RSS

Tag Archives: focus

Paralysis Analysis

Indecision can be a crippling thing. The fear of making the WRONG choice often leads to making no choice at all. Procrastination ultimately makes the decision for me, and when the results do not play out the way that I intended for them to, I lay blame at the feet of “circumstance,” neatly sidestepping my own responsibility for the outcome.

I do this frequently, and I hate it. Rarely are the decisions about life-altering events.  More often they are about things for which there is no right or wrong answer. Instead, there is simply “Choice A” and “Choice B.” And yet, I work myself into a worried frenzy over which choice I should make-convinced that one choice is better than another.

Case in point: I am going to Atlanta for a conference next week. The decision I am facing is simple. Should I drive or fly?

I live in the Chicago area, so the drive will take 12-14 hours. For many people, this might be a no-brainer. The thought of driving that far is mind-numbing. Most people would have bought their plane ticket months ago.

Not so for me. You see, I love to drive. The thought of all that time alone in the car, driving through the mountains in the midst of the changing fall colors, listening to music and uplifting tapes and audiobooks…that’s very appealing to me.

So then, why the mental wrestling match? If the drive is not drudgery but rather a joyful experience, why is this even an issue for me?

It’s the car…

My 12-year old Buick Century has more than 200,000 miles on it. The car is a tank; it took out a huge deer a couple of years ago and barely flinched…But she is getting long in the tooth, and I’m starting to sense that her age is catching up to her. I think that she’ll be good for another year or two, but a drive through the mountains, 1500 miles round trip, feels like a bit much for her.

The decision I am wrestling with is financial. Airfare is more expensive than driving…unless the car breaks down. A catastrophic breakdown in the middle of Kentucky (or worse, the mountains of Tennessee), would be very expensive. And of course, even if there are no mechanical problems with the car, the wear and tear of the drive will definitely make an impact.

I find myself frozen with fear. The indecision is palpable. If I make the “wrong” choice, I will be doomed to destruction. I will have carelessly spent money in folly, never able to recover from the error of my tragic mistake. Paper or plastic becomes a moral dilemma. Should I drive the van or the car? Should I drink coffee or tea? Should I go to the Starbucks in Merrillville or Crown Point? Should I, should I, should I…

I’m a drama queen, I admit it. I take seemingly small decisions and I inflate them to critical choices that will surely alter the course of my life in some irreparable way. Life is about making choices, deciding and moving on. And procrastinating my way into making a choice is a decision in itself. It’s the decision to be reactive instead of being proactive. It’s the decision to let life happen to YOU, instead of YOU happening to life.

The truth is, I went to sleep last night racked with indecision about this simple choice-fly Southwest, or drive to the south and the west.

I woke up with the decision made. Sometimes it really is good to “sleep on it.” But even if I hadn’t made a decision in my sleep, I would have still needed to make a choice this morning.

Because I’m tired of being passive-of letting life happen to me.

I want to HAPPEN to LIFE

 

Tags: , , ,

2 Keys to Higher Productivity

I wake up at 5:30 am. I sit on the edge of the bed, stretch, smile, and thank God for another day. As I bounce energetically into the shower, my mind is flooded with thoughts and ideas…blog topics dance through my head, things I need to add to my “to-do” list crowd my mind, and I can’t wait to get done with my shower so I can sit down and start my productive day. Hopping out of the shower, I hurriedly dry off, tiptoe quietly back into the bedroom-being quiet so I don’t wake my wife, and I get dressed.

Walking into the living room, I sit down in my favorite chair, pull my laptop in front of me, and move the mouse to wake my sleeping computer…

And all my focus melts away.

It’s my own fault. Last night, I failed to close out the programs on my computer. So as soon as my computer wakes up, it tells me about the e-mails I got during the night. The web browser tells me who won the presidential debate. And my sports feed makes sure to let me know that the St. Louis Cardinals are in the playoffs AGAIN.

I get distracted by information overload…and the ideas that have been dancing through my mind in the shower moments before fade away. And now, 9 hours later, I look back at my day and wonder…

“Where did all the time go?”

“What did I accomplish today?”

“Why do I feel unproductive and vaguely depressed?”

The answer is simple. I allowed myself to get distracted from my morning routine. I have allowed a new morning routine to creep in, one that is dictated by external forces, and it is killing my productivity.

