The Art of Taking Action: Lessons from Japanese Psychology

Notes

93
Yellow highlight | Location: 85
“Everyday life is like an inexpressibly fascinating new movie, which can’t be guessed at ahead of time. In it I find myself dancing, crying, laughing, shouting, singing, suffering, enjoying. And from the inner core, all this fans the flames of hope still larger. My hope is neither the result of expectation nor the expectation of results. The way of hope is that of great nature itself, transcending cause and effect. Hope itself is light and life. Listen to this hope speaking from out of my soul: ‘Come now, with intense and honest mind. I will protect you. Do not fear the descent into fire and water. Do not fear any evil.’ Let’s advance, shattering all difficulties. Let’s go onward, following the way of hope!” –Haya Akegarasu

Yellow highlight | Page: 1
value system grounded in principles such as non-attachment, purpose, gratitude, interdependence, and coexisting with fear. Such principles are prominent in martial arts (Aikido, Kyudo), psychology (Morita therapy, Kaizen) and even religion (engaged Buddhism). The Art of Taking Action isn’t simply about keeping busy or checking things off your to-do list. It’s about choosing what to do, how to do it, and the development of character.

Yellow highlight | Page: 9
Taking Action: Doing what needs to be done When it needs to be done In response to the needs of the situation.

Yellow highlight | Page: 19
We can’t do everything that we would like to do or that needs to be done. So each moment we choose what to do, we’re not doing everything else. This is the art of procrastinating. Procrastinating isn’t something you need to stop doing – it’s something you need to get better at.

Yellow highlight | Page: 21
Asking yourself “What is my purpose?”

Yellow highlight | Page: 24
Naikan

Yellow highlight | Page: 24
1.   What have I received from __? 2.   What have I given to __? 3.   What troubles and difficulties have I caused __?

Yellow highlight | Page: 25
three key ingredients for knowing what action you need to take (or not take). 1.   Paying Attention 2.   Knowing Your Purpose 3.   Self-Reflection

Yellow highlight | Page: 26
•    As I notice my environment and the world around me, does that suggest a particular action I need to take? (Paying Attention) •    What is my purpose? What am I passionate about? What legacy do I want to leave behind? (Purpose) •    As I step back and reflect on my life and relationships, does that suggest a particular action I should take? (Self-Reflection/Naikan) •    What really matters? What is truly important and not just urgent at this moment? (Urgent vs. Important)

Yellow highlight | Page: 33
The biggest risk you can take is to do nothing at all, when you know there’s something you need to do. It doesn’t seem like a big risk right now, but when you’ve reached the end of your life, and look back with regret on what you didn’t do, then it’s too late. You’re out of time. Perhaps this next year of life should come with a warning label: WARNING: Inaction and security may be hazardous to your purpose!

Yellow highlight | Page: 36
When we find ourselves in situations that stimulate emotional discomfort, we immediately look to escape from the discomfort just as if it was summer heat or winter cold. We often use one of three strategies: Avoidance, Resignation or Complaining.

Yellow highlight | Page: 36
Avoidance This involves trying to escape from our feelings/thoughts – avoiding what is uncomfortable and pursuing what is comfortable.

Yellow highlight | Page: 37
The avoidance strategy doesn’t involve acceptance at all, but rather resistance.

Yellow highlight | Page: 37
We resist our emotional experience and devote great energy and attention

Yellow highlight | Page: 37
to trying to manipulate ourselves into a different state. Unfortunately, the resistance itself nurtures a kind of discomfort. And the preoccupation with our internal experience (thoughts and feelings) tends to intensify our suffering while distracting us from activity that can give our life meaning and purpose.

Yellow highlight | Page: 37
Rather than stepping back and observing our feelings we are overcome by them. Our internal experience dictates our conduct and our lives turn into roller coasters as they become mirror images of the constant fluctuations of our feelings.

Yellow highlight | Page: 39
Arugamama Arugamama is the term Morita used to describe the state of acceptance. It means “to accept things as they are.”

Yellow highlight | Page: 39
When we are anxious, we just let ourselves feel anxiety. When we are depressed, we just allow ourselves to feel depressed and hopeless. The state of

Yellow highlight | Page: 39
arugamama is one in which we do not try to escape from our emotional experience

Yellow highlight | Page: 39
In arugamama we find the quality of non-resistance, similar to what is taught in many forms of martial arts.

Yellow highlight | Page: 40
Pema Chodron has written a book called “The Wisdom of No Escape.”

Yellow highlight | Page: 42
One of the main tenets of Morita Therapy is that our internal experience (feelings and thoughts) is basically uncontrollable by our will.

