This article is a continuation of How to Not Want Things and Still Be Happy. In that article I argued that craving creates pain, and that the solution is to focus on the entire process instead of just the goal. This may seem obvious, but in practice it is difficult to do. In this article I’d like to discuss how to become more process focused.
Shifting Focus Takes Work
It’s not easy, it takes work and time. I used to rely heavily on my cravings to guide me. Many of them were long-term and get applauded in our society as being ambitious or forward-thinking. But however you describe them they are pain.
A few events in my life helped me see how ridiculous these cravings were. These events happened spontaneously, so I couldn’t force one, but they helped me see how pointless my own cravings were.
One occurred after I spent months pushing myself to improve this website with negligible traffic growth. After all my cravings and failed satisfaction I took a break… and traffic tripled. Another happened when I fell for a woman who turned me down (craving can really suck…). Only to have the situation reversed with another person a few months later. These experiences and several others showed me how my own cravings were starting to drive me crazy, even though they could rarely be satisfied completely or permanently.
Although situations like these can point out the insanity of your desires, it takes a bit of work to adopt a process focus as an alternative.
How to Become an Effortless Achiever
There are a couple steps you need to take in order to start switching focuses. Awareness is crucial. Once you start recognizing your own craving focuses instead of process focuses, you can start to shift them. However, there are a few other steps that can help:
1) Make the Process Flow
Flow is a term coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It describes the peak state where your mind is completely engaged with a task. With a process focus, you aim to make the process flow. The challenge level and enjoyment should be high, throughout the entire process.
We’re told to find work we’re passionate about. But what about an exercise routine? Classes? Books to read? Flow needs to come everywhere, not just in your work. A process focus forces you to seek the route to a goal that produces the most flow and suits your interests, not just the shortest path.
2) Goals are Good, Obsession is Not
In many ways, a process focus is like making your life into a game. Goals are important, therefore, because they give structure to the game. Chess wouldn’t be much fun if there was nothing to strive for. Just because you emphasize process and flow, doesn’t mean you should abandon goals.
Just don’t let your need for a structured process allow you neglect what is important. Dial down the intensity of your goals and emphasize the game before.
3) Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket
In life we’re told to focus. Don’t dabble, set your sights on one goal and achieve it with overwhelming force. While this is certainly a valid strategy, it can trick you into falling for your cravings. Don’t feel you need to focus just to achieve a goal. Only focus when the process becomes so fascinating that you want to let it occupy a majority of your thoughts.
I oscillate between periods of intense focus on one area of my life to a focus on multiple areas. This cycle ensures I don’t burn out on one particularly intense process or get bored by only half-heartedly pursuing a bunch.
4) Accomplishments, Status and Money are Meaningless
Accomplishments are the Monopoly money of life. They have no intrinsic value in the universe and are simply tokens of the game to give it structure. The solution isn’t to simply reject the game entirely, just don’t give the tokens more value than they have. Don’t worship them.
A process focus keeps you from resting on past successes. Since these successes are meaningless on their own, your only job is to keep pursuing interesting goals.
5) Happiness is Now, Not in the Future
Happiness isn’t a far-off beach with beautiful people. It’s here, right now, whether you live in a mansion or a rent-controlled apartment. A process focus forces you to look in the now since you stop worrying about satisfying your cravings that will never stop.
Running to Run
A few days ago I had a moment of clarity running at the gym. The ventilation was poor and the heat was causing me to sweat. I could feel the soreness in my muscles as I circled past people on the track. Music was in my ears and I could feel each foot hit the rubberized floor.
I suddenly realized that I had no objective reason to run that day. I’m a decent runner and there is no real reward in me practicing. I’m already in good physical condition, so it isn’t an issue of staying in shape or losing weight.
No, I realized, I was simply running to run. Running to feel the sweat from the heat, soreness of my muscles and rubberized track beneath my feet. When I hit this realization, it made running so much more enjoyable. Now, instead of an obstacle, everything I experienced was the goal. Each step wasn’t a calorie burned or muscle strength added, it was just another step.