me a professional in or just excellent at my passions. I am going to take your advice and start setting small goals and working to achieve them one week at a time.

  28. Came across your article, answer to my prayer. Have started three projects, all overwhelming. I wake around mid morning, the house is quiet, everyone is at work. I open my eyes, start to plan my day. Shower, start my morning routine, tea, dishes, laundry, clean the house. Finish by 2 PM and think about which project can I focus on today. Knowing it will only get a few hours of my time due to dinner. 6PM, table cleared, dishes out of the way. Go to my desk and ponder where to begin, each is overwhelming. I select one and begin, I work on it for about 4 hours, then think of an idea for another of the projects and become side tracked, leaving the first project hanging. Working for 5 hours on the second and by that time I am exhausted. I am now going to schedule time with each project weekly not daily. Make time for exercise and personal time for me as well. I see I was just trying to accomplish more than I could in a short time. Never works!! Thanks for showing me the light. New schedule rough start but it’s moving along. Thank you James for a great article.

  29. Major inspiration. MAJOR. It may sound wierd, and I doubt you listen to rap music, but as I’ve took the time to read your article — please take the time and listen to the song “Dreamin by BIG K.R.I.T.”

    It inspired me to start a Google search that led me here. Stay blessed and work hard!

  30. Great article, James! One of best ones I ever read on the internet.

    You’re for me on the same level as Leo Babauta. Maybe higher.

  31. One of my favourite quotes:

    “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.” – Chuck Close.

    I try to remember this everyday.

  32. Hey, I recently subscribed to your blog and found the posts pretty good over the last 2 weeks. I am a fairly successful professional and have been trying to become more self-aware for a long time now. In that regard, I started meditation as well and have been continuing that.
    I frequently find myself in a pattern where I would be excited by some new idea. I would even make a habit out of it for a few months and make rapid progress in it. However, at the end of 2-3 months, my interest in that would dwindle away or I can no longer see any purpose in it. I would then move onto something else or a variant of that activity. Often, I would let the previous activity completely dwindle off.
    I was wondering if you have any suggestions on how one can become more aware of what are the driving factors , motivations (intrinsic/extrinsic) and thought patterns that lead to such behavior.

  33. Wonderful article, very thought-provoking. I sense some inspiration coming! And yes, the advice to set a schedule with actions I can do rather than results I want is simple genius.

  34. I have no goals. How can I start?

    I like your posts because they’re clear and go straight to the point. I don’t find them like on other sites I read in the past and I don’t feel kind of depressed with yours. They’re uplifting.

    Thank you.

  35. James, I just found this blog and have read most of the entries… and bro, I am amazed. Remarkably simple, yet so deep and meaningful. The actionable nature of whatever you say has officially made you one of my favorite writers.

    Now with the issue, I am an IT professional… and personally, I hate it. I want to be involved in some sort of business… and I have been doing this and that for a long time now. Its just after each day’s job, I just lose motivation to do anything else and I feel I am stuck in a field I have no interest in. I need to do so many things, but domestic responsibilities coupled with social BS is really holding me back. Any advice about the job or how to really leave everything behind and get started with my own venture?

  36. Great article James, for some reason this has inspired me more than any other ‘motivational’ piece I’ve read. I think it’s because of the almost harsh truthfulness to it – say you’re going to do something at a particular time and stick to it, consistently. The results will come.

    It takes away the questions you ask yourself e.g. ‘Should I go out cycling today?’ Instead you look on your wall planner and say cycling is scheduled for today and you go do it, it’s like you’ve already had that conversation with yourself and it’s already been decided. I think it’s a powerful method, you do the same thing when you want to go out on the town, you plan the day and time etc. and then you get that little buzz when it comes around and I think it would work for other tasks too, why shouldn’t it?

    I’ve been meaning too focus more on all my hobbies (granted, I may have a few too many, which is detrimental to progress in each hobby, I’m quickly realising that) and I think this method is just what’s needed. Then I can say ‘ok, gym on Monday for 1 and a half hours, study on Tuesday for 2 hours, etc. etc. it will make me more efficient for sure, sometimes I don’t realise I’ve been watching TV or browsing the web for too long and 2 hours has passed!? I don’t ‘waste’ time as such when doing these things as do usually watch or read about educational programs most of the time but they could be put on hold so I can do something that is scheduled to be done.

