Some said that insanity is doing the same over and over...and expecting different results.
And yet we do. So, what’s up with that?
When I was a young prosecutor in Miami, one of my many mentors was Justice Gerald Kogan. I met him before he became a Justice of the Florida Supreme Court. I met him while he was still a private attorney. I met him when, in a preliminary hearing, he beat my pants off with only a few words. My head was spinning, but I decided I wanted to learn from this man. When he became a judge, he also became my mentor.
I remember going to chat with him about developing a “theory of the case” in a particularly troubling matter. I had been going over it in my head and began to lay it out for him. He listened for a few minutes and then interrupted me.
“Bob, you’ve done this before?” he asked.
“And you know how to do this, and have had some success with it?”
“Yes, and Yes!”
“Good, so let’s talk about something else.”
“But that’s what’s on my mind right now, and it’s really helpful for me to work these things through with you.”
“I appreciate that you find me helpful, but is that good enough? I can be helpful, but don’t you want to be a better trial lawyer?”
He was right. I was stuck.
The reason I was stuck – the reason many of us get stuck – is that we focus on what our minds serve up to us at any particular moment. This may sound strange to regular readers of this column, but we get stuck because we focus on what’s present for us.
Our mind throws up a thought, and we get hooked by it, and we’re stuck.
What most of us want is to move forward. And, by definition, getting hooked by the present keeps us where we are. So, sure, we can work through the thoughts that come up, and that is helpful. We might have more impact if we start developing our “future” selves.
We’re all busy. Sometimes we spend the whole day running after something only to discover we have been running on a treadmill. There may be value in just stopping for a moment, taking a breath, and asking, “Who do I want to be?” and “Where do I want to go?”
Again, we’re busy. We can’t spend all our time pursuing those questions. Then we would be dreamers. Yet, if we don’t spend any of our time pursuing them, we surely won’t get there. If we do what we always did, we’ll get what we always got.
If I want to be a better writer, I need to write; if I want to be wiser, I need to spend time in introspection; if I want to be a better tennis player, I have to practice; If I want to be calmer, I need to spend time being calm.
When we ask ourselves to put aside our immediate concerns and focus on more distant challenges, we get nervous. What about all the things I actually need to get done? Don’t I need to get through my cluttered email box, my pressing plans?
That’s a trick our busy self plays on us to keep us away from the scary stuff we’re not yet good at, the stuff that just ain’t yet productive. Sometimes we need to feel irresponsible to make real progress. You have to let the current stuff sit there, untended. It’s not going away, and your inbox won’t be empty when you pass on.
You may not please everyone. You probably will not be perfect, but you probably will do those things well enough. It’s the other stuff that needs attention; the stuff that takes up seemingly unproductive time; the stuff our future self needs to develop; the stuff that never gets done because there’s no time or it’s not urgent or it’s too hard or risky or terrifying. That’s the stuff we want to work on.
We’re good at solving current challenges and not so good at the challenges that come with what we want to be. We’re not skilled at that yet. That’s why it’s the future. And that is why we need to focus on it.
If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.