Redefine Your Win

The Tension

Have you ever felt that you are falling behind your peers? People out there who are your age or younger are going out and becoming entrepreneurs, becoming successful consultants, or gaining some sort of platform. They are reading and learning more than you. Ultimately this makes you feel like you need to do more or put in more effort to develop yourself.

I feel this tension a lot. I self-impose pressure and an expectation I have to read an entire book in one sitting and ingest all the information to be successful. There are all these blogs I need to write. Am I working out and running enough? Should I spend more time with my wife? Am I spending enough time with my friends? Am I living a balanced life? I do not have all the answers and I suppose if I did it would take all the surprise and excitement out of life, however, this tension I feel is something I have thought a lot about. Thinking about this tension has revealed some principles to me and I have been trying to apply them to my life.

Comparison

I often read about people like Mozart who composed incredible symphonies and think to myself “how can I get as good at my craft as they were at theirs?” It is easy to forget that it took something like ten years before Mozart produced what we now admire from his work. The same thing is true about Bill Gates, Bill Joy, the Beatles, and plenty of others (check out Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell). Not to mention that these people’s priorities were not the same as mine are. Am I willing to put everything aside, pursue my craft relentlessly, and become the best if it costs me my marriage? It is likely no one ever frames it that way in their minds but we see it happening all the time.

My Win

The truth is I feel as if I have lost if I am not able to finish a book quickly, hammer out a good blog post, or feel like I am not learning enough. What if I redefine my win? What if my win is to learn one new thing when I sit down to read or listen to a podcast? I win if I can learn something new that I can immediately apply to my life or share with someone else. This takes the pressure off. It makes it fun and sustainable. And I’m not beating myself up for all the things I’m not doing, but providing structure and framework for what a win looks like in what I choose to do.

Little by Little

I love this quote from John Wooden, “You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better. By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better.” Growing, learning, and getting better is not a sprint but a marathon. Like Tim Ferriss mentions in his book Tools of Titans, “…deliberately set a low bar for a ‘win’.”

This change of perspective of what I need to accomplish each day to be effective and win has been helpful. I have begun to look at the priorities in my life like marriage, work, church, & other relationships and define what a win looks like. I believe this change in perspective will help relieve the tension I often feel and help me succeed in the long run.

The Man In The Mirror

Have you ever been reading a book and began to get the feeling the author was writing specifically to you about your particular situation? In that moment you feel as if the author is tapping directly into your thought life and discussing what they see there. This is exactly what happened to me a few times while reading The Man In The Mirror. There were at least 2 sections of the book that it felt like Patrick Morley was speaking directly to where I am at in life. Admittedly, this book has a narrower audience for men who want to answer the question “Why do men think the things they think, say the things they say, and do the things they do?” It is for men who want to learn to grow in their faith. I throw that disclaimer out just so you are warned. Personally, I found it very helpful and hope it will add value to others as well.

Although this book has lots of quality information, if I were to distill it down to the two most helpful ideas for me it would be the idea of finding significance and how to prioritize & use our time.

  1. Significance

We all want our lives to have significance and meaning. We all want to be successful and seek glory on some level, but what actually provides significance to our lives? Our memories are short. When we base our significance on fame and worldly accomplishments, we choose something that will fade with time. Some of us seek significance through power, but enjoy it while it lasts. When you retire no one will call you anymore.

“We often only spend our energies to satisfy ourselves, rather than to serve others. Significance is not possible unless what we do contributes to the welfare of others.”

“Does what I am about to do contribute to the welfare of others in a demonstration of faith, love, obedience, and service to Christ?”

“Accumulating wealth, power, influence, and prestige are self-gratifying but will not satisfy a man’s need to be significant in a lasting way.”

“The secret of job contentment is not getting what you want but redefining what you need.”

As these quotes from the book reveal, it is difficult to attain satisfaction & significance in life through selfish ambitions. True lasting significance only comes through serving & helping others. This truth hits home to me as a husband and future father (we plan to have children in the future). Honestly I am guilty of spending lots of my time and energy thinking about how to be more successful. Whether this is at work, in my friendships, or at church. I love to read books about leadership and listen to podcasts about how to develop myself. However, at the end of my life none of this knowledge will matter if I lose my marriage. It won’t matter if my kids don’t want to speak with me. I don’t want to seek success at work at the cost of spending time with my kids and wife. I realize there is a balance; there is a time for work and for play. The bills need to be paid. However, when it comes to priorities and how I want to make decisions about where I spend my time, money, and efforts, I need to have a framework for what my priorities are. These thoughts from Morley’s book have helped me with that.

