Drop the Strain and Achieve Your Goals with Flow
We love myths. We love a good story. But what we love even more is an excuse. The myth I have in mind here is the myth of effort. The idea that achieving something must be painful, and that if no effort is involved whatever success results from it must be cast in doubt if not dismissed.
Wherever that myth came from, it is wrong and harmful. At the base of this myth is the idea of default inadequacy. That whatever you have in mind is superior to you and thus unattainable unless you fix yourself up first. This is followed up by the presumption of obstacles. The idea that what you want is as distant as it is desirable.
It’s only in relationship to a clear goal that we can even talk of obstacles. You need to know where you are going and make sure that it is the only destination. If you don’t have this focus, you will find yourself running in circles at high speed, never to arrive anywhere in particular.
Get clear on your primary focus. What is it that you want first at the cost of all the other objectives? Make sure that you really want it. Ask yourself if avoiding something else, like a discomfort, is more important than pursuing your primary focus. Sometimes you can’t get to the oasis without walking through scorching hot sand.
Whatever you are not willing to give up for your primary focus is more important than your primary focus. But is it really? You have to get the conflicts and contradictions out of the way by direct comparison.
A critical distinction is craving versus vision, or compensatory goals versus existential goals. Most procrastination is the yielding to immediate desires and creature comforts at the cost of the initial steps toward your vaster vision.
Contrast your immediate desires with the vaster vision of your primary focus. Is the comfort of familiarity, now, more important than accomplishing your primary focus? Your primary focus is more important than any of your impulses to avoid something, and more important than any discomfort.
Once you know what you want, dive into your primary focus and get super-specific. Envision what you want and make it a detailed rich sensory picture with measurable data points. Rather than just immersing yourself in the mental picture of your outcome, add elements with which you can measure your progress.
What is the purpose of your primary focus? Go deeper and ask yourself what you will be getting out of it on an existential level. After all, all our actions come down to the net effect of our quality of existence. How will achieving your goal shift your quality of existence? Do you know what values underly it?
When you know your goal on this level of intimacy, you won’t need to recall it like a shopping list because you learned to connect with it on a pre-conceptual level. This is dramatically useful, because when you can connect with the motion of your primary focus, your mind can approach the immediate details of your journey with more clarity.
You know what you want. You know what it will look, sound and feel like. You know why you want it. You know the underlying drive that magnetizes it. You know what the motion of your primary focus feels like. You know when your primary focus is present, with a clear mind, free of doubt, free to give your best.
However, those who get too attached to their goals have a tendency to hold them in too much reverence. They get scared of their goals. They plan forever, and create an ever increasing reality gap of inadequacy. Presuming too many obstacles leads them to overcompensate, overcorrect and thus sabotage their very efforts by gratuitously increasing effort.
To perform at your best, you need to learn how to give your best without strain. Think provocatively and ask yourself what mindset and what processes will bring you closer to your goal.
Forget about the ideal goal for a while, experience the sensation of your focus and connect it to the key processes. Ask yourself, how you can change your thinking to reduce the experience of effort? What shift in perspective will allow you to overcome your habitual barriers and roadblocks?
Those who focus too much on the results have a tendency to monitor themselves at every turn. This prevents the emergence of flow because it interrupts precious chunks of continuity to build momentum.
You can create a game that will make it so. And no, don’t worry, you won’t kid yourself. Your baseline reality is a game too, you just forgot to forget its rules. It's difficult to be ordinary without the dogma of conformity. Create your own rules, don't just accept those you were dealt.
When you allow yourself to disregard the results and focus only on increasing your abilities, you are operating with a generative mindset—the mindset of excellence. That is to grow and exceed yourself at all costs, playfully, not desperately.
Tension decreases your ability to think, act and perform. The idea is to get really good at something first by building unconditional momentum with the key processes. With a generative mindset the notions of failure, effort, strain and desperation fall off, and tension melts into flow.
I don’t do anything from a position of tension. Those who do, condition themselves to associate tension, strain and effort with performance. And when they engage in an action, waste their energy and mental bandwidth on overcompensation.
What one person can do with effort, another person can do with flow. The difference is that the former operates from a presumption of inadequacy and the latter without the presumption of obstacles.
When you approach something new with a generative mindset, you grow your skills with flow and effortlessness. Harder, better, faster, stronger, because the generative mindset is the mindset of excellence. Step into it, because all results are just ripples of the fountainhead of process.