February 12, 2014
“I bought a wooden whistle and it woodn’ whistle.
So I bought a steel whistle, and it steel woodn’ whistle!
So I bought a tin whistle. Now I tin whistle.”
That’s from a very good scene in the four-time award-winning wonderful movie, Sweet Land. http://www.amazon.com/Sweet-Land-Story-Elizabeth-Reaser/dp/B000P5FH26/
The movie is billed as a love story, but it’s not a simple chick-flick. It’s more about life, work, prejudice, respect, and choosing to love.
I have a favorite line from the movie, but if you haven’t seen it yet, I don’t want to tell you the line because it’s best heard in the movie’s timing. I will warn you though, that you have to listen close to this movie or you’ll miss a lot of value. This is a movie which while slow at times, takes all of your attention—and maybe a second watching.
I hope you get to see the film if you haven’t already, but in any case, you can make people smile and chuckle with the above rhyme 🙂
January 21, 2014
Being natural bodies, we fall under the power of inertia.
When we’re working, really working, we’re often energized and propelled by seeing progress, making small accomplishments, checking items off our to-do list, knowing that we’re finally moving in the right direction. We want to keep going to see bigger victories and reach the end of a project or mission. At least we want to finish something, some stage of work, so we can move on and not have to come back to it later.
If you were writing a report or email when someone yelled “quitting time,” would you stop in the middle of a word, or say “okay, just let me finish this sentence”? (And you’d probably keep going at least to the end of the paragraph!) If you were wiping a counter and saw food dribbled down the cabinet front, you’d wipe that too, and then seeing some on the floor you would clean that up too, which would lead you to see the pet’s empty water bowl which happens to be in need of washing before filling. While you might be thinking “when will I ever be done!?!” you would keep going because you are in motion and one thing leads to another.
When we’re at rest, we feel like staying at rest, either because we’ve worn ourselves way down with our overly long work sessions, and/or because it’s easier to dream than to act. It’s easier to worry and procrastinate than to get the blood flowing through our muscles and brains. Just thinking of all the work we have to do makes us feel tired and lost. We want another hour of rest before facing what feels like a loosing battle with life. (Hint: when we have a schedule, we don’t always have to think about all of our work—usually only the next thing on the schedule.)
When we are working there are always more things to do. When we are resting there are always other positions to roll into, limbs to stretch or retract, dreams to be watched.
But we are not only natural bodies. We are also spiritual beings inhabiting our bodies like exosuits. And it is supposed to be our spirits in control of our bodies. We are supposed to choose what’s wise and make ourselves enact wisdom. Wisdom doesn’t rely solely on willpower—it adds strategic management.
One of the delights in being self-employed is supposed to be the freedom to work when we want to, and not when we don’t want to. But that is only viable once we learn to value work and know how to motivate and schedule ourselves.
If left to my own tendencies I would probably have a 34 hour day/night cycle, but God only designed a 24 hour cycle for us. I believe He had reasons.
I’ve discovered that working to the end of one project, while other things pile up, collapsing in exhaustion and resting until bed-ache or an outside force (or family member) demands wakefulness, and then tackling another mountain of work of one sort other until that pile’s cleared away, is NOT efficient—or healthy.
You might think for instance, washing dishes only once per week would be more efficient than washing after every meal. That not thinking about laundry until you had a washer-worth of each type (lights, darks, reds, whites) would let you focus on other things for a week or two. That piling up unsorted receipts, and sorting out accounting and taxes all at once annually would be most efficient. Wrong, wrong, and wrong.
While there are sometimes real advantages to grouping work into batches, cutting down on time required to get things in and out and switch mental gears from one task to another, this definition of efficiency has to be kept in check. There can also be a disadvantage we should examine—the ripple effect on life flow.
Cooking and serving in the second half of the week may take longer and be far more frustrating when the most appropriate dishes are in the dirty pile from three days before, and are filling up half of the available counter space. Picking out an appropriate outfit for your day may also take longer and be less satisfactory when most of your clothes are dirty and waiting for that one big laundry day. Finding time for several days of sorting, categorizing, and adding up income and expenses can not only be hard, but it also means pushing a week’s worth of everything else off track every Spring.
