I have stood in front of high school and college students and asked, “If you squeeze a tube of toothpaste, what comes out?” After some quizzical looks, I hear mumbled answers, “toothpaste.” I next ask “Why?”. Now my audience thinks I am a bit odd with these questions and stumble on this answer. I often have to answer for them, “Because that is what was put there in the first place.”

This is one of my better character lesson. It has stickiness because of Its imagery. It is all about preparation. The easiest analogy is when you talk about food; an athlete who puts junk food into their body will play like junk. Consider an exam in high school or college which relies on the preparation ahead of time. The toothpaste analogy also applies across life and temptation.  When you find yourself in a pressure-packed situation and life squeezes you, what will come out?  Whatever you have put in. If you have prepared properly, you will see positive results. If you have put in faith, character, morals, principles; then when you get squeezed, good decisions will come out.  

A wrong choice made in the heat of the moment is a result of lack of preparation, conditioning or putting quality toothpaste in the tube.  There is an older expression similar to this concept that I once heard from my Grandmother – “what is in the well, comes up in the bucket.”  Back to the days when people got their water from a well with a bucket, if there was polluted water in the well, then that’s what came up in the bucket.  There is also in today’s world the computer acronym GIGO or ‘Garbage In is Garbage Out’ implying that results are dependent upon the data entered.

On January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 suffered a bird strike immediately after takeoff that annihilated both engines requiring an emergency landing on the Hudson River in New York City. Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger expertly piloted the plane to a safe landing saving all 155 people on board. He was quoted, “I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education, and training. And on January 15 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.” He had been putting toothpaste in the tube.

I had 17 interceptions during my college career and by far the best was in my Junior year against Lehigh, our arch rival, in a game between two nationally ranked teams. I had the job of shutting down one of the nation’s best passing combos that year. At a pivotal point in the second half of the game I made a diving ‘highlight reel’ interception. I was able to anticipate and jump an out pattern because of film preparation. I knew from the receiver’s split exactly what pattern he was running. I had done my homework.

Malcolm Gladwell noted in his story, “David and Goliath: Underdogs and the Art of Battling Giants” that armies at the time of David had 3 kinds of warriors – cavalry on horseback; infantry with swords and spears; and what we would today call artillery: archers and ‘slingers.’ Slingers had a leather pouch attached on two sides by a long strand of rope. They would put a rock or lead ball into the pouch, swing it around in increasingly wider and faster circles, and then release one end of the rope, hurling the rock. In the Old Testament (Judges 20:16), slingers are described as accurate within a hair’s breadth. An experienced slinger could kill or seriously injure a target up to two hundred yards away. While protecting the sheep, David perfected his skills by practicing day after day.

How do we proactively put the right stuff into ourselves? Putting toothpaste in the tube is a form of intentional mental conditioning. Just like running and lifting is intentional physical conditioning, you can condition yourself in this area.  The more you practice the better you become. However, the opposite also holds true.  If you allow your mind to relax too much and get lazy and not take ownership, then it becomes more commonplace to just go through life letting circumstances control you, whether you recognize this lack of control or not.

“Success is the sum of small efforts — repeated day in and day out” Is a quote from Robert Collier. Jesus spent hours in prayer, he spent 40 days in the wilderness being tempted in preparation for his calling, he spent his youth studying the scriptures of the Old Testament.

An overnight sensation that took years to occur is about preparation. We’ve heard all about the overnight successes, the companies that come out of nowhere, the personalities that appear out of thin air, the success that just happens. Guess what? It almost never happens that way. It’s all the work before that ‘event’ in preparation, practice, patience, and persistence. Starbucks had been in business for decades before it exploded. Mike Kryzewski went 38-47 over his first three years at Duke before his methods and teachings took root. Imagine any coach getting a 4th year today with that record.

Our training should prepare us to meet any challenge. I did a previous blog on why Navy Seals train for excellence. That is a mindset we need in all our life roles. Put the right toothpaste in the tube. Be able to step up and answer your ‘Goliath call.’ Make enough daily deposits to cover an unexpected withdrawal. The rewards can be eternal.

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