    Finally this quote: “Professionals stick to the schedule, amateurs let life get in the way.” Is awesome. I’m going to layer it over a pretty picture and have it as my computer wallpaper. I’ve been guilty of life getting in the way, to a certain extent unless you’re rich, it has too – money and work etc. but I’m trying to make it so it impacts less.

    Wow, that was a long comment, anyway keep up these great articles man! Any advice you have on becoming a billionaire would be pretty sweet too haha!

  37. Hi James,

    This is one of my favorite posts of yours. Great stuff, and exactly what I’m working on right now on my new website (link above in name). If anybody would like to head over there and see some nice content (at least what I believe is nice :) ) and help me with what I’m working towards, that’d be fantastic!

  38. Well written stuff you got here, James. Love the clarity of your thoughts. Your “6 Truths About Exercise That Nobody Wants to Believe” post on Medium was one of the best pieces ever written on health and fitness overall on the web.

  39. You have triggered some serious action here. The examples of keeping physically fit and writing are perfect examples and I can relate them to my life. This is something I have been struggling with but what I also realize is that being a professional never has a full stop. It is process!

  40. James, I stumbled on your site/blog a few days ago and my life has dramatically changed. Dramatic, I know. Let me explain. I finished a great book called One Thing…amazing. Though he covers a lot of material, he talks about how critical purpose is as that drives priorities resulting in one being productive. I’ve struggled for a long time trying to articulate my purpose. Not easy, for me anyhow. But by simply adding your advise on identity, the nut was cracked! That’s the secret. I’m the type of person who…(fill in the blank for what ever area in your life) , and your purpose is revealed. Then the right priorities fall in line and voila, production results. But without first identifying yourself the way you suggest, how can one ever unearth that big question – what is my purpose? Simple, profound and man, love your writing.

  41. I really liked this article, it helped me think about things from a slightly different viewpoint to my own. I am following my dreams of becoming a professional musician and have been somewhat doing what you have talked about here myself. Practicing hours each day to develop my voice and technical abilities. I had not however transferred to this over to my goal-setting. Several times this year I have thought I want to bring out a release by x/y but each date set thus far has not quite been met.

    Obviously this a hindrance to my progress from amateur to professional status, but I think if I set my goals in a different way, as you have suggested then I can only move onwards and build towards my more ambitious targets.

  42. I don’t even know where to start with how great this advice is! My biggest takeaways are that it’s not going to be easy along the way and that becoming a pro is about making your priorities a reality. One of the biggest hurdles is that some days practicing won’t be fun, but once you become good there much more possibilities to be creative.

    At my last job we all set goals just like you did and called them SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Revisable, Time bound) goals. I realized it is important for goals to have all these characteristics. My goal earlier this month was to practice playing the piano by completing the piano 101 book. I was playing consistently for two weeks and the realized that the morning wasn’t the best time to practice and decided to play at night. Life got in the way and I never finished the last chapter. My goal should have had a time bound of 3 weeks so I would push myself to finish within the time limit, which I will definitely do the next time. As you mentioned in another post, we can’t let life get in the way of our goals. Thanks for always giving great advice and tying each of them to some of your previous lessons.

  43. Hi James,

    I’m just starting on a good habit waking up every day at 5.45am to do my 1 hour workout that includes both cardio and core strengthening. Then hopefully from next week I can start my swimming routine, if possible every day. However, all these will need to have a mercy from my work. Your articles are really good in inspiring me to go on, don’t stop.

    Thank you.

  44. James,

    I greatly appreciate this article. While I have helped endurance athletes (Cyclists, Runners, Triathletes) turn pro, I’ve had a hard time getting myself really rolling on my current project. This article is spot on, and was just what I needed. I linked to it from this past Thursdays article, which is one of the things that I really appreciate in your works: progression with return to what’s been done in the past.

    Thank you, and keep it up!

  45. Hi James – and everybody who might have a good idea in store for me,

    I always love to read these articles, and I do learn a lot from them. My problem is this point, though:

    1. Decide what you want to be good at.

    I simply cannot find out, what that is for me!

    I am currently organising treasure hunts in my hometown (Berlin) — it was my own business idea and I loved doing it, but I am through with it. I need new input, I aim to do something else, and I just don’t know what that might be. I have done many things in order to find out about that (participating in a long seminar dealing with that very topic, what is my passion/what am I good at; asking friends; working through books etc. etc.) but I do not come to any conclusion. I am not even close. A thousand things interest me, and nothing.

