Saturday, October 22, 2011

Build it and They Will Come

A simple blog isn't enough. We need action, we need motivation and encouragement. I've moved the blog to it's own website:

Growing, learning, and improving is the goal. The first thing that I needed to do to make progress toward a goal is to define the goal–and in this case, to define the categories. This site is devoted to encouraging people to grow, learn, and balance their lives in the 7 major components of life:

On the new site, I have the blog to share my thoughts on the key areas, some information on my background and purpose, and forums so that we can build a community of encouraging, motivating, passionate individuals.

I want your help. I need you to join this group and encourage people to eat well, to get jobs, to read, to build business, to pray, to study, to smile, and to work on the unbalanced parts of life that we struggle with every day. It’s a long journey–and a hard one–but it’s worth it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Learn Until You Die

My teachers always said nonsense about becoming a “life long learner.” I always chuckled to myself when they said funny stuff like that. My plan was to finish school off as soon as possible and never look back. My teachers had the facts a little off: everyone becomes a life long learner.

When I’m playing Fallout 3--killing irradiated insects in a post-apocalyptic world--I’m learning about a world that Bethesda Game Studios made. I’m learning where to find stashes of ammunition and how many super mutants I can take on without using up my health packs. When I’m watching Lost, I’m learning about the characters, plot, and themes that the writers put into it.

Everyone is a life long learner. The problem isn’t learning, the problem is actually choosing topics intentionally.

Once I came to the realization that--like it or not--I’m going to spend the rest of my life learning, it just made sense that I’d want something useful jammed between my ears. On the up side, there are so many ways to learn. I learn soccer by playing. If I’m tired of playing, I can watch a video on dog breeding, or listen to a podcast on personal finance. I can take a class on speaking, go to a seminar on leading, read a book on coffee, interview someone about traveling, build a bed-frame, taste some wines, or sing a solo. Once I got off the couch, I found out there’s a whole world of exciting stuff out there.

So like it or not, we’re going to be lifetime learners. That hard part is deciding what kind we want to be. Don’t drift through, make a decision. What have you learned this week?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Naked and the Mirror

I always hated exercising. Traditional weight training is a wonderful thing for a lot of people--for a lot of people, the rush of powering through a set of reps will bring them back again and again with the added benefit of large chiseled muscles. Without the help of a trainer, I pushed myself too far, and the whole experience became nothing but painful frustration with zero results.

Luckily for me, I had a very active dad. He’s still more fit than me--he runs, bikes, skis, and does kettle-bells. My dad also eats fish, avocados, and almonds regularly. I remember one day when my sister made some off-handed comment about how Dad likes fish more than anyone else in the family--he responded by saying, “No, I don’t really like fish--I don’t mind it, but I know it’s good for me.” My dad’s side of the family has heart problems--even after the doctor told him that he was the healthiest 51-year-old he’d ever seen, my dad had to get a heart stent put in to avoid a heart attack. My dad has a little perspective and motivation to stay healthy.

The truth is, we all have limited time in the bodies we have--and you only get one. The better shape we keep them in, the longer they function, the better you feel. I don’t have to tell you that. The more I sit around eating candy, fat, and meat, the more miserably I interact with the world around me, and the more I exercise and eat proper portions of nutritious food, the more alive I feel. The problem is deciding to take steps one direction or the other. It’s hard to make those decisions on a day-to-day basis.

How do I get perspective and motivation? As a numbers guy, it helps me to see my running speeds increasing on a chart or my weight approach my optimum (and realistic) weight, but more motivating than that is something concrete--something we can see. What I’m about to say may shock you--cover your ears if you must: Stand naked in front of a full length mirror.

Stand naked in front of a full length mirror--with the light on, and your eyes open. Take an honest look at yourself, and when the self-criticizing voice dies down enough to have a rational thought, ask yourself a few questions: What part of this body do I like or enjoy? Am I destroying myself one potato chip at a time? I am responsible for this. I am the only one who will change it.

Like I said, I don’t like exercise. I need something with more team accountability--and cheaper than a trainer, so I joined a soccer league at work. Take small steps. Find things that you can add into your daily routine, but do something. It’s the only body you get, let’s at least make it one we like.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Two Kinds of No-Ohm Meditation

For a civilization as advanced as this one, we certainly have lost a lot of great ideals, practices, and ideas. One of the reasons that we keep losing ideas as a society is that each generation has to re-learn everything that the first one learned--then retain something new. One very precious practice that’s all but forgotten is meditation.