Yellow highlight | Page: 42
our thoughts have a mind of their own. They pretty much come and go as they please. And our feelings also arise naturally and spontaneously.

Yellow highlight | Page: 43
“Trying to control the emotional self willfully by manipulative attempts is like trying to choose a number on a thrown die or pushing back the water of the Kamo river upstream. Certainly, we end up aggravating our agony and feeling unbearable pain because of our failure in manipulating the emotions.” –Shoma Morita, M.D.

Yellow highlight | Page: 45
Accept your thoughts and feelings. Rather than fight what goes on in your mind, simply accept it.

Yellow highlight | Page: 46
What distinguishes an intentional thought from other thoughts is that it’s a thought which has the idea of a future action.

Yellow highlight | Page: 47
distinction between thoughts (which include intentional thoughts) and actions. There is a world of difference between the two,

Yellow highlight | Page: 47
Intentions may influence how we act, though of greater importance may be how our actions influence our intentions.

Yellow highlight | Page: 47
Inevitably we must abandon the idea that INTENTIONS, even particularly strong, clear or meaningful intentions, will lead us to action.

Yellow highlight | Page: 49
What we really want to do is develop a natural approach to taking action that meets the needs of the situation.

Yellow highlight | Page: 51
most change comes gradually,

Yellow highlight | Page: 52
Kaizen principles as they may be applied to personal change. The basic strategy is that you start out by making a very small change, and then build and build on that small change until, eventually, you end up with significant progress.

Yellow highlight | Page: 54
But for us, conscious change may well require some simple, basic ingredients – have a clear purpose, show up, take small steps, repeat this formula daily, and be patient.

Yellow highlight | Page: 55
In essence, we get to see ourselves from the world’s perspective, instead of our own. The process of Naikan reflection is relatively simple. It is based on three questions: (1)  What have I received from ____? (2)  What have I given to ______? (3)  What troubles and difficulties have I caused ______?

Yellow highlight | Page: 60
Morita therapy, Kaizen, Naikan – each of these methods offers us some wisdom about what action to take and how to take it. They are like three wise, old teachers offering guidance as we try to do something meaningful within the limits of a lifetime.

Yellow highlight | Page: 64
“Consider the implications of a life in which you don’t have the power, focus, or single-mindedness to do what you say you will do. Imagine the countless times your wiser self decides on a particular course of action, only to be blown off course by the merest breeze of immediate desire. There’s a helplessness, a scattered, drifting quality about such a life.” –Dan Rosenthal

Yellow highlight | Page: 67
“There is no merit in just thinking about doing something. The result is exactly the same as not thinking about it. It is only doing the thing that counts. I shall acquire the habit of doing what I have in mind to do.”

Yellow highlight | Page: 67
From the time they are children, people are ordered about by their parents to do this, to do that. They develop resistance, and reluctantly do as they are told, or avoid doing it if possible. The resistance habit becomes subconscious, until they are unable to perform immediately even those things they think of doing themselves.

Yellow highlight | Page: 67
They may think something is a good thing to do, but they have gotten so that they are unable to do it simply and naturally. People lose a great deal this way.

Yellow highlight | Page: 68
People who get a lot done manage it because they have the ability to get each necessary thing done right there and then. If you put a task off until some other time, you will never get it done, because “some other time” has its own tasks. Consequently you end up doing nothing and become a person who keeps putting things off.

Yellow highlight | Page: 68
The habit of action—this, I think, is the most important thing we must acquire.

Yellow highlight | Page: 71
his guidelines are more like a fundamental code of everyday living: –    know your long-range purposes –    work in the service of some cause that you can respect –    attempt to live and work in an environment in line with your own innate values –    develop a philosophy of gratitude –    reduce procrastination – it can be dangerous –    use muscular activity to alleviate frustration –    understand that aimlessness causes harmful stress –    work itself is good and a basic life necessity

Yellow highlight | Page: 72
There is no substitute for “accepting my feelings” (of laziness or boredom, or anxiety, or whatever happens to appear), knowing my purpose” and then “DOING IT.” My stress is relieved almost from the moment I start, and I go to bed that night satisfied with what got accomplished.

Yellow highlight | Page: 75
Aimlessness and procrastination create frustration, and the stress of frustration is much more likely than that of excessive muscular work or engrossing mental work, to produce disease.”

Yellow highlight | Page: 85
Don’t prepare. Begin.

Yellow highlight | Page: 85
The enemy is Resistance.

Yellow highlight | Page: 85
Start before you’re ready.

