Drive Cutting-Edge Progress by Improving Inner Engagement
Chapter Two: Case History--Monitoring a Transformational Variable
What project do we seldom seem to ‘get around to’, yet is probably the most important one that many of us want to put energy into? Resolving conflict, personal growth, self-actualization, or self-realization? Meditation, or religious, or spiritual development? What if we put energy into this kind of project now, first thing? Could we place other projects within the context of this overarching one?
Shouldn’t we monitor and measure our most important project first?
Someone (perhaps on a fortune cookie) said that “The best things in life aren’t things.” At death also, people usually view personal growth, self-actualization, self-realization, or religious, or spiritual development as having been the most important.
Instead of putting things off, what if we put energy into this kind of learning, experiential, or transformational objective (see the Introductory definitions) now, first thing? Then we could work on this objective now, and take up other, more conventional (see the Introductory definitions) tasks and projects within the context of this overarching one.
To take this approach, no matter what conventional projects you're working on, first define and monitor your own engagement variable, E. (Of course you can call it whatever you like, an engagement variable, self-actualization variable, self-realization variable, performance variable, etc., whatever works for you.) This is to be an experiential variable that can eventually take on a range of values approaching the qualities of peak performance (see Chapter Six on the Zone).
Now, very simply, involvement or engagement (E) can be defined as one's degree of absorption in the current scenario or the situation at hand, expressed as a percentage from 0-100%. Note that this definition is not task specific, so it can be used in any situation, and for any objectives or projects.
You can estimate the current percentage by comparing your involvement in the current scenario with the full range of your involvement in past experiences, work and otherwise. One hundred percent involvement means that you have been as absorbed in the current scenario as much as you had been in past experiences of greatest absorption in a situation. Fifty percent involvement means you have been half as involved as when you were most involved in something. Estimates are fine for the purpose of charting--don't try to somehow get the numbers 'right' or 'exact'. The real value of this kind of graphing is to become aware of opportunities for improvement and to be able to track the trend of involvement, rather than trying to identify some presumably accurate figure for the involvement indicator.
View your experience as a kind of playing field where you are the only player. As you act to accomplish things, periodically, at whatever time intervals you choose, measure and chart the engagement variable as a way to evaluate how you're doing in real time, and to drive your long-term progress toward personal growth, self-actualization, self-realization, or whatever. Many people find it helpful to make notes in a 'running journal' at the bottom of their chart as they think about their degree of engagement at each point in time.
Monitoring your engagement "means being fully aware and present to the variables that matter. As you notice what distracts you, your priorities become clarified and focus is strengthened. This is the heart of practicing the Inner Game in any activity. As focus [or awareness] increases, self-interference decreases, and performance inevitably improves." (Gallwey, the Inner Game books)
Whenever possible, move toward your goals and toward complete engagement (E) as you defined it, dissolving (using any methods you know) whatever obstacles you notice. For most of us there seem to be countless opportunities to improve. As we deal with those that are obvious to us, before long it seems we are naturally presented with possible transition points that are more subtle.
This simple way of noticing your level of involvement can provide feedback very useful in directly approaching peak performance, personal growth, self-actualization, self-realization, or whatever (see Chapter Six on The Zone). But keep your scoreboard “at the back of your mind.” Rather than being obsessed with results, focus mostly on your experiential field and your changing sense of moment-by-moment involvement. Then your health, well-being, and the qualities of experience will be able to shine through. In Managing by Values, Ken Blanchard's character Jack Cunningham asked "what kind of performance we thought tennis players would have if instead of keeping both eyes on the ball, they always had an eye on the scoreboard. . . . The harder athletes try to win, the less likely they are to find their zone.” (p. 49)
Case history of changing involvement
To clarify how this inner engagement variable can be used, examine the following account of an extended work period during which engagement increases gradually for some time, then decreases a while. In Chapter One we mentioned that while we may know that improving involvement improves productivity, well-being, and quality of services and products, we don’t often realize the importance of this principle, nor its possible depth of application. Thus this example includes a description of some typical psychological changes as one begins, plus a few transpersonal changes that go beyond psychological methods. The numbers in the text below represent transition points (see Chapter One) that also appear on the accompanying chart.
Increasing involvement, points 1-8
I have a speech I need to prepare. There’s a feeling of dread. It's Monday, and the speech is to be delivered Thursday. It takes considerable effort to even think about getting started on the script. I need to get it done, but I don’t want to. I could avoid the feeling of dread and the task of speechwriting, but I’m not going to be that irresponsible. So I allow the feeling to be there, and begin to make notes about the talk (see point 1 on the chart below). The sense of dread gradually dissipates.
I visualize myself speaking a few days from now, at a point along a linear time line that extends from here in the present to Thursday. I feel time flowing strongly and relentlessly in the background. There’s pressure and a subtle sense of anxiety attending the flow of time. I could focus on the deadline up ahead and the feeling of time slipping by, and make myself more anxious, but I decide to let go of these unproductive concerns and focus on the work (transpersonal point 2 on the chart). The pressure and anxiety about the deadline gradually subside as I turn toward the work a little more.
Journal notes can be written here beneath the chart to provide more detail about what you experienced and numbered on the chart.
After I get more of an outline for the talk, it begins to feel like writing this speech is a kind of “thing” that I have to do, something very separate from me, almost forced upon me. I notice my feeling that it’s being imposed from outside. There’s a tendency to take the idea at face value, to believe it and react to it. But from another perspective it’s clear that no one is forcing me to do this. It’s my decision (point 3). As this becomes very clear, I relax a bit and think about what to do next.
