Drive Cutting-Edge Progress by Improving Inner Engagement
Chapter Three: A lab exercise--Sorting Cards into Books for Time
As a way of exploring the opportunities in our 'inner game' [Inner game refers to the mental aspect of life, and is a term used by Timothy W. Gallwey in his "Inner Game" series of books.] of work, we can experiment with a mock work situation, and see what might be holding us back from peak performance--optimal productivity, quality, and satisfaction while doing a task. This is also a great mini-lab to investigate the source of time pressure, to see how involvement relates to pressure, and to see whether physical speed is independent of our feeling of time passing.
Get a book of playing cards, and shuffle them. Use a stopwatch or the second hand of a clock or watch to see how many seconds it takes to sort all the cards. When you begin, you sort the cards into books—groups of deuces, threes, fours, and so on. Try to do it in less than 60 seconds, which is the 'deadline'. In this first trial, just try to correctly sort the two decks of cards as fast as you can without racing against time.
Get ready, set, go!
After you finish, make some notes about your experience and insight. As you sorted, what was your experience? What kept you from performing better? What was the quality and depth of your involvement, or engagement? Here, involvement and engagement are measured by the degree to which one is fully preoccupied or experientially absorbed in whatever is at hand. Could you work like that all day long? If not, why? Were there any timeless spots? Did you notice any images or pressure of a deadline closing in on you?
To help better understand what happened during your card sorting, read the following excerpt from Results in No Time in which a man named Jed leads the card sorting exercise for his friend Michael.
Jed shuffled the cards a couple of times and handed them to Michael. “Ok.
Ready, set, go!”
Michael started steadily and deliberately, putting cards on the table. Then he gradually picked up the pace, still moving quite smoothly.
“Fifteen seconds!” Jed announced.
“What? Already?” Michael said as his eyes bugged a bit. He felt anxious, as time was felt to be a limited resource. His eyes darted quickly back and forth, comparing the stacks to the cards in his hand.
“Unbelievable!” Michael was feeling pressured, and wasn’t sure whether he’d be able to finish in a minute. He moved jerkily as he estimated whether he had finished half the cards in 30 seconds. He concluded that he hadn’t finished half.
Michael didn’t think he’d make it, so he tried to hurry a bit more. Then his sorting hand fumbled when he tried to pick up the next card from the deck. That broke his rhythm, and he seemed to be a little confused. He thought he’d have to race to beat the clock now.
“Bummer.” Michael groaned, but kept sorting. As he sorted the last few cards, he slowed down as if coasting toward a finish line.
“About seventy seconds,” said Jed.
“That was awful.”
“Really stressful, eh? It looked like you were racing against time.”
Jed picked up the cards and shuffled them. “How did that happen?”
“I guess I panicked when you said fifteen seconds. I was doing fine till then, no problem with time. But you startled me. The linear view of time snapped into my mind, and I was struggling against the flow of time from then on.”
“But you seemed to be doing all right till later.”
“Yeah. After thirty seconds, I figured out that at that rate I wouldn’t finish in time, so I tried to hurry up. And that just made things worse.”
“With that kind of race-against-time perspective you might be able to force yourself and get a good time or two. But if you had to work like that all day long, I think it would eventually affect your health and well-being.”
“Yeah,” said Michael. “By the end of one day I’d be wiped out.”
“I guess that shows how racing against time doesn’t work very well. You can’t win, because racing has side-effects.” (Results in No Time, pp. 60-63)
A second trial
Now try to improve your performance. Focus on clarifying and integrating the experiential field, or optimizing involvement. The process is one of continually dissolving experiential obstacles as they arise, more and more fully integrating and clarifying our inner resources, thereby increasing our work capacity.
This time balance the card sorting with a bit of attention on a particular way of breathing: breathe easily, gently, and smoothly through both nose and mouth, with the tip of your tongue on the upper palate just in back of your front teeth. Let the breathing be very smooth and effortless as you quickly sort the cards. (Tarthang Tulku, Kum Nye Relaxation, pp. 38-42.)
Get ready, set, go!
Again, after you finish, make some notes about your experience and insight. As you sorted, what was your experience? What kept you from performing better? What was the quality and depth of your involvement, or engagement? Here again, involvement and engagement are measured by the degree to which one is fully preoccupied or experientially absorbed in whatever is at hand. Could you work all day long like that? If not, why? Were there any timeless spots? Did you notice any images of a deadline closing in on you? Did the breathing continue smoothly throughout the exercise?
Here's another excerpt from Results in No Time in which Jed leads a second iteration of the card sorting exercise for Michael:
Jed offered the cards to Michael: “You want to go for sixty seconds again?”
“Sure. But this time I’m going to use the breathing technique.”
Michael took the cards, saying “Give me a minute to warm up for the next heat.” He relaxed and began to breathe smoothly through both nose and mouth with the tip of his tongue on the upper palate. During the next minute his breathing gradually slowed down.
Jed started the trial: “Ok. Ready, set, go!”
Michael started quickly and smoothly, putting cards on the table keeping a bit of attention on the breathing. It felt a little unusual to move so quickly yet feel a kind of stillness of the breath.
“Fifteen seconds!” Jed announced.
This time Michael wasn’t thrown off by Jed’s announcement. He just went on sorting and breathing. In fact he kind of fell into a ‘groove’ or ‘flow’ where there was no noticeable effort.
Michael felt a bit of anxiety about whether he was ‘on track’ to finish in sixty seconds. He noticed that linear time was just starting to take form around him with a deadline beginning to appear from the future, thirty seconds ‘up ahead’. But he didn’t buy into the persuasiveness of the form. There was no ‘point’ or 'line' to it. He just breathed through the rough patch and went on sorting.
There was a bit of thinking about whether he’d make it, but the thinking didn’t break the smooth rhythm. “There, done!” Michael announced.
Jed quickly glanced at his watch. “Great! Fifty-five seconds!”
“That felt pretty good! I have more energy now than when I started. I might be able to do it all day long this way.”
“Yes. You don’t seem the least bit stressed.”
“So the breathing exercise seems like a great way to keep from getting anxious when you have to get something done quickly.”
“It prevents the pressure and anxiety related to an imbalance in the head and throat centers.” (For an explanation of how we come to embody our feeling of time passing in our three main energy centers, see Randall, Results in No Time, p. 41) Jed picked up the cards. “I didn’t notice any effort to ‘beat the clock’ this time. Did you notice any times when you tended to get a linear view?”
“There were only a couple of ‘spots’ where linear time started to take form and cause some anxiety. But they weren’t very convincing. And it never even got close to a ‘point’—as it did the first time I sorted—where I was really involved in the linear view and estimating whether I’d win a race against time.”
“The breathing may have helped there too. The continuity of breathing seems related to the continuity of awareness. So there’s less tendency for linear time—with its splitting of a future apart from a present—to take form.”
"Jed, we talked earlier about how our sense of time passing measures how much you’re resisting
what you’re doing. I have been aware for years of how I resist doing things. But the resistance I used to notice was always in blocks of hours or minutes. I'm not used to thinking of resistance in terms of seconds as I did during the card sorting. This is a new idea for me.”
Jed continued, “Did you notice what was happening with your sense of identity while you did the sorting?”
“Before the thirty-second mark, the sorting flowed, or got into a groove. It was like I disappeared, and there was just this really open and dynamic movement. It went by itself, with no friction or effort.” (Results in No Time, pp. 68-73)
Now do the card sorting a third time, and see whether you can improve your clock time without racing against the feeling of time passing!
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