Optimal Potentialities

If you follow me on Twitter (and why should you), you know that I recently finished reading Alan Watts’ book The Wisdom Of Insecurity.  My main takeaway from the book is people should not let the past or the future dictate their lives because the past is unchangeable and the future is unknowable.

To me that does not mean you should ignore the lessons the past can teach you or that you should not have goals for your life.  It means you should not allow yourself to live in the past or the future to avoid the unpleasantness of the present.  You should embrace the present in all its good and bad to live a more content life.  I use content instead of happy because contentment is a more stable state of being instead of happiness or sadness both of which are fleeting emotions.

I have also gotten from Watts and other readings of Zen teachings that you should only worry about the things you can control.  You cannot control outcomes; you can only control your actions.

In grant writing you have to create SMART outcomes.  Those are outcomes which are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.  Here is a SMART goal people make all the time:  Lose XX pounds in X weeks.  Then they shape their behavior to meet this future goal.

The correct way to create a grant funded program is figure out the change in behavior you want to elicit (the goal), how you plan to elicit that change (the outputs/the program you’re creating), and then what specific measures will prove that change (the outcomes).

People too often mistake outcomes for the goals.  Outcomes are the results of achieving your goals and should naturally occur over the course of the program, but you cannot control the outcomes.

Zen Buddhism teaches us, you cannot control whether you lose the weight.  That is the outcome.  You can only control your actions of eating healthier and exercising (what should be your goals).  Concentrating solely on the outcome of losing the specific weight in a specific time leads many people to A)feel like a failure if they don’t hit this specific number in this specific amount of time or B)distort their behavior in an unhealthy way to hit this specific number in this specific amount of time.

This is why I have started to think of outcomes as the optimal potentiality.  If you concentrate on living day to day and moment to moment, the potential outcome will be very close to your optimal outcome.  If you eat better every day and exercise every day you will probably get very close to the weight you set as your outcome.  Then again you may not, but you will be healthier, and by not distorting your life to attain this future, you are probably more content with your life.

Every day, I do certain things.  Not because I have a specific goal in mind.  I do have optimal potentialities, but no specific goals.  I read and I write every day because those things give me joy and I would like to get better at writing and learn more about beer.  Now, would I like to do these things and have them be my main source of income?  Yes.  That is the optimal potentiality.  However, I cannot control that outcome.  All I can do is read and write every day and keep my eye out for opportunities that may appear.  Then again, maybe they won’t.

It’s like finding a new job.  One will not fall into your lap, however, if you look in the right places every day and you prepare yourself every day eventually you will find a new job that you like.

That is what I get from Watts.  Not the literal idea of not worrying about the future, but the understanding that we can only control our actions in the present.  Be mindful and present in every moment of your life, and you will be more content.  Do not ignore the future, but understand you cannot control it and that it will sort itself out without your meddling.


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