In my previous post in this series, I wrote about the concept of input and output, and I mentioned how important it is (as I’ve grown to discover) to put in the most effort where we expect the highest returns. I also mentioned how in business, the riskiest investments typically have the highest returns. Of course, in a financial sense, returns aren’t always guaranteed but when the investments do pay off, the returns are tremendous and reflective of the effort that went into it. The same principle was applied to fitness goals and studying towards a degree of sorts. Typically, those who work hard and push themselves beyond their comfort zones come out with the most impressive results.
Nothing great comes from being idle or putting in “just enough” effort; you’ve got to work to achieve those great results! Many graduates will tell you about the sleepless nights they inevitably had to go through in order to study, finish their dissertations or coursework, etc. I’ve personally been going through this, having sworn before I started university that I would never pull an all nighter. Oh how naive I was back then! To this day, I’m yet to sleep before midnight, and sometimes it’s self-inflicted suffering (procrastination, prioritising the wrong things, etc.)
Anyway, in this post I will look into the importance of reflection or thinking retrospectively. According to Bob Proctor, “… the present state of your bank account, your sales, your health, your social life, your position at work, etc., is nothing more than the physical manifestation of your previous thinking. If you sincerely wish to change or improve your results in the physical world, you must change your thoughts, and you must change them immediately.” Just last week, I opened up about my counselling journey and the lessons I learnt from it. One key thing was to take a moment to look back and reflect on everything, in good times and in bad. This self-reflection allows us to see where we went wrong, what we could have done differently and help us figure out a way to improve our circumstances, given the opportunity. If we carry on in life without reflecting, we won’t ever fully know why we are the way we are, and sometimes we end up making the same mistakes over and over again.
Personally, I’ve repeated mistakes so many times to the point where I started to question my strategy. Most of them were based on different formulas, and they were different kinds of mistakes. But one thing they had in common was… drumroll please… Me! Yes, at the centre of all my mistakes was me. Before, it was so easy to blame somebody else for things that went wrong, because I convinced myself that I had done my best and made the most effort. However, what I failed to realise and what essentially led me to making the same mistakes over and over again, was that I may work hard, I may put in a lot of effort in what I’m doing, BUT, if what I’m doing is WRONG, then it’s gonna flop anyway.
Think of it this way, suppose I work so hard at washing my dirty white t-shirt, perhaps I stained it while playing outside in the mud or something. So anyway, I put in some elbow grease and really work hard on those tough stains, maybe even develop muscles in my arms for all that hard work I am putting in. For some strange reason *gasp*, the t shirt remains dirty! I even choose a bigger bucket to handwash it in, I buy expensive washing powder that’s sworn to remove tough stains, I even soak the t shirt in water with the powder overnight and yet, despite removing some targeted stains, the t shirt remains dirty. I rack my brains out, write a long and elaborate complaint letter to the washing powder company about their product which “doesn’t work”, because surely after all this effort, the shirt should be as white as snow again! Then I decide to look back at every moment when I tried washing this t shirt, trying to figure out what was missing in my “strategy”. Alas, it turns out I was washing my white t shirt in muddy water! What did I expect? After all this effort that I put in, the t shirt remained dirty (in different areas each time) because at the centre of it all was muddy water.
Another relatable instance is this: you spend weeks upon weeks researching, planning and writing an essay, and by the end of it all you’re over the moon and satisfied with all the time and effort you put into it. You can smell that first class grade like that smell of sand you get a whiff off just before it rains. Feedback comes and alas, you got a third! A whole third class! You’re baffled, mystified, absolutely gutted at the atrocious grade you received that you automatically grab your laptop or smart phone and start typing a really long and stern email to your lecturer regarding these poor results. You believe you were cheated and you demand a re-mark. You’re livid, and you should be, considering you put in all that work! The lecturer invites you for a meeting to discuss your grievances and you happily accept it. You even practise in the mirror what you’re going to say to the lecturer so that he or she realises the error of his or her ways. You arrive at the office guns blazing, sit down and get ready to fight. The lecturer hands over a copy of your annotated work and asks you to read over the comments. You read your essay first, smiling with so much approval at your great writing style and the amazing points you were putting forward, then you read the accompanying comments and your heart drops to the floor! Well well well, you didnt actually answer the question. Yes indeed you spent weeks on research, had so many legitimate references and your case was indeed very strong and worthy of a first class, but it wasn’t the right answer for that particular question. So despite all the work you put in, you don’t get that high mark because you didn’t actually answer the question!
What I’m trying to say is that, in the instance of the dirty t shirt, had I insisted on patting myself on the back for all the hard work I put in without actually looking at potential mistakes, I never would have broken this vicious cycle of mistakes. If you don’t take a moment to evaluate things for yourself, you will probably keep making the same mistakes unwittingly. Sometimes it’s essential to evaluate ourselves (note that I didn’t say “criticise” yourself), in order to develop and improve. If we’re not growing, we must be stagnant, but God forbid we start move backwards!
If there’s any area of your life you feel is not where it should be, perhaps it’s time (if you haven’t done so already) to try to look back at what you may have done to contribute to that. If it’s a health related issue, could you have prevented it in some way by your lifestyle choices? Can you reverse it by changing your strategy? If it’s your grades, did you actually do the work you were instructed to do? Did you put in the effort to answer the exact question you were asked, or did you slave away answering the wrong question because you rushed it or you didn’t give yourself enough time? If it’s your finances, did you make any impulsive purchases that you didn’t actually need? Did you stick to your budget (assuming you have one) or did you decide to indulge because “life is too short”? The moment we start taking charge and being responsible for our actions and how they may impact our lives, is the moment we can come up with concrete solutions to our problems. While some things may happen in our lives which are beyond our control, there are instances where we do play a part. We may have good intentions, but mistakes are part of life and a part of the growth process. Failure also isn’t a terrible thing, as each new day offers an opportunity to try again and do things differently. Being in denial is the most crippling thing ever, especially because it stunts one’s growth and prevents you from achieving all the great things you may never know you’re capable of.
I pray you continue to grow and continue making mistakes BUT remembering to learn from them.
To conclude, I’ll leave this message by Confucius:
“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” – Confucius