One Take from the Week #4: Harder-than-I-Thought New Habit

Art of Manliness #462: How to Tell Better Stories

A few weeks ago, I listened to the above podcast episode interviewing Matthew Dicks, the author of Storyworthy. He is a professional storyteller and gives his advice on how we can learn to tell better stories. This seemed right up my alley of interests, and I was eager to learn what I could.

It all starts with homework. Okay, homework. I can do that. It sounds simple enough. So, what exactly do I need to do? Every night before I go to bed, I need to spend five minutes recapping the most interesting part of my day. This information will go into an Excel file. There is no need for a lot of details, just a few bullet points. Then, on a weekly basis, I can go back pick one and come up with a worthy story. This is the first step and the inspiration behind my new weekend series of posts, “One Take from the Week.”

A new habit that takes five minutes. This is so simple that anybody can do it! Except me. The first week, I completed it a couple of nights, skipped a night, did another night, and skipped a few more. That didn’t go so well. Why? Well, at the end of the night, I am ready to shut down. After a day of working out, reading, writing, coaching, and going to the job that pays the bills, the last thing I want is to do the homework. And it is not about wanting to do the homework, so much as it is about forgetting.

What went wrong? I never set the alarm. Now I have a ton of alarms on my phone for just about everything that needs a reminder. Some of these alarms go off, and I immediately dismiss it. Yes, I know I need to take the dog for walk, coach in an hour, and even get out of the car and start walking to work when it is time to clock-in. Often, another alarm gets lost in the multitude and gets silenced.

But I set the new alarm anyway. Why? Because I must do better. I believe this habit is important, and I really want it in my life.

The successful person makes a habit of doing what the failing person doesn’t like to do.

Thomas Edison

Now, what I am not saying is that this will make me successful and you, for not doing this homework, will be a failure. But if this something I want to do and cannot get it done, then I have failed (in this instance). Nathanael Emmons said, “Habit is either the best of servants or the worst of masters.” This is a new habit that will serve me well in the future. If, I can develop the discipline to see it through. Five minutes is all it takes to turn off the alarm, stop what I am doing, and think and record something that was impactful during my day. Just five minutes. We need our habit to serve us. We need them to help us optimize our lives. Is there a new habit you are wanting to begin or have recently started? I would love to hear about it and any tricks you used to make it stick.

Our Path to Walk

Our path consists of choices. We choose the way we think is best and hope it works out in our favor. Sometimes our choices are bad. They may have seemed good at the time, but ultimately, they take us down a route we never intended. When our choices demand payment, we are faced with a dilemma. How do we survive? How do we navigate the current road so that we may continue to our destination?

There are times the universe gives us a nudge, often not gently. It tells us that we are not doing what we were designed to do. It tells us to stop playing it safe and go do what we were meant to do. To ignore this calling is to play a dangerous game with forces more powerful than us.

I have mentioned the prophet Jonah before. God told him to go one way; he went the other. Jonah chose not to listen to his calling. Thinking he could get away with it, he boarded a ship and fled town. God sent a storm. Not worried, Jonah decided to take a nap. But the storm was a bad one and the sailors panicked. They drew lots to find out who was to blame. Of course, it was Jonah. He was the reason for the storm. Next thing you know, Jonah was taking a salt bath. And if things couldn’t get any worse, a really big fish swallowed him up.

Have you ever found yourself in the belly of a whale? We all go through it on our hero’s journey. Our choices lead us down a path that turns to brambles and thorns. The sun goes behind the trees, and the goblins of our imagination come out to haunt us. This is the belly of Jonah’s whale. Imagine being in there. It is dark. It stinks. If you are prone to motion sickness, this is not the place for you. All you can do there is sit. Sit and wait. There is no one to talk to, so you are left alone to your thoughts. You reflect on the past and how you got there. You imagine the things you will do if you ever get out. But the past and the future are no help to you now. So, you sit. And wait. You still your mind in the present because that is all you have.

Jonah got out of the whale. He went to do the things he was supposed to do. Likewise, the sun will rise again on the morrow, and we will find our own way back onto the path.

God could have sent another to take Jonah’s place, but it was Jonah that He wanted. Nobody else could have walked his path. Only Jonah. In the same way, nobody can walk our paths. It is our journey.

In an east meets west post, consider these words:

No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.

Buddha

Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash

The Virtue of Strength

When you think of strength, the first thing that might come to mind is that of some burly individual able to pick up heavy weights. And though that may be a legitimate mental picture, strength goes beyond the ability to lift heavy objects. But since that may be your mental picture, let us start with the body.

