Be Curious

A couple of weeks ago I went to listen to a lecture by Brent McGregor, a photographer and ice cave explorer who has done significant work on Oregon’s Mt. Hood.  I expected to learn a lot about ice caves on Mt. Hood, which I did, but I was surprised by what, for me, was the biggest take-away from his talk.

His lecture was extremely interesting, and the pictures and video he presented were breathtaking.  What was most interesting to me however was that Brent came to ice-caving later in life, and has been able to have significant impact on ice cave research and exploration in such relatively short time.

This encourages me, because I’m reminded that no matter our age, we still have the capacity to be curious and interested in new things.  We also have the ability, and privilege, to pursue those things that interest us.

Fortunately, there is no age where we are no longer allowed to be curious or interested.  The only limits to our curiosity are the ones we place upon ourselves.

Go out and be curious.

Getting from Here to There

From the perspective of achieving your goals, getting from where you are to where you want to be can often feel overwhelming.  Especially if we’re unsure about the steps we need to take to get there.  The following visual exercise can be very helpful in gaining clarity on what we need to do to start moving forward.

First, make a write in where you are, and where you want to be, as shown below.

Step 1

Second, on the left side of the page, fill in what you currently have in the way of resources and things to work with and overcome.  This gives you a starting point.  On the right side of the page, note what you will have once you achieve your goal.  This will help provide motivation, clarity, and direction.

Step 2

Next, think of all the major tasks you need to take to get from where you are to where you want to be.  The list doesn’t even have to be in order, or 100% complete.  Just start thinking of all the tasks that you need to do and list them in the gap on the page between where you are and where you want to be.

Step 3

At this point we know where we are, where we want to be, and a bunch of tasks that need to be done to get there.  The next step is to number the tasks in the order we need to complete them.  This is where our action plan gets created.  When you’re done with this step, you should have a plan to bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be.

Step 4

Now, we come to the most important step in the process:  TAKE ACTION!  The best plan is useless until we take action toward implementing it.

Step5

If you’ve got a goal you’d like to achieve, but need a plan on how to achieve, try this simple exercise.  It will give you clarity on what needs to be done, and motivation to see what you’re moving toward.

Just remember that the most important thing you can do, once you’ve completed the plan, is take action.  Your goals are waiting.  Start today.

Does it Really Matter

Does it really matter if today you:

  • Exercise or go to the gym
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Zone out in front of the TV all night instead of doing something more productive
  • Hold a grudge
  • Spend time improving yourself through reading and study
  • Neglect the most important relationships in your life
  • Complain about things that aren’t going well in your life

My response is, no.  In the big scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter if you did one or all of those things today.  In fact, I would even argue that it likely wouldn’t matter much if you did or didn’t do all of those things for a whole week.

But eventually, it will matter.

Suppose you want lose a few pounds and be healthier, so today to start eating better and exercising.  At the end of today, after you’ve eaten well and exercised, are you going to notice a significant difference?  Will you be healthier and at your desired weight?  No, you won’t.   You’ll look the same as you did the day before.  It’s likely you won’t even notice much of a difference after a week.  This is a point where people become frustrated, and often give up on a long term goal; when significant results don’t immediately follow effort.

However, if you stick with your plan to eat well and exercise every day, after 365 days, you’re going to notice a big difference.  At the end of the year you will undoubtedly look and feel much different, and better, than you did 365 days ago.

Now suppose at the end of 365 days of sticking with your plan I was to ask you, “So which day out of the last 365 days caused you to achieve the results you’re enjoying today?”  You might say it was the day you decided to take action, to which I would absolutely agree.  But if I pressed, to know which specific day’s effort made all the difference, your answer would be:  they all did.

Likewise, suppose you’re in good shape and living a healthy lifestyle, but you decide to skip working out today and also to eat foods that aren’t the healthiest.  Will this day totally ruin your health?  No.  If you return to your healthy lifestyle tomorrow, will this one day’s activity even make a dent in the big picture of your health?  No, it won’t.  But, if you continue this habit for 365 days, you’ll also see significant results in the deterioration of your health.

It’s the compounding effect of our consistent actions that yield results in our life, both positive and negative.  This compounding is at play shaping all areas of our lives:  health, relationships, career, personal development, finances, and attitude.

