Thing-a-Day 23: Visualizing Perseverance Experimental Form

Thing-a-Day 23: Visualizing Perseverance Experimental Form

Visualizing uncertainty

This weekend I have been feeling extremely low on motivational energy. Possibly it’s because of the shorter days and me waking up later; this week I am going to switch to a “waking with the sun” schedule to maximize daylight exposure. But I suspect the problem, if there is one, is related to my ongoing struggle dealing with the tedium of doing mundane solitary tasks.

I spent a few hours at Starbucks thinking about how to represent the problem; this experimental “visualizing perseverance and uncertainty” form is the result.

The Nature of Uncertainty and Creativity

When I am talking about the “tedium of mundane solitary tasks”, I am describing an extreme inertia that is difficult for me to overcome. A large part of the inertia comes from the feeling that a lot of this work is busywork that changes nothing permanently, or unduly wastes time because of poor design and documentation. However, I have also recently come to believe that this is the nature of the world most of the time, and I have to be able to deal with it. Making good work is a grind. Life is a grind, particularly when you are going it alone much of the time. I don’t mean to sound depressing, but it is the salient fact of my existence at this moment.

So I might as well accept it rather than fight it. This doesn’t change my understanding of how creative excellence is achieved through perseverance in the face of unknowable future outcomes. Accepting the grind as a fact of life can either be a force of dissuasion, or it can be a challenge to gear-up and take it on. I would say I’ve been feeling mostly dissuaded recently, but I’m feeling the urge to fight it once more.

Visualizing the Uncertainty

The interesting thing about uncertainty is that certainty is right behind it. By dealing with uncertainty and trusting one’s self to handle the unexpected and learn through multiple failures over time, one naturally gains knowledge that leads to certainty. It requires one to take responsibility for interpreting not only the unseen terrain ahead, but also to not take your tools at face value. It also means not taking the advice and reference material you are given at face value, because it is likely to be incomplete or even wrong given the upcoming experiential context that you alone will face.

There’s two ways to think about this challenge that I’ve come up with. One is you can think of it as PLAY, with no repercussions, limits, or judgements that will have lasting consequence. I’m not so good at that, as I think of challenges in terms of TEST OF COMPETENCE. It’s an attitude I am trying to deprogram myself of when it comes to pure creative, non-critical work.

The first thought I had was that perhaps I could visualize uncertainty as a series of time chunks spent, possibly resulting in an award. It’s like shaking trees in the game Animal Crossing, which produces some kind of prize every once in a while although most of the time nothing happens. I just started making boxes to see where they would go:

Form I’m not quite sure what this means. Roughly, I’m thinking that the first column represents an array of choices for the first 15 minutes of a tough endeavor that you’re not sure how to start. The top-most row is the “start and chip away over the course of a day” approach. The bottom approaches are like 15-minute starts and false starts, sometimes yielding reward and sometimes not. This is really more of a sketch than a final form with a specific purpose, but I thought I’d share it anyway.

As I pushed elements around, I got the feeling that this would work better as a kind of Minesweeper interactive experience, or perhaps as a kind of board game. I’ll have to think of it some more. The challenge would be to make it into a useful tool for cracking those big hairy problems.


I’m going to print it out and try keeping notes on it to see what else occurs to me. If you’d like to download the form, here it is:

As this is an experimental form, I wouldn’t look too deeply into how it works or have expectations about it actually solving a problem. I’m sharing it as part of the design conversation. Let me know in the comments what you think!

About this Article Series

I'm challenging myself to create something new every day for the month of November 2014! The November Challenge Page lists everything in one place...check it out!


  1. Kevin 9 years ago

    Love the idea of this, would like to see a little room for language/notes and maybe row headings for what you are uncertain about. As you work through the uncertainty of a problem, having areas around achievement blocks where you can note what is working for you or perhaps what is not working to help get a bigger picture.

  2. cricket 9 years ago

    I bought a SADD light to help with the shorter days. Hard to say if it’s working. I also feel much better when I actually use the treadmill. (I don’t always get a lot of work done after them. I thought it was because I used up my energy, but now I suspect it’s a transition thing. Maybe if I read a paper book while rehydrating rather than going online…)

    Your thing a month project seems to be working. It’s a great combination of mosquito tasks, exploration, practicalities, fun, and accepting each type of day.

    My challenge is repetitive housework. Things that make life difficult quickly aren’t too bad. Dishes get done. Dusting and deep cleaning, though? I’ve tried a day a month. I’ve tried 5 minutes a day for a month. Once past “new” effect, no improvement. You’re right, sometimes it helps to hear, “No, you’re not doing it wrong. This bit is tedious even for those who have it all together.” Other times, it sounds like, “Everyone has to do it, everyone finds it tedious, and everyone but you goes ahead and does it anyways.”

    Maybe try telling yourself that you’re experimenting and learning. Is this a good way to solve the problem? If not, why not? Edison said something about discovering 1000 ways not to make a light bulb. That’s what you’re doing with this form.

  3. Cherry Jeffs 9 years ago

    I totally empathise with the winter low energy thing. I’m doing better with it lately and I put it down to totally accepting that it’s going to happen and planning around it. It normally hits me from January to sometime in March so I take a mental ‘time out’ at this time each year to spend a lot of time sitting down and keeping warm whilst planning the year ahead, catching up with stimulating reading, drafting ideas – visual and written and generally being nice to myself ;) I do drag myself out to teach Yoga and that also helps keep me in balance – literally ;)

    Art-wise I try to work on a project that I can do sitting down by the fire or on the kitchen table…something incremental, probably paper. One year I made a ‘sketch quilt’ – a wall hanging made of small paper squares which I drew on with various media. When the winter slump passed I threaded them all together and made a hanger and I realised that with those tiny steps, I had made something BIG!

    Now that I no longer fight with my energy levels during this period, I actually feel a lot less depressed and achieve quite a lot – albeit in thimblefulls as you say in your next post ;)

  4. Cherry Jeffs 9 years ago

    Another thought…Is certainty desireable? For me, I generally find it hinders rather than helps…Might your chart be used as a way to just go with uncertainty? To plot its trajectory…

  5. Robin 9 years ago

    I’m the principal at an inner-city middle school in Los Angeles. The kids are generally excellent young people, but they come to me with massively low skills. Time is definitely not on their side since most have to progress through 4-5 years worth of skill development in the next year or so to even be marginally competitive in high school.

    Of course, the students will have to continue to work hard on their math and English. But I think the one skill they need is really a personal quality: persistence in the face of uncertainty. As a matter of fact, persistence is one of the few qualities absolutely linked to college success.

    After reading your post, I’m hypothesizing that some type of graphic organizer used either class-wide or school-wide could give students that little shove in the right direction. If students could see their progress toward a goal (hopefully a self-made goal rather than one imposed by the teacher), maybe they could tangibly progress through more and more goals and eventually build a habit of perseverance.

    Thanks for helping me think through something BIG.