One spring day, a medical student cracked open a book and thumbed through 21 words that altered his thinking and changed the trajectory of his life forever.
At the time, he was worried sick about passing his exams… where he should live… how to start up a practice… and how he was going to survive. He was miserable even though his future was blooming with colorful possibilities. His worrying blocked them all out.
Until he stumbled on this particular book. And then it shifted his mindset on worrying forever. In fact, it worked so well that his confidence soared and so did his accomplishments (such as cementing his status as one of the top-notch physicians of all-time… being knighted by the King of England… and becoming one of the four “Founding Fathers” of John Hopkins School of Medicine)
This med student was Sir William Osler, and that spring day he read the following words from author Thomas Carlyle which liberated him from the worries that tormented him day in and day out.
“Our main business is not to see what lies dimly
at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.”
Why was this so profound?
Because most of his worries were off in the future. So they couldn’t torment him when he focused on the present moment. And his past couldn’t haunt him either. He simply focused on “steering his ship” each day, which allowed him to breeze through challenges and eventually cover serious ground.
Plus, he was in far greater control of his future. Because instead of wasting time and energy worrying about his future, he rolled up his sleeves and got busy actually doing something about his future. And it clicked in his mind that the only way to influence the future was by taking care of today.
But all this starts by pulling yourself back into the present moment.
And there’s a trick to doing this.
For one, be patient with yourself.
When you find your mind drifting off into the worries of the future, don’t reprimand yourself. Just give yourself a gentle nudge to refocus on the present.
It’s somewhat like meditation. If you’ve ever done traditional meditation where you focus solely on your breathing - you know it’s easy as cherry pie for your mind to wander. But each time you catch yourself wandering and bring your focus back to your breathing - it’s strengthening your ability to focus. Do this enough and it becomes second nature.
(The difference is that with meditation your focus is inward, here you want to focus outward.)
There are a lot of ways to pull yourself into the present moment so you stop worries from taking over your day. About 4 years ago, I came across an interesting method from an old school business author, who used it to help entrepreneurs with anxiety about their business, but it works very well for non-business anxiety as well. Chapter 15 of Primal Panic goes into way more depth on this.
Take Sir William’s quote and live in the present more.
Then pour everything you’ve got into today.