“The inward work, however, consists in his turning the man he is, and the self he feels himself and perpetually finds himself to be, into the raw material of a training and shaping whose end is mastery. In it, the artist and the human being meet in something higher.” (Eugen Herrigel, Zen In The Art of Archery)
Our world is driven by results and external rewards. Much of what we do is based on what we hope to receive for performing a given action. Many students use earning potential as a focal point of career planing, not the simple premise of what it is that they like doing. Many people would walk away from their jobs today, without hesitation, if they had an alternative way of making the same amount of money that they are currently earning.
Incentives form the basis of the “rational man” (or women) – that mythical creature perfectly in tune with the costs and benefits of every action, and who acts fully in line with his (or her) rational best interest. I don’t believe that person exists. In fact I believe in the “predictable irrationality” model articulated by Dan Ariely.
Regardless of our propensity to make mistakes in rational judgment, in my life I have found that when I am detached from the results, and most importantly the rewards or punishments, of a given action, my performance improves. It is uncanny. When I lose myself in the moment, when all my energy and focus is solely on performing a task to perfection, only for the sake of performing the task, I get the best results.
When I enter into that state of perfect concentration on the matter at hand, when all other cares of the world cease, including the consequence of not performing the task correctly, I get the best results. When I desire to perform a task, not because of what I might gain (external reward) or because someone or something is pressuring or compelling me to perform it (external stimulus), when the task is its own reward, I always get the best results.
When I detach, and immerse myself in the moment, in the actual performance of the task, my abilities increase, I see the task with clarity. My focus is refined, my drive strengthened, my energy abundant.
In this way, I am constantly conditioning myself to detach from external rewards or stimulus. I am detaching from the reward I might receive (by succeeding in the task) or the punishment or negative consequences that may result (by failing in the task).
As a college basketball player if I focused on the potential praise and sense of self-satisfaction I would have if I scored the game winning shot, or the letdown, and sense of disappointment I would feel, if I missed it, I would be much more likely to miss the shot. If I just lost myself in the moment, and performed the act in a way I had a thousand times before I would be much more likely to score.
In school when I was thinking about the grade I needed to secure a scholarship, I would absolutely perform less successfully then when I simply detached from the result, and allowed my mind to focus with clarity specifically on the test itself – for no other reward than the performance of the exam. Giving my best in the moment.
As an entrepreneur I am most creative, influential, and effective when I am performing a task for the sake of the task itself, not because of the money I will earn. I perform best when I am not thinking about the potential rewards of my business growing or the negative consequences (like having to go back to my old job) of stagnation. For each and every task involved in building and marketing a business, when my sole focus is on performing a certain task, and when the task is performed to its completion before moving to a new one, just for the sake of perfecting the task itself, I always get the best results.
Focusing on external rewards leaves you never fully satisfied, always hoping for more, and never mastering your art.
Focusing on external punishments leaves you anxiety ridden, full of fear, never evoking the creative genius inside of you.
Learn to detach. Focus your art. Refine your craft. Pursue your mastery.