Motivation versus validation

A great number of bits are dedicated to discussing motivation. In particular, it’s well-covered that my motivation should spring from within. I should do whatever-it-is because I value the work or the self-transformation. Far too many people are externally motivated and so those bits are well-deployed.

But validation? I don’t hear about that so much.

Engineering, (think bridges and airplanes,) we all agree should be validated. Implicitly we know that means externally validated. We know that engineering done in a filter-bubble is not truly validated, and that ends badly.

But eveyone seems to toss the baby with the bath water: “I’m not doing engineering or hard science, therefore, as a principle, I don’t need external validation.“

But, that’s right only as a corrective term in our lives. “Holy shit our society is too externally motivated, so let’s stop with the external motivation.” Yes, please.

But once you figure out how to do your work from a place of kindness and internal motivation, you next need to put it out there. Put a price tag on it… Ask for feedback… Does the book sell… Do the people who follow your advice go on to do nicer or better things… In short, are you efficacious?

Yes yes yes art for arts’ sake is not what I’m talking about. Paint just for yourself and die an undiscovered master—that’s internal motivation for the win. (not sarcasm)

But if, you know, what you’re doing is supposed to be True, (however that’s defined for whatever it is you’re doing,) then you better put yourself out there and get some external validation. Yes, you’re going to need thick skin, and certainly don’t go alone, but go you must.

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Movers Mindset Three Words

In each of the Movers Mindset podcast episodes, I ask guests to pick three words to describe their practice. Each guest’s choice has turned out to be a much more interesting and intriguing part of the conversation than we had initially anticipated.

The word practice goes beyond movement and often evokes broader images and ideas that reflect an approach to life. The idea that parkour and movement techniques in general are more than just physical has always been behind Movers Mindset. This is why I focus on ideas and reflection, for example, rather than on flashy videos of daring movement. The deeper dive into the mindset of movers is where the real magic happens.

That’s why I decided to do some introspection and pick three words that describe my practice. It was a challenge because reducing your practice to three words can seem like you are saying that the practice is nothing more than these three words, so you try to pick broad, powerful words to make sure you cover everything. Really, however, when you pick words that are too broad and too sweeping, you wind up not really saying anything specific that is unique to you. On the other hand, if you try to pick overly specific words, they may describe only one tiny part of your practice and give the impression that the scope of your focus is too narrow.

Picking three words is a challenge that I give to our guests, so it’s fair that I do it too. I found that capturing the essence of my practice in three words required a lot of introspection, and the act of choosing three words wound up being empowering. By going through the process, I now understand my practice more explicitly and am better prepared to describe it to other people. It’s not that I did not know the path I was following before, but now the path is clearer. It is easier to determine if a new project is consistent with my practice and vision, and this helps guide my choices in the overall direction of Movers Mindset. In general, I found the exercise to be challenging and highly worthwhile.  If you want the extra boost yourself, picking three words to describe your own practice is a good way to get started. It is a great way to discover things about yourself and about your relationship to the world.

This leads me to the first word: discovery. I wanted a word that involved starting with reality, with what we know about the world and about ourselves. I rejected observation because it is not active enough.  It has connotations of just sitting back and watching, listening, and taking the world in through your senses, but in a passive way. I also did not want a word like imagination or invention as my starting point, because these involve creating things. 

Generations ago when Benjamin Franklin confronted that fearsomely powerful storm driven on by his even more powerful desire to know—a desire that pushed him beyond the limits of anything humans had ever done—he was driven by the urge to discover, the urge to take action to learn what it was and what made it work. Franklin discovered that lightning was a form of electricity, but Edison invented the lightbulb. Discovery always comes first. Franklin pushed past the millennia of fear, the millennia of cowering primitive people who saw lightning as the tool and province of the gods—never to be understood, grasped, or controlled by humans. He uncovered or discovered its secret. By learning what it was, he took the tool of the gods and made it his own. He was not the first to discover facts about electricity, but his actions symbolize the process and the principle: boldly looking at reality, uncovering its secrets, and moving them from the realm of mystery and superstition to our realm of understanding and science.

Discovery is an active process involving interacting or experimenting with reality. You may not discover that you are great at painting, cooking, or singing until you try and observe the results. Often you will discover that you need more practice or that you need to master specific skills and techniques. However, without action, you cannot discover your strengths to move you forward or discover any weaknesses to be overcome. Discovery involves the honest looking at reality and the identification and understanding of what reality tells you. Your opinions, wishes, feelings, do not matter at this stage.  What matters is that you observe to the best of your ability, that you experiment, and that you see—with as much honesty and focus as you can muster—all that reality has to offer.

Discovery is not the end of the game; it is only the beginning. The second step in the process leads me to my second word: reflection. Discovery means you have learned something about reality and yourself. What should you do with that information? What does it mean? What do you do next? The answer is that you must think about what you learned. Why didn’t I pick the word thinking instead of reflection? Thinking is too broad in meaning for this context. While I am a big advocate of thinking in general and recognize it as the key to every successful human endeavor—without exception, my practice involves a particular type of thinking that is tied directly to reality and the facts I have uncovered about it. Reflection captures this meaning. A clear reflection in a mirror involves the accurate reproduction of reality.

As we think about things, we want to be careful that we do not go off course, that we do not imagine things that are not real or ignore things that are. We want to make sure that our thinking accurately reflects those facts about reality that we have discovered. Reflection is a type of careful thinking that takes each idea and connects it specifically to some fact about reality that we have discovered. There is nothing in your head to automatically guarantee that your thinking is correct. It is easy to go off course. It is easy to deceive yourself. It is easy to make the mistake that an early failure at a complex movement means that you will never master it. Reflection can protect you from such errors. If you fail in your first attempt, that is a fact, a part of reality that you cannot deny. So, the idea that you failed is valid; it corresponds to a fact you discovered. However, the idea that you will be bad at this every time you try is imaginary; you made it up. There is no discovery in reality, no fact in reality that corresponds to the notion that you will always fail. There is no reason to believe or to accept your imagined ideas when they do not reflect reality.

