Daily practice for better focus and success

In a fast moving world, in which we struggle to find the concentration necessary to accomplish cognitively demanding tasks—or “deep work” as Cal Newport calls it—the idea of practicing an art can feel overwhelming or perhaps relegated to the activities of the rich and self-indulgent.

I believe the inverse to be true. Practicing an art may be hard, requiring discipline and daily action, yet it increases our ability to focus.

“Practice, repetition, and repetition of the repeated with ever increasing intensity are its distinctive features for long stretches of the way,” writes German philosopher Eugen Herrigel in Zen in the Art of Archery.

In his book published in 1948, Herrigel describes six years learning a Japanese form of archery in order to understand Zen Buddhism. The lessons he shares with us are valuable, regardless of our intention to learn anything about Zen. 

While reading this book—which a psychiatrist, pianist and golfer friend gave me—I was struck by the similarities between the lessons Herrigel learned and the lessons I have encountered during my years of practicing Shotokan karate, playing the piano, writing—and now meditating.

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