‘Accept the lack of perfect.
Better to make something important instead.’*
‘Your problem is not that you are incapable but that you are lazy.
We complete our personality only as we fall into place and service in the vital movement of the society in which we live.’**
Joseph Campbell writes of a lost world; that of nurturing the inner life:
‘We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget that the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it’s all about.’^
This is echoed in something Erich Fromm was noticing in modern men and women back in the 1950s:
‘The fact, however, is that modern man has exceedingly little self-discipline outside the sphere of work. When he does not work, he wants to be lazy, to slouch or, to use a nicer word, to “relax.” The very wish for laziness is largely a reaction against the routinisation of life.’^^
Fromm describes a life that is influenced by a story that comes to us from outside rather than one that grows from within.
In his classic work on achieving happiness, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes about how the experience of flow – his term for total involvement with life – in the things we do makes it possible to develop complexity:
‘Following a flow experience, the organisation of the self is more complex than it had been before. It is by becoming increasingly complex that the self might be said to grow.’*^
In words that appear to understand the alchemist’s mantra of solve et coagula (separate and bring together), Csikszentmihalyi speaks of differentiating and integrating:
‘Complexity is the result of two broad psychological processes: differentiation and integration. […] A complex self is one that succeeds in combining these opposite tendencies.’*^
Differentiating sees the different skills and talents and passions and experiences that make us who we are, and we also see how we are different to those around us. Integration brings these skills and talents and passions and experiences together in flow, and we work out how we offer these towards working with others:
‘After each episode of flow a person becomes more of a unique individual, less predictable, possessed of rarer skills. […] Without integration, a differentiation system would be a confusing mess.’*^
‘In other words, the essence of teamwork is the development and maintenance of reciprocal helping relationships among all the members.’^*
The opening words for today from Seth Godin are a reflection on the modern addiction to turn everyone into a fan. It can’t be done, but Godin says we can do something important instead. Csikzentmihalyi claims that differentiation and integration free us from selfishness and conformity. Here he is one with Godin when he suggests that:
‘it is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were’.*^
Sherry Turkle provides a window into a world of integration without differentiation, an external world breaking the flow:
‘But now, with mobile technology, cycling through has accelerated into the mash-up of a life mix. Rapid cycling stabilises into a sense of continual copresence. Even a simple cellphone brings into the world of continual partial attention.
When psychologists study multitasking, they do not find a story of new efficiencies. rather, multitaskers don’t perform as well on any of the tasks they are performing.’⁺
What they are experiencing is a chemical high, an experience of pseudo-flow, but flow tells us there is more to you and more to me than this.
Notice what you become preoccupied in.
Here are ten things to watch out for:
1) you see clear steps; 2) you are able to recognise feedback immediately; 3) there’s a balance between your skills and the challenge; 4) you are fully focused; 5) you cannot be distracted; 6) you are not concerned with failure; 7) there’s no self-consciousness; 8) your sense of time is distorted; 9) you are so in the flow that the activity becomes autotelic – an end in itself.
Whatever it is you are noticing, make them happen more, stretch them, listen to them for where they want to take you next.
(*From Seth Godin’s blog: Never smooth enough – a modern addiction.)
(**From Eugene Peterson’s Run with the Horses.)
(^From Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)
(^^From Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving.)
(*^From Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow.)
(^*From Edgar Schein’s Helping.)
(⁺From Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together.)