Are you prepared to conquer?

“Energy & persistence conquer all things.”

Benjamin Franklin

What are the big things that you want to accomplish this year?

Will they happen by default, or will you have muster resources to enable success? I imagine that if your goals are like mine, they aren’t going to happen without a lot of dedicated and focused effort. And, if they are really good goals, the kinds that stretch you and move you out of your comfort zone, persistence will be necessary because you are likely to experience setbacks and failures along the way. 

So, what will you do today to invest energy into moving your goals forward? How are you preparing your mind for setbacks so that you can acknowledge them, learn, and then continue to move forward when they inevitably occur?  

This thing you are focused on, is it useful?

“What will your life have been, in the end, but the sum total of everything you spent it focusing on?”

Oliver Burkeman

As I have written before, one of my favorite questions to ask myself when faced with an emotional response to a situation or circumstance is, “Is this useful?” It can be incredibly clarifying and helpful in focusing life’s precious energy on what is and isn’t beneficial within a particular moment. Zooming out, I am thinking through applying this same question when faced with a decision about the investment of energy towards a project, initiative, or goal. 

“Is this useful?”

I guess the answer depends on whether or not you know what you are focusing on and why. In the end, how you answer this question will determine the impact your life has had on others. These are three simple words, yet they hold so much power when asked and answered.  

“Is this useful?”

Can you see your goals?

“Your goal should be out of reach but not out of sight.”

Anita Defrantz

What are your goals for this coming year? Are they written down? Have you created a constant and daily reminder that helps you lift your gaze from the grindstone of effort to ensure that you remember why you are doing the work the in the first place? 

It’s okay if the goal scares you and you don’t know precisely how you will get there. However, when going gets tough, and it will, you must have the intestinal fortitude to keep going and slog through the efforts that might be necessary for your goal to become a reality.  

How can you possibly motivate yourself to do the hard work if you can’t remember where you are going and why it matters in the first place?

Are you content to be flying on autopilot?

“There’s nothing more important than knowing where you’re going.”

J.J. Abrams

There is an old saying that “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” Unfortunately, life can be a lot like this. If one isn’t careful, the autopilot feature can kick on, and suddenly, you’ll look around and realize time has passed by and you can’t remember how you got to where you are, and if you even want to be there! 

Oh, how easy it is to slip into this trap of an autopilot life where every day is a repeat of the last, a myriad of fires to be put out, and a never-ending stream of moles that must be whacked.  

What is the antidote to an seemingly automatic life? Where is the off switch that puts you back in the driver’s seat, intentionally driving to the correct destination? For me, it starts with a focus on my Faith. When I am paying attention to the purpose of my life and why God has put me down a particular path, the road seems clear. When I allow myself to be in charge or think that I am in control, suddenly the world is a little less clear, and the destination less confident.  

Find your path, set your destination, align with drives you, check the map regularly and turn off your autopilot. The next year will fly by; you might as well get somewhere on purpose.  

Learning to love less…

“The less I needed, the better I felt.”

Charles Bukowski

Over the past six months, I have chosen to put down my daily blogging habit. It happened because I missed a few days due to work; there was just too much going on at the moment in July when I last posted regularly. Over these past five months, something has been missing, and it wasn’t that I needed more time; I needed more intentionality with my time. I have realized how much I enjoyed writing for 15-30 minutes each day and reflecting on the meaning of a particular quote. I genuinely don’t know how many people, if any, read this blog regularly. But that isn’t why I write. I write because it is a meaningful use of time for me. It creates focus and discipline in my life. 

What does that have to do with today’s quote? Perhaps not much at all. But as I reflect on the year behind and make plans for the year ahead, it is apparent that less is truly more. The fewer distractions one has, the more focused you can be on the things that really matter. The better people that you have surrounded yourself with in life, the more impact you can have for others.  

As I wrap up 2021 and reflect on all the changes that the past year has carried, I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to learn the value of less. I am excited about what is to come in 2022 and opportunities to serve more people in a balanced and intentional manner. It starts with picking up an old habit and writing again. It’s good to be back.  

Are you watching stars or satellites?

“We need to learn to set our course by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship.”

Omar Bradley

I recently spent some time in Montana, and the brilliance of the stars in the night sky was simply incredible. It was indeed one of the most impressive things I have ever seen.

I remember looking at the stars early one morning and seeing a moving “star” across the sky. It wasn’t a star at all but merely a satellite, something that was bright and moving but impermanent and gone in just a few moments. As soon as it was out of my field of vision, my focus returned to the stunning constellations and bright stars that people have viewed for millennia.

It can be so easy to shift attention to the newest shiny star in the sky. But those aren’t stars at all; they are merely distractions from the path. They are satellites that move and are gone from view. Focus on the stars instead.

What do you see?

