Current moment, what is the level of engagement, of the sense of being really into the task at hand? Scale 1-10, high/medium/low, whatever you prefer.
Throughout the day, what is the average? Same thing and same scale?
I think, for me, it's somewhere between 4-5 now, often far lower, rarely higher. This used to not be so. When I was learning web dev, and first few months of working in it, I was fired up to the extreme. Obsessive even, frenzied (in a good way), completely losing myself in it, forgetting everything else - quite often. Usually, I wasn't far from that state. A day here or there where I wasn't as involved, sure but on a typical day, I was really fired up. It was on.
Now, that is not so. It was way worse a few months ago, nonetheless, I can see how much time I'm kind of wandering around absent-minded, rather than being on my purpose, intensely getting after it, not wasting a moment. A few months ago, it was so bad, simple tasks would take unusually long amount of time. I had a habit of not giving them attention much attention. Instead, I was more interested in thinking, re-playing and re-arranging some scenarios in my mind.
A conversation, an interaction, an idea, a revelatory insight, concept, relating to future or past, imagined or real, inspired by a movie, real life interaction and so on. On and on I would spin and re-spin something in my mind. And some of it was kinda fun, admittedly. Some of it was kind of inspiring and very interesting. Some of it hilarious. However, it tended to have the side of effect of scattering my attention somewhat, sometimes to absurd degrees.
I'd get busy re-playing different ways of how Thanos's conversation could go between the Dr. Strange in Avenger's, or how I'd delineate strong points but also every single glaring omission, lack of congruence and flaw in Thanos's line of reasoning and overall intent. At some point I'd realize I'm washing 2-3 dishes for 12-15 minutes. I tended to not be too happy about it. Sometimes these acts of mental envisioning were quite fun or hilarious but then I needed to go to sleep or get ready for work. For fuck's sake, what the fuck am I doing with my time, I'd note to myself.
There are all these concepts of hard work, persistence, humility, triangulating with others, having mentors, doing your absolute best, consistency over long period of time, pushing your limits, triggering flow state, fluid order, testing, constant and immediate feedback, constantly fixing and correcting course, and so on.
However, much of it is diminished, even when truly applied and it doesn't matter as much in regards to what you really have going for you if you're habitually using it only a portion of it. In other words, if you have assets at your disposal that remain idle, for whatever reason, often. It also appears to me there's actually more, much more. If you were to be thorough, there's no point in even trying to write it down, despite every variable being of critical importance.
Say, you play starcraft and you've got 5-6 high templars but you only cast 2-3 storms. They're late and rather imprecise. Then, your templars are sniped because your archons & corsairs were too far.
In that case, it didn't matter nearly as much as it should, that you went through all the trouble of developing your tech tree, upgrading storm and making high templars. If you used them only to a portion of their potential, they may as well not have been there at all, and it wouldn't have made that much difference since you'd have more units.
In this simple example, at least two very important things become evident.
First, it's obvious how critical it is to use all you've got to the fullest, on time, with required precision and accuracy. What's not as obvious, is that you want a highly continuous, caring, thoughtful state of readiness to protect and use around the best of what you've got. In this simple example, high templars could use some very continuous, stable and caring attention, so no required storms are too imprecise or too late when it matters.
Second, it's not a simple on/off kind of a factor. Rather, it's actually a much deeper and critical area of skill - the ability, or continuous state of readiness, to use what you've got to the fullest. In fact, why would one not give it as much weight, in terms of practice and training, as one gives to developing one's skills, abilities etc.?
That's essentially how I'm beginning to view level of active engagement, active attention, immersion, call it however you want - as a far more important factor than all the usual factors that tend to be discussed - the hard work, persistence etc.
You can work very hard and yet, be quite far from being fully engaged simply because not all parts of you or your mind are engaged. You can have enormous persistence but if you're not fully engaged, a lot of the time, you're going through the motions a lot, which isn't doing, or returning to you, nearly as much.
This, when it occurs, can be extremely frustrating, since it feels like and seems like you're trying so very hard, you're working so very hard, you're absolutely doing your best - but the output seems very limited or disproportionate relative to the input.
