Moving…again.

In the past eight and a half years, I have moved to a new living space four times. Considering I own well over two thousand books (and counting,) this consists of a Herculean task. My former roommate Chris calls my library “The Wrath that is Scotty Ray’s Books.” He has the sore back to prove it. I’ve been no stranger to packing and unpacking boxes and boxes of books, and for that matter, keeping boxes of books stacked in corners of the apartments for lack of shelving space.

I posted a few days ago that two of my dearest friends lost a parent, each. Richard, whom I’ve known since I was twelve, lived with his father, primarily because his father needed a caretaker. (I was in a similar arrangement 10 years ago with my dad.) It was also a mutually beneficial arrangement, for Richard’s income wasn’t and isn’t optimal, so having a “no rent” arrangement allowed him (and I can say us, ten years ago, with my dad,) to survive. Alas, that is no longer the situation for my friend.

The night before his dad passed, Richard breached the subject first. And I would be lying if I said the idea hadn’t crossed my mind. Over the past year, it was clear that Rich’s dad’s health was deteriorating. We were all hoping for the best, praying for healing. But after certain decisions were made, it was a matter of time. Days, perhaps hours. Upon coming to terms with that, Richard asked if I would move in to the house. It would once again be a mutually beneficial arrangement. He would get support with paying utilities, I would have no rent to pay, no longer have to have a storage unit to pay rent on, and I could reduce my phone’s internet usage, drastically saving about $700.00+ per month. Of course, I’m sure my electricity and other utilities would go up, and the addition of cable would also eat in a bit to those savings, but in the end there will still be a hefty savings.

All in all, it was very serendipitous. Now, please understand, I love Richard Sr., Rich’s dad, very much. He was in some ways a surrogate father to me. I would gladly trade the situation for him to still be here with us, healed and pain free. In no way am I trying to be an opportunist, because Rich did breach the subject first and extend the invitation. This mutually beneficial arrangement will help us both out financially.

About one month ago, I “resolved” that 2017 was going to be the year that I get my finances in order. I’m going to use the freed up finances to build an emergency fund, pay off some outstanding debt, save for and purchase a car, save some more, learn to invest, and save some more. It’s not so much about pursuing and accumulating riches as it is building wealth. Riches come and go. Usually, they go. Wealth is beyond money. It’s about resources. It would now seem that I am on a reasonable path to pursue that kind of peace that comes from getting your house in order. Five years ago, I did not have the self discipline to resolve this issue. I’m thankful that over the past few months, I’ve been nurturing self discipline over several habits. I can now reach inwardly to summon that same kind of self discipline to not impulsively overspend, in order to build something of lasting value. It does indeed take financial resources to invest in opportunities to further build wealth. I truly see this as a way to honor Mr. Pate and his example by pursuing this opportunity.

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Changes begin with Choices

How to change somebody….well, you can’t. Not really. As I mentioned in a previous post, the only way to change somebody is through coercion, which doesn’t work long term, in fact, it is exceptionally short term. The other way to change somebody is through consistent influence based on trust, respect, and love. And that takes some emotional capital and effort on the part of the one wanting to change the other, (as well as effort of the other.)

But here’s a thought….rather than trying to change someone else, how about trying to change yourself? You’ve heard that before, again, it’s almost cliché. Gandhi said it. “Be the change you want to see in the world.” You are at the center of your circle of influence. You might be able to influence those closest to you, even those not as close. But you are the one you can influence most.

This will be one in a series of posts on change. Steven Covey, in his prolific book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, organized his habits into two camps, Private Victory, and Public Victory. Private victory is primarily about self leadership; taking responsibility for your life, having a vision for your life, and prioritizing your life. It would be necessary to get a few wins under you belt in this arena/camp before you would be able to make any real progress in the Public Victory camp. Character does indeed count. So before affecting real change in this world, it begins with changes in your life first.

