The fish trap exists because of the fish. Once you’ve gotten the fish you can forget the trap. The rabbit snare exists because of the rabbit. Once you’ve gotten the rabbit, you can forget the snare. Words exist because of meaning. Once you’ve gotten the meaning, you can forget the words. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words so I can talk with him?”
— Zhuangzi – 300 BC
Success begins in the mind. You need to set your mind to do something if you want to achieve anything. You need to set a fish trap to catch fish.
Modern motivational gurus tell us to dream big, and to have a “can do” attitude. In The Secret Rhonda Byrne tells us that everything is possible.
We are told that we need to set ambitious long term goals, and clear short term targets. Just as the greyhound runs faster when chasing the mechanical rabbit, people are more motivated when pursuing identifiable targets.
If we achieve these goals we feel good about ourselves. Few things make us as happy as performing a difficult task well, and doing something useful.
What is more, making up our minds to do something makes us healthier and happier, regardless of our age, according to Harvard psychologist Ellen J. Langer, in her recent interesting book Mindfulness.
Langer warns about the dangers of limiting our opportunities by adhering to preconceived conceptions. She refers to the “destructive state of mindlessness.”
But reality has a habit of putting obstacles in the way of our dreams. We are not going to win every race. We may travel a long way down a road, only to find that we cannot quite achieve our original objective. If we only focus on the final goal, we can become uptight. Not only may this affect our chances of success, it makes us less likely to enjoy our journey.
In fact relaxed mindlessness has its benefits. Familiar thoughts and habits help us cope with the new experiences that we face in life. It is not practical to judge every new situation from scratch. Preconceived ideas are comforting, and useful.
Whether at work, or playing sports, or learning a language, we cannot constantly second-guess ourselves. We need to trust our “instincts”, which are mostly not instincts at all, but habits, the result of repetition and experience.
Life is not a short dog race, but a long journey with many detours. if we are too focused on chasing the mechanical rabbit and worried about short term outcomes, we may miss the enjoyment of every rich moment in our lives. If we relax, we are more likely to continue in our projects and acquire experience, knowledge and important life skills.
We should not allow ourselves to become disappointed if our achievements do not match our dreams. We should seek to enjoy what we are experiencing and achieving. This does not mean overstating the level of our achievements in some kind of empty assertion of our own self-esteem. It just means being satisfied with what are and what we have.
If need to combine the mindfulness of the motivational gurus with an effortless appreciation of life, every single day.
The Sage is occupied with the unspoken
and acts without effort.
Teaching without verbosity,
producing without possessing,
creating without regard to result,
the Sage has nothing to lose.
Dao de jing – 600 BC