See What’s Inside

A Few years ago, my wife and I started looking more closely at nutrition labels on packaged food.  Specifically, we started paying attention to the ingredients to see what’s actually inside some of the food we were consuming.  We were shocked!

It was, and continues to be amazing to us how foods that are packaged as “healthy” or “good for you” can contain so many ingredients to the contrary.  Simple foods you’d expect would only contain a couple of ingredients often contain so many ingredients, many of which we can’t even pronounce.  We stopped eating foods with longs lists of ingredients we couldn’t pronounce.

The lesson we learned is that if we want to know if something is good for us, we need to make the effort to read the ingredients in order to “see” what’s inside, because a quick glance at the packaging can be deceiving.

I think it’s like that with people too.  We often can’t tell what someone’s like just from appearances, because appearances, much like food packaging, don’t always give an accurate picture of what’s inside.  A quick glance at appearances will tell you very little about:

  • Character
  • Integrity
  • Attitude
  • Mindset
  • Compassion
  • Beliefs
  • Ambitions

To get a glimpse of what’s on the inside of a person we need to pay attention to their:

  • Speech
  • Habits
  • Interactions with others
  • Actions
  • Responses to different scenarios

Just like knowing what’s inside the food we eat, so we can make good choices, we should know what’s inside the people we’re surrounding ourselves with.  And while we’re at it, wouldn’t hurt to take a look at ourselves to know what’s inside of us as well.

Collecting and Applying New Ideas

For the last few years I’ve struggled with how I can remember all the great knowledge, insight, and wisdom I read in books.  Sure, I make notes and mark up the pages I read, but isn’t there a better system for cataloging all the great information I read in the course of a year?  Lately, I’ve come to realize that I’ve been asking the wrong question.

Instead of focusing on how I can recall the information I read, what would happen if instead I continued to fill my mind with good ideas, thoughts, and perspectives, and let them influence my thinking?

When I think about it, I really don’t need to get better at recalling information.  That’s Google’s job!  Instead, I should be focusing on how I can improve my thinking a little bit every day.  To do that, I’ve started to approach reading as a treasure hunt for good thoughts and ideas.  It’s pretty easy to identify them, as they often leap off the page.  The question then becomes what do I do with these good ideas once I’ve identified them?

Once I’ve been exposed to a new thought or idea, the best way I know to make use of it is to immediately start thinking where in my life I can apply it.  Underlining or highlighting it in the book and then moving on with the reading doesn’t really help solidify it.  You have to allow time to think or journal about the idea and its application in specific areas of your life.  This will cause the idea to take root and become part of your thought process; a new tool in your “thinking tool belt” that will influence how you think in the future.

I love the quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes that states,

The human mind, once stretched to a new idea, never goes back to its original dimensions.

Instead of reading to simply acquire more knowledge, let’s start focusing on collecting and applying ideas that will improve our thought process and mindset over the long term.

And think about this:  How much would your thinking improve in 1 year if you read just one book a month and from each book gleaned and applied 2 good ideas?

Let’s find out!

Independence Day

This Monday July 4th the United States will celebrate Independence Day, when this country’s founders declared their independence from British rule.  Independence Day was a significant event for this country, as it marked a change in direction from the way things had been toward a new direction the world had never seen.

As I think about this holiday, I can’t help think about the things in our own life that we can declare independence from.  These may include:

  • Unhealthy habits
  • Negative environments
  • Limiting beliefs
  • Toxic relationships
  • Societal pressures
  • The status quo

The founders of the United States could have decided that things were really “not that bad” or “good enough as they were” and gone with the flow.  Instead, they had a vision of something better and chose to declare their independence from British rule.

What’s encouraging is that we have the same capacity to choose independence for ourselves.

Where in your life would you benefit from declaring independence?  Determine what that area is and take action to become independent and begin changing the course of your life for the better.

My Own Senseless Expectations

A couple of days ago I held a door at work open for someone who was pushing a cart full of computer equipment.  As I held the door, he gave a broad smile, walked through, and didn’t say, “Thank you”.   That kind of bothered me.

In my mind, I immediately had thoughts of:

  • Giving a sarcastic “You’re welcome”
  • How I should have let him get the door himself
  • How he must obviously be a self-centered jerk

Pretty petty, huh?