The first habit, Be Proactive, or said in another way, Take Responsibility for Your Life, is a keystone habit. In fact, I believe it is THE keystone habit. It mirrors Andy Andrews’ first decision of seven, The Responsible Decision: The Buck Stops Here. You have the Ability to choose your response. Response Ability. Rather than reacting to everything that happens to you, respond. To react means to act again. You are acting out the same patterns time and time again. Theese patterns have been hard wired into you. (Literally, residual neural pathways forming the fight or flight responses from bygone eras. Your annoying kids are not sabertooth tigers wanting to eat you. Really, they’re not.) Be proactive, not reactive.

You’d rather sleep in on a cold morning rather than wake up at 6:00 am and run a lap at the park? That’s a reaction….you’ve done that day after day after day. You have good intentions, and intentions are fundamental to change, but I takes more. Choose your response. The alarm goes off….choose to swing your legs over the side of the bed, sit up, touch your feet to the floor, push….and your up. Choose to do this. Fight the inertia. It is possible. I did it this morning. Yesterday too. And traditionally, I am NOT a morning person.

Staring at a blank page, or knowing that a perpetual blank page awaits you? Choose that first word, and then a second, third and fourth. Repeat. Honestly, I had know idea how this post would form itself until I just started with my first idea. You can edit later. But choose to write.

The double fudge chocolate chip brownie calling your name? Make a choice. Target weight or the temporary satiation of your taste buds or numbing a pain that you haven’t tackled head on yet. Your choice.

I know, sometimes it much more complicated than that. But regardless, however you decide to make a change in your life, it requires a choice to begin. A choice to stop making excuses. A choice to face a fear. A choice to get help, if needed. But choose a response.

Or don’t make a choice. That in itself is a choice. My favorite band, Rush, says it well.
“If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”
Freewill from Permanent Waves, 1980

But not choosing is not a choice that will push you out of the rut to nowhere. Or out of the rut to where you do not want to be.

Your change begins with your choices. You have the ability to choose your response.

Choose wisely.

Why I Learned to Meditate

In an earlier post, I mentioned beginning a keystone habit – meditation. I would like to take some time to describe the practice a bit more the way I’ve experienced it, and its benefits.First of all, I want to clarify a few things. I am a Christian, a believer in Jesus Christ, and I am unapologetic about that. Some folks might voice some concern that I am being unfaithful to my devotion by practicing meditation. Although these folks are well intended, these claims are based on ignorance. What I practice on a regular basis does not invoke the name of any god or other religious devotion. Although some kinds of meditation have their origins in Buddhism and Hinduism, there are many meditational practices today that have no basis in these faiths. On that note, let me also say that I am in no way trying to discredit the meditating Buddhist or Hindu or any other devotee of another faith. Meditation has benefits for all who practice it, whether for religious or other purposes.

I have two intended purposes for my practice of meditation: Focus and Health.

When I meditate, I slow down. Way down. I don’t sit cross legged on the floor chanting a mantra. I sit in a chair. A very comfortable arm chair. I listen to a guided meditation by Andy Puddicombe called Get Some Headspace. I keep my eyes open for a few moments and softly keep my gaze ahead of me, being aware of my complete peripheral vision. I begin breathing deep breaths through my nose, and exhale through my mouth, for about 60 seconds. Then I close my eyes, becoming aware of the contact of the chair beneath me and my feet on the floor and my arms on my lap or on the armrests. I become aware of any sounds around me, any smells, and even any remaining tastes in my mouth. Then I begin to notice any physical feelings I might have, whether there is any discomfort in my body. Then I take mental note of my emotional state. Am I stressed, anxious, or sad? Then I take note of my motivations for doing this, especially today’s motivation. Why am I doing this, TODAY? Then I take note of who round me might benefit from my meditation. If I become less stressed because of my meditating, who around me benefits? Then I am reminded that this whole exercise is not one of intense effort, but gentle effortlessness.

