Adding or Subtracting

I had a great Thanksgiving this year.  In the morning we had brunch with a small gathering at our house and in the afternoon we had dinner with family at my sister in-law’s house.  Both events were enjoyable and it was fun to see everyone and spend some time together.  It was a nice Thanksgiving.

At my sister in-law’s, there was a family member who was absent, due to illness and declining health.  Toward the end of the evening my sister in-law commented that it was nice not having the family member present because that way she didn’t feel on edge wondering if they were going get upset and start yelling, as they so often have in the past, thus turning what should be a fun family event into an awkward, tension filled evening.  This was clearly a case of addition by subtraction; the absence of this family member made for a more enjoyable evening for everyone else.

As I reflected on this comment, I couldn’t help think of my interactions with others and wonder if there have been times where an event would have been enhanced by my absence.  To think that the answer to this question would be “Yes”, is an awful feeling, especially if those answering are family and the people closest to me.  I never want my absence from a gathering or event to be considered addition by subtraction.

This seems like a pretty easy scenario to avoid.  If you want to be seen as someone whose presence adds to an event, then employ the following suggestions the next time you gather with family or friends:

  • Be kind to others. Greet people by name when you arrive.    Shake hands or give out hugs.  Let others in attendance know you’re glad to be part of the event with them.
  • Take the focus off of yourself and place it on others. Ask how people are doing and what they’re up to, and show an interest in their reply.  If you know of somewhere they’ve been recently, or something currently going on in their life, ask them about it and then listen to and comment on their reply.
  • Enjoy the moment and be present with the people you’re with. Put down the smartphone.  Wait until you get home to check social media.  Instead of being so eager to inform everyone who’s NOT at the event about what’s going on, engage and connect with those present.  That’s the ultimate in social media.

As you attend different events this holiday season, do so with the intent of being someone who’s presence enhances the event for others attending.  Let it be said of you that events which you attended were much more enjoyable because of your presence.   What a great gift to give people this holiday season.

Art and Artists

A couple of months ago my wife and I were on vacation, hiking in Southern Utah.  While we were passing through the small community of Bluff UT, we stopped in at Comb Ridge Coffee for lunch.  While we were there, I bought a tumbler created by one of the local artists.  I was captivated by its shape, colors and feel and have enjoyed drinking ice water from it every day since arriving home.  Not only is it a functional beverage container, it is a beautiful piece of art.

Tumbler

At first, it seems strange to refer to a beverage container as art.  Usually when I think of art, an image of a painting usually comes to mind, or a song, photograph, or statue.  However, art can be broadly defined to include anything done to an exceptional level or an extraordinary degree.

With this new art paradigm, my boundaries of what art is just exploded!  Now, I see so much art around me.  Things I never would have considered art before.  Things like:

  • Quality relationships
  • Exceptional marriages
  • Extraordinary parenting
  • Superior leadership

In addition to my expanded definition of art, I also now see myself as an artist.  Not as one who always creates exceptional or extraordinary results, but as one who is simply striving to do so.

It’s easy to tell ourselves, “I’m not an artist because I can’t draw, paint, sing …”, but that’s no longer true.  This new paradigm, where anything done to an exceptional level or extraordinary degree is art, grants all of us great opportunity to become artists of our own lives.  No longer is our form of artistic expression limited to paint, canvas, or clay.  Now we can be artistic with the words we use to communicate, the care we take in building and cultivating important relationships, or the method we use to learn and explore the environment around us.

Today, begin seeing yourself as an artist and your life as the medium for creating a beautiful work of art.  The world needs the beauty of the art you are capable of creating.

Worrying About What Might Happen

Can you imagine spending $525,600 on a device that lets you know if a meteor is going to crash into your head?  That would be ridiculous, right?  Why would someone spend that kind of money on an event that will most likely never occur?

We do the very same thing whenever we worry about something that is out of our control.  Check out these numbers that illustrate the high cost of worrying:

  • 1 day spent worrying costs 1,440 minutes of your life
  • 1 month of worrying costs 43,200 minutes of your life
  • 1 year of worrying costs 525,600 minutes of your life

That’s staggering!  Those numbers represent the price we pay to worry about something we can’t control instead of using that time for positive thinking, planning, relationship building, or personal growth and development.   The price of unproductive worry is indeed high!

