The right habits will make the individual incredibly disciplined. It will put her on autopilot towards her desired destination. Like a direct deposit into her retirement plan, she won’t have to think about it. It just gets automatically done.
What can we do to optimize our routines? Is it moving the alarm clock farther away, so that we are forced to get up and out of bed? Is it prepping our meals at the beginning of the week, so that we can plan what is going into our bodies and reducing the chances of putting something undesirable in?
The beginning of a habit is like an invisible thread, but every time we repeat the act we strengthen the strand, add to it another filament, until it becomes a great cable and binds us irrevocably thought and act.
Orison Swett Marden
We can start with small habits and then build upon them. We can design who we are going to be drawing the blueprints now for our lives and creating the habits that will get us there. Each one a small invisible thread waiting for us, the weavers. There is no stumbling upon success. Instead, we automate it into our daily processes.
The summer was a hot, sweaty mess. Twice a week, the three boys with an occasional fourth or fifth, would show up, go inside the gym, lace up their wrestling shoes, and hit the mat. As the weeks passed, the wrestling became more and more intense. In time, the boys got so familiar with each other’s style, that the matches would end in stalemates with little to no action.
The drills before the matches were to give them options, to add to their arsenal of moves. But when the opening whistle blew, they almost always reverted into their comfort zones, forsaking the new and sticking with the old.
Is It Working?
“Is it working,” called out the dad sitting next to me. His son got into a bad position but would not let it go. Was he weighing the risk versus the reward of his current position? Or was he so committed to that pursuing other options was unfathomable? As an observer, it was easy for the dad to see the problem. But for the exhausted wrestler struggling in the heat of the moment, the obvious wasn’t so clear. Of course it wasn’t working, but when the boy was locked in, it felt easier for him to stay the course.
Discontent is the first necessity of progress.
The question of “Is it working?” is permanently engrained in my mind. I heard it from the dad a hundred times, and I said it myself equally as much. And every time we said it, we discussed it as the amateur analysts that we were. Why were our sons not changing? Why were they stuck in their ways?
Donut was the assigned safe word. When it was called out by the coach or by one of the parents, the wrestler in the bad position was supposed to bail out of it. It didn’t always work, but it made for an easy verbal cue for whatever the wrestler was doing that was not working.
Donut became the second most prevalent shout in the gym. Easy for the parents to say, but not so much for the wrestlers trying to bail. They may have heard it in the background, but some positions were seemingly inescapable. Knowing to bail out and the ability to do so were just too far apart.
Too many times we get locked into what we are doing even if it is not working. The current process is familiar, maybe even easier, and change is hard. But if it is not working, why do we continue to do it? Is the comfort of routine greater than the discomfort of a lack of progress?
How do we get out of this rut? First, we must ask ourselves if it is working. Often, this requires us to pause the activity and take a step to observe. If we are still too close to the problem, then we should seek the guidance of a trusted advisor. Let them observe and counsel accordingly. Maybe their insight can provide the change we seek. Next, we can’t be afraid to call “donut” on our current situation. I’m not saying we should give up. But if it is time to bail on one tactic and try a different approach, then that is what we should do. The end goal doesn’t have to change, but maybe the path to getting there does. Better to pivot, than to remain stagnant.
We all have an inner voice. And while we wish it was always lifting us up and propelling us forward, it is usually the other way around. Often, our inner voices are our biggest naysayers. It is loudest when we are uncomfortable. It tries to soothe us into complacency. And when we attempt great things, it will use logic and reason to back us off the edge.
Generations of just trying to survive has made this voice a powerful ally. It tells us to stay indoors because a lion may be outside (Proverbs 22:13). It tells us we need more rest because we will need all that energy to hunt our next meal. And it will tell us to take a few more bites of food because we don’t know when we will be able to eat again.
Yet, for most of us, we left that hunter/gatherer lifestyle long ago. No longer is our day-to-day survival dependent on this ally that begs us to proceed with caution. Our lifestyles may have changed over the ages, but did our inner voice? If so, then why does it still suggest staying inside where it is safe, choosing relaxation over productivity, and eating an over-abundance of calories?