Yellow highlight | Page: 87
It’s best to get clarity before you begin, but it’s also best to begin before you have clarity

Yellow highlight | Page: 88
but you don’t know what that means or what it would involve. So clarity isn’t really available to you. What should you do? Go ahead and get started. Get started without clarity. Take some small steps. Investigate, research, look into possibilities, check things out, talk to people, and… if at all possible – try something out in real life.

Yellow highlight | Page: 89
Action isn’t something that comes after figuring things out. Action is a way of figuring things out.

Yellow highlight | Page: 91
Use your time wisely. It is a gift and it is only temporary. What is it that matters? What should you be doing? Are you hiding – hiding behind the veil of busyness? If so, then show yourself. Come out into the light. Be true to the work that has been placed on your path.

Yellow highlight | Page: 92
One of the central principles of Morita Therapy is that we have much more control over our body (actions) than our minds (thoughts, feelings). So a distinguishing element of Morita’s work is to put effort into getting the body to take action, rather than trying to manipulate our thoughts or feelings. Often, once the body is moving, there is a natural influence on our emotional state and our thoughts.

Yellow highlight | Page: 95
It’s amazing that you can even develop a tendency to procrastinate about a hobby—for example, blogging.

Yellow highlight | Page: 95
After a while you end up reading emphatic articles on procrastination. The idea of reading about how to cure yourself from procrastination is very thrilling. Depending on the quality of the writing, the optimistic feeling of a better life lasts either for the first few pages or sometimes for the whole article. And what a feeling it is. I’ll organize my life! I’ll just start! I’ll no longer procrastinate! Yeah, right.

Yellow highlight | Page: 97
One of the best ways to start something is to step back, look around, and say, “What do we have here?”

Yellow highlight | Page: 103
One big difference between the thought-world and the real-world is the degree of control we have. This was one of the great insights of Japanese psychiatrist Shoma Morita (Morita Therapy). We actually have very little control over our thoughts. Thoughts arise. They dissolve. Other thoughts arise and dissolve. In the course of our normal day, it is very unusual to “will” ourselves to have a particular thought.

Yellow highlight | Page: 104
On the other hand, we have much more control over our behavior.

Yellow highlight | Page: 105
one alternative is to put your energy into presence – practicing mindfulness in what you’re doing now. Resolutions are thoughts about what you want to do in the future. Mindfulness is about staying connected to what’s real in the present.

Yellow highlight | Page: 105
things differently. This is less about resolutions, plans and goals, and more about action. It means spending less time in the world of thought and more time in the real world, using your body to take action.

Yellow highlight | Page: 117
Now, when I need a faith-lift, I just glance down at the neon green Post-It note my Quaker friend attached to my computer. It says, ‘Proceed as the path opens.’ And in case I need a nudge, the action verb PROCEED is circled in scarlet.”

Yellow highlight | Page: 119
arambhashura—which means “heroes at the beginning”—people who take up a job with a fanfare of trumpets but soon find that their enthusiasm has tiptoed down the back stairs.

Yellow highlight | Page: 120
only way to really deal with the problem of excitement is to stop becoming dependent on it. We stop connecting the feeling of excitement with the persistence of action-taking. We stay with something because it remains important, even after our excited feelings are gone.

Yellow highlight | Page: 120
So the next time you are about to start something important, enjoy the excitement that may accompany you on the initial steps of your journey. Start off singing and dancing as you head down the yellow brick road towards the emerald city of Oz. But remember that it won’t be long until your excitement fades and you meet frustration, tedium and even doubt. This is where you remind yourself of your purpose. This is where you reach deep down and find the jewel of your determination.

Yellow highlight | Page: 126
Any time you begin to say “I should” or “I have to,” try replacing it with “I get to.”

Yellow highlight | Page: 131
to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

Yellow highlight | Page: 132
“There is rhythm in everything.” –Miyamoto Musashi*

Yellow highlight | Page: 146
And outcomes, in most cases, are uncontrollable.

Yellow highlight | Page: 147
The alternative is to focus on the effort we make. Our effort is almost always controllable – an action, something we can

Yellow highlight | Page: 148
second benefit of moving from a focus on goals to a focus on effort, is that it naturally moves us from focusing on the future to focusing on the present.

Yellow highlight | Page: 148
And finally, when we are truly focused on effort, rather than outcomes, we find it easier to resist the temptation to abandon our integrity. When we’re preoccupied with a particular outcome, it’s natural to lose sight of our morals and values.

Yellow highlight | Page: 149
Then we realize that life can be worthwhile without us being in control. And that opens a new doorway… to faith.

