Jeremy Piven, the actor famous for his roles in Entourage and Mr. Selfridge, was recently interviewed by Success Magazine. In the interview, he mentioned that, as an actor, the only way to get work is to audition for specific roles. There’s just no way around that tried and true ritual.
The challenge for most actors and actresses? They get in their own way. It doesn’t matter how much homework they’ve done for the audition. It doesn’t matter how talented they are. If they are so set on getting a part, they fail at one of the key aspects of auditioning: being present, which is the essence of flow. Thus, they come across as desperate and scattered; and it manifests in lackluster performances before an auditioning committee.
It was only when Piven quit worrying about the outcome that he was able to audition successfully. He came across more natural and spontaneous. He quit trying to be what he thought others wanted him to be; and instead allowed his art to be a gift without attached contingencies. If he didn’t get the gig, either they didn’t “get it,” or it just wasn’t the right fit. He could then move on to the next audition without over-analyzing his performance. This shift in approach and motivation allowed him to get the jobs he always wanted.
Piven is not alone. For the first six seasons of American Ninja Warrior, not a single person completed all of the stages. However, Isaac Caldiero recently became the first American Ninja Warrior. In previous years, Caldiero said he put too much pressure on himself to succeed. However, this year, he just wanted to have fun and see what happened.
In a similar vein, trying to create a particular outcome while showing affection to loved ones can pull you from the now and comes off as inauthentic. People can sense phoniness, especially when it comes to love.
As Leo Buscaglia, world renowned researcher and speaker on love, has said, “Love is always bestowed as a gift—freely, willingly and without expectation. We don’t love to be loved; we love to love.”
It’s so easy to forget that the work we do—although enjoyable to us—isn’t completely about us. Our work is for and about the people we are providing it for. As Seth Godin has said, “A generous gift comes with no transaction foreseen or anticipated.” Yet, Godin continues, “In most families, even the holidays are more about present exchange than the selfless act of actually giving a gift.”
So, how do we live our lives without obsessing over a specific outcome? How do we live authentically and allow life to unfold organically? And how do we let love, rather than reward, be our primary motivation for everything we do?
Focus on Your Behavior and Not the Outcome
People often say, “If you want to be happier, lower your expectations.” Recent research supports this notion. I’ve always had trouble with this idea; it always seemed to me to justify permanent mediocrity. I don’t think Jeremy Piven has low expectations for his acting. Nor do I believe Isaac Caldiero expects to fail. Although low expectations may be related to happiness, they are also related to low performance. Conversely, high expectations increase performance. Both of these expectations form what appears to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So how do we wrap our brain around these contradictory suggestions? Do we forget the outcome, or do we set high goals for ourselves? Research has found that expectations in one’s own ability serve as a better predictor of high performance than expectations about a specific outcome. In his book, The Personal MBA, Josh Kaufman explains that when setting goals, your locus of control should target what you can control (i.e., your efforts) instead of results you can’t control (e.g., whether you get the part).
Expect optimal performance from yourself and let the chips fall where they may. The organic output will be your highest quality work—which is the true reward. Put most simply: Do what is right, let the consequence follow.
Move Beyond Self-Esteem
“Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.” —Lao Tzu
When people try expressing their creativity, their self-esteem is often a reflection of the outcome of their work. Was it good? we ask ourselves. If it’s not, we get down on ourselves. This is the essence of self-esteem—our subjective evaluation of our own worth. It is highly ego-focused and an unhealthy roller coaster experience. Thus, when we experience difficulty or failure, our self-esteem plummets. When we succeed, it skyrockets. In this way, our emphasis on our self-esteem radically hinders our ability to achieve flow.
The idea that self esteem is important has become a dogmatic assumption by people in Western and highly individualized cultures. But Roy Baumeister, one of the world’s most prominent psychologists, argues self-esteem causes more problems than it solves, and is a waste of time in the pursuit of health and well-being, Baumeister argues.
Rather than obsessing about how you feel about yourself, you can move beyond self-esteem into a state of self-acceptance. To accept yourself unconditionally means to accept yourself even if no achievements or approval are met. There is no rating of the self. According to psychological research, not accepting yourself can result in embarrassment, feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and depression. None of these feelings are helpful to achieving flow.
Some may argue that self-acceptance means you’re O.K. with mediocrity. On the contrary, you can accept who you are while still striving for more. And that’s the entire point: self-acceptance allows you can actually embrace where you are on the path. You live in the moment because, come what may, you are enough and you have enough. You are blessed beyond measure.
Be Grateful for What Is
Self-acceptance and gratitude are similar concepts. Gratitude is the appreciation and acceptance of what is, whereas ingratitude is an under-appreciation of what is and a longing for what’s perceived to be missing.
Having a deep sense of gratitude not only allows you to live in the moment, but can actually intensify and enhance the moment. For example, Dr. Robert Emmons explains that connecting more deeply with your body by seeing it as a brilliant gift can help you be more present as you touch, see, smell, taste and hear—evoking enhanced consciousness and sensation.
For me, I use prayer, meditation and journal writing to deepen my gratitude and live more presently. Having done this consistently for several years now, I’ve learned to see everything in my life as a gift. Every moment is gold. From this space, I can enjoy the moment for what it is without respect for what it might become. Thus, flow becomes natural and easy.
Flow is an optimal conscious state where you feel and perform at your highest level. You become completely absorbed in what you’re doing—pure presence. Everything else in the world falls away into utter insignificance as your sense of self dissolves into a higher realm of connection. Every action you perform flows seamlessly into the next. You live 100 percent unscripted, and in the moment.
To make flow a regular and fluid experience in your life, let go of your attachments to specific outcomes. This does not mean you don’t have goals or ambitions. Rather, these ambitions don’t define you. And more importantly, they don’t consume your mind while you perform.
Flow is also facilitated by accepting fully who you are, and the work you feel inspired to do. Hold nothing back. Be bold and vulnerable. Take risks. Trust in your higher power with whom you are fully connected.
Lastly, embrace gratitude by living fully. Feel and connect to the moment. This moment is priceless. Don’t waste it by wishing it was something else. It is a gift. It is your moment.
Benjamin Hardy is the foster parent of three epic kids. He is pursuing his Ph.D. in organizational psychology. To get his free e-book and learn more about Ben, visit www.benjaminhardy.com. Also, connect with him on Twitter.