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Z is for Zanshin

Updated: Apr 24, 2022

It is not whether you aim or not but how you approach your goal that determines the outcome” Awa Kenzo

Zanshin (残心) is a Japanese word (pronounced zan-shin) which literally means ‘remaining/enduring heart-mind’; a state of relaxed mental alertness and awareness (especially in the face of danger or stress) and is often linked with Japanese martial arts.

(“In several martial arts, zanshin refers more narrowly to the body's posture after a technique is executed” -Wikipedia)

Zanshin is being constantly aware of your body, mind, and surroundings in an effortless vigilance.

Part of the definition of zanshin is about remained fully focused until you have achieved your goal and not losing concentration at the last crucial moment. Just like in Aesop’s Fables with the race between the tortoise and the hare, our brain can trick us into thinking that the danger is over and we can guarantee succeeding, it is then that we get complacent and find ourselves in a completely different scenario at the last moment.

I sometimes wonder how different the world might have been today if zanshin had been applied in recent history by the losing political sides in the UK and the USA, i.e. those who thought that victory was inevitable or didn’t consider the threat of the opposing side a real one until it was too late (again just like the tortoise and the hare)

Practicing zanshin is also about staying focused regardless of what has happened up to that point in time, i.e. whether you are winning or losing, at the beginning of a task or nearer to the end; everything is irrelevant apart from maintaining your focus consistently, where you are, until the end.

Research has proven that multi-tasking is ineffective especially when tasks are cognitively difficult; this includes allowing our mind to wander and muse about the next thing we have to do rather than concentrating solely on the task in front of us. Logic says that if half of your mind is occupied thinking about your next task, then you’re only using half your brain on your current one!

It is not easy always to maintain our concentration but we will only improve if we make the effort to work on de-prioritising irrelevant thoughts through practices like mindfulness and breathing or simply training ourselves to quieten our mind so we can improve the consistency of our focus in the present moment and remove distractions.

It is not possible to maintain zanshin all the time for obvious reasons, but if we start by observing when we lose focus and work to bring our attention back, this is the key to further change and the ability to develop targeted, sustained attention when we need it.

With time, by applying Kaizen and by focusing on being a little less distracted than the time before, we will see improvement; i.e. small incremental improvements every day leading to bigger sustainable improvements in the longer term.

Zanshin is about choosing to live your life intentionally and acting with purpose rather than mindlessly reacting to whatever comes your way. By focusing on the task in hand – and within that the current step not the end goal, using techniques to consistently improve our concentration and never allowing ourselves to become complacent even after a specific goal has been achieved w will achieve a state of kaizen.

There is the mind of seeing, the mind of hearing, the mind of posture, the mind of walking, of sitting, of standing, as well as the mind of thoughts. When we stop trying to impose "our mind" upon the moment, the mind of the moment can express itself clearly and complete Knowing opens.” Anzan Anshin

Some questions to think about/or discuss below:

What distracts you?

How to you bring your attention back to the task in hand?

In which specific area would applying zanshin benefit your life?

If you want to explore this subject further, here is another link to get you started:

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