Last week I mentioned the book, The Path of Least Resistance — Learning to Be a Creative Force in Your Own Life by Robert Fritz. Another book I had read and liked had suggested it, and I was taken by the catchy title, but it didn’t resonate with me. I found it to be wordy, and I disagreed with some of the things Fritz said — for instance that problem solving is not creating. Yeah, sure. Tell that to anyone who has been awed by the Roman aqueducts. But I was willing to give Fritz the benefit of the doubt. When I saw that I could take his program Technologies for Creating at home for a reasonable price, I decided to see how he put his ideas into action.
Let’s just say I was surprised. When the gal (during the first of the weekly phone interviews) asked me what my goals were I said, “I want to do some writing, and I want to enjoy the process.” Nope, that was completely unacceptable. Not nearly motivating enough. I was supposed to envision that I’ve written a book, that I’m holding it my hands, that I’m receiving praise and publicity, that I’m holding a check I have received for it, etc. Huh? That’s not the way I work.
Also the gal said the conscious mind has to be in charge, that our subconscious should be like a well-trained dog. My approach is just the opposite. I treat my subconscious well by feeding it the information it needs and by giving it plenty of incubation time to come up with the insights and ideas I need. (I agree with the four stages of creativity: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification.) If I have a project that needs some creative thought I don’t procrastinate but start researching it early. And the key to that is enjoying myself, to do it in the spirit of play. Now that I’m retired I usually get to choose my own projects, and even there I don’t sit down and consciously think about it. I rely on my subconscious to decide. We make a good team. No well-trained dogs there.
Okay, so was the course a waste of money? Not at all. It was such a mismatch that it clarified what I do want and believe. I am scratching my head though. I just skimmed through the book to the part where Fritz talks about what he thinks we should be doing — operating from our fundamental life choices rather than being reactive — and it sounds surprisingly like Item 1 of the Traits of Stress-Hardy, Resilient People:
They have a sense of meaning, direction, and purpose. They are value-centered rather than reactive and defensive….
So why the gal’s focus on external rewards rather than intrinsic motivation? Who knows. Just another of the mysteries of the universe.
What about you? Do you think you’re more reactive to circumstances or more inner-directed? Does the phrase “creative force in your life” resonate with you?
After talking about Thoreau and Walden a few weeks ago I decided to see what options are available today for people who aren’t content just to follow society’s expectations. Not surprisingly there are gazillions of self-help books that are more than happy to give advice. A lot of them have ideas worth trying, but even they tend to over-hype the rewards and minimize the problems and potential dangers.
That’s probably just the pessimism of age speaking. There comes a point in one’s life that one says, “Yeah, sure,” when someone says don’t think about limitations: “If you can think it, you can do it.” Uh, huh. I’ll just stick with my, “Doing the best I can with what I have left.” I still have plenty of enthusiasm left, but I also try to be realistic about the projects I work on.
For instance, I think I’ll skip trips down the Zambezi River to see the hippopotami:
[Flow is] being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. … Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.
The basic idea behind flow is we optimize our happiness by having the right amount of challenge for our talents and skills.
The thing I love about being retired is I have the freedom to choose activities/projects that keep me learning new things and developing new skills — projects that are challenging enough to make me excited to work on them but aren’t so big a stretch that they’re overwhelming. One doesn’t always have that choice when working for someone else.
I knew when I was a kid that I would go bonkers in a boring job — one of my main goals was to develop skills that would give me some choice. So I majored in physics and went into scientific computer programming. Mostly that gave me the chance to pick challenging problems — sometimes a bit too challenging when there were deadlines involved. But I kept reminding myself that I would rather be scared than bored, and that helped a lot. It also helped to remember the joke:
I also learned a lot of relaxation/stress management techniques, including how to ignore the deadlines and thoughts of failure and simply get curious about the problem and play with it. Ignoring deadlines may sound counterintuitive but in fact it was highly effective — our minds tend to shut down when we’re stressed, and it’s tempting to try to escape the tension by procrastinating, distracting ourselves by doing something else. The trick is to figure out how to make the problem fun so we want to work on it.
