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TRAIN YOUR BRAIN FOR EXTRAORDINARY SUCCESS
TRAIN YOUR BRAIN FOR EXTRAORDINARY SUCCESS
Seduced by the siren song of a consumerist, quick-fix society, we sometimes choose a course of action that brings only the illusion of accomplishment, the shadow of satisfaction.
—George Leonard, aikido master
Freedom is costly. In order to be truly free, we must conform to a certain discipline, face our fears, and connect with our true selves. The path toward real success and long-term fulfillment is a risky one. Obstacles of materialism, consumerism, and instant gratification confront us every day. They create a seductive numbness that inhibits a powerful life. As we gradually conform to the world and its definition of success, we become enslaved to our performance, lose our freedom and, eventually, our selves.
It's a scary view, the risky path of our true dreams. We get comfortable in the easier route of less risk, less failure, and more self-indulgence. We don't like to look at that thorny path of possibility; it's not comfortable. It's easier to give in to that part of the mind that wants instant gratification and temporary pleasures, to cover up the bigger, scarier picture of what we really want: the sacred moments that come from feeling truly alive. So we end up chasing success, or chasing numbers, or things, or money as a substitute for the deep need to feel grounded and fulfilled, using our God-given talents.
We've all had times when everything seems to flow—sacred moments, when we're caught up in the action in the midst of performance. When we do glimpse those sacred moments, for a split second at least, we wish we had the courage to pursue this path with all our heart. And we can. It's just that often we're so hard on ourselves, amplifying all our failures and regrets, that we neglect to see what's still possible—a life centered and connected, one that empowers others.
The aim of this book is to help you capture those moments. We'll look at how top Olympians and world-class performers train for years for an event that may last less than a minute. We'll see how they are able to stay in the moment and perform their best, under incredible pressure. Then we'll establish how you can do the same, whether you're an athlete or an executive, regardless of your sport or profession.
It makes sense if you think about it. We all want essentially the same things: we want great experiences and to be part of something. We want to love and laugh and be successful. It's human nature. But each of us also has a mind that entertains negative thoughts, produces desires that hurt us, and creates beliefs that limit us. This all occurs in a mind that's never been trained to manage the one component on which everything hinges: our thoughts.
In the pursuit of extraordinary performance it's easy to succumb to anxiety and pressure, because so much is out of your control. When you learn to be fully engaged in the moment, however, then you can perform your best and love the competition. Every performance, presentation, or business meeting is an opportunity to learn, grow, and vividly experience each moment. You will find, as you take this journey with me, that extraordinary performance is a subset of extraordinary experience.
The Narrow Road to Self-Actualization
In the quest for a courageous life, there are two basic paths: the popular road, spacious and inviting, searching for things that bring praise and admiration; and the one that, though difficult, less glamorous, and often rocky, leads to confidence, inner peace, and fulfillment. It's the latter path that sacrifices much but holds the key to extraordinary performance. There you'll find freedom, focus, and confidence and not be attached to what people say.
This is the path that interested psychiatrist Abraham Maslow. He analyzed the characteristics of extraordinary people—how they thought, what they dreamed of, the way they lived. In doing so, he found that they shared a number of common traits, including a strong sense of self, a close connection to others, and both the curiosity to solve problems and the creativity to do it. They had high self-acceptance and were motivated to have peak experiences. He called these people who not only changed the world but also lived fulfilling lives self-actualizers. Self-actualizers, he noted, shared a unique ability to engage in moments in which they felt truly alive, creative, and integrated. Maslow described eight elements of self-actualization:
1. Total absorption. This element represents the ability to experience key events fully, vividly, and selflessly, with complete concentration.
2. Growth choices. Life is a process of choices, one after another, between safety (out of fear and the need for defense) and risk (for the sake of progress and growth).
3. Self-awareness. Your thoughts and actions should be in tune with your authentic self instead of merely conforming to your culture. Self-awareness allows you to understand and identify the distinction.
4. Honesty. When practiced by self-actualizers, honesty goes beyond telling truths to others and means looking within yourself and taking responsibility for your actions.
5. Intuition. You cannot count on making wise decisions unless you dare to listen to your intuition. As a self-actualizing trait, intuition is as much about having instincts as it is about having the courage to follow them.
6. Self-development. Making real one's potential is a never-ending process. For each of us to move forward, we must always be in a state of development and avoid "resting on our laurels."
7. Peak experiences. The conditions for these transient moments of self-actualization can be set up so that they are more likely to occur.
8. Lack of ego defenses. Maslow felt that we build walls to protect ourselves but that instead they hem us in. We must first identify our internal defenses and then find the courage to give them up.
