At some point in the past December 25 was a day set aside to celebrate the birth of a person that represented love and forgiveness. In the present day it seems to center around the exchange of gift cards and other activities that are shadows of their initial intent. I am not inclined to be too hard on our present day societal choices. The reason that we exchange gifts is the emulation of the gifts of the Magi. These gifts were important in helping Jesus and his family escape and hide from certain death at the hands of a jealous and angry king. It has been over 2000 years and we may not have it right yet but we’re not all wrong either.
I have to believe that mankind is capable of loving his neighbor. This not a religious thing but rather a practical matter. The reciprocals of love are too taxing on the body and the mind. Hatred, jealousy, anger and fear are difficult feelings to maintain. They are destructive to the individual and society. Although these feelings seem to happen to us, they are actually choices that we make.
So since love is a choice and hatred is a choice. Why don’t we choose the feeling that feels good and helps the world? Many reasons are out there but I believe the most pertinent is that we’re afraid we won’t get that love back if we give first. It’s the paradox that will determine our outcome as a species. Can we take the first step enough that others will feel secure enough to take it?
Love is a choice.
Hatred is a choice.
What do you choose?
My best friend and I visited the Louvre Museum in 1998. We didn’t go to France for the art or the culture. We went for the World Cup. However even as uncultured twenty-two year old Americans we understood that we needed to go see the Mona Lisa and the other things the Louvre had to offer. We could have taken one of the guided tours but we chose to go it alone. In our whirlwind ninety minute sprint through the museum, we actually passed by the Mona Lisa twice without noticing it. We were definitely not museum tour guides. The guides have a path and plan to make sure that their guests see the true highlights and skip the ancillary exhibits.
What if you were both the tour guide and the museum? Would you haphazardly show people your worst exhibits? Would you take them down to the basement and give them a tour of the museum’s sewage system? Most likely not, you’d do what all good tour guides do. You’d show your guests all of the best works.
On a daily basis you need to be deliberate about the person that you display to the world. In no way am I suggesting that you be fake or falsify who you are. There are some people who will need to see your sewage. However if you lead with that exhibit, expect that people won’t be back. If you lead with your Mona Lisa, people will most likely return to see what else you have to offer.
Nothing ever gets done tomorrow. Things get done on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday or even Sunday. Tomorrow is the work killer because it never comes. I know that I have had the truest of intentions when I’ve said that I would do something tomorrow. The problem is that it is too vague. If it is worth doing, it is worth planning and anticipating with more specificity than tomorrow.
Every year I hike part of the Appalachian Trail with my brother. It is one of my favorite events of the year. First, it is time spent with one of my best friends. Second, it is enjoyable to forget about comfort for two days and walk into the woods with only the supplies we can carry. It’s not army survival training by any stretch but it’s not a picnic either. We never bring a picnic basket but we always bring a Swiss Army Knife. The tools that you pack on any adventure say a lot about what you are expecting, what you can handle and whether or not you’ll survive.
One of my greatest concerns is the youth of today are under-prepared to deal with the challenges they will face. I fear that in many respects kids today are walking into the woods with picnic baskets. They are anticipating that everything will continue to be easy. The tests of life will be multiple choice. If they need it, they’ll get extra time to complete their work. Mommy or daddy will always be available to fix their problems. Unfortunately this picnic basket life that they are anticipating doesn’t exist. What happens when they find out that life is not always a picnic?
My hope is that we never get to that point. I want the young people that I have contact with to leave the basket at home and take the Swiss Army Knife. Start equipping themselves with any and every tool that they can to survive effectively in the woods of life.
The reason that I use the Swiss Army Knife in this metaphor is its adaptability to many situations. The world is changing at an increasingly rapid pace. Yet many young people seem to have trouble keeping up with the status quo. The expectation that tomorrow will be like yesterday is foolish. It will leave us at least two steps behind where we need to be.
Whether you realize it or not, you’re in the woods. Did you pack well? If not, maybe now you should look around for supplies.
There are many reasons why I’m thankful for having an older brother. One of the most important is the idea of having a “scout” in front of me. On many occasions my brother indirectly taught me things that I could and could not get away with. Also I was introduced to certain things early enough that the pulls of peer pressure made no lasting impression upon me. For example I couldn’t have been much older than nine or ten when I tried smoking for the first time. It was such a horrible experience that I didn’t try it again when my friends did in eighth grade. So I was able to avoid years of a smoking habit through that one bad experience.
