Archive for the ‘Disciplines’ Category

Sometimes The Problem Isn’t The Problem

May 1, 2020

There is a scene in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig (one of the more influential books on my development) where the author is attempting to fix something on his motorcycle. He gets the appropriate tools out, prepares his mind with the proper workflow, and takes a screwdriver to a machine screw in order to remove the cover.

Oops. The screwdriver slips. It destroys the little groove in the head of the screw.

Unless you realize that your immediate problem is not the chain you were going to fix but removing that reluctant screw, you will not get the job done.

Maybe we thought we had a problem finishing a project at work. Maybe we were organizing a trip. Or figuring out a new way to make my small business profitable.

Unless we realized that the real problem for the time being is avoiding attracting the coronavirus and becoming ill, then we will become frustrated and accomplish nothing.

Maybe our real problem for the short term (actually should be a long term way of life) is maintaining or becoming healthy. Build up our immune system through nutrition, exercise, and sleep.

A publicist sent an email notifying me of a registered dental hygienist who is also an “oral fitness coach” (just when you thought you’d heard of everything). She (aside from selling her latest oral hygiene products) was reminding us to brush, floss, rinse. Yes, oral health impacts our entire immune system. Sometimes the little daily habit is the real problem of the moment.

I don’t know where April went. The pandemic has killed more Americans than the Vietnam war. But, we must still live cautiously, not fearfully, for a time, yet, as we gradually return to a more normal life. Happy May Day.

The Decision and the Next Steps

April 30, 2020

Quick! Yesterday’s post…how long does it take to change?

A nanosecond. Remember.

I dislike using old “church” terms. The words have acquired so much unnecessary baggage that the true meaning is lost.

Reading in The Shepherd of Hermes, one of the earliest documents used for discipleship training. “To repent is great understanding.”

Repent is one of those church words that conjure unhelpful pictures in the mind. Better is “to change direction.”

“I was on this path. Then I made a decision to change. Now I am on this path.”

After that nanosecond to change, how long does it take to incorporate that change into your life? The rest of your life. A minute at a time.

Sometimes living in times that force us out of our usual daily routine sharpens our awareness of our wrong path. We decide to change. Or someone you are around more than usual points out your need for change, and the thought sinks into awareness. We come to that point. We decide to change.

That is where these books on discipleship and spiritual practices become our guides. Even books such as Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit are a great help.

All will explain that living the change is not easy. There is no instantaneous moment when I stopped being a jerk and became a nice guy. But there was a moment when I recognized my failure. And the moment burned into memory. And when I have an opportunity to be a jerk or a good person, I start picking the right way.

And then, I understand.

How Long Will It Take You To Change?

April 29, 2020

Charles Duhigg, writing in The Power of Habit, suggests it takes 30 days to exchange a bad habit for a better one. Dr. Henry Cloud, author of many books you should read beginning with Boundaries, says actually the number is closer to 60 days.

Tom Peters writing in The Pursuit of WOW! says actually it takes just a nanosecond—one billionth of a second.

He knows what every Baptist preacher knows—you make the decision in an instant.

Why do you think that pretty much all Christian writing after the Gospels talks about how to live?

Because, after the decision, after that nanosecond, you’ll spend years living it out. Developing the change.

In Christianity it’s called discipleship. Jesus-followers are instructed by the guy their following to “make disciples.” That means you don’t get people to make The Decision and then move on to the next one. You now have a responsibility for what happens after the nanosecond.

That is where knowing the spiritual disciplines—spiritual practices—comes in. The disciplining process in many, if not most, churches if it even exists, leaves much to be desired.

And there is no time like now to realize that having developed the spiritual practices in a daily discipline helps get you through the day. Probably minimizes the inevitable frictions of being around the same people all day every day for who knows how long.

In Ancient Greek the word for spirit and the word for breath is the same word. For good reason. Need a refreshing of the spirit just now? Inhale deeply. Hold for a moment. Exhale slowly. Four times. Feel the relaxation.