The keyword is seems, since the input can feel much harder and, in reality, be much weaker, irrelevant, flawed and lesser at the same time. Conversely, the input can feel very light, as if you're not even trying or caring that hard, or even when you feel you give no fucks at all, and yet, be enormous, on point, precise, relevant, massive, and this is because you actually are highly engaged and most or all of the parts, faculties etc. of you are engaged and focused on this single task at hand.
In the case of the former, it's hard to even notice what's wrong or resolve the issue because all the attention and perception isn't even there in the first place. Much of it is somewhere else, or on something else, or in some other time.
You miss even that you missed anything, that were any progress steps or opportunities there, so for much of it, you don't even know that you've missed anything. There's only the sense that the outcome, when contrasted with how hard it feels to you that you're trying, is lacking or comically lesser than what it should be.
That's a huge problem.
If you're really far down that avenue, which is one of severely lacking perception, distraction and confusion, you may also easily buy pre-fabricated explanations. Usually ones that promote fixed and rigid theories of potential, the ones that offer the power to pass excuses as obvious facts, and freely distribute even more power in support of the choice of giving up on an endeavor, choosing another one, and most often, of settling for much less.
It's easy to buy such explanations and let excuses take over, for the sake of short-term relief. Also, these less than desirable explanations, in fact, very harmful and inaccurate explanations, are often sponsored by people who don't necessarily have bad intentions. They often come from people who are simply misinformed and wrongly educated, when it comes to topics of developing and reaching one's full potential.
Even when your critical thinking skills let you steer clear of this level of traps, the explanations and theories about reaching one's potential that are more process oriented - the ones which promote ideas that with hard work, incrementally, step-by-step, difficult skills can be mastered, also have a lot of their own shortcomings. They tend to produce much better resilience, persistence and outcomes but sometimes, even that doesn't seem to work.
To me, it appears that much of it comes to habits and skills that deal with how to use what you've already got to the fullest, rather than in how much you've got or acquiring more skills, more understanding and so on.
It doesn't matter how much one tries or works hard or does one's best, if one doesn't first acquire the skills, the awareness and the problem solving capacities that relate to gather what one has, to focus it, and to use it to the fullest. Even if you have so much, like a numerous group of high templars that miss or are late with all the storms when it matters, it won't make much difference if you don't use it well.
This is equivalent of not being a general who picks up the few nearest forces and goes at it, not even aware that many more forces are available. Against a competent foe, who creates a lot of forces and also consolidates them to exert coordinated, focused influence, this general ensures a crushing defeat for himself and his troops. This is equivalent of being the kind of general who first looks around, gathers up all the scattered forces, organizes them, coordinates them and focuses them on utilizing their potential to the fullest to accomplish the current objective.
When one starts working very hard, it's often easy to make this critical, giant error of underestimating the factors that relate to full engagement, immersion etc. Whatever the approach is, if one ends up operating somewhat like the first general, the results will probably be very limited and unsatisfactory.
If that is the case, why focus so much on how hard you work? It appears to me that monitoring how engaged I am - and doing my best to push myself to increase the level of being fully into it, in the moment, completely in the zone, entering flow state as much as possible etc. - is probably going to work much better than focusing on just working hard because just working hard doesn't guarantee improving level of engagement in the task at hand.
The point is this - working hard can be glorious and rewarding but it can also be a wasteful, costly delusion that doesn't return much and damages a lot. If you often fail to be fully engaged, only some parts of you are engaged, in the work that matters a lot - it can feel like you're working extremely hard. And it can seem like that. Friends and close relatives can comment a lot on how hard you work. And it's true. You are working super, extremely hard.
However, you are scattered. Your input is not what it seems. It's pathetic, dimmed, low and close to nothing because you're scattered.
It's an equivalent of shoveling lots of snow using only your left hand and no shovel. If you fail to remember that you could use both hands and a shovel, you're going to do some real work. It's gonna be a ton of very, very, very hard work. And little results, little output, little return for all that effort, energy, hard work and time.
