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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.

 

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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.”

 

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Teach your Children Well…


In the classic film, A League of Their Own, Manager Jimmy Dugan, a washed up, alcoholic, former major leaguer, is hired to manage a traveling women’s baseball team during World War Two. At the height of the movie, Dugan, played by Oscar-winner Tom Hanks, explodes on his right fielder for making a bad throw. She responds by bursting into tears, eliciting Dugan’s now famous rant: “ARE YOU CRYING? There’s no crying! THERE’S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL!”

I’m no Jimmy Dugan. And I don’t coach baseball. But I learned one very important thing this afternoon…

There IS crying in SOFTball. A LOT of it…at least when you coach 10-12 year-old girls.

I’m not denigrating my team. I love these girls. And I may have learned more about leadership in one afternoon on the softball field than I did from all the speakers at the daylong leadership conference I attended the day before.

But there was a LOT of crying.

We got beat. 17-4. It was not pretty. It can’t be when you lose 17-4. But it was an incredible learning and growing experience…

For me…

I learned that there are a lot of parents who apparently derive their own sense of self-worth from the successes (or failures) of their children. I watched my third baseman make the RIGHT PLAY with a runner on 3rd, but because she did not make a good throw, her parents yelled at her that she should have made a different play…

Even though it would have been the wrong play to make.

My third baseman was in tears.

My catcher was in tears because she asked her mom to stop yelling about the misplays…to which the mom responded, “FINE! I’m never coming to another one of your games ever again!” before stomping off to the concession stand.

My catcher was in tears…

I saw my own daughter miss a couple of balls at first base. She tried…but she missed them.

She was in tears.

I saw a girl strike out, but she forgot to run when the catcher dropped the ball. You can run on a dropped third strike in softball. Everyone was yelling at her, she became confused…and burst into tears.

I saw my shortstop burst into tears of anger because the other team kept their best pitcher in the game for another inning, even after we were losing by 13 runs.

Yes, I saw a lot of crying in softball today.

But you know what else I saw?

I saw a catcher who fired up her team with motivating words when the score was getting out of control. I saw one of the youngest, and least experienced, players on the team start a rally by running as fast as she could to eke out an infield single. I saw the girls start to get excited as a few runs came across the plate. I saw a player hit a two-run double and stand on second base with her arms raised in triumph. I saw my own daughter make a couple of very nice plays at first base. And I saw a lot of the critical parents start to cheer.

What are we teaching our kids?

Are we teaching them that the only time to encourage them and root for them is when they are doing well? Are we instilling in them the idea that success, not honest effort, is the most important thing to be gained? Are we seeing our own failures in our children when they fail? Are we making it about OUR success, instead of about THEIR fun?

I used to be that way…When my kids would succeed, I felt like I had succeeded. And when they failed, I felt like I had failed. And no one wants to fail. So I would get mad at them because they had made me look bad. I took it personally when my son would lose a match in Tae Kwan Do, or when my kids would make a bad play or not run in soccer or baseball.

And then I started coaching kids’ softball.

And I came to realize that the kids just want to have fun. Most of them want to get better, hit the ball farther, run faster, and score more runs…but they mainly want to have fun. And we, as the adults, have made it all about winning.

I’m as guilty as every other parent.

After the game, I sat in a circle in the outfield with the team and we talked about the game. One of the girls suggested that we go around the circle and have each person say something good that one of the other players did during the game. It was a sweet time. Some of the girls were shy…some of them repeated what another player had said.

But they were a team. And they were encouraging one another.

I know that there are some parents who probably wish I was a more aggressive, “in your face” kind of coach. I question whether I need to be more hard-nosed. I hear the coaches of the other team yelling at their players, and I wonder if I’m not getting the best athletic performance out of my players because I’m not tougher with the players.

But one mom came up to me after the game was over-after all the players had left and I was shoving equipment into the bag, and she said six words that meant the world to me.

She said, “I’m so glad you’re their coach.” She emphasized the word “you’re.”

Being aggressive and “in your face?” That’s just not my personality. I am an encourager. I like to motivate people, and I like to help them recognize the situations that they are in so that they can plan their next steps.

And I’m okay with that.

There will be those people who are not fans of my coaching style…Most of those people are parents.

But when I took my third baseman by the shoulders, looked her in the eye and told her, “You made the right play. Don’t let anyone…ANYONE tell you otherwise,” she started to cry again.

Except this time, they were tears of relief.

And seeing her accept that was more important than winning a softball game will ever be.

 

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Guess What? I’m GOOD at Something!

If you’re good at something and you know it, is it tacky to acknowledge it?

I’m not suggesting that you display a lack of humility or brag about your abilities. That is clearly rude.

But if you have struggled with self-esteem issues most of your life-if you have honestly felt like you weren’t good at anything-and then evidence begins to mount that suggests that you ARE talented in a certain area, is it okay to accept it? Is it okay to step out of the shadows and say, “Hey, I’m good at something!”?

I think it is…

I have faced this struggle for many years.

As a kid, I was frequently picked on and beat up by the neighborhood bullies, no matter where I lived. It seemed like whenever we moved to a new place, the bully radar would go off, and they would come flocking to my front porch.

When you consider that I went to six different schools between kindergarten and my senior year of high school, there were a lot of bullies who took their turns beating me up. As a result, I always suffered from low self-esteem…

And I never believed that I was good at anything.

