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Issue 58

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In this issue ~~

* Going the Extra Mile

* Creative Tip

* Wise Words

* Bookshelf

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Going the Extra Mile

No matter how much we love our lives, there are parts that we wish we could do away with. It may be washing the dishes, doing the bookkeeping for a business you otherwise enjoy or even doing the work that pays the bills so you can do what you're passionate about – what we used to call "survival jobs" when I was in the theatre. Often, these tasks feel like a drain on your energy.

When we don't enjoy something or feel stuck with it, we tend to plod through it, giving it as little attention as possible. It leaves us feeling lethargic and uninspired. What if, instead, we invested energy in making these tasks more palatable, or even pleasurable?

There's a scientific principle called "entropy." What this means is, when you don't fuel something, whether it be a wood stove or an idea, it diminishes. Think of pushing a child on a swing. If you don't keep pushing, eventually, the swing will come to a standstill. In the same way, when we don't fuel the activities in our life, they become like dead weight and drag us down.

In Scientific Creationism, scientist Henry M. Morris states that "every system left to its own devices always tends to move from order to disorder, its energy tending to be transformed into lower levels of availability, finally reaching the state of complete randomness and unavailability for further work."

I find the last phrase – "unavailability for further work" – particularly intriguing. If we're doing a survival job, it's with the intention of coming home and doing what we love. But often, we feel so depleted, we just want to drop in front of the TV or surf the Net and eat a pint of ice cream. Getting involved in our creative work after plodding through the day is like trying to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph dragging a loaded trailer behind us.

The philosopher Nietzsche formulated a concept called "amor fati," or love of fate. This means loving your situation, whatever it is, rather than merely enduring it. The psychologist Carl Rogers spoke of the "fully functioning person" as one who "not only experiences, but utilizes, the most absolute freedom when he spontaneously, freely, and voluntarily chooses and wills that which is absolutely determined."

In other words, by actively choosing the situations that seem thrust upon you, you create freedom for yourself. In Finding Flow, psychology professor Mihaly Czikszentmihaly summarizes, saying simply, "The quality of life is much improved if we learn to love what we have to do." This makes so much more sense than expending precious energy fighting what we can't change.

Doing what you do consciously and attentively shifts your relationship with it. In a 1998 interview for the New York Philharmonic, Dr. Ellen Langer, author of The Power of Mindful Learning and a psychology professor at Harvard, warned against practicing to the point where you no longer have to think about what you're doing. "First of all," she states, "you're not going to enjoy it if you're not there. And if you're there, you can take advantage of all sorts of opportunities that wouldn't occur to you if you are practicing to 'perfection.'" When you learn or work mindfully, actively engaged in what you're doing, you enjoy what you're doing and feel energized by it. You lift it to a new level of serendipitous creativity.

Csikszentmihalyi says that the way to reverse the entropy of a lackluster job is to think and care beyond what the job description calls for. We do this by paying attention. By expending additional "psychic energy," we can turn a job that lacks challenge and variety into one that satisfies our need for novelty and achievement. By matching an optimal level of skill and challenge, we achieve the state that Csikszentmihalyi calls "flow."

You may argue that you want to conserve this energy for your creative work. But by bringing your attention and creativity to everything you do, rather than hoarding it and using it selectively, you bring a more lively level of energy to your entire life. It's like making a good investment that reaps dividends. You leave the job in an energized state, or at least a "good" tired, and come home ready and eager to write or paint or play with the kids.

To bring more energy to everything you do, ask yourself these questions:

~ How can I bring greater challenge and interest to what I'm doing?

~ What can I learn?

~ How can I pay more attention? What are the small details of my everyday tasks that I don't even notice anymore? Is there something I can do better or differently that would enhance this task in some way? Come up with 3 new approaches.

~ What skills can I improve? Even if your skills are adequate for your job, create a fun, challenging project for yourself that will allow you to use your skills in a new way. Who knows, your improved skills might lead to a more interesting job or assignment!

~ Some jobs inherently include "down time," which is often squandered surfing the Net or making small talk with coworkers. How can I use that down time in a more creative, expansive way?

~ How can I improve job performance for myself and my coworkers? Can I invent new techniques or systems that would help us be more effective or efficient? Do I have ideas for new or improved products or services?

~ How can I make this more fun?

~ How can I bring more meaning to what I'm doing? How is it helping me grow and develop as a person? How am I being of service? Can I see its value as a means to a greater end, such as supporting the creative work I'm passionate about or the family I love?

~ How can I bring more enthusiasm to what I'm doing? How can I get others more excited about it?

As creative people, we can use our creativity to breathe new life into the stale, necessary tasks that used to drag us down. We can approach them in new and enlivening ways. By going the extra mile, we can elevate the quality of our lives, uplifting ourselves physically and emotionally. It can put us into an upward spiral, creating a reverse entropy that effortlessly brings energy and enthusiasm to everything we do.

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Creative Tip

Try this classic exercise: to eat 3 raisins mindfully. Go to a quiet place and eliminate any distractions. Now, slowly and deliberately eat each raisin, paying attention to sensory details. Look at it; notice the way it feels in your hand – the color, the texture, the smell, the way the light falls on it. Put it in your mouth. (You might want to close your eyes at this point.) What does it feel like on your tongue? On the roof of your mouth? What happens when you bite into it? When you chew and swallow it? How does it make you feel? Eat the second and third raisins, treating each as a new experience. See what new details you can discover each time.

 

Wise Words

"Even the most routine job can benefit from the kind of transforming energy that creative individuals bring to what they do."

~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Finding Flow

"Life engenders life. Energy creates energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich."

~ Sarah Bernhardt

"Voltaire once described a man as being like a warming oven, always heating but never cooking anything. Commenting on this viewpoint, Harold Blake Walker points out that many people live without zest, dragging themselves through their jobs without vitality; in a word, heating just enough to get by but never really cooking. But amazing things do happen . . . when a person really catches fire and starts the cooking process."

~ Norman Vincent Peale, Enthusiasm Makes the Difference

"I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live."

~ George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

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Bookshelf

(click on the book graphic to see a description at Amazon.com)

The Power of Mindful Learning . . . Ellen J. Langer

Discipline: Training the Mind to Manage Your Life . . . Harris Kern, Karen Willi

Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement With Everyday Life . . . Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Enthusiasm Makes the Difference . . . Norman Vincent Peale

Overcoming Job Burnout: How to Renew Enthusiasm for Work . . . Beverly A. Potter

Scientific Creationism . . . Henry M. Morris

The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal . . . Jim Loehr, Tony Schwartz

The Magic of Thinking Big . . . David Schwartz

 

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© 2003 Sharon Good. All rights reserved.

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