“Who we are today is the result of yesterday’s choices. Who we will be tomorrow is the result of today’s decisions.” Pat Messiti
When I was young, I had my important practices, which included putting my gym clothes in a blue bag and my school books beside them, all next to the door. With this done, I would go to bed, dreaming dreams of a bright future. On Sundays, I would go to the track and do some push-ups and sit-ups, and run. Each night before going to sleep, I read the 23rd Psalm and the Sermon on the Mount. I suppose one might call these rituals but, unlike rituals, in which the individual seems to be serving the practices, these practices served me well.
The story is a familiar one: there was much in my household I couldn’t control, so I put work into those things which I could control and which inched me closer to where I wanted to be.
There is something comforting in following a process in which you believe. In the current best-selling “Peak Performance”, authors Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness encourage readers to reduce stress by making decisions about how to live their lives they can follow faithfully each day. You decide once and then follow that decision instead of deciding each day. For example, instead of making exercise or cleaning a day-to-day decision, you reduce the number of decisions you make and therefore have more energy for those things which cannot be anticipated.
I was speaking to one of my friends, a working Mom of two about her exercise schedule. She attends barre class four out of five weekday mornings, in addition to other fitness pursuits. She doesn’t really negotiate with her mind and body when she gets out of bed. She doesn’t determine in the pre-dawn if she has the energy for going to class — it’s already been decided.
There is a close link between process and faith. We follow a process believing our faith in that process will be rewarded with a better future. One of my favorite quotes, which I first heard from snowboarder Kelly Clark, is, “To me, success looks like faithfulness.” Whether it’s a student burning the late-night oil to study, a basketball player practicing free throws, or a mid-life career changer doing an online course, we choose those things we believe will lead to a better future.
Faith is all about believing in what you can’t see. In the case of all the decisions we make every day, we do so believing they will make a difference.
Sometimes when we are sad, we lose that belief and it becomes a cycle: we no longer believe we can make a difference in our lives and so we stop doing those things that will make a difference. In addition, some folks have trouble maintaining a growth mindset; they believe that their limitations are fixed, rather than parts of themselves that can be addressed if they work at it.
The best way to combat this is to see all the times we have overcome through our own efforts. We haven’t always had the knowledge we have now. Depending on circumstances we might not have been able to do the things physically in the past we can now do. We may have relationships with people we hold dear who, at one time, we were intimidated by in some way.
Watching someone you care about work toward and achieve a goal is one of the great privileges of this life. I can remember when my 28-year-old daughter started playing cello at age six. She would have little stickers on the frets to show where to place her small fingers. Now she can pick up the instrument and pick out most any song if given enough time.
Such feats of achievement require practice. And practice requires faith. Sometimes, the most courageous decision you can make is to commit to walking down a road, step-by-step, where you cannot quite see the end. The seeds we plant require water and care. Only later will we see them bloom.