As I was reading John Eckberg’s remarkable The Success Effect: Uncommon Conversations With America's Business Trailblazers, I came across his chapter on Doug Newburg, and expert on high-performance, successful people. The newspaper article which was the original source of the chapter is here.
Newberg’s research rings true to me, and provides an understanding of the kind of questions that I have often pondered regarding personal achievement:
- Why did I find my list of highly detailed goals so difficult to look at?
- Why did more general, “intentional” visualizations work better for me?
- Why did I get such a “high”, working at my old career till all hours of the night, and, similarly, why was I so fascinated with my new career that I could write computer code for 14 hours at a stretch, sometimes forgetting to eat several meals?
- Why do rich, successful executives keep working, when they could easily retire to Palm Springs and play golf the rest of their lives?
As I understand Newburg’s work, truly successful people experience a “resonance”. What they love to do inspires them to get better at what they do, and to continue to do more of what they do. A “virtuous cycle”. This is analogous to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of "flow" . I mentioned a similar state in my post on obsession.
The truly successful go where their talent tells them to go. And they do it in their own way: they don’t necessarily micromanage their disciplines and habits, and Newburg’s research suggests that too much rigidity and organization can actually hurt progress.
Success can involve ongoing positive results,(money, recognition, etc.) of course, but Newburg uses the term “profound esthetic happiness” to describe the state of a fully engaged, successful person. They like to win, they hate to lose, but they are really in it “for the love of the game”.
He advises keeping a journal for a couple of weeks, primarily for the purpose of noting down what activities truly engage you even for a moment. The highly successful people respond strongly to that feeling of engagement. They worry less about failing and spend more energy focusing, with great fascination, on what they love to do. They “get lost” in an ongoing stream of attention, punctuated by positive feedback from the results of their actions.
Now, in the interview, Eckberg raises the question, “what if you’re not good about what you ‘resonate’ from?” And, it’s true, there are a lot of lousy golfers and garage-band musicians. But that doesn’t necessarily invalidate Newburg’s thesis that you will probably be most satisfied pursuing activities that you resonate with. Your unconscious leads you to them, because it “knows” you are good at them, or could be good at them. You are going to tend to stick with activities that provide some kind of positive feedback loop.
Newburg’s thesis pulls together a lot of what I have posted before regarding the unconscious (here, and here), affirmations (here and here) and the concept of obsession (here). The model that is emerging is:
- Keep aware of what engages you, if only for a moment
- Experiment with pursuing that area, or related areas
- See if you continue to feel good about the possibilities and/or immediate feedback
- Don’t get to stuck in overly-detailed goals and procedures
- Keep in mind generalized “future pictures”
- Don’t be afraid to work intensively and for extended periods as your interests dictate. Forget about “balance”.
In my life I have indeed experienced several moments of Newburg’s “profound esthetic happiness”. They were not necessarily connected with the highest-paying job, or the most profitable day. These experiences were a feeling of “rightness”, or what Newburg calls a “low buzz of energy”. I strongly feel that such a response is “hard-wired” into us, and that it can be a supreme guide for the direction of our lives.
Techtags: Peak Performance Achivement Success Doug Newburg Flow