In a recent podcast, NYT best-selling author Michael Hyatt discussed his morning “ritual.”  For some people, this word has a negative connotation. But Hyatt defines a ritual as “a prescribed procedure for achieving a specific result.” What a terrific definition!

DOCUMENT YOUR CURRENT RITUAL

Hyatt contends that we all have a morning ritual, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. Whether our ritual is helping to accomplish our goals is a different story. And he’s right! When I take control of my morning and stick to my “proactive ritual,” I get so much done, and I feel GREAT for the rest of the day. But when I fall into my “reactive ritual,” my focus wanders, and, just like a ship that drifts a few degrees off-course, I look back at my day and wonder how I got so far from my intended destination.

Hyatt offers seven steps to designing a morning ritual. I encourage you to read his blog article and listen to the podcast. I want to highlight the first two steps, because they are so critical to finding your path to productivity:

Acknowledge that you already have a ritual.

  • Again, this is not a BAD thing. We all have rituals, whether it’s how we dry ourselves off when we get out of the shower, or the route we take when we drive to work. Acknowledge that you have rituals for the way that you do things and move on quickly to step number two.

Document your existing ritual.

  • This is where the rubber meets the road. If you want to become more productive, you must first identify your current practices so you can see where you may be losing

My proactive morning ritual looks like this:

  1. Sit up as soon as the alarm goes off, stretch, say a brief prayer of thanks, and hit the shower.
  2. Get dressed, make a protein shake or a cup of tea, and sit in my chair.
  3. Write in my private journal.
  4. Read my Bible and pray.
  5. Open my computer and begin to write.

My reactive morning ritual looks like this:

  1. Hit the snooze alarm
  2. Hit the snooze alarm again.
  3. Drag myself grumpily out of bed.
  4. Stumble into the shower.
  5. Stand under the hot water for at least 10 minutes, hoping it will wake me up.
  6. Get dressed, sit in my chair, and open my computer.
  7. Surf the web for an hour.

I think you get the point.

THERE IS GOOD NEWS

I have identified my keys to a productive (rather than reactive) morning ritual. And they actually begin the night before! I need to do two things in order to prepare myself to be in the best possible position for having a good start to my day.

  1. I need to go to bed at a reasonable time. I have found that going to bed by 9:30 is essential if I plan to be productive the next day.
  2. I need to close down all of my desktop applications, leaving open only MS Word, with a fresh new page to write on.

Seems simple enough. And it is…Now I just have to remember to do it tonight…

And every night.

Because our attitudes are so much more positive when we are productive. And we can’t accomplish all that we are meant to be in this life if we mope around all the time with a bad attitude.

So identify your morning ritual…look for ways to tweak it…and add to your productivity.

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

37 Days

It’s been a month…A MONTH…

Actually, 37 days to be precise…which is more than a month. But somehow, 37 days doesn’t sound as bad as a month. And that’s my problem…I’m trying to make it sound less bad than it really is.

It has been MORE than a month since I wrote a blog.

When I started writing, I had this vision of trying to share my life from a quirky perspective. I wanted to be able to encourage my readers. I wanted to make you laugh while offering a humorous view on the ups and downs of life. I imagined myself to be a modern-day Andy Rooney.

Andy Rooney died…

And so will this blog if I don’t get more serious about it.

The truth is that life, as is so often the case, is getting in the way. Health, wealth (or LACK of it), family, and friends have all bubbled to the top of my priority list, and I haven’t maintained my writing as a priority in life.

And that’s a shame.

Because I really do love to write.

I feel energized and motivated when I write. My brain engages, and the words come so fast and furious that I have trouble writing them coherently. As I get older, that “brain engagement” seems to come less frequently…so when it does, I get very excited.

I woke up this morning, and my brain was fully engaged. I was so excited to write, that I wish I could have taken my iPad into the shower. And as I sit in front of my computer, typing away, I glance at the clock…5:17 am. I am wide awake, fully engaged, and excited about the day before me. With a cup of hot milk tea by my side (my newest addiction, courtesy of my son, Matthew), my fingers are flying over the keyboard, capturing my thoughts as quickly as they can, straining to keep up with the voices in my head…and I can’t help but think:

“Why can’t writing be this easy ALL the time?”

The answer is simple…if it were so easy, everyone would be doing it. And then it would no longer be special.

So as I write this morning, I feel the energy…and I am embracing it. This is very much a spiritual experience. In the Academy-Award winning movie, Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell says, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

I understand what he meant by that.

