There have been a handful of times when I have felt so angry about something that it took weeks for me to shake it. One of those times was when I read the Zen phrase:
“The way a person does one thing is the way they do everything”.
I had a visceral reaction. For me a visceral reaction is a sure sign I am running from the truth. I am ashamed of the way I do things. Like when I avoid conversations with my kids or my wife. Or when the first thought that pops into my head when I meditate is oral sex. If that was the way I did everything then what kind of person am I?
What this phrase gets right is that I am a creature of habit. I’m not in control of my daily actions. I rely on my automated programming. It’s this programming that hits the snooze button, chooses sandwiches for lunch, and pulls out my phone when I poop.
It’s also this programming that allows me to adjust to the needs of the student while discussing how to choose the right college.
This kind of programming makes me more efficient by making assumptions about consistencies. Giving me fewer things to process in the moment. Our brains developed these traits for survival. If I know that rustling bushes has the potential to kill me I’m guaranteed to survive if I run.
At the end of the day It doesn’t matter if I hate this, it’s the way I function. These are the rules to the game I am playing.
I didn’t like this phrase because I thought all that mattered was my outcome. If my results were good then why does process matter?
If my process doesn’t matter then I’m not beholden to any one way of doing anything. I can be flexible, adapt, let the spirit moved me.
The problem with this is a lack of consistency which produces inconsistent (mediocre) results. No matter how good the one-off result, inconsistency kills momentum and improvement.
If that’s the case then I need to focus my energy on my process, on the “way I do everything.” Letting go of my death grip on my outcomes. Especially because I have very little control of my outcomes but my process I have for more control over.
A recent example of this has been my writing. For years I committed to writing 750 words a day. Most of that writing was freeform. It was good practice in get the ideas out of my head and onto the page. It helped me get over my fear of starting from a bank page. But there was a turning point where I wanted more from my writing.
I wanted to share. In order to do that I had to take my writing to another level. My writing practice changed to get to a different result.
In this shift I realized there is a balance between process and outcome. They are each valuable on their own but together they are more than the sum of their parts.
The back and forth between the two can provide a useful feedback loop for progressive growth.
Where I continually get stuck is chasing a specific result that I don’t have control over. Or overthinking my process and not allowing myself the wiggle room to play and fail.
My ego latches on like an angry pit-bull unwilling to let go. When this happens it stops the cycle. I become self-critical, overanalyze and throw everything away. I pull back only to start back up again a day, a week, or a month, later.
I struggled with this balance because of my misunderstanding of meditation. I originally thought meditation was the outcome of a still mind. Through practicing meditation, I realized my brain is naturally going to wander. Practicing meditation is recognizing when it does and pulling it back to focus on stillness.
This is the purpose behind paying attention to the breath. It gives my brain a place to come back to when it starts thinking about my to-do list, or what I shouldn’t have said at that meeting. My breathing becomes an anchor.
This discovery quieted my inner critic giving me permission to meditate in a way that was helpful for me. Letting go of the how I thought it was supposed to be.
As you get into new projects or reevaluate the things you are currently working on see if you can find this pattern. If you get frustrated, see if you can observe the hand-off of process to outcome and back to process. Maybe that will help identify the source of your frustrations and help to alleviate them,