So what can we do if we find ourselves tempted to start worrying about something that is out of our control?  The following steps offer timeless guidance on this topic:

First, determine the worst case scenario and prepare to accept it.  This is great advice Dale Carnegie wrote about on the topic of worry.  It is helpful to consider the worst case scenario because once you know what it is; you have a framework from which to begin problem solving.

Next, create a plan to improve on the worst case scenario.  Are there any corrective or preventative steps you can take to improve the worst case scenario?  If so, take those steps immediately.

Finally, stop worrying about it, fill your mind with positive encouraging content, and go live your life and.  If you’ve accepted the possibility of the worst case scenario and have done all you can do to influence it, then there’s nothing more you can do.  This is the point to stop worrying, because it no longer serves a purpose.  Instead of worrying, spend that time filling your mind with positive encouraging words to help improve your outlook.  It may be talking to encouraging people or listening to positive music or reading something positive.  I specifically like reading the Psalms to help alleviate worry, as there is always one that is relevant to my specific concern.

Here’s another thought to consider when you begin to worry.  According to Earl Nightingale, only 8% of what we worry about are legitimate worries!  The other 92% are what he calls, “[…]pure fog with no substance at all.”

Do we really want to spend 525,600 minutes a year worrying, especially when most worries are beyond our control or unlikely to occur?  When confronted with worry, take a moment and realize how costly worry can be in wasted minutes.  Minutes that could be spent on more personally profitable endeavors and can never be reclaimed once spent.

Where are Your Decisions Leading You

Think about the all the small decisions you make on a daily basis and project those decisions out 1, 5, or 10 years into the future, and ask yourself:

  • What kind of physical shape will I be in?
  • Will I have improved my thinking, learning and personal development?
  • How will my relationships with the ones closest to me look?
  • What kind of spiritual condition will I be in?
  • How will my financial health look?

All of these areas of our lives matter and they are influenced by our daily decisions.  Our choices, whether good or bad, may not have an immediate impact for days, months, or even longer, but eventually the compounding effect of these decisions will become noticeable.  For example, if every day we’re making unhealthy decisions, a health related crisis is coming that will demand our attention.  If however, we’re taking care of our bodies and making wise choices regarding our health, we can look forward to a healthy body that will serve us well in the years ahead.

Small daily decisions yield significant results over time.  Where are your daily decisions leading you?

Take in the Experience

I love to hike, and since I live in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, I’m fortunate to get a large dose of natural scenic beauty on a regular basis.  My favorite hiking destinations are the ones that reward hikers for their effort with a commanding view and breathtaking scenery.  Starting early in the morning on a challenging hike to a much anticipated viewpoint is one of my favorite ways to spend a day.  The anticipation of the view and then finally seeing it with my own eyes is exhilarating.  For me, it’s one of those events that make me thankful to be alive.

Three Sisters Wilderness

Three Sisters Wilderness

One thing I’ve noticed about myself in recent years is that when I reach one of these viewpoints, I immediately begin taking pictures of the scene.  Depending on the view, I can easily take over 100 pictures in my attempt to capture the beautiful scene before me.  I don’t want to miss a single detail!

Inevitably, after several minutes at my feverish picture-taking pace, I begin to hear a voice inside of me saying, “Hey, enough pictures.  Just stop, and take in the experience.”

At that point I put the camera away and just take in the experience with all of my senses.  I literally feast my eyes on the scene before me, noticing shapes, colors, contrasts and myriad other details that I had missed while seeing it through the screen of a digital camera.  I listen to the whooshing sound of the wind as it blows through the tops of pine trees or across the face of a rock-exposed mountain.  I hear the unique sound that a river makes as water curls over a rock and collapses back on itself.  There are also the tactile feelings and fresh smells of the surrounding environment that make for a complete experience.  All of these things I would have missed, had I continued taking pictures.

Those hiking experiences always cause me to wonder what else I may be missing out on in my non-hiking life when I don’t stop and take in the experience.  Where am I busily rushing around, forgetting to stop and enjoy the surrounding environment, event, or people I’m with?  Hiking is good for me in that respect.  It provides me with a mental reset, a reminder to be mindful about taking in the experience, no matter what I’m doing.

What about you?  Are there areas of your life where your too busy “taking pictures” that you’re forgetting to stop and take in the experience?  Start becoming mindful about what you’re doing and who you’re with.  Decide now that although you’ll take some pictures along the way, you’ll also be sure to put the camera down and take in the experience as well.

