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The good archer doesn’t always hit the target but always shoots well

Almost all my adult life, I’ve obsessed over outcomes and the processes. As you can imagine, it can get pretty stressful at times (and that’s putting it lightly). 

I once read Eugen Herrigel’s Zen in the Art of Archery and highlighted this: 

“Put the thought of hitting right out of your mind! You can be a Master even if every shot does not hit. The hits on the target is only an outward proof and confirmation of your purposelessness at its highest, of your egolessness, your self-abandonment, or whatever you like to call this state. There are different grades of mastery, and only when you have made the last grade will you be sure of not missing the goal.” 

It sounds like a fascinating idea but far-fetched at the time since I wasn’t able to implement it until years later when I started to study Stoicism. Over the past few years, I’ve made several changes in my life, including letting go of the outcomes. So much so that all I now care about is the process and the practice. And it has helped me be a lot less overwhelmed, which has made me quite productive as I don’t have enough reasons to procrastinate. 

Of course, I’m not suggesting that I don’t care about the outcomes, I do. I don’t obsess about it because I don’t have any control over it. So, I focus on what I can control — the process and the practice. 

Massimo Pigliucci’s work on Stoicism has had a significant influence on how I see my world today. He shared “The Metaphor of the Archer” earlier this year that you must listen. He explains: 

As Cicero put it in the third volume of De Finibus, where he has Cato the Younger explain Stoic doctrines, an archer will do whatever he can in order to hit the target, but once the arrow leaves the bow, the actual outcome is not up to him. Hitting the target is, Cicero says, “to be chosen but not to be desired.” 

(DF III.22) Source: Ryan Holiday, Massimo Pigliucci 

For some reason, Eugen’s quote above made so much more sense — thanks to Pigliucci and Ryan Holiday, who in his latest post “Remind Yourself of the Archer” summarised the quote simply and powerfully: 

The good archer is one who shoots well, which doesn’t necessarily mean always hitting the target. He says the goal is to shoot well while not hitting the target, although paradoxically, this may lead to one hitting the mark more often. 

Source: Ryan Holiday, Massimo Pigliucci 

It makes so much sense now. We spend a significant chunk of our lives focusing on the unessential or stuff that’s outside our influence or control. No wonder we’re overwhelmed, burned out, and lost. 

The wisest will focus just on what they’re doing (the practice) and their process (the approach) because everything else (the outcome, other people’s expectations or the simple rules and norms) are outside of their control. It helps them do their best work and enjoy their lives while they’re at it.

H/T: Ryan Holiday… I proudly stole this from one of the emails that he sends out every now and then (I think daily). Subscribe to his list!