Strength of Body

What are the benefits of a strong body? The stronger you are, the easier it is to complete physical tasks with more efficiency. This could be climbing the stairs with less discomfort. It could be carrying the groceries from the car to your kitchen with less struggle. Being strong gives you the freedom to accomplish the things that needs to get done without undue taxation on the body. The building of strength today benefits what you can do tomorrow.

Strength of Mind

Can you push through the barrier past the pain of exhaustion? As much as you need a strong body, you need to develop a strong mind. You must be able to will yourself to go farther than you think you can. I can’t count how many times I have wanted to give up while running. My mind is looking for ways to get me to stop. It is looking for the smallest reason to use as weapon against me in the game of mental warfare. The body is willing and capable, but the mind needs conquering. As Zeno said, “Man conquers the world by conquering himself.” The way to do this is to train your mind to overcome adversity.

Strength of Soul

I am reminded of the monk who sat still in the middle of the road as he burned to death. Both his body and mind were strong. But to willingly cross the threshold of death with the knowledge that there is no coming back to the body, that takes a heart and a soul of immense strength.  I don’t recommend you try it, but you can learn to challenge your fear. You can incrementally increase your courage.

The belief that becomes truth for me…is that which allows me the best use of my strength, the best use of putting my virtues into action.

André Gide

You cannot use the strength you do not have. If you want to be strong, you must develop it. And like a three-legged stool, each leg must be trained equally. If not, you will topple over.

How does this relate to the virtue of Justice? To do what is right requires strength. Strength then is a virtue, and one that we can all strive towards.


Feature photo by Vicky Sim on Unsplash

Habits Deciding Futures

How much time have I spent thinking of the past? How much time dreaming of the future? If only I had the opportunities. If only I didn’t have to work in this job? If, if, if.

All that time wasted in my youth. I was always in the past, always in the future, never in the present. Back then, my habits (what I was doing at that present time) were not helping me. I had a slew of bad habits and only a handful of good ones. My habits should have been a tool to drive success in the future. Instead, they were preventing me from maximizing my potential in the present.

People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.

F.M. Alexander

My path was slowly engineered. Of course, there were all sorts of obstacles. There were many setbacks of my own doing. And I say, “there were,” but in truth there still is.  And though I revert to thoughts of past and future, I spend less time there. I am more present in today. And being in the present, I am more aware of my habits. Which ones are helping me? Which ones are detracting? Slowly, I can correct the bad ones. I can design new ones that propel me forward. I can engineer my habits for success.

Once again, it is a work in progress, but I have noticed some interesting things. Opportunities are starting to pop up that I never imagined or tried to obtain. My future is starting to take a positive shift without me trying to plan for it. It as if my habits are starting to decide my future. Maybe they always have, and I just didn’t know it.


Feature photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

Things Which Matter Most

What happens when I don’t have a plan for the day? I go through the motions. Of course, I get stuff done, but I also check my phone, watch a little television, piddle here, and piddle there. There is no rush, no sense of urgency, and no accountability at the end of the day.

What happens when I create a plan at the start of the day, or even better, the night before? I am focused and intent on checking off the boxes. I waste less time. At the end of the day, with tasks crossed off the list, I rest at ease knowing I made the most of it. Oh, the satisfaction if I get that list done.

But then, there are times I make the list and do not have the end results I hoped for. Somewhere along the way, I got sidetracked. I deviated from the plan. I started doing other stuff, stuff that was not on the list. If I had a quality list of items that held great importance, then I should have done those. If this is what mattered most, then I should have attacked it first.

Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

If you want to take your productivity to the next level, if you want to get the things that matter the most done, then do the following:

  • Make the list. Not “a” list but “the” list of the most important items you want to complete.
  • Start early and get it done. If other things come up, and they will come up, add them to another list or put them at the bottom.

Wow! There are only two steps. It is not difficult, but often the basics and the simple are the things that get missed the most. There are some great resources to make your planning super-advanced and technical, but they all have the same two things in common: Make a list, and Get it done.


Feature photo by Emma Matthews Digital Content Production on Unsplash

How to End the Struggle

I wake up. I struggle to get out of bed. Instead of checking in on how I feel, I look to the sleep section on my Fitbit app. Ugh. Another mediocre night of sleep. I think about the long day ahead and force myself to get dressed and go workout.

I am at work and check my email. I check my schedule to make sure I am where I am supposed to be at the appropriate time. I reach for the coffee to help me get through the meetings with those that do not want to meet, to get through the tasks that need to get done, and to get through the reports that need to be completed.

Back at home. Chores, dinner, a wound-up kid with tons of energy that need to be burned, and a spouse whose day wasn’t much different than mine.

Bedtime. Will I be able to get to sleep?  Tomorrow is a new day with a new set of struggles like the ones of today.

The struggle ends when the gratitude begins.

