Reflection and Resolution

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About the photo: That’s me, far right, posing with a bottle of “Fred” water along with members of Movers & Pacers, the “influencer-based running group” led by the inimitable Señor Kaos. (Far left, wearing the hat.) I started my new year in the company of new and good friends, people I’m blessed to have as part of my new life here in Atlanta. For more info about Movers & Pacers, including info about when and where you can join us for run during the week, check out the group on Instagram: http://instagram.com/moversandpacers

2014 is gone. You can’t get it back. 2015 is here. What happens during the next 364 days (or however many are left when you read this), is, to are a large degree, up to you.

I want to revisit something I wrote toward the end of my last post. You remember, that one “about” fantasy football? In the section about the Playoffs, I wrote how sometimes a competition really is not a competition. You, or your competitor, has been preparing for the big game, consciously or not, and that will very likely be the deciding factor, not some spontaneous outburst of virtuoso performance. I stand by that, for the most part. You have got to prepare as though you’re going to win, even if the outcome is uncertain. Or, as Winston Churchill said it better, “It is never possible to guarantee success; it is only possible to deserve it.”

Where am I going with this in context of the New Year?

Well, one of the voices in my head is saying, “The calendar is completely arbitrary. Nothing magically changed because it’s January 1st. You still have to live with the decisions – and mistakes – you made yesterday.” And yes, Voice Number One is kind of right. But then Voice Number Two, speaking to me in many different dialects of the same language, says, “Every day starts a New Year. You can’t get back that lost time, but you can redeem it starting now. Make better decisions today than you did yesterday. That’s a New Day’s Resolution.”

I choose that maybe slightly Pollyanish voice of optimism, the belief in the capacity of human beings to make choices – for good or bad – over its dreary opposite. If you’re feeling a little reserved and cynical, or think I’m being naive, then remember what Jesus told us, as recorded in Matthew 10:16: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” That squares the circle, in my mind.

I do believe that we are all fallen, sinful human beings who have an unfortunately seemingly limitless capacity for plumbing the depths of despicability. But I also believe in the ever-available and wholly-redeeming power of God’s grace. If the bad part is always there lurking, then the good is also there waiting. That’s the point where God desires for us to meet Him – at the point of the Grace He offers. But it’s something we must do, that He cannot do for us, if He is a truly loving God.

With that idea of Grace, and of Choices, firmly in my mind, then I feel more resolute than ever to share with you some of these thoughts – gathered from various sources, including my own mind – about a new year, making changes, forming habits, and in Preparing and praying (Providence, remember?) for 2015 to be the best year yet.

First, a word about time.

Recently my friend Matt shared with me an article from The Economist titled “In search of lost time: Why is everyone so busy?” It’s a good read, more for the information than any conclusions or suggestions it provides, as my other friend, Johnny pointed out. One idea that I took away, which fascinates me in its “truth without really being true,” is this: “[Most] people worry over how [time] flies, and wonder where it goes. Cruelly, it runs away faster as people get older, as each accumulating year grows less significant, proportionally, but also less vivid.”

[Read the rest here: http://www.economist.com/news/christmas-specials/21636612-time-poverty-problem-partly-perception-and-partly-distribution-why?fsrc=scn/tw/te/pe/ed/whyiseveryonesobusy]

Think about that: if you are 10 years old, then each year of your life, when graphed on a pie chart, takes up 10% of the graph. That’s a significant portion. But when you are 50? Each year is now 1/50 of the total. What’s one piece matter? Or one more? Each chunk gets smaller as you get older, and each year gets…shorter? Wait, what? How can a year get shorter? It’s 365 days, right? Well, yes, it is. That doesn’t change. But your perception of it, especially when viewed at the macro level, changes, making it seem smaller, to the point that the differences are trivial and they all tend to run together after a certain point. Already at 27 I feel this, as I’m sure we all do to some extent. I don’t have an antibiotic to this time-decay disease, but I’ll share something that I’m doing to help alleviate the symptoms.

It’s called the Five-Minute Journal: http://app.fiveminutejournal.com/

It was first referred to me by Tim Ferriss, and I’ve heard him say that some readers of one of his books are the app’s creators. It builds on the concept of Daily Gratitude that I discussed in my Thanksgiving post. It is a small way to reclaim some of your time each day. Rather than rushing ahead and allowing one day to blend into the next, you’re actually stopping yourself – and time, in a way – to reflect on what you did earlier in the day, and how it might help you think better, speak better, and act better in the next. If it seems hokey to you, fine. I call it a good start, even a small one. Which brings me to my next point…

Another one of my recent favorite authors/thinkers is Ramit Sethi, author of the “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” blog, and publisher of the “Zero To Launch” online course I’m currently going through. In a post from earlier this year, which he recently re-sent as part of his “Best of 2014,” Ramit talks about Motivation and Procrastination, the latter of which is one of my best buds. He (Ramit) talks about the importance of “building systems,” a theme that runs through his work. Here’s an excerpt from one example:

“I want to get fit.” How many millions of Americans say this, then beat themselves up for doing nothing? No, no, no…I want you to be specific: “I want to eat 3 healthy meals per week and go to the gym 2x/week for 15 minutes.” (Notice how I’m focusing on the process at first, and starting off conservative: Anyone can eat just 3 healthy meals in a week. And anyone can go to the gym for 15 minutes. Set yourself up to win, you weirdos.)