I didn’t learn to do that perfectly, but I didn’t do too badly either. I still had some anxiety, but I was excited to go to work and wouldn’t have changed my life with anyone.
The trick after I retired was to keep myself motivated without the external pressures and rewards. For me that was a no-brainer. I wanted the joys of flow to be an integral part of my life, and I was going to figure out how to get that, no matter how long it took. So I kept experimenting until I found projects with the right amount of challenge to be engaging. The neat thing is if we keep learning year after year the whole process gets easier and even more rewarding.
Anyway, that’s what works for me. But we’re all different — what works for you? How important is flow in your life? Do you agree with Csikszentmihalyi that flow is the way to happiness? Do you believe that the element of challenge has to be there for you to lose yourself in an activity? When are you the happiest?
What do you think of when you hear the word meditation? It has all sorts of associations for me: Qigon, Tai Chi, various sitting meditations, relaxation tapes and guided imagery, Herbert Benson’s relaxation response, Jon Kabat Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living, Heart Math’s Freeze-Frame, Mark Thornton’s Meditation in a New York Minute and many others. There are a wealth of possibilities, and people meditate for various reasons — from trying to achieve spiritual enlightenment to being more effective and aware in their everyday lives.
I started meditating when I was in high school and read about Emerson and the transcendentalists in New England. In one form or another it’s been an important part of my life ever since. My two main techniques now are (1) remembering to get calm, centered, creative and constructive when I have to deal with challenges that arise in my life and (2) playing with Photoshop.
When I got my first PC years ago I started playing Free Cell solitaire and noticed what a calming, centering effect the game had on me. I moved the cards intuitively rather than trying to reason things out and it did quiet my mind and relax my body. It just goes to show, we have to find out what works for us.
When I changed to the Mac I gave up the game because the colors weren’t right — apparently the bright colors had been an important part of the experience. So instead I started playing with Photoshop — I can spend hours playing with shapes and colors, experimenting with different techniques and seeing what happens, getting immersed in the experience. Again, not your conventional meditation but it works for me.
Have you ever meditated? If so what forms have you tried? What effect did they have on you?
Age is no better … qualified for an instructor as youth, for it has not profited so much as it has lost. One may almost doubt if the wisest man has learned anything of absolute value by living.
—Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau had a much grimmer view of age than I did when I was younger/than I do now. I’ve never wished that I could go back in time. Getting older is scary at times, and I might wish that parts of my body worked better and that it wouldn’t continue to age, but I think I’ve profited more than I’ve lost. I value the experiences I’ve had and the things I’ve learned — I wouldn’t be willing to give them up if I had a choice of being younger again. My guess is a lot of people interested in lifelong learning feel the same way. What do you think?
Do I think that I’ve learned anything of “absolute value”? That I’ve gained some sort of wisdom? No, I’ll agree with Thoreau on that. I’ve figured out what works for me at this point in time and am too busy enjoying it while it lasts. Just because it works for me doesn’t mean it would work for someone else — we’re all different and have to figure it out for ourselves. Also the term “wise” is way too stuffy for me — it’s too serious. I prefer a lighter approach to life. Brian Crane, creator of Pickles, is more my kind of guy:
The secret of happiness is to ask yourself every day:
(1) What’s good about my life? (2) What needs to be done? (3) How can I get this done and enjoy the process?
Those three questions, especially the last one, are an ongoing project for me. And as I’ve mentioned before, doing income taxes is my yearly test to see how I’m doing. I’ve paid careful attention to why parts of it bothered me and have tried to make it easier each year. (Andy uses TurboTax and I go through the forms by hand so we catch one another’s mistakes. That helps a lot.) Finally this year, thanks to Andy simplifying the paper work and my new Digits app for my iPad, I passed with flying colors.
I was really tired one evening a week or so ago, and I wanted to something pleasant and relaxing. Amazingly enough I decided that working on the federal tax was the only thing that appealed to me. I already had all the numbers I needed and just needed to do the calculations. So I got into bed, made myself comfortable, and finished it. There may be hope for me yet.
