Several weeks ago I was fortunate to be invited, through a client relationship, to a one-day excursion to one of the testing days for the Indianapolis 500. There were several memorable moments to the day:
- The thrill of being on the balcony of the luxury suite, twenty feet from the track wall, the first time I saw, heard, and felt race cars come off turn two toward us and within a few feet of the wall at over 200 miles per hour.
- Getting Mario Andretti’s autograph, as well as that of Helio Castroneves
- Watching the powerful combination of talent, technology and teamwork in the pits as each team worked together to try to increase the speed of their car so they could qualify higher.
- And a memorable conversation with our bus driver during dinner.
On the way home from Indianapolis, we stopped for supper in Terre Haute. During the meal, I asked our bus driver how he would manage to stay awake for the three plus hour drive to St. Louis. He stated that one of the keys was to eat smartly at dinner. He pointed out that he had only eaten about half his dinner and was taking the rest with him so he could finish it when he got home.
However, he added that his real key for driving long distances was to focus on how far he had come, not how far he had to go. “I count off the miles as we pass the mile markers. This way I am not discouraged by focusing on how much further we have to go. When I see how far we have come, I don’t think about how far we have to go.”
I pondered his comments in the dark bus after dinner. In the moments before I joined most of the other adventurers for the day in our well-earned after-dinner naps, I thought about what he had said. I slept peacefully knowing that our experienced driver had a proven plan for taking us safely back to St. Louis.
The valuable and broad-reaching truth in his simple approach to driving a bus safely has danced in my brain since that evening.
If you regularly read my articles, you know that I believe one of the keys to success is to not get mired in the often harmful process of focusing too much on the past. Instead, we should learn from the past, particularly mistakes, and then quickly get on with it. By channeling our energy and efforts toward the task at hand on a corrected course, we can move toward success quickly and robustly.
However, I have realized in the past few weeks that, properly recalled, the past can be a valuable ally in keeping us motivated. When looking at it from the perspective of my bus driver, measuring the accomplishments of the past can be beneficial. It helps us realize that we have been successful and that we are on our way to more success.
I recently began working with a new client, and my experiences there illustrate this principle. In the two months of helping this client, the number of issues that have surfaced on a weekly basis has bordered on overwhelming for me and the staff. But today, while meeting with one of their key managers, I pointed out to him all of the things we have accomplished in two months. When we recalled a number of our triumphs in the last six weeks, suddenly the list of tasks that still need to be done seemed more manageable.
Many years ago I heard a sermon that relates to this point. The pastor stated that it was important to note and recall moments in our lives when we were successful or when we felt blessed. He told us it was vital to make an effort to remember these peak experiences. Then, if we hit a period of setbacks or challenges, we could look back on successful moments in the past to remind us of how we were able to achieve the results we desired.
The pastor’s point was that we all go through times of challenge and failure. But we also go through times of success. The tendency is to dwell on the mistakes of the past instead of remembering our successes. If we focus more on looking at how far we have come, and less on how much more there is to do, we will be better able to persist and hang on for success.
I have labeled this “peak-to-peak experiences.” That is, when in a valley, look back at the last peak and remember getting over it. Then use this as motivation to attack the next peak.
As I often say, obstacles come to instruct, not destruct. We do not control the challenges and issues that confront us in daily life. But we do control our reaction to those events. We can either allow them to defeat us or we can take some time to remember our successes in the past and use these recollections to propel us to greater success.