When you think of the Gettysburg Address, I bet you think of that famous speech by Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago. Right? Wrong. The Gettysburg Address was actually a two-hour oration by Edward Everett, a highly educated, well-respected politician of the time. He’d been a strong voice in support of the Lincoln administration and the cause of liberty for slaves. At Gettysburg, he gave a stirring speech, perhaps the most important address of his life and career.
When the applause subsided, a tired old gentleman approached the podium as the second speaker. He spoke for only two minutes, including five interruptions for applause. Abraham Lincoln’s remarks were officially only the presidential remarks that followed the Gettysburg Address, but his 272 words that day were so profound that the speech has endured as the greatest American address ever given. Today we all ascribe the title of the Gettysburg Address to Mr. Lincoln.
Even Edward Everett himself acknowledged that Lincoln’s brief words had eclipsed his own. The day following the Gettysburg event, he wrote a note to the president that read, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”
Abraham Lincoln, through hard study and practice, became a master of profound brevity. He could not only develop and make a point in one or two sentences, he could carry his message on the wings of authority or humor directly to the heart of understanding.
Last weekend my wife Jackie scored us tickets to the James Taylor/Mormon Tabernacle Choir/Utah Symphony concert. It was a magical evening.
James Taylor is a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and a five-time Grammy winner. He’s been performing for more than four decades, he’s sold close to 100 million albums. No wonder Time magazine heralded him as the harbinger of the singer-songwriter era. Bottom line: the man has skills.
It was amazing to hear him perform with the choir and symphony. After his final song, I got on my feet with the other 20,000 plus people in attendance and gave him an ovation as he exited the theater. We couldn’t sit down. The air was electric. We just kept cheering and applauding.
Then, all of a sudden, James Taylor returned to the stage. He picked up his guitar, leaned into the microphone, and modestly said, “I hope that looked spontaneous.” Everyone laughed. His performance was flawless. He knew he’d nailed it like so many other nights.
It was a priceless lesson to witness how years and years of practice can truly pay off. And then he began singing one of my all-time favorites, Shower the People. I wanted to lean over to Jackie and ask, “Is this heaven?” and then she would say, “No; it’s just Salt Lake.”
What was a remarkable evening for me and thousands of others was a result of one man doing a little each day for most of his life. I once heard someone say, “To do the impossible, you must do the possible in incremental steps over a sustained period of time.”
That’s you. That’s me. We can do that. Doing the possible, one day at time. If you do, you will one day witness yourself doing what once seemed impossible. And like James Taylor, when you’re finished showering those around you with the gifts you’ve developed, you can also be humble and make it seem like no big deal.
This week marks 44 years since astronaut Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. On July 20, 1969, he reported, “Houston, the eagle has landed.” Then he put his left foot down on the surface of the moon, which he later described as being like powdered charcoal. Then he uttered the now-famous phrase, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
That expression has inspired many and has become a part of world history. But how many of us know what Armstrong said next? To me, it’s even more thought-provoking. He observed, “It’s beautiful; it’s just like we planned it. Just like drill.”
I’ve thought about that so many times. Just like drill? How could it be just like drill? He had never even been there before. But he had planned and practiced, studied and calculated. And drilled. The moon landing didn’t just happen.
Armstrong’s comment is similar to something my son once said when he was little. We were at an amusement park. He saw the train ride, and he took off running. I caught up with him, and we rode that iron horse together. With the wind in his face, he closed his eyes and said, “It’s just like in my dream.” He’d never been to that park before.
We all behave in accordance with our past experiences, whether real or imagined. Our long-term memory stores images and events in real-time present tense. It doesn’t distinguish between vivid stimulation and actual activities, and it alerts us to follow previous instructions embedded in our subconscious memory.
So our past conditioning determines our current behavior and performance. What we learn right now is layered over many years of past conditioning. Over time we become that to which we are most exposed.
That’s why pep talks and fad diets never produce long-term results. People just go back to being themselves.
How do you recondition yourself? Top-level tennis coach Craig Manning, PhD, suggests deliberate practice. In his book The Fearless Mind, he explains that deliberate practice focuses not on the outcome; rather it is “activity explicitly intended to improve performance.” Manning points out that we should channel our mental energies toward objectives that we have direct control over.
So what do you really have control over? Your time, your attitude, and simple day-to-day choices. Working on them again and again will add new layers to your conditioning and put you in a natural, comfortable place. Then when the big things like a moon landing or the train ride of your dreams come, it will unfold naturally and feel like you’ve already been there before. Just like drill.
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