What about you? Do you ever ask those three questions? Have you ever learned to enjoy doing a task that you used to dread?
Recently at Transforming Stress we talked about the coming proliferation of drones, and it reminded me of the Thoreau quote, “Thank God men cannot as yet fly and lay waste the sky as well as the earth!” A lot has changed since his day. I decided to start rereading Walden.
Basically Thoreau’s two years, two months and two days living at Walden Pond were an experiment. He thought most men lead lives of meaningless drudgery—”quiet desperation”—and he wanted to show that if they if they didn’t buy into the American ideal of materialism they would have more choices. And, of course, the time at Walden was a spiritual retreat for Thoreau. He didn’t want to live like that forever, he left because “it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and I could not spare any more time for that one.”
He was able to do the experiment only because of the support of his mother and friends–especially Emerson who let him build the cabin and live on his land. Not everyone would have that option. And nowadays he couldn’t have legally built the cabin without going through multiple hoops to get the building permits. But today we have other options–there are gazillions of books with ideas about how change our lives. The very fact that so many people buy them means millions of people don’t feel trapped.
I certainly made good use of books like that when I was younger and working on creating a fulfilling life for myself. What about you?
I’ve been playing with a lot of drawing/painting/photo apps on my iPad. My favorite is Art Studio because it lets me do a lot of the things that I can do in Photoshop, and it lets me export my work as a Photoshop file. That means I can do my initial drawing directly on my iPad instead of needing to use a mouse or graphics table on my computer. It’s a lot easier. Art Studio isn’t quite as good for detailed coloring so I just e-mail my work to myself and open it in Photoshop on the Mac for the final details. Art Studio cost me only $4.99 and I’m impressed!
So I was surprised at first that one reviewer gave the app a score of only 80%. One of the major objections was it has too many features and it slows productivity to have to look for them. If someone just wants to paint and has no need for the advanced features then the reviewer is correct. It makes sense to use the simplest program/app that gets the job done.
On the other hand Art Studio is a blessing for people like me who love Photoshop. The interface is different but the tools are there and it doesn’t take much practice to start using them automatically.
Are you in the process of learning new skills? Do you have another form of lifelong learning? Do you have an absorbing hobby that enriches your life?
I’ve been seeing a lot of articles lately about healthy lifestyles. They usually mention the importance of having a lot of social interactions. In fact, that works for some people but not for everyone. The emphasis on being social no doubt reflects our society’s pro-extrovert bias.
I remember an article years ago about the health benefits of being an eccentric, being centered enough to follow one’s own path without worrying about social pressure to fit in, to act like others. It reminded me of Robert Louis Stevenson’s quote:
To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you ought to prefer is to have kept your soul alive.
And it reminds me of e e cummings:
It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.
For some people being social is who they really are so it works for them. But that’s not the only way to a rich, fulfilled life.
So what are the characteristics of healthy eccentrics?
Happy obsession with a hobby or hobbies
Knew very early in his or her childhood they were different from others
Unusual living or eating habits
Sense of humor
Do you know any eccentrics? Do you have any eccentric in you?
This cartoon and post were inspired by Ramana’s comment on Extreme Techie over at Transforming Stress:
Naturally talented youngsters who can be classified as geeks or nerds are also to be seen and I find them lacking in social skills and lonely. They are brought to the local park and sit around playing games on their hand held gadgets while other children play other vigourous games.
The interesting question is, “Who defines social skills?” Here in the U.S. it’s the energetic children who are the misfits in school. They’re not interested in sitting and learning to read and write — starting in kindergarten now. So the teachers and schools suggest the kids (mostly boys) get tested and the doctor prescribes Ritalin or other drugs to calm them down and help them focus. There may be long-term side effects even though a lot of the students taking them are simply too exuberant for their environment.
So my guess is the solitary boys Ramana is talking about are simply in an environment that doesn’t match their temperaments and interests, just as the present U.S. elementary schools aren’t a good match for children who aren’t naturally studious.