It is winter. The temperatures plummet and the water coming up from the well is frigid. Thank God for a water heater! As I enjoy the warmth of a hot shower, I look at the dial. I take a few deep breaths and turn it all the way to the coldest setting. The water hit like tiny needles. Soon, my skin turns pink. And then, no longer able to contemplate the past or the future, I find myself fully locked into the moment. As I feel every droplet of water on my skin, my mind awakens. I am alive! Is it uncomfortable? Of course. Am I suffering? Not a chance!
The hardest part is not enduring the cold. Instead, the hardest part is the decision to make it cold. It is a choice that flies in the face of everything the inner voice cautions against. My ancestors did everything in their power to protect themselves from the cold. And now here I am, choosing the opposite. My family thinks I am crazy. Well, all but one. My little boy used to find it amusing. But then, I started noticing that the dial was left on cold after some of his showers.
Your fitness is 100% Mental, your body won’t go where your mind doesn’t push it.
How many times have I stopped a training session short because I allowed my mind to talk me out of continuing? Too many times to count. My inner voice, my mind, may be one of the greatest adversaries in my fitness quest. It is the voice that tells me to sleep in, take it easy, and eat or drink whatever I want. And though it behooves me to listen to the angel, it is the little devil that attacks when I am at my weakest. And it is all 100% mental. The body listens to the mind. And if the mind is weak and won’t push the body, the body will be weak as well.
2022 is gone. And like every new year, 2023 begins with many making their resolutions. Some would suggest this is a waste. Instead of resolving to do something in the future, they would advise us to already be moving ahead with our plans, to be already engaged in our goals rather than waiting for the new year to make some momentous change to our lives. Though I agree to some extent and actively work throughout the year to improve, I like the age-old tradition of making resolutions at the beginning of the year. It is a time for me to look back on the year, a time to look back at the goals I achieved and the ones still lacking, and a time to look ahead and consider whether my one-year goals are still in alignment with my big-picture three and ten-year goals.
Go to the ant, O sluggard, study her ways and learn wisdom;
For though she has no chief, no commander or rule,
She procures her food in the summer, stores up her provisions in the harvest.
The above passage may be one of my favorite proverbs. It is a reminder to get up and get going, to get busy with life’s purpose. The ant isn’t lying about, chilling in the mound to some Netflix. No, she is busy. She is living her purpose. And on the face of this proverb, the message is clear: get busy.
Busy is nice. It is a sign of industriousness and productivity. Your parents, boss, teacher, and maybe even your spouse want to see you busy. To be busy is to be engaged, to be getting stuff done, and to be putting those little check marks in the box. But Solomon doesn’t tell us to be busy in this proverb. Instead, he tells us to study the ways of the ant and to learn wisdom.
Past, present, and future. Here is the wisdom of the ant.
Past: Remember your training and learn from your mistakes.
Today’s ant is a product of countless generations of ants. Encoded in the ant’s genetics are the basics: food, shelter, and community. Mistakes made by previous generations have become the blueprints for survival today. Mistakes made by the young ant are corrected by the colony.
We have the basics given to us by our ancestors. And no matter how technologically advanced we have become; we should not dismiss the legacy for survival and success passed down to us by those who went before us. We must take these lessons to heart and learn from both the good and the bad. In addition, we must learn from our own mistakes. There is nothing wrong with failure if we learn from the experience. Through learning, failures become the catalyst for success.
Present: Complete the task at hand.
What does the ant do in the present? Whatever is the task at hand. The past was a learning tool. The future doesn’t matter if the work today is not completed. The ant is either working on the community center (mound) or scouting/gathering food. He gets in formation and starts marching. Survival tomorrow depends on the actions of today.
Being present is one of my greatest challenges. I love reminiscing about the past. Preparing for the future gets me excited. But neither gets the work done today, especially with all the distractions our modern world presents to us. If we can’t stay present, then our tasks remain incomplete, our productivity grinds to a halt. The ant doesn’t stay in bed because he got a bad night of sleep. He doesn’t hang out in the mound because he doesn’t feel like going out. Instead, the ant gets busy.
Future: Busy with a purpose.
Is the ant busy for the sake of being busy? Not a chance. The ant’s tasks are in alignment with future objectives. Gather in the summer to prepare for the winter.
The wisdom of the ant: Get busy with daily tasks that meet the plan’s objectives. Plan, then execute. Busy, with a purpose.