(Read the rest here: http://www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com/blog/my-answers-to-your-questions-on-motivation-and-procrastination/?inf_contact_key=db2bef9b57c050d80b3d3d3683818c87869973633bbf140de4db7016a359a643)

Here, and elsewhere, Ramit does a nice job of reminding readers that they probably already know the right thing to do in that situation. The actual problem is breaking the solution(s) down into manageable, repeatable steps that make consistent execution possible and more likely. In other words: habits. This example is particularly poignant to me, because in the “aftermath” of the half-marathon I ran in November, I’ve lost pretty much all motivation to run and exercise, save the weekly Sunday runs I do with Movers & Pacers. Suddenly, as though the clouds have lifted, getting re-started does not seem so difficult, given Ramit’s example.

I don’t have a cool app to share for this section, so I’ll ask you this instead: What whole-life topic/issue/problem do you need to break down into smaller chunks? Are you failing, or even refusing, to get started on something, because you find the whole to be overwhelming? You probably already know the answer, what you have to do, so plan out one thing – just one small thing – that you can do today that would give you real progress toward that goal. It should not take you more than 15 minutes, and you can’t let yourself feel guilty for “not doing more.” Do it. Then tomorrow, do it again. And then the next day. After three days, think about adding something to it – be it time, or another step, and see where that takes you. I think you’ll look back in a month and see something very different from what it – or you – used to be.

(Note: In the hours between when this post was drafted, and before it was posted, I, your author and friend, went for a 1.5 mile run. Now, cue up the transition music…)

“Used to be.” That’s the subject line of this morning’s email from Seth Godin. I have several friends who, for several reasons, can’t stand Seth, and think he is a fraud, a hack, or just plain wrong on any number of topics. And while I don’t agree with Seth on everything (forgive the bland disclaimer), particularly on politics, he’s another writer/thinker who, for my money, re-states the simple and obvious in new and thought-provoking ways. (BTW, “my money” in this case is zero, because Seth’s email list is free.)

Here’s what Seth wrote this morning:

Used to be

This hotel used to be a bank.

That conference organizer used to be a travel agent.

This company used to make playing cards.

Perhaps you used to be hooked on keeping score, or used to be totally focused on avoiding the feeling of risk, or used to be the kind of person who needed to be picked…

“Used to be,” is not necessarily a mark of failure or even obsolescence. It’s more often a sign of bravery and progress.

If you were brave enough to leap, who would you choose to ‘used to be’?

[If you want to read more from Seth, maybe start here: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2014/12/its-not-about-you-have-you-been-to-this-meeting-really-bad-powerpoint-7-years-later-sadly-still-relevant-project-manag.html]

We have all got the capacity to be something other (and better) than what we currently are. We cannot make it happen on our own – that’s where God’s Grace (Providence) steps in, and where we must rely on the assistance of others. (Sidenote: This is the subject of another post I’ve been working on, and will finish  soon, I hope.) But going from “used to be” to “is” IS possible, be it a business or you. Or me.

Let me suggest each of us be willing to write down, alongside our resolutions, what is really underlying those resolutions. Put down on paper – even if you don’t show it to anyone (though that might be good for each of us to do) – those “ugly” things that we know to be true about ourselves, but that we don’t want to own up to. No one should have trouble with this, the difficulty should be in limiting what we choose to include as truly important, rather than merely superficial.

In the interest of transparency, and hopefully as a source of motivation to you in doing this, here’s what is at the top of my list for an “ugly” part of me that I want to work on in 2015: I tend to dominate conversations. Whether it’s with family, close friends, colleagues, or just occasional peers and acquaintances, I make it all about ME. I’m my favorite topic of discussion, just ask me. Or don’t. I’ll tell you about me anyway. Self-deprecation (as an attempt at deflection) aside, I really do feel very convicted about this.

