“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes.
Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let
reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward
in whatever way they like.”
When I first shared the title of this article with a friend she said it sounded like something from a Harry Potter movie. Perhaps a scene with a feather quill dipping its tip into a bottle of ink and effortlessly sweeping across the paper all by itself. I wish life was so generous and magical.
Writing my first published book The Little Book of Big Leverage was one of my biggest challenges to date…and I certainly have had a few. The book initially came about when I found myself discussing leverage all the time in my design engineering job and in my main hobby at night, martial arts. It was as if the universe was telling me something.
There was something about the precision of the former and the fluidity of the latter that really caught my attention. I found myself wondering more and more about whether that precision and fluidity could meet each other and – more interesting still – what would emerge from that combination.
As I jotted down what I was learning about leverage, the notes started to build up into a mini compendium. This collection would have been the end of it if it wasn’t for a sequence of what seemed like coincidental events all coming together that led to me ending up in sunny California. I was invited by Andy Torelli (a top notch entrepreneur) to have a winter break at his Newport Beach apartment. This
left me with zero excuses for not expanding on what I had gathered, turning it into a book outline. This occurred over the winter of 2014/2015 when the coastline temperature was in the low 20s – the perfect conditions for writing while taking in the super chilled beachfront vibe.
As I was writing, I tried to work out the ‘good fortune formula’ behind the sequence of events that had led to me spending my time in wonderful sunshine with such happy, healthy and optimistic people.
I couldn’t explain or finds the words to describe what I felt until I stopped ‘trying’ and by completely chance found the following quote which cut right to the simplicity of the events:
“Luck is what happens when preparation
The fortuitous events were born out of the principles and concepts that I was already practicing, I just hadn’t been consciously aware of it.
I had prepared by spending a couple of hours each Saturday morning for three months in my local library’s reference and study section. I wasn’t yet a writer but thought that if I was around books I might at least begin to see myself as one. It was in this state that I applied a technique called Mind Mapping (which I highly recommend as it is great for stimulating the imagination) to download my ideas onto paper.
The opportunity aspect came when Andy made the invitation out of the blue. I was initially a bit hesitant as it would mean that I had no excuse not to follow through, commit to taking the outline data and create a first pass manuscript. A three month break was quite a time to take away from work as someone who works for himself, but the opportunity was so well aligned with what the book was all about that I had to say yes to the universe.
Upon returning to a much less sunny Scotland, I got in touch with my editor and the process of turning the manuscript into a book commenced. Some parts were very smooth and simple yet some were incredibly challenging. I think that every author probably experiences something similar.
It was absolutely critical for me that two things had to be balanced out:
The principles and concepts within the manuscript had to be applied to writing the book.This sweet spot… is a high level alignment between conscious desires and subconscious skills.
This might sound confusing at first so I’ll expand a bit. The leverage-based concepts within the manuscript included such items as the natural zone of effort and motivation that lies between that of being under-stimulated and overstimulated. It could be compared to the ‘sweet spot’ that sportspeople report when they get a great result. When they think about it later they weren’t trying very hard, they were just very focused. Golfers, tennis and baseball players are especially aware of this dynamic as it makes for their optimal performance.
This sweet spot… is a high level alignment between conscious desires and subconscious skills.
In the context of writing I had to learn to apply alignment in these areas:
a. Lack of motivation
This occurred when I was not interested enough in what I was writing about. I was under-stimulated. This showed me where I was not in alignment with the subject matter. The solution was to search for what truly excited and stimulated me.
b. Feeling over-stretched
When there was a lot going on in my life I would need to take more breaks. Juggling too many things would create over-stimulation. The passing of my father was one such time. Breaks from writing could last as long as two weeks. I almost had to forget about the book to allow for my resistance to ebb away and allow the path of least resistance to reveal itself.
c. The enjoyment zone
There exists a zone that I would tap into as much as possible. It’s the zone where time flies because you’re having so much fun.
Watching sci-fi and fantasy movies is a great example for me. Maybe its because these movies allow us to set aside the rules and restrictions of the mind, suspend our reality and allow our imaginations to be fully engaged. All I know is that I don’t think I will ever grow out of these types of films…at least I hope not!
We briefly touched on Harry Potter earlier. I wonder if, in his fantasy world, he could cast a spell or make a potion that would create a magical sweet spot that could be used for all occasions in life? One of those would be a godsend when it is time to complete my annual tax return!
Before we go too far into what might be, let’s look at potions a little closer. They are based upon a recipe. A recipe is just a written list of ingredients and instructions so that we can make the same potion again when we run out. In theory then it is possible for a sweet spot state to be created by borrowing another person’s recipe or creating one for ourselves.