Do This Well

Every so often a significant life event comes along that is out of the ordinary and demands more from us than habitual, automatic responses we usually employ during the routine of daily life. Examples of these events can range anywhere from:

  • An major illness or diagnosis of yourself or a loved one
  • A divorce
  • The impending death of someone close
  • A conflict at work or in a community that has potential to get ugly

No matter what the event is, it’s usually out of our normal routine, emotionally charged, and demands our engagement.

In the past I use to react to these situations based on whatever emotion I was feeling at the time.  Although it was easy, it never produced the outcome I wanted.

About 6 years ago I found myself in a leadership position in the middle of a large community disagreement.  Sides were being taken up and I could see early that it would be getting ugly before it got better.  In the midst of the rapid decline, I remember thinking to myself that although this is going to be a difficult, emotional situation, as far as for me, I want to “do this well”.

For me the standard that I use to define “well” are the principles and guidance found in scripture.  With scripture as my standard, I have a benchmark to measure whether or not I am treating others with respect, understanding, and grace; whether or not I am “doing this well”.

By deciding to “do this well” early in a bad situation, I am mindful and deliberate in my choice of words and actions.  I am constantly aware of keeping my emotions in check and not lashing out and saying or doing something hurtful that could have long-term relational implications well after the situation is over.

Does deciding that I want to “Do this well” mean I handle everything perfectly?  Not in my case!  Does it mean that people will never get upset with me?  Hardly!  What I strive for in these situations is for people involved to say, “I may not agree with what he said, or how he handled that, but I will say, he was respectful to me and was not out to intentionally cause harm to me or others involved.”

“He did that well.”

We are blessed to be able to choose how we respond to a situation, so why not decide to “do this well” during life’s difficult situations?  Why not choose to treat people with respect, understanding, and grace?

The next time you face a challenging life situation, decide early that you’re going to do this well.  Not only will you set yourself up to see the positive and hidden blessings that exist within the situation, you’ll also come out of it better equipped to handle the next challenging situation life has for you.

Do this well!

An Opportunity to Practice

When I think of someone practicing, I think of a golfer going to the driving range, or in musician dedicating time to practice with their chosen instrument.  But what if you want to work on your human relations and communications skills, or develop some personal habits to live a healthier lifestyle?  How do you practice those skills?

Suppose I told you that you could practice skills like these during the course of your day, without setting aside a specific time to do so.  Interested?  Read on.

Every day we have untold opportunity’s to practice a behavior or develop a habit, simply by actively seeking out opportunity’s to do so.  For example:

  • Do you have a co-worker you struggle to communicate with? See every interaction with that person as a practice session to try a new techniques or method and improve your communication skills.
  • Are you trying to overcome shyness? Look for opportunities to practice overcoming shyness by starting up a conversation with a new person each day, or simply up start by saying “hello” to someone new.
  • What if you’re trying to lose weight or eat healthier? Look at each meal, snack, or craving as an opportunity to practice a healthy alternative.

What personal skills that you’re trying to develop would benefit from more practice?  Have you identified it?  Good!  How look for opportunities in your everyday routine to practice those skills.  However, if you really want to speed up your progress, seek out multiple opportunities every day.

Once you start looking, you’ll find numerous opportunities to practice the habits and behaviors you want to improve.  Before you know it, you’ll find yourself more competent and growing ever-closer to becoming the person you strive to be.

Choose the Real Thing Instead of a Cheap Imitation

If cost were no issue, which would you rather have:

  • An authentic Rolex or a cheap knock off
  • The Hope diamond or a rhinestone
  • An authentic painting by Rembrandt or an imitation

We all want the real thing instead of a cheap imitation, right?  Then why do we so willingly exchange real, authentic, in-person interactions with those closest to us, for a cheap imitation of social media and electronic communication with people who aren’t even there?

Before we go any further, let me just say that I am not against social media, e-mail, texting, or any other form of electronic communication.  I use many of them myself, and think they are great tools for communicating and staying connected.  However, I do think they are a barrier to communication when we use these tools while in the presence of our loved ones, taking our attention away from them, in order to observe the lives of other people that aren’t even present.

We’ve all seen the couple or group setting together at a restaurant or public place, where someone in the party has their face buried in their smart phone, totally ignoring everyone around them.  They obviously think enough of the person or people they’re with to be seen in public together.  Yet the smart phone appears to be more interesting, more important, than the people they are physically present with.

What kind of message does this send to the people we’re with when we consciously choose to interrupt our interaction with them in order to answer the slightest noise or vibration from our smart phone?  Does this make them feel valued, appreciated, respected, or loved?  Perhaps, but I doubt it.