It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?
Henry David Thoreau
The New Year really is no different than any other time of the year. It is a time to get busy. But as Thoreau asks, what are we busy about? To be busy about fitness without a plan will never generate the desired results. To be busy at the office without a focus will ultimately bring the business to ruin. Arrows are designed to hit their intended targets. But if we never aim at a target, those arrows become ineffective and useless. It is not enough to be busy. We must have a purpose for our busy-ness.
Is the world too complex, or did we make it that way? What about our lives? Have we made it harder than it should be? And when it comes to a relationship with God, did we keep it simple, or did we allow all the laws, statutes, and bureaucracy to dictate the nature of our relationship?
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
All the laws and customs broken down into two: Love God and love your neighbor.
From a scientific standpoint, the tree is a super-complex system. But long before man devised the science, the tree already knew the requirements to survive: earth, air, water, and light. With these simple ingredients the tree could dig deep, grow tall, and give back to nature. It could do its job.
What would God have us do? Would He have us live a faith so complicated that failure was all but imminent, a faith that would turn people away from Him because it was too hard? The prophet Micah would say otherwise. In fact, he wrote that there were only three requirements that God wants from us:
This is both an internal and external act. It is the path to righteousness. What is righteousness? It is right thoughts and right actions. Without vigilance, we can and will deviate from our true path in life. None of us are perfect, but we can get better. We can improve daily and get a little closer to where we should be.
How do we do it? We can start by following these words from Anne Frank:
How noble and good everyone could be if at the end of the day they were to review their own behavior and weigh up the rights and wrongs. They would automatically try to do better at the start of each new day, and…certainly accomplish a great deal.
Keeping a journal. It is a practice that many of the greatest thinkers in history implemented. If at the end of each day, we put our actions up for review, how much better could we become? And then in subsequent days maybe we would find ourselves a little more mindful of our actions. In time, patterns would emerge identifying areas of improvement.
Wow, I am really quick tempered! How can prevent making rash and ill-advised decisions?
Here, this behavior was fun in the moment, but the repercussions far outweigh the benefits.
I let this bad thought linger in my mind for too long. What could I have done to switch gears towards more productive and fruitful thinking?
Journal Item #1: Did I act with justice in my thoughts and in my actions?
I’ve learned that people will forgive what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
I love this quote from one of America’s most beloved poets. And when I think of my actions from the past, “how I made others feel” far outweighs any other achievements.
Recently, I was asked to officiate an upcoming marriage. Sadly, my first thought was, “Why would they pick me?” Being my biggest critic, I know my flaws and imperfections and can’t imagine why this young couple would honor me with this duty. But then, “how I made others feel” came to mind. For almost twenty years I have been a good-standing member of this family, I have helped where I could, and I have tried my best to encourage and improve the lives of those around me. I may not think I have done enough in this world, but maybe I have left an impression in how they felt.
Can I say everyone I have crossed paths with would feel the same way? Not a chance. I was once a foolish young adult and have hurt plenty of people along the way. And those crimes lacking in mercy and kindness still haunt me to this day. I try not to spend my life worrying what others think about me, but if I am not liked, I don’t want it to be due to a lack of kindness.
The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.
Acts of kindness. Loving mercy. This is the second of God’s requirement for us. Doing so costs us very little but could change the lives of those we meet. By letting go of our pride, by not allowing perceived slights against our persons to be vindicated, and by being mindful that we are all fighting a hard battle, we can ease, or at least not add to, the burdens of others. We can have peace in our own lives as well as give peace to those in need.
Journal Item #2: How did I love mercy on this day? What small acts of kindness did I give? How did I make others feel?
Walk Humbly with God
A student could someday overtake the master, for they are both human.
I have had the honor of walking with those I considered a master. Powerful leaders, mentors, and respected family members. Though someday I would hope to be like them, maybe even surpass them in some way in the future, I would never in their presence try to overtake them. I would let them lead and humbly walk a step behind. This is my place, and I know it. It is a matter of respect and one of humility.
But who could walk with God and have hopes of surpassing Him? Who could think they could do it better, to be greater? To walk humbly with God is to know one’s place. He is the ultimate teacher, mentor, and leader, and we as students and servants can only hope to stay in step and remain in His presence. It is a walk. It is a journey. It is a relationship.