Is there any area in your life where you’d like the compounding effect to work for your benefit to achieve results you’re looking for?  If so, begin by following this simple checklist:

  1. Think about the change you’d like to make, and what your life looks like as a result of this change.
  2. Determine the actions you need to take today to achieve your desired result.
  3. Take those actions.
  4. Go through all 4 steps in this checklist again tomorrow.

We’re all building something with our lives, and the compounding effect is a significant principle that will yield powerful results, both positive and negative.

So decide today to put the compounding effect to work for you by providing consistent actions that will yield the results you’re after.  And if you mess up or miss a day, don’t be too hard on yourself, and certainly don’t give up as a result.  Just recommit the next day, and get back to providing the consistent effort that will be rewarded by the compounding effect; because it really does matter.

The Secret Ingredient

I believe there is a not-so-secret ingredient to achieving results in any area of your life.  Before I share this not-so-secret ingredient, let’s first review the other necessary ingredients in the proven formula for achieving results:

Vision + Knowledge + ? = Results

The first 2 components of the formula make sense, right?  Without a vision of the result you want, it would be challenging to even know where to begin.  We must first know where we’re going (know the result we seek) before we can move toward its achievement.

Likewise, we must also possess the knowledge required to achieve the results we want.  A vision will only prove frustrating if we lack the requisite knowledge for its attainment.

So, you’re probably wondering, “What is the secret ingredient you say I need in order to achieve results?”  The complete formula for achieving results is:

Vision + Knowledge + ACTION = Results

Does that secret ingredient leave you feeling dissatisfied?  Were you perhaps expecting something more exciting and grand?  The truth is, any results or success we seek only come through the disciplined and consistent application of action.  We’re not talking about action that fills our time and causes us to appear busy, but rather specific actions that move us closer to our desired results.

Very often, this is the step that trips people up.  If we’re honest with ourselves, we usually know the necessary action we should be taking to achieve the results we want.  We simply need to be courageous enough to take the action we already know we should.  We need to cause something to happen.

What results are you trying to achieve that could use a healthy dose of necessary action?  You probably already know what action you need to take.  So… when will you take it?  Today would be a good day to start.

Don’t delay.  Results await!

Swing for the Fence

Imagine you’re on a baseball team and it’s your turn to bat.  You’ve been practicing at the batting cage, and you’ve become quite good; not to mention, you enjoy batting.  Could you imagine saying to your coach, “You know what, Coach?  I don’t know if I’m ready for this.  What if I strike out?  I think I’ll skip my turn and go back to the comfort and security of the batting cage and let someone else bat instead.”

That would be ridiculous, right?  Who would do that?!

I would argue that we may be guilty of doing something similar when we doubt or play down our abilities in the face of opportunities that would grow and stretch us out of our comfort zone.

It’s easy to wish for opportunity, or even seek it out, in the comfort of the daily routine.  However, when an opportunity actually presents itself, we often begin doubting our abilities and whether we’re really capable of being successful.  We wonder if we are capable of rising to the challenge, or if maybe we’re really not as good as we, or others, might think.

It’s totally normal to have some doubts or be nervous about taking on a new and challenging opportunity.  However, what’s tragic is when we decide not to pursue an opportunity we’re capable of either out of fear of failing or because we doubt our own proven skills and ability.

I heard a quote recently that stated:

“In 20 years we won’t be disappointed by the things we did to; we’ll be most disappointed by the things we didn’t do.”

The next time you’re presented with an opportunity that will stretch you and your abilities, grab your bat, step up to the plate, and swing for the fence!  Take the risk.  Step out of your comfort zone and into the challenge, and give it your best shot.  And if you happen to fail, which you most likely will NOT, at least you’ll go down swinging.

Always remember: No Grand Slam home runs have ever been hit from the safety and security of the batting cage.

Pushing Through Confusion

I love starting something new, whether it’s a hobby, learning a new skill, or any other new endeavor in an area of interest.  There’s so much anticipation, motivation, and momentum at the beginning.  It really is an exciting time.

One of the reasons I think there is so much motivation and excitement at the beginning is because shortly after starting, things get confusing, and we’ll need that motivation to help carry us through the confusion until we start seeing results.

Start Confusion Results

It makes sense that we would become confused soon after we get started, because we are attempting something brand new to us.  Naturally, we don’t have a whole lot of experience in the area, so therefore, we’re going to have a lot of questions and get confused.

This is the point where most people give up on their worthy pursuit, because they can’t see past the confusion of what to do next, or how to do it.  They lose sight of the potential results and give up way too soon.  I know.  I’ve done this.