For Maslow, these elements and the behaviors associated with them reveal what's already within you, or—more accurately, as he says— what is already you. Imagine Michelangelo chiseling away the marble block as he sculpted David. He cut away everything that wasn't David to expose this magnificent human form. We are the rock with the potential to emerge into something incredible, but we're constrained by expectations, worries, and fears. We've been socialized to value the fame and popularity of success, however fleeting, over the experience that drives it. In this we lose our joy. We get so locked into winning that we become afraid of losing.
Attachment to something of which you're not in complete control makes you needy and brings with it the fear of not getting what you really want. Back and forth it goes, between the focus on winning and fear of losing. Tension rises as the pressure mounts. But beneath those constraints that bind lies the heart of a warrior—the true you. Remove what is not you, and as with Michelangelo, you'll unveil tremendous strength and poise.
The Affluenza Virus
To chisel away what's not you is difficult. It is easy to get sidetracked, seduced by the facade of what looks like your true dream. Our North American culture injects us daily with an externally oriented focus—what some refer to as the "affluenza" virus. This virus craves four things: money, possessions, achievements, and status. Its viral effect plants the constant desire to gain more and compare yourself with others—and it never gets satisfied. This phenomenon distances you from your true self.
In my observations of other cultures, life appears simpler. In Costa Rica, for example, lawyers, cabdrivers, and tow truck drivers all seemed equal socially. A lawyer may socialize with a tow truck driver (and invite the person in for dinner after having his car towed, as my host family did while I was there coaching). The Costa Rican culture seemed far happier than my own. They worked. They ate. They played. They lived. In their developing country, they needed little and appreciated much.
Ironically, in North American culture, it's our fixation on the symbols of our dreams that takes us further from the dream inside us. A nicer car. A bigger house. A more prestigious anything. Our natural attraction to things that make us feel and look good is where the road diverts from that which is powerful, fulfilling, and permanent.
According to Maslow, when we spend our lives pursuing nicer places to live and faster cars to drive (even if they are really cool), we're being sidetracked by low-level needs. The problem is not the components of the virus in and of themselves—the money, achievements, and so forth—but rather putting your trust and identity in something transient and unstable. The real problem occurs when those external things become your ultimate treasure, because your heart will follow. The focus of your highest desires molds you into that which you desire. Money, possessions, achievements, and status are all fleeting, and a heart built on temporary things will have insecurity as a constant companion.
As others praise or covet your possessions or achievements, you get a momentary sense of pride and false sense of worth, which spurs you to get more of what you were praised for. The cycle spirals and becomes a sickness that leads to despair as you unknowingly become identified by what you have or what you've done. It leaves an emptiness. Søren Kierkegaard, in his book The Sickness unto Death, said most people have a sickness they carry until they die; it's a despair that many don't even know they have. The affluenza virus is similar, quietly replacing passion and fulfillment with temporary satisfaction. If you really want a great life, don't get sidetracked by cultural facades.
In the thoughtful book Season of Life, Jeffrey Marx chronicles the unique coaching style of former NFL star Joe Ehrmann, now a volunteer assistant at Gilman High School, in Maryland. Ehrmann's career in the NFL seemed outwardly successful, but it left him feeling empty. He explains:
I had expectations that professional football would help me find some kind of purpose and meaning in my life. But really, all I found in the NFL was more confusion. I kept having the belief that if it wasn't going to be this contract, I would certainly find some kind of serenity or peace in my life with the next contract, the next girl, the next house, the next car, the next award, when I got to the Pro Bowl, when we got to the Super Bowl. And what happened to me I think happens to an awful lot of professional athletes: you start losing perspective. You've kind of climbed the ladder of success, and when you get up there, you realize somehow the ladder was leaning on the wrong building.
Joe realized that he had been socialized to pursue ghosts of what he really wanted. "The single biggest failure of society [is] we simply don't do a good enough job teaching boys how to be men," he says. In his desire to be a man, he pursued a false masculinity by trying to validate himself as he grew up through his athletic ability, sexual conquests, and economic success. "Masculinity, first and foremost, ought to be defined in terms of relationships," Joe asserts. "Success comes in terms of relationships. The second criterion—the only other criterion for masculinity—is that all of us ought to have some kind of cause, some kind of purpose in our lives that's bigger than our own individual hopes, dreams, wants, and desires. At the end of our life we ought to be able to look back over it from our deathbed and know that somehow the world was a better place because we lived, we loved, we were other-centered, other-focused."
Joe's uncommon approach comes from firsthand experience in pursuit of the American dream, a dream that didn't deliver on its end of the bargain. What Joe wanted was something more real than trophies, more meaningful than money. As he played pro football, he found that the external symbols of success brought instant gratification and were alluring, but they diverted his attention away from the qualities that would carry him throughout his life.
