“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

Godfather

I just revisited the movie, The Godfather, and this line shared by Marlon Brando and Robert DeNiro coincides with a recent measure I’ve enforced on myself, making myself an offer I can’t refuse. I’ve given myself no choice. I must be present, I must show up, or I fail. More and more people are doing it every year, and it’s happening across the world: We are addressing our primal need for danger and challenge.

Surfing, skiing, mountain biking, mixed martial arts, powerlifting, Crossfitting, entrepreneurship. These require your full attention. Your diligence. And once there, you find yourself in the ecstasy of presence, of productive bliss, of conquering and understanding. Of truth.

And you don’t need to go skydiving to experience this. What I’m talking about is getting focused at your task, like when the coders were “wired in” in the movie The Social Network. It’s called the flow state, as coined by psychologist Csikszentmihalyi from the studies he’s done with people. It’s a primal state of clarity. It’s simply when you flow from decision to decision, without fear, without confusion. You are wired in. You are fully present, and experiencing life.

So one way I put myself on the line is simple, harmless, but highly effective: I set a timer for 15 minutes, or 20 minutes. For each task I have: writing, a work task, reading a chapter, cooking. I click the timer and I go. I am “on the clock.” I don’t have any other options once I click that timer. And it works. There’s no time to think. Your bike crests the hill and gravity grabs you, nature takes hold, and there is no turning back.

The flow state is where we aren’t thinking of any other task but the task at hand. Anxious, fearful, impatient, embarrassed? Then you’re not in flow. Flow means we’re focused, we’re present, and we’re totally invested. There’s no time to worry. You’ve isolated a slice of your life. I’ve given myself a 15 minute mini-life. You see ‘death’ coming up, the end, and there’s no time to procrastinate. No time to think, “maybe this won’t work, maybe this will suck”. You just need to push off down that hill, you need to grab that breaking wave, and go, go, go. There’ll be time to judge yourself after you act.

The cost of not getting into flow? No bliss. Marginal levels of happiness. Imagine crawling when you could be running. Imagine a potted plant on a window sill compared to flourishing in the full sun of a meadow.

Can we soak up all the experience in our life? Can we live it like it’s going to end?

Of course we can. It’s going to end anyway, right?

Because we’ve all been given an offer we can’t refuse: Death.

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Recess like a child

recess revolution 3

I started my run, and it was like any other day. But when I made my way around the school parking lot this time, I heard screams. I continued jogging down the driveway, the screams mixed with a screeching sound. I kept going, and as I rounded the corner of the building, I finally caught sight of a playground full of children. The swing sets were swinging. Kids were scattered in small groups, playing made up games, while others clambered over jungle gyms. They looked like they were having fun. More fun than me. Then I thought, what happened to my recess?

I want recess back

Who took our recess anyway? Was it the high school administrators who just don’t have enough hours in the day to spare us? Or was it the colleges who don’t need you to have recess? No, it was me. High school offers arts and music. College offers the opportunity to make your own schedule and club network. But, intent on being productive, after high school and college, I forgot that the movement and unstructured socializing of recess is what keeps a person loose.

I made my way around the playground and noticed 4 or 5 kids lining up at the top of a small hill. There was some direction from the more authoritative members of the group, and then they all dropped to their knees and then their sides and rolled giggling down the hill. They were creating their own fun, maybe tired of the jungle gym and swing sets.

Recess keeps us thinking creatively. During my work day, even if I just take a walk to the coffee station and have a short conversation, I come back to my desk with more energy. More focused. Rested, and in fact more productive. Studies have shown this. The breaks during intense periods of study and work are important in resting the brain. It’s almost like the recuperation of muscle after you’re broken it down after exercise. And productivity decreases if we don’t take a recess.

The judge bangs down his gavel, “We will recess.”

We need a judge in our head, observing our actions. He is silent, patient, resolute. So when we lose our focus, when we blink our eyes and stare away from the screen to refocus them. When we raise our head and realize we’ve been in the same position for an hour. That’s when the gavel comes down.