You’ll also find that you work smarter, think clearer and faster, and feel more cheerful and creative when you go to sleep before you’re on the verge of illness, and get a sensible amount of sleep at least several nights per week.
So we need a schedule where everything gets done when it’s best for the flow of everything else. A little of this and a little of that, to keep every department of our lives running well. If you don’t believe me, try imagining the only grocery store in town saying that it’s more efficient to restock everything at once. What if they didn’t care that half of the shelves were empty and you couldn’t buy what you wanted, because there was still half a store’s worth of something for sale? And then what if everyone had to wait outside in line for three days while the whole store was restocked at once? This is an example of the ripple effect “efficiency” can have on the rest of life flow. It can be very inefficient for everything it touches.
The surprising part is that we will find that we seem to have more time–enough time–when we both have a good plan, and stick to it. That’s because we won’t be wasting time in confusion, frustration, and depression. You probably don’t know how much time those negatives take until you free yourself from them.
If your life is complex or you have many responsibilities, you may find it hard to make a plan or schedule which you can stick to. It takes thought over a period of time, and trial and error. Be willing to adjust when you find what won’t work.
I think my biggest problems with scheduling were being unrealistic with how fast I could work, not planning bumper time (for interruptions, bathroom trips, switching between tasks, etc), no allotment for the unexpected, and leaving no time for catching up when a project or chore didn’t fit it’s time slot. For years I refused to make a realistic schedule because I refused to accept it might take years to do as much as I wanted to accomplish in months. But I’ve found a time saver—a magic way to get more out of each day.
What’s important is to accept when you’ve found a workable schedule or plan, and then “just do it!” Know when to stop thinking thoughts like, “I wish I had a plan,” “I just don’t know how to get it all done,” “I’ll have to give up some sleep.”
“Just do it” saves time. I’ll explain.
When you hear “stick to the plan” I’m sure that triggers the protest that our plans can’t take into consideration the unknown future, so we’re bound to have to go with the flow and that means we’ll get behind again, so no schedule is going to work. That’s what I used to think. However I’ve learned that the best defense here is to swap. For example, if you’ve scheduled an afternoon at the computer and your spouse invites you out on a date or your kid gets sick, tend to the family today but make sure you reschedule (and accomplish) that afternoon worth of computer work on the next day where you had intended family time. But only swap when it’s wise to, not when your whim dictates.
So I’ll say it again: once you have a workable schedule, just do it! Whether you feel like it or not, you can just do it. Do what your plan calls for, when it calls for it. If you’re scheduled to load the washer tonight, do it. Don’t say to yourself, “oh I know I’m supposed to wash laundry, but I have clothes for tomorrow and I just want to go to bed. It will be okay.” You could have done it in the same time it took you to debate and excuse yourself. Stay on track and you’ll feel incredibly energized! Telling yourself “Just do it!” is like revving your own engine—you’ll go farther faster. You’ll rest better knowing you’re on track, and wake up happier knowing your not starting the day behind on your chores.
Once you have a good schedule, you won’t have to constantly waste time thinking about what you’re forgetting to do, trying to figure out where to start, calculating what will happen if you put something off, and wallowing in negative thoughts.
Every time you “just do it” you find out you can do it, which makes you feel like you can do anything. And you can. Without wasting energy and time thinking and rethinking the routine and mundane, you’ll have more time and energy for bigger and better things. After a while your schedule will become habitual, and that will free up even more time and energy for whatever you choose.
ANOTHER TIP: Once you have scheduled time periods for each type of work, be thoughtful to choose the most important or forward-moving activity for that category. For instance, if you’ve allotted one hour with your child, which adds most to the quality of your relationship: passively watching a TV show together, or interacting imaginatively with action figures? If you only have an hour per week for social media, decide which will move you closer to your goal: to write a blog post, browse other people’s FaceBook pages, Tweet encouraging responses to other people, search for an ezine which might publish your article, or what? Accept the length of time you have for a type of work, and focus on using that time slot wisely.