    What could I do about that? I am running out of ideas.

    Thanks a lot for your comments.


  46. Dear James,

    I love your articles. While I love all the motivating articles, and the ideas you present, I would simply suggest that you reconsider having 100 pushups as your goal. Being able to do pushups isn’t really a significator of long term health. I would suggest that you look into Tai-Chi instead. Doing 10 minutes of Tai-Chi into your routine would extend your life by 25 years, as the Tai-Chi movements work on your internal connectivity of your body through the slow movements. Tai-Chi isn’t as time consuming when compared to the longer routine of yoga. So I would rate Tai-Chi over yoga in terms of longevity.

    It is your goal to attain. Simply a suggestion for you to consider, from a fan of yours who is simply familiar with these arts.


  47. One of the best (and most relevant to me right now lol) posts I’ve seen on this type of topic. Love the practical, simple, logical and applicable approach to whatever goal is being sought. Can’t believe I’ve only just found it! (But maybe that’s because I’ve been too amateurish in the past?!)

  48. James… your writings put boosters in me… bursting with energy to go out and do whats good for me…!!!

  49. James, you ROCK!!!

    I have been struggling to be a professional singer and writer of rock, easy listening, alternative and metal. I have come a long way because I would apply myself at times, here and there over the years. I am going to make a schedule like I should have and I know the results will happen so much faster.

    I have been able to do a lot of great things as a musician and play for crowds up to 10,000. I just know when I apply myself much more with a nice schedule, things will just become so much better. :)

    Thanks again for the great advice.


  50. HI. I am inconsistent. I always thinking here and there. Sometimes about business, teaching, job and etc etc. I cannot stick to a single thing so that I can devote my best. A scattered thinker guy, unfortunately.

  51. “You want to set a schedule based on actions you can do, not results that you want.”

    This is the best piece of advice I have read in a long time. Thank You!

    I’ve been concentrated on the results my whole life. However, thinking about the actions I need to take and execute them within a schedule was very rarely the case.

    This is a brilliant article. I wish I had stumbled upon it before. You are definitely a pro!

  52. Hey James, this is Ray. Just wanted to say keep up the motivation. I’ve just been been intrigued by the the systems blog. Very insightful!

  53. I’ve read your whole post. It’s simply awesome. It perhaps motivated me for a short period of time that because I think that I found what is the real problem with be (i.e. inconsistency)… Thank you.

  54. Wonderful work James, just started at a car dealership last week, your articles are helping me stay positive in an atmosphere of sink or swim. Best!

  55. I was with you up to a certain point, and then I got derailed a bit with the “decide what you want to be good at” part.

    See, I thought I was good at a few things, but the romance and passion died out and now I can’t even stand to think about those things. I was a writer at one point, but seeing how I have no passions about anything means I don’t really have a passion to write about, which gives it no value (at least in my eyes).

    People urge me all the time to get into coaching or mentoring, but I really couldn’t be bothered with it since I just don’t care what people do with their lives. I assist my friends because I care, but I wouldn’t do it for the money (I’d rather just sit and have a drink or food instead).

    So, how does one discover what one is good at? How do I suss this out? This is where the clear disconnect is because I know the rest of what you wrote out here is correct and based on solid information.

    As a man who shambled through the “joy of writing” using these techniques, I know they work.

  56. The most important piece of this article for me was “Don’t make the same mistake I have made, which is setting a schedule based on results.” I’ve heard this before in different ways, but this time it sunk in. This is what I needed. I already have deadlines and obligations (results) decided for me. This is really similar to your idea on not setting goals in a different article. I’m going to carry this concept over to my weight loss clients.

    I think this very habit – of trying to achieve the results – is the root of procrastination. Thanks for the insight today! :)

  57. This is a great article. I feel inspired and motivated after reading it, even at 8am! I am definitely going to plan out my week accordingly.

  58. Hi All,

    Thanks for this great article that helps me develop the mindset to stick to my P90X and blogging schedules.

    I checked ur pushup spreadsheet and want to ask u sth. Do u arrange your intensity, resting times and no of reps according to some strategy? if yes, can u explain a bit, pls?

  59. Hi James-

    Thanks for the great post(s). I came to your site via a recent post on Medium, and am glad I did. I’m feeling stuck on step 1, deciding what you want to be good at. I like to think I have some of the characteristics you mentioned, including not really knowing what I’m working for, or why.