It was amazing how fast these thoughts flooded my mind.  Perhaps that says more about me and areas I need to work on than it does about him.

About 10 minutes later I saw the same guy pushing the cart heading my way.  As we got close enough to make eye contact, he gave me a big, kind smile, as if to say, “I remember you and what you did for me a few minutes ago!”  I smiled and nodded.  I now felt like it was me who was the jerk.

As I thought back on our earlier encounter at the door, I realized that my negative thoughts toward him arose because he hadn’t responded the way I thought he should have in that specific situation.  I felt a verbal, “Thank you” was in order, so that’s what I expected.  However, his, “Thank you”, came in the form of a broad smile.  My negative reaction and thoughts were totally unwarranted and robbed me of several minutes of joy I could have otherwise been experiencing.

It was a clear reminder that the world does not operate according to my interpretation of how things should be done.  Also, it made me check my motives.  Was I holding the door open to receive praise and thanks, as I saw fit, or was I don’t it because it was the kind, honoring thing to do for a fellow human being, regardless of whether I received a positive response?

When we get frustrated because people don’t respond to something exactly as we would like them to, we are setting ourselves up to potentially damage relationships.  Instead of realizing the uniqueness of others and allowing them to express their uniqueness, we box them into our own expectations.

I know I wouldn’t appreciate others boxing me in like that, so what gives me the right to do that to others?  The answer… is “nothing”.

Let’s work at dropping our senseless expectations that everyone should and respond the way we think they should.  Let’s instead start appreciating the uniqueness of others and allowing them to express it.  Because, wouldn’t we all like the seam kindness shown to us

Taking a Different Path

OpenRoad

Exploring new paths

My wife and I were recently in Southeastern Arizona around Tucson and Bisbee visiting new sites and exploring the area.  Neither of us had been there, so it was energizing to experience new sites and surroundings every day and travel down paths that we had never experienced.  It got me thinking:  Why aren’t I making a greater effort to break out of my daily routine and experience new things during my non-vacation days?

It is incredibly easy to develop routines in the midst of our everyday lives.  Deciding where we go and what we do can become automatic to the point that we actually don’t decide on these things, but rather succumb to the routines we’ve already established.    While there are some benefits to a well-established routine, I think we could also benefit from shaking up elements of our routines that are keeping us from new and potentially enjoyable experiences.

Here are a few small examples of how we might go about changing up our daily routine:

  • Do you always eat at the same restaurant or go to the same coffee shop every day?  Instead of going to the same national chains, why not trying something different and visit a locally owned establishment.  Maybe even get in the habit of not eating at or getting coffee from at the same place within the same month.
  • Instead of driving the same route to work, school, or while running errands, consider taking a new route, or even a new mode of transportation like a bike, walking, or public transit.
  • Are you always watching the same types of shows or movies? Why not instead attend a play or go to the symphony or a concert in a genre that is different from what you usually listen to.
  • Get to know people beyond your current comfortable group of friends.
  • Read books or listen to podcasts from people or on topics you wouldn’t normally consider, or whose views might be a little different from your own.

Why can’t every week be filled with excitement and new experiences that stretch and grow us?  Why can’t we travel down new and interesting paths during the course of our everyday lives?  The good news is we can, if we choose to do so.

Look for opportunities every week to experience something new and different that will expand your understanding, increase your knowledge or just make you a more interesting person.  They’re out there.  We just have to break out of our routines to find them.

Life is Better When We Bring Others Along

My life is much more enjoyable when I am interacting and connecting with others.  I would much rather bring people along as I travel through life than take the journey as a solitary traveler.  But how do we go about bringing others along on our life journey?  Below are 4 suggestions for building connections with the people you’re going through life with:

Include them in what’s going on in your life

Share significant news with those closest to you.  Don’t let them hear it through the grapevine.  Give people some details about what you’re up to when they ask, instead of just saying, “Not much” or “I’m fine”.  You don’t need to give a full account of every detail, or dump a bunch of bad news on folks, but let them know what you’re up to.  How can we be encouraged or comforted by others, or be encouraging or comforting to others,  if we don’t let each other know what’s going on in our lives?

