3 Steps to Grokking-in-Fullness

In my Mastermind group last week, a colleague expressed frustration. “I write down what I want to do, and then I don’t do it. I just do whatever projects I feel like doing. I hate that. I need to change that.”

I voiced my opinion that inspiration and enthusiasm towards a project generally had a positive effect on productivity, but it was really just to be the devil’s advocate. In reality, she was doing exactly what she needed to do… Testing her limits.

Between Two Extremes…

Is usually where you find your perfect balance.

But you don’t know that it’s the perfect balance until you have context to back it up. You need to visit those extremes, just for the experience. And second-hand experience rarely cuts the mustard.

That’s why I don’t say a word when people of my acquaintance challenge themselves with feats of physical strength and endurances.

100 pushups a day for a year? Do what you feel, brah.

Walk from one end of Africa to the other? It’s your life.

Swear off the internet? Whatevs.

All these are discipline challenges. It’s barely about the act itself– it’s the execution of a commitment.

It’s to see if you can do what you say you’ll do, even when it isn’t easy.
It’s to see if you can persevere once the shine has worn off.
It’s to see if you have the wherewithal to get around roadblocks

It’s because you have something to prove.

But it would be a mistake to end on that note.

All the time I see people getting into the habit of these commitments– forgetting that it isn’t the act that’s the important part.

So they test, and they test, and they test— without actually taking their achievements as proof.

They still feel like they have something to prove.

They don’t take the next step.

After you’ve proven that you can stick to a commitment, (and because you’re human, you know that you can be lazy and slothful) the next step is to learn when each response is appropriate to the context.

People who get too disciplined sometimes retreat into perfectionism and dogmatism. I once heard about a bodybuilder who hadn’t missed a single workout in something like 17 years. Even on the day of his father’s funeral, he hit the gym.

It is one thing to stick to a routine or regimen because it’s a touchstone in your life. It is not okay to exorcise your feelings of powerlessness or inadequacy by retreating into an illusion of rigid, precise control. Worse, you come to regard the people around you as weak or inferior for not meeting your impossibly high standards.


If you’ve lived within the prison of your own high standards for a long time, you must first learn compassion for yourself and your essential humanity. And then you must learn to grant yourself grace.

Grace isn’t a term often used outside of religious contexts, but it’s loosely defined as “unmerited favor”. The chief aspect of grace is that it can’t be earned; it is only granted. Only you can grant it, and love yourself and your foibles in your entirety.

Now before I lose you completely, I want to point out the fundamental usefulness of this view.

Primarily, it means that you don’t need to struggle to earn good things. Good things happen to you without any particular merit on your part. (Bad things too, of course). But like we discussed last week– you won’t know which is which. You’re simply able to go with the flow, in the understanding that things happen, and you will act appropriately, in the proper measure and intensity.

That’s it. That’s pretty much the essence of Zen lifestyle there. I’m not guaranteeing it will bring you happiness, but it will certainly lower your stress level.

But it’s a long road to that level of self-control. And the first necessary step is to test yourself, and learn who you are. And then you must take the proof of your character that you gained in those exercises, and with that wisdom, neither over- nor under-react. Not seek to control what you can’t control, or give up when you shouldn’t.

When you approach life with self-knowledge like this, every action you perform will be right for you in that moment. You will rarely be torn about the proper action. You will not worry about the future, because you have the discipline in the present to do what you can to protect yourself, and you have confidence in your ability to act correctly should something you couldn’t have planned for occur.

And finally, you must practice. Every day, you have to keep clear in your mind who you are and what you stand for, and you must will yourself to have you actions reflect that.

It’s damn hard work. But there’s a sort of euphoria to it as well. Zen Buddhists call it satoribut it has a place in Western tradition,  known as “grokking-in-fullness“. Have you ever grokked yourself so deeply that there was no doubt or dissemblance, only a profound assurance? And more importantly, do you want it enough to work for it?


12 thoughts on “3 Steps to Grokking-in-Fullness”

  1. It’s funny. The struggle for me is actually writing the things down that i need to do. I find that when I do this simple exercise, more of them get done! The hard part is writing the stuff down 🙂
    Anyhow, I love this article. Any reference to Stranger in a Strange land makes me want to close my laptop and re-read the book. 
    As to your question, I think that making the transition from a full time employee to self employed has helped greatly in my path to knowing myself. In my cubicle, all I could think was “this isn’t me. this is terrible”. All I could figure out during those few years was that “this is not what I want…this is not who I am”.  
    Now that I’m “free” and have proven to myself that I wasn’t going to become homeless and healthcare-less the second I quit my job, the anxiety of self-employment is largely gone and I generally trust that the future holds growth and prosperity for me. It’s nice to finally realize that. 🙂

    1.  @ethanwaldman It *is* a matter of triangulation. In a dayjob, when so many things are catastrophically out of alignment with how you want to live, all you want to be is OUT. And it’s generally a good call. But then, people get out, and when things are still awkward and out of alignment, they freak out and think it was a bad call — and it wasn’t. It just means they still have some calibration to do. 
      In addition, the closer you get to being in alignment, the more sensitive your internal gyro gets. I used to be able to handle a lot more stimulation than I currently am, because I followed my nose to a quiet, idyllic life– and it ruined me for anything else 🙂

    2.  @ethanwaldman I was just thinking that I need to re-read Stranger, too! It blew my mind and turned my head completely around when I first read it in junior high school.