Perhaps it’s time to change our perception of the confusion phase of this process, and look at what the confusion also holds for us, like:

  • Opportunities to stretch our boundaries and comfort zone
  • New experiences that increase our knowledge and capacity to move ahead
  • The chance to meet new people who are doing what we want to be doing, and who can teach and encourage us along the way
  • The sense of accomplishment we’ll experience when we make a breakthrough and overcome an obstacle that the confusion initially presented

Here’s the cool thing about confusion: it only remains until we take decisive action to move past it.  If we want to remove the confusion, we simply need to seek guidance from people who have already done what we’re attempting.  This can take the form of reading books, watching a YouTube video, or reaching out to someone and asking for assistance.

Where are you struggling with the confusion that occurs between beginning and seeing results?  If you’re feeling overwhelmed and confused, that’s ok.  Take a minute.  Understand what you’re confused about that’s keeping you from moving ahead, and then take specific action to remove that confusion, like seeking guidance through reading, observation, or conversation with someone who can help.

Whatever that next action is, take it today.  You’ll feel great about making progress, and be armed with a new-found confidence to help you tackle the next confusing obstacle you face.  You’ll probably also be amazed at how much you’re learning and experiencing as you become more skilled at pushing through confusion.

The Unexpected Gift

This week my wife and I received and unexpected gift.  The gift was rather small, it didn’t cost much, and wasn’t terribly difficult to create.  However, it made my day and brightened my entire week.  The unexpected gift we received was a hand written note from a friend.

Our friend Kathy had taken the time to write a note to express her gratitude and thanks for our friendship and continued assistance with an annual project she coordinates.  As a fellow letter-writer, I could really appreciate her effort which included:

  • Selecting a card
  • Writing her thoughts out by hand
  • Addressing the envelope and putting a stamp on it
  • Remembering drop it in the mailbox

There is no doubt it would have been much easier, faster, and cost next to nothing for Kathy to send her thoughts to us in an email instead.  I would have appreciated the email as well, but there was something special about finding the note amidst the denizens that usually haunt our mailbox, namely advertisements and bills.  In the midst of all the noise and messages that was competing for my attention that day, Kathy’s hand written note really stood out.

It’s interesting to me that with all the technology we have to communicate quicker and with more people, something as “retro” and “old school” as a hand written note, can really cause the sender to stand out.  The reason, I believe, is because not many people take the time to send hand written notes anymore.

The next time you have an opportunity to express thanks or appreciation to someone, try dropping them a hand written note in the mailbox.  Not only will you brighten the other person’s day with an unexpected gift, you’ll stand out as well.

Seeing Beyond

Several years ago I was a co-teacher for one of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University  classes.  I love Dave’s concepts for handling money, and his presentation style is funny, engaging, and informative.  One moment during the class on debt reduction really stood out for me.

Our group was having a discussion about the debt reduction principles Dave had just explained in the lesson.  One concept that is crucial for couples getting out of debt is that they communicate about their finances and work together.  Toward the end of this class I made a suggestion to the couples in class.  I suggested that as they were working on getting out of debt, they dream together about what life will be like when they are finally debt free.

The response to this comment was interesting.  Some of the people in class got it.  However, I specifically remember hearing a couple of defeated groans, as if they were saying, “You’ve got to be kidding me!  We’ll NEVER get out of debt!”  I was haunted by those groans.  It seemed that some of the couples were defeated before they even started.  Instead of being able to comprehend a new and better future, their vision was squarely locked on their present circumstance, keeping them from even believing that a debt free existence was possible.

It is easy to become frustrated or discouraged by current circumstances, especially when we don’t know how to change them or even believe that it’s possible to change them.  I know.  I’ve been there.

Whenever we find ourselves frustrated or discouraged, we have 2 choices:

  1. Continue to push ahead to change our circumstance for the better
  2. Give up

I don’t like the second option, because that equates to throwing in the towel and accepting as final the your current circumstance.  If you’re still reading this post, I doubt you like that option either.

So what can we do during those times of frustration and discouragement?  Here are some suggestions that might help:

  • Envision where you want to be and what you want your life to look like in 1, 3, or 5 years. Press through the discouragement or disbelief and develop a detailed picture in your mind of what that life looks like.
  • Keep that picture firmly in your mind and review it often. Especially when the frustration and discouragement are at their height.
  • Take action every day, no matter how small, to move yourself closer to the vision you’ve created for yourself.

