In our society, we’re pressured to be productive, to produce something to show for our work (even in play). All the “be effective” advice is about setting goals. But no one talks much about what to do when we achieve our goals. Everyone seems intent on immediately moving on to the next thing.
At the beginning of 2020, I realized I needed to reframe the argument between those who advise us to focus on our goals and those who advise us to to focus on the journey. My question is what to do when we arrive? Personally, I’d like to enjoy having arrived. (Even when physically travelling, I’m irritated that we spend hours getting to a place and then don’t stop to experience it, to enjoy the view.)
Life isn’t like school where we take test, check off that we’ve attained some skill, and then move on. Life is putting our expertise into practice, exercising our skills and knowledge.
So rather than set a bunch of goals for the new year, I looked at the three centers of interest in my life and tried to define what “practicing” them meant to me.
When I did this I immediately saw that these different activities shared an underlying theme, a mindset: my approach to how I aspire to live my life.
- Explore: Exercise my curiosity. Research.
- Discover: Observe. Examine.
What surprised me and why?
- Distill: Analyze.
What is the essence of the experience and why is it important to me?
- Synthesize. Create.
Document the lesson learned. Convey the essense of the experience to others, or even just my future self.
An example of this type of daily practice is how I view the garden. Often I eye it as thankless hours of drudgery that has to be done over and over again (like dishes or laundry). However, if I walk around each day with my morning cup of coffee and explore the garden, looking for what’s changed, then my entire attitude toward the garden transforms. If I change my lens to focus on how I can share my discoveries, then I’m motivated to research and pull my observations into something more coherent, as I did on my garden blog between 2000 and 2008.
So, this embrace of daily practice isn’t a new process to me. Rather I’m reviving a mindset that served me well in the past and can be applied to other aspects of my life.
My attitude has really improved since I’ve been approaching every situation (no matter how mundane) by asking myself, “What can I discover here?
Even activities like watching YouTube videos, which would be otherwise passive, are improved because I take notes. What did I get out of that? Did I learn anything new? How can I apply it to something else I’m working on?
Of course, this practice requires a lot more work than passive consumption. But it is my work. And if I spend just 8 hours a day in my practice, it’s no different than when I worked in the office. I still have the time to do laundry and dishes and run errands after work. But work comes first.