“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Do you see your life as a series of challenges that you must endure or work, hard work, on the path to building your cathedral?  

Do you have the right numbers?

“It is not in numbers, but in unity, that our great strength lies.”

Thomas Paine

A few exceptional and committed people can accomplish almost anything.  

It’s been my experience that if you double the size of the team and halve the degree of commitment, 25% of the work will be done.

Which team do you want to be part of?

Greatness is built on the small things…

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”

Vincent Van Gogh

What is the “great thing” that you are focused on right now? Is it clearly defined in your mind? Can you almost touch it because it feels so real?  

Now for the critical question. How are you going to make this become a reality?  

Great things are never accomplished through simple wishes and desires. It takes hard and focused efforts, on the small things day in and day out, that bring greatness to life.  

The real question is, what are the small things you are working on today, that will mean something incredible tomorrow? Rinse and repeat daily; that’s when the magic happens.  

Focus is the antidote to average…

“The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.”

Bruce Lee

Laser-like focus isn’t average or easy. The person who can demonstrate the discipline to say no to of this magnitude is hardly average. What three things should you have said “no” to today?

What record are you creating today?

“You are what your record says you are.”

Bill Parcells

This is entirely true if the only place you look is in the rearview mirror. The key is to remember that your work today will create the record you reflect back on tomorrow and in the future. Make it count; your record is a reflection of the focus and effort you bring to the table every single day. 

Are you ready for spring?

“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.”

George Lucas

There is something so powerful about the spring season’s coming, maybe this year more than any in recent memory. New growth, fresh opportunities, new people to serve, and distinct experiences to create are just some of the promises brought to life in the season of growth.  

Our ability to embrace the hope of the new season is dependent on our ability to discern and focus on what is truly valuable. Are you focused on the things that matter this spring? 

What are you going to do about it?

“Do more of what makes you happy. Make memories that you will cherish forever. Remember that health, family, and happiness are the most important things in life. Follow your dreams and don’t hold back.”

Aysel Gunar

If you don’t do the things above, does your life truly matter?  

What gets in the way of building a life where you follow your dreams and live for the important things? Are the things that get in the way more important than memories, health, family, or happiness? More important than your dreams?  

If the answer is no, then what are you going to do about it?

Happiness lies in unlocking your “no.”

“If you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion. For your passion will lead you right into your purpose.”

T.D. Jakes

Passion can enable your purpose. Your purpose can also enable your passion. Regardless of whether it lives under the label of “passion” or “purpose,” the critical question to answer is, “why do you do what you do?” If you can’t answer this, then why are you doing it?

The real value in defining your passion and purpose is that they enable you to say “no” to all of the things which will inevitably try and get in the way. Purpose and passion aren’t just a means to an end; they are the great clarifiers of our lives. Solve for these, and you will have the freedom to say “no.”

Review your day with the beginning in mind…

“I will keep constant watch over myself and – most usefully – will put each day up for review. For this is what makes us evil – that none of us looks back upon our own lives. We reflect only upon that which we are about to do. And yet our plans for the future descend from the past.”

Seneca

One of the most impactful habits I have added to my routine is a morning preview and an afternoon/evening review. Doing this has enhanced my ability to focus on only what is most important and ensure that I hold myself accountable for what I committed to accomplishing on any given day.

Try taking five minutes in the morning to start your day with focus and intention. Then follow up at the end to take stock of your performance against your plans for the day.

Here are the questions I am currently using in my “Kickstart” and “After Action Review” journal. Give something like this a shot; you might find it to be a very beneficial exercise.

XX/XX/21 – 2021 – Day Focus Headline:

AM Kickstart:

Today I am grateful for…

What would make today great? What is the most important thing I must accomplish today?

Daily Affirmation Statement:


PM After Action Review:

Three things that happened today?:

Did I achieve my specific focus goal for the day? Why / Why Not?:

How could I have made today better?:

Are you practicing what you love?

“I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before. But it’s true – hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you don’t love something, then don’t do it.”

Ray Bradbury

What do you love to do so much that it doesn’t feel like work? What are the things that you do where the work itself is the joy and the reward? How much of your incredibly finite time do you spend doing those things? What prevents you from spending most of your time on the things where the practice and hard work are an exercise of love and passion? 

Answer these questions, and you begin to unlock your full potential.  

You must choose to create the things you want to be grateful for…

“We pass through this world but once.”

Stephen Jay Gould

If you had the chance, what would you have told yourself to do differently one year ago today? One month ago today? One week? Yesterday at this exact time?  

Time is finite, and we don’t have the chance to go back and redo any of it. Each day is a precious journey that can’t and shouldn’t be taken for granted. Even though we all know this, it is still easy to make poor choices and live as though we have an infinite amount of time here on earth.  