We will get discouraged and frustrated throughout life.  It’s guaranteed.  However, I think those feelings are caused by the gap between where we are and where we want to be.  If we’re pursuing worthy goals and seeking to grow and become better, those feelings can actually prompt us to continue (or begin) bridging that gap.

Just remember, it’s ok to be frustrated or discouraged in life, as long as we don’t park there permanently and squander our opportunities to take action, improve, and grow.  The choice is ours.  Let’s choose wisely.

Before You Respond Negatively…

Have you ever received a negative or unkind email from a friend or family member?  I’m talking about from people who don’t normally send emails like that.

My wife and other members of her family received an email from one of her siblings recently, expressing their displeasure over how a current family situation is being handled.  The sibling’s email expressed blame and disappointment at family members and was not well received.

It would be so easy to let emotion take the lead, and respond negatively to this email. However, all that usually proves to do is make the situation worse.

I’ve written in a previous blog that there is a space between a stimulus (like a negative email) and our response to it.  I think this is some important to remember, especially when we may be feeling emotionally charged or fired up by a stimulus.

As I was talking to my wife about the email, I began wondering caused them to send the email.  What was the reason?  I wondered what they were dealing with that caused them to send the email.  Perhaps the family situation was causing the sibling to feel:

  • Fear
  • Regret
  • Anger
  • Hopelessness
  • Shame
  • Helplessness
  • Frustration
  • Guilt

Maybe I’m wrong, but I would guess that most negative emails are sent, not because the sender is a jerk, but because the sender is feeling one or more of the emotions above.  Perhaps even some additional emotions not listed.  I certainly think this is the case with my wife’s sibling. As I look at the email from this angle, it’s easy to see the sender, not as a jerk, but as a hurting human being.

The next time you receive a negative email, phone message, or any other form of communication, try to look past what’s being said and see if you can determine why it was delivered.  What is the sender dealing with?  Are there certain feelings and emotions in play?  Are they struggling, hurting, or making a poor attempt express a thought our concern?

Avoid the desire to be negative and lash out in return.  You just may save a relationship.

Comfort and Order

“Humans are designed to seek comfort an order, and if they have comfort and order, they tend to plant themselves, even if their comfort isn’t all that comfortable.  And even if they secretly want something better”

Donald Miller

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

 

I was half way through Donald Miller’s book (pg. 100) when I read those words above.  I found them to be both haunting and eye-opening.  They’re haunting, because I’ve been in this exact scenario for many years, and eye-opening, because it finally feels like the root cause to one of my primary struggles has been revealed.

I find it extremely easy to put off making a change when I’m comfortable or complacent in my current situation.  I’ve been struggling with making a career change for many years.  I currently work in Information Technology, but my preference is to work with people, rather than with hardware, software, and systems.  I’ve wanted to make a change for several years, but I’ve made minimal progress.  Often, weeks or months go by without me having done one thing to move closer to a new career.  I know what I’d like to be doing, but I find it easy to put off taking action, primarily because my current situation isn’t all that bad.  It’s comfortable enough to keep me from taking decisive action toward bringing about the career change I desire.

I knew this, to a certain degree, about myself, and could observe this scenario in my own life.  However, reading Miller’s words, that so clearly articulate this concept, it felt like a harsh slap or glass of cold water thrown in my face.  As if my mind was screaming, “He’s describing you!”

After reading those words, I’ve been keenly aware when I’m letting comfort and complacency chart my course.  It gets me fired up, because I can’t think of a single time in my life when I was driven by comfort and complacency, that it ever led me anywhere significant.

How about you?  Are there any areas in your life where you’re actions, or lack of actions, are being driven by the desire to maintain comfort and order?  Is the desire for comfort and order taking you where you really want to go in life?  If you’re struggling in this area, join me in taking the following actions:

  1. When you feel yourself being motivated by the desire to maintain comfort, acknowledge it. Call it out right there on the spot and say, “I’m not letting comfort chart my course any longer!”
  2. Think about the next step you need to take toward a goal or path you’ve set.
  3. Take that next step. It doesn’t matter how small a step it is; take it!
  4. Repeat the process as often as necessary

I don’t think we were designed to live lives that were above all, comfortable.  I think we’re at our best when we’re growing, improving, and pursuing the goals we’ve set for ourselves.

Decide today to stop letting comfort keep you from pursuing a remarkable, fulfilling life.  All you have to lose is the discomfort of being comfortably stuck.