Finding joy in effort (DW#890)

Yesterday we talked about how work can make us happy.

Of course it is not all work. Busy work which has no meaning or purpose will not create a state of "flow" or satisfaction.

And neither will "shallow" work – that is activities which are done half-heartedly or in a state of distraction.

Before we go any further, let us define "flow" or finding joy in effort.

Flow, according to Wikipedia, is the "mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity."

Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi by the way, calls flow the "secret to happiness."

In order to be in a state of flow and find joy in effort, we need to be

  • Fully immersed (distraction free) and
  • Enjoy the process (which by the way can only happen if we are fully immersed and focused on what we are doing)

Daniel Goleman also affirms (in his book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence) that full focus...

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The joy of effort (DW#889)

Do you dream of lying on the beach, chilling and taking it easy? Do you believe that this will make you happy?

I hate to break it to you, but it will not.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi tells us in his ground breaking book Flow, that human beings completely misjudge what will make us happy. We tend to imagine that vegging out in front of the TV and engaging in other leisure activities will make us happy. But it does not. Surprisingly, meaningful work, which we sometimes run away from, does.

Csikszentmihalyi says: "we have a paradoxical situation: On the job people feel skillful and challenged, and therefore feel more happy, strong, creative, and satisfied. In their free time people feel that there is generally not much to do and their skills are not being used, and therefore they tend to feel more sad, weak, dull, and dissatisfied. Yet they would like to work less and spend more time in leisure."

Pretty strange, right? We hurry through activities which are good for us towards those which...

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The jagged path (DW#888)

The path of progress is not a straight line. It is normal and expected that when we are learning and growing, we will not be making progress every single day.

In fact, some days, it seems that for every two steps forward, we are taking one step back!

And at times, in fact, it is even worse than that. We seem to slip back a couple steps for every step we take forward. In other words, we appear to be regressing rather than progressing.

It is during these times that we are most vulnerable to giving up and leaving the Master’s path and exiting into our favorite alternative (recall the Dabbler, the Obsessive and the Hacker and know your tendency!). It is during these times when we may be telling ourselves that it is no good, we are not cut out for this and the "program" is not working.

Here’s the thing, though.

Once we KNOW that this regression is INEVITABLE, that it is a part of the process, we can encourage ourselves to keep following the process and to keep going.

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Loving the plateau (DW#887)

Yesterday we talked about how the process of self-growth involves many plateaus. And since we will inevitably be spending time on plateaus, it makes sense that we enjoy them.

And that can only happen if we stay focused on the process, and enjoy the journey rather than be obsessed with the destination.

Leonard says: "Goals are important. But they exist in the future, beyond the pale of the sensory realm. Practice, the path of mastery, exists only in the present. You can see it, hear it, smell it, feel it. To love the plateau is to love the eternal now, to enjoy the inevitable spurts of progress and the fruits of accomplishment, then serenely to accept the new plateau that waits just beyond them. To love the plateau is to love what is most essential and enduring in your life."

Process, process, process. That is all we have control over and all that we can do in the present.

Leonard says that he learnt to enjoy the plateaus of his own aikido practice—the moment when he found...

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The reality of life (DW #886)

If you watch movies you know that producers work hard to keep our attention on the screen. Real life seems quite exciting – a series of endless climaxes as Leonard describes it:
"In all of this, the specific content isn’t nearly as destructive to mastery as is the rhythm. One epiphany follows another. One fantasy is crowded out by the next. Climax is piled upon climax. There’s no plateau."
A little bit of work is followed by great results in the movies and this can skew our perceptions in many ways.
The real life path of mastery is not that exciting when we watch it moment by moment because it involves many plateaus—often long ones—where nothing appears to be improving very fast.
Leonard advises: "If you’re planning to embark on a master’s journey, you might find yourself bucking current trends in American life. Our hyped-up consumerist society is engaged, in fact, in an all out war on mastery."
One more...
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The second wind (DW #885)

We have been discussing that while we gain energy by taking action, the pull back to the old way of doing things can be very strong.
And this can be quite discouraging.
We may feel like we have run out of steam. Have no more effort left within ourselves.
But have you heard of the second wind?
The Second wind is a phenomenon in distance running, such as marathons or road running (as well as other sports), whereby an athlete who is out of breath and too tired to continue suddenly finds the strength to press on at top performance with less exertion.
In other words there will be times when we are tired, we think we are done, that we have tried everything, given our best, and think that we have no more to give. This is NOT the time to quit on important matters.
If we focus on putting one foot in front of the other, to keep going, we are very likely to experience a "second wind" – reserves of energy and motivation that we did not know...
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Use it or lose it (DW #884)

Did you know that we gain energy by using energy?
"A human being is the kind of machine that wears out from lack of use. There are limits, of course, and we do need healthful rest and relaxation, but for the most part we gain energy by using energy... It might well be that all of us possess enormous stores of potential energy, more than we could ever hope to use."
Here’s the thing: we definitely need energy for self-mastery and working on ourselves. But here’s also the thing: in order to get energy, we need to understand what fuels us and what drains us.
Here are some recommendations from Leornard:
  • Set priorities and make decisions. He says: "Indecision leads to inaction, which leads to low energy, depression, despair." What have you been putting off making a decision on? Make a  decision. Get clear on what you’re going to do. And do it.
  • Take action! (this is possibly the most important – overthinking drains our...
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The pull of homeostasis (DW #883)

We have a set point for feelings, thoughts and behaviours that have developed over our lifetime.
And just like the thermostat that keeps temperature in your home within a certain range, our feelings, thoughts and behaviours also stay within a certain range.
This is our "normal", our comfort zone, our homeostasis (the tendency towards a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements)
And so it is understandable and to be expected that when we try to change, we are going to feel a natural tug back to how things were.
And when this happens, we need to remind ourselves that nothing has gone wrong. This is simply a part of the process of change.
Just like a rocket ship when it tries to lift off and escape the gravitational pull of the earth.
(Did you know that the bulk of the fuel used in a trip to space is in the lift-off phase?  This is how strong the pull back to our old way of doing things can be)
Leonard shares...
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What is your practice? (DW #882)

What are your practices in the various domains of your life?
Most of us have a spiritual practice already. We pray several times a day, may read spiritual texts regularly.
How about in other areas of our lives?
What are your practices in your relationships? Do you have daily rituals that you practice regularly, regardless of how you are feeling? (Very important not to confuse feeling love with practicing love!) Do you have practices around appreciation, around service, around expressions of affection?
Can you make your self-development a practice? Create rituals around your meditation or journaling or reading or exercising so that it’s not a "when I can squeeze it in" thing but a firm commitment, a fundamental part of your day? A practice that you honor on your path to mastery.
Anything that you do any case, can be turned into an intentional practice on your path to self-mastery, by the way.
Simple things like washing the dishes,...
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Practice as a noun (DW #881)

You may have noticed that we keep talking about practice.
When people ask for "tips, tricks and strategies" to do anything or overcome challenges, my answer is the same: I don’t have any tips, tricks or strategies. I do have practices that work for me. Practices that when I do them, things work better and when I fall off, am inconsistent or stop doing the practices, things go back to the way they were.
Practices. It is one of the key words in my model of the world.
When I recently stumbled upon George Leonard’s description of the word practice, therefore, I was very interested.
He describes practice as a noun (rather than a verb).
"A practice (as a noun) can be anything you practice on a regular basis as an integral part of your life—not in order to gain something else, but for its own sake... For a master, the rewards gained along the way are fine, but they are not the main reason for the journey. Ultimately, the master and...
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