In two different conversations today, the concept of making up for past mistakes came up in the form of using time more effectively to make up for poorly managed time in the past and accelerating investment portfolio growth because of prior losses. In both cases, my immediate reaction was, “This is a bad idea.”
Sure, there are some situations in which one might compensate, in some measure, for mistakes or lost opportunities of the past; but as a general rule, it seems we end up being less effective when trying to run faster to somehow reverse the effects of past actions. It reminds me of a saying from my childhood: “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.”
I’m no psychologist, but in my experience adding anxiety to procrastination, loss, unintended detours, or any other distraction or misguided action only serves to compound the problem instead of making it better. As counter-intuitive as it may seem or feel, here’s what works for me, and what I’d recommend as a first line of attack when attempting to get back on course…
1. Determine what went wrong. When we know what happened (or didn’t happen) counter to our desired path, we have a meaningful starting point from which to progress.
2. Idenfity what we did, or did not do, that allowed this variation of our course. Most of the time, there was something within our control upon which we failed to act effectively. Knowing what that was so we don’t step in the same mud hole twice is important.
3. Make a plan to avoid the same pitfall again. How often do we make the same mistakes, yet somehow expect things will turn out differently than they have in the past? I believe it was Einstein who told us this is insanity. Without a plan, we may find ourselves having the same how-did-I-get-here conversation with ourselves again altogether too soon. Let’s not go there.
4. Steady wins the race. I’m not going to impose “slow and steady” on anyone, as the old adage proposes. Proceed at the pace that makes sense for you; but travel steadily. Avoiding the mistakes that make us feel we’ve lost ground will most likely happen consistently when we’re handling business, family, personal, or other matters at a pace that represents our “sweet spot.”
My own experience tells me that beginning today, right now, to do anything better than I have in the past—with a plan in place to see my way to success–at a sustainable pace that makes sense for me, always beats feeling anxious and, therefore, engaging in some type of binge-fest in an effort to make up for lost time or opportunity. That second approach always results in less accomplishment, more frustration, and a lower level of ultimate success.
We should never stop improving. We must always push to be our best. But if we’re going to succeed, we must let clarity, not anxiety, drive us. We’ll all find we can cover a lot of ground at a comfortable, consistent pace.