Anticipation

I can’t wait for bright, clear, sunny days to become the norm!  After a long gray fall and winter in the Pacific Northwest, most everyone here is eager for the sun to make an extended appearance.

The clear days of late spring and summer in Oregon are extremely beautiful.  I think it’s the anticipation of their arrival that keep people going through the gray and rain.  At least it is for me.

I find life more interesting and exciting when I have something in the future to look forward to.  Whether it’s an upcoming trip or event, a scheduled connection with others or the changing of the seasons and the activities each one brings, the anticipation of these events enhances my enjoyment of them.

Anticipation is also a great positive motivator.  For example, if you’re earning a degree or learning to play a musical instrument, there will be times when your progress feels small or slow.  This is where you can get frustrated and consider giving up.  However, if you can anticipate the excitement of receiving your diploma or being able to skillfully play that musical instrument, you’ll be much more likely to successfully navigate through your frustration and move on toward completing what you’ve set out to do.

So what are you positively anticipating in your not-too-distant future?  What outcome can you see in your mind that you haven’t attainted yet?  If the answer is “nothing”, begin thinking of something you’d like to do or achieve and take steps to make it happen, all the while keeping the anticipation of its arrival or completion in your mind.

Positive anticipation is a pulling force.  It pulls us in the direction we want to go and keeps us on track, even when the path ahead feels gray and rainy.  Our anticipation reminds us that sunnier days are just ahead.

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I Love It… But Not Always

“I don’t know.”

I both love and despise this response as an answer to questions.

I love this answer for its honesty.  When someone is asked a question that they do not have the knowledge to answer, this is a superb response, versus simply making something up or faking it in an effort to look bad in front of others.  In this scenario, “I don’t know” shows humility as well as the ability to be comfortable with the fact that you don’t have all the answers.  It also shows a willingness to receive input and ideas from others who have more knowledge in an area that you do.  It also shows that you’re teachable and eager to grow.

I despise “I don’t know” when it’s quickly thrown out as a default response simply because someone doesn’t want to expend the effort to give thought to a questions they have been asked.  Using “I don’t know” as the go to response is a great way to kill a conversation.  Imagine you’re having a conversation with someone you just met and, an effort to get to know them you ask them what they like to do if they had a free day to themselves.  If they immediately respond with, “I don’t know”, and that it, where do you go from there?  These 3 simple words can quickly slam shut the door of conversation.

Here’s the worst part about the default response of, “I don’t know.  When someone asks for our thoughts or opinion about a topic as input for a decision and we respond with “I don’t know”, we are willingly handing over our ability to make or influence a decision to other people.  For me, the thought of willingly allowing other people to always think and make decisions for me is not appealing.  As such, when asked for my opinion or input, I always want to at least have a thought that I can respond with, whether complete or not yet formed.  This keeps me active in the decision making process, versus allowing other people to do my thinking for me.

Like most things in life, responding with “I don’t know” requires discernment.   There are times when this is the right answer, and other times when this response is best avoided.  One way to help discern your use of this response is to ask yourself, “Am I replying with ‘I don’t know’ because I don’t want to think, or am I responding with it because I honestly don’t know?”

If your answer to this question is the latter, then congratulations!  You’re putting yourself on the path to increase your understanding of the topic.  If however, your answer to this question is the former, consider a different response.

Calm in the Midst of Chaos

When I sat down to write this week’s blog, I looked out the office window and I noticed, across the busy 4 lane highway, a Canadian goose lying down in the grass on the other side of the road.  I didn’t see any evidence of a nest or eggs, as this goose had gotten up to move to a new position a couple of times, so it was a rather strange site.

As the busy traffic, only a couple of short feet away, whisked by, this goose seemed totally calm, content, and even relaxed.  He (or she) is the picture of calm in the midst of a chaotic environment.

Goose

The more I watched this silly goose, the more impressed I was with his calm demeanor in his chosen environment.  Ultimately, I thought about how I’d like to show the same unshakable calm whenever I find myself in a chaotic or stressful scenario.

I certainly don’t know what my feathered-friend’s secret is, but I do think there are some behaviors we can practice to help us stay calm and in control when things or people around us are not.

