At this point every adult not living in some remote desert or forest environment, has heard the story of the tortoise and the hare. This story is a metaphor about how hastiness can create a sense of smugness and overconfidence in many who believed that talent alone can boost you above others.
While talent of any kind is universally envied and admired, wasted talent or talent without a purpose or drive is universally derided and condemned. The saying hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, aptly describes the frustration many feel (including the talented) when talent is out worked by less talented competitions.
Less talented competition often focus on the task at hand because they know attention to detail is all they have to compete with the more talented.
I have mentioned in previous posts that it is not the random breeze that moves the sail boat, but how you set your sail. We are so used to the litany ready, aim, fire we lose precious moments waiting for the perfect time, aiming that we forget to fire.
When we aim for a goal in life, it is not the waiting for the perfect target, the perfect moment, the perfect opportunity that affects our aim. It is the process of aiming that decides whether we hit the target or not.
Everything Is Aiming
Great archery masters often teach that “everything is aiming.” Where you place your feet, how you hold the bow, the way you breathe during the release of the arrow—it all determines the end result. Being mindful of the process that led to an accurate shot can replicate the exact series of internal movements even without seeing the external target. This complete awareness of the body and mind in relation to the goal is known as zanshin.
Zanshin is a word used commonly throughout Japanese martial arts to refer to a state of relaxed alertness. Literally translated, zanshin means “the mind with no remainder.” In other words, the mind completely focused on action and fixated on the task at hand. Zanshin is being constantly aware of your body, mind, and surroundings without stressing yourself. It is an effortless vigilance. In practice, though, zanshin has an even deeper meaning. Zanshin is choosing to live your life intentionally and acting with purpose rather than mindlessly falling victim to whatever comes your way.
The Enemy of Improvement
There is a famous Japanese proverb that says, “After winning the battle, tighten your helmet.” In other words, the battle does not end when you win. The battle only ends when you get lazy, when you lose your sense of commitment, and when you stop paying attention. This is zanshin as well:
the act of living with alertness regardless of whether the goal has already been achieved.
We can carry this philosophy into many areas of life.
The Hare in this instant was not living zanshin. This was why he forgot the purpose of the race and lost focus. The tortoise had a sense of committment beyond normal and was thus able to complete the task winning a race he should not have won.
“The battle does not end when you publish a book, when you get the job. When you get the girl. It ends when you consider yourself a finished product, when you lose the vigilance needed to continue improving your craft”
The enemy of improvement is neither failure nor success. The enemy of improvement is boredom, fatigue, and lack of concentration. The enemy of improvement is a lack of commitment to the process because the process is everything.
Trust the process
“One should approach all activities and situations with the same sincerity, the same intensity, and the same awareness that one has with bow and arrow in hand.”—Kenneth Kushner
We live in a world obsessed with results. We have a tendency to put so much emphasis on whether the arrow hits the target. If, however, we put that intensity and focus and sincerity into the process—where we place our feet, how we hold the bow, how we breathe during the release of the arrow—then hitting the bullseye is simply a side effect. The point is not to worry about hitting the target. The point is to fall in love with the boredom of doing the work and embrace each piece of the process. The point is to take that moment of zanshin, that moment of complete awareness and focus, and carry it with you everywhere in life.
It is not the target that matters. It is not the finish line that matters. It is the way we approach the goal that matters. Everything is aiming.