At this point, I begin to count my breathing. Inhale, one, exhale, two…inhale, three, exhale four…and so on, until I get to ten, and then I start over at one. I focus on my breathing and my counting. I notice my chest expanding, I feel the rhythm. My mind begins to wander, thinking about some distraction. That’s okay. I gently draw my attention back to my breathing. A few moments later, my mind drifts again. I notice and gently reel my focus back to my breathing. Again and again this happens, but that’s okay. During this distraction/refocus sequence, I am actually strengthening my willpower “muscle”, (the subject of last weeks post). Being distracted and having a wandering mind have some creative benefits, but bringing the mind back to a focus, in this case, my breathing, strengthens my command center. Daniel Goleman, writer of Focus, The Hidden Driver of Excellence , wrote,

“Build up the mind’s muscle for focus through a daily session of meditating on your breath. This is the mental equivalent of working out in the gym. The battle tension between focus and distraction takes place in the brain’s circuits for resisting impulse. In the mental gym, the more often you catch your mind wandering off and return it to concentrating on your breath, the stronger your concentration grows – like bulking up your pecs on a Cybex.”

As I break this evening from writing this post, I open up the book I just began reading, Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, by Maria Konnikova. Within minutes, I read this passage –

“The idea of [meditation]/mindfulness itself is by no means a new one. As early as the end of the nineteenth century, William James, the father of modern psychology, wrote that ‘the faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgement, character and will….An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.’ That faculty, at its core, is the very essence of [meditation]/mindfulness.”

After about 12-17 minutes of focused breathing, I then allow my mind to wander for about 60-90 seconds, without any focus at all. Strangely enough, giving myself the freedom to wander usually gives me the the highest moments of clarity and focus of the session. After this small interlude, I begin to focus once again on my physical surroundings, the touch of my body against the chair and floor, the sounds, the smells and lingering tastes. Then I open my eyes, gently, and it is as if I am on another planet. The state of focus is indescribable. I can usually stay in this mode for about five or ten minutes, and I usually use this time to try to plan my day (if in the morning), or the next day (if in the evening). I might write for a few moments. But I try to take advantage of, well, that natural high that comes after “awakening” from the meditative state.

When I began the practice of meditation, many other tasks became “easier” for me. I became more “self-disciplined” in other areas of my life. Actually, what I believe was happening was that I was learning how to focus and exert my will in areas in ways that I had never been able to before. Exercise, cleaning, diet, study, saving money…all the areas were affected. A little focus went a long way.

My blood pressure has always been a little high, but after practicing meditation for about a month, for the first time ever, my blood pressure lowered into the “great” zone. Added to my regular exercise and improved diet, my heath and fitness was at an all time high.

Meditation (or rather, mindfulness, as it is commonly referred to today) is not a bunch of new age mumbo jumbo, (although in some circles, it has been hijacked into such.) It is a skill that has practical outcomes. Even small amounts of restful sitting without activity and a stillness of mind has shown to reap quick results.

I leave you with my usual question of application…Can you find a way to carve 2-5 minutes to sit quietly with nothing but your thoughts focused on your breathing? Try it for one week, consistently. See if you don’t benefit immediately.

How to Conquer a Weak Self Discipline

I already mentioned in a previous`post that I am not the most self disciplined person in the world. And I reckon that there are others who feel the same way. Despite what appears to be a weakness, there is good news for those of us who lack this virtue.

“There is this pervasive idea that the successful person is the ‘disciplined person’ who leads a ‘disciplined life.’ — It’s a lie.”

The above is from Gary Keller and Jay Papasan’s book, The ONE Thing, which I have also alluded to in a previous post. They counter the above falsehood with the idea that we need just enough discipline to develop an ongoing habit that will create the desired outcomes in our life. You work at something regularly until it regularly works for you. When you see a “disciplined” person, what you see is a person who has trained a handful of habits into their lives.

How do you create a habit? Charles Duhigg, in his book, The Power of Habits, breaks down a habit into three components: A cue, a routine, and a reward. A certain cue, let’s say finishing breakfast, prompts a certain routine or behavior, let’s say, sitting down to meditate for 20 minutes, which in turn brings about a reward or set of rewards. In this case, a focused mind, or a sense of peace, or a lowered blood pressure, or even the hint of a fulfillment of a future result, such as a consistent sense of well being that is currently eluding you.

