Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Look to this day!

I recently came across this Sanskrit Proverb and found it powerful:

Look to this day
For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision,
But today, well lived,
Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.
                                    -Sanskrit Proverb
Why are we so often tempted to reflect on our past as we consider the needs of now?  I believe it is because we suppose our past performance is a good indicator of what our current ability might have the capacity to produce.  And certainly that's a logical conclusion.  However, when we get "stuck" in the past, it actually limits our current performance.  
Let me give you an example.  In 10th grade, I took weight training as an elective P.E. class (How sad is it that this was the only official goal-setting weight training class I have ever taken.)  At the first of the class we maxed out our bench, overhead press, and a few other lifts.  I remember being pleased enough with my performance--it being comparable to some of the "sportier" folks in the class.  Throughout the class, I learned better techniques, had plenty of practice, and set goals for achieving better results.  Near the end of the class, however, I found I was just short of reaching a fairly significant bench press goal I had set.  I worked and worked, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't hit my target max weight.

After a lot of effort a friend of mine named Jack, from the varsity football team, spent some time getting into my head.  He asked what I thought a good max for someone of my stature should be.  I then told him how I had set my target weight because the P.E. coach had told me it was about the highest weight someone my size should shoot for--and that achieving it would be above an average result.  Jack then told me that was the problem.  "You can't worry about what someone says is possible for you.  You have to focus on what it takes to do what you need to do right now.  As you do, you'll improve.  Be pleased with your ability, and keep working and you'll do everything you ever hope to do."

I took Jack's advice and went back to work, abandoning the false limits I had been dwelling on and instead focusing on the exercises I knew would help build my strength.  By the end of the week, I easily hit the max that had been impossible for me for several weeks prior.  By the end of the following week, I had well exceeded my highest expectations for progress.

Certainly a goal and direction were important, but the focus had to be on the daily work necessary to build what I needed to achieve my goals.  The initial "place marker" was necessary to see my progress, but my mistake was dwelling on it.
Unfortunately, I have been guilty of repeating my high school weight training mistake from time to time.  I sometimes worry about what I have accomplished (or not accomplished) in the past and let it weigh me down in my current pursuits.  Jack's classic advice (and the above proverb) have often helped me focus my attention on the important things:  focus on the accomplishing the current needs, and the past and future will take care of themselves.