We can petition but not command.
We can praise but not curse
We can be the good stewards but not the master.
Journal Item #3: Did I walk humbly with the Lord on this day? Micah’s words are profound yet simple.
Why should we complicate these words to the point where we lose our ability to follow them? “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.”
Each day is another link in the chain. Chains are no good if the links are weak. We can’t go back and fix our chain, but we can strengthen the newest links as we go along. We can build our links to handle a greater load, to be more resilient against outside forces, and to bolster us in times of need. We can create our chains of destiny to serve us and others when the need is the greatest. Everyday we forge a new link which means everyday counts. Throwing in a bad link every once in a while will do us no good. How can we build this chain?
What are our options? They are too numerous to count. But every choice matters; every decision counts.
The choices you make today will be your biography tomorrow.
One day, David decided to stay home. This was a choice. His country was at war. As the king, he should have been the one leading his men out to battle. In those days, that was his job. Instead, he made a self-serving choice that cascaded into a chain of subsequent bad choices. Laziness led to adultery which then led to murder. What started with one choice ended with a decree from God that the sword would never leave his house (2 Samuel 11-12).
Hopefully, the choices we make will not be as catastrophic as David’s. Yet, they can quickly spiral downward if we do not remain vigilant.
Maybe, it is too simple to believe it is true. But here it is: We become what we think about (Emerson). If our minds are focused on violence all day, then in time we will become desensitized to it. We will begin to justify it in the behaviors of others. Eventually, we will even be able to justify it in our own behaviors. The same could be said for all the vices–slothfulness, drunkenness, gluttony, lust. Thankfully, this also holds true for the virtues—wisdom, discipline, justice, courage, love.
So, when we think about adding quality to our lives or subtracting undesirable traits, it begins with our thoughts.
Persist in visualizing the ideal man you are determined to be, and always think of yourself as you are ambitious to become. This mental attitude will help you to match your dream with its reality.
Orison Swett Marden
Thoughts will set into our minds the types of people we wish to become. But at the end of the day, they must harmonize with our actions. Action is the testimony by which the world will view us. The houses we build in heaven are constructed by the works we do on earth. This is the Karma we set into motion while dwelling in our bodies. Every action has a reaction. Jung said, “You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.” Not our words and thoughts, but what we actually do. This is the mark by which we will be known.
Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.
We cannot control the outside forces that fate imposes upon us. Weather, fortune, and the deeds of others are often fickle and inconsiderate. Despite this, we can determine to be champions in this life, not victims.
Day by day, what you choose, what you think and what you do is who you become.
I look in the mirror. Whether good or bad, I only see what I want to see. My eyes only see what they have been trained to see. Everything else mysteriously gets dismissed. I find it amazing that a still image rarely matches what I saw in the mirror.
I take another bite. Today, the food looks good. It is pleasant to the senses and delights the palate. Sadly, it is not the best choice of food from a nutritional standpoint. Therefore, I will tell myself to only eat a little. Tomorrow, I am going to have a different opinion. Tomorrow, I am going to look back and wonder what I was thinking. Why did I pick that and why did I eat so much of it?
It is Sunday afternoon. I am feeling a little tired and decide to take a short nap (probably from all the food I ate). I set the timer for twenty minutes and get up two hours later. What happened?
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.
It is easy for me to look around and mentally note everybody else’s flaws. Why is that person so self-delusional? Don’t they know how foolish they look? Why do they eat such garbage and so much of it? Why aren’t they more active? Instead, they are just wasting away the time God has given them.
How is it that I am not so quick to notice my own flaws? In the moment, I acquiesce and give in to my base desires. These are the same desires that I am quick to notice and question in others. Yet, I have fooled myself to such an extent that I can no longer see these same behaviors in myself. The first principle is to not fool myself. Unfortunately, I have broken this principle too many times to count.
How do I improve knowing that I am so easily fooled?
Have a plan. Without one, I am lost.
Have a partner. I need someone to hold me accountable. Even more important, I must listen when someone calls me out.
Check my ego. My ego says I can get away without consequences. It wants me to compare myself to others in a way that only points to my perceived goodness and to their inherent flaws.