Because I believe that we are all made for a purpose. And when I take time to slow down and listen, time to let the words flow, not from just my brain, but from my heart…

The noise of the world fades away and I can feel God’s pleasure.

I get filled…filled with energy, passion, focus, motivation…all the things that give me the fuel to get things done in life…

My brain is slowing down now…the words are coming less easily. My fingers aren’t flying across the keyboard as quickly as they were just minutes ago. The pressures of the day are starting to dance around in my head. And I know that it is time to bring this rambling post to a close.

I hope that the words will continue to come easily to me over the next days, weeks, and months.

But even if they don’t, I need to sit down, in the quiet of the early morning, like I have done today…

And write.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on October 11, 2012 in Focus, God, Procrastination, Self-discipline, Writing

 

Tags: , , , ,

It’s Not All About ME…(Anymore)

I’m a big weenie.

I hate to admit that, but it is becoming more evident to me every day.

Three weeks ago, I ran my first 5K. I made a big deal about it to anyone and everyone who would listen. I didn’t want to fail, so I put myself so far out there publicly that, if I DID fail, I would look like a weenie.

I didn’t fail in running the race.

But I have failed in the three weeks since then.

You see, I haven’t run at all since that race.

I haven’t written anything since the race either.

The two go hand in hand…

You see, a couple of days after the race, I injured my back. The doctor doesn’t believe it was race-related (thank goodness), but I have been in quite a bit of pain for three weeks. Multiple trips to the chiropractor and daily ice and heat treatments have been intermingled with my teaching course load, making it difficult for the back to completely heal. That’s the main reason I haven’t done any running for the last three weeks.

So why haven’t I done any writing?

Well, that’s where the whole, “I’m a big weenie,” thing comes in…

I am someone who has difficulty compartmentalizing various parts of my life. In other words, when one area of my life is not functioning smoothly, I can’t avoid having it spill over into other areas of my life. This is very frustrating.

And being in chronic pain has sucked the enjoyment out of my writing.

Even now, as I sit on an ice pack, I am struggling to force out words. It’s an effort, not a joy.

And to me, writing has been all about the joy.

Therein lies the rub…

I want my writing to become more than just a creative outlet…I want it to become a meaningful place for others to reflect and discover something in themselves, borne out of shared experience. I want people to resonate with my words…to be encouraged, chastised, convicted, and motivated. I want my words to drive people to take action.

And if that’s the case, then I need to be writing daily…not just when I feel like it. Good writers are disciplined…good writers write nearly every day…even if they write something that no one ever sees except themselves. And I haven’t even been doing that.

Instead, I have been completely unmotivated, resulting in a complete waste of time on mindless junk…like Facebook Scrabble and BTD5.

So here I am on Labor Day, 2012, celebrating the spirit of the American worker…and I’m not doing anything worthwhile.

I have to get up and go…I need to move. Even if it hurts…and I need to set a goal that will motivate me to run…and to write.

I have set that goal:

  • On October 20th, I will be running another 5K.

Now before you go, “Oh no, here we go again,” let me explain.

My last 5K was all about me, I admit that. I had to prove to myself that I could do something I did not imagine possible. But life can’t continue to be “all about me” or it becomes pointless. I firmly believe that our lives need to be centered on serving God and serving others.

Food Bank of Northwest IndianaSo on October 20th, I will be running in the “Hope’s Harvest” 5K run/walk to benefit the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana. I am looking for sponsors who are willing to donate any amount in support of the run. All proceeds will go directly to the Food Bank, whose mission is to support area food pantries.

I also want to encourage people who may want to walk or run themselves to be a part of our team! The entry fee of $25.00 also goes directly to the Food Bank and will provide all participants with breakfast, lunch, and a goody bag, including an event T-shirt. You can join the Cornerstone Food Pantry Team by clicking on the “Hope’s Harvest” banner at the end of this blog.

There you have it folks…I need to have a goal to pursue, or I get complacent…sluggish…unproductive… ok, I admit it; LAZY! But now that I have another short-term goal to pursue, I feel so much more motivated!

I also have the opportunity to help those in my community who do not have the resources to feed their families. What better way to serve? So get motivated yourself! Set yourself a short-term goal-something you can accomplish in the next 6-8 weeks, and something that will be a service to someone in need. Then, get off your butt, and get going!

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Chasing Down a Dream

I can put the napkin down…I do not have egg on my face. And I am so relieved.

