The power of clarity: seeing is achieving
“Nothing ever becomes real until it is experienced.”
— John Keats
Two firemen go into a forest to put out a small fire.
Afterward, they stop to rest. The face of one is all smeared with black, while the other man’s face is completely spotless.
Which of the two will wash his face?
That’s a silly question — the one with the dirty face, you might think.
But you are wrong.
The fireman with the dirty face will look at the other one and assume that he looks like him. And, vice versa, the man with the clean face will see his colleague’s face smeared in with black and think: “I must be dirty too. I’d better wash it.”
This parable by Paulo Coelho illustrates how people are distorted mirrors. What others reflect on you is not what you want.
Looking outside is deceiving. Search within instead.
This is why regaining clarity will boost your life.
Fear Makes You Hazy
“If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
— William Blake
“I’m afraid of being fired.”
What we do is a critical part of who we are. That’s why most people fear to lose their jobs. It’s part of their identity.
But what about what we don’t do?
What you procrastinate or put on hold, defines you too; determining the person you will never become.
People are okay limiting their potential, but not okay with losing their jobs. I struggle with this paradox when facilitating team workshops. Some folks prefer to silence their best ideas rather than push back or ask for what they want.
That’s why people don’t drive change at work: they are afraid of being fired.
Being a former CEO myself, I heard that same excuse — even from senior executives — when encouraging folks to take more risks. Trying new things, the same as making decisions, requires courage, not power.
“He who holds me by a thread is not strong; the thread is strong.” –Antonio Porchia
What you are afraid of becomes your master. Fear takes your story away from you, making someone else the screenwriter of your life.
One thing is losing your job; another is to be afraid of not finding a new one. The first depends on others (being fired) while the latter it’s on you (getting a new job).
What you hold on to makes you hazy.
When you don’t own your destiny, you turn your fears into an excuse. And lose perspective of what you want.
That’s what paralyzes most people: expecting someone else to make things happen for them, rather than being in charge.
You Won the Lottery. Now What?
“Definitions create conditions.”
― Alfred Korzybski
Most people use money as an excuse.
But, what happens when you remove money from the equation?
Imagine you just won the lottery. The prize is 20 million dollars. What would you do now?
I’ve run this exercise many times, to help people overcome excuses and realize what they (really) want to do. Money is not the problem; lack of clarity is.
It’s hard to fight for what you don’t know you want.
The exercise has many iterations. I start adding “conditions” to cash the prize. First, you have to donate 5% to a charity of your preference. That’s a natural choice for most people. Who cares about giving away $1M when they can keep $19M? Sounds like a great deal
Things get more complicated as I start adding more rules.
You have to commit to working for free at the non-profit you selected — at least five hours per week. Most people rethink their original choice. They want to be thoughtful about where they’d spend their valuable time (remember they are millionaires).
Throwing money away feels easier than deciding where to spend your time.
The last round is when things get interesting: participants must agree to continue working — 10 hours per week — at their current job for free.
The initial reaction is always negative. Most people reject to “have to work” on their current job, especially those who hate theirs. But, as they spend time exploring this option, pleasant surprises happen.
In most cases, people start finding that they didn’t hate their employer as much as they thought. Some realize that, in spite of frustrations or tensions, they love what they do.
The game-changing realization is that they start focusing on how things can be improved (the solution) instead of on what’s broken (the problem). They brainstorm possibilities and everything they’d like to grow at their job.
Feeling free, everyone is full of initiatives.
But, most importantly, they gain ownership. They are not just observers with great ideas. They want to take action and make change happen.
“So, what is preventing you from doing that now?”
Immediately, people start looking outside for excuses: their bosses are not open to listening, there’s no time, they might lose their jobs, etc.
We believe that money provides freedom, but that’s an illusion. Freedom is a choice, not something you can purchase.
Your fears won’t go away because you become rich overnight. Your bosses won’t change because you won the lottery (the exercise doesn’t state others will make things easier for you).