Neale Donald Walsch

What if the day looked different? Of course, it would be the same day with the same set of obstacles. But what if I had a different perspective? Instead of drudgery and have-to, what if it was opportunity and want-to? What if…

The alarm goes off, and I take a moment to check in with myself. I made it through the night to see another day. Not everybody gets that chance, but I do. I get dressed and exercise grateful that I have a mind and body that can still do it.

At work. I have a job that pays the bills and allows me and my family to live a relatively comfortable lifestyle. I have a chance to help others and make new connections. Somebody finds value in what I do. I find value in what I do.

Home. I have a wife and child who love me. There is food on the table and shelter over our heads. Our basic needs are met.

Bedtime. The bed is comfortable. Sleep comes with the knowledge of peace and security. Sleep comes because I did not squander the day in idleness, but instead made the most of the opportunities given to me. And if I am given another tomorrow, then I am given another opportunity. I am given a gift to be grateful for.


Feature photo by Amadeo Valar on Unsplash

Discovery and Creation

The Discovery Process

The tree doesn’t ask, “Who am I.” Instead, it says, “I am.” It grows. It adds new layers and rings. It digs, deep, stands tall, and gives back to its community. In all its complexity, it simply is.

Humans, full of life like the tree, think they are different, yet they are much the same.  But rather than existing in a state of “I am,” they often prefer to linger at the question of “Who am I.” Thus, continues a process of discovery, searching for an answer they had within themselves the whole time. It was there all along.

The Creation Process…again…and every day

Each morning we wake up with the opportunity to create a new version of ourselves. A new dawn, a new day, and a new iteration of that which we once were. Like the tree, we add a new ring while still retaining the essence of who we are. As a “I am,” we are free to move forward, to create, and to exist for the sake of existence. We are free to live out our purpose in life.

Life isn’t about finding yourself.

Life is about creating yourself.

George Bernard Shaw

Feature photo by Vitor Pádua on Unsplash

One Take from the Week #3: Power Nap

“Let’s begin by taking a smallish nap or two…” -Winnie-the-Pooh.

The beginning of Chapter 9: The Binaural Power Nap in the book Own the Day by Aubrey Marcus (cover photo).

As far as I can remember, my mom was a big nap taker. In the afternoon, at the drop of a hat, she could start dozing wherever she was sitting.* It turns out the apple does not fall far from the tree. For the last ten or so years, this is what I have done every day at lunch right after I ate. Sometimes, I skipped eating altogether and went straight for the nap. For optimal success, I would put in some headphones, turn on either movie scores or a meditation, and get down to some z’s.

This week, I read Aubrey Marcus’s take on the power nap. I got excited when I turned the page and saw the chapter title: The Binaural Power Nap. I do not even remember seeing the word Binaural, only Power Nap. Unfortunately, I was reading as I was eating lunch. I was in a dilemma as to what I should do. I slept. Later that evening, when I had some time, I went back to the book, which in this case, was going back to my studies on optimizing my life.

If you are navigating daily decisions, slipping into beta frequency is the most useful. If you need to surf a big wave or write your novel, alpha frequency is helpful. And if you are trying to rest, theta frequency is most powerful…In plain English, targeting theta and delta waves can help you take your naps to the next level.

-excerpt from Own the Day

I have never been a fan of these binaural soundtracks. Every time I have tried to listen to one those “guaranteed deep sleep with X amount of Hz,” my mind started to run, and I found myself more awake than anything. Wanting to keep an open mind, I decided to try it again on my next lunch break.

The next day, I found a meditation from the Insight Timer app. I ate lunch, put in my headphones, and then hit play on Lucid Dreaming Meditation Music: Powerful Theta Binaural Beats. I had my reservations. Would the music keep me awake? Nope. Before I knew it, I was gone. When the alarm went off on my Fitbit (a nice vibrating alarm that can’t be heard), I woke  up refreshed. Wow! I took out the headphones, signed into my computer, and charged through the rest of the day full of energy.

Last week, I tried it twice, both with outstanding results. I look forward to seeing how long this will be effective. Will it stop working once I get used to it? Can I make this a permanent part of my daily routine? I look forward to finding out. At least I now know I am not alone in this whole nap taking business.


*As stated, this is as far as I can remember. That has been over 40 years ago, and I might be incorrect in my memories. I figured this disclaimer was a safe route because my Mother does read this blog.

The Bully

I know a manager who has led his department for over twenty years. When it comes to receiving feedback on the performance of his team, he is not willing to take it. As a result, they suffer, and their numbers reflect it. Instead of trying to understand and correct the issues, he wants to take the role of the bully. He will defend and fight, hem and haw, and try to intimidate others.

As I watch his face turn red and his blood pressure skyrocket, I start thinking about other bullies. There is some inherent weakness within them. Rather than exposing their flaws and working to correct them, they would cover them up. And if they feel their weaknesses are in danger of exposure, they use whatever force available to them to mask it.