I’m not talking about sitting on a lotus blossom in the middle of a stone garden, legs crossed, repeating “Ohm” over and over for hours. As it turns out, there are at least two distinct kinds of meditation--both are extremely beneficial for stress management, mental exercise, and regaining perspective.

We push our minds every day to think a billion things--sometimes all at once. After a while, my mind is an endless hurricane of random, distracting, unhelpful thoughts. The first kind of meditation is somewhat related to the cross-legged “Ohm”-sayers. What they’re doing is clearing their minds of thought by concentrating on something simple--like steady breathing, the repeated “ohm” sound, or staring at a candle flame. The first 10 seconds are easy, but as attention drifts, all the other thoughts come blustering back in. It’s hard to focus on only a candle flame for 10 minutes, but the more often you do it the easier it is to bring your mind to a quiet place of peace instead of having to constantly distract yourself from the hurricane between your ears.

Here’s how to peace-meditate: Find a place where you won’t be distracted--I’m distracted by random noises, people, and technology. Unfortunately for me, that leaves my living room before anyone in the house is awake. Set a pleasant sounding alarm for yourself so you won’t be checking the clock. Get comfortable, but not comfortable enough to fall asleep--that means no laying down or back support for me. Close your eyes and take a few deep slow breaths. Focus on the one thing and discard all other thoughts. I focus on a mental image of a candle flame--I’m still a little weirded out by the “ohm” thing, but whatever works for you. Be patient with yourself--it will take time to focus for an extended time. When the alarm goes off, take a few more deep breaths and open your eyes.

With the internet at our fingertips, there is very little need to do deep thinking on our own. When we have a question--any question--we just type it into google and browse the top two or three most popular answers. We leave the hard stuff for the politicians, philosophers, theologians, and  bloggers. The second kind of meditation isn’t for clearing the mind but focusing it. Focus on a simple phrase, truth, or idea and think about it from all directions. Is it true in all circumstances? If so, does it effect how I should interact with the world? Take it to the extremes and then remember moderation. Be sure to keep the same focus--it’s hard to keep from wandering off into the daily to-do list or what’s on tv Thursday. Focus is such a lost art, let’s get it back.

Here’s how to focus-meditate: Find a short phrase that you want to explore--I use the words of Jesus or the proverbs of ancient kings. Go to that place without distractions, set your alarm, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths. Consider who the phrase was spoken to. How does it apply to government, family, work, friends, money? Do I live it out, should I? How would things be different if everyone lived this out? How would my life be different if I lived it? When the alarm goes off, take a few deep breaths and open your eyes. It would probably be useful to write down your thoughts.

Like I said earlier, it’s not easy. It’s frustrating. Why should it be so hard to clear my mind for 5 minutes--but I can’t make it past 30 before I fall asleep or catch myself thinking about how awesome it would be if I had a flying suit. Be patient, take a deep breath. It’s hard to focus on a thought and consider the full ramifications without jumping to what’s for dinner or that email I forgot to reply to. But peace, clarity, and focus are totally worth it.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Needs and Wants

Whenever I hear someone talk about the differences between needs and wants, I want to check and make sure my wallet’s still there. Whatever it is that you’re grabbing onto in your head--don’t worry, I’m not going to make you sell it or give it to charity.

One time in Indonesia, my dad, my older brother, and I were out looking for a crashed World War 2 fighter that locals claimed crashed on the more jungle-covered East side of the island toward the end of the war. We drove out to the beach and talked to some local fishermen about where we might find the relic.

It wasn’t long before we were all sitting on a mat talking and drinking the fresh coconut juice that they offered to us. After talking for a while and then saying our goodbyes, we continued on our adventure.

At the time, it didn’t strike me as odd, but looking back, those local fishermen had more than they needed--not by much, but they did. They had food, shelter, and some boats to get their work done. On top of that, they had rich friendships, healthy families, and a pile of coconuts. They even shared what little they had with us--the friendly wandering white guys.

We never found the World War 2 fighter, but even after all those years, I can look back and see that I really don’t need anything. When we look at it that way, we’re incredibly rich. There’s nothing wrong with being rich, so long as we keep things in perspective and spend intentionally.

My wife and I got married in college and decided early on to spend a week with each of our families for Christmas. The first Christmas was easy because we were only a few hours from her family in Fort Worth, Texas, and a plane ride from mine in Boise, Idaho.

