“He who puts on his armour should not boast like one who takes it off.” (I Kings 20:11)
It’s interesting how phrases in the Bible can suddenly grab your attention. Ahab, an Old Testament villain, is being threatened by the neighbouring king of Aram when he sends messengers with this retort. It’s a rare bit of recorded wisdom on his part.
It just goes to show how human nature hasn’t changed a bit: the golfer picking up his golf clubs to begin a game shouldn’t brag about his abilities, the couch potato who intends to go to the gym shouldn’t cash in those approval chips like the one who is leaving after a sweaty hour of exercise.
Years ago I received some good advice: between tasks, I should pause and take some time to consider before charging ahead. In a multi-tasking world, it’s easy to get bogged down by activities. Procrastination comes in many forms, including finding some sort of busy work as a distraction.
When you’re facing an important but difficult task, experts* recommend that you take time to contemplate before you begin. It seems counter-intuitive to pause at the outset, but it keeps you from settling for a lesser task, and it’s helpful in forming a plan.
Studies also show that it’s best not to tell many others about your grand project. Although it may seem you are establishing accountability, often it turns out that you’ve just moved the rewards to the starting gate. Having collected them prematurely, it’s hard to be motivated. It’s better to break a job down into small parts, giving yourself small rewards along the way. It may seem slow, but steady progress will get you there. You may be surprised when you look up and see how far you’ve come. As Aesop’s tortoise illustrates, this perseverance may even win the race.
In fact, it’s better not to share anything prematurely. Perhaps it is because life has a lot of troubles, but when something possibly good is happening, the temptation is to rejoice, to share the news with others immediately. Here’s where it’s also important to “count the cost.”
When we were children, we suffered through a summer of whooping cough. My parents discussed taking us up in an airplane, hoping that a higher altitude would act as a remedy. Likely they didn’t do the research into something – I suspect the expense – because I remember coming back from Hamilton airport, being told that it was “too cloudy” for us to fly.
The story arouses my suspicion – did planes really not go up on cloudy days? Needless to say, our hopes were dashed, and I was well into adulthood before I ever boarded a plane. The point is, if you talk about something too soon, you’ve likely not considered all the angles. After awhile, others don’t take your pronouncements all that seriously. As fun as it is to spread joy and happiness, there should be a strong likelihood of possibility to avoid disappointment.
The essential thing, once you’ve made your beginning, is to never give up. The Langston Hughes poem below is eloquent about climbing on in all kinds of circumstances.
Mother to Son
“Well, son, I’ll tell you,
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up
And places with no carpet on the floor –
But all the time
I’ve been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes going in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now –
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”
“How to Outsmart Yourself”
Great Courses, Peter M. Vishton,
William and Mary College