  1. Time

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Plato

My goal shouldn’t be to attain greatness but to be faithful with the time given to me. Defining the purpose of my life through a personal mission statement helps prioritize my life. The decision of what I stand for has already been made; I just need to apply it to all situations. The purpose of my life can be summed up in Jesus’s words in Matthew 22:37-39 “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

I am often looking for tips and techniques of how to be more productive and effective with my time. The truth is I don’t need tips and techniques but a strategy. This is exactly why priorities help because they give me a strategy to live my life by. We can all be successful as long as we do the little things in a single direction.

There is a difference between efficiency and effectiveness. Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things. Most of us don’t just want to be efficient with our time but effective. We don’t want to be successful at work and in our careers but let family life deteriorate. However, if we don’t examine our priorities and make some changes, that can be exactly where we are headed. I am thankful to learn the difference between efficiency and effectiveness and learn to not mix them up.

This book has revealed to me a number of areas in my life, which I need to examine. Not only did it reveal some areas for growth, but gave helpful action steps. I love to read books, which are not only interesting but also applicable to my life. This is why I read books and write this blog: to hopefully provide some insight and application that adds value to others. For this reason I would definitely recommend this book, especially to men who may feel stagnant in their careers, marriages, or friendships.

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

This book gives very practical and helpful ways to fight against the worry and anxiety that tends to creep into life. The information is well organized and each chapter ends with a rule that summarizes the entire chapter in one sentence. I found this extremely helpful to aid in remembering the ideas from the book. In the past I have read and thoroughly enjoyed How to Win Friends & Influence People, another book written by Dale Carnegie, and this book was not a disappointment. I was just surprised I had never heard of it and had to rely on Amazon’s suggestion based on other books I have ordered or viewed to make me aware of it. Here are a few of the helpful ideas I got from the book.

  1. The Anti-Worry Technique

In the book Carnegie provides a 3 step anti-worry technique that I have been using against my own worries and stresses and find very effective.

  1. The first step is to analyze your worry or anxiety honestly and reduce it down to the worst-case scenario. Ask yourself what is the worst that could happen?
  2. Once you have determined the worst that could happen, reconcile yourself to accept the worst, if you needed to. Could you keep going on in life if the worst outcome came true?
  3. After you have figured out the worst that could happen and reconciled in your mind that you could accept it if you needed to, spend your time and energy figuring out how to make the situation better. What is within your control to improve the situation?

I often sabotage my productivity and concentration by worrying and stewing over problems without actually addressing them appropriately. This 3 step technique has provided me with the framework to address my worries and anxieties in a helpful way.

  1. Act the way you want to feel

We often assume that our actions follow our feelings, however, it is actually the other way around. Our feelings follow our actions. This means we should act the way we want to feel.

Emerson said: “A man is what he thinks about all day long.”

Marcus Aurelius said: “Our life is what our thoughts make it.”

Norman Vincent said: “…you are not what you think you are; but what you think, you are.”

William James said: “Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.”

Proverbs 23:7 (KJV) “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…”

Personally it is far easier to believe that I am at the mercy of my feelings. This way I do not have to take responsibility for my actions when they are a result of my negative feelings. The truth is I am in control of my feelings because I can control my actions. I am in the process of learning that to feel joyful I must act joyful, even if I do not feel happy. The arena that we win or lose is in our thoughts. Your life will always move in the direction of your strongest thoughts.

  1. How to stop worrying about criticism

When people criticize you remember it is often a compliment in disguise. Criticism from others means you are doing something worthy of attention. Human nature is to criticize those who are better educated or more successful than ourselves. As the saying goes ‘No one ever kicks a dead dog.’

Eleanor Roosevelt said “Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized, anyway. You’ll be ‘damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.” Look at the facts, make a decision to do what you feel is right, and let the criticism roll right off you like water off of a ducks back.

Realize that everyone does foolish things now and again. Instead of stewing over these foolish things or arguing against them, learn from them. Often criticism has a kernel of truth. Instead of fighting against criticism, use it in whatever way you can to help you get better and thank your critic for their helpful feedback. As Eleanor Roosevelt also said, “Remember no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

The Happiness Project

I just finished reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin after hearing about the book while listening to a podcast in the car on a trip with my wife recently. If you would like the 1-minute distillation, below are the main takeaways in bullet form:

  • We all have an inborn disposition that sets us within a happiness range, however, through our actions we can push ourselves to the top or the bottom of the range.
  • You will succeed at meeting your goals if they are concrete, measurable, and you have both accountability and some sort of reward.
  • The concept of accessibility means that information you use often is easier to recall. If you remind yourself often of your goals it is more likely you will keep them.
  • I incorrectly assume I act the way I feel. The truth is I feel a certain way because of the way I act. I must learn to act the way I want to feel.
  • It does not matter what you feel inside. People only see your actions.
  • You have to find what is fun for you. Just because an activity is fun for someone else does not mean you will or should enjoy it. Accept what you enjoy doing and don’t devalue it compared to what others like doing.
  • Keep a Resolutions Chart to track how well you follow through with your resolutions. You have to follow through to see change happen otherwise your resolution has no significance.
  • Goals and Resolutions are different. You meet a goal but continue to keep resolutions indefinitely.

