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Lao-tzu Who?

manual gearshiftDid you ever drive a car with a manual transmission? With practice, going from first to third (or fourth) becomes almost an unconscious process. Almost.

One must still remember to put in the clutch before moving the gear shift. There is an awful, audible reminder when one fails to remember. Too many such failures and the clutch will burn out.

Over the years I have come to realize that our mental gears also require shifting. Different skills are needed for chatting up clients than relaxing with friends -- even if the talk, on the surface, is in both cases about last night's ballgame. It takes one skill set to stand up in court and argue; it is quite a different set of skills that one uses to write the brief that serves as the basis for that argument.

In other words, I have trouble shifting gears. As a solo practitioner, I have to cover sales and production and administration alike. Different mental gears are, I believe, required for each. And my clutch is sticking: I have a heck of a time going from one mental state to the next. I feel myself slowing down, digging deeper, entrenching, in order to get started. I think this is what professional athletes are referring to when they say the 'game slows down for them' as they reach the highest levels of achievement. What may happen with an elite athlete is that he or she re-gears mentally to become entirely 'in tune' with the game. All outside distractions are banished and total focus is achieved.

The process of mentally dispelling those outside distractions, Lao-tzuwhether the cheers of the fans or the day-to-day business of running an office, may seem to the person achieving focus like a true slowing down. The hardest part, for me, is getting started. It's hard to achieve this focus, and there are so many other distractions. There are bills to be gotten out. And clients can't always cooperate and not call while one tries to focus in on writing an appeal. Call it inertia; call it clearing the decks. Either way, it is real and must be done.

The Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu (Laozi) is credited with saying that "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." I saw an alternative translation of this statement on The Quotations Page: "[A] more correct translation from the original Chinese would be 'The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one's feet.'

Rather than emphasizing the first step, [Lao-tzu] regarded action as something that arises naturally from stillness."

Purposeful action that can only begin when one has slowed down.

Curmudgeon is a self-described dinosaur -- an Ozzie and Harriet person living in an Ozzy and Sharon world. And sometimes it confuses the heck out of him. He writes a very amusing blog at Second Effort.

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