Life as a Voyage of Discovery, Part II: The Success Log

In Life as a Voyage of Discovery, Part I we spoke of life as a Voyage of Discovery, which is best guided by having a clear idea of the intended destination - the Big Dream. It is this Dream which dictates the course to be traveled and which helps us to navigate through the hazards and distractions along the way.

In Life as a Voyage of Discovery, Part II, I want to focus on an aspect of navigation at sea which provides another useful metaphor for our life's journey.

The Captain's Log

The captain of a ship at sea (or Captain Kirk of the starship Enterprise) keeps a ship's log, into which he or she enters relevant data of the journey. The vessel's position at all times is noted; the ship's log also chronicles the significant events of the journey. The weather, conditions at sea, discoveries made, geographical features named and territories claimed are all features of historical ship's logs.

Figuring Our Where You Are

Establishing one's position with accuracy is a crucial skill in navigation - at sea, in the air - and in life. Before the advent of GPS, ship's navigators used the sextant to find the ship's position relative to the sun, the moon or the stars. To establish the correct longitude it was necessary to possess a chronometer capable of keeping accurate time in order to complete the necessary calculations.

But before the invention of the chronometer made both latitude and longitude calculations possible, sailors for millennia used a process called dead reckoning to approximate their course and position.

Dead reckoning begins from a known location, perhaps the port of departure, or a known landmark sighted along the way. When out of sight of land, the ship's present position is calculated using the compass course being sailed and estimates of boat speed, direction and speed of any current affecting the ship, and the time elapsed since the last estimate of position.

Although this sounds less than precise (and it is!), it was by this method that Columbus found his way to the Americas - and back home again. For thousands of years, navigators conned their boats across the seas using nothing more than a compass and dead reckoning. Each day's position estimate was entered in the ship's log.

So as we navigate through our lives toward our Big Dream destinations, in many ways we are charting our course by dead reckoning. There is no GPS equivalent to tell us how close we are to our goals, particularly when those goals and dreams are about intangibles - happiness, self-esteem, meaningful relationships. We travel always in uncharted waters and sometimes with limited visibility.

Where We've Been

This leads to the importance of the ship's log: while we're not always sure where we are, it's important that we know where we've been. Many great journeys toward Big Dreams are fraught with uncertainty, fear, and doubt. Since no one has traveled exactly this way before, it is often challenging to find the support and encouragement needed to keep on towards a lofty goal. It's easy to become discouraged and lose our way. The Success Log - one's own personal "ship's log" - is a vital tool which can provide strength and encouragement to keep the Dream alive.

Using the Success Log for Positive Reinforcement on Your Journey

What is the Success Log? Simply set aside a few minutes each day to make a list of your successes (small and large victories won, unexpected pleasures, pleasant surprises) during the previous 24 hours. These may be as small as getting a rebate check in the mail or a smile from a neighbor. They may be as large as getting a promotion or significant recognition for a piece of work.

I find it helpful to list as many success experiences as I can think of, without judgment as to whether the success is big or small - it doesn't matter! It takes maybe five minutes - and almost every time I do it, I am surprised and gratified to see the distance traveled toward my goals.

Contrast this to keeping a "to-do" list - the ever-growing List of tasks and unfinished business. When something on the list is completed, we strike it off the list and (usually) add two more things to take its place. I've lived for many years with the illusion that someday I will complete every item on my list. So far it hasn't happened - and it probably won't. The List is an exercise in negative reinforcement: the consequence of accomplishment is - having more things to do!

The Success Log is positive reinforcement for accomplishment, for steps taken - however small. After completing your Success Log for the day, take a moment to read it over and congratulate yourself for all that you have done. Resist the temptation to focus on what is yet undone - plenty of time for that.

Right now, list 5 things you've accomplished in the last 24 hours - no, list 10 things, 20 things. Take a deep breath and celebrate these victories won - these small steps taken towards the Big Dreams you have for your life. Day by day one's Success Log is filled with deeds done, work accomplished, friendships found, delights and surprises.

Give yourself a gift - take a few minutes each day to ponder what you've accomplished. It will provide needed strength and encouragement for the journey ahead.

It is easier to have a sense of forward motion when waypoints are noted and milestones celebrated. Creating your Success Log on a daily basis offsets the dull weight of the never-ending List - and helps you keep the focus on your Big Dream.

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