Canoe Talk 1 – To Affect the Quality of the Day

Canoe Talks is a video series of unconventional wisdom in an unconventional setting designed for mindful change-makers – entrepreneurs, creatives, leaders, business owners, and professionals.

Strategist, teacher, and author of TRACKING WONDER Jeffrey Davis speaks to the importance of mindset and attention on this question raised by a reader and Tracking Wonder Community member.

Melinda Laus asks, What is your perfect day scenario?  and Marisa Goudy writes in essence, “I love it when you bring Thoreau to the work at hand. I’m curious how you ask, ‘What would Thoreau do?’”  

I appreciate these queries because they each get at the heart both of what I do and how I aspire to do things at Tracking Wonder: To shape days well has been almost a lifelong aspiration

I would say that there is no such thing as a perfect day scenario. Rather there is a day lived well and there is a day lived poorly – regardless of circumstances or unbidden surprises and challenges. And a day lived well includes two things: certain activities and certain attentiveness.

A Day Lived Well Is A Day Attended To Well.

I’ll unpack that a bit. I got my first taste of living out ideal days as a tow-headed boy who attended a public summer camp on hundreds of acres with lakes and a river, archery and canoeing. In fact, it was there that I earned badges in canoeing.

But I also learned the value of a day fully lived from the moment of waking until falling asleep from a natural well-earned exhaustion.

As I grew up, I often tried to recreate similar types of days whether at school or on summer vacation. Fast-forward to when I was an anxious, daydreaming 18-year-old undergrad at The University of Texas at Austin in the Reagan ‘80s, 

I default majored in business because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life,
And then my English professor assigned us to read excerpts from Henry Thoreau’s book Walden: A Life in the Woods.

It was a revelation. It marked the first time I had ever read anyone’s life philosophy, a philosophy of living simply and deliberately.

And then I came across this passage in Walden:

“It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. 
To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.

No matter what choices I made throughout my grown-up life, I have aspired to master this very art of attention and perception. This art is at the heart of tracking wonder no matter what happens in a day.

But this is my story. What is your story with your days in this one beautiful life, the only one you get?

So back to activities and attentiveness.

You can take stock of what conditions are present when you feel lit up and alive as if your unique genius is activated. These are your genius activities.

Ask yourself, How could I aim to allot a total of 90 minutes each day to being activated?

For me my genius activities include exploring the outdoors, giving myself space to think and imagine, and being in conversation with other people and with the world right around me. And then to make books and keynotes and workshops and amazing client jams from that thinking and imagining and conversing.

It includes being immersed with friends and clients and meeting new people.
It includes bonding and exploring with my daughters and wife.
It includes developing new skills and learning new knowledge.

I can spend hours absorbed in the woods and mountains.

And just yesterday I was absorbed for 8.5 hours shaping my insights and research into a new masterclass on the art of paying attention in a distracted world for companies and teams and entrepreneurs.

But those are my genius activities. What about you?

A day lived well is a day well attended to.

It’s not just what I am doing but how I am choosing to pay attention. On many evenings I try to reflect for a few minutes and replay the day.

Which is exactly what I did most nights at camp. In my bunk bed, I would project my memory of the day onto the cabin ceiling and replay it in detail with the aim to live the next one just as fully.

“How well did I tend to this day?” is a question you also might ask at the end of this one beautiful life. And I would say that a life lived well involves prioritizing more genius activities but it also involves the quality of your attention. Every day.

Your attention intelligence, so to speak.

Maybe I’m a chronic daydreamer who happens to get a heck of a lot done in the day. Maybe to be a daydreamer just means you try to dream the day into its full being as much as possible.

So much is possible.

Be well, and thanks for running – and riding – with me.

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  1. Wow…who knew that Thoreau understood neuroplasticity?

    Loved this. Especially the sound of the oar against the water as you spoke.

    For me, a day well attended to means keeping a promise I made to myself in the course of a mid-life reinvention: To be more of a chrysalis and less of a chameleon. By that I mean to spend more of my energy noticing myself and my patterns and exploring how I can grow, learn, and discover, rather than trying to adapt to the expectations and assumptions of others. It is my daily mantra and has served me well.

    Thanks Jeffrey.

    1. Yes to your chrysalis, Nancy. It sounds as if you’re anchored in honoring your genius force of character. “It is better to serve your own calling imperfectly than someone else’s perfectly.”

      Be well.