Zen & the Art of Multipotentialite Maintenance
Photo courtesy of OliBac.

Zen & the Art of Multipotentialite Maintenance

Written by Neil Hughes

Topics: Health

One of my favourite books is Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It’s no exaggeration to say that it changed the way I view the world and that it had a huge impact on my life. But it contains very little actual motorcycle maintenance information.

In tribute to the lack of motorcycles, let’s look at some multipotentialite maintenance by loosely pretending that we’re all motorcycles.

Puttylike editor: Neil, have you been at the fizzy drinks again?

Multipotentialites! Are you operating at your peak capacity? Are you in need of a service? Perhaps your metaphorical engine could do with a tune-up?

Well, sadly, annual services only exist for cars and other motorised vehicles. And even if they did exist for people, I’m not a mechanic – or a surgeon – and am therefore not the best person to perform them.

But, as a multipotentialite, I refuse to let my lack of experience stop me from trying.

How to “Tune-up” a Multipotentialite

1) REMEMBER You Can’t Operate at Your Peak All the Time

It’s tempting to push yourself as hard as possible, particularly if you’re juggling many projects. But our peak performance is just that: a peak. We can’t spend all our time there.

Most of the time we should aim to comfortably motor along, and only hit the accelerator up to maximum occasionally. Too much constant acceleration wears us out!

If you’re pushing along as hard as you can, let off the accelerator slightly and coast along. Your engine will thank you.

2) USE the In-built Repair Functionality

Trust your instincts!

Actually, wait. Don’t trust your instincts. They might be saying some crazy stuff. But do listen to them.

Without thinking, answer the question: “what one change would benefit me the most right now?”

What do you come up with? Diet? Scheduling? A change of project? Rearranging the items on your desk into just the right order?!

Maybe have a think about the direction that sends you in, and see if there are any experiments you can run that will help you run more smoothly.

3) VARY Your Usage

Multipotentialites aren’t designed to do the same thing all the time. If you’re constantly working on long-term, super important projects, you might benefit from a burst of enthusiasm by picking up a new interest. Or if you’re flitting from passion to passion, perhaps one idea is crying out for a slightly longer commitment?

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut without realising, so take a moment to review how you’ve been spending time lately. Would it be beneficial to you to make a change?

4) INFLATE Your Tires Correctly

You know those regular maintenance tasks you ignore on your car, and how after putting them off for months, when you finally do make yourself do them, the car suddenly feels much better to drive?

What are those tasks in your life? Are there minor frictions and irritations that bother you every time you try to be productive? If so, how can you remove them?

If every time you turn on your computer to work, you have to fight through a tremendous pile of junk, take a moment to move the junk. Removing these little irritants helps you to run smoother and with less frustration.

Next time you sit down to work without that friction, you’ll be able to get more done!

5) CHANGE Your Metaphorical Engine Oil

 nope, I don’t really know what this one means. Sorry.

6) CONSIDER Traffic Conditions

There are several questions we need to consider…

How’s your environment? Are you working with it or against it? Is the world fighting you at every step, or is it smoothly carrying you forwards?

… but the answers don’t necessarily correlate to our actions.

Sometimes everything might be smooth sailing, but that might be the perfect time to make a change. Maybe you’re too comfortable. Other times, everything might be a disaster but we need to push on. And the opposite can apply too! Maybe all this resistance is a sign we need to stop and rethink.

The only mistake we can make is not considering these questions at all. A tune-up is the perfect time to review the landscape.

Look After Yourself

All of this adds up to a simple directive: make sure you’re looking after all your various needs. Regular time for reviewing yourself, your work habits, and your use of time can be very helpful. (And it doesn’t even have to be loosely themed on motorcycles.)

Your Turn

Do you ever feel like you need a metaphorical “tune-up”? When you do it, do you focus more on self-care or more on changing your work life?

neil_authorbioNeil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety. Along with writing more books, he puts his time into standup comedy, computer programming, public speaking and other things from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question “so, what do you do?” and is worried that the honest answer is probably “procrastinate.” He would like it if you found him at www.walkingoncustard.com and on Twitter as @enhughesiasm.


  1. Beka says:

    5) CHANGE Your Metaphorical Engine Oil – change your environment, diet, routine, mix it up a little?? Maybe??

