My goal is to forget about everything I have to do as soon as I learn I need to do it.
It’s an ambitious goal. Audacious, even. I work hard at it.
Don’t get me wrong—I’ll get it done. I just don’t want it swimming around my head until (and after) I do. I have more interesting things to think about than “Mail Ben’s birthday card” unless I’m out running errands.
The key is to remember what you need to do at the right time. Until then, forget about it.
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Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
I forget when I first heard that. It’s attributed to the Roman philosopher Seneca, the guy who is also credited with errare humanum est — “to err is human”. (Though not the longer “to err is human, to forgive, divine”; that was Alexander Pope, the 18th-century English poet.)
It’s an apt description. Chance presents us with an opportunity. If we are prepared to recognize and act on the opportunity, then we consider ourselves lucky. If we aren’t in a position to act on the opportunity, then we feel frustrated. We may even complain about how life isn’t fair. Opportunity passes us by, but only because we weren’t prepared to answer when it knocked.
Consider Bill Gates. He’s the luckiest man in the world.
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They said I was the fighter who got knocked down the most, but I also got up the most.
Floyd Patterson, American Boxer, 1935-2006
In the late 60s and early 70s, Walter Mischel studied the ability of preschoolers to resist temptation. The children, ages four to six, were given a marshmallow and a challenge: if they could resist marshmallow and not eat it for fifteen minutes, they would get a second marshmallow. (This is widely known as the Stanford Marshmallow Experiement.)
Only one-third of the children were able to wait the fifteen minutes. When Mischel followed up with these students as teenagers and adults, those who were able to wait had higher SAT scores, more confidence, and greater self-worth. The ones who couldn’t were more likely to have problems with addictive behaviors, including alcohol and obesity.
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Sesame Street recently visited this study with Cookie Monster playing The Waiting Game. It’s a brilliant video. As Cookie Monster waits for Guy Smiley to return, he even teaches kids distraction techniques, straight from Mischel’s study.
It’s not just preschoolers and furry blue monsters that face this dilemma. Eating that donut is a very tangible, immediate reward. Looking great, feeling great, and having the energy (and knees) to play with your grandchildren is a very fuzzy notion. That reward is a long ways off. That’s why it’s so hard to hang on to.
Why deprive yourself of the first marshmallow? It’s here. It’s now. It’s a certainty.
It’s also holding you back.
Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time.
George Bernard Shaw, Irish Playwright, 1856-1950
My grandfather used the imagery of a broken fence when we had done something wrong. The lesson was simple and clear: you needed to fix it sooner or later, and you might as well mend it before your livestock gets out.
It’s hard to admit that we aren’t perfect. We have this idealized notion of ourselves that we never makes mistakes. We are well-spoken and objective at all times. We never act rashley, speak out of anger, or treat anyone unfairly.
There’s this ideal self that we’re trying to be, and then there’s who we actually manage to be, despite our best efforts. We get tired. We get hungry. We get frustrated (with ourselves and others). Sometimes it’s a simple lack of judgement. Sometimes it’s wilfull and malicious. Sometimes it’s just an honest mistake or misunderstanding.
The point is, we’re human. We make mistakes. We get things wrong. It’s part of how we learn. If you never make a mistake, you aren’t pushing yourself. You aren’t trying new things. You aren’t learning.
It’s not important that you made a mistake. That’s expected. What’s important is how you handle it.
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So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1882-1945. From his first inaugural address, March 4, 1933
If you put one crab into a bucket, it will climb out. If you put several crabs into a bucket, they’ll stay put. Once one crab starts to climb, the others will pull it back down. It’s a bizarre form of if-I-can’t-do-it-neither-can-you.
When was the last time you sat down and watched children play? Isn’t it magical? A towel becomes a cape. With a stick in our hand, we’re a mighty swashbuckler. An empty box is a race car, a spaceship, and a secret lair. Nothing can stop our quest to rule the world, save the world, or tame the high seas.
Then at some point, we “grow up”. We start to listen to the crabs telling us it’s just a towel, just a stick, just a box.
Those crabs are just one of the things you need to overcome to be awesome.