If you read this book with the goal of finding out what will make you happy as an individual, you may be disappointed. Rubin is pretty clear about this in the part at the beginning of the book called “A note to the reader.” I would bet the majority of readers do not read that part and may have missed it; nevertheless, she does call this a “project.” The bottom line is that this is a book about her project, what she tried, and what she learned. If you or I were to try a similar project, the resolutions we would choose would likely be different than the ones she chose. Happiness is not a one size fits all sort of emotion and I believe that is for the best. All of that being said, it is still very interesting and encouraging to read about all the resolutions she made to maker her life happier. I certainly gained enough insight from this book that I would recommend it to a friend.

One of my favorite ideas from the book is about acting how we want to feel. Rubin notes in her book “…one of the most helpful insights that I’d learned in my happiness research: although we presume that we act because of the way we feel, in fact we often feel because of the way we act.” This also works in relation to our thoughts. We need to think about ourselves the way we want to feel. I once heard Craig Groeschel, one of my favorite pastors, say, “Your life will always move in the direction of your strongest thoughts.” I think this is true. When I am at work and I begin to get behind on my plan for the day, people seem to keep coming by to ask me questions and interrupt me, I begin to respond in frustration towards my co-workers, and I begin to think how lousy my day is going. At this point I have just decided for myself that my day will be bad.

When I feel frustrated, I act frustrated, and my day ends in frustration. However, what I should do is when I find myself feeling frustrated I should act calmly and choose to not allow frustration to rule my thoughts. It is far easier to believe that I have no control over the outcome of my day than to take ownership of my actions, my thoughts, and decide to have a good day. This is why one of my resolutions for 2018 is to read a personal mission statement each day. One of the statements on my list is to “maintain as positive attitude. The man who wins is the man who thinks he can.” I believe that by reading a personal mission statement each day I can equip myself to believe these things about myself and help my life move in the direction I want it to.

Another concept I found very helpful from the book was about making and keeping resolutions and goals. Part of Rubin’s project was to create a Resolution’s Chart where she documented her progress and success at keeping her resolutions. This chart was a good way to make sure she capitalized on the concept of accessibility which is the idea that the more we remind ourselves of our goals and resolutions, the easier it is to recall them and follow through with them. Although I have been doing something similar to this for many years, Rubin’s Resolution’s Chart helped me to apply this idea to other areas of my life.

I am an evangelical Christian and for years I have kept a daily Bible reading plan. The reading plan is a schedule that lists the date, the book of the bible, and the number of chapters to read each day. When I follow through with this plan each day, I am able to read the entire bible in a year. A small time investment each day makes a big difference over time. This sets the tone for my day. Since reading The Happiness Project I have applied this concept to my diet and to fitness as well. I now have a chart which shows the days of the week as the column headings and the resolutions read, exercise, and diet as the row headings. So if I meet all my resolutions in a day I get a RED! There is also something very satisfying about putting and X or check in a box and seeing lots of checked boxes at the end of the week. I keep this chart at the front of my daily planner so that I am reminded of my goals and resolutions each day.

One final idea that I found a lot of truth in is the idea that what is fun for someone else may not be fun for me, and vice versa. This may sound trivial on the surface but once I thought about it more deeply, I found that I do not always live by this in my own life. As Rubin described in her book, I tend to overrate the hobbies and passions that others have and underrate the things that I enjoy to do. One of her Secrets of Adulthood is “You can choose what you do; you can’t choose what you like to do.” I find this to be true. If I find myself with a free hour on a Saturday afternoon, more than likely I will sit down with a good book and read. I may also put on some running shoes and drive over to the greenway for a run. I definitely will not go out to my car, pop the hood, and “work on my car.” This is an activity that I have always found fascinating and wished that I enjoyed, but I do not. I may do this with a friend if it is something they enjoy doing, but it is not likely something I will do on my own. I am learning that I do not need to convince myself that reading or working on my car is a better hobby or passion. I just need to experiment and find out what my passions are and stick with them.

Overall I found this book fairly helpful and applicable, even though many of the resolutions are not ones I would make myself. Rubin has obviously read a lot and uses a lot of quotes in her book, which I find enriches her content. Her writing is also pretty humorous so if you decide to read the book you will likely find yourself laughing out loud. Rubin also makes up lots of words or phrases throughout the book, which fit as definitions for situations and ideas in her life that we can all relate to. Here are just a few examples: boomerang errands, fog happiness, challenging fun, accommodating fun, relaxing fun, satisficer, and maximize. I think we would all do well to start our own happiness projects.