The trap Joe fell into, and the virus that afflicted him, is one that gets to most of us. We all want to be successful, but what does that mean? Often people say that they just want to be happy, but even that concept is difficult. We're not very good at knowing what makes us happy. We want real and true happiness, peace, and fulfillment, yet every day, we are presented with potential shortcuts that undermine this pursuit. There's always a promotion, a raise, or all-star status on the horizon that steals the limelight and dulls the senses toward the process in the middle. Things such as love and sacrifice get pushed aside. (Note: in our discussion, love is not sexual. It's passion for life, connection with others—a powerful, positive energy.)
It's natural to want to skip the in-between. When our goal to get to the next level in our career is powered by the affluenza virus, we do not find meaning in the process; all that matters is the bottom line, win or lose, the end result. We wind up losing sight of the reason we want the things that we do, which is the feelings they give us. We live for feelings and experiences, and most of what we do is based on them.
Do you have the virus? One of the symptoms is the sense of entitlement that comes to those who are infected. When you've grown used to a certain amount of "worldly success" and your identity has become intertwined with it, you'll feel a deep disturbance when someone or something threatens to take away from you that for which you've worked so hard. It's become a part of you.
Perhaps the most influential part of the virus is not the lust for more, but rather the lust for more than anyone else. The "more than you" issue is the fire under the simmering viral brew.
In later chapters we'll discuss how we get in our own way and succumb to the insecurity of the affluenza virus. We'll also look at how "self-actualizers" overcome the obstacles we all face in our quest for inner excellence and a fearless life. To better understand the challenges before us, we'll first take a closer look at how our culture molds us, specifically through the various media and the vast influence they have on our lives.
The Fuel for the Virus
In this age of technology and consumerism, we're inundated every day with media messages urging us to get more, have more, and achieve more. We're constantly pushed to take that first path and judge ourselves by how we compare with everyone else. The powerful audio and video components of television and the Internet (TVI, for future reference) seep into our subconscious and program our minds with each viewing. Big business marketers know this very well, of course, spending millions of dollars for thirty-second opportunities to focus our thoughts and influence our desires.
TVI stifles your ability to think creatively, uniquely, and for any length of time on one thing, or on no thing. "Television watching, one of the signature activities of our culture, correlates with brain problems," says Norman Doige, M.D., author of The Brain That Changes Itself. Television, with its short-attention-span technology and the convenience of being able to rewind scenes, trains us to pay less and less attention. The Internet's endless sea of words teaches us to skim rather than read. Pro baseball manager Tom Trebelhorn says, "We're in a replay society. I don't have to pay close attention, because I can replay it. Our social environment doesn't lend itself to preplaying [visualizing the next task], which inhibits imagination." We're cultivating ourselves to be attention deficient—or, you could say, addicted to instant response.
TVI scatters our energy with its focus on materialism, consumerism, and instant gratification, sidetracking us from the reasons we want the things it promotes, which are the feelings we hope they'll give us. What we really want is a high quality of life (HQL)— measured by such traits as passion, peace, fulfillment, and peak experiences.
The constant media connection between materialism and success generates a strong association with HQL. The mind, with its propensity for pattern recognition, triggers the unconscious day after day to associate these symbols with the feelings of HQL, however misleading. That trigger soon gets rusty, though. Pretty soon the feelings go click instead of bang, until one day there's no click at all. The feelings that were once so strong and vibrant soon fade, succumbing to the anesthesia of worldly success and admiration. We become numb as we continue to try to excite those feelings with more and more temporary external things, when inside we are searching for something more permanent and fulfilling.
Excerpted from Inner Excellence by JIM MURPHY Copyright © 2010 by Jim Murphy. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Preface: Presuppositions xi
1 Maslow and the Maserati: The Pursuit of More 1
2 The Monster of Self: The Biggest Obstacle We All Face 25
3 The Quest for Fearlessness: Three Pillars of Extraordinary Success 51
4 Code of the Samurai: The Triumph of Mastery over Ego 73
5 Change Your State, Change Your Life: How to Get the Feelings You Want 93
6 The World Is Flat: Reconstruct Your Model of the World 113
7 A Clear and Present Beauty: The Four Most Powerful Ways to Be Fully Present 135
8 Poise Under Pressure: Four Keys to Extraordinary Performance 159
9 Zoë and the Mine-Set for Growth: The Underlying Process of High Performance 181
10 Maslow, Michael Jordan, and the Navy Seals: Three Hallmarks of Extraordinary Leaders 203
Conclusion: A New Way of Life 221