Habits are extremely powerful tools that can lift us up or drag us down. At certain points habits become so ingrained in us that they feel like part of who we are as people. So the key to habits is to choose ones that drive us forward and eliminate ones that hold us back. The question is: how do you create/eliminate habits?
Habits are ingrained because there are neural pathways in our brains that act like highways toward that action. The number of times that we repeat the action only widens the highway. However, even a highway has to start somewhere. Habits start with a cue. Something that triggers it to begin. The development of the habit needs to be locked in with some sort of reward the first few times that it happens. This reward reinforces the behavior. However the reward does not particularly need to be received every time. Only consistently enough at the beginning to lock in the habit. Cues and rewards can vary immensely depending on the habit and the individual.
You can create positive habits by developing cues and rewards for yourself. Although you may feel like you’re defrauding yourself at the beginning, the alternative is much worse. It is much better for you to be tricking yourself into a positive habit rather than advertisers or peers tricking you into a negative one. The key to habit creation is making it into a cycle. The cue leads to the action and the action gets rewarded. Therefore our brain will look for the cue again because it knows where this highway ends and it’s a positive place.
Habits cannot be completely eliminated but they can be replaced. The old habit needs to be overwritten with a new one. Using the same cue to get a different action and a different reward is the process of replacing a habit. This is a very deliberate process because the identification of the old cue is the first step to replacing the old habit.
Get into the habit of creating your own habits rather than letting them be created for you.
For a deeper discussion on habits, watch this video with Charles Duhigg. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voX0gUn_JOI
Other than being a teacher and coach, the longest standing job that I ever had was pizza delivery guy. I worked for a local place, got paid under the table and worked with some of my best friends at the time. I’ve learned a lot from the jobs that I’ve had throughout my life. Some of the lessons that I learned as a pizza delivery guy did not become clear until later.
While working as a delivery guy, I got paid $6 per hour plus tips. You would think that the tips portion would vary quite a bit from day to day but it didn’t. On most nights, I would average $11 per hour between pay and tips. So there was always a simple calculation to make. If I worked 5 hours, I was bound to make about $55. Fridays and Saturdays were our busiest nights but those nights are also when everyone else is being social. There was a constant debate in my head as the weekend would approach. Do I work and make around $150 or spend time with the girlfriend etc.? I usually worked.
The opportunity cost was easy to calculate. I had the opportunity to make $11 per hour or spend that time elsewhere. These calculations are all around us but most of them are not quite as easy as my pizza delivery dilemma. The opportunity cost is not exclusive to money. It applies to health, fitness, relationships and so many other facets of our lives. The problem is that we are leaving too many opportunities on the table. There is “cash” that we are just throwing away out of laziness, habit or ignorance.
The Long and The Short
There are short and long term opportunities that we have to weigh. Related to school, the short term opportunity to take that half an hour each day to study for the test coming up. If the time is spent wisely, the reward will probably come. If not, it almost definitely will not. On the long term side, things like learning how to read and write create long term opportunities from their short term acquisition. Long term opportunities usually require some sacrifice of the short term.
For many opportunities, we focus solely on the short term. The time that it would take to work out. The fear that we feel about approaching that special person. The effort that it would take to start that project. The short term is almost always more real because it is right now and we can’t see past it. The long term is out there looming but it is so far away that we believe that it isn’t going anywhere.
It is the time of year when one of my favorite films is on, A Christmas Carol. Scrooge and his ordeal with the ghosts is a perfect representation of the short term and long term opportunity cost. Scrooge continually overlooked long term possibilities for happiness in favor of short term profit. In the end he had the spirits to help show him his opportunities lost and fix his future. Do you have someone to help you? Or do you need to learn to see past the moment for yourself? Decide what is important to you now and in the future. If you don’t know where you are going, you can get there by any road. But will you be happy when you get there?
On December 29th 2001, I was told the greatest lie of my life. It was told to me by one of my dearest friends. He told it to me because he knew that it would give me the confidence to do something that I normally would not have. I am thankful every day that he told me that lie.
