3 - It's How You Look at It

The author speaks in a roundabout way about an obsession with perfection - the desire not merely to do something well, but to achieve the pinnacle of excellence. It's not enough to run a marathon, but to win the most popular race and break every record in doing so. The problem is that the vast majority of people will never do so - and for the very few that do, what then?

He speaks a bit about the way in which the media creates unrealistic expectations. The models and actors are perfect-looking people that lead average-looking people to be miserable with their own appearance. The lifestyles depicted are far more lavish than most people will ever be able to have, and the events more exciting than most will ever experience. Commercials depict the experience of owning a product as total satisfaction of desire that the real experience will not deliver, and suggest we should be unhappy until we have obtained it.

In sum, all of these influences serve to distort our perspective of our present selves, making us discontented and misleading us as to the pursuits that will lead us to happiness.

He backpedals a bit, suggesting that it is healthy to have sources of inspiration, and those who accomplish great things can serve as role models. But when we expect that we have the ability to achieve their results and use such individuals as benchmarks, we will end up disappointed and dejected.

Also, if you delve into the history of anyone who has had great success you will find that it didn't come easily to them. The star athlete invests years of training, hours every day, with coaches and trainers. It's important to be mindful that we cannot expect that we can step onto a golf course after taking a couple of lessons and duplicate their performance. We want the goal, but want to skip the process of achieving it.

He speaks of nature: at what point in the life of a flower has its bloom achieved perfection? In one sense, it is never perfect, as close inspection will show flaws even when it may seem to be ideal. In another sense, it is always perfect - it is perfect at being exactly what it is. (EN: This carries on a while and gets quite silly, but the point is well-taken that things are such as they are, and it is only mankind who is disappointed with himself for failing to be what he imagines he ought to be, and that this is entirely unnatural.)

There's another diversion about failing to be in-the-moment because we distract ourselves from the moment with thoughts of other things. We completely miss the present moment for thoughts of future moments that are often less important. There are instances, and rather few, when we are totally immersed in something and the rest of the world fades away - but these tend to be few and far between.

It's impossible to see oneself when we are in this state, but it's likely we have seen this in others: people who play video games become very zoned into what they are doing, completely oblivious to the outside world or any future event. People can get the same way while watching a movie or reading a book, or absorbed in other recreational activities. For many, part of the pleasure is being deeply engaged.

Interestingly, we tend to give full focus to things that are not particularly productive or important - and this is because we choose to do so. When attending to a necessary task, we are eager to complete the task and not very focused on the process. When we engage in pleasant activity, we plan for it and seek to immerse ourselves fully.

He refers to the Zen concept of the "beginner's mind" in which a person who is doing something for the first time must focus their full concentration on getting it right - and as they become more adept at an activity it is not necessary to give it full attention and they become lackadaisical and inattentive. In essence, they are on "autopilot" and this is where mistakes and accidents occur. (EN: The notion of "highway hypnosis" comes to mind as a good example.)

Aside of the danger of failing to focus on tasks such as driving or operating heavy equipment, there is also a lack of satisfaction that comes from failing to ne engaged even in a pleasant activity. Imagination is not as engaging as the stimulation of our senses, and that stimulation only occurs in the present moment.

He also notes that in the workplace, we seek to avoid failure rather than achieve success. We do not seek satisfaction from doing good work, but instead seek to avoid the punishment for failure to complete work on time and to meet the expectations others have of us. The fear of being reprimanded or fired, fear of the negative effects to the family that depends on our income, etc. creep into our minds and rob us of any satisfaction.

This also brings to mind the way in which work degrades quality of life even when a person is not on the job. The stress they experience in the office bleeds into their home life, such that they cannot be in the moment when spending time with family, but are always thinking of things at the office.

He mentions the profession of acting. Method actors are "in character" and deliver compelling performances by immersing themselves in their role. They are not distracted by themselves, but in the role of the fictional character and the moment in the drama that they are portraying. Most people have difficulty doing that in their real lives.

The author's advice is simply to endeavor to be process-oriented, even in work that is mundane or unpleasant. Keep your mind on the present and retrain your focus when you find yourself thinking about other things or other times. Be attentive to what you are doing at each moment. "This produces inner peace and you accomplish more with less effort."

He admits this is not the easiest thing to do, but it's worthwhile - and it also takes practice to compel your mind to focus. It will become easier over time.