(Continued in next column.)
Table of Contents
Click on a heading to go to that part of the book.
Introduction: Definitions and Principles
Chapter 1: The Peak Performance Principle
Chapter 2: Case History--Monitoring a Transformational Variable
Chapter 3: A lab exercise--Sorting Cards into Books for Time
Chapter 4: Case History--Monitoring an Emotional Intelligence Variable
Chapter 5: General Four-step Approach to Accomplishment, Creativity, and Change
Chapter 6: What’s the Zone of Peak Experience and Performance?
Chapter 7: Building An Engagement Playing Field
Chapter 8: The Full Range of Our Engagement, or, "Who Are We, Anyway?"
Bibliography and References
(Chapter Two continued from previous column.)
Although the task is no longer just an idea to me, I still experience the work from outside, as an observer who is not “into it.” The papers feel distant from my body. I am aware of a lot of other objects in the room, as well as other things that I have to do in the next few days. My energy is somewhat scattered. The subject-object split and the scattered energy are recognized as signs that there is an opportunity for more involvement in the scenario. I could see these experiences as being normal, but from past experience it’s clear that they are common, yet not “normal,” and if I take them as being realistic for this kind of work, the work scenario will not improve. I relax into the situation a bit more (transpersonal point 4).
I write down some more ideas that I want to present, visualize myself giving the speech, and check the list to see what is missing. I write down a few more ideas. I feel a little puzzled about the order of these ideas. There’s some momentum to write more ideas down as well as a draw to examine the confusion. I know if I simply rush to put more ideas down, I may miss something important. I face the confusion (point 5), and soon realize that a couple of the topics would be better at a different place in the talk.
Things begin to flow a little more easily. Although time is not passing so strongly from past to present to future, more work "events" seem to be occurring every minute, as if some other kind of momentum was accelerating (transpersonal point 6). I reorganize the list, then read the list from beginning to end, once again visualizing giving the talk. At this point I am considerably more involved in the work. I am not aware of other projects I have to do, or other objects in the room. I am not an observer separate from the work. In fact, there is only a slight boundary that is sometimes felt between my mind and body and the papers. When I am thinking, I am often not aware of any objects at all. The quality of thinking is different also, not so much like "I" am pushing the thoughts. Although a bit of effort is required on my part, the thoughts and the work seem to flow somewhat by themselves. And this is not just a feeling, I'm getting the work done more quickly. The insight about rearranging topics clearly came on its own, with no volition on my part. My feeling of time has changed considerably. Time has only a subtle flow apart from me and the work. I feel very little anxiety about time passing toward the deadline.
Now the writing really takes on a life of its own. Ideas come easily, and insights are frequent, surprising me again and again. The material seems completely original. The process is creative in the sense of presenting material that seems new and fresh, not arising from any apparent source (transpersonal point 7). I experience wonder and awe at the process and the accuracy and value of the content written. I feel good about being able to participate in this process. Periodically there are little bits of pride that arise as I congratulate myself on my improved progress. I have thoughts about rewarding myself by taking a break. There seem to be more points at which these interruptions and others are noticed. I could take a break, but I know I would miss the strong flow of the work and the fulfillment I am experiencing, let alone the opportunity to get so much done so quickly. There’s insight that congratulating myself on “my” progress doesn’t make much sense, since it doesn’t feel like “I” am the source of the flow. These distractions are noticed and disappear very quickly (transpersonal point 8).
There are no noticeable feelings of anxiety, fear, or pressure. Nor is there a feeling of time passing. I am not aware of objects in the room, nor of the work as a “thing” or project. There is little felt separation between “my” mind and the thinking and writing being done. I estimate my engagement in the project at 80%. As I made the transitions from points 1-8, my work capacity has steadily improved, allowing me to accomplish more per unit of time.
Increasing involvement, points 9-12
At some point, I get confused about the message I want to get across in the speech. There’s a strong tendency to avoid the confusion, and a pull to continue the momentum of the work and figure out what to write next. My mind starts to wander, and I look at the clock and realize it's almost time for my favorite TV show. I know this is the best time to do this work, but pretty soon I'm thinking about how I might be able to finish my work after the show is over and during my free time the next couple of days (point 9). Yes, it seems possible! I think I have enough time. With some subtle anxiety lurking in the background, I put my work aside, and begin to watch the show (point 10).
The flow of work has stopped and time slips by quickly again. While I'm watching TV, I'm slightly anxious, subtly aware of what time it is and how much time I have till the end of the show, when I'll return to my work. Watching television is not a flow experience now, nor is it as enjoyable as I'd hoped it would be. My mind is divided between the show and being aware that I really want to do my work. I am self-consciously watching TV here in the present, feeling anxious and guilty about a job waiting for me in the future (point 11). My experience is divided into present and future, into an anxious self and the relentless flow of time. Besides anxiety, I also feel guilty or pressured about not getting the job done (point 12). The scenario is complicated, with my awareness divided, time partitioned into present and future, strongly ambivalent feelings about what’s happening, and a persistent sense of separation between myself, the TV, and my work.
You can do it
With persistence with the natural integrative process and transition-point inquiry illustrated in this example, one can very reliably approach and ‘enter’ the state or zone of peak performance, whose aspects are described in Chapter Six on The Zone. Abraham Maslow said: “One can learn to see in this Unitive way almost at will.” (Maslow, 1970, p. xiv) Getting into the zone doesn’t have to be accidental, or a matter of luck.