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.

A Big Enough Why

I’ve come up with four questions I ask when trying to clarify my goals.

1.) What is it that you want?
2.) Why do you want it?
3.) How bad do you want it?
4.) What are you willing to give for it?

I want to focus on the second question. “Why do you want it?”
Why. The question of motive and motivation. Everything you do has a Why behind it. Some of the times it’s easy to determine the why. Sometimes you need a therapist. Two days ago I stated in a blog post that folks who I once thought as lazy and/or felt a sense of entitlement I now think, more than likely, don’t have a big enough Why in their lives. It’s not a question that anyone can answer except the one asking themselves. Sometimes when you ask this question of yourself, you’re tempted to lie or give a canned, presumptions answer. That would be doing yourself a disservice.

Sometimes crazy impassioned people do more harm than good, but passion is important. If your Why doesn’t enflame a passion, then you might need another goal. Sometimes folks are afraid to ask Why, because they know without a doubt they can’t come up with a good enough reason for pursuing the said goal.

“I want a Ferrari.” Why? “Because it will make me look important.”

Thats so empowering. Not really, if you couldn’t discern my sarcasm. (If you really want a Ferrari, go ahead. I’m not anti Ferrari. Cars just aren’t my thing.)

Sometimes you know you want to have, or be, or do something, it’s just hard to come up with the why. It’s intangible or words escape trying to define it. I think that’s okay. It might very well be a work in progress thing, something that evolves over time. You kinda know the what and you kinda know the why. You probably ought to test the waters some. Do some research. Sit on the idea a while. Pray about it. Meditate on it, contemplate on it. I’ve been there, and maybe I’m still there. I’m closer than ever to knowing.

Sometimes you have the why, but something else is out of whack. You might not have the character needed to do whatever it takes. Character really does count. Self discipline, persistence, and perseverance are character traits that are necessary to accomplish most worthwhile pursuits. You might need a season or three to work on these issues and others. How you deal with people matters. If you’re lacking people skills, good luck trying to accomplish your goals. Not gonna happen.

I’ve been getting up at 5:00 or 5:30 in the morning at least four days of the week. Why? Because I want some extra time in the morning to get focused on my day. I read. I pray. I meditate. I read God’s word. I read some more. And I think. Why do I do this? I need to prime the pump. And it makes a huge difference. I try to focus on the positive, and contribute positively when I can. I know the first half of my days at work have been smoother since I’ve been doing this. (I’ll be honest, the second half of the days are kinda rough, I run out of steam. I’m working on that.) The character trait of self discipline was something sorely lacking in my life for many years, but it’s something I’ve been working on for many, many months now. As a result, I’m better defining my Why behind my goals, and they’re being pursued consistently.

So, go dream up a What. Then find your Why.

Why, you ask?

Why not….it’s worth a shot.

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?