I know what shoes I wore yesterday. They were red. Monday’s were black, and on Sunday, I don’t think I left the house at all. When it comes to my footwear, my memory quickly gets foggier from there — and that’s perfectly okay. All I need to know is yesterday’s color so I can pick a different one today.
We live our lives one day at a time, so for most things, it’s okay to only use yesterday’s data to adjust for tomorrow. Why did you say the wrong thing on May 15th, 2020? How come you bombed the client meeting last week? Individual failures could have a million reasons. Often, it’s at least a handful of them, and so there’s little we can gain from analyzing singular breakdowns. It’s tragic if a patient dies on the operating table, but does that mean you should hang up your doctor’s coat for good? Probably not.
The past is mostly helpful in big chunks. What’s interesting — and the only pattern we can truly spot, really — is when we commit to the wrong path again and again, doubling down on it until life forces reality down our throats: “Dead end, buddy. You’re gonna have to go back and start over.” Identifying the wrong roads before we’ve fully traced them is what deep reflection is for, and it’s usually enough if we practice it a few times a year. Even the hardest-won lessons, however, perhaps especially those, often get baked into our intuition in a way that allows us to access them without covering an entire whiteboard in marker.
When it comes to small, everyday adjustments, however, a tiny dose of yesterday is definitely enough. If you make one tiny improvement each day, those changes will still add up. Sure, you’ll undo some progress along the way, but on any meaningful timeline, the power of compounding is even harder to stop than it is to fathom.
Go on. Wear a different sweater, adjust your inbox management, or take a different route to work. Try one thing today, and you’ll find something else to try tomorrow. Remember yesterday’s outfit, but more importantly, remember that no lesson is ever lost — even if you can no longer recall the teacher’s name.