    What advice do you have for folks looking to unlock/uncover/recognize the what and the why they should be working for?


  60. Thanks for this post. While I was trying to differentiate pro and amateur, I happened to read your blog. In fact, except for swimming which had been my passion for years, I rarely get successful in other sports. Then one day when I was feeling lost in life as I found no direction to go, I decided to take up a sport. I’ve been doing zumba for a month now and felt great. I get better everyday and it was awesome. I tried to invite many of my friends to join me but they all gave up. I don’t. I feel quite reassured now to be serious in this sport.

  61. I’m in the process of downsizing (at 78 years) my work life to focus on my writing life. Your information is a great help! Thank you.

  62. Thank you for this! I can completely relate to working on something while I feel inspired or motivated, however like you mentioned it’s inconsistent. I want to become a pro and I will take your words of advice and try to apply them to the areas in my life that I want to be professional! Thanks again!

  63. Hi! This is a very helpful and informative blog. Now I can differentiate professional and amateur athletes. It is really hard to become a pro, though it has advantages for you and your future, but there are still things you have/need to sacrifice. Great you have this tips. Thanks for sharing!

  64. I count myself very lucky to come across this very motivating article. I am a trumpet instructor by profession but stopped practicing a long time ago. In fact, I can do very little on my instrument currently. However, after reading this article, I have resolved to start practicing again on my instrument.

    “I can guarantee that if you set a schedule for any task and start sticking to it, there will be days when you feel like quitting. When you start a business, there will be days when you don’t feel like showing up. When you’re at the gym, there will be sets that you don’t feel like finishing. When it’s time to write, there will be reports that you don’t feel like typing. But stepping up when it’s annoying or painful or draining to do so, that’s what makes you a pro.”


  65. Great read! I’m new to your site. I think Charles NGO recommended you, can’t be 100% sure on that.

    But I really like the information I’ve been finding here.

    One of my favorite expressions is:

    Amateurs sit around waiting for motivation. The rest of us just get to work.



  66. James,

    I have fallen in love with your web site! So motivated and positive!

    I copied and highlighted some of your sentences. I really want be better with running and better with speaking french. I did 3 half marathons but always was on the bottom of list, unfortunately… This made me thinking that running isn’t for me. But I missed many of my workout and I wasn’t focused on process only winning (Hahahaha!).

    I have signed up for another run and made a plan for a 7 days to improve my speed. I’m in great spirit and I believe I can manage this week and many more!
    French is a different story. :)

    All the best to you!


  67. Greetings from Bhutan.

    I just wanted to thank you for your amazing articles. they make perfect sense. It’s an eye opener for me. I always knew the importance of setting goals and always dreamt of becoming rich. Somehow I always felt like something was missing, like I needed something to jumpstart my journey towards achieving the goals I had written in my card. Today I realized the importance of becoming before I could actually achieve all the goals I set.

    Thank you very much.

  68. You have a wonderful sense of humanity about you.

    Thank you for affirming, and awakening the authenticity that is in all of us.

    Great photos of Scotland by the way.

  69. Hi James I’m a recent convert to your newsletter and I’ve been amazed at the extra focus that just reading and using just some of your ideas has given me.
    I’m concentrating on just your suggestion of 1% better everyday and If I can do that then I’m moving forward
    Thank you and keep up the good work!

  70. James, I just found your website and have read Transform Your Habits, this article and two others in one sitting. I am working on promoting health and wellness with a technology that I have recently been introduced to. I have worried that people will disapprove, disagree, judge. After reading your articles I see that no longer matters. My responsibility is to put it out there, what others think is theirs to own not mine. Thank you for this insight and I look forward to your next article.


  71. I really enjoyed your article, it’s so inspirational. I am struggling with improving my talent by spending more time on it, and the care-giving job I do to support my family.

  72. I liked what you said. It’s great.

    I want to be pro in my workout and getting up early I can’t go early I’ve tried many times but i think I’m doing it wrong.


  73. Doing something – without the “right” motivation – and that makes you a pro on the long run, sounds so true to me.

    I’m a science journalist and my profession is writing. I’ve been doing it for 7 years now and write 1-5 short or one long radio segment a week. I just have to, because I have due dates and need the money (and of course have fun most of the time – but sometimes it’s just a job). And guess what’s come out of it in those 7 years? I know even before I start that I’ll succeed, something broadcast-able will come out of it. It’s not always brilliant or Pulitzer Prize material… but it will always be above average, just because I’ve been doing it for so long.