This belief persisted throughout my youth and early adulthood, and well into my career as an educator. For the first several years of my career, I was a high school teacher in Gary, Indiana. My students all liked me well enough, but I never thought my teaching ability was anything special.

Then I started teaching at a university…what a world of difference that made.

Faculty members at universities are required to focus on three things: research, service to the university, and teaching. It is the utmost desire (read: requirement) of the university administration that each faculty member be very good to excellent in at least two of these three areas. Since I am not a researcher, I have focused on service and teaching.

Since we are “encouraged” to be very good to excellent in these areas, there are a number of metrics that are used to measure our progress toward these goals. We are evaluated every semester by our students, we are required to submit an annual report to the administration that details all of our service, teaching, and research activities for the past calendar year…

And there are awards…

In 2001, one of my students nominated me for the top university teaching award. I decided not to apply. I didn’t think that I could win. Awards were for the really great teachers…

A dear friend, Dr. Robin Hass, encouraged me to apply. She had won the award previously and was the chair for the teaching committee. She told me that she had heard good things about my teaching. Robin was an exceptional teacher for whom I had an enormous amount of respect. I applied, more out of respect for Robin than because I thought I could win.

I won.

I’ll never forget the day that I ran into Robin in the stairwell and she told me that I had won the “Founder’s Day Teaching Award.” I was stunned…I honestly thought that I had no chance to win. And I thought that it was probably a fluke.

But I was grateful.

A year later, I won another teaching award, and a couple of years after that, another. Other faculty members started asking ME if I could observe their classes and write a teaching recommendation letter…even some of the Ph. D.’s! And as I looked at the people who were asking me to write letters for them, I realized that they were people for whom I had a great deal of respect…because they were excellent teachers.

And now, these people that I believed were excellent teachers were asking ME to write THEM letters of recommendation as they applied for other teaching awards, as well as promotion and tenure. Now, I may not be the brightest bulb in the box, but even I could see that there was a connection here: good teachers don’t ask bad teachers to critique their teaching.

So I’m a good teacher…I accept it. And I am grateful for the abilities that God has given me.

And now I seek to serve others through teaching whenever I have the opportunity.

What about you? Do you have a skill, a talent, or a gift that you have never fully shared because you just didn’t think you were really good enough? Are you hiding your abilities from those you might really be able to help because of fear or insecurity?

Keeping our talents to ourselves is selfish…the greatest act of generosity is to give freely, expect nothing in return, and celebrate with the recipient when our gifts are received.

So will you be selfish? Or will you be generous?

Choose. Now.

 

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The Quest for Mental Toughness

Vince Lombardi, Hall of Fame coach of the Green Bay Packers, defined Mental Toughness as “sacrifice and self-denial combined with a perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give in. It’s a state of mind – you could call it ‘character in action.’”

I know many who fit this definition. Among them are cancer survivors, pilots, businessmen, marathon runners, sky divers, pastors, missionaries, scientists, professors, rugby players, professional speakers, authors, actors, and soldiers. They come from diverse backgrounds, experiencing life in its many facets, drawing from their experiences and sharpening their minds and their bodies, refusing to give in to the obstacles that they face, and overcoming them through sheer self-discipline. They believe without a doubt that they can accomplish their objective, and, invariably, they do so…because they will themselves to do it. They are mentally tough.

I am not mentally tough.

I am usually the first person to quit when things start to get hard. When the going gets tough, the tough get going…and I get going in the other direction. I want to be comfortable, and pushing myself beyond my limits is not comfortable.

So I stop.

I have always believed that being mentally tough is something that you are “born with…” that it is just a part of how you are wired from birth. Those of us who don’t have it can never get it, and those who DO have it will always come out ahead of those of us who do not. It’s the way of life, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

My friend Steve pushed me back hard on that idea. Steve falls into a few of the aforementioned categories, and I have always admired his ability to get things done. I have also felt a little envious of his ability to set and accomplish goals. He is currently training to run a half-marathon (13.1 miles), and he recently passed the six mile mark in his training schedule. When I commented that I had never run a mile in my life-and that there is no way I could ever do so-he said, “Oh, yeah, you could run a mile. Running is all mental. You just have to put your mind to it.” (I found that humorous, because whenever I see someone running, they are using their legs…but I digress.)

He pointed out that the “pain” one usually associates with running is really just fatigue. And telling yourself that you are not in pain, but that you are just tired, is a mindset that you have to develop. “It’s all about becoming mentally tough,” Steve said.

Last month, shortly after Steve issued his challenge, I ran my first mile. I can now consistently run two miles (I topped out at 2.3 miles this week). My first 5K is in four weeks, so I am right on target to make my goal of 3.1 miles.

You know what I have discovered since I started running a month ago?

I AM mentally tough…because the first ½ mile of every run is the worst part of the whole experience. My calves start to burn, I get winded, my knees tighten up a little bit…

And I start to think, “I can’t do this.”

But then I remind myself that I have already done it many times…that I’m not really in pain…only a little fatigued…and I push through it. This happens every time I run.

And every time I reach a pass a previous running milestone and venture into the new territory of a longer distance than I have ever run before, I start to think, “I can’t do this.”

But I push ahead anyway.

Running has strengthened my mind…something I never thought possible.

And it has opened up a world of new possibilities.

What are some of the areas in your life where you need to become mentally tough? How are you strengthening your mind? I really want to know.

Because becoming mentally tough is a new challenge for me.

And I need the help of my friends to build up my brain muscles!

 

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