Optimizing… by letting go

This one is another story of paradoxes :)


But first, a quick question:

Should your ability to articulate the depth of a meaningful experience dictate how meaningful that experience actually was?


Common sense: HELL NO.
Society: Umm… maybe?

Let’s talk loop mode. I don’t know about you, but it’s pretty easy for me to become obsessed with a song. Sometimes it lasts only a day, sometimes a week, sometimes a month… alright, so maybe even a summer. Go figure, this happened on my flight to Hawaii. I found a song, took it by death grip, and proceeded to keep my iPhone set to repeat for the entire trip over.

Aside from listening to this same song for pretty much 10 hours straight, I started thinking about how I tend to live a lot of my life in loop mode. I came to the very unscientific consensus that operating in loop mode on/with anything is generally very intentional, focused, and… addicting. It’s often a relentless commitment to problem-solving, one that says, I am locked in on this until I find a solution. Obviously there can be advantages to this, and obviously there can be disadvantages. Regardless, for better or for worse, you eventually always find your way out of a loop. And when you do…..

….. You find a new loop!

Quick story: (HAHAHA, that’s a lie. Go grab a cup of coffee!)

My transition from competitive athlete to coach, or really, just decent human being without the identity of sport, has and continues to be one of the most frustrating and joyful challenges of my life. With that being said, it was a little over a year ago that I discovered podcasts. At the time, I had been training really hard to see how far I could go competitively with CrossFit. I admit that I was doing it to fill a void. And where did it get me? Massively burned out, mad at myself for being burned out, and desperate to “figure it all out”.

Initially, (not surprisingly), I listened to every podcast I could get my ears on that was related to OPTIMIZATION. (It’s a damn shame you can’t get a degree in intensely annotating and analyzing hundreds of hours of podcasts! – but whatever, I learned anyway.)

Whether it was, “thrive, don’t just survive”, “motion before emotion”, “growth mindset, not fixed mindset”, etc., or even “I wish I had known this earlier!”….. I wouldn’t shut up to family & friends about how “mind blown” I was after each new thing I learned.

And then I reached a point where my focus shifted from optimizing as an athlete, to optimizing as a HUMAN BEING.

Look, I know that there’s a massive amount of literature out there that supports the “grind” [or insert here whatever “consistently work hard” alternative wording works for you]…

I know we can bust the talent myth with a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. I know that intentional practice is important, that psychological framing is powerful, that emotional intelligence is necessary, and that longterm grit is a recipe for success. While I’m totally generalizing here, I mean to say that I do appreciate what the existing literature has to offer. Oh and PS: the more I learn, the less I know.

And yet… I also know that there’s so much more to it. I know this, because besides reading and listening to so much, I’ve felt it. And I felt it INTENSELY in Kauai. So even in a world that promotes so much “muscle-ing” to optimize, I have now lived experiences to suggest that there very much IS another way to optimize… and it’s by letting go.

I want to come back to this, but now I want to address FLOW:

“The state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”
– Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

I know I’m all over the place at this point, but hear me out!

When you are fortunate enough to access the sublime for a moment/an afternoon/AN ENTIRE DAY(!), you remember – after the fact, not during – that when you’re living in such a state, there’s no desire to analyze or record. You don’t ask Why?, you don’t look for the perfect quote to capture the experience, you don’t even consider anything else other than just living. You don’t overthink, you don’t under think – let’s be real, you don’t even know if you’re thinking or not. You’re simply so in the moment with where you are and who you’re with, that you never even pause to articulate that you’re “in the moment”. Perception of time and perception of effort don’t exist. Hello, euphoria. Hello, sweet bliss.

Put that way… there really IS no substitute for the best moments, is there? If only a picture or a text could bring you back to full immersion in flow… But no, it doesn’t work that way.

So while it has been incredibly easy this past week to look back in admiration and gratitude for what was… I know to be mindful of these two things:

  1. Sure, you can put yourself in a good position to most likely experience flow – but you don’t get to choose when or how. And what’s really ironic, is that flow often occurs when you DON’T have a plan.
  2. To experience flow again takes another experience. It takes being there, open, in person, face-to-face. It might also require shielding yourself from all the little things that only last in the short-term to remind you of what already happened. It demands being immersed with what is RIGHT NOW, while remembering and nurturing hope for where you know you can and will return once again.

Two quick quotes I’m reminding myself of as I say all of this:

“The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon.”

– The Alchemist

“When analytical thought, the knife, is applied to experience, something is always killed in the process… But what is less noticed in the arts – something is always created too. And instead of just dwelling on what is killed it’s important also to see what’s created and to see the process as a kind of death-birth continuity that is neither good nor bad, but just is.

– "The Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”

This brings me to my final points for this post:

My life used to be entirely fixated on becoming a better athlete. From a much broader perspective – a lens I can no longer “unsee” – I know it’s the journey to becoming a better person… but not in isolation. There is so much room to grow and to immerse yourself IN nature and WITH others, too! And YES, I admit it – just thinking that makes my heart melt.

So cheers to the art of letting go!
And cheers to choosing the experience. <3


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