  2. Ha. Yep, I needed this post.
    All of this sounds delicious to me. I want it. There are two things I see standing in my way: First, my own unwillingness to trust in my instincts about what’s right. Second, that the world is always telling us to plan-plan-plan and then stick to it. And I suppose there’s a third, a sort of blend of the first two, where I hold myself to certain standards, created by someone else (you will make a plan and then you will stick to it! If you don’t you’re not doing it right!) and feel like I’m falling short when I half go with my gut instead.
    So where does the planning come in? Or are we talking guidelines, suggestions we make for ourselves, which we may or very possibly may not actually end up doing when we get closer to them?

    1.  @remadebyhand It’s kind of like this: Say you had a sidekick, someone you respected and trusted. And your friends calls you up and says “Do this. I’ll explain later.” So you do it. Not because she told you to, but because you trust her when she says it’s necessary, and also that she’ll explain things later. You don’t have to know the whole plan, you don’t even have to know what’s going on– because you trust your friend. 
      The idea is to develop that kind of relationship with YOURSELF. And it’s not a “belief.” You can’t just say, “Ok, from now on, I’m going to trust myself, because I know I’m not dumb.” That’s ridiculous. It’s a relationship like anything else, and there are some places you’ll know your instincts are trustworthy on, and some places they aren’t. Like, we all know a guy whose brain complete turns off when he has the hots for a woman, and even though everyone else can see the trainwreck coming for miles, he’s totally oblivious. And you’re probably aware of at least a couple of your own blind spots.
      But the place to start is to treat your planning and mental processes with at least the same respect as you would a respected colleague. Based on your knowledge at the moment and your guesses as to the future, you’re making the best plan you can. When circumstances reveal themselves, you will adjust the plan as appropriate, and not beat up your trusted colleague for not being able to predict the future with perfect accuracy.

  3. I’m not sure I would call it profound assurance exactly, but I do have a good sense of what I’m working for. I work hard, but I agree – the struggle isn’t necessary. If my work day was aligned with my goals, then that’s satisfying enough for me. It all comes together eventually.

  4. So do you actually have to go through the testing part of the process to know that you “got it”? Actually, maybe that’s not a fair question… I’ve reached a level of self-assuredness (most days) with my ability to handle whatever, and I never did 100 push-ups a day for a year. However, that may not be giving myself enough credit… I spent most of the first 28 years of my life testing in various ways… The ability to just not worry about it is probably something I have actually earned, whether or not I want to admit it. I love this point of view….. although would also caution that being sucked into too much testing as a replacement for true self-confidence is possibly more dangerous than the other way ’round? Maybe? Or is that just my anti-epic bias? 

    1.  @sarahemily It depends on what you mean by “testing”. Does it have to be physical? Of course not (I suspect people choose mostly physical stuff because success is easy to measure).
      I don’t think testing is truly necessary, but I do think most of us are wired not to trust something we haven’t tested, so as a short cut to  “can I handle life?” I don’t think it can be beat. As long as you don’t stop there. “Oh, sure, I know I can handle earthquakes, but can I handle fire? Guess I better test again.” Instead of being, “I’ll bet a ton of the stuff I learned about reacting to earthquakes can be applied to fire and other catastrophes as well.”

  5. So THIS is why I needed to do the Continuous Creation Challenge. I’m serious. You frame it in a way that explains it really well.
    I have something to prove to the world. I have something to prove to the people who doubt I’ve made the right decisions since my personal renaissance began. And I have a lot of things to prove to myself.
    I’ve never seen Grok used in the context you just did, but now I have two positive ways to use it. The other is in the primal Mark’s Daily Apple kind of way where the character Grok is the epitome of how humans used to live (and implicitly how we should live now).
    Awesome article Shanna! All that’s left to say is Grok on!

    1.  @joeyjoejoe re: “Grok” ~ I’m not familiar with “Mark’s Daily Apple”. Is that a web comic? 
      My first encounter with the term Grok was exactly the way Shanna’s using it – “to deeply understand” – in “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert Heinlein, c 1961 – a science-fiction / speculative-sociology classic.  Quite likely where Mark got the concept, too. It’s also used as a character’s name in the “B.C.” comic strip.

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