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…” (Ecclesiastes 3). It’s our job to discipline ourselves to do the right things at the right times.
January 27, 2013
Life is a beautiful forest, and I see that most of the time. But when I’ve bumped my nose on a tree trunk, it’s easy to get wrapped up in thinking about “that stupid tree that’s always in my way.”
It goes like this:
Angry. Short of patience even though I don’t want to be. Frustrated. Tired. Very tired of the same things over and over. “Why does life have to be so hard!?!?” I think.
I know why life is hard in general: so we’ll learn—learn patience, self-control, love, endurance, humility, cooperation (with each other and with God), appreciation for better times, etc.
But why SO hard? Why so hard that I can’t seem to manage what I think I ought to be accomplishing?
Still the wrong question.
Would I really be content with life as it is if I had any clearer understanding of WHY life is as it is? No!
If life is hard so that we learn and grow, then we aren’t even supposed to be content exactly as is—we’re supposed to be growing and moving on, changing our thinking and our approach and our outcome to something better than what comes naturally.
Looking backwards at how we got to the state we are in is helpful, to see consequences of actions so we can make better choices as we go on. Looking backwards can also be helpful in seeing what all we’ve forgotten that we should be thankful for, so we realize that life isn’t as bad as it might seem when only focused on a small part.
But when one is angry and frustrated, then asking “why” life is as it is, is actually mostly looking to blame. Why did God put me in this lousy life? Why don’t other people make my life easier? Why am I so stupid I don’t do something completely different?
Blame breads bitterness, loneliness, and depression. When vented, angry blame only make a problem bigger.
Life is what it is—so far as the present moment. The future depends on our choices.
The right question is “What am I going to do to make things BETTER?”
As long as there’s a plan or an idea to move forward positively, there’s hope for goodness. And where there’s hope and action, there’s joy, and love, and progress toward all good things.
When positivity is radiated, improvement can grow and multiply.
So what are you going to do to make things better?
NOT “What are you going to do for revenge?” NOT “What are you going to do to get free of miserable responsibilities?”
What are YOU going to do to make things TRULY BETTER?
That is the right question. And the answer will make you joyful.
(Images courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, dan, & Stuart Miles, at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/ )
January 14, 2013
Is there a bit too much of you after all those holiday dinners?
You can give “yourself” away on EVERY ordinary day.
Giving away your food, or the time you would spend preparing food and eating, reduces your intake which over time will reduce your size. This can be done within your ordinary routine—there’s no need to join a club or charity or diet. You can even give to yourself!
When you give something up, you won’t feel deprived if you focus on the joy of sharing and seeing someone else enjoy what you’ve just given (or the joy of giving yourself something unusual and fun).
Your kind act should give you an emotional boost to counter any lingering hunger. If you need extra help, take a deep breath stretching yourself tall while pulling your tommy in, and tell yourself, “I’m getting thinner.” Then go on to your next chore with a cheerful mood.
Here are some examples:
- If you are making yourself a snack when your spouse or friend walks in the room, give your food to him/her, or at least half of it. (This may or may not work with kids, as they might not like the kind of food you fixed for yourself.)
- When making breakfast or lunch for your kids, don’t make any for yourself–just eat the scraps or their left-overs. Give the extra time saved to your kids instead, in the form of your attention while they’re eating.
- When you usually eat with family, but find yourself alone for dinner, either skip dinner alltogether or have something quick and light like popcorn or a piece of toast, and give yourself the meal time for something special instead (like a long bath, or reading a book you’ve been wanting to get to, or cleaning the closet, calling a relative or far-away friend, writing that book you’ve been dreaming about, or any other thing you don’t usually have time for).
- Taking lunch to work? Watch for a homeless person and if you see one, then give away your lunch and go without that day. (You’re more likely to see a hungry person if you are looking for one.)
- Taking lunch to work, idea #2: Share it with someone who has less quantity or less quality in their lunch bag.
- At home OR at work, when you’re thinking of getting something for yourself to eat, look around on your way to the food for little chores that need doing, and do them (an hour or two may pass before you get to the fridge, and by then it might actually be meal time). You’ll feel happier because you were productive rather than wasteful/waist-full.
