I have a face that compels complete strangers to talk to and seek advice from me. It perplexes me because, quite frankly, I don’t think I look very friendly. If I saw my mother or grandmother on the street, I might be drawn in by their easy smile and light spirit—two qualities I’ve had to work at cultivating, but don’t necessarily think I’ve achieved. Nevertheless, whether I am in a taxi, on a bench, or in line at the grocery, people offer to share a part of themselves—their stories—with me, and it is from these encounters I’ve taken with me some of life’s best lessons.
While I was waiting for the bus this past week, a gentleman asked about my profession. After giving my pat one-sentence explanation, I watched him pause before telling me about his work as an accountant. With a big smile he explained, “It isn’t glamorous work. It isn’t even terribly interesting, but I work to best myself every day. It’s been 50 years, and as long as I can keep beating myself at my own game, I’ll keep going to the office.” The bus came soon thereafter and we went our separate ways, but I couldn’t let go of his words. His self-motivation technique—competing with himself—fascinated me.
It made me think about my own motivation and how I push myself. That very same day, I called home. My father asked, as he inevitably always asks, “What did you learn today?” I’ll admit the question used to make me roll my eyes. As a teen, I would inevitably say, “I don’t know” or simply grunt in annoyance. Over the past few years I’ve adopted my father’s words as a reminder, a check-in, and a motivator. Being forced to scan my day to identify where my daily lessons came from focuses me on the good of the day. I heard the question in a new light this time around. Perhaps, even if subconsciously, acknowledging the lessons of each day makes me hopeful and excited for the day to come. The rationale being that if I learned something that added to my life today, who knows what I’ll learn tomorrow?
It takes courage to believe that the best is yet to come; that if you keep challenging yourself to win at your own game, there is more around the corner. So the question remains, how can one build that courage to keep pushing? After a week of thinking about the encounter with the accountant, it occurred to me that his motivation to continually work to best himself is his own acknowledgement. By creating a game for himself, in the same way I use my father’s question as a way to reflect, we are both acknowledging the best of the day and pushing ourselves toward tomorrow with a sense of promise and curiosity.
To build your own courage, create your own game, or continually try to best yourself, try adding an acknowledgment technique to your day. Asking yourself a question to bring awareness to your day is a great place to start. Steal my father’s, “What did I learn today?” question or simply ask yourself “What was the best part of my day?” By acknowledging the highlights of the day, the possibilities for tomorrow can become brighter and more within your reach. And, over time, your daily acknowledgment will be less about thinking back over the past day, and more about recognizing and acknowledging the good as it happens. Your brain will become conditioned to seek out, identify, and process those learning or “good” moments. You’ll start to be more present and more appreciative of what you’re learning as you learn it or what you’re experiencing as you experiencing it. You’ll be living in the present while still excited about the future. And that feels like a win-win!