Awareness vs. Instruction (#670)

Last weekend I traveled up to Carmel-by-sea on the northern coast of California for a 2 day course from supercoach Fred Shoemaker and the brilliant staff at the school for Extraordinary Golf.

While there, I had an insight into a simple distinction that has profound implications that reach way beyond my golf game and into the realm of how we pursue our goals and how we live our lives.

The distinction, as you have probably figured out from the title of today’s tip, is between awareness – our ability to notice what is actually going on as it is going on – and instruction – our ability to give ourselves instruction and guidance into how to do whatever it is we are doing.

To better understand this distinction, let’s use the analogy of a GPS navigation system in a car. The way the system is designed, you program in your desired destination and then, based on continual feedback from a satellite that lets the system know exactly where you are at any given moment, the GPS will guide you in what to do next.

If you ignore or override the route guidance, the GPS will simply recalculate and give you the best next step from wherever it is you are now.

On the other hand, if you are trying to navigate your way by following a set of written instructions, your chances of successfully getting to your destination are limited by both the accuracy of the instructions and your ability to follow them to the letter.

If you get off course or come up against any unplanned obstacles, traffic or roadblocks, the original instructions become useless.

What makes the GPS so much more effective as a navigation system is it’s real time responsiveness – it’s ability to make in the moment adjustments that take into account the reality of where you are, how fast you are going and any unexpected changes in the environment through which you are traveling.

This real time responsiveness is a function of the system’s ability to be aware of what is actually happening and make in the moment adjustments to your course.

As human beings, our internal guidance systems have the same “built-in functionality” if we choose to use them as designed. If you simply program in a clear destination (goal) and maintain an ongoing awareness of where you are in any given moment in relation to that goal, the next step will become readily apparent and at times even glaringly obvious.

Continue taking those next steps while maintaining awareness of the process and your arrival at your destination is virtually assured.

Let’s contrast this with the instructional approach, filled as it is with rules and regulations, right ways and wrong ways, and often conflicting pieces of guidance.

After all, is the way to get rich to find out what other people want and give it to them or to figure out what you want to give and find other people who want it?

Is the secret of a loving relationship to be willing to sacrifice and compromise for the other person’s happiness, or to be completely authentic and hold out for a person who will accept you exactly as you are?

Is the secret to a thin and healthy body a low-carb diet, eating whatever you want whenever you want as long as you’re hungry (and stopping when you’re full), or never eating after 6pm?

Now, chances are you have an opinion about which of the above approaches are most likely to work for you or that you have a completely different set of instructions in your head for what it will take to reach your goals.

For most people, the instructions in their head for what it will take to achieve their goals involve doing a number of things they don’t really want to do, and in so doing conflict with the instructions in their head for what it takes to live a happy life, things like “going with the flow” and “following your bliss”.

And therein lies the real problem with trying to find the right set of instructions for how to reach your goals or live your life:

When you put your attention on and energy into
trying to find the right way to do something or the right way to live,
you have very little attention or energy left to actually do it or live it.

What if you let it be simpler than that?

What if you simply declared what it is you want to have, do, be or create in your life and then put your attention and energy into the process – whatever it is you are actually doing, moment by moment?

In You Can Have What You Want I shared the following story of how the awareness-based approach can be used to solve even the most ethical and moral of dilemmas:

William Penn was a 17th-century British nobleman who accepted the land that became the state of Pennsylvania as payment for debts incurred to his family by Charles II.

At the age of 22, Penn became a Quaker and was immediately faced with a pofound dilemma. As the scion of a proud aristocratic family, it was unheard of (not to mention potentially dangerous) to walk around without a sword. Yet if he was to adhere to the letter and spirit of Quaker teachings, carrying a sword was bordering on blasphemy.

Young Will took this quandary to a Quaker elder, who gave him the following advice:

“Wear your sword with full awareness for as long as you can. When you can’t wear it anymore, stop.”

The elder knew that by encouraging the young aristocrat to bring full consciousness to the problem, it would resolve itself in the most natural way possible.

And therein lies the key to this distinction. We do not need to become obsessive about finding the “right” instructions for life, because as Fred Shoemaker says in his book Extraordinary Golf: The Art of the Possible:

Awareness itself is curative.

When we simply maintain a gentle mindfulness of the process, our internal GPS system will keep us on course for whatever direction we have chosen to take and whatever destination we have chosen to aim for.

Have fun, learn heaps, and may all your success be fun!

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