  • Don’t over-react when the stakes are low.  When we’re under pressure, I think we tend to react rather than respond.  Reacting is more automatic.  Responding involves deciding how we are going answer the situation before us.  When we respond we are intentional.  If we can train ourselves to respond calmly to small scale events, we will be training ourselves to do likewise when the stakes are higher.
  • Maintain the proper perspective. When you’re feeling stressed out or like things are getting chaotic, ask yourself if wigging out is really warranted.  With few small exceptions, it’s usually not.
  • Practice being calm. Make it a point to spend time every day engaging in calming activities.  This could include things like:
    • Reading
    • Praying or reading the Bible
    • Meditating
    • Yoga
    • Going for a walk
    • Listening to relaxing music
    • Having a good conversation with someone you care about

While the list is endless, the point is to make sure we’re doing something calming every day.

This goose’s appearance is very timely, as I’ve been focusing on integrating more calming activities into my own life recently.  I’m grateful I got to witness this example.

Practice

It’s been about 2 months since I began learning to play the electric bass guitar.  Although I’m getting better I continue to realize just how much there is to learn.  I also realize that getting better doesn’t just happen because I want it to.  The only way I’ll get better is by practicing.

The thing about practice is that it takes work.  There is a commitment to practice required to learn and master any new skill.  This is often the point where people weed themselves of out acquiring a skill, because progress doesn’t come quick or easy, and practicing just seems too hard.  It is here that you need to decide how committed you are to practicing this skill to achieve the results you’re after.

Learning to play the bass has been interesting (and fun) in this regard, because I can feel the tension between my current skill-level and where I want to be.  I also know that consistent practice is what it’s going to take for me to improve.

The alternative to practicing is giving up on my desire to be a good bass player because it takes too much effort.  What kind of choice is that?  How would that help me?  I’d still want to know how to play the bass, but giving up would only set me on a course where that wouldn’t happen.

The truth is, if we want to learn something new, we must be willing to consistently commit time to practicing.

If you’re struggling to learn a skill, or are getting ready to begin learning one commit now to practicing consistently.  Know that it will likely get challenging, but ultimately your consistent practice will put you on the path to mastery.

Choosing the Right Path

Back in school, I wasn’t the best test taker.  I usually didn’t prepare very well and my technique when I got stuck, which was often, amounted to little more than closing my eyes and selecting whichever answer my pencil landed on.  Fortunately, my studying and test taking habits have gotten much better.

Earlier this week I was taking an exam for work.  I had prepared well and was ready to take the test.  However, about half way into the exam I got stuck on a couple of questions and also noticed that I might be a little behind, based on time and questions remaining.  For a moment, I could sense the beginnings of feeling frazzled.  (I’m very familiar with what this feels like, as it was a regular occurrence in school.)

Suddenly all these non-productive thoughts started to flood my mind:

  • “You’re not going to get the score you need to pass.”
  • “You’re going to have to retake this test.”
  • “Think of all the time you’re going to have to spend re-studying!”
  • “You’re half-way through your allotted time and you still have half the questions left AND several you have to go back and review. You’ll never make it!”
  • “You don’t know this material as well as you thought. Perhaps you weren’t ready to take this exam.”

I felt like I had approached a very real fork in the road.  The path to the left is where I would decide that these thoughts had merit and as a result, I’d allow myself to get sloppy and lazy in how I approached the rest of the exam, knowing that failure was likely where I was heading.  The path to the right is where I would recognize my thoughts for what they were (a distraction and not a prophecy), push them to the side, and double down on doing my very best.

I chose the path to the right.  I also scored a 93%.  Well beyond what was needed to pass.

It’s amazing to me how my own negative thoughts felt like a physical force pushing against me, much like a headwind against a runner or cyclist.  The best way we can combat the negative force of our own thoughts is by replacing them with thoughts of determination and commitment to successfully complete what we’ve set out to do.  (If that feels challenging in the moment, starting with a prayer would be a good way to begin.)

When you face the headwind of your own negative thinking, realize that these thoughts are not prophetic, and you’re not required to agree with them.  Then, immediately challenge them with positive thoughts and actions that support those positive thoughts.

We can control our thoughts and ultimately use them to take us down the path we want to travel.