Another important component – you must have a sense of “craving” for the reward that compels you to begin the routine. Otherwise, resistance usually wins. You must want the reward. It has to light a fire within.

It also usually takes 66 days to build a solid habit. Success literature speaks of a 21 day period to completely develop a habit, but solid research has discovered otherwise. The full range suggests 18 to 254 days, but 66 represented a “sweet spot”, with easier habits taking less time and more challenging habits taking longer time.

One other thing – habit building is an upper brain function. We’ll come back to this in a later post, but for now, think of your upper brain as your pilot, and your lower brain as autopilot. When you develop a habit, you are having to use faculties of your brain that require actual focus and willpower, a kind of command center. Once this habit begins to take hold, however, the control for the new “circuitry” is shifted to the lower brain, a kind of intuitive, instinctual, automatic response system. When you begin to do the routine without having to mentally engage the initiation of it, then you know that the lower brain has begun to assume control, and it won’t be long before the routine is indeed a habit.

I will now leave you with this question to ponder…What habit or handful of habits do you need to study and breakdown and begin to implement so that you can reach your desired outcomes?

A Question that Guarantees to Help You Focus

In early June of 2013, I bought that plane ticket to Orlando. I hate wasting money, so this meant there was no turning back now. The bridge was burned.

So, I had this goal. Actually, there were two goals. Go to Disney World. And weigh in at 225 lbs. (Translated to lose about 20 lbs.) I am a great procrastinator and money tends to burn a hole in my pocket, so these were challenging tasks to me. I had to save money on a regular basis, while still paying rent, bills, and buying food. I had to exercize regularly and eat healthy, or, said differently, move more, eat less. By the way, eating healthy costs a BIT more than eating unhealthy.

I was reading a book, The ONE Thing, by Jay Papasan and Gary W. Keller. The premise of the book is that we need to ask ourselves one question…

“What’s the ONE thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

I pondered the question for a few days.

I’ve never been a very self disciplined person. I would have the BAD habit of sleeping in to the last moment, and rush around to get ready, and go straight to work. After work, I would come home, fix and eat dinner, and watch DVDs, listen to music, or read. Tomorrow, repeat. I desperately needed some good habits in my life that would shape some desired outcomes.

I had recently purchased a book titled, “Get some Headspace”, by Andy Puddicombe. It’s essentially a beginners course in mindfulness, using meditation. (don’t worry, my Baptist brethren, there are NO Buddhist overtones to this program.) There is a supplementary iPhone app as well. After studying the content for a few days, I knew that I should put this into practice. I made this my ONE Thing.

I struck gold.

Every night, at around 11:30, I began the guided meditation. I began on Saturday, July 13, 2013, and continued through Sunday, September 22, 2013, a 72 day streak. There are 10 days of ten minute meditations, 15 days of fifteen minute meditations, then 20 days of twenty minute meditations, then it begins several blocks of 40 day/20 minute programs.

In a later post, I will write about what is called a Keystone Habit. Meditation is what I would call a Keystone Habit. For now, let’s just say that a Keystone Habit is any habit developed that influences the development of other habits. When I began meditating, over the next two months, I also began to exercise regularly, eat healthier, cleaned my apartment more regularly, had consistent morning devotions, organized my files, bills, and mountains of papers, cataloged my dad’s record collection, (with the help of others,) read with better recall, saved money for my trip, and many other consistent actions. My weight and blood pressure went down. And I felt 1000% better.

This is not meant to be an endorsement for mindfulness and meditation, (although I definitely recommend it.) I’m just stating that My ONE Thing for that season in my life was choosing to meditate on a regular basis, and as a result, everything else became easier or unnecessary.

By asking this focusing question, I was able to kickstart a series of habits that dominoed into desired outcomes. And I did it in a relatively short amount of time, (approximately 2 1/2 months).

So, I leave you with this obvious question: What’s the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?