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Day-Tight Compartments

“One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living.  We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today.”

Dale Carnegie

Day-Tight Compartments

It was a beautiful spring day in 1871 when a young medical student picked up the book that would change his life.

Anxious about taking his final medical exam, this future doctor was (understandably) looking for a distraction and found it in the words of British philosopher, Thomas Carlyle.

As he mindlessly flipped through the pages, he couldn’t shake the feeling of dread about his upcoming exam.  Then he read a sentence in the book that stopped him dead in his tracks.

Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance but to do what lies clearly at hand.

These twenty-one words were enough to shake William Osler out of his jittery state and decide that what he needed to focus on was today—on what he could do now—rather than focusing on what might happen tomorrow.

He realized at that moment that worrying about his exam was not going to get him any closer to actually passing it.

He needed to focus all of his energies on what he could achieve today, and that would help him get closer to his final goal of becoming a doctor.

Thirty years later, Osler would address the graduating class of medical students at Yale with a piece of advice that commonly finds its way into the self-development bestsellers of today.  His advice was simple—live in day-tight compartments.

Day-tight Compartments

Sir William Osler wrote,

 The load of tomorrow added to that of yesterday, carried today, makes the strongest falter.  Shut off the future as tightly as the past…To youth, we are told, belongs the future, but the wretched tomorrow that so plagues some of us has no certainty, except through today.  Who can tell what a day may bring forth? …The future is today—there is no tomorrow!  The day of a man’s salvation is now—the life of the present lived today, lived earnestly, intently, without a forward-looking thought, is the only insurance for the future.  Let the limit of your horizon be a 24-hour circle… Waste of energy, mental distress, nervous worries dog the steps of a man who is anxious about the future.  Shut close, then, the great fore and aft bulkheads, and prepare to cultivate the habit of day-tight compartments.

How to Live in Day-tight Compartments

Get everything out of your head. – Trying to deal with all of the worries in your mind is useless if you don’t actively take the time to separate and attack each worry individually.

Focus on today and deal with tomorrow when it arrives. – A good day in most people’s books usually consists of two behaviors—keeping away from bad habits and sticking with the good ones.  The step above should help you quit at least one bad habit—worrying about the things you can’t control.

Undress your mind each night. – Osler advised his students to develop the habit of stripping away the day’s worries, just as you do your clothes, at the end of each day.

The Bible

Proverbs 20:4 says,

“Those too lazy to plow in the right season will have no food at the harvest.”

Too many of us live our lives with insufficient knowledge about living our best lives.  As a result, we haven’t learned to get and keep our lives in gear.

One of the primary reasons we fail in this endeavor is that we make excuses for doing nothing.  We’re like the person in the previous proverb, refusing to plow because it’s cold.

Edmond Burke, a British statesman, once declared:

“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”

As our solution to doing nothing, Matthew 6:34 tells us to live in day-tight compartments.

 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries.  Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

As business leaders and entrepreneurs, we need to live each day fully. 

This is living in day-tight compartments where we can focus on what is before us and not be sidetracked by worries and fears.  Let God be part of your day-tight compartment.