    Never really thought about it that way! Thanks for that.

    • Yvonne,

      I greatly admire writers who can produce quality (good enough, at the very least) work on schedule, time after time. I am an editor. I love writing, but it find it immensely harder work than editing — so I let other people do the hard work and I help polish and improve that work. :-)

  74. You’ve put into words how I’ve been feeling about my training patterns for a while now. I’m incredibly inconsistent, but when I train properly, regularly, I improve quickly. Recently my training habits have been abysmal but I’m building back up, I am putting a few pieces of your advice that I’ve read so far into action.

    Thank You!

  75. This article really hit home for me because I am a music composer and I am trying to work on letting less distractions get in the way. I want to make a better, more expressive an amazing music and more of it whether I am currently inspired or not.

    Thanks James!

  76. I flat needed this today, thanks ever so!

    Making a career of acting/performing, when so much material is culled from life, makes the challenge of ‘not letting life happen to you’ that much taller an order.

    Looking forward to putting this into practice.

    Thank you again!

  77. This is exactly the firm reminder (read, slap upside the head) I need. I have set a schedule for practicing the drums (drumset), but am *very* good at justifying exceptions due to “life.” I’m going to combine this with your post about just doing the smallest amount — do *something* — whatever it takes to establish the habit — for one week. With repeat signs at both ends of the week.

  78. Thanks James!

    A great post on “acting” like a professional. The mindset is everything I think. I spent many years “thinking” and “talking” about the things I was going to do someday. At times I was in conflict between trying to be the professional [the new ME] and still struggling with the path on least resistance to maintain the amateur mindset. Thanks for the 3 basic steps on becoming a pro; will implement and check back in.


    Scott Allan

  79. I have taught elementary school for sixteen years and contrary to what some might think it is a very difficult profession. Because I am a generalist and teach math, writing, reading, science, social studies, computers, art and sometimes physical education. It’s a constant task to stay current and sharp.

    I appreciate this post and the line that being a pro can be painful. Much has to be sacrificed in order to be excellent.

    Keep up the great work, James!

  80. “You’ll Never Regret Starting Important Work” is a sentence dripping with so much fundamental truthiness that my mind has had it on loop since the moment I first read it.

    Indeed. Phone down. To work.

    All the best for 2015.

  81. Your articles are mind blowing to me! I have always admired people that can put things in such excellent words. You have unclouded the core of my problems! Anyway, I am 21 years old and attending my second year of college. In high school I thought there was no way I would be able to attend college, there was always a little voice telling me, ” I am not smart enough.” Now I am attending a community college and doing a lot better than I ever thought I would. My dream would be to move onto a University and finish my undergrad in Biology and hopefully try to get into PA school to become a Physician Assistant. You have given me my golden ticket and helped me realize that I can be whatever I want! It’s not about how smart I am at all.. It’s about my mental toughness.

    Thank you so much!

  82. Hi, James.

    Wonderful read like always. Looking forward to starting squats and skipping rope and progress later for general fitness. This is an addition to working on my writing. 5 sentences a day I suppose is a nice place to start. :)


  83. I want to start by saying that every single time I see an email from you in my email box, I jump for joy (maybe not literally, but the sentiment is there). I love your posts, your writing style and the way you motivate me. So, thanks!

    Secondly, I have a couple areas I’d like to improve in, one being a more consistent writing schedule, another being exercising more consistently. Those are the two big ones, but what might help even more is learning how to manage my time better. I take on too much and feel overwhelmed, but yet still try to do it all somehow. It is a constant struggle!

    Seriously, great post! I’m off to share it!

  84. Love you, bro. I love to read your articles and also applying the things you talk about in my personal and professional life.

    Improving myself just because of you… Thanks a lot!

  85. Great article, I have to say.

    It is really that simple when you know where you are going. I often find myself to get lost in too many things and is hard to focus on one thing because I want everything at the same time. But I am working on that.

    Thanks for the article.

  86. Thank you James. I’m sharing this with my team today at SolarCity. Selling often involves a lot of rejection and boredom interspersed with great moments of elation and connection. Sometimes I get discouraged, especially by the boredom. After reading your piece I realized that you have to practice if you want to play the game! I will be thinking today about Kobe making his 800 free throws as I’m out pitching in the field. Best to you.

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