Be interested in what others are doing

Going through life with others is not an exercise in collecting a supporting cast for ourselves.  It is bi-directional.  There is communication, concern, and caring that goes both ways.  The best way we can show interest in others is to listen to them when they are telling us about something going on in their life.  We can ask questions, not just for the sake of asking, but to learn more about them and how they’re feeling, what makes them tick, and what’s important to them.  I think one of the greatest gifts we can give people is our genuine interested attention.

Ask people for help

People want to help those they know and like.  For some reason thought, it is difficult to ask others for help, even when we could really use it.  We need to work at getting better at asking for help.  There’s no benefit to being a Lone Ranger, thinking we can figure a situation out all on our own.  Plus, we rob others of the opportunity to be a potential blessing to us with the assistance they could provide.

Treat people well

Thank others when they assist or bless you.  Tell them something you like or admire about them.   Send an email, write a letter, or make a phone call of encouragement, gratitude, appreciation, or comfort.  Depending on your relationship with them, let them know you love them.

When done genuinely, all of these steps require a degree of vulnerability.  That vulnerability comes from taking a risk to open up and share our real-self with others.  In doing so, we also give others a safe place to do likewise with us.

Coming in Second Place

I don’t mind coming in second place, as long as I know that I’ve done my best.  However, there is nothing more frustrating than coming in second place to a smartphone.

Has it ever happened to you?  You’re interacting with another person when all at once, they stop interacting with you in order to respond to incessant smartphone notifications.   Worse yet, without even being prompted by a notification, they decide that interacting with you would be a good time to check social media updates, look at email, or see if any new texts have arrived.

Maybe you’ve even been with someone who is close to you who would rather pull out their smartphone and totally zone out, all but forgetting that you are present and eager to interact with them.

What’s up with that?

What kind of messages are we sending to people when we use our smartphones take priority over our interactions with them?  Those coming in second place to a smartphone are likely thinking:

  • Do they think I’m boring?
  • Would they rather be doing something else than being here with me?
  • Why did they agree to get together when they’d rather be on their phone than interact with me?
  • Are they looking to see what others are doing that is more exciting than what they’re doing right now?
  • What’s so exciting on your phone that you can’t put it down long enough to have a real person-to-person interaction?
  • This is the last time I’ll agree to get together with them in person. I’d get a better response if I just sent them a text.

I don’t know if people are intentionally trying to kill human interaction when they do these things.  My guess is that they are not even aware that they are putting their smartphone in first place.  Perhaps they’re just choosing the path of least resistance, because for some, human interaction is work.

Here are a couple of suggestions to ensure that we’re putting the people we’re with in first place:

  • Put your smartphone in airplane mode before you meet the other person
  • Keep your smartphone out of site during your interaction. Sometimes just the site of your smartphone can cause the other person to think you’re expecting a call, text, or social media update.
  • Don’t be so quick to want to find the answer to every question raised. They don’t all need to be answered on the spot.  Sometimes it ok if they’re not answered at all.  Sometimes it’s ok just to wonder.
  • If you truly would rather not spend time with the person, then don’t agree to. That would be a much kinder solution than putting them in second place.

Let’s put those we’re with in first place by giving them the gift of our undistracted attention.  Not only will they appreciate it, they will be likely do the same for you.

What’s Guiding You?

Trains are a powerful, efficient way to move large amounts of goods and people from one place to another.  The economies of many countries rely heavily on them to do just that, and those economies would be severely impacted if trains were all of a sudden not available.

As important as trains are, what enables them to be so effective are the tracks they run on.

RR

Think about that.  A big, powerful train requires the guidance a track provides, in order to travel swiftly and safely from Point A to Point B.  Without the guidance of a track, a train is rendered useless.

Although we don’t require the guidance of a physical track as a train does, I would suggest that we could all use a “track” of sorts, to help guide us as we travel through life.  However, the guidance I’m suggesting is less tangible than a physical track, and would take the form of something like:

  • Sound principles
  • Sacred writings
  • Wise teaching
  • Examples from people who have lived well

For me, I choose to be guided by the teachings and principles in Bible.  Its wisdom and instruction, much like a track for a train, provide me with the direction I need for any situation I may face.

