Zanshin is an ancient Japanese concept which is ‘the art of attention and focus’ where the mind is fully vigilant and aware of its surroundings, totally present during every moment and action in the here and now. Featured both in the training of Samurai archers and Zen, it is linked to both marginal gains and the power of repetition but the latter at a very different level.
Zanshin is a word used commonly throughout Japanese martial arts to refer to a state of relaxed alertness. Literally translated, Zanshin means ‘The mind with no remainder’. In other words, the mind completely focused on the task at hand. It is being constantly aware of your body, mind and surroundings without becoming stressed; an effortless vigilance in a similar vein to ‘Challenge State’. Practicing Zanshin faithfully in life, is basically making the choice to live life with intention and purpose, rather than going with the flow and see where it takes you. It is a conscious effort to live your life to the beat of your own drum and being mindful at all times of what you have to do to achieve the outcome.
The concept of Zanshin is that everything effects everything. Originating from Samurai archery, the archers ultimate goal was to ensure that the arrow hit the target consistently; all the time, every time. Once the arrow has left the bow you have no control over it, so everything you do up to the arrow leaving the bow, needs to be done correctly to ensure it hits the target. The positioning of the feet, the speed of the draw, the distance of the draw, the string position, your arm position; all of these actions effect the end result, rather than the result and external influences affecting your actions.
There is a famous Japanese proverb that says ‘After winning the battle, tighten your helmet’. Or in other words, the battle does not end when you have won, the battle ends when you lose focus, lack attention, lose commitment; when you stop fully investing yourself.
The enemy of improvement is neither success nor failure, it is the lack of concentration and commitment to the process, because the process is everything!
If you have ever watched the Olympics, you will see athletes who are regarded to be the best in the world within their chosen discipline, competing against each other. As spectators, we see the end result of what has got them there, which literally lasts minutes, and in some cases, seconds. What we don’t see is the utter commitment to training, diet and mindset that is required to not only be a professional athlete but a medal winning, high achieving athlete. On those the cold, wet winter mornings that makes us mere mortals want to roll over and stay in bed, those athletes are up before the sun has even showed its face, training to reach that dream of competing in the Olympics. To these elite individuals, it is a constant commitment, so much so that even whilst performing, they are thinking about continuous improvement, repeating what works and not focusing on the result because that is just another part of the journey, not the culmination. They embrace each part of the process and fall in love with the boredom of practicing the task. Every action and every thought in the here and now must be right, harmonious and has their full attention.
By thinking about this concept, we can start to consider our aims in life and business, how fully we commit and what results we want. For example, you see an athlete or model on Instagram and want to look like them. You go to the gym 4 times a week for an hour each time, with the aim of developing a six pack just like theirs. However, despite your commitment to the gym, you enjoy the occasional chocolate, bag of crisps and glass of wine, and then are disappointed that you haven’t achieved your aim after 6 weeks. What you don’t realise is that the person you see on Instagram has 3, 3 hour gym sessions every day, they watch what they eat religiously and commit fully to that lifestyle – you are comparing apples to oranges. You cannot expect to achieve your aims if you do not fully commit.
It is the same in business, if you want to achieve something within your career, you need to fully commit to achieving it. Everything you do affects everything else, so if you spend 1 hour of your working day browsing the internet, that is going to show in the quality of your work. This doesn’t mean you have to get up at 4am every morning and not leave the office till 8pm on a night, it’s about being fully committed to the cause, and putting 100% of your effort in during the working day.
When considering Zanshin from a business, leadership or personal development perspective we can see that, whatever your aims and objectives, absolute commitment and dedication will allow you to achieve and excel. This must be a constant in all aspects of your life and should not be discarded when you achieve your aims. Unrivalled focus, repetition, analysis, improvement, integrity, awareness, alertness; everything is purposeful and deliberate.