One of the core principles of mindfulness meditation is to participate without additional effort. The aim is to relax into awareness. When you get distracted, you don’t force your attention back, you invite it.
It’s designed like this so we don’t load effort and stress back into the system. When we lose our way, we don’t beat yourself up about it – because that doesn’t help. We just acknowledge the distraction and come back to the focus.
But this approach doesn’t have to be limited to meditation – it’s applicable to almost everything we do. There aren’t too many activities where we couldn’t benefit from a state of relaxed, flow and focus. And just as with meditation we don’t achieve that state by loading our stress and effort back into the system.
Whether we’re writing an essay or washing up, we’re bound to get distracted or bored or frustrated. What matters is not that we got distracted, but what we do next – how we respond.
If we can return to focus by gentle invitation and not loaded with frustration, stress and disappointment then we have a much better chance of a successful outcome.
Our time is under pressure and we rush from one task/meeting/thought to the next.
We often provision enough time to do something, but not enough time to care about it.
We get a lot done this way, sure, but what does this rushing cost?
- We write the email, but don’t give it that final once-over
- We’re asked for an opinion and we give an impulsive reaction
- We act and respond out of habit, rather than authenticity
The world is constantly experiencing a version of us, and our work with less care than we might like to give.
And right now, the world feels like it could use a little more care, not less.
Now, it isn’t practical for us to agonise over every word, tweak every pixel and second-guess every thought.
But what if we left space for:
- one last look after we think something is ready to go?
- one more beat to properly understand the question?
- one more moment to apply the full force of our effort, attention and focus?
What would be the value of making space for just a little more care?
I’m having a great time reading Steven Pressfield’s Nobody Wants To Read Your Sh*t.
Not only is it fun to read, but it’s easy to read because Pressfield has done the work to make it simple.
He uses short, impactful sentences. He keeps the word-count lean and he doesn’t use big words when small ones will do.
He’s not trying to convince you how smart he is, he’s trying to communicate ideas effectively. He’s trying to make it as easy as possible to read.
With writing, it’s easy to notice when someone’s done the work, but the idea is not limited to writing.
In every endeavour, you can make things better for the next person in the chain. You can put effort into your part which means they need less effort in theirs.
This is how you add value to a system.
If your work creates value which other people can realise, you’ve also created value for yourself.
Do the work to make it simpler for someone else and you’ve just made life better for everyone.
We often conflate and confuse effort and outcomes – to our detriment.
An outcome is something we can work towards, but ultimately it’s not completely within our control. It’s at least partially determined by external factors: the market, the weather, the thoughts and opinions of others.
Our own effort – including it’s magnitude and direction – is within our control. And it’s only through the application of our own effort that we can pursue preferable outcomes.
Effort is the hammer, outcomes are the nail.
When we reflect on our actions at the end of the day, it’s tempting to review our performance based on outcomes. Did we achieve what we wanted? Did we get the preferred outcome? While these are helpful to be aware of, they should not be the measures of our success.
Effort is a much better yardstick for evaluation. Did we apply our effort in the wisest, most just and courageous manner? This is a much more constructive question, because it focuses on what we can control.
If we didn’t apply our effort correctly, it may have compromised the outcome, but it will rarely, if ever, have been the sole determining factor.
If we optimise our application of effort, the outcomes will take care of themselves.
Every big job has a back you can break – a point at which you can apply attention and effort to make it manageable and enable big gains.
The trick is to find it early enough. To be oriented in the right way to see it.
If you’re stuck and not making headway, you’re probably applying your effort to the wrong point.
This doesn’t mean give up, it means re-orient.
Think of your task as a pizza.
You can make a pizza into equal parts by slicing it into thin discs or cutting it into slices.
Both will give you pieces of equal size, but one is a lot easier (without a weapons-grade laser).
This is orientation.
Think of your task as a car.
You can put the jack on the roof, of under the rim near the wheel arch.
Both will allow you to raise the jack, but only one will result in you raising the car.
This is applying the effort.
Now stop thinking about your task and go break its back.