Recently, in looking through the “Reflections” section of my Thinking Companion, a quotation I’d entered several months ago caught my eye. This statement was a recurring entry from the ship’s log of Christopher Columbus during his epic voyage of discovery in 1492.
“This day we sailed on.”
Day after seemingly unproductive day, contending with dwindling supplies and an anxious, near mutinous crew, Columbus persevered in his dream. And through strength of will and single-mindedness of purpose, he changed forever the course of history for two hemispheres!
Today I’m going to address our attitude surrounding the all too human doubts and discouragements to which anyone pursuing a worthy goal occasionally falls prey; and, I’ll give you three ways that I have developed to keep a project moving forward.
So, here was the situation. Christopher Columbus was in trouble leading his fleet of three Spanish ships (the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria) on their voyage to discover a sea-route to India. The rudder of the Nina had broken. Was it an act of sabotage from her disgruntled officers? Morale was running even lower than the food supplies.
Yet despite all this, Columbus stood firm.
More often than I would care to admit, I’ve found myself, as I suspect you have also, (metaphorically) in a similar situation. Surrounded by critics telling me to quit… to turn back. It will never work, they say… there’s not enough data to support what you’re doing… what makes you think you can do it where others have failed. The temptation is there to agree and just throw in the towel.
Whenever we question the status quo critics seem to magically appear! (Don’t believe me? Try creating an organization of dissidents that challenges traditional ways of teaching medicine!)
Yet we both know that quitting is not the right answer, especially for a well thought out structured plan supported by a noble vision.
Sure, we can avoid the critics, but as Aristotle pointed out,
Criticism is something we can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing. – Aristotle
Progress in any arena is brought about by leaders willing to sacrifice everything they have for a vision that most other people are incapable of seeing. Day after day this leader depends on will-power alone to see them through. Yet, being human, those who attempt the seemingly impossible will inevitably encounter times of discouragement and despair.
What follows are three ways I’ve developed over the years to get myself back on track when I sense myself slipping. They work for me and I know they’ll also work for you!
1. We Rest and Renew Our Strength
Our first action when discouragement strikes is to lay down the baton and temporarily step back from the complexities of our task. Understand how to take a break from the leadership that defines us and recognize the needs of our body for rest and renewal of strength.
Many years ago, I was greatly influenced by the teachings of two individuals – Wayne Muller and Anthony Schwartz. Today, their books (respectively) Sabbath and How to be Excellent at Anything which are referenced below have a special place in my personal library.
What I learned from these two men was the psychological necessity of rest and renewal. Each in their own way taught me the practical steps for applying these concepts and today I’m pleased to pass these sources on to you.
From Muller I learned the importance of creating personal methods for renewal, the definition of Sabbath. Like the Jewish Shabbat, or the academic Sabbatical, (both terms derived from this one root word), we all require time at periodic intervals to leave our routine and focus on higher intellectual thoughts.
In his book, Muller describes how to create a “Mini-Sabbath” to renew the spirit. This takes from 30 minutes up to an hour or two – and does not require us to leave our actual environment. The effect on our psyche of a Mini-Sabbath is like the rebooting of a computer. It clears away the baggage that slows us down.
From Schwartz I learned the importance of “Ultradian cycles”. This is a term that involves structuring our day into alternating cycles of 90-minute segments of uninterrupted productivity followed by 10-15 minutes of total mental rest.
He also discusses the benefits we derive if our schedule can be manipulated to include sleep twice during any 24-hour period. The impact that a brief 30-minute afternoon nap can have on refreshing our creativity is significant, and is an important lesson for those of us who live by our creative abilities.
There’s an ancient cat proverb that says,
Importantly, both of these authors emphasize the necessity of sleep for the maximum effectiveness of the human mind. And of course, they are not alone. Medical science has shown that the average human being requires at least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep within every 24 hour period to operate at peak efficiency. Yet, how many of us attempt to short-cut that process by shaving time off either end of sleep, and then try to compensate with stimulants like coffee and energy drinks?
This importance of sleep during times of frustration and discouragement cannot be overstated. As everyone knows, things do look brighter in the morning.