When you're engaged, you're bringing the majority or all of your forces to the play. Then, a lot of things can be done, quickly, effectively, with quality, and not seem like hard work at all. A lot of normally tedious tasks or challenging endeavors can feel effortless.
However, in reality, your input is massive, focused, well-coordinated, very potent. It can often not seem or feel as much like hard work because you've brought and coordinated many forces to work on the task at hand.
That means you see so much more, you are so much more precise, accurate, you are so much more well-coordinated, synchronized, etc. A lot of extraneous motions, unnecessary strain and so on, is stopped. They're ready to explode into action at any moment but, returning to the general analogy for a moment, it's foolish to stress troops that aren't required to move at a given time. They remain rested and ready, until the exact point that they are required to move. Timing and synchronization are stable and function reliably.
At the same time, the required motions occur with much greater care, attention to detail, checks, and consistency. The troops that are on the move must be in a state of great quality in discipline, flexibility, and readiness to adapt at moment's notice, to minimize risk and maximize chances of success.
Now that can also feel like hard work, when the task at hand is very challenging but it's a very different kind of hard work and feeling. It feels very different than work when it flows out of a scattered state, when one fails to use their forces or assets to the fullest.
That difference, the one between being mostly or somewhat scattered, and being mostly or fully collected and organized, is related to the level of engagement, being in the zone, really getting into something when one's doing the work that really matters, whatever you choose to refer to it as. This, to me, appears like a much more important factor to focus on.
I will mention that I've been working hard, to the point of being even slightly fanatical, a lot of the time, and it often failed me. Often, very badly and painfully.
The harder you work, the better the outcomes - I've found this is not entirely accurate, sometimes, very inaccurate. Sometimes, it's even the exact opposite of how reality works. This is because work is just an input - and input is shaped by a lot more factors than what you consciously feel or what consciously seems to you as hard or not hard, a ton or very little, in terms of work.
Primarily, as I've described, the input's real qualities and the resulting output, are influenced by factors that deal with bringing all of your forces together to work on a given task with all you've actually got, rather than trying to force yourself harder with just the handful of forces that you happen to be consciously aware of at a given moment.
By forces, I mostly mean different faculties, units, sectors and areas of available capacity that comprise your mind and overall brainpower and brainpower potential to be put to use.
It doesn't matter in terms of being precise about it. What matters is to be aware that it's very possible to work extremely hard and feel like you're pushing yourself to your limits, to even sweat and repeatedly get yourself to states of exhaustion, in terms of conscious recognition, feeling and what seems - while being pitifully, delusionally unaware that there are tons of available resources that are idle or engaged in something entirely unrelated to work that matters and the task at hand.
Which means, again, that while you may be honest, sincere, be genuinely committed and consciously experience working extremely hard, exhausting yourself, pushing your limits far and beyond - your actual input can very well be low, weak, dim and mostly trivial, or even negative. And it's the real input that matters.
Most of what I've written is based on a lot of experiences, very real and often very painful, where I've really put forth a ton of massive effort, only to find myself doing the wrong thing like an idiot, committing a ton of basic errors that I normally don't do, wasting a ton of time on something that makes little difference etc.
The overall conclusion points of all this, are the following:
1) In my opinion, instead of trying to work harder in the traditional sense, as in forcing it harder and harder to the maximum, and pushing yourself as hard as you can, more and more hours, more intensity etc. - it's important to recognize that much of it is completely pointless and of no use and will return very little unless you first learn how to not be scattered. Not to be scattered in terms of your brainpower, paying attention overall and to details, not keeping a lot of brainpower resources idle or engaged in some unrelated tasks, shifting your attention back and forth in a stable manner, and so on and so forth.
2) It seems of critical importance to me that one is able to test alternative ways of first checking and massively improving the usual, daily level of engagement, that is, how deeply into it are you, when you're working on a task that matters to you and your goals.
3) Most of all, it seems to me that level of engagement is a very interesting type of principle to test - it might prove to be more effective than just the principle of working super hard throughout the day, on its own.