The Pursuit of Excellence Practical steps toward happiness

11Mar/150

New acts, new thought

Your thoughts manifest reality.

Consider the story of two twins born with the same degenerative disease that left each unable to walk at age 20. One fell into despair and died two years later. The other rejected self pity and led a full life. Did their minds create their fates?

Why is is that so many seniors die soon after they lose their beloved spouse of 40 years? Do they give up?

You've heard of post-traumatic stress disorder, where traumatic events continue to afflict a person. But there is a phenomenon called post-traumatic growth, in which the same events lift a person to new heights of resilience. Why leads one airline crash victim to fall apart and the other into noble purpose? No doubt brain chemistry is part of the answer, but how much credit belongs to our choice of thoughts? The great majority, in my experience.

But what happens when we can't change our thoughts?

When I left a career that was no longer right for me I wandered for a year along deepening mental grooves, panicked about money, lacking identity, fearful I would never find purpose. I tried but could not change my thoughts. Exasperated, I changed my actions, and the negativity evaporated. I learned that the thought-reality connection works in both directions.

A psychologist wrote a beautiful magazine article about a woman who came to see her. Her husband had become unhappy and listless. He put all of his energy into a job he hated and at home watched TV all night. This woman convinced her skeptical husband to see this psychologist, who gave him one task: when you park your car at work tomorrow, take a winding route to the front door.

On Monday morning, instead of making a bee-line to the office, he walked around his car, turned left, walked two cars up, turned again, and walked forward in an arc to the door. He tried small variations on this route for the next few days. After a week the wife returned to the psychologist.

"What did you do to him?" she asked. "He's a completely different person!"

At home he was funny, thoughtful, and gave up TV.

The smallest act can be the catalyst for great change.

These last few weeks my major project has led me into a routine and life has turned grey around the edges. Today I'm exploring the city, far from any familiar grooves.

If you find yourself in a grey space, do something new. Playing banjo in your underwear in the bathroom could lead you to something great.

19Feb/150

Trust the Soup

Where does creativity come from? Is beautiful work the fruit of methodical, superior thinking, and grit? Or does it spring effortlessly from some bottomless source, through us, if only we relax enough to let it?

Who cares? Does creativity matter? If you said, 'yes, of course', then you are fortunate. For too much of my life I labeled creativity as a frivolous luxury, the domain of those with too much time on their hands. Written on the surface of my subconscious I saw: 'artist = slacker'.

But I was just jealous.

I approached every task as, well, a task; a puzzle to be solved, a nut to be cracked. One day a friend of a friend said he "felt sorry for fools with no creativity." He was referring to the suited up 9 to 5 types, not knowing I mingled in those ranks. I fumed in silence and labeled him a slacker, at the same time admiring his ceaseless enthusiasm in his work and life.

Over time I lost joy in my own work while taking pride in a reputation as a 'ruthless taskmaster.' I annihilated to-do lists and generated reams of work that wanted to be good, but that lacked... spark. Lifeless progeny.

Ruthless taskmaster lost its appeal.

I thought back on the rare times in my life that I was excited, inspired, and lost in a pursuit. I thought about the time I was compelled to throw a fundraiser concert, to write a sci-fi short story, to start playing piano again, for no apparent reason.

That work didn't feel like work, and the results had life in them. I created.

Almost without exception those who create great work credit the same cosmic soup for their brilliance. This inexhaustible wellspring has a will of its own, a desire to manifest itself. The artist sees himself as nothing but a midwife for genius.

Creativity belongs not only to painters, writers, and musicians. We're all born with it. You can apply it anywhere -- all you have to do is trust the soup.

(Credit to Steven Pressfield's book Do The Work for the inspiration)