The book had to unfold and must not be pushed or forced
Many people have direct experience of delayed gratification. Most of them think of it as the healthy relationship between effort and reward which is based on a period of delay between doing the work and getting the reward. This is absolutely correct. I’ll also add that an increased level of satisfaction comes from investing in the delay until compounding has also had an impact.
However if a person delays too long they may end up missing out on the gratification.
When taking a break, it helped me to remind myself of the following quote:
“Strive for progress, not perfection.”
Perfectionism is an illusion, whereas progress can be measured. Have you ever seen a glass egg timer? If you have, you will know that there is a narrow waist in the glass which slows down the falling particles of sand. The restriction is enough to allow the fallen sand to represent a given time. One minute is quite common as that’s time enough to poach an egg with a soft runny yoke.
Well, just as the timer measures out minutes in grains of sand we could, with a little more effort, count the number of thoughts that pass through our minds in a minute. The actual number of thoughts and grains might differ but what is true is that all big things are made up of many smaller things. Even quantum physics is now finding smaller structures than we ever imagined. We don’t yet really know how far the rabbit hole goes.
So we can see from the sand timer analogy that all big events in life are made up of lots and lots of small ones that are just not in conscious awareness. Everything, including progress, is incremental.
A useful analogy is that of high level maths in another language. If you were asked to perform calculus in Chinese, you would say that it is impossible. However, if the task was broken down into many small pieces, it would become possible. While it could be a stretch to say that if you can do addition and subtraction then you can become a rocket scientist, just bear in mind that all equations are made up of additions and subtractions. The universe is made up of additions and subtractions. In ancient China, they were called yin and yang.
The desire for immediate gratification is a major cause of resistance in modern life. And if you start thinking that perfection is real rather than an illusion, the chances are that resistance is at work in your mind. We can however get past the perfection illusion and underlying resistance by applying the stepping stone principle.
The stepping stone principle is simple and fundamental. Anytime we struggle with reaching a goal, desire or objective, we are mentally trying to jump over a middle step and that is too much of a stretch.
As an example, I know a guy who took a step back with attending a night class in basic maths after struggling at advanced level because he had forgotten the steps he’d learned in his final years at school. He discovered that when he went back, it was more about remembering than it was about learning. When he completed his degree years later he acknowledged that going back to basics was the best move he could have made. It helped him not just in his maths but also seemed to prepare his mind for the tests that the later degree would bring him. There was a sense of smoothness and flow in the way he tied together the complexities of the degree. The little steps between the big steps came naturally to him.
Stepping your way back through a goal…
The stepping stone idea can be applied together with another concept for engaging the imagination. You might want to take an example in your life where you don’t feel you are progressing well. It could be anything from a specific goal to an idea or project you want to get off the ground.
This could be done while you are sitting down with a piece of paper and a pen but I suggest that you do this with your body more fully engaged. I’ll explain why another time but trust me, this really does help.
- Take your paper and draw a horizontal line from left to right across the centre.
- Then on the top half write what your goal is and write the number 10. On the bottom half, write what your current status is and write the number 1.
- Cut across the centre to make two pieces of paper.
- Place the paper with number 1 on it onto the floor.
- Then walk forward in small steps while you count from 1 to 10.
- When you get to 10, put the piece of paper with 10 on it onto the floor.
- Then from the 10 position, step back one step and pause. Ask yourself what small step might happen just before you achieved your goal.
- Repeat this all the way back through 8 down to 2 each time pausing and asking what small step would come before the previous one.
What you might discover is that this has allowed your imagination to start filling in the steps so it begins to create the stepping stones for you. It is like adding easing oil to a rusty nut that doesn’t want to budge.
The reason for reversing back from 10 is that this engages your mind more from a ‘probability’ mindset rather than from a ‘possibility’ one.
Alignment was a key factor for me—preparation meeting opportunity was probably
best example of this.
- The book unfolded over time and when I pushed too hard, resistance would remind
me to get back to alignment and balance.
- There exists a sweet spot between under-stimulation and over-stimulation.
- The book was mostly written in that sweet spot.
- You could imagine a sweet spot as being made up of different ingredients and instructions, like a recipe.
- I developed an enjoyable book-writing state that became a recipe for me.
- A book is more than words; it is a flow of energy.
- Flow is assisted by seeing that all big changes in life are made up of lots of little (micro) changes.
- Anytime we feel resistance, we are usually trying to cross over a step that is too big.
- When we experience the in-between steps more often, we also experience smoothness and flow.
- Flow is the result of being in your sweet spot.