Variation in the Ability to Perform

thinkerFrom the time he was 10, my son, Paul, understood the relation between decision and action better than almost anyone I’ve ever known. Edie, my ex-wife, and I had just split up and I was living in what I thought would be a temporary apartment on the Parkway in Philadelphia. Paul came to visit for the first time and we were sitting on the grass in the shadow of Rodin’s The Thinker. Sad faced, Paul turned to me, “Dad, is it okay if we invite Ted?” He was Paul’s good friend who lived in Northeast Philly. “Sure,” I said. Paul lit up like a Christmas tree. A few minutes later the sad face was back again. “Okay, Paul, what is it now?” “Well, you said we could invite him!” Paul also had a fine understanding of process. He knew just what it took to get things done. Once he decided on something he went ahead and did it — until the job was complete. Again, no gap between decision and action.

Contrast that with his behavior at lunchtime. We settled in at a restaurant, menus in front of us. Sad face once again, he couldn’t decide what he wanted. My suggestions don’t help. Paul is hungry and unable to make a choice. Paul’s complex machine – we call it the body – which ordinarily has no problems making decisions and choices has broken down. Paul is very hungry. That’s the machine’s way of telling him it had been deprived of inputs and that because of that it couldn’t make decisions. It needed inputs – food – first. The human body is not always in the same, uniform steady-state condition, always ready to perform whatever tasks are required at the same level of efficiency. In order to function it requires a flow of the right inputs – water, food, rest, shelter, etc. – in the appropriate amounts over time. When it has them, it is capable of peak performance.

How often has this happened to you? You go to bed with a question on your mind. For example, you can’t remember a person’s name. In your mind’s eye you can see her face. You remember your last time together. But, for the life of you, you can’t recall her name. You fall asleep and wake up refreshed. And her name, Pat, pops up into your head. You think to yourself, “Why couldn’t I remember that last night?” If you think about it, the answer is simple. In order to be a well-functioning machine the body required one of the basic inputs — rest.

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