Three words. Just three. And yet there is an entire universe of possibility present in those three words.
For me, without conscious effort starts with Zen and the concept of Mushin—roughly translated as no mind. A state without the presence of an active mind. Without ego, anger, and fear. This is something most often experienced in combat. That is if you’ve been properly trained. A quality of being that can spill over into life or business if properly nurtured.
If you are unfamiliar with Zen or concepts like Mushin but saw The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise, you’ve been exposed to Mushin. Perhaps, without even realizing it. There is a scene in the movie that illustrates this idea of too many minds almost perfectly. A scene where Tom Cruise, Captain Ahlgren, is learning Japanese sword fighting.
After a particularly brutal exchange, Nobutada, Katsumoto’s son, points out that Ahlgren is defeating himself. Allowing too many minds to prevent him from reaching his potential.
It sounds simplistic. Almost, easy. But it’s not. In fact, it is anything but!
We are complicated creatures, and it takes incredible discipline and determination to rid the mind of the kind of monkey brain chatter that torments us every day. I say “rid the mind” almost as if that is possible when I’m not sure it is. What I am sure of is that you can learn to ignore the kinds of distractions that stand in the way of the success we all seek.
I incorporated this idea of Mushin as a central theme in Misfire: What to Do When Things Aren’t Running on All Cylinders because I thought it was so important. I created this fictional garage to help explore these ideas and demonstrate how they can and should operate in the real world. How, through training, you can learn to acknowledge and ignore whatever distractions are confronting you while confronting the task before you with laser-like focus.
This is not just an esoteric exercise in philosophy. Without conscious effort is rooted in reality and can manifest itself—Or, at least, could—in each of our lives every day. So, let’s break this expression down.
Without is obvious. It means exactly what it says. The absence or omission of something. Perhaps, even something important. Something of value.
You can substitute thoughtful for conscious. Although, you might want to place a hyphen between thought and full (thought-ful), indicating that you are really talking about something filled with thought. Something filled with conscious consideration. The product of focus, concern, and intent.
And, finally, effort. The sustained application of force, intention, energy, or work (You can add just about any adjective you feel is suitable!).
Stapled together, without conscious effort means attacking (effort) the tasks or challenges you are facing—absent (without) of preconceived notions (conscious) or thoughts.
The question is how do you get there?
The Answer is Work
The answer is work! Conscious effort. The effort involved in educating yourself, and if you’re in business— educating others. Not just with regard to what needs to be done and how. But in terms of why whatever it is you’re doing is important.
You do it by creating structure—the framework in which things get done. Where—and how—it all takes place. A big part of that has to do with the procedure: sets of actions laid out in a specific order. And policies: principles or rules designed to govern how rational—and consistent—outcomes are achieved.
The goal is consistency. You uncover that path by doing the same thing the same way every time it is attempted in order to ensure a reliable result.
In martial arts, it is the Kata or forms. The constant drills and endless repetition. It is meticulous attention to every detail. Continuous improvement and constant correction. The goal of which is instantaneous action. Immediate response. Response without conscious effort. Action without having to think about what to do or how to do it.
These principles are as valuable in business as they are on the polished wooden floor of any martial arts studio in the world. If the foundation is solid and the structure sound… The process will flow. If the policies and procedures are effective, understood, adhered to, and embraced success will surely follow. Productivity and efficiency will increase as will morale. And the enterprise along with everyone in it will thrive.
D-words: Discipline, Drive, Dedication, Determination
As with most things, to achieve your desired outcome without conscious effort all you have to do is dedicate all your energy and efforts to the tireless work of planning, perfect practice, and execution. All you have to do is lead, manage, and commit. Observe, measure, and modify virtually every repetitive task you are either asked to perform. Or, that you expect others to perform for you.
You achieve the ability to execute without conscious effort by putting in the conscious effort required upfront.
If you are looking for easy this might not be the way. However, if it’s something profoundly powerful you’re looking for you just may be on the right path.