That’s the biggest lesson. Your fears cloud your judgment, not (the lack of) money.
When you gain clarity, everything feels easier.
Seeing what you wish for makes excuses disappear. Knowing what you really want drives you into action. When you are busy accomplishing things, you don’t have time for excuses. You stop listening to your fears and overthinking.
How to Gain Clarity: Look Inside
“The more of me I be, the clearer I can see.”
― Rachel Archelaus
Don’t wait for clarity to come to you. Create a discipline of finding it. Eureka moments happen but are infrequent.
Look inside: that’s where the answers are.
Deepak Chopra recommends: “to examine your reality in here, which is where clarity can be found.”
The author outlines three key elements that make our life hazy:
- Confusion: this manifests as not setting clear priorities which contributes to making the path ahead less clear and you feeling indecisive.
- Distraction: this manifests as a hundred small things that pull your attention in every direction instead of the one you want.
- Disorganization: this manifests as a lack of orderly thinking that leads to being productive and creating concrete results.
If your goal is clarity, build a practice to focus on finding it.
“I take showers to think.” — J.R. Rim
Make time every day to let go of your thoughts and excuses; look inside. When things become hazy, I pause to reflect. Then I get ‘back to work’ feeling calmer, more focused, and productive.
Here are some ways to get you started.
1. Eliminate excuses:
“Appearance blinds, whereas words reveal.”
— Oscar Wilde
What would you do if you win the lottery?
Keep that spirit in mind. Lack of time (or money) is just an excuse. Increased awareness of the reasons you use drives action. When you know, you can act upon.
Stop waiting for the perfect moment to arrive. The best time to start something is always now.
2. Reduce distractions:
“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”
— Hans Hofmann
Distractions are reduced by getting better at focusing your attention.
You are what you feed your mind.
What you watch, read, or who you hang out with — even what you eat — determine your chances of success in life.
“Garbage in, garbage out.” — the saying goes.
If you fill your life with distractions, don’t expect to accomplish anything. I’m not advocating for cold showers, running at 4 AM, eating tofu while levitating or only reading Aristotle’s.
There are many shades of grays. Finding your balance drives clarity.
You achieve what you prepare yourself for.
3. Write your own destiny:
“A solid answer to everything is not necessary. Blurry concepts influence one to focus, but postulated clarity influences arrogance.”
― Criss Jami
Your life’s purpose is essential but setting smaller mundane goals is more attainable. And you’ll avoid overthinking.
Sometimes not knowing something is the best form of clarity.
Knowing what drives your life, the impact you want to create is important. But don’t let searching for your ‘perfect purpose’ hold you back, rather than forward.
To publish a book, you must write the chapters first. One at a time. The same happens with a chapter. Writing the first paragraph is how you get started.
4. Clarify your priorities:
“For those who confuse you, recognize that their confusion is theirs and your clarity is yours.”
― Barbara Marciniak
When you commit yourself to one thing — and not another — clarity is a natural result. The word decide comes from the Latin decidere, which means “to cut off from.” Prioritizing means to cut away other possibilities.
By having your priorities straight, you avoid confusion.
Try this exercise to help you establish your priorities.
5. Spend time observing yourself
“We see in order to move; we move in order to see.”
― William Gibson
Gaining clarity is the most effective way to stop your thoughts from eating you alive.
Meditation is an obvious choice. But, if you find it hard or don’t think it’s for you, there are other options.
Seeing (what you want) is the first step towards achieving. It will boost your life.
Try guided visualizations that are much easier to follow. There are thousands available for free on Youtube. Start with the lighter ones.
Practice pausing with a purpose from time to time. A pause is an incubation period, as I wrote here. It helps you reflect, detach from an “always-on” life, and reconnect with what you want in life.
You can even turn chores, like doing the dishes, into a moment to reflect and become more appreciative.
Clarity drives action.
What about you? How do you deal with clarity in your life?