Building on the suggestions provided in the last two sections, here’s what I’m trying to do about it:

  1. The Five Minute Journal is intended to take my focus away from me. Gratitude cannot point inward, it is an outward expression. I want to take time every day, even just 5 minutes, to put the focus elsewhere. Baby steps…
  2. Before every conversation I plan to have – and by plan, I mean when you set aside time to call someone, like a friend or family member, to catch up – I want to think up ahead of time, even write down, a list of a few things I want to ask that person about, and to make sure is covered during the course of a conversation I would otherwise make all about me. I’m not even going to entertain the possibility that this sounds forced, or that I’m not letting my relationships be spontaneous or organic. I’m going to try it anyway. (There are 4 or 5 guinea pigs, errr, uh, friends, who are reading this, who know that I’ll be calling them soon, piece of paper in hand…)

Now I’m not sure if those same people really do think of me as selfish or self-centered in this way. But even if they don’t, the fact that I am conscious of it, places it firmly in the category of who I want to say I “used to be.” (I don’t blame you if that last sentence confused you a bit. I’m scared to re-read and try to edit it…)

Finally, I’ll leave you all with some “quick hits,” from a little mental exercise we did at last night’s (and this morning’s) New Years party. Before the party started, I laid out four stacks of cards, each with a different question printed on them. I asked party-goers to fill out one (or all) of the cards, and to share their answer(s) with someone at the party whom they did not know. It turned out to be good conversation starter. (Or in some cases conversation ender, depending upon the answer.)

So, even if you missed the good times last night, here are the four questions, along with my answers. Enjoy.

  1. The good deed I want to do this year is…………..Time Tithing.

That’s not a specific good deed, I know, but it goes back to what I wrote about out Thanksgiving. I have not exactly been consistent on that one since I originally wrote about it, but that’s what a New Year is for, right?

(Also, I could have put “mission trip abroad” in that blank. I have really felt God tugging at my heart about that one.)

  1. The bad habit I want to kick this year is………………Sleeping In!

Oh, I’m bad about this. I am a Snooze Button Master, one of the greats. (My friend and college roommate Erik will tell you horror stories about this. Pretty sure he wanted to kill me in my sleep so he didn’t have to go through another morning of buzzing alarms scattered through the room.)

  1. The skill I want to learn this year is………………….Reading Music.

Can’t do it. Never learned. Admittedly I never really had a desire to learn, and I’m not optimistic that my inner Mozart is going to pour forth after 27 years of hibernation. Like learning a language, I guess. Suggestions of how best to accomplish this are encouraged and appreciated.

  1. The person I want to be more like this year is……………….Napleon.

WAIT! Don’t leave. Here me out, please. This is not some hitherto latent expression of a desire for Continental domination, nor is it the full and final flourishing of my own delusions of grandeur. Let me explain, this will only take a second:

I’m reading an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson called “Napoleon, Man of the World,” which you can also read here: http://www.emersoncentral.com/napoleon.htm

Now other than Wikipedia-level details, I admit to not knowing much more about Napoleon, which is why I intend to pick up a good bio of him for one of my next reads. In Emerson’s essay, he quotes Napoleon just so:

” ‘As to moral courage, I have rarely met with the two-o’clock-in-the-morning kind: I mean unprepared courage; that which is necessary on an unexpected occasion, and which, in spite of the most unforeseen events, leaves full freedom of judgment and decision’: and he did not hesitate to declare that he was himself eminently endowed with this two-o’clock-in-the-morning courage, and that he had met with few persons equal to himself in this respect.”

[Note that the first portion is Napoleon’s actual quote, and the latter is Emerson’s commentary.]

For the time being, I’ll let the scholars debate just what kind of moral courage Napoleon had, and if it is worth emulating. Leaving that aside, look at Napoleon’s quote: “unprepared courage; that which is necessary on an unexpected occasion, and which…leaves full freedom of judgment and decision[.]”

I don’t care who you are, or which countries you’re invading (ok, that does matter, actually…), that’s a form of virtue worth aspiring to and cultivating. Because it can be “two o’clock in the morning” at anytime of day, or any day of the year. I worry that I’m not ready for such times. Do you?

So maybe “Napoleon” is not really the answer to that question, about who I want to be more like this year. Maybe, at the risk of sounding selfish, the answer is ME. But not me, as I am currently, but me as I want to be. And I’m trying to be. Every day, setting 5 minutes aside to be grateful, and taking 20 minutes to go for a run, and making sure, when I talk to people, that I’m asking about their lives and how I can be praying for them and helping them, rather than talking about me. That’s the ME that I want to be.

Who do you want to be?

Happy New Year. Let’s talk more soon.

-Fred

PS – For those actually reading, you might note that these last two posts have been a bit different, both in format and content. They’re less explicitly compatible with our topic, the Conditions of Success, I know. I’m probably too aware of that. But I don’t think they’re in any way incompatible. They are more “occasional” in nature, meaning that they have to with things that pop up during the day or week. They are easier to write, for one thing, and will allow me to post more frequently. But, don’t you worry, I’m still working on the longer essay-style posts. (“Oh, uh, yippee!” I can hear you say.) I don’t know if this an announcement of a format change, or what, so you’ll just have to stay tuned.

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