“The best time to plant a tree is ten years ago. The second best time is right now.” – allegedly a Chinese proverb
We all know that our memories are less reliable the farther back we go. I know what I did this morning. I kind of know what I did Wednesday morning. But I have no idea what I did on the morning of April 2, 1996. Some of us are better than others in this regard; I’m pretty terrible, myself. My memory isn’t so fantastic.
The problem with our flawed human memories is our difficulty in properly attributing our prior actions to our current circumstance, and also our inability to fully comprehend the impact of seemingly small choices. Without conscious effort, it’s easy to think all the current realities of your life, good and bad, just ARE — they just happened, or are a result of things outside your control. “That’s just life.” / “Shit happens.” The problem with this, besides not being true, is it takes you out of the driver’s seat. If you let your human memory hide the path to your current situation, then there’s no way you’ll be able to decide where you’ll be 5 or 10 years from now, either.
But let’s back up. I’ve gotten a bit ahead of myself. And this is important, so I want to make sure it’s clear.
We all know that every cause has an effect, that every action has an equal and positive reaction, that if we do a good thing, we get a good result. But it’s actually not that straightforward. When you choose, for instance, to eat a healthy lunch, you don’t just get the nutritional benefits of that meal, you’re also more likely to eat a healthy dinner, and then a good breakfast, and then another healthy lunch, and so on, making it become a habit. Likewise, if you decide to have junk food for lunch, it’s a lot easier to say “screw it” for dinner, too, and then the next day, do it again, and then the week is shot, so you might as well keep going, and so on, until THAT becomes a habit. And this goes for anything: eating well, exercising, reading, studying a new skill, working on a project, etc. Doing the positive thing doesn’t just get you the results of that action, it also puts you on a path of forward momentum. It sparks a chain reaction of other good things.
But what does this have to do with memory? Because when asked how you got such a great spouse, you recall your ingenious proposal. Or how you met. You don’t remember the day you chose to eat salad instead of fried chicken for lunch, which started a habit of healthy eating, which made you want to start exercising, which made you healthier and in shape, which made you more confident, and that confidence allowed you to go say hello to that cute boy/girl/non-binary person who eventually became your spouse. Your limited memory prohibits you from understanding how powerful these small choices are.
And there’s also the reality that these positive things we do don’t yield positive results immediately. I’m fortunate in that I get positive feedback from posting these on Facebook and LinkedIn, but the long-term results I’m seeking — to eventually have a full book, to get hired for more business coaching, to maybe get invited to do speaking — isn’t going to seem like it came from CEO Cripple Blog #001. But doing 1 led to #2, to #3, to #4, and because I’m making sure I do this one, I’ll do next week, too. And the eventual results will be from that first small step.
This works for a negative situation, too. When your life isn’t where you want it, you blame the things happening right now. When you don’t get a job, you cite something wrong in the interview. You blame outside circumstances. You don’t remember all of the small choices and actions that got you to where you are now; that just like getting better, it was a clear, step-by-step process.
It’s easy to fall victim to this, too. Recently, we have had a TON of people coming to us wanting to become new Life Saver Pool Fence dealers. This is great, because getting new dealers in the areas we have open is important for our business and our mission of making every pool on Earth safer for children. I immediately started wondering what we have recently been doing differently to cause all these new dealer inquiries.
And then it dawned on me: it wasn’t anything we have done recently, it’s the years and years of building an excellent reputation, of having a great relationship with the water safety community, of being an educator to the public and businesses on drowning prevention, of working with swim instructors, of supporting water safety non-profits, of producing the best quality products and above and beyond service, and so on. THAT’S why we are getting people wanting to become part of what we are doing — all of those decisions we’ve been making for years.
This is important to understand, because once you do, you start putting the importance they deserve on these seemingly small choices. No, the world won’t end if you call back that customer after you eat lunch, but what precedent does that set? What habit does it create? What will the compounding interest, chain-reaction result be years from now, as opposed to you religiously calling people back as fast as humanly possible? Little things aren’t little things.
And the other half, is once you understand that you can completely change your life, starting with one small decision at a time, you are now in control of your future. Things aren’t just happening to you. You’re not a victim of your circumstance.
You can dictate the path of your life.
Because no one is coming to save you. There’s no Prince Charming in this story. No one is coming to rescue you. No one is going to choose you and lift you up. Stop waiting to be “picked,” scooped up, made better by someone or something else. You need to save yourself. You need to start going on the offensive. You need to start working on the life you want.
And you can. One small choice at a time, that you might not remember once you get there.