What are you using to guide you as you travel through life?  We are all guided by something, even if we haven’t chosen what that “something” is.  In the absence of a specific choice, we’re likely to be guided by things like:

  • Convenience
  • Peer pressure
  • Popular opinion
  • Expectations of others

Decide today what will guide your life.  Once you do, you’ll be on track to better navigate the ups, downs, and day-to-day occurrences of your life’s journey.

How Will You Live Them?

According to the World Health Organization, the overall life expectancy in the United States is 79 years.  That’s a long time!  What’s encouraging to me is no matter what our life expectancy, we get to choose how we live our years.

Think about that for a moment.  We get to choose:

  • How we will spend our time
  • What areas of interest we will pursue
  • What we will study and learn
  • The skills we will develop
  • The attitude and world view we will adopt
  • How we will treat others
  • Our level of intellectual development and learning
  • Who we will spend time with
  • What contribution we will make in the world
  • The experiences we’ll have
  • Whether or not we will stretch out of our comfort zone

What a significant and exciting responsibility!  We get to choose what we do with our years and how they will shape us, now and in the future.

Last Sunday, my pastor was preaching on a similar topic regarding life expectancy and what we do with the years we’re given.  During his sermon, he made the following statement:

Don’t live one year 79 times.”

That got my attention.

The statement reminds me that as we get older, we are not required to grow, develop, discover, learn, and get better with each passing year.  That’s optional.  It is something we get to decide to do, or not.  I am also reminded that growth is not automatic.  Getting better as we age doesn’t just happen; rather it takes intentional action from us.

What is automatic is being exactly the same at the end of a year as you were at the beginning.  Unless we decide, and take action on how we will spend our years, we can be assured we will be exactly the same this year as we were last year.  And so on, for as long as we choose not to be intentional with how we spend them.  Without intentional effort, the current year will look just like the previous one.

What are you looking forward to in 2016?  Is there anything you’d like to attain, learn, experience, or become this year that you didn’t in 2015?  If so, start planning specific actions you can take throughout the year to become better this year than you were last year.

Seventy nine years is a long time, but it sure feels like they go quick; and even more so the older we get!  Let’s decide today to learn, grow, and become better as we get older.   Aging and getting better doesn’t always go hand in hand.  If we’re not intentional about getting better, then age comes alone.

Daily Behavioral Goals

I’ve been thinking about my goal setting for 2016 and have decided to try something a little different this year.  While I will still have goals in the 7 areas of Zig Ziglar’s Wheel of Life, I think I’m going to also adopt some daily behavioral goals that I can focus on every day.  Here’s what I’m talking about.

Usually my goals consist of targets that I’m trying to achieve in a month, quarter, or year.  That’s good, but I also want to have goals that will help me daily to become more like the person I want to be.  For these areas of my life I am putting together behavioral goals that I plan on demonstrating every day.

For example, a behavioral goal I have for the year is to be a more engaging husband.  The behaviors for achieving this goal look like one or more of the following:

  • I will make sure I’m giving my wife at least 15 uninterrupted minutes every day where I am communicating and giving her my full attention.
  • My attitude toward her will be positive and liberally sprinkled with words and actions that show love and acceptance versus judgement and frustration.
  • My thoughts toward her will also be positive and I will not expect that her thinking or actions should be the same as mine. See last week’s blog.

When I lay my pillow down at the end of each day, I will easily be able to tell whether or not I achieved my goal of being a more engaged husband.  All I have to do is ask whether or not I did one or more of these behaviors today.  If the answer is, “Yes”, nice work!  I achieved my behavioral goal that day.  If the answer is, “No”, then I have an opportunity to do better at it the next day.  What’s cool is that even if my answer is, “Yes”, I still have an opportunity to do better the next day!

Daily behavioral goals give you immediate feedback.  They can also pave the way for stringing several days of success together, which will ultimately lead to the formation of a good habit.  With each good habit we work toward and form, we become more like the person we want to be.  We become an even better version of our self.

Are there any behavioral goals you’d like to start working on that will help you form some good habits?  I’d suggest starting with just one and focusing on it for several weeks until you start having several days of success, then focus on another behavioral goal.  Repeat this process until December 31, 2016, and then on January 1, 2017, begin the process anew.

Use the power of daily behavioral goals to get immediate feedback as you journey toward being the best version of yourself.  There’s no need to wait for 1 year to see if you’ll hit your goal.  You’ll be able to tell as soon as you go to bed this evening.