(TL;DR version; happiness and fulfilment are found in the process of mastering our craft/dharma. Actively dedicate 3-4 undistracted hours towards yours everyday, not the results of the process. Summary and reading list at bottom. Namasteezy.)

After years of procrastination, I finally read the Bhagavad Gita (thanks to an awesome translation recommended by a redditor on r/psychonaut.) I read this version with the intent to extract a habit. This was around a time where I was devouring books on habit change psychology. The Gita did not disappoint. The habit that blossomed out of those pages was; Whenever I write a blog post, I will read my Gita Invocation and release my attachment to the fruits of my work.

And here is the invocation (a popular quote from the Gita I tweaked a little);

“You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Erick, as a man established within himself — without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For Dharma is perfect evenness of mind.”

(In the Gita, Krishna is saying this to Arjuna, and instead of Dharma, Krishna says Yoga. But I subbed in my name and switched yoga for Dharma because our lives are our myth and this is what I wanted to do lol.)

And it is this idea of Dharma that kept replaying in my mind while I read Cal Newport’s Deep Work.

Deep Work 

Cal Newport is an MIT graduate, professor, and bestselling author. He credits deep work for his success. He goes further, claiming that the good life is a deep life. I agree with him and I think the Gita does too (or maybe this is just the story I tell myself. It’s a fun one.)

Newport introduces the argument that “Deep Work” is rare in our technologically hyper-connected culture. He spends the first part of the book arguing that Deep Work more important now because it is so rare, and that we should all cultivate it in our lives. I didn’t need convincing, but I wanted to share his 3 reasons why deep work is important (because it gives meaning to our lives.)

He defines Deep Work as;

Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

(Writing these posts and reading these posts make up a large portion of my Deep Work time.)

#1) Life is a Story We Tell Ourselves 

I think this is the most pragmatically important idea in psychology. And whenever I see an informed intellectual agree, my brain lights up. Newport shares Winifred Gallagher’s research and story covered in her book, Rapt (which I just added to my wishlist on amazon lol.) Her essential claim, as Newport explains;

“After five years of science reporting, she came away convinced that she was witness to a “grand unified theory” of the mind;

“Like fingers pointing at the moon, other diverse disciplines from anthropology to education, behavioral economics to family counseling, similarly suggest that the skillful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience.”

This is another way of saying what Martin Seligman has shared about “explanatory style.” (I wrote a few blog posts on this.) The grand unified theory is that you are telling yourself a story about life. This is the essence of metaprogramming. And how does this link with deep work? Gallagher’s main focus is on attention. What we pay attention to determines our story. And Deep Work directs our focus more sharply than any other activity we can engage in.

#2) Deep Work Triggers Flow 

“In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.”

You’ve heard of Flow, and have seen the impossible to spell name of it’s discoverer, Mihaly Csikszentmihaly. Flow is where Dharma begins to connect with Deep Work. Csikszentmihaly’s research is clear, when people are rigorously tested for life satisfaction, contrary to what people predict about themselves, we are happier and more satisfied while amidst work (that produces flow) compared to relaxing.

This deserves repeating. People think they will be happier when they are on vacation or relaxing in the evening. Dan Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness clearly exposes how bad we are at predicting our happiness. The evidence is evident; we are most satisfied while in flow, not relaxing.

While reading this section is when I was struck with the urge to write this post. This is the essence of what I took away from the Gita. The human animal has been molded by natural selection to be most satisfied when it is engaged in work that produces flow. We are meant to create. Realize your dharma and seek mastery. This brings us to the last reason he offered for the importance of Deep Work.

#3) Deep Work Develops Sacredness

The example he offers to support deep work’s importance is that it generates sacredness. He references a book written by two modern philosophers, called All Things Shining. I agree that deep work produces sacredness, but I’m more moved by the prose of the Bhagavad Gita;

“You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Erick, as a man established within himself — without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For Dharma is perfect evenness of mind.”

I choose to create the story for myself that we each have a sacred dharma we are uniquely capable of manifesting in the world. Find yours, and engage in deep work to manifest it.

Example

I believe that my dharma is to help people heal themselves. This has set me down the path of trying to understand the human condition. I’ve tried to do this by studying evolutionary theory and all branches of psychology. My deep work revolves around me reading books, taking notes, and trying to share what I learned in a way that people who don’t have the time to study can learn it. That has led to this website and these blog posts.

I work from home for a tech company in Austin, and I have organized my day to read and write the first 3-4 hours I’m awake. These is my deep work. My phone is on silent. I don’t use the internet (other than evernote and spotify). These 3 to 4 hours are some of the most meaningful hours I have all day. We all have a unique purpose we itch to manifest. We honor ourselves when we create time and space to go deep. Work to go deep.

Summary

While reading Deep Work, I made a connection with what I took away from reading the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita offers that we are spiritually destined to engage in work, this is called our Dharma. Newport’s book affirms this idea, but from a scientific/western philosophical perspective. They agree that the key to a meaningful life is engaging in our craft everyday, with a sense to master the form, and not to be attached to the outcomes.

Find your dharma (it’s more of remembering then finding). And seek to create a space where you can engage in your craft for an undisturbed 3-4 hours a day.

Serendipitously, I found a TED video by him the day I wrote this.

Books I’d Recommend to Help Cultivate Deep Work 

Deep Work – To give credit where it is do, learn from the source.

Flow – To understand the science of Flow.

Mastery – To witness a master sift history for amazing stories of other masters seeking mastery.

Bhagavad Gita – To cultivate a spiritual non-attachment to the fruits of your mastery.

 

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