Try this; think forward to this exact time tomorrow morning. What is the one thing you want to reflect on with gratitude tomorrow regarding how you spent the past twenty-four hours?  

Please write it down and then make it happen. You’ll thank yourself tomorrow…

What is failure?

“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.”

Johnny Cash

I love this quote because, for me, it defines the difference between failure and growth. If you do the things listed here, then it isn’t a failure.   It is merely an experience that didn’t turn out the way you wanted.  Then you can learn from it and go forward better and smarter.  

Failure is refusing to learn.  

Failure is blaming someone or something else.  

Failure is quitting.  

Failure is letting the past control you instead of owning the opportunity to do something better based on the first-hand experience of what doesn’t work.

You can’t measure success by looking in the rear view mirror…

“The whole point of getting things done is knowing what to leave undone.”

Oswald Chambers

What is the most important thing you wanted to accomplish today? Not the top three or five tasks, but the one thing that had to happen to make today a success? Did you start the day with a focus on where you needed to direct your time and energy?  

It is only by intentionally deciding what you must get done that you enable yourself to say no to the things that will inevitably come up and stand in the way of what is truly essential.  

Was today a success? If you didn’t start the day with a well-defined plan, how would you even know? You can’t define success in a rear view mirror…

Living for the big picture means being present in each moment…

“The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close up.”

Chuck Palahniuk

If you only look at the big picture, you miss all the beauty buried in the nuances of life. You miss the sound of the owl’s call, the joy of a child seeing something for the first time, the temporal whisp of the present moment which is gone all too quickly like smoke in the wind.  

Joy lives in the present moment, and while the big picture matters, it is only in the immediate second that you can make choices that impact the big picture. Make those decisions wisely and intentionally. You never get the time back…

Sometimes there are better questions than why…

“Your peace is more important than driving yourself crazy trying to understand why something happened the way it did. Let it go.”

Mandy Hale

Sometimes “Why?” is the wrong question to ask. Much better questions are, “What are you going to do about it?” And “How are you going to learn from this?”

The bottom line is that if you have to drive yourself crazy about something, you should at least make it productive.  

Are you listening to the brave voice in your mind?

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying ‘I will try again tomorrow’.”

Mary Anne Radmacher

Courage is an outward demonstration of inner strength. It is the choice to persevere even when you are scared. It is the willingness to look fear in the face and still act.  

Sometimes our most courageous act is stripping all the non-essentials away and focusing on what matters. Every day we have an opportunity to show our bravery in this regard. Every day is the chance of a lifetime to make the bold decision to act in a manner that demonstrates what we genuinely believe. Listen to the voice in your mind and if you weren’t successful today, be brave tomorrow.

A bit of butter scraped over too much bread…

“Consider the postage stamp: its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing till it gets there.”

Josh Billings

One of the most profound lines from J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring” is uttered by Bilbo Baggins. “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”

I have always loved this line, probably because it hits so close to home for me. Butter spread too thin doesn’t add much value to the bread. How much of our lives do we waste trying to spread ourselves too thin, attempting to “do more,” and instead of creating more value, we end up barely making the impact we are truly capable of delivering.

Rather than trying to cover and be everything, perhaps we should learn to use less bread? Maybe we simply need to learn to say “NO?”

Think of it this way; how does the bread taste when it has too little butter on it? Does it create an appetite for more? Instead of accomplishing our desire to “do more,” we might just be turning people off to what we have to give…

Are you planting seeds that will matter?

“If you’re going to think, then you might as well think positive. Remember, positive thoughts and actions are seeds that will produce positive results.”

Robert Tew

Where could your life use more positivity? What is preventing you from planting the seeds of change in an uplifting and confident manner?

Life is too short to waste any of it; dwelling on the negative cannot generate a positive return. I find this question to be the one that can invariably break me free from a negative cycle and embrace the positive. “Will this thing that has me upset or frustrated matter one year from today? More importantly, if I choose to handle it well, COULD it matter one year from today?”

How will you choose to play the cards you are dealt?

“It’s not about the cards you’re dealt, but how you play the hand.”

Randy Pausch

It can be natural to look at the cards in your hand and wish they were different. You can undoubtedly stare at the five of hearts and imagine what it would have been like to get the ace of spades instead. But lamenting what you didn’t get won’t help you with the cards you do hold.

Worrying about what you don’t have only serves to steal joy from the gifts and blessings right under your nose. Learning to appreciate and celebrate those gifts, recognizing to millions of other people the cards you hold are priceless beyond measure, enables you to experience the greatest freedom in life.  

‘And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? ‘ Luke 12:25-26 

If you want to build a better tomorrow, focus on today.

“Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are.”

Bertolt Brecht

One thing we must all accept in life is that nothing stays the same.  Change is both inevitable and constant. Recognizing and accepting this fact is the key to building a life of resiliency and focus.

