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Enjoying the Path

I was recently put together a lecture about developing a winning mindset for my office. The gist of the lecture focused on goal setting, focused practice, and reinforcement of success. These were the same concepts I started talking about in the beginning of this blog. The things I wrote about then, and rediscussed in this lecture, came from the excellent work of Lanny Basham. But I don’t want to revisit that today. Rather, I want to revisit another book that I had these folks read excerpts from.

Mastery, by George Leonard is a fairly light and quick read. My copy is yellowed with sunlight from prominently resting on the coffee table for years, and I periodically glance through it looking for little tidbits of wisdom. Like Basham’s work, I wrote a bit about Mastery early on in my journey. Having gone through it again, there was something that stood out to me that I think we all struggle with.

Leonard talks about the concept of homeostasis. The idea is that every living thing seeks to keep its environment stable. In complex organisms, like us, that includes body temperature, blood pressure, hormone levels, oxygen levels, muscle tension, glucose, and millions of other processes that must be kept in constant balance. To these systems, survival means maintaining the status quo. This continues to apply even if we think the status quo is wrong. This is why it is often so hard to pick up new “healthy” habits when we decide we need to live a better lifestyle. Our body recognizes the change, and will trigger alarms to stop us from continuing. These alarms take many forms, from sore muscles to cravings. Given enough time and effort, the new healthy lifestyle becomes the new “norm” and your body will fight to maintain it.

Homeostasis applies to social pressure as well. Again, our natural instinct is to maintain the status quo. We don’t necessarily like change, and very often find it threatening- even if it is someone else who is doing the changing. Think of the times where someone has tried to quit smoking or drinking, and their circle of friends taunts them or encourages them to continue on with the old habits anyway. “C’mon mate,” they say,”nobody here cares. Have a drink!”

Backsliding is a universal experience. Every one of us resists significant change, no matter whether it’s for the worse or for the better. Our body, brain and behavior have a built-in tendency to stay the same within rather narrow limits, and to snap back when changed…Be aware of the way homeostasis works…Expect resistance and backlash. Realize that when the alarm bells start ringing, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re sick or crazy or lazy or that you’ve made a bad decision in embarking on the journey of mastery. In fact, you might take these signals as an indication that your life is definitely changing–just what you’ve wanted….Be willing to negotiate with your resistance to change. (Mastery, p. 107-115).

This is true of any endeavor we undertake. People will try to challenge our decisions because they represent changes to their perceptions of us or the environment.

It could be marksmanship: “Why are you going to the range so much? You planning on killing someone?”

Or perhaps prepping: “Damn dude, how paranoid are you?!?”

Even fitness: “I could never do that, I like sleep and food too much. Want a beer?”

These negative pressures can easily dissuade us from continuing down our new path, which is exactly what they are designed to do. The trick, really, is to surround yourself with people and things that support you. Barring that, try to change the minds of others as well until they accept your change or even join you on the path. The bottom line, though, is that you will not engage in the required amounts of practice and focus that are required of you unless you overcome this tendency towards the status quo.

You must challenge yourself to become a constant student. Accept that you will probably never truly master anything. You will always be working on yourself. You may become better than most, or even be the “best” in some objective measure, but you will realize that there is always more to learn- and that is the beauty of it all. If you challenge yourself in this way, you will see that the world opens up to you and begs you to engage in it.

Another quote from Mastery sums this up well:

Our preoccupation with goals, results, and the quick fix has separated us from our own experiences…there are all of those chores that most of us can’t avoid: cleaning, straightening, raking leaves, shopping for groceries, driving the children to various activities, preparing food, washing dishes, washing the car, commuting, performing the routine, repetitive aspects of our jobs….Take driving, for instance. Say you need to drive ten miles to visit a friend. You might consider the trip itself as in-between-time, something to get over with. Or you could take it as an opportunity for the practice of mastery. In that case, you would approach your car in a state of full awareness…Take a moment to walk around the car and check its external condition, especially that of the tires…Open the door and get in the driver’s seat, performing the next series of actions as a ritual: fastening the seatbelt, adjusting the seat and the rearview mirror…As you begin moving, make a silent affirmation that you’ll take responsibility for the space all around your vehicle at all times…We tend to downgrade driving as a skill simply because it’s so common. Actually maneuvering a car through varying conditions of weather, traffic, and road surface calls for an extremely high level of perception, concentration, coordination, and judgement…Driving can be high art…Ultimately, nothing in this life is “commonplace,” nothing is “in between.”  The threads that join your every act, your every thought, are infinite.  All paths of mastery eventually merge. (Mastery, p. 141-150).

Don’t get caught up in the day to day status quo. Engage in the little things you do each day and make the pursuit of mastery part of your every day life, not just marksmanship, health, or whatever your pursuit. Life continues to exist between those special moments at the range, or with your family- you just need to engage.

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