    I agree, multipotentialites are much like motorcycles ;)

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Thanks Beka :)

      Yeah, I think there are many things that that could mean – the important thing is that we all take some time out to consider what we most need at this moment, it’ll be different for each of us. I like your suggestions :)

  2. Tu Pham says:

    Hi Neil! It is such a treat to read your post. I can relate to every points you made. Especially it’s emotionally resonating as well as I just got completely burnt out 2 weeks ago.
    And this looks like The table of content for a great book, each point has so many things to be discussed further… Full of wisdom of lifestyle for multi-interest monkeys! And i love your use of metaphor, it’s quite funny actually :-D the peak metaphor is really helpful for me. I was kind of pushing myself a bit today and unsatisfied when my mind doeant get as sharp as other days. And your peak metphor was in my mind. I was like ok, out of peak time lets ride this easy.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      That’s fantastic! I definitely feel the push to operate at my peak all the time, but it’s just impossible. I’m glad the idea was helpful for you and hope you remember it next time too :)

  3. Trevor says:

    To keep with the vehicle theme, don’t forget that when the maintenance is complete–GO!

    And don’t wait for every traffic light between you and your destination to turn green. Get going–now–and adapt to changing conditions as you encounter them.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      :D I love the way people are adding to the metaphor. You’re right Trevor – got to actually get driving too, I think I needed reminding of that today!

  4. Subratha says:

    Nice metaphor all together to simply understand your inner complexity. Fantastic article Neil. Keep sharing. good luck buddy.

  5. Shwanda B. says:

    Neil, this was right on time! I’ve been thinking about all these things as the year comes to a close! Thanks for sharing the way for me to prioritize each step in the coming weeks before January! You are a genius and I’m always excited to share your wisdom with my multipod readers!

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Aw, thanks Shwanda :p I’m glad you enjoyed it and I hope it helps inform your review at the end of the year – good luck at growing and doing better all next year :)

  6. anna says:

    Hi Neil
    this really struck a chord with me. Especially the first one about knowing when to coast. i find it really hard to believe i’m giving myself a break and not just slacking off, so this is something i struggle with, easing off, taking time to spot the cracks appearing before the house comes crashing down!
    thanks for the timely reminder :)

    • Neil Hughes says:

      It is hard, Anna. But without the coasting we will just burn ourselves out and never reach the peak. Hope you find the right balance and look after yourself :)

  7. Becca says:

    Hi Neil and all Multi-peeps,
    this post is very apposite for me right now. Whenever I have a friend who is poorly or over tired I always say ‘take time out’. If you were a car you’d have an annual service – are you less important than your car?!. Unless it’s my sister. She is a professional gardener and I liken her to a ride-on-mower. if you’ve met my sister, that would make you laugh… But it’s like the barefoot cobbler – somehow I haven’t got round to doing this for myself recently. And reading your piece has made me realise that I’m well overdue an oil bath, or at least a serious break. So many thanks from my inner motor. Your comment about not expecting always be at peak resonated for me greatly. I have a condition which means that at some times of the month I am really poorly. I have learned not to beat myself up over it and instead to accept this. I just boot-up when I’m well and before I know it I’m on fire and super productive. If I were to offer a metaphor it would be a house cat: lie in the sun – run down a mouse; lie in front of the fire – run around the house like a mad thing after an imaginary spider. And hey, maybe stick my foot behind my ear and lick everything in sight! But seriously, my life and productivity ebbs and flows with a reasonably predictable cycle. I value the ‘less productive time’ too these days. Because I’ve come to understand that this is when I reflect and gather strength. I think there is stuff at the back of my brain bubbling away all the time, but often I struggle to pluck it out and give it substance. Down-time lets it come to the front of my brain and form up. Whether this down time is cooking, slobbing about in my PJs, meditating or riding my motorbike (ha! I knew I’d get us back to bikes somehow!) I do value it and find myself embracing my circumstances rather than fighting them. I’m off to find my helmet now…

    • Keni B Rossy says:

      Ha! Thanks for sharing, Becca! I feel the same way about ‘recharging’ – it’s definitely a thang :)

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Haha Becca, that made me laugh, especially the foot behind your ear :p

      Thanks for sharing your story, it’s another great reminder about the importance of looking after ourselves :)

  8. Grant says:

    Great article, thanks!

  9. Michael says:

    When I hit “5) CHANGE Your Metaphorical Engine Oil”, my mind was immediately drawn to the “Metaphorical Engine Oil” portion. Meaning, “what do you do to keep yourself lubricated” (i.e. functioning smoothly)? I agree with Neil that it could be many different things depending on the individual, but we do need to identify what it is that keeps us going. Whether it is reading a favorite author (or a new one), spending time with friends or alone, playing an instrument, or any of a number of options, go forth and do that thing. The more we keep ourselves functioning smoothly, the easier it is to both do what we need to do and to keep our sanity while doing it.

