2 - Process, Not Product

There's a long ramble about the game of golf. It takes lots of practicing to make the game fun, and because it is not fun people tend to neglect to practice at it. It takes a great deal of discipline to buckle down and do the work, and this is the reason many people become discouraged. They do not have the patience to apply themselves diligently enough to get up the steepest part of the learning curve.

There's more meditating on how people trying to do too many things and end up doing them all very poorly because they do not focus on anything sufficiently. It is ironic that it takes a lot more effort to do something badly, and spreading oneself so thinly guarantees that everything will be a struggle. People who are very good at something make it seem effortless - and it is, for them.

He obliquely describes the Zen-like notion of doing what you are doing. When you are practicing, you are doing exactly that. If you focus too much on the desired outcome, you lose perspective of your current activity. This inattentiveness to the process often prevents reaching a satisfactory outcome.

He mentions the idea of "good practicing" - which means paying attention to the process of achieving a goal. If the process is not done well, the outcome will not be good. You do not achieve things by wanting to a achieve them, but by doing the things that are necessary to reach that destination. And ideally, you should find joy in the process.

He mulls over the act of learning something, which is observational and conceptual, which is different than practicing as the latter means actually doing something, and often doing it attentively and repetitively. You can learn what it means to draw a straight line without a ruler very easily - but to do it requires a lot of practice.

Much self-help literature is focused on the goal and ignores the process. It is assumed that the desire to be finished doing something will motivate people to do it well. The result is that they want to do it quickly and fail to do it well because their eyes are on the outcome rather than the process of achieving it. They pay little attention to what they are doing and take little pleasure in the journey. Or said another way - focusing on the goal keeps us from living in the present, because the goal hasn't occurred yet.

More zen-like musings that focusing your attention on the present reduces stress and enables the mind to focus on what is essential and ignore the distractions. It's "being where we are." He suggests that failing to focus on what's before us causes us to make more mistakes, and to feel greater anxiety about them, because the mistake is a barrier to the goal.

If it is a mistake to focus on the goal so much you lose site of the moment, it is also a mistake to focus so much on the moment that you lose sight of the goal. The goal is necessary to target your actions to an outcome - but that is all. It's like the pin in a map that marks the destination, which gives you a sense of which direction to move in the moment, but it doesn't tell you the route, or how to take each step.

Ironically, he mentions the very act of writing this book. He feels that if his goal was to get to the end of each chapter, he would not do a very good job of exploring the topic of the present one.

Back to the topic of mistakes: they should not be stressful because they guide you to the goal. He uses the example of tossing balls into a cup. The first ball doesn't make it into the cup, but tells you how to adjust your throw on the next one. It may take a number of tries before you get it quite right, and what you learn from each failure guides you closer to success in the next try.

Repetition is part of practice, and trial-and-error is necessary to success. But more importantly, if you are anxious to achieve the goal, you are often failing to pay attention to what you are doing. Each miss is a failure than brings frustration, not an attempt that imparts learning.

"Judgment redirects and wastes our energy" when we are predicting the outcome of an attempt. Even if we are hopeful of a positive outcome, it takes our minds out of the present moment, causes us to rush, and generally draws our attention from where it needs to be.

It is human nature to be impatient with life. We take action in hopes of achieving an outcome and, except for leisure activities, we focus on the outcome and fail to experience the process. It takes great effort to stay "in the moment" - and there's a great deal of religious teaching that attempts to remind men of the importance of doing so.

Western culture, religion, and philosophy lacks this perspective, and we are taught in every aspect of life to show great interest for the outcome. The process is an inefficient inconvenience and we are coached to ignore it almost completely and keep our eyes on the goal.

The irony of this perspective is that we are so focused on the outcome that we neglect to do the things that are necessary to achieve it. And worse, we seek to take shortcuts, even at the expense of ethics, to get what we want faster. It is the reason people cheat, lie, and steal.

But neither does he propose the exact opposite, which is what society seems to do. The educational system recognizes that grades aren't meaningful, seeks to encourage and reward participation, and student are even worse off than before. Goals direct our actions, so we cannot dispense with one for the sake of the other - but instead seek to accommodate both.

Another personal account follows about the author's struggle as a student, his desire to do better and frustration at his inability. Grades were the measure of success but provided no guidance for the process of learning. And so he developed a dread of math and a sense of inadequacy. This is not at all uncommon among students. And the attempts of the educational system to address the problems have been entirely misguided and uneffective - and so they do more of the same: more homework, more testing, more pressure on the student to somehow improve his learning from a system that will not improve its teaching methods.

He shifts to the commercial sector, particularly in the rise of Japan as an industrial superpower. The Japanese have a long-standing cultural tradition of being process-oriented at attempting to do things perfectly by placing very intense focus on the activities that lead to an outcome. While the west is concerned with piece-count, Japan is concerned with perfection - and it is perfectly acceptable in their culture to spend quite a lot of time achieving the best outcome. The blacksmith who invests six months in a single sword is not a laggard, but a craftsman whose skill is respected. And as proof of the value of this perspective, consider their unquestioned dominance in the consumer electronics industry.

There's a brief mention of the western focus on instant gratification and the credit-card culture of getting things right away without the necessity of earning them - and the grave damage that has done to many in a culture of debt. Leap to the brevity of happiness that is produced because the novelty wears off quickly. Leap to the pleasure of anticipation, and the feeling of accomplishment that lingers when we have worked hard to earn something.

Another shift to corporate management, specifically the way in which interest in short-term profits undermines the long-term health of the organization and its employees. The present financial crisis, and arguably every crisis for the past few centuries, stems from the same perspective.

He insists that most people will agree that these attitudes are pervasive and counterproductive, but that they feel that it is unstoppable and unwilling to change their own habits. His hope is that the reader has come realize this and is genuinely interested in making a positive change.