When we see the change as benefitting us, we look forward to and are excited about the transformation going on in our lives. We view change as motivating and can easily live “in the future,” looking forward to new experiences.  

When we view change and its impacts through a lens we perceive as unfavorable, we lament the differences and wish things “could go back to the way they were.” In this case, we desire to “live in the past.”

Acknowledging that change is continual enables you to focus on what you can control in the present moment today. You can’t do anything about the things that happened yesterday, last week, or last year. But you can focus on those things that you would want to view favorably when today becomes history.  

You can’t control what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, or next year. But today, you have a choice to focus on those things that will be the seeds of future change. Your decisions today will either pay dividends or become an anchor that weighs you down.  

Focusing on today and the fantastic gift you have with this present moment enables you to become resilient when things don’t go your way. Today is an incredible “one time only show” that you can only spend once.  

Understand that change is constant and continual and spend today in a manner that will make tomorrow an immense blessing to both yourself and others.

notebook
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Frame tomorrow by asking this question today…

“No one rises above who he or she has been without first having fallen down. The best time – in fact, the only time – to make a real change in your life is in the moment of seeing the need for it. He who hesitates always gets lost in the hundred reasons why tomorrow is a better day to get started.”

Guy Finley

At the end of every day, I ask myself the question, “What would have made today even better?” Sometimes my answers are superficial; sometimes, they are incredibly enlightening. What I have learned by asking myself this question over the years is that it allows me to “tune in” to the day’s efforts and pragmatically assess how I spent my time. This practice helps reset my mind and refocus my energy on defining how I want to finish tomorrow.  

Understanding the need for change is what allows you to embrace the effort needed to make the shift. Try asking yourself this question at the end of every day for a month and reread your answers the following morning. You might be surprised at what you learn.

You must choose joy if you want it in your life…

“When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.”

Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D

How many things do you do in your day that bring you total and complete joy? How much of our lives do we spend pursuing these things versus the simple act of “survival?” I’m talking about the things you do not because you have to, not because you are required or expected to, but those that serve to restore and renew your energy.

Close your eyes. Think of something you love to do that truly invigorates your mind, body, and spirit. Now for the hard question, how much time do you intentionally allocate towards doing this activity? What would it take to do more? Why aren’t you doing it?

Now for the hard part, pull out your calendar and review your schedule. Find time in the next week to do this thing you love, which brings you joy. The time will pass regardless, shouldn’t you choose how you will spend it?

white and black weekly planner on gray surface
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These are the most important minutes of your day…

“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”

Marcus Aurelius

If you aren’t careful, the worries of the world, those temporary things which cloud the mind and distract from what is truly important, can occupy all of the space in your mind. As a rule, we humans tend to weigh ourselves down with things that, in the end, won’t matter and ignore the things that do matter.  

The key to keeping the important things in focus is to intentionally carve out the time to reflect on exactly the sentiment expressed in this wisdom from Marcus Aurelius. I believe it means as much, if not more, in today’s age as it did when he wrote it almost 2000 years ago.  

Take 5 minutes when waking up EVERY DAY to pause and reflect on the gifts and blessings that you DO HAVE in life. Perhaps start a gratitude journal to jot down these things. Do whatever you need to add a process of active gratitude into your life. I guarantee you will find your outlook for the day, month, year, changing. More importantly, you will find your outlook on life itself changing. You might find that these five minutes are the most crucial moments of your entire day.

Marcus Aurelius

Which door will you choose today?

“The best men are not those who have waited for chances but who have taken them; besieged chance, conquered the chance, and made chance the servitor.”

E. H. Chapin

What are you waiting for in life? The voice in the back of your mind that whispers, “it’s the door on the left?” If you don’t hear the voice, then what do you do? Wait until the signs are obvious? Do you wait for happenstance to occur and for the moment to be “just right.”

Waiting for chance sounds far too close to surrender to me. It is letting others, and outside circumstances, or the lack of circumstance, control who you are and who you become. As I reflect on this quote I am reminded of the ‘parable of the talents’ from the book of Matthew.

‘“It’s also like a man going off on an extended trip. He called his servants together and delegated responsibilities. To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand, to a third one thousand, depending on their abilities. Then he left. Right off, the first servant went to work and doubled his master’s investment. The second did the same. But the man with the single thousand dug a hole and carefully buried his master’s money. “

‘“After a long absence, the master of those three servants came back and settled up with them. The one given five thousand dollars showed him how he had doubled his investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’

‘“The servant with the two thousand showed how he also had doubled his master’s investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’

‘“The servant given one thousand said, ‘Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.’

‘“The master was furious. ‘That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest.”

‘“‘Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.’ “Matthew 25:14-30

The first two people in the story made chance the servitor. The third was a complete servant to chance. How do you want to live your life? Which door do you choose?

architecture black and white challenge chance
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