It was the first day of class.
We sat quietly, listening to the professor explain the syllabus. He raised the required textbook up in one hand and the workbook in the other, telling us that we needed to purchase them from the bookstore.
I had enrolled into Spanish class as an elective and found myself sitting with about 15 other students. As he spoke about the things we were going to learn, someone’s hand shot up. The professor put down his books and peered at the student. “Yes,” he said in a firm voice.
She put down her hand and asked the question that sat on everyone’s minds. “When is the first test?”
The professor gave her a stern look and shook his head. “No.” After a pause, he replied: “Every day is a test.”
We frowned and looked at each other. What on Earth did that mean? When was the first test and how much would it count towards our grade? That was what mattered, after all.
He explained what he meant. “Students always ask me, how much does this quiz count, how much does that test count, but it doesn’t work like that. Every day is a test. Whenever you do your homework, or you participate in class, you are being tested. Every day is a test.”
This wasn’t the answer any of us wanted, or expected either.
Life is a Series of Tests
It wasn’t until years later that I understood what he meant.
Isn’t it interesting how so many of us think that life is about that one big moment? We coast by on a daily basis and follow the same old routines, thinking that an unexpected event will change everything. If we just keep doing what we’re doing, a big opportunity will eventually come our way.
Well, it’s not exactly like that.
Sometimes we experience good luck, and sometimes there will be moments that change our lives. But most of the time, it’s what we do on a regular basis that defines what happens in our lives.
Our professor never forgot to remind us of this. At the start of class, he would ask us when were we to be tested.
We would answer in unison, “Every day is a test.”
In other words, we wouldn’t improve our Spanish by simply waiting until the day before an exam to cram in all of the vocabulary covered since the last test. Learning a language, like any other skill, is the result of regular practice.
The Olympics is a good example. Yes, the event is the ultimate test of an athlete’s skill and mindset. But the real test started years ago. At a very young age, someone decided to commit to getting better at a sport.
This person would wake up early and train rigorously, day in and day out. Even if the person didn’t feel like it. Even if the person got bored. That was the true test.
In our lives, the large victories we reach or aspire towards aren’t isolated incidents that happen on their own. When we see someone excel in something, it doesn’t happen out of nowhere. It was the culmination of small, consistent gains that eventually led a breakthrough.
How to Make Every Day Count
Of course, wanting to experience a pivotal moment is much easier than going through the mundane practice of getting better at a skill on a daily basis.
So how can we commit to something continuously in our work and lives? What can we do to motivate ourselves to work towards an aspiration, even if the payoff is far away or difficult?
The first step is to understand the factors behind why we behave in certain ways. While some people constantly give up halfway through a goal, others keep pushing and persisting. If we look at the differences in mindset and situation between the two, it becomes easier to learn how to apply the lessons to ourselves.
I’ve written in the past about psychology and how it relates to motivation, along with relevant strategies:
1. How Our Brain Sabotages Our Ambitions in Favor of Chocolate Cake – Even if we really want to achieve a goal, our brain might sabotage our efforts in order to protect ourselves at a primal level. Understanding our conflicting beliefs and reconciling them can help us achieve long-term goals.
2. How to Set Up Your Environment to Work Effortlessly Towards Your Goals – People mistakenly think that changing our actions comes from changing internal beliefs, rather than our environment. But if you can change your surroundings to fit your goals, you increase your chances of success.
3. Use This Technique to Get Yourself Productive Right After Waking Up (With Examples) – Try stopping a task in the midst of it so that the next time you need to get to work, it’s easier to keep going. Known as the “Page-turner technique”, this method helps break the resistance of getting started.
While it’s useful to learn how to overcome issues with productivity, it’s just as important to understand why. When we learn why we act and think in a certain way, we can then begin finding strategies to build good habits that push us in the right direction.
Test Yourself Every Day
Every day is a test of your priorities. For each day you practice a skill, you’re slowly getting better at it and preparing for those moments when your skill is needed.
The test doesn’t happen when you least expect it. It doesn’t happen once in a blue moon. It happens every single day.
Will you show up for the test, or will you put it off until another day?