One of my greatest experiences of someone showing me value and respect was early in my career, before smart phones were even popular.  I was new in my position and needed guidance from Anne, an expert in her department who was in high demand as a senior talent at our organization.  I scheduled some time on her calendar and was sitting in her office as she was explaining how our systems and applications work.  During our meeting her phone rang, but Anne didn’t budge.  Normally, people in our organization would have just answered the phone, regardless of whether someone was sitting in their office, so I was kind of expecting her to do likewise.  After a couple of rings I said, “Did you want to get that?”  Her answer blew me away.  Still ignoring the ringing phone, she said, “No.  I’m talking with you right now.”

I can’t remember a time since then in my professional career when I have felt more acknowledged, valued, and appreciated than Anne made me feel that day, all by simply giving me her uninterrupted attention.

Is there someone in your life who would love to feel valued and appreciated by the gift of your uninterrupted attention?  Starting today, look for opportunities to unplug from the grid momentarily and simply enjoy being in the presence, the uninterrupted presence, of those you love and care for.  Choose the genuine, authentic experience of being an active participant who is focused on the person or people that are present with you, instead of settling for a cheap imitation of being a virtual spectator to someone else’s life who isn’t even there.  The people you’re with will notice.  Your actions will tell them that you value and care enough about them to give them your undivided attention.

What a great gift to give to others… as well as to receive.

Just Pick One

Have you ever been overwhelmed by a large number of choices available to a decision you had to make?  I have.

I can remember, several years ago, when my wife Mickey and I trying to decide what color to paint some rooms in our house.  There were so many choices at the paint counter.  Who knew there were 10,000 shades of brown to choose from! We couldn’t decide which color would be “just perfect”, so we ultimately put off the decision until the following year, where we would again repeat the process for a few more years.

The same thing has happened in selecting travel destinations.  There are so many great places to go that Mickey and I, in the past, had a hard time picking a destination.  As a result, we’d put off a decision and wind up not going anywhere for the entire year.  We missed out on a lot of opportunities to travel and see new things as a result of the indecision caused by being overwhelmed with choices.

Here’s something I’ve learned through these experiences:  It doesn’t matter that you pick the “perfect” color or travel destination.  What matters is that you make a choice and move ahead.

It helps to realize that for a large majority of the choices we have to make:

  • There isn’t just one, single, perfect choice.
  • If we make a bad choice, we can always re-evaluate and make another choice later.
  • The most important thing is to make a decision and take action.

Is there a decision you need to make where you’re overwhelmed with a large number of potential choices?  If so, realize that there are likely several great choices you can make, versus only a single, perfect choice.  So make a choice and take action today.  You can always make a different choice later.  However, you’ll probably find that the choice you initially made was indeed a good one, if not great or even perfect.

A Compelling Why

We give up way too easy.  It’s simple to begin a new pursuit or activity, but often, after the fun and excitement wears off, we abandon our efforts and give up.

Perhaps we do this because there are so many things competing for our attention.  As soon as we discover something new, we’re captivated by something else that has caught our attention.  More likely, when we’re faced with actually doing the work, we quickly find out how committed to we really are… or aren’t.

I’ve struggled with starting new ventures and not following through, usually due to 1 or both of the reasons described above.  Now, before I begin a new pursuit, I determine:

  • If I has a compelling reason why I want to do it
  • If I have the commitment, as well as the time, to daily do the work required to achieve success

I’ve decided that I must have a compelling reason; a compelling “Why”.  A reason why I want this?  Without a good answer to that question, it’s too easy to quit before starting or when things start to get tough.  So, without a compelling “Why”, I move on to something else.

Once I’ve decided to start, I gauge my commitment by thinking of the acrostic FOCUS:

Follow

One

Course

Until

Successful

 

This reminds me that it is not about starting new things, but about following through on those things I’ve started until successful.  I find that if I don’t adopt this mindset, I’ll often start a bunch of new ventures but achieve success in few, if any.

 

So what about you?  Do you tend to start ventures and fail to complete them?  It could be you started without a compelling “Why” or even the commitment required to be successful.  If that’s the case, start being aware of why you’re doing something and whether you’re committed to seeing it through to success.  If you are, GREAT!  It’s time to get started.  If not, that’s great too.  Just keep looking for something where you have both a compelling “Why” and the commitment.  Then when you find it, dive in and give it your best.