#NOW: A book review

There is a small sliver of time in which everything happens. It’s that narrow bridge between the past and the future called “now”. Now is the only space of time any of us has. Not what was, not what will be, simply now. Every action happens in the now. We can have hope or anxiety about what will be, fondness or depression about what was, but we experience life right now.

What we did yesterday determined where we are today and what we do today creates the path to the tomorrow. Imagine a Venn diagram with two overlapping rings (or just look at the image of the book cover). The one on the left is the past, the right is the future, and the overlapping middle represents Now. Hold on to that image – it’s about to become important.

Behavioral strategist Max McKeown, Ph.D. has written several notable books on innovation, strategy, adaptability, and operating at our potential. It’s no secret I am a big fan of his writing style and ability to apply academic rigor to complex subjects while making them easy to understand and actionable.  Simply put, I was very excited to receive a review copy of his latest book: #NOW: The Surprising Truth About the Power of Now.

#NOW is a fairly quick read yet thorough and well documented. It pulled me in and carried me along, yet is substantial enough to warrant considerable time thinking about each page and sentence. When I first received the book, I initially meant to read the intro and flip through a few pages, but the next thing I knew, a couple of hours had passed and the pages were filled with sticky flags, highlighter marks, and handwritten notes.

“This book argues that for most people, most of the time, it is better to lean towards action rather than inaction… This is a book about the joy of moving. It is a book about motivation, because motivation means to be moved.” ~ from the introduction

#NOW explores the world from the perspectives of two types of people: Nowists and Thenists. The book is not a critique of the Thenist approach, nor is it a self-indulgent dissertation on the author’s approach to life and how everyone should be like him (gag). Instead, it’s an exploration of the two perspectives, the benefits of the Nowist approach, and how any of us can bring more of being a Nowist into our own lives. More than just a book of fluffy, happy platitudes, the concepts are demonstrated through real life examples, case studies, and research.

“The past is what you can’t change. The future is what you can change. #NOW is where everything changes.” ~ from the introduction

So what is a Nowist? They are change hungry doers who thrive on moving forward. They know what they are moving towards, embrace uncertainty, expect good things to happen, use internal measures of happiness, revel in potential, test themselves, and seek to master new skills. Think back to the Venn diagram I mentioned. Nowists build off the past while moving to the future.

Nowists precrastinate (think about that for a bit) and love to keep things rolling forward. They are active within their own lives and “believe that done is better than perfect.” Dave Grohl of Nirvana and the Foo Fighters summed this approach up well when he once said, “I don’t want to be perfect, I just want to be bad ass.” He was talking about making authentic music where the unique human imperfections are a strength, but the philosophy applies to living life.

There is an old motocross racing adage that sums up an important part of the Nowist approach: When in doubt, gas it! A healthy dose of throttle does not help in every situation, but it’s amazing how often it will be the saving grace that settles things down and propels you through when the track gets ugly or you lose control. Similarly, the Nowist approach values impulsiveness. Not the reckless, thoughtless, kneejerk impulsiveness of an immature teenager, but the functional impulsivity that comes from analyzing and deciding quickly and then moving forward with full commitment, correcting as you go.

Nowists strive to make decisions that are both accurate and fast. They realize that more time spent on a decision doesn’t necessarily improve accuracy, that moving forward with a good enough decision is better than getting trapped in inaction trying to make a perfect decision. So often, we treat speed and accuracy as mutually exclusive even though they clearly aren’t. It’s just as possible to make a quick, accurate decision as it is to spend a lot of time coming to the wrong decision. Why spend more time than necessary identifying and moving forward with the right solution? Further, action enables us to evaluate and refine our decisions as we go. Movement gives us information that can never be gained from inaction.

“Get moving. Accomplish something small. Do something you enjoy. Embrace what moves you. And start again.” – p. 48

Except… well, often easier said than done. Slow can feel prudent (even when it isn’t) and fast can feel reckless (even when it isn’t). Adding complexity can feel smart (even when it isn’t) and simplifying can feel lazy (even when it isn’t). Overanalyzing and overcomplicating seems like high effort and hard, valuable work (but only when we value the perception of struggle over actual results).

If you’re not a natural born Nowist, how do you make the switch? Newton’s First Law of Motion tells us a body at rest stays at rest unless acted upon. Habits and mindet hold us in place. How do you let go of the inertia of inaction?

Although the Nowist approach is contrasted with Thenist, it’s not either or. No matter where we are currently on the spectrum, we can all shift and adopt a more Nowist approach. We can start using the behaviors and mindset and create the joy of possibility and action and creating new in our lives.

Across and throughout 230 pages, #NOW provides the ideas, actions, and tools to make the shift. I fear my summary of the Nowist approach sounds a bit idealist and esoteric. The book is very focused on the practical application of the research behind the ideas.

For me, #NOW provided a fresh perspective on important ideas and served as a much needed reminder and inspiration to keep moving forward, to emphasize action as much as analysis, and seek joy in the process.

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