6 - The Four "S" Words
The author introduces four "S" worlds that are useful in developing control over one's own mind, which represent techniques that work in combination:
- Simple - The mind becomes paralyzed by complexity, and while many issues are complex they can be simplified, broken down components that are far more manageable than the whole. Reducing complex matters to simple steps helps to make them manageable and avoid mental fatigue.
- Small - A very simple task may still be very large, and overwhelming by virtue of its size. Large things can similarly be broken down into small ones to better focus the mind and avoid procrastination. For example, cleaning the garage is such a huge task that most people avoid it, but sorting through the items on one shelf is manageable - so do that, then look for something else that can be done easily.
- Short - A simple and small task may still take a long time to finish, so focus instead on short bursts of activity, ten minutes to an hour, that presents a more manageable chunk of time. Consider the garage-cleaning example: it might take three days, or it can be done an hour a day over the course of a month.
- Slow - Work at a pace that allows you to pay attention to what you are doing. Rushed work is bad work, and needs to be repeated (or the poor results become discouraging), but working at a steady page enables you to do things once and do them right. The paradox here is that by trying to work slowly, you will often complete tasks more quickly and with less effort because your actions are focused. Going slowly will also change your perception of time's passage because you will devote your energy to what you are doing and lose your sense of time.
From there, he speaks of putting these to work in his job as a piano tuner, which is a bit protracted and fussy, but some of the details are worth preserving:
- His primary focus was on working slowly - taking out one tool at a time, placing it gently into position, making each of his motions slow and deliberate, then replacing it in his kit carefully.
- Doing so caused him great anxiety and the sense he was wasting time rather than moving quickly enough, but he choked that back and continued to move slowly. It took a lot of concentration just to hold himself back.
- In time, the anxiety died down and he began to enjoy the pace. He applied the same effort to being slow in unnecessary motions, such as walking and eating.
- He had taken off his watch to avoid checking the time, and did not discover until he glanced at the clock in his truck and the end of the hob that he had actually shaved 40% of the usual time. He felt he must have been an hour late, but had actually worked faster.
- He attributes the seeming speed to the elimination of waste - one tool at a time meant less time sorting through a clutter, one string at a time meant he got it right the first time, etc.
- Focusing on slow also fed the other three: the task became simple, small, and short as he concentrated on tuning each string.
- He also notes that he accomplished much that day, and did not feel at all stressed or overworked at the end of it.
He's applied this technique to other parts of his life - simply not rushing through things. It is difficult to do so because our culture demands "faster" and we become automated in many activities and fail to pay attention. At the onset, it requires a great deal of effort just forcing yourself to remain slow and steady, but over time it becomes second nature to be "in the moment."