Concentrating on the Immediate

What are the qualities of one day at a time living?

By Fred Smith

Too much planning for the future can be an escape from doing a good job today. One of the most interesting little books I repeatedly review is A Way of Life by Dr. William Osler. He admonishes us to live in "day-tight compartments. " This tiny volume is a talk delivered to the students at Yale. He opened by addressing them as "fellow students.". He told them "when I was attending the Montreal General Hospital, much worried as to the future, partly about the final examination, partly as to what I should do afterwards, I picked up a volume of Carlyle and saw "Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance but to do what lies clearly at hand." …it was the starting point of a habit that has enabled me to utilize to the full the simple talent entrusted to me."

There is much biblical support for the concept of living in "day-tight compartments." We are told to pray for our daily bread, the workers were hired to go into the vineyard by the day, and we are told "boast not yourself of tomorrow for you know not what tomorrow may bring." The best way to show our appreciation for today is to take appropriate action. We are reminded of the pastoral painting of the peasants planting their field and underneath are the latin words for act and hope. We are to do our work today and not "be anxious about tomorrow. "

General Robert E. Lee wrote to his son Curtis, " Fix your mind upon what is before you…Live in the world you inhabit. Look upon things as they are. Take them as you find them."

We certainly do not disparage the need for future planning, but planning should be the preface for action. If we execute the plan daily and well, the goal will be met. Living this way is not extremely dramatic and it takes perseverance to do the non-dramatic. Dr. Osler reminded the students, "waste of energy, mental distress, nervous worries, dog the steps of a man who is anxious about the future—cultivate the habit of living in day-tight compartments knowing that successful daily living starts early."

Dr. Osler suggested that the students spend three or four hours each day "making a silent conquest of your mental machinery. " The greatest challenge any of us faces is the maximizing of himself. "The failure to cultivate the power of peaceful concentration is the greatest single cause of mental breakdown."

He emphasized to them the power of good habits, pointing out that just as a child learns to walk and the musician learns to play by daily exercise so we can gain power over our mental mechanism by daily dedication, routine, and orderly, systematic performance.

Learning to live in day-tight compartments means we must learn to "forget the things that are behind and press forward unto the day that is ours." Some people are constantly wondering if they have taken the right path. We also assume that an alternate would have been better. But that isn't necessarily true. Think of those who would have taken the Titanic if they had been wealthy enough! In Cincinnati I was at the counter while a man was raging about not being able to get the plane taxiing away from the ramp to return for him. Fifteen minutes after take-off the plane crashed. He was no longer complaining.

The apostle Paul said he died daily, which means each morning he could have resurrection to a new day. We are not strong enough to carry yesterday and tomorrow and still do well today. A friend tells the story of being caught in the "analysis paralysis" of prioritizing his life. He called and asked my advice, to which I replied, "answer your mail." I was telling him to get moving today, not focused solely on tomorrow.

Thinking of life in 24-hour segments promotes our concentration and confidence. Lack of concentration and confidence makes us move in quick jerks. We all know the famous story of the consultant hired by Andrew Carnegie to increase his productivity. The consultant came back with: make a list of what needs to be done and do the first thing until the list was finished. Carnegie paid him $25,000

Dr. Osler told the students at Yale that operating on the day-tight compartment was "a philosophy of life that I found helpful in my work, useful in my play." He finished the thought with "the quiet life in day-tight compartments will help you to bear your own and others' burdens with a light heart. "