Now, you’re ready to face the day. Or the next hour.

Be Aware of What Is Filling Your Mind

April 28, 2020

When my wife was teaching, I often encouraged her to teach the kids on how to read the advertising and marketing messages that inundated their little minds with awareness of the attempts to influence desires.

A publicist recently sent a book for me to review. The purported message of the text was how to become an entrepreneur and get to incomes upwards of $1 million per year. The text beneath the text was—join my program, help me (the author) reach that million-dollars-a-year club, and perhaps you will be like these 15 other people who work fewer than 3-hours-per-day and have incomes at that level.

How many people will be aware of the subtle text within the overt text?

Evidently many in the world think Americans are the most gullible people on God’s green Earth given the number of sources of totally contrived messages that have a scent of reality posted on social media for people to pass around to their “friends” in order to stir up emotions.

Writers on the world of the spirit have known for many thousands of years about the temptations of filling the mind with worry, suspicion, fear, cynicism. And they’ve known about the types of people who promote that thinking for their own gain.

And we know that a better life, the Apostle Paul called it life with the fruit of the spirit, is there for the taking by filling our minds with these higher things.

Especially in these days of Coronavirus quarantine where fear can spread so quickly nurtured on by writers and politicians whose livelihood and power grow out of those fears, we need to be acutely aware of what feeds and fills our minds. Think on these higher things is an ancient—and modern—valuable teaching.


April 27, 2020

“I live among rural Vermonters much of the time. They can do a million things. The average “hick” in my neck of the woods is a crafty, multiskilled networker/trader/entrepreneur. Many of my neighbors are degreeless and diplomaless, but they could outwit the average corporate manager without raising a sweat.” An observation by management consultant and seminar leader Tom Peters found in The Pursuit of WOW!: Every Person’s Guide to Topsy-Turvy Times.

I also in my life have lived among “hicks” (as Peters calls them in his 1994 book). In fact, I’m sure some of my bosses in my early management career thought the same about me—McKinsey consultants as they were.

I’ve also worked around “guys with ties” often. Most think they earned and deserved their rank and their income. Mostly they got there due to family contacts and/or inherited wealth. And some could have easily have been outwitted by the shrewd, car-tinkering, trader guy who never finished high school but was bright all the same.

This stream of thought merged with my reading today in The Didache. The section called “Dos and Don’ts”. Do be humble formed the central thinking.

Time and again I’ve witnessed the failings of those whose pride got the best of them. Often enough to serve as a warning chime in my psyche if I seem to be going off on a wrong path. Don’t prejudge. Put others first.

This is no doubt a key to surviving during this quarantine period where you’re locked in with a limited number of people who are all-to-aware of your limitations. May you be healthy in body, mind, and spirit.

Don’t Let What You Think Prevent Right Actions

April 24, 2020

I ran across some videos of one of those motivational guys. You know the type. Could be either gender. They get on stage or in front of a camera. They are filled to overflowing with energy. They try to motivate the audience to open up and drink in some of that energy.

And almost every time, two weeks later nothing has changed in the individual lives of the attendees.

You cannot be blindly optimistic and survive. Nor do those who fill their mind with every thought of what can go wrong, the perpetually negative people.

You fill your mind with solid foundations of spiritual wisdom grounded in observation of reality. Jesus said to think on these things. Paul said to think on these things. Every spiritual person I’ve ever read tell how they filled their minds with the things of God.

But the more I studied and read, the deeper I came to this realization. I learned it at 21 and learn it again every day.

Life is not about stopping at that point. You can’t stop at knowing what that motivational guru speaker said.

If you fill your mind with everything wrong in the world, you’ll not do anything.

The point of filling your mind with the spirit every day is to be able to go out and meet life’s challenges and do the right actions. Meditation and experiencing God just lays the foundation. It is meaningless without taking that new awareness into the world to teach, serve, mentor, guide.