Yellow highlight | Page: 157
So if you know that you procrastinate on particular kinds of tasks, you are actually better off, because you have the ability to set up an approach that factors in your tendency to procrastinate. But the real difference between coping with procrastination and overcoming it is … feelings!

Yellow highlight | Page: 157
The fundamental change we need is a shift from a feeling-centered approach to decisions to a purpose-centered approach. The question isn’t “What do I feel like doing?” but, rather, “what needs to be done?”

Yellow highlight | Page: 157
make decisions based on purpose rather than feelings.

Yellow highlight | Page: 158
The alternative is to simply do the work because it’s what needs to be done, regardless of how we feel. We can call this maturity, or self-discipline, but it’s really about developing the skill to coexist with our feelings and take action anyway.

Yellow highlight | Page: 164
My children have studied either violin or piano for seven years using a method from Japan called Suzuki Music Education.

Yellow highlight | Page: 165
When we finish a task we should take a moment to reflect. How were we supported? What did we learn? What problems did we cause others?

Yellow highlight | Page: 165
A to-do list can be a valuable tool. Writing down what needs doing can free your mind from having to remember. But a successful day is not determined by what we’ve left undone. It has to do with integrity, kindness and a sense of gratitude for what I have received. It has to do with the quality of my attention and the way I treated others. It has to do with presence and purpose. Let’s not measure the value of our lives by the actions we didn’t take.

Yellow highlight | Page: 174
Be clear about your purpose, accept your feelings and thoughts, and then just do what needs doing.

Yellow highlight | Page: 175
We can listen to the voices and then consider our purpose—to be fully human in our connections with others and… just do

Yellow highlight | Page: 183
We must learn the skill of coexisting with fear.

Yellow highlight | Page: 184
Notice the feeling, recognize it for what it is, take a deep breath, and shift your energies to that which needs doing. “Right now, I am feeling a great deal of fear.” We notice fear. We acknowledge it. We accept it. But we don’t put fear in charge. We don’t let it decide what we do and don’t do. And at some point, we may learn to harness the energy of fear and use it to take action in response to the situation we are facing.

Yellow highlight | Page: 186
But we can’t figure out life in our minds. Life is resolved through life itself.

Yellow highlight | Page: 187
Small steps are an elegant approach to indecision. That’s because each of those small steps sends ripples out into the world. Your situation is never the same from day to day, because the world is in a dynamic state of flux. Once you take a small step you get new information and now you can consider the situation from a different perspective.

Yellow highlight | Page: 187
There’s no right decision. It’s better to put your energy into doing the best with whatever situation arises, than getting lost in the anxiety of trying to make the “right” choice.

Yellow highlight | Page: 191
“Give up on yourself. Begin taking action now, while being neurotic or imperfect, or a procrastinator or unhealthy or lazy or any other label by which you inaccurately describe yourself. Go ahead and be the best imperfect person you can be and get started on those things you want to accomplish before you die.” –Shoma Morita, M.D.

Yellow highlight | Page: 191
If you think about it, there is a relationship between perfectionism and grandiosity. If you think that what you do should be perfect, than you must have a very high opinion of yourself. On the other hand, if you assess your abilities realistically, you are likely to discover some humility and accept a more realistic perspective about what you are doing.

Yellow highlight | Page: 192
“What is needed is not concern with what we’ve done wrong, but the determination to meet the demands of the moment.”

Yellow highlight | Page: 193
But above and beyond all of that, there is the passivity that TV brings about, which results in wasted time, lost dreams, untapped potential, secondhand living, overweight bodies, unchallenged minds, lost opportunities and missed connections with family, friends, nature, and life.

Yellow highlight | Page: 198
For as many times as he distracts us we can simply counter by returning our attention to what it is we need to do. Ultimately if we maintain self-control over our behavior, this demon can be defeated. If we remain seated at our desk, writing a report, or standing by the sink, washing the dishes, we can persist alongside our boredom and finish what we need to do. As with fear, our main strategy is to coexist with the thoughts and feelings of being bored, while continuing to work on our task.

Yellow highlight | Page: 198
Clarity of purpose is a critical factor when dealing with boredom. Tolerating the experience of boredom is much more manageable once the reason for doing so is clear. If I am midway through my work on a tedious project, which long ago consumed what little interest I may have begun with, my greatest salvation comes from understanding why that project is worth doing.

Yellow highlight | Page: 199
Curiosity is a path that leads to details. And details are the antidote to boredom.

Yellow highlight | Page: 206
a method of music instruction developed by Shinichi Suzuki that captures some of the same values as I’ve tried to present in this book.