I’ve just come across the most wonderful story in the book On Form, by Mike Brearley. Brearley, the former England cricket captain, now a psychoanalyst and lecturer on leadership and motivation, explores what it means to be “in form”, the wonderful state of being where you are at seemingly effortless peak performance. As you would expect, it includes a lot of cricketing examples. One of them reminded me of this post I published in 2016.
Mike Brearley writes about Mike Atherton’s great innings in 1995 where he batted for almost 11 hours against ferocious bowling from Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock to score 185 not out to save a test match against South Africa. He quotes the journalist Scyld Berry, who covered the match, saying Atherton was “serenely calm” and in a “trance-like state”. He had no fear of failure, according to Berry: because he was
.. too far above the battle to notice, too inwardly certain of success to think for one moment of failure.
Mike Brearley says it’s the same quality that children have when they are absorbed in play. And he tells this lovely anecdote.
I like the story told by the educationalist Kenneth Robinson of a six-year-old who was asked by her teacher what she was doing. “I’m drawing a picture of God,” she said.
“But,” said the teacher, “no one knows what God looks like.”
Quick as a flash the girl replied: “They will in a minute.”
So there’s inspiration as you try to find form yourself. Try to regain the seriousness and sense of infallible purpose you had as a child at play.
The ancient Greek philosopher Plato believed that humans were born with perfect knowledge, but somehow forgot it all at birth. So acquiring knowledge later in life is actually recollecting things we already knew.
I remember thinking this was absurd when I first read it (at school where I appeared to be learning all sorts of things that seemed to be totally new). But, as time goes by, I increasingly think that he has a point.
I am currently working with an Indian media company. In the newsroom I saw a notebook with these words on the outside:
The creative adult is the child who survived.
This got me thinking. The amazing thing about the people who work in that newsroom is how incredibly hard they work. They are a business channel covering the ruckus of the Bombay Stock Exchange in a roller coaster of live output with flashing tickers, graphics and logos. Every moment there is a breaking “flash” as another company releases its results, or a stock price “tanks” or “spikes”. But despite working very long hours and under great pressure, they seem happy – childishly happy – not that they are in any way childish themselves (they are utterly seasoned professionals). They are childishly happy in the way that a child is happy when totally engrossed in his or her play: demonstrating utter concentration and dedication, and a sense of fun and enjoyment. It’s wonderful to see.
So this article in Time 4 Ways to Live a Happier Life caught my eye when it popped up on my Twitter feed the same week. The author, Eric Barker, quotes the philosopher Nietzsche, echoing Plato’s theme:
A person’s maturity consists in having found again the seriousness one had as a child at play.
The article advocates smiling, laughing, touching and teasing as its 4 routes to happiness. These should all be easy to do, “child’s play” as the saying goes, because they are all things that kids do naturally. The article concludes, if you want to be happy:
resolve to approach life like a big kid.
When you think about it, it’s obvious: we instinctively know that it is correct …. and yet somehow we stressed-out adults have managed to forget that simple truth. Perhaps Plato was right after all.