2. We Meditate on Our Vision
The ancient Japanese who developed Zen Buddhism teaching to its ultimate form were masters at controlling and calming the mind. Their methods emphasized simplicity, harmony, and a general lack of clutter, characteristics that often stand in stark contrast to our daily business life.
During times of discouragement, our goal must be to calm the mind and view our project in light of these three traits. To do so forces us to mentally step back and view the “Big Picture.”
Is our project still in harmony with our perception of this greater picture?
Are the methods we use appropriate to bring us to successful completion? Or, are there simpler more efficient ways to achieve the same end?
Is it clear (lack of clutter) how people will be favorably impacted by both the desired outcome of our goal and the methods we use to reach that outcome?
In most cases of such reassessment, if what we are doing remains firmly based on a noble vision, the answer will continue to be yes to all such questions.
In such forward analysis we must not neglect to look back and review the progress that has already been made.
Consider. What has changed since this time last year?
What have I learned during this time? Importantly, am I satisfied with who I am becoming in the process?
It’s important to recognize and appreciate the measure of how you have grown.
These and other questions specific to your project should constitute the core of your meditation.
Periodically stopping to review our progress recaptures the perspective of where we fit into the larger vision of what it is we are attempting to accomplish. At these times we can more clearly define circumstances and events over which we have control; and importantly, more clearly recognize those circumstances which are beyond our control.
Wisdom comes when we understand the difference and plan our work accordingly.
3. We Read
Reading has the ability to renew our thoughts analogous to rebirth of the mythical Phoenix bird. The new thoughts we gain prevent us from remaining in the ashes of the past and allow our minds once again soar.
Reading also has the insidious habit of growing our minds. Even when we cannot see that growth, it still is happening!
At the end of the day if we have learned just one fact from reading, that is one fact more we have added to our intellect. Even at this minimal rate we will have learned 365 pieces of new information by the end of the year!
Facts and experiences (either our own or those of others) are the stuff from which creativity draws to form ideas and plans to move our project forward.
I don't think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday. – Abraham Lincoln
So, what should we read?
I recommend reading and learning about great men and women. Where possible, read their autobiographies; where not, read their biographies. Read also scholarly analyses of their lives by other acknowledged experts.
Understanding the troubles these people encountered and overcame gives us encouragement that we can do so also. Reading thus exposes us to those who have attempted – and succeeded – at something of value against great odds.
I began this discussion with a reference to the voyage of Christopher Columbus and our post title, This Day We Sailed On is the entry that appeared repeatedly in his ship’s log. We can only speculate whether he wrote this in discouragement or merely for self-encouragement to bolster his resolve, or simply as an unemotional fact.
Yet, this phrase so poignantly affected one American who wrote under the pen name Joaquin Miller (1837-1913), that he composed an impassioned poem to the resolve he found inherent in this log entry. A portion of it goes as follows,
Part of being human is to experience frustration and doubt about the dreams we have set our course upon to achieve. The worst thing we can do is give in and abandon that dream. Winston Churchill once remarked,
In other words, we only fail totally when we quit!
At times like these it’s imperative that we step back, rest, and get a better grip on the dream and our course to pursue in achieving it. In this discussion I’ve given you three ways to cope with these inevitable times.
- Rest and renew our strength
- Meditate on our vision to renew our perspective
- Bolster our confidence by reading about the lives and tribulations of great men and women
So during those times when you see no progress and your resolve begins to waiver, stop and take stock of your goal through these three proven methods.
Always remember that the goal you have conceived was given to you – to you specifically – for a reason. And while you may not understand that reason, or why you are driven to fulfill it, deep within you know that it must be achieved at whatever the cost to you.
Hold onto that resolve; and, in the words of Christopher Columbus, “Sail on!”
This is Roger Koment at NSR Development and I want you to know that I do believe in you!
And because of that, I know without question if you keep on learning… keep on striving… and keep sailing on, you WILL achieve your goal.
Wayne Muller – Sabbath
Anthony Schwartz – How to be Excellent at Anything
David Schwartz – The Magic of Thinking Big
Our images today are from 123rf.com
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