This past week I was in Yachats attending the Mindell‘s seminar, and pondering the question they were posing, what moves you? Writing about motivation, leadership and learning, we can begin to forget this question and think that I move myself. I decide. I lead. I determine a course of action, what strategies to take, what directions to pursue. But it’s not so simple. The “I” is not necessarily a unified thing. We each have multiple and conflicting parts, drives, desires, reactions, needs.

I saw an old friend at the seminar, someone who lives far away. Like me, she does Crossfit, and we had made a friendly little bet, who could do 5 dead hang pull ups first. It was less about the goal and more a fun motivation for us both. Except it didn’t work. We confessed to each other that though we tried, neither of us reached the goal. It was taking much longer than we thought it would because we both had small injuries, not serious ones, just stiffness, lack of mobility, old sports injuries that we had to take time with. “I” made the bet, but “it” lost it for me.

A silly example perhaps, but profound learning. We can decide we want to get somewhere, or as leaders, we can set a course, a direction for our organization or team, but motivation, encouragement, vision, drive, discipline, none of this is enough, and none of it can trump the very subtle force of “it.” We can call it our body energy, deepest desire, unconscious will, or whatever we want, whatever it is, at the end of the day, it’s the boss. The question we need to ask, do I have the energy for this path? Does everything in me go along with it? Does this feel sustainable? Does “it” move in that direction or do I have to cajole, coax, encourage myself to do it? It’s an intrinsic motivation at the deepest level. I do it because it just wants to happen. I don’t even have to think about it.

The Taoists studied this in depth. The way of nature, the natural and unspoken flow of the Tao. They knew that the deepest sustainable action comes from attuning into this subtle energy. To lead the people, walk behind them. It is the non-doing of leadership, to follow what is happening, as much a challenge to do with yourself as it is to do with others.