My job took us to Iowa, and Christmases became more difficult. One year we decided to drive all four thousand miles with two dogs while still maintaining a week with each family. By the time we got back to Iowa, I needed another week to recover. If you asked my wife or me if seeing both families each Christmas was a want or a need, neither of us would hesitate to tell you that it’s a want. But it’s an intentional want.

Sometimes it’s hard to admit that something is a want, because we’re afraid that when we finally cave in and say, “No, it’s not a need,” then someone will snatch it away or heap guilt on us for keeping it. We can have some wants, but we have to know the difference.

If we keep calling wants needs when they’re not, we get our priorities wrong. That’s why it’s so important to plan when you have a clear head--so that you have a plan when you lose your head. Otherwise we spend all our hard-earned saved-up dollars on a cheap no-good ipad knock-off (hypothetically speaking). Emotions can make us do dumb stuff.

Our needs are food, shelter, electricity, and basic transportation, but we can and should buy some wants. We have to call them what they are and keep them in perspective.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Career Playground

Even if I knew word-for-word what my passions were, it’s hard to find a job that fits--this country provides so many options and opportunities that it’s hard to narrow down where I can live out those passions.

As kids we would play doctor, house, fireman, or marine-biologist; and as adults we can do the same thing--through hobbies. Hobbies are a career playground. Hobbies are an escape from the daily grind to do a different kind of work that we really enjoy.

Fishing, gardening, hunting, sewing, dancing, playing cards, sports, the list goes on, but when we look at that list all those good activities require  a certain level of work. It’s a different kind of work than your job because it’s self-motivated, self-paced, and it’s work that makes you happy.

There is a difference between a hobby and a pastime. Scott is a friend of mine from Milwaukee who watches shows and movies as his hobby. He drives to Chicago regularly to watch new independent films, he writes reviews on the latest shows, he even started a movie commentary podcast with another friend of his with a similar passion. Scott knows movies and tv shows as an art form--he puts time as well as effort into his hobby. For me watching tv shows and movies is just a pastime. I don’t put much in, and I certainly don’t get much out. I don’t produce anything from watching movies--in fact, I would probably feel more energized and relaxed if I used my tv time to do one of my hobbies. Hobbies help us explore our passions, but pastimes are just that--they pass time.

The greatest thing about a hobby is that it’s self-paced. Decide to go fishing once every other month early on a Saturday with poles from a garage sale, or decide to hit the lake once a week with top-of-the-line equipment. Hobbies are as relaxed or as intense as we want them to be--which means that we can get new hobbies whenever we choose and drop old hobbies when they aren’t fulfilling anymore.

I’m not recommending that you jump from hobby to hobby for the fun of it--that gets old fast--but we can certainly explore possible career opportunities without having to get a degree, interview, or leave the more secure state of our current careers.

If you wanted to see what it would be like to be an author--you could join a writer’s club or start a regular blog. No, it’s not the same as being a full time author, but the lessons learned in a related hobby translate to the career.

If you wanted to try out nursing--you could volunteer with the Red Cross at a blood drive. You won’t be the one drawing blood (you’ll be taking names and telling people where to find the orange juice and cookies), but if you can’t stand people asking dumb questions all the time--nursing probably isn’t a good match anyway.

All that to say, let’s be intentional with our hobbies and use them to learn and grow in the direction of work that truly matches up with our passions. That’s the kind of work that makes us look forward to Monday--not dread it.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Benefits of Balance

I already gave away the purpose of this whole blog: to measure our lives and work towards balance. Balance seems like such a simple thing--we learn to do it before we’re 2 years old. We forget that it’s something we never mastered.

When we’re 2 and lose our balance, we fall down, cry, and mom stands us back up so we can try again. When we’re 16 and don’t have balance, we sneak out at night and close off the relationships that would help us the most. When we’re 30 and don’t have balance, we scream at the kids and sink into depression. When we’re 50 and don’t have balance, we can’t figure out who we are and jump into an affair (or Ferrari). The wobble keeps getting worse because we didn’t fix it, and life keeps going faster.

Balance keeps us standing up. Balance lowers stress, puts all the areas in perspective when something goes wrong. Balance keeps us on track when life speeds up. That doesn’t mean things won’t go wrong, and life will always feel in control--but it helps. Balance helps get rid of the wobble.