Listening As A Discipline

April 23, 2020

A woman tweeted a rant that was retweeted a few times which made it to me. She was rebelling against all those perpetually perky, optimistic people—you know, the life gives you lemons, make lemonade types. She said (I am paraphrasing, I lost the tweet) don’t tell her to make the best of this situation of staying home to learn a language, start a business, teach the kids college math, write a book, and bake glorious desserts.

Yesterday I was on a conference call with about 35 other people. We went around and mentioned our status. They ranged from very rural to city and from America and Europe. And our current experiences varied, even though given the nature of the work we all do, we’re all busy working.

I’ve noticed. Some people adapt and carry on. Some people are fearful. Some are cautious. A few rebel against the constraints and actually want to go out like “normal” (and catch the virus and die, but I digress).

It’s a little like school where you have the perky kids who sit in the front of the class and always raise their hands to answer and ask the obvious questions to please the teacher. And the majority of kids just trying to learn and get by. Then there are the kids who cut as many classes as possible to sneak a cigarette break.

Listen to where people are. For some, they need reproving. Some need understanding (just listen). Some need encouragement. Some don’t need encouragement—they need to be reminded that not everyone is as perky as they.

Listen and strive to understand. God will meet each person through the channel of a listening and empathetic friend. Be one of those.

Be a Good Steward to Celebrate Earth Day

April 22, 2020

Jesus told stories about being a good steward of what you have been given by God.

Different people have different takes on what that means.

Some people look at a piece of land and marvel in the beauty of nature, the trees, wildlife, streams.

Some people look at a piece of land and envision it flowering with cash crops to provide a living and feed the population.

For others, the cash crop is a hotel, or casino, or homes, or businesses.

I’m not taking sides among those. I don’t want early morning arguments. I love experiencing nature. I like to eat. I appreciate having a house in which to live even though just a few years ago this was a corn field—now a development larger than my home town.

But we can all live better without polluting our drinking water. And unleashing all those plastic bags that fly with the wind and drift with ocean currents everywhere eventually killing animals which will eventually kill us. (Yes, I’m aware that due to the fear of spreading viruses we are back to single use bags rather than bringing our reusable bags to the store. The nice young lady at Trader Joe’s reminded us of that the other day.)

Today is the 50th Earth Day. Pause for a moment today and contemplate at least one action that can become a habit that cleans and protects our. Earth.

I tried this Thomas Mann quote once and an engineer took him literally, but here goes again. Allow your mind and vision to expand as you contemplate, “If everyone swept in front of their house, the whole world would be clean.”

Let Your Gift Sweat In Your Hands

April 21, 2020

“Let your gift sweat in your hands until you know to whom to give it.”

I opened The Didache (did-uh-kay) this morning for my reading. Reading from the first commandment which begins with Jesus’ commandments to love God and love our neighbor, the anonymous writer used about half of the paragraph to describe gifts. We receive gifts from God (and presumably others). If we are in need, use the gifts with gratitude. If you are not in need and fail to pass the gift on, you are guilty and must answer for your sin. “Let your gift sweat in your hands until you know to whom to give it.”

Remarkably, my book of the week is The Gift: How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World by Lewis Hyde. I am only about half finished. Thus far he is exploring various types of gift giving in a variety of cultures throughout human history.

This is a tradition among many peoples and times. Yet, how rare in modern times.

Yet, it is an important teaching from the earliest of Christian teachers. The Didache was written most likely about the same time as the Gospels and used for teaching by most early teachers. Its author is anonymous, therefore (and could be male or female, by the way), so since it could not be traced back to a first generation apostle, it was not accepted into the Canon (New Testament). Still, it and The Shepherd of Hermas are important books for teaching discipleship.

In the context of the first commandment where this is found, the obvious intent is to pass along gifts we receive if we do not need them to someone who is in need. Hoarding has never been a Christian virtue. Sharing has.