I remember hearing an old story of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger. If he felt he had a flaw or weak point in his physique, he would intentionally expose it. For example, if he thought his abs were a bit flabby, he would wear a cutoff shirt showing them off. Every time, he passed by a mirror he would see them. He would notice others looking his direction and would think they were looking at his midsection. He used this tactic as fuel to work even harder to correct his flaw. He did the opposite of what a classic bully would do.

Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.

Eric Hoffer

The next time you encounter a rude person, consider why they are being like that. What are they trying to cover up? Is it something they don’t understand or are ashamed of? Understanding where they come from might be able to give you the opportunity to better navigate future interactions with them.

And the next time, you feel you are being rude, ask yourself if you are trying to cover up a weakness. If you are, then you have an opportunity to identify it and correct it. Turn your weakness into a strength, and you will realize there is no longer a need to be rude.

A Friend to Yourself

Let’s start with friends and five things to keep in mind…

1.  Forgive imperfections. Your friends are not perfect. Does it matter? No, not if their good qualities exceed their bad. It is those good qualities that we really admire, and one of the reasons for the friendship. In this way, good friends make good role models and help us along in our own personal development.

Of course, nobody is perfect, including our friends. But that is okay. You would grow weary of a perfect friend eventually creating a rift in the friendship. Like you, they are imperfect human beings trying to survive in this world to the best of their abilities. For this, we should cut them a break.

If thy brother wrongs thee, remember not so much his wrong-doing, but more than ever that he is thy brother.

Epictetus

2.  Encouragement. Good friends want to see their friends succeed. The better off your friend is doing, the more pleasant it will be to spend time in their presence. And when they are not doing good, the relationship becomes strained. So, when we see them struggle, we try to help them. The right encouragement helps them to shift their viewpoint. It gives them a positive affirmation that they can overcome their difficulties.

My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.

Henry Ford

3.  Be kind. A smile goes a long way. Kindness goes even farther. We all have the monsters in our lives that need slaying. And when your friend is in a battle with the monster of the day, derision never helps.

Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

Plato

4.  Speak the truth. If you lie to your friends, they won’t be your friends for very long. They don’t need that in their lives and will eventually find a way to separate themselves from you. A basic principle we must all adhere to is to speak the truth because our character is what attracts people to us.

Life is short, and truth works far and lives long: let us then speak the truth.

Arthur Schopenhauer

5.  Don’t neglect them. I have lost touch with one of the greatest friends I ever had.*  Even with all the technology available to us, I can’t find him. I no longer know his phone number or his address. He has zero social media presence. I miss him. I want to know he is okay.

We do not know what tomorrow will bring. This might be the last day you see that friend you love so much. With that in mind, we cannot let the time slip by neglecting our duties as friends. That day might not ever come around when you get around to making that call. Check in, make sure they are doing okay, and let them know you are there for them.

Let us greedily enjoy our friends, because we do not know how long this privilege will be ours.

Seneca

Now that we covered friends, let’s move on to you…

What progress, you ask, have I made? I have begun to be a friend to myself.

Hecato of Rhodes

1.  Forgive your imperfections. Your friends are not perfect, and neither are you. After all, you are human. To not be perfect is okay. It doesn’t mean you can neglect your own self-development, but you don’t have to keep psychologically abusing yourself.

2.  Encouragement. You are more enjoyable to be around when you are doing better in life. Only if we all could be doing better in life! Sometimes we struggle, and sometimes there is no one we feel we can go to for encouragement. You are going to have encourage yourself. You must tell yourself to get up and to forge ahead. With or without a cheering section, this is your path and no one else can walk it for you.

3.  Be kind. Your battle is hard. The fates have dealt you a bad deck of cards. What should you do? Smile. Even at the worst, you are still alive. You still have much to be grateful for. Self-derision is not the answer. Give yourself the dignity you deserve.

4.  Speak the truth. Look into the window of your soul and see it for what it is. Don’t lie to yourself. Putting on the blinders of self-delusion will lead to a pitfall. You can’t improve if you don’t know your issues. If you refuse to believe you are in a battle with the monster, you cannot win.

5.  Neglect. You can’t do it to your friends, and you can’t do it to yourself. Take a moment and check in with yourself. Put down all the distractions and see how you are really doing. If you ignore yourself, you might end up losing yourself.

Become a friend to yourself. Learn to love yourself. Some would say this is the only way you can learn to love others.


Feature photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


* Bernie: I don’t know where you are, but I hope you are doing well. Our circle, our most inner circle from way back when, are concerned about you. You were the best of friends, and we miss you. You may never read this, but hopefully somebody we both know will get in contact with you. Peace my friend.