A friend of mine sent me a quote from a spiritual teacher named Andrew Cohen. I’m sure I wouldn’t agree with him about much. But this quote is profound. He says this:
In the end, as I see it, there are only two possibilities for a human life. Either you strive to move beyond where you already are or else you continue to do what you have already done. Unless you have a vision that reaches beyond everything your life has been about so far, what is more than likely to happen is more of what's already happened. Why? Because the structures of human consciousness are habit patterns. … Unless there is a powerful energy and focused intention to break out of our habit-patterns and create new ones, it's more than likely that what will happen in the future will be similar to what's happened in the past. It takes an enormous degree of focused concentration, a big vision, and a deep commitment in order to break through the established habits and create new ones.
One of the reasons I immediately identified with the ideas above is that this is my story. For years, I have lived with un-chased goals and unfulfilled ambitions. Sure, I’ve accomplished a lot by some people’s standards, but I am far from achieving my own. In the last year or so, as I have finally started to see some progress, I realized that my issue was not a lack of willpower but simply a lack of routine.
My suspicions about this were confirmed when I read Anders Ericsson’s “Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.” Ericsson’s decades of research show that, when it comes to high achievement, the idea of “talent” is a non-factor. No one is born to be an athlete, chess player, or mathematician. The true difference between experts and everyone else is their ability to keep going when the rest of the world around them is satisfied.
“The reason that most people don’t possess these extraordinary physical capabilities isn’t because they don’t have the capacity for them, but rather because they’re satisfied to live in the comfortable rut of homeostasis and never do the work that is required to get out of it. They live in the world of “good enough."
One of the central ideas in David Brooks’ “The Road to Character” is that those of high moral character have come to realize that their greatest enemy on the road to their own growth is internal, not external. We are far more likely to stop ourselves from reaching a goal than be stopped by someone else. It’s what Walt Kelly, in his 1960s comic strip “Pogo,” satirically referred to during the unrest caused by the Vietnam War: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
If there is a goal you are chasing, a dimension in which you would like to grow, or some great obstacle you have yet to push through, consider the role your daily practices are playing in your situation. Which of your habits are most likely sabotaging you? In what ways have you fallen victim to the curse of “good enough?”And what, as Andrew Cohen identifies, “powerful energy” or “focused intention” will it take to make a break for a better road?