    I always have several different projects going at the same time (but not always on the same day). By switching from one project to another I am able to prevent burnout on any one project. I have my project completion schedule in front of me so that I don’t lose track of something and miss a deadline. This type of system allows me to both complete my work and to feed my soul & passions to be able to continue completing my work. For me it is a “win-win” situation because I can give myself the flexibility to renew my “Metaphorical Engine Oil” while continuing to move forward.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Wonderful thinking Michael. I love that that little throwaway line has sparked some thoughts in you. And I love that system – I try the same thing with several different projects that I can switch between. Thank you for sharing :)

      • Beka says:

        …coming back to this, sudden flash of insight reading Michael’s words: reminds me of the Franklin Covey idea of Sharpen the Saw… And I agree, this metaphorical point can be interpreted in as many ways as there are multi-peeps ;)

        Happy New Year!

  10. Fran says:

    Excellent blog, Neal! Thank you. I resonate mostly with ‘inflate your tires correctly’. I realized that inefficient thoughts deflate my tires way too often. I have to seriously get rid of those. A good New Year’s resolution :-)

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Definitely, Fran. I find that making very small changes to remove ‘friction’ helps me to be much more productive. Silly example – the writing program I use used to need five or so clicks to open, find the project, load the project…

      I found a way to reduce it to just one click to open whatever project I want, and suddenly I have much less resistance to sitting down and getting work done. Very tiny change with very big results :)

  11. Kelly says:

    Thanks, Neil. Highly applicable concepts for me right now!

    Love the ZAMM connection… it’s a favorite book of mine, as well — so much so that I named my daughter Phaedra.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Amazing :D It’s a lovely name, and I would smile at the (slightly bizarre) philosophical connection too :D Love it!

  12. April says:

    Yes! Thank you, Neil. I think my engine has been revving too high for too long. But I’m working on sorting that out.

    Anyone else feel like their motorcycle is a one-off model that has plenty of quirks and fiddly maintenance issues? Yet at the same time it’s one-of-a-kind and a beaut. A constant balancing act.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Haha, I definitely feel that way, April. Plenty of quirks over here. But plenty to appreciate too – like you say, it’s a real balancing act. Hope you remember to take good care of yours and give the engine a little rest :)

  13. Em says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post! :) Even number 5, I can’t quite express it in words but I know what it means, at least to me. Great job writing ;)

  14. Mary says:

    I really needed to hear this, thank you! The point that stood out to me the most was how I’m always pushing myself hard on multiple projects at one time … it is one way to get a lot of amazing things done, but it is also a recipe for going crazy. I think you saved my sanity a bit today. Now, how to remember this tomorrow?

  15. Nise says:

    Hi Neil! Thanks for the entry.
    I find it really hard to function throughout the day if I haven’t worked out in the morning. It makes me gradually more vulnerable to anxiety and depression. And If I don’t work out for a few days, and I ignore the consequences, they build up and it gets a lot worse!
    I have found that keeping a schedule helps me get MORE done. Sometimes I can follow through the schedule with no problem but I get frustrated so easily and so quickly just because I didn’t finish EVERYTHING. And usually that frustration is what puts me off and then I stop working out and I stop following a schedule.
    So then I have to start over again, It’s like a never ending circle. But I know there is something different I can schedule and do when I get frustrared to break it. Perhaps organise my stuff, dancing, writing, or painting…
    Also getting my possible (I´m like 90% sure) ADD diagnosed and treated may help a lot but I should be really careful not to confuse and excuse my lack of effort with my learning disability.

  16. Fleur Fallon says:

    I think the putty tribe have passion and purpose…but we might be a bit stretched as we want to embrace too much purpose at once….
    An interesting take on those who have a breadth of experience is this TED talk from HR Manager Regina Hartley from UPS…wish other HR -Recruitment Managers would take note of this..too often they screen out potentials because they do not fit their narrowly defined person spec…. Sound familiar?


    • Nise says:

      Hey Fleur!
      I love that talk. But I feel bad because I feel like I’m a silver spoon that cries over nothing… But you are right. The example of the inconsistent job switcher sounds definitely like a multipotentialite…
      Do you switch jobs a lot?

  17. Tamara says:

    New to the multipotenialite idea, but WOW! is it ever me! Vary Your Usage is the best advice ever. I am easily bored with things about which I am not passionate, but can get them done if I can enjoy my passion even just a little. Making time to fit in my passion has been my problem. Self-care = life saver! Thanks!!

  18. Becca says:

    Flear and Nise,
    Very interesting. I was a constant job hopper until my current job where I’ve been for 17 years. It’s always changing with different projects and several secondments. Also my employer is pretty flexible so I can pursue my own projects outside work. A good reminder of why I stick with it despite low pay…

    • Nise says:

      Hey Becca
      That sounds cool. I think the freedom makes up for the low pay. I think that way you could even earn money from your other projects, besides your sanity and well-being is the most rewarding pay you can have. I’ve never had a job but when I have one I would love something like that.

35 Comments Trackbacks For This Post

  1. To read - Beyond | Pearltrees

Leave a Comment