- When you’re thinking of getting something for yourself to eat, idea #2: Ask someone nearby if there is anything you can do to help them right now. (This gives you a break from your own activities, and gives you an energy boost from being surprisingly & kindly helpful, while keeping you too busy to eat.)
- Planning on buying your lunch? Give that money to something later by putting it in another pocket, telling yourself it will buy XYZ (or it will go with tomorrow’s lunch money for XYZ if XYZ costs more). Make sure XYZ is something you’ll feel good about, like a present for a child or spouse, lunch out with your mom, or something you could really use that you’ve been putting off buying.
You can probably find more ways to give yourself thin, if you get started and keep looking. You’ll become happier, and so will those around you!
December 19, 2012
My nine-year-old son and I both “booed” after finishing a short story which started with two children being left alone on an island, and ended with them still there, abandoned by their only visitor, and one of the children vowing to find a way off of the island some day. I tried to console my son by saying that when I experience a sad story that ends without an “ending,” it makes me resolve to get busy making something happen in real life. I asked him, “Do stories always have to have a happy ending?” I continued, “Real life doesn’t have happy endings—it just keeps going and going.” To which he instantly replied, “That’s why we turn to stories!”
I think he’s right.
Most adults are busy, and we can sometimes accept taking a piece of a story to ponder its points as we go on with our activities; but remember being a kid, when a year seemed like eternity? Adults may have been around enough to know a hard time will pass in a day, or week, or year; but it’s hard for a child to hold out for relief which might be so far away—so they turn to fantasy. Time goes so slowly for children that they can’t always grasp from their own real lives, the sense of hope and joy they need; but they can get it from a happy ending to a story.
We all want to know that things will be okay in the end—the end of a situation, the end of a season of life, or the absolute end of one’s earthly life. We need hope for the future in order to keep going through anything less than perfect. We fuel that hope with stories, real and fictional. Stories give us a rest from our reality, and ideas to take back into reality. Sure, we can draw positive thoughts from a story that stops sadly, but that’s work, not recreation. We all–adults and children–need happy endings to feel relaxed and happy.
Life does keep going and going, but with lots of little happy moments, if not “endings.” For those who say that kids should not be taught to expect happy endings in life, I’d say they should be allowed the uplifting pleasure of happy endings in stories, AND taught to both look for and create happy passages in real life.
It doesn’t matter so much that life isn’t “happy EVER after” ONE struggle. It does matter that we CAN get through a struggle, and be happy—and so then we must be able to get through another struggle, and another. A happy ending gives hope for multiple happy endings to multiple struggles.
So don’t feel guilty for filling your kid’s heads with happy endings. And do make happiness come true, even in difficult times.
December 7, 2012
Holiday gatherings, and the month of dread which comes beforehand, are some of the most frustrating and depressing times for many people. These are supposed to be celebrations and reunions, but one of the biggest contributing factors which makes these events problems, is that so many people are measuring themselves and others with the wrong measuring sticks.
Tradition is to compare and judge others’ lives against one’s own life, based primarily and superficially on physical accomplishments, because these are the easiest things to put into words and are most similar across humanity in western cultural terms.
Examples: awards and educational degrees earned; prestige or money from jobs and number of promotions; home size, toys, and cars; money spent on gifts; kids and their growth, involvements or accomplishments; fun activities and places visited; number or class of friends; club memberships; books read or written; childhood dreams realized; etc.
But you can HAPPILY look like a failure by all of those standards, IF you have gained (or know you are gaining) understanding of humanity and of God, your reason for existing, and what will outlast the fleeting years at hand. For if understanding a good chunk of those things is what you pour your time and resources into, you can feel confident in your abilities to be an honest benefit to fellow humans and to the entire universe.
Communicating a meaningful measurement of your life is often hard, because there’s so much value in the fleeting moments which are like little pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and just as hard to remember or explain their context.