Leaders Exert Control Over Emotions

April 20, 2020

The best leaders can exert intellectual control over their emotions. It is not that they don’t have emotions—that would be cold and mechanical. It is not that they don’t inspire emotions—people will follow leaders who inspire their best emotions.

However, when followers always feel as if they are in some quicksand of ever changing and intense emotional outbursts, stability and willingness to follow are sacrificed. People are always wasting time reading the emotional temper of the day and trying to adjust their actions and words to fit.

Don’t consider this mere theory. Once the president of my company perhaps indulged in more than adequate amount of martinis before speaking to a conference of the company’s top management team and proceeded to rip the department led by his rival for the top spot. Another leader exhibited bi-polar symptoms disappearing for a few days and then writing inane emails 24-hours-a-day for a couple of days. Neither was a success or inspired confidence.

Here are some thoughts for us as we try to develop a higher emotional intelligence and improve our chances for leadership success. I didn’t note the source of these but I suspect Daniel Goleman.

1. You have a robust emotional vocabulary.

All people experience emotions, but it is a select few who can accurately identify them as they occur. People with high EQs master their emotions because they understand them, and they use an extensive vocabulary of feelings to do so. The more specific your word choice, the better insight you have into exactly how you are feeling, what caused it and what you should do about it.

2. You’re curious about people.

It doesn’t matter if they’re introverted or extroverted, emotionally intelligent people are curious about everyone around them. This curiosity is the product of empathy, one of the most significant gateways to a high EQ. The more you care about other people and what they’re going through, the more curiosity you’re going to have about them.

3. You embrace change.

Emotionally intelligent people are flexible and are constantly adapting. They know that fear of change is paralyzing and a major threat to their success and happiness. They look for change that is lurking just around the corner, and they form a plan of action should these changes occur.

4. You know your strengths and weaknesses.

Emotionally intelligent people don’t just understand emotions; they know what they’re good at and what they’re terrible at. They also know who pushes their buttons and the environments (both situations and people) that enable them to succeed.

5. You’re a good judge of character.

Much of emotional intelligence comes down to social awareness; the ability to read other people, know what they’re about, and understand what they’re going through. Over time, this skill makes you an exceptional judge of character.

6. You are difficult to offend.

If you have a firm grasp of whom you are, it’s difficult for someone to say or do something that gets your goat. Emotionally intelligent people are self-confident and open-minded, which creates a pretty thick skin.

7. You let go of mistakes.

Emotionally intelligent people distance themselves from their mistakes, but do so without forgetting them. By keeping their mistakes at a safe distance, yet still handy enough to refer to, they are able to adapt and adjust for future success.

8. You give and expect nothing in return.

When someone gives you something spontaneously, without expecting anything in return, this leaves a powerful impression.

9. You don’t hold grudges.

The negative emotions that come with holding onto a grudge are actually a stress response. Just thinking about the event sends your body into fight-or-flight mode, a survival mechanism that forces you to stand up and fight or run for the hills when faced with a threat.

10. You neutralize toxic people.

Dealing with difficult people is frustrating and exhausting for most. When they need to confront a toxic person, they approach the situation rationally. They identify their own emotions and don’t allow anger or frustration to fuel the chaos. They also consider the difficult person’s standpoint and are able to find solutions and common ground.S

11. You appreciate what you have.

Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the right thing to do; it also improves your mood because it reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23 percent. Research conducted at the University of California, Davis, found that people who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood, energy and physical well-being. It’s likely that lower levels of cortisol played a major role in this.

12. You disconnect.

Taking regular time off the grid is a sign of a high EQ because it helps you to keep your stress under control and to live in the moment.

13. You get enough sleep.

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of sleep to increasing your emotional intelligence and managing your stress levels. When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, shuffling through the day’s memories and storing or discarding them (which causes dreams) so that you wake up alert and clearheaded.