After highly publicizing my intention to run a 5K race-something I have NEVER done before in my life-yesterday, I did it…and I finished.

With a good luck kiss from my wife, and the encouraging words, “just don’t throw up” echoing in my head from my good friend Rachael, I was off. And my life was changed forever.

I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but it’s true.

You see, when I weighed 360 pounds and I could barely walk up a short flight of stairs without stopping because of severe knee pain and extreme shortness of breath, running a road race wasn’t anywhere on the radar of plans for my life. In fact, I genuinely believe that if I had tried to run at that point, I probably would have had a heart attack.

And I was probably right.

But that was then…In the last four years, I have lost weight…close to 100 pounds.

And with the loss of fat has come a gradual gain in self-confidence.

But it was a series of challenges that brought me to the point where I am able to write this particular blog post:

  • Steve challenged me to run one mile, because he saw my lack of belief in myself;
  • Larry, Bryan, and Mark challenged me to run a 5K with them;
  • And I challenged myself to risk looking like a fool if I failed by telling anyone and everyone who would listen what my goal was.

So here I am, 24 hours later, reflecting on my first 5K. The race route has been cleared, the road has returned to normal, and the only reminders I have of the race are a couple of tired legs, some great memories, and a few nice pictures.

And, oh yeah, I also have more than 100 comments and “likes” on Facebook from well-wishing friends and relatives. Thanks to everyone for their well wishes.

To be honest, I was a little bit surprised at the massive groundswell of support. People who had friended me and then disappeared from my Facebook feed are popping back up to congratulate me or to tell me that they are inspired to set a similar goal.

You know what that means?

It means that during a time when the stock market is down and gas prices are up…when the politicians on both sides of the aisle can’t stop the attack ads and negative campaigning…when the Middle East situation continues to spiral out of control…

People from all cross-sections of society NEED to hear a feel-good story.

As I ran this race, I was energized by the people along the 3.1 mile route, shouting encouragement, clapping for the runners, handing out cups of water, and even spraying willing runners with a hose to cool them off.

I joked with a couple of people sitting in lawn chairs at the end of their driveway that I would trade places with them if they wanted. They laughed, politely declined, and encouraged us to keep going. As I approached the finish line, the race director was standing at the top of the hill, shouting encouragement, “Keep going! You’re almost there! Good job!”

And then I heard the calls from my friends, my wife, and my kids:

“Keep going, Jon! You can do it! Go Dad! WOO HOO!!!” I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face and was immediately mobbed by my favorite people in the world…my family and friends.

With my son, Andrew, who finished 17 minutes ahead of me. 🙂

And as I thanked them for their encouragement, I also thanked God for giving me the strength to do what I could never have done on my own.

So now I have done something I never IMAGINED would be possible…I’m looking for my next challenge…and I’m excited to figure out what it will be.

In the meantime, I am planning to run my next 5K. It’s at the Valparaiso Popcorn Festival. And it’s in three weeks.

I guess I better keep running.

Because I can’t accomplish my dreams if I’m not willing to chase them down.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Outside “The Zone”

In one of the most impacting blogs I have read recently, Michael Hyatt suggests that frequent trips outside our comfort zone are critical to our growth. Hyatt states that “the really important stuff happens outside your comfort zone.” Notice that he doesn’t say “SOME” really important stuff happens…or “OCCASIONALLY,” really important stuff happens…he says that “THE” really important stuff happens outside your comfort zone.

I’ve come to recognize the truth of this simple statement.

Like many people, I shy away from anything that causes me to be uncomfortable. I am not someone who enjoys surprises or new experiences. I prefer to stay within previously established parameters for my life. And when something happens to push me beyond those parameters, I’m not happy.

It’s these comfort zone parameters that have kept me from accomplishing so many things in my life. And now, my life is half over (I HOPE it’s only half over) and I feel like I have wasted so much time in my comfort zone, that I’m not completely sure how to get out of it.

So I’m doing something radical…

This Saturday, I run my first ever 5K race. For those of you who are metrically challenged, that’s 5,000 meters…or approximately 16,400 feet. That doesn’t sound too bad, until realize that this is a bit more than three miles…

THAT’S outside my comfort zone.

I’ve been running a couple of miles three times a week. I even got up to 2.5 miles once.

But THREE miles? Whoa…

I have also been thinking about the hundreds of other runners who will be there on Saturday…most of them have done this before. This is not new to them.