Examples: the times you made someone smile, were kind to a clerk, gave a hug, answered someone’s nagging question, realized the answer to your own questions, forgave someone, lovingly sacrificed your own desires for someone else’s good. The times God’s Spirit embodied you and shined through to lighten and enlighten the world with love.
So gather with grace, confidence, compassion and love for everyone, wherever they measure up at the moment–or think they measure up–on any yardstick. Hope for meaningful progress.
November 10, 2012
Do you tend to grumble because you have a spouse, sibling, coworker or friend who can never seem to manage to do their fair share of whatever it is in which you are both involved?
Somewhere in the world there are some really lazy, selfish, or stubbornly incapable people whom you might want to avoid, in order to keep your sanity and not be prevented from accomplishing an important goal or your life’s purpose.
But, I propose quite often the problem with one person’s unhappiness in an “unfair” relationship (working or familial), has more to do with one’s own perception and intrenched assumptions, than with the other person’s shortcomings. Let me explain.
Imagine you have twelve hours to drive to some place unfamiliar. You have this other person on the trip with you, but he can’t drive. He falls asleep in the passenger seat.
Eight hours into the trip you’re feeling tired and wishing he would do his share of the driving, to let you do some of the happy dreaming over there in the other seat. But no, he doesn’t even have a driver’s license because he’s always been afraid to try, even though you think his poor vision isn’t all that bad; after all, he doesn’t have trouble doing anything that else he really wants to do.
You come to a fork in the road which isn’t on the map, and you’re not sure which way to go. You pull over, wake your friend, and see what he thinks. You take his advice because it makes sense, and forty minutes later you see a sign which lets you know you are on the right track—your friend had been right about which way to turn.
Suddenly he wakes up again, and just before a freeway exit he asks if you know you are just about out of gas. You would have passed the exit and run out of gas because you were too tired to think of checking your gas gauge. Thanks to your friend, again, you are on your way with a full gas tank and no time lost.
When you arrive at your destination, you are so happy to be on time that you are no longer angry about having to do all the driving; you’re not even tired because you’re psyched about getting on with the purpose of your arrival.
Now of course by normal thinking, it certainly sounds like the work of the trip was unfairly divided. But consider your assumptions.
- You assume that your friend was happily dreaming for 12 hours. But what about the fact that your friend often wishes he could drive himself about, without having to depend on others? What about the headache he had all the next day because he slept uncomfortably in that car seat, instead of home in a bed, where he could have been if he hadn’t wanted to be along with you? What about the nightmare he had about you falling asleep while driving?
- You assume that you did all the work of driving. What about your friend’s two major contributions, without which you might have been several hours late? Don’t you think knowing which way to turn and when to get gas is just as important as controlling the car, as far as arriving at the correct place and time?
- You assume that your friend could actually drive just fine, if he weren’t too lazy to take responsibility. Maybe that’s true; maybe not. But even if that were true, it’s actually his loss, not yours. If he won’t learn and use a skill, he’s that much less capable and less experienced. But if you can manage to do more where he does less, than you are that much MORE capable and MORE experienced. You might even thank him for affording you the opportunity to stretch yourself.
So the truth is, you did what you could do, your friend did what he could do, and together the trip was a success. Remind yourself what matters.
If life were meant to always be “fair” as defined when we are acting like children who complain, “That’s not fair! I did it last time; it’s his turn now!” then we would all be identical in every way.
While sometimes we feel afraid of standing out from the crowd for fear we’ll make a mistake and be ridiculed, or for fear of being a bit lonely, truly everyone wants to be unique, special, better, needed, appreciated. We’d be so bored if somehow everyone’s life could be just like everyone else’s, so why ridicule or resent someone for not having the same skills or personality traits we possess?
An important key to finding happiness in any relationship, is to look for the virtues and utilities of the other person. Whether they are greater or lessor as compared to yourself or anyone else, does not mean they are not valuable. Appreciate the valuable, and it will appreciate in value.
Now reconsider that person in your life who can’t or won’t do his or her “fair share,” and see what there is about him or her for which you can be thankful and happy. What is his or her valuable contribution, whether great or small? Appreciate it. Build on it.