Studying Ourselves

I love the fact that there are so many interesting topics to learn about!  While the list of topics we can take an interested in could easily fill multiple blog posts, I think the most important topic each of us should spend time studying… is ourselves.

If we’re interested in living a fulfilling and satisfying life, we need to regularly spend time understanding how we’re uniquely wired.  This can come through reading about behaviors and habits we’d like to embody, taking (and reflecting on) self-assessments, and journaling.  While this is not a comprehensive list to self-discovery, it is a good starting point.

As you begin learning about yourselves, you start to discover things like:

  • When are you at your best?
  • When are you at your worst?
  • What captures your heart?
  • What were you uniquely created to do?
  • How do your respond to stress?
  • What do you do better than most other people?
  • What should you avoid doing?
  • What are some areas of your character that you need to improve?
  • When do you feel most alive?
  • What drains you?
  • Where in your life are you living below your ability??

The more we understand how we’re created and what makes us tick, the better we can decide how to invest our lives during the years we’re blessed with.  Because it’s challenging to know what to do with something when we don’t understand how it works.

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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.

Challenging Assumptions

I love going to lectures and presentations to hear people talk about topics I’m interested in.  However, I’ve always lamented the fact that the towns around me didn’t offer such events.  My thinking has been that I need to move to a bigger city if I want to be closer to this kind of experience, because the region I live in just doesn’t support lectures and speakers.

That’s what I use to think… until starting looking.

A couple of weeks ago I got online and really started  to investigate to see if there were any types of lectures going on in and around the area I live.  I was surprised at how many opportunities there are every week to hear people speak on a wide range of interesting topics.  I found people talking about planets in the solar system, art history, world events and a whole bunch of other interesting topics.   (I know those topics probably sound kind of geeky, but I like them.)  I have no shortage of interesting events to attend!

I was amazed at how much is available and how false my assumption was.  It caused me to wonder what other false assumptions, beliefs, and mindsets I’m carrying around and how they might be limiting me.

Have you ever held a belief or assumption, only to have it proven false?  These assumptions can occur in many areas of our life, including:

  • Relationships
  • Career
  • Personality ability
  • Religion
  • World View

I think it’s good to challenge assumptions that hold us back and determine whether or not they are really true.  It keeps us from getting stuck in a rut that limits our growth and potential.

Start to challenge your potentially false assumptions with investigation and action.  You may find many of them to be false barriers keeping you from the life you want.

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.

The Intersection

On Monday evening January 12th Ohio State played the University of Oregon for the College Football National Championship in Dallas Texas.  What struck me most about the game was not the score or the collective ability of each team, but the very clear life lesson that was on display during the game.  The lesson was that great things happen at the intersection of preparation and opportunity.

Although I was rooting for the University of Oregon, myself being from Oregon, I was really impressed with the performance of the Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones.

Consider this:

  • The National Championship game was only his the 3rd college start as quarterback
  • At the beginning of the season, he was the 3rd string quarterback on his team

I was amazed by these facts while watching the game.  While on the biggest stage in college football, Jones showed the command and poise of a seasoned quarterback.  He didn’t look like a 3rd string quarterback, or someone who had only started 3 games.  He looked like he belonged there.  Was he perfect?  No.  Did he make mistakes?  For sure!  However, he was able to step in for his team when his number was called late in the season and perform extremely well.  Well enough to help win a National Championship.

It is obvious from his performance that he had been practicing and preparing for the opportunity.  His preparation intersected with his opportunity, and great things happened.

If Jones hadn’t been diligent in practice while he was still the 3rd string quarterback, he never would have done so well when he got the nod to lead the offense.  Imagine what a different outcome Jones would have had if he had said, “Once I’m the starting quarterback, then I’ll really start practicing!  However, since I’m only the 3rd string, there’s really no point in doing my best at practice.”  Jones had great performances during his 3 starts because he put in the effort to prepare himself in practice; to be ready for the opportunity, even when he didn’t see one or know that one was coming.

What about you?  Are there areas where you need to begin preparing for a future opportunity?  Is there a class you need to take, a habit or discipline you need to develop or stop?  Is there a reading, networking, exercise, or eating plan you need to get on?  If so, begin today.  Don’t’ delay and think, “I’ll start preparing when I see an opportunity.”  That kind of thinking leaves out half of the intersection equation:  There can be no greatness-causing intersection between preparation and opportunity if opportunity shows up alone.

So begin preparing today for the opportunities you seek in the future.  My guess is that, if you’re preparing, the opportunities are closer than you think.