BANG

“Time for a short recess.”
“But I just need to finish this part up, it’ll just take.-“
“I said, Recess.”
“Look, if I just bust through this, I will-“
“You will finish it, yes, but will it be right? Will you do it the same way, instead of thinking of a better way to do it?”
“I guess not.”
He points sternly out the window, “Now go play. It looks like your friends need a fourth for four square.”

How to get the job you love

Decide what you like, get good at it -if you’re not already- and then find the job.

The one way that is highly questionable to get you a job is having the government raise or lower people’s tax rates. Romney plans to create 12 million new jobs and Obama has given nearly trillion dollars to businesses to create more jobs. But you are a much bigger factor to getting a good job than what these guys are going to do. Much bigger.

Why?

Because seeking a top-down solution assumes the people on top know what’s good for everyone and they can anticipate what business and individual needs are, which sometimes change month to month…even day to day!

Quite an assumption to make.

It’s better not to assume and just do it yourself. And if you’re already doing it? Then help a brother or sister out. As a friend to them, you’re better at providing that empowerment to get them in a job than someone in an office somewhere who has no idea who your friend is.

Of course, the government spending could create jobs. How? The devil is in the details. The question is, who do you trust more: The government after their good intended actions brought down the housing market? Or yourself?

Let’s use our common sense to stop our leaders from driving our economic Mack truck into the ground. How much more do we need out of its engine? And how much more do we need out of ourselves?

Occupy yourself

Don’t think and the days go by, never to be done again, except in our heads. If only I’d done this, if only I’d done that…

But doing what? I’m often busy doing things as the days go by, but not really any thing. I’m buying things. Moving things. Cleaning things. Trying to maintain a steady state of constant activity. A mind occupied by everything but my self. Activity is the appearance of production, like a big leafy top to a little carrot.

More important is YOUR thing. That which will make you happy. It will leave you smiling at the end of day. But then I think too much on my thing, and the same situation is created. Stymied by thoughts and words. The paralysis of analysis. I find the best is when I plan. Then do.

The thinking comes first, so that the doing will flow… eternal, unconscious and unrestrained.

The summer smells good

The intoxicating smell of comfortable warmth and movement and change. Of sun rays beating down, of future acts, exciting unknowns, shirtless, of liberation from consumption by creation. It smelled of possibilities.

I stopped thinking of what I had to do today. The urgent stuff that wasn’t truly urgent. I sat down and embraced this small area where I would bang out my 1000 words for the day. This would be my bunker. I put the thoughts of everything else out of my head. I willfully -albeit with quiet kicking and screaming- entered this solitary confinement. In this quiet, I stopped holding. The energy of my thoughts moved onto the digital canvas. I knew I hadn’t moved, but I was changing things. What had not existed, now did. People acting, realizing, feeling, and growing. My characters and I took turns leading. When the words were spent, I emerged from the dark cramped environment. I felt liberated. I immediately thought ahead: I must go here, and check this to buy, and then go here and have them fix this, and then I need to go the gym, and then…and then.

And then I stopped the planning. and just as I had when I crawled into my foxhole, I started thinking, “What if?” I started thinking, “Let’s see what happens.” Because life isn’t a series of situations. Life is what I choose. It’s what I create. And my creation started off quite well today.

The summer smells good.

“Once the plan gets too complex, everything can go wrong.” -Walter Sobchak

Technology and prosperity give us many options, from what to buy, where to go, who to communicate with, and the “how many” almost reaches infinity given the internet. We have a lot of power to do more as an individual and put a dent in the universe. The one danger of techonology and access is the distraction. And this distraction could be in the form of Facebook or it could be information overload. Too much data can create an abundance that leads to redundance and overanalysis that leads to paralysis.

The simple idea with effective use of tools allows us to do more for less.

The amount of work for a task will grow to fill the time you set aside for the task, based on all the different things you can study and do in preparation. Sometimes we like busyness, because it delays the real work. I’ve done that with my writing, making unnecessary outlines and reading how-to’s when the action of writing is what I needed to get into. All the references at our fingertips certainly gives us the opportunity to stay busy.

The one thing that is clearly quantifiable, more than how much analysis and preparation is proper, is this: We will accomplish nothing if we don’t do something. And Walter was right: “Once the plan gets too complex, everything can go wrong.”