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Ali’s passing in June saddened the world that he’d influenced with his physical prowess, wit, and humour for decades. But, throughout his impressive career of phenomenal fights, one-liners, and showmanship, perhaps this line serves as the best reminder of the life philosophy he embodied: “Live every day as if it were your last because someday you’re going to be right.”
Here are our suggestions for how to do just that:
“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.”
Life goals can seem nearly insurmountable when you’re looking at the bigger picture. When you focus on what’s vexing in the here and now, it’s easy to lose sight of where you want to be headed. Sometimes it’s harder to get started at all when you stop to investigate a bunched up sock or pebble in your shoe.
According to the Zeigarnik Effect, the mere act of getting started increases the likelihood that the mountains in the distance will be conquered. So take off that shoe, straighten out your sock, get rid of the pebble, and get started. Don’t let a pebble be your excuse for getting sidetracked because procrastination equals defeat.
“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”
Ali got it right, and neuroscience proves it: there’s a brain chemical called dopamine that sparks motivation and feeds determination. It’s linked to “positive behavior reinforcement,” says Psychology Today. It’s responsible for that swell of pride that you get from plowing through difficulties to reach a goal. But it doesn’t have to be a one-off. That feeling can be an intrinsic part of the way that you live.
What’s really cool about dopamine is that its brain receptors are directly responsible for the formation of good habits. In other words, the more you persevere the more likely you are to keep on heading to the gym or choosing other good habits, and that creates a lifestyle of perseverance. You won’t have to make yourself cowboy up, you’ll just do it as a natural course.
“It’s just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.”
Who hasn’t held a job that’s as bland and uninspiring as toast? Not everyone can put on boxing gloves, stand in front of millions of admirers, and proclaim to be “The Greatest.” And sometimes, even being the greatest has its pitfalls and disappointments. But everyone can gain an appreciation for the niche where they fit into the world and the work that they’re able to do.
There’s a famous poem by Max Ehrmann called Desiderata. Part of the poem advises the reader to, “Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.” Muhammad Ali was a bonafide celebrity. But the heart that he put into becoming the best professional boxer is a valuable lesson. Whether it’s operating heavy machinery on an oil rig, wrestling with a jackhammer all day, fabricating steel or punching an arch-enemy in the ring, anyone can be the best at something. Your own work gloves are no less inspirational symbols of the heart that you bring to your place in the world.
Muhammad Ali wielded influence and inspiration like a feather made of iron. It seemed to emanate from him as gracefully and lightly as breathing. But it carried with it a force and power that will likely never be forgotten.
You might never pull on the gloves of a legendary boxer and win a championship. But the work that you do and the mindset that you bring to your workplace can effect positive change for yourself and everyone around you.
Muhammad Ali portrait, by Ira Rosenberg, Public Domain, via Wikipedia.
Muhammad Ali Boxing Gloves, by Mark Pellegrini – Own Work, via Wikipedia.
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