The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Had a good I.D.E.A. lately?

The most elusive quality of excellence, of peak performers worldwide
and throughout history is that thing called "Mastery." What is this
thing, and is it possible for ordinary people, however committed, to
touch this exalted state?
The answer is "yes," but I've got good news, bad news, and more good
news. The first good news is that the path is deceptively simple. The
bad news is that it is hard, and can be painful. The last, good news
is that those on the path have no real competition-very few people are
actually willing to be excellent in life. They want to talk about it,
and dream about it, but are unwilling to actually pay the price.
And this, as I've said, is very good indeed for those of us who are.

The first thing we must do is devise a useful definition of "Mastery"
whether we are talking about this quality in the domain of writing and
the arts, of interpersonal interactions, of intellectual pursuit. Then
we must throw light on a pathway to this quality that will enable us to
reach our peak potential.
Try this description: "Mastery is the ability to perfectly match
energy and attention to the task at hand." In other words, if every
task has a perfect "profile" of attention and ability necessary to
complete it, if you bring either less or more of yourself to the task,
you may well complete it, but you will struggle and waste energy-or not
perform properly at all.
Or try this description: "Mastery is the ability to perform
instinctively and instantly in the manner you would perform had you a
month to consider your actions." In other words, to have instant
access to your own deepest capacities.
In other words, Mastery is the place where intellectual or physical or
emotional preparation meets pure instinct. The reflexes of an animal,
the emotional purity of a child, the intellectual focus of a scholar.
An incredible goal, designed to create incredible results.
And the achievement of that goal is exactly what I.D.E.A. is about.
Instinctive Designation of Energy and Attention. The deliberate
cultivation of instinct, energy, and intellect to maximize your results
as a writer, athlete, businesswoman, human being.whatever your goal.
The theory is both childishly simple and devilishly difficult, but is
your key to accessing your deepest wisdom.
Basically, I.D.E.A. says that you develop your instincts by giving
yourself deep feedback about the way you are currently operating in the
world. To strip away illusion, and operate in a "truth zone" about the
person you are and the world you live in. As the ancient Samurai
Musashi Miyamoto once put it, "Do not think dishonestly." A commitment
to total truth will tear the blinders from your eyes, possibly for the
first time in your life.
Sounds simple? Just wait. Here's the bad news. In order to be
certain that you are accurate in your assessments, you must take
responsibility for your life, and the results you have achieved (or
occasionally endured!) in all three major arenas of your life: body,
mind, and spirit.
1) Body is fitness and health. Your body should be in alignment with
your own values, or you should be engaged in a daily process of
cultivating the physical health and beauty and performance that WOULD
reflect your values. Want to know if you are? Strip to your underwear
and look in the mirror. If you are attracted to what you see, you are
in alignment with your values. If you aren't, you aren't. It's as
simple as that.
2) Mind. Mind manifests most clearly in our education and career. Any
worm will move away from pain, and toward pleasure. Believe me, if you
aren't working at a career you enjoy, it isn't due to lack of
intellect. In such a case you may have emotional conflicts, value
confusion about safety, freedom, and responsibility, and it would
behoove you to commit to healing them. The core question: if you won
the lottery next week, would you still be at your job next year? If
not, you should accept the challenge of crafting for yourself a career
path that IS that attractive.
3) Spirit. Just as grass bending can signal the presence of wind, the
relationships we have with other human beings in THIS world can help us
understand our connection to the divine. The most important
relationship to address is the one with our most significant other, our
husband or wife, or lifemate. The history of this aspect of our lives
tells us an enormous amount about our inner world. The most important
question: If you viewed your partner (or the average of your partners,
over your relationship history) as being your mirror image, what would
that say about you? And don't protest that they aren't, that there's
no connection between you and the most important person in your life.
What a joke! Our relationships measure our honesty, passion,
intelligence, self-respect and general energy Take responsibility
here. If you're happy with your relationship, pat yourself on the
back! And if you're have work to do.

You need not tell another human being what you learn if you look at
these three arenas, but YOU need to know. You need to come to some
conclusions about how and why you are in the life space you are in.
The answers to these questions must be consistent: in other words, you
are willing to judge other people by the same standards you hold
yourself to. In all likelihood, engaging in the I.D.E.A. process will
give you vast compassion for other human beings: we are all
battle-scarred, we are all magnificent, we have all failed, we have all

And we move on, toward the light. For an artist, and we are all
artists, this process opens the door to a level of understanding most
human beings never approach. If you walk this path, it's important to
avoid guilt, blame, and shame-these emotions have no place in the
evaluation of our lives. They merely cloud the issue. Meditation,
dream diaries, therapy, or talking with good and supportive friends
might be valuable to help move through the pain and confusion. What I
promise you is that if you walk this path, you will be one of the very
very few human beings on this planet who are actually committed to
excellence. Mastery can be lonely.but as you climb that mountain,
moving toward a more and more rarified level of performance, you will
begin to meet the other climbers. And they will extend their hands to
you, and welcome you into an extraordinary bonded not by
blood, but by spirit.


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