Always Do Your Best: Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

This is the fourth agreement, from the Book the Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.

How can you do your best? In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s words, a flow is a state, in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else, seems to matter. In other words, flow is a state of intense engagement, focus and contentment in the present moment and current activity. Here the fourth agreement above tells us ,to do our best in any activity – to avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret. How do you give your best and achieve the state of flow?

Let us assume that you play tennis and enjoy it thoroughly. You are among the top 4 players of the club.  You are playing a match with a player from different club who seems to be better than you.  The player challenges you to put out your best performance and a splendid match happens on the court. You realize that you were completely involved in the game intensely and there was no other thought in your mind and you enjoyed every shot of the match thoroughly. What you experienced was a state of flow. Here, there was a combination of challenge, interest and joy which resulted in the state of flow.

But how could we do that in our daily repetitive, monotonous tasks and other works which may not be interesting. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines 8 characteristics of flow.1) Complete concentration on the task 2) clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback 3) Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down) 4) The experience is intrinsically rewarding 5) Effortlessness and Ease 6) Balance between challenge and skills 7) Actions and awareness are merged, loosing self- conscious rumination 8) Feeling of control over a task

When you go through these characteristics, one thing becomes clear that the work, we do, in the corporate set up or anywhere else does not guarantee us, to be in the flow state always. May be sometimes, we find ourselves in the flow state but such times are far and few. Can we transform our tasks (without changing jobs) so that we try to approach the flow state by giving our best at the same time?

First thing that comes to my mind is to avoid distractions. The modern digital age is too distracting. We get continuous notifications of our mails, WhatsApp messages, Facebook stories, Instagram posts and tweets. The first step could be, to turn off these notifications when we are embarking on work. We think that multitasking helps us, to complete so many activities in short time. But that is not true. Multitasking distracts us and leaves us a with feeling of overwhelmed- ness and tiredness, after we try to finish so many activities. Next thing we can do is to concentrate on one activity at a time. This may seem pre digital age practice. But it helps and you can give your best to that activity. If you are a multitasker, try this for a week and you will find the difference in your effectiveness and mental satisfaction.

Even if we do take these steps, many of the works we perform do not ensure that we can get into flow state.  Suppose you are working as an accountant in a Pharma firm who processes the vendor / supplier payments daily. This is a routine and repetitive job. And not much of a challenge. You feel bored with mechanical work.  Prof.Srikumar Rao suggests a beautiful way out for this.  He advises that you should not view  your work, as that of an accountant, who processes invoices. This is too narrow a view. Change this perspective. Your pharma company is selling drugs which may be mitigating pain/ disease of the people across the world. Take the view ,that by processing invoices of vendors, you are actually helping people across world, to get free from pain/ disease. This view will give you the inspiration and direction in your otherwise monotonous job. Take another example. Suppose you are working as a technician in a telecom company and your job is to restore faults of Optical Fiber cable (OFC). IF you take the view, that you are a technician, who just attends to OFC faults, then you will start feeling the drudgery and monotony of the job. But if you take a broader view that by clearing those faults you are helping to restore the OFC network through which remote parts of the country get connected to internet and because of that people in remote parts of the country can access Tele banking, Tele medicine and Tele education services. You will feel different.

 Someone may ask how this is possible. This is nothing but a shift in the way you look at the things. You may have to start practicing this earnestly. You will not feel immediately, the result of this perspective shift but slowly you will get there and you will find meaning in the job.

This advice by Prof. Rao reminds me of a story I read somewhere.

Longtime ago in a town, a big temple was being constructed. There were number of stone cutters, who were helping build the temple. One day the Architect of the temple was taking a round, along with his assistant. He met a stone cutter on the way. He asked him what he is doing? The man replied, can’t you see; I am cutting stones. The Architect moved forward and met second stone cutter. He asked the second man what are you doing? The man replied I am cutting stones that will go in a wall that will make the temple so that I can feed my family. Then Architect encountered the third man whom he asked what are you doing? The man replied I am building a magnificent temple which when completed will be visited by many people and I can tell people that I was part of this endeavor. What Prof. Rao advises is to imbibe the attitude of the third man so that the job becomes inspiring and motivating.

What about daily home chores? Like doing dishes, folding laundry, changing bed sheets. How do you go about these chores?

“There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes to wash the dishes.” Thich  Nhat Nanh.

What he says here is, not to be in a hurry to wash dishes so that you can see the movie you have planned or drink tea which you want to enjoy. But wash the dishes for sake of washing. This should become a practice in mindfulness and once this happens, it can be invigorating rather than boring.

 Some of the readers of this blog, may think that this is too idealistic. Can we apply this to our daily life activities? What do you think? How can you adopt to this mind set? What hacks can you employ?

 I understand that we cannot reach a stage immediately, where we will start enjoying every mundane, repetitive activity. But if we start bringing change in the attitude through which we look at them: a process of slow transformation will kick in and you will move ahead to be more present and joyful.

“My actions are only my true belongings”. Thich Naht Hanh