Focus on the Details

This column is by Charlie Ambler, Founder, Dailyzen

I know a lot of very intelligent and mindful people who think too big. As kids we were raised to think that we could all be the best at whatever we did, that we could accomplish anything we put our minds to. This sort of hyperbolic ambition might feel good to think about but it can actually deter people from getting anything done.

Radio guru Ira Glass wrote eloquently of why this is bad:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good.”

This doesn’t just apply to creative work, but to everything. People start with such grand aspirations for what they want to do that they paralyze themselves from ever being able to accomplish anything of value for fear of it being bad. The whole idea of “writer’s block” is a myth, really. It’s just self-consciousness. Anyone can sit and just write if they don’t care about the quality of what they’re writing. Eventually something materializes. People get so caught up in thoughts and self-judgment that they never produce anything.

The Zen mind encourages us to detach ourselves from results, expectations and the grand scheme. There are no thoughts. There is no ‘greater good’. There’s no ‘heroic achievement’. There’s just the stuff you have to do today. You still need to brush your teeth, make your bed and eat your lunch. Enlightenment is nothing special— that’s the point. It is simply the process of living life simply, essentially, and with mindful diligence.

This is why mindfulness and productivity are often correlated, but falsely. People who meditate every day train themselves to detach from thoughts, ideals and goals. They can do stuff calmly and methodically without getting bogged down by the big picture. If Caravaggio thought more about being a great artist than he did about each tiny individual stroke, he would have never done anything great.

People today have spoiled life for themselves by caring more about the results than they do the process. Wanna know the secret? There are no results. There is always the process. You will always be subconsciously thinking about the next thing, so why not make the most of the current thing, no matter how small it is?

A 240-page collection of my writings is available here.

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