It’s new to me…and I’m intimidated. In fact, when I was running yesterday, I psyched myself out so bad that I almost stopped running and decided not to run in the race.

I’m such a weenie…

But I kept going back to Hyatt’s statement:

“The really important stuff happens outside your comfort zone.”

And I know that he’s right…

For me, this race is really important…

It signifies something that I never imagined  being able to do. It acknowledges the fact that I am capable of learning, growing, and improving, even as I approach the receipt of my AARP card.

And it opens my mind to a world of possibilities…if I can run my first race at the age of 47, what else can I accomplish in my life?

Harland Sanders started Kentucky Fried Chicken at 65. Grandma Moses was 78 when she had her first art exhibition-selling small prints for just $2.00. Ronald Reagan was not elected to his first public office until he was 55, and Winston Churchill didn’t become Prime Minister of England until he was 62. Takichiro Mori (WHO?!?!?) was an economics professor until he left academia at age 55 to become a real estate investor in 1959.  When Mori died in 1993, he was the world’s richest man with a net worth of around $13 billion. And Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t publish her first book until she was 65.

I don’t want to be a restaurateur or a painter. I’m not interested in politics, or being a billionaire (although MILLIONAIRE wouldn’t be so bad). I WOULD love to write and publish books…and I guess I still have a few years to work on that before I pass Laura’s age…

But it all starts by being willing to get outside my comfort zone…by risking failure and then risking failure again.

So I will run my race on Saturday. I will crowd in with all of the other runners who are more experienced than I am. I will be left in the dust by the majority of them.

And I won’t care.

Because I’m running.

And that’s something that’s going to happen outside my comfort zone.

Where the “really important stuff happens.”

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

The “Domino” Life

When I was young, I watched a TV special about these guys who wanted to set a world record for tumbling the biggest field of dominoes. They spent weeks and weeks meticulously setting up dominoes, one at a time. If their placement was off at all, it would cause a failure in the pattern, and not all the dominoes would fall. On the other hand, if, during the setup, they accidentally knocked over a domino, it would cause a cascade effect that would cause hundreds of dominoes to fall early. They would frantically find a place to remove a domino somewhere up the line that would stop the untimely chain reaction, and then they would have to clear the fallen dominoes and start to rebuild from the point of failure.

As I reflect on the patience one must have to undertake such an effort, it reminds me of my life. I spend a lot of time trying to maximize my effectiveness in so many areas: spiritual, physical, emotional, mental, relational…and when one area of my life is not going well, it tends to cascade over into the other areas of my life, like dominoes that aren’t meant to fall until the entire “puzzle” is set up just right.

Recently, I have been struggling mentally. As the summer semester draws to a close, I find myself completely drained. I’m having mental lapses, making careless computational errors (not good when you’re a math teacher!), and just having trouble focusing in general. This has made it difficult to run.

Yes, I said run…

You see, I have come to realize that what everyone says about running really IS true. It’s all mental. In the last couple of months, I have increased my base running distance from one mile to two miles. And it has been that mental focus that has enabled me to do that. Being mentally drained from teaching has made it difficult to run.

Being the emotional person that I am, this has been discouraging for me. I have felt slightly depressed over the past couple of weeks, and a lot of it is rooted in my self-perceived lack of progress with running. I have my first ever 5K in just nine days, and I do not feel ready for it. This makes me worried, draining me emotionally.

Being drained emotionally has made it difficult to give to my family in the way that they need me to. I am a husband and a dad. My wife and kids require and deserve that part of me which meets their emotional needs…and it has been hard to give the way I need to.

And when I am having trouble meeting the demands of life, I often find myself being frustrated with God. I ask Him to give me the capacity to meet the challenges of daily living, and yet, at the end of the day, I look back and see a series of little failures along the way that add up to a non-productive day.

Does anyone see the problem here?

I believe that the victories in life flow from my spiritual relationship with God first and foremost. When I look back at what leads me to ultimate spiritual frustration, I recognize that it is because I am coming to God with the scraps that I have left at the end of the day. And I’m mad that the scraps are not pleasing to God.

My most useful, productive days are those where I place God at the forefront of my day, where He belongs. Drawing on His strength enables me to be more focused and mentally tough. And then, like the fall of the dominoes, the rest of my day cascades into place.

And when the dominoes fall the right way-the way that they are intended to fall-it creates a beautiful design…one that I can look back on and say, “Thanks for using me today, God.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: , , , , , ,