I have a question for you. What is the worst that can happen ?
In the past I have wondered about this question - is it a useful question, especially given the fact that its answer is nothing more than a wild guess, one that is often wrong?
I always remember how I didn’t get into the secondary school of my choice. To 10 year old me, that is the worst thing that could have happened. Over fifteen years later, it’s clear to me that it was actually perfect, because it brought me to where I am today. I could never have known that at the time. All I knew was that I wanted to go to a particular school and I didn’t get in. The future that I had imagined for myself disappeared before my eyes and I was distraught. If I could see what the future had in store for me, I would’ve spent the three days following my rejection dancing instead of crying my eyes out. But I couldn’t see that, no one could’ve seen that. All I could see was a reality that was different from the one I had imagined for myself.
The imagination is a great ability of the mind, but if it is not carefully controlled, it can be its biggest distraction. It is in the imagination that we recreate past scenarios, that can never and will never happen. It is also in the imagination that we create future scenarios- ones that are different from the future that is eventually realised. We hardly discipline our imagination to focus on being creative in the present because that is more difficult and boring. It appears as though we are constrained by the walls of here and now. Why focus on what’s in front of you when you can create fantasies in your head? Those constraints have only been created by unruly minds that would rather bask in the comfort of imagining things outside of our control.
Think about how many times you have tried to recreate the past in your mind - if only I had gone to A instead of B. Or thought about what you would do when something else happens - when I finally get x I will do y. What came out of these musings? Think about how much time we actually sit with what is in front of us - the seemingly boring, ordinary part- and just do what we need to do. We often don’t. Instead, we are distracted by possibilities. We forget that the possibilities of today are only available because of the actions of yesterday. And the possibilities of tomorrow will only be so based on today.
How can we be creative in the present? We can forget the past. We can ignore the future. We can embrace the process. Know that it is okay to be terrible at something. Instead of lamenting your lack of mastery, place all your effort into being consistent and showing up today. The only thing that is useful from the past is the information that indicates how far you have come. Yesterday I ate 0 vegetables. Today, I had one serving. Not, yesterday I ate 0 vegetables, I’m a bad person. Yesterday I didn’t know that x = y, today I do. Not, yesterday I didn’t know this fact - I’m not smart. The past is only a matter of fact, not a place for judgement of whether or not you are a good person. The decision you make today is what is important. And as for the future, know that the future is now. It is not at some distant time. Just remember that today is pregnant with tomorrow. And so it is how you treat today, that will determine tomorrow’s birth. Focus on the time now and do what you have to do.
The worst that could happen does not matter. Perhaps a better way to reframe the question is, what’s the worst that is happening now ? And in that way you are able to take responsibility, without leaving things to some unknown. The worst that is happening now is partly in your control. You only need to worry about your bit. Say you are trying to be healthier, the “worst” that is happening now is in your hands - I’m eating fruit- so the “worst” is actually not bad. What is happening now is in line with what you want for yourself. Or, I’m eating McDonald’s - the “worst” is totally in your control - stop eating the McDonald’s.
This goes for anything - want a job? The worst you can be doing is not looking for a job or making sure you are learning the right skills for the type of job that you want. If you focus on the worst that could happen - not getting a job, this does not help you correct anything and it doesn’t help you move forward in a useful way. Want to run a marathon? - the worst you can be doing is not training for it. If you focus on possibly not finishing, it doesn’t do anything for you beyond taking you away from focusing on your training. I’m sure you get the point.
Thinking about the worst that could happen leaves us feeling helpless, as though there is nothing we can do. This isn’t true. There’s a lot you can do. And once you stop imagining the worst case scenarios, you can actually leave room in your mind to focus and be creative in the present.
There’s a lot of distraction around us. But most of our distraction comes from fear. We tend to be nervous so we find comfort in doing irrelevant things or thinking irrelevant thoughts to make ourselves feel better or make ourselves avoid the situation completely. But that doesn’t help anyone, least of all, ourselves. We have to take the responsibility for ourselves and focus on the here and now.
Just keep asking yourself - given what I want for my life, is this the best thing I can be doing right now? It can be a difficult thing to answer, because you might not know where to start. Know that it is okay to start from a place that is so easy you can’t make an excuse not to do it. From there you build consistency, until you’ve built the muscle and enough experience to be more discerning about how you spend your time. Yesterday my friend told me about how he started lifting lighter weights so that he could correct his form. Once he mastered the correct form, he went back to lifting heavier weights- properly. It is always best to set yourself up to be able to do things properly.
Don’t see it as a delay in your journey, but as the foundation to build the strength and endurance to run your race. Don’t worry about how long it is taking you. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that you show up with your entire, focused self everyday. When you do that, time becomes irrelevant because mastery is in practice.
Here’s to showing up and doing our best today, no matter how tiny our best may seem. If the tap withholds the little drops that eventually fill a bucket, for fear that it will never be able to fill it, all that happens is that its fears come true. So let your drops make an ocean. Don’t worry about the when, just remember that what will be, will be great.