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February 28th, 2019
We think of the killer robot, the terminator, the sentinel, or the quiet assassin. In some ways it’s the worst sort of villain, the last sort of opponent you’d want, but also one of the most satisfying to watch.
Why? Because each and every one of us can relate to this kind of drive. Even if we can’t look back on our life and point out a time when we were impelled with such laser focus, such single-minded drive, such thirst to find the next step towards a goal. But we have this capacity. We like to harbor a secret kind of faith that it lies dormant and waits for a time of true need.
This is what we like to think.
In all honesty the truth is more like we don’t exercise this capacity. A lazy, reptilian part of our brain constantly rationalizes things into less important and less pressing categories, requiring less and less effort. Which in turn leaves our search & destroy program left dormant, unexercised and unfulfilled.
The two words here, search & destroy are of different orders. The second – destroy - is iconically specific and tailored to the villain. But the use of the word ‘search’ speaks to a higher order of abstraction and ability. If we were to extrapolate the word destroy up to the same level of abstraction, we’d replace it with something like ‘Accomplish’.
Search & Accomplish
The directive search & destroy fits inside this larger form. But so do a whole variety of other things we might do. Zooming out through levels of abstraction and then Zooming back in allows us to change the end goal of destroy with something else while still maintaining the intoxicating drive epitomized by the driven killer.
We can usurp helpful tools from unsavory places.
We don’t have to take the whole villain as a role model, but we can admire the flexibility, ingenuity and relentless effort that some of them embody. And we’d do well to practice implementing it in mindful ways in order to ensure that it does not become some new autopilot.
Simple tasks that must be done. Like low reps and low weight when starting out at the gym. Get a chore done as efficiently and as determined as possible. Keep exercising that muscle and then when it comes to something potentially important, execution will be a habit we can turn on. And this is important because we cannot wait to be convinced by something truly important in order to exercise these abilities. Frankly there is no way to know the results of any given path of effort. The future is unpredictable, and success and fulfillment requires a certain amount of engagement with risk. Being able to execute fully on things we aren’t totally sure about is how we find unexpected treasures. But the important part is the combination of die-hard execution and uncertain outcome. This is, in essence a kind of contradiction in the process that seems like a perfect pair in retrospect once something great is accomplished. Once the accomplishment is billboarded for everyone to see, it’s easy for everyone to say that an individual was smart to be so determined. But when things are still in process, few people can walk the tightrope of contradiction to muster so much motivation regarding something that is not a sure-thing.
But this is exactly the sort of contradiction that we need to practice.