To not fool myself is no easy task. Yet, it can be done. It requires vigilance and an honest appraisal of my actions.
A Tuesday night soccer game. Before the game, I was a little worried how our team would play. We were missing three players and would take the field with one less player than our opponent. At game time, I realized neither team would have any substitutes. It would be eight versus nine with the winner standing at the top of the league standings.
After 5 minutes of play, we went down 1-0. The star player on the other team scored the first goal. Oh no! This could get ugly fast. Yet, our team didn’t surrender. They never gave up and continued to run and play hard. Our defense collected themselves and became relentless in their pursuit of the ball. And in the proudest of dad moments…
My son, Alec, began to shine. He coached his teammates on what to do and where to go. He took over on offense with multiple break-a-ways. He employed a few tricks that left the defenders watching him as he passed them by. After the dust settled, Alec had four goals on the tally sheet. We won 4-1.
Sometimes, a player gets lucky. Other times, a player just has a little more natural talent. But this performance wasn’t luck. It wasn’t natural talent. So, what was it? What separated him from the rest of the pack?
Having conceived of his purpose, a man should mentally mark out a straight pathway to its achievement, looking neither to the right or the left.
Last season, Alec was good. He was one of the four best players on the best team in the league. He finished the season with one or maybe even two goals. He was happy to win and happy to provide key passes to the goal scorers. But he wanted more. He wanted to capitalize on the “oh so many close” shots. Last season was when he started to really get hungry.
During the offseason when he wasn’t in school or wrestling, Alec was outside kicking the ball until the sun went down. He would bring his iPad outside with him, watch a video, and then practice what he saw over and over until he learned the skill. If the weather kept him indoors, he was watching more videos, watching games, or playing soccer on his Nintendo Switch. Soccer was his focus, and it was laser sharp.
Of course, I love to see his work bear fruit. But what impresses me the most is seeing his work ethic. He found something he is passionate about. And to become the best version of himself, he never looked to the right or the left. He marked out his pathway and began the journey only the most dedicated are willing to take.
I spend so much of my time teaching and working with him. But watching him practice, I realized he was really teaching me. At his age, I never worked as hard as he did. And as an adult, I tend to waver from one pursuit to the next. I am a middling Jack-of-a-bunch-of-stuff, but a master of nothing. Alec, on the other hand, is on a path to mastery that I can only hope to be on one day. He is becoming my inspiration to be better, to try harder. Maybe, there will come a time that I can be like him.
I dream of the future. If unchecked, my dreams can take many twists and turns. The dreams are part of who I am. The ones that I find suitable, I chase like a hunter in pursuit of its prey. Unfortunately, I am not a master of hunting. I tend to get distracted. Rather than pursue the one big target, I find myself chasing multiple targets. All this chasing and nothing to show for it. Tired and hungry.
It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.
One link in the chain at a time. One target that is a link on my chain and not a link on a different chain. What are the requirements? Focus and Presence. Too many irons in the fire wastes too much material and leaves too many unfinished works. And whatever work does get done will most likely not be of the highest quality. In my chain of destiny, this is not what I want. I want a link that is solid and will stand the test of time. One link at a time. Oh yes, one link at a time.
I’ve always believed that if you put in the work, the results will come.
When I was younger, I didn’t always do the work. Consequently, the outcomes I was hoping for rarely came. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized I needed to do more work. This became my faith:
Do the work. The results will come.
How often is my faith tested? Am I only entitled to the work but not to the fruits? I try not to compare myself to others. But when I pick my head up from the work, I only seem to see the results others are getting. Where are my results? Where is the payoff from these years of struggle?
Do the work. The results will come.
I know I made mistakes. The track I am on is not the fast track. Heck, it is not even the medium track. However, this is the bed I made. I must sleep in it until I can produce a better bed. This is my race no matter how slow I go.
Do the work. The results will come.
I want to believe the results will come. Doing the work is all I have. I know for a fact that I won’t get the results I desire if I don’t do the work. Therefore, all I have is the work. if the amount of work I am doing is not getting the results, then I must do more work. The work must be smarter. It must be relentless.
Do the work. The results will come.
I pray for the strength to be able to do it. I pray that I may continue to fight this good fight. My mind and my hands were built to work. I have no other choice but to do that which I was called to do: the work.