Reflection, then, is a type of self-check, a way of making sure that your ideas are validated by reality. Imagination can give you ideas about what you want to validate through discovery and reflection, but it leads to useful information only when the idea is tested. If you imagine you will always be bad at something, start testing your idea. Practice. Practice again and again. Discover if you get better or if you continue to be bad at it. Reflect on your progress honestly. If after a period of regular practice, you find that you still are no good at it, there is at least a possibility that you are right. Your conclusion has some support. But if you are much better now than you were when you started, that improvement supports the idea that you will eventually—with continued practice and diligence—get good at it.

Reflection also means holding a mirror up to yourself. Why do you like certain things? What makes you feel happy, successful, powerful or disappointed and sad? Why do you think you are good at something? How did you develop those skills? Reflecting on your strengths and understanding what worked for you previously helps you grow. Reflecting on the things that scare you and hold you back helps you develop the strengths you need to overcome those worries. When you reflect on your emotions, you discover ideas or premises that are the foundation of those emotions. This means you have the opportunity to reflect on those ideas and premises and test them against reality. Are they true or false? Do they correspond to reality or contradict it?

These two questions–Are your ideas true or false? Do your ideas correspond to reality or contradict it?–ask the same thing. Reality is the standard of right and wrong, of true and false. By actively reflecting about your ideas, your discoveries, your thoughts, and your feelings, you will eventually eliminate all contradictions from your entire life. You will reach a state where you see reality, and yourself in it, with full clarity and full understanding. The world has rules by which it behaves. Things act in a particular way. If you drop something, it falls. If you touch a fire, it hurts. If you act according to these rules, you will be successful. If you ignore the rules either by failing to discover them or by evasion, you fail. Acting in accordance with the rules of reality gives you a sense of self-confidence in your own ability. This leads me to my last word that captures this self-confidence: efficacy.

After practicing discovery and reflection again and again, you realize through experience that the world is knowable. You learn that you can discover it, learn its rules, and apply them successfully. You know that you have the power to validate your results along the way and correct any errors. Reflection gives you confidence that what you have discovered, is correct; your knowledge and conclusions are valid. Given enough time and effort, you know that you can reach any rational goal, understand any process, and check and refine your results thoroughly until you have the confidence of certainty. This mental state, where you know you can meet any challenge, learn anything, develop any skill, solve any problem is efficacy.

Efficacy is the power to produce a desired effect. Recognition of your own efficacy means that you have recognized your own potential for continued success and growth. Your choices of actions at this point are not based on concerns about current limits of your ability or understanding. Instead, your choices are guided by what skills, practices, and accomplishments will give you the most enjoyment, make your life better, increase your skills, or broaden your knowledge. Your experience in life changes from asking “What can I do?” to asking “What should I do to make my life the best it can be?”

The ancient Greeks had a word for this process of reaching your full potential: eudaimonia. I did not pick that as one of my three words, in part because it is even more obscure than efficacy, but eudaimonia was in the running. Aristotle wrote most extensively about eudaimonia, but it was important to many Greek philosophers. It is difficult to translate, because the concepts leading up to it are not widely understood in our culture. Few people today recognize that by understanding the rules of reality, validating them, and putting them into practice consistently, success is almost guaranteed—barring error or misfortune. Eudaimonia integrates these ideas into a process of living your best life. It is a continuous process of self-actualization where all the best conditions are in place: happiness, morality, meaning, purpose, the fulfilling of our special, unique potentials as humans. Efficacy is necessary to have the confidence to work toward eudaimonia.

Eudaimonia is more than just a final condition. It is the process of human flourishing. It is the process of doing those things that best help you function well as a human being at the highest level. My other two words, discovery and reflection, are both active processes, and I want to focus on the active process of developing and recognizing efficacy. Efficacy includes both being effective and recognizing that you are effective; it describes a self-aware competence in action. Eudaimonia is the goal, but recognizing and developing your own efficacy is how you get there and stay there.

Finally, I wanted three words that reflect my practice in terms of its essentials, but which could also help others find their personal path to success. The words had to capture the ideas of action and thinking, doing and learning–the Mover and the Mindset. They had to wrap up my process and philosophy in a way that captures who I am and provides value to the Movers Mindset audience. I think that discovery and reflection applied iteratively, building on previous knowledge and success leads to continued growth. Repeated experience with success and growth leads to a recognition of efficacy where you understand that you have potential to be successful in almost anything.

Activities that involve continuous improvements are often described as mastery practices. Mastery practices involve continuous improvement through discovery, reflection, and active practice with full recognition of efficacy. While mastery practices range from focused practices like law, medicine, martial arts, plumbing or carpentry, the most important mastery practice is living your own life to the fullest–reaching your full potential–eudaimonia. Since your full potential requires continuous improvement, it is important to develop the mindset–the set of ideas–that allows for this unceasing movement toward greater success and well-being. Discovery of this process, reflection to hone its accuracy, and development of efficacy are the steps that each individual must undertake independently.

Although your own path is unique, the principles involved are universal and can be learned from others. A goal of Movers Mindset is to bring these principles to light in an accessible way that encourages discovery and reflection while demonstrating and promoting efficacy in each individual. While you still have to walk the path on your own, under your own power and by your own effort, Movers Mindset hopes to make the path a little clearer.

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