The night before on December 28th, my friend and I went out like we would on any other Friday night. We ran into his younger brother, another friend and the friend’s sister. The sister and I talked for a long time that night. Although I was very interested in her, I didn’t ask for her number or anything. However the next day, I was told that she was very interested in me and wanted to do something with the group again for New Year’s Eve. So later that evening, I called her up in order to make plans for all of us to go out again. That’s when I found out that it was a lie. My friend had conjured up most of the story just to get me to call her. She was going to Philadelphia for New Year’s and had no plans to go out with us again. However she was happy to hear from me and the rest is history. She is now my wife and we’ve been married for 10 years.
Although it was a lie, it was more valuable to me than the truth. It took away the fear that normally would have paralyzed me into inaction. The lie made me act. It made me believe with certainty that I was going to be successful. It was a placebo of the best kind. I had taken the drug of self-confidence and it work magic on me.
There are so few things in life that are absolute. Perhaps the “truths” that you’ve been telling yourself haven’t helped you very much. The divide between the truth and a lie is often completely based on perspective. If you’re going to lie to yourself or believe the lies of other people, be sure that they serve you.
When I was in college, I watched a movie called “Just Cause” starring Sean Connery and Blair Underwood. It was a decent movie but the memorable thing about the experience was one of my roommate’s pronunciation of the title. He was from Tennessee and called the movie “Just Cuz”. We tried to explain the different meaning of JUST and highlighting the word CAUSE but he wanted nothing to do with that. The movie title was “Just Cuz”.
That experience was brought back to me in my own self-talk this morning. I said to myself, “I just have to keep going to the gym and I’ll lose that extra weight.” Why “JUST”? Just is a weak word! It makes things seem easy or unimportant. If the words that we say to ourselves are important (they are), then I should choose them wisely. The words that I use with myself should not be JUST CUZ. They should be definitive. “I absolutely have to keep going to the gym in order to lose that extra weight.”
If I wanted to take it further, I could make it seem like less of a chore. “I get to go the gym every morning.” My perspective on my own life and how frame things influences what I will and won’t do. I am fortunate to have such a small problem to conquer.
Don’t JUST do anything. Do things with conviction and belief in yourself.
Recently I got into a conversation with someone about some of the things that I do on a regular basis: coaching, teaching, parenting and writing this blog. All of my normal activities made perfect sense to them other than the writing of the blog. Why write a blog at all? Who is it for? Here are the answers.
I write this blog for several reasons but they can all be broken down to the Nudge and the Push. As I write I am trying to nudge someone closer to the best version of them. In small incremental ways, I want to help someone change from who they are to who they want to be. There is no particular order to the nudges. They come to me organically usually in the morning and usually while I’m working out. My hope is that the nudges add up to something as they accumulate. While I am hoping for the nudge, I’m really aiming for the push. My aim is to get someone to make a big change in their life that just hasn’t happened yet for one reason or another. I’m aiming to push them into the fast lane where they cover some real ground rather than stuck in the standstill traffic of everyday.
The who is much easier. I write this blog mainly for myself. My nudges and pushes are principally aimed at me. I want to get myself closer to my best self. The only reason that I put it out into the world is that I’ve found over the years that lots of people are fighting the same battle that I am. So my struggle is on display in the hopes that some other struggler will be nudged or pushed.
If you read this blog regularly, I thank you. Helping people is who I am at the core and if I have helped you at all, then I am grateful for that opportunity.
Our beliefs are extremely important tools that we use to form who we are and who we can be. Although the title of this blog may seem negative, it is intended to have a positive outcome. It is intended to add some inner dialogue that will help you to achieve a goal, create something, improve something, change a habit or any other endeavor that is difficult.
Stop believing that it will be easy!
Stop believing that anyone will do it for you!
Stop believing that it’s too big for you to pull off!
Stop believing that “You Suck” voice inside your head!
Stop believing that you need to wait for the time to be right!
Stop believing that you’re too tired!
Stop believing that people will laugh at you!
Stop believing that anyone is going to help you more than you help yourself!
Stop believing that there are too many obstacles!
Stop believing that your past failures matter enough to stop you from trying again!
Stop believing that there’s nothing you can do!
Start believing in you, in possibility, in the future!
Stepping on the gas pedal of life may get you there fast but without the steering wheel, you don’t get to decide where that is.