For the last couple of days I have been feeling heavy, as if I’m carrying too much weight (and I am decidedly not). I have also been sluggish and unfocused. Three investing books sit on my desk begging to be read and reviewed, but I don’t have the energy to do them justice. I suspect it’s just spring fever; this is not the first time that the advent of spring has brought on these annoyingly enervating symptoms. Rather than plow through books that require concentration I’ve decided to go “blog lite” this week and write two posts based on the book Powered by Feel: How Individuals, Teams and Companies Excel (World Scientific Publishing, 2009) by James G. S. Clawson and Douglas S. Newburg.
“How do you want to feel?” is the focal question of the book. It’s a strange question to try to answer, especially since the authors rule out such clichés as happy, awesome, and in the zone. They suggest that one way to go about finding an answer is to reflect on those times when you felt flow: how did it feel? Start with some nouns and adjectives, then refine your first draft. The answer Clawson came up with was “light, unhurried, and engaged”; Newburg’s was “elegance, as powerful as it is simple.” For an Olympic swimmer it was “easy speed”; for an academic “buoyant, connected mastery.”
What’s wrong with the “in the zone” answer in addition to being trite and “not enough to be useful”? Newburg suggests that people sometimes use the concept of the zone “to pressure themselves, to judge themselves when they cannot get into it. Then they wonder why they are not getting into it.” (p. 183) Of course, “easy speed” might be as difficult to accomplish as being in the zone; indeed, the former might be viewed as a more concrete version of the latter. On the other hand, we might argue that “in the zone” is a binary concept; we’re either in the zone or out of the zone. “Easy speed,” by contrast, admits of degrees; sometimes speed is a little easier, sometimes a little harder.
At any event, the proper kinds of phrases stress process over results. For instance, the swimmer is not describing how he feels standing on the medal stand but how he feels in the water when he is competing. The academic is describing how he feels in the classroom engaging with students.
It is not sufficient for people to describe how they want to feel; they have to nurture that feeling. This sometimes entails unlearning bad habits and acquiring new ones, as we all know not an easy undertaking. It definitely involves practice and, Newburg argues, “practice in an environment that increases their ability to feel how they want to feel and do what they want to do.” Do they practice to music? Do they practice alone? What does their practice environment look like? Their practice should be accompanied by, indeed infused with, the kinds of feelings they want to have. “This type of practice leads to preparation because it develops the skill to feel the way they want to feel when they perform. This is more than simply the muscle memory of repetition.” (p. 184)
(to be continued)