080: Finding Your One Thing: Interview with Jay Papasan [Podcast]

The quickest way to tell the difference between a writer and someone who wants to write, is the one who actually writes.

Jay Papasan

Creatives of all shades struggle with the tension between their passion and the hard work of honing their craft. It’s far easier to complain about writer’s block or say you are too busy.

The inconvenient truth of creative work is that it requires work. Jay Papasan, co-author of The One Thing, shares that many professional writers got their start by waking up early to write while their family was still asleep.

This week on The Portfolio Life, Jay and I talk about how long habits really take to form and why self-discipline is a myth that sets us up for failure.

Listen in as we discuss unconventional paths to becoming a writer, and why you need to pay attention to the elephant in the room.

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the show, click the player below (If you are reading this via email, please click here).

The domino principle

People often ask questions like, “How do I write a book?” or “How can I write better blog posts?” or “How did you learn to write like you do?”

One domino at a time.

If you’ve ever tried to setup a string of dominos you know a gentle bump quickly sends the whole display toppling over. The same principle applies to writing or any craft for that matter.

Each domino is a day you show up, put your butt in the chair, and write. As each day passes the dominos tip over more easily and begin to build momentum. Your writing becomes more confident as you experience less resistance. This confidence leads to competent work and your craft improves.

If you miss too many days in a row the momentum halts, and it is difficult to start over. At these points you must get the dominos tipping again.

I struggle with this as a writer. I much prefer hitting publish so my calendar is blocked off the same time every day for dedicated writing.

The more consecutive days I’ve written, the easier the next day gets. As I sit down at the same desk, at the same time, with my coffee and blank page, the words flow more freely each day.

You can overcome the creative hurdles in your path by focusing on the single domino today.

To get through the hardest journey, we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping. —Chinese proverb

Show highlights

In this episode, Jay and I discuss:

  • How to do less and get more
  • A common characteristic of great writers
  • Dealing with a lack of clarity
  • A simple formula for becoming a writer
  • What your heart and an African elephant have in common
  • Wrestling with shame when you fall off the creative wagon
  • How the domino principle reveals your true potential
  • Finding joy in writing and sharing it
  • Why mastery is not an event
  • Three commitments to your one thing
  • The development cycle of lasting habits
  • What is flawed about the idea of self-discipline

Quotes and Takeaways

  • If you really want to get more out of your life, you need to focus on less.” —Jay Papasan
  • Love the simplicity of writing and reading a little bit each day.
  • Zero in on what matters most and give that one thing your best effort.” —Jay Papasan
  • An author has an audience.
  • Who you are and what you do should be the same.” —Wendy Papasan
  • Your elephant is in charge whether you realize it or not. Look for clues to see where it’s leading you.
  • Stop and ask the question or you won’t get the answer.” —Jay Papasan
  • Whatever you’re doing, you need to be all in and all there to do the best you can.


Bonus: This week I’m teaching a free video series on how to build a tribe once you’ve found your one thing. Watch the first video here.

What ONE thing do you need to focus on in this season? How are you owning the outcome of your work? Share in the comments