The Fundamentals of Education

A Socratic Perspective on
the Cultivation of Humanity

by Max Maxwell and Melete

Page 10

Peak Performance as a Function of Envisioning

The habit of setting high standards is not new to my attentiveness experiment with the adagio cantabile. I have long believed that we should set our goals and aspirations right past the stars. Even if we fail the full height of our lofty ambitions to go past the stars, we will still have likely gotten ourselves up into the stratosphere even as we fail. This is much better than setting the bar too low and being content in easy achievements. It is true that our survival, as well as a minimally acceptable level of physical and psychological prospering, does not always require such ambitious heights.

Think of it as a race at a track meet where the trainer instructs the runners to ignore the real finish line. The runners are told to envision an imaginary finish line that is significantly past the real one. This important rule is given so they do not psychologically and physically gear down and start finishing the race before they actually reach the real finish line. Setting a higher goal past the real goal keeps the correct focus and helps the runner to do her personal best.

A certain level of realism is needed. We cannot set a goal of taking five college degrees simultaneously and hope it will turn out well. It does no good to imagine that we will make a billion dollars working at a minimum wage job. However, when playing the adagio cantabile is actually within my reach, no matter how poorly I play, it is of the greatest assistance to doing my personal best to envision a further goal of giving a fine, world class performance. Letting that greater vision impact how I experience the application of my attentiveness increases the quality of my efforts no matter how the results turn out relative to that greater vision.

How quick and easy it would be to relax my vision and think, "I can now play it, sort of, and that is good enough." When we achieve a goal, we relax our attentiveness and our continued development suffers accordingly. It takes no more time to play with greater attentiveness than to play by rote. It does cause a feeling of expending more attentive energy, but this is something that must become habit if one is to live an examined life. I prefer to realize my true place in things when I compare myself to the best. Developing and improving ourselves should be a joyful, daily sacrament that we should not let go of too quickly or easily. Adopting the highest standards and forcing ourselves to relate to them daily also improves our experience of our own efforts, even when some of those standards are, by definition, not fully realizable.