1. When You're Forced To

    Just over a week ago, I found myself sitting on the couch for most of the day. Our two youngest felt fine, but the rest of us had some kind of stomach bug that took us out of commission for around 24 hours. Now, when I went to bed the night before, I had all kinds of plans for what I would be doing that day—errands to run and things to do around the house. But when I woke up, I realized that none of those plans were going to take place.

    We all know that what we plan to do and what we actually end up doing are not always the same. Sometimes we’re simply distracted by something else that comes along. Sometimes we have to veer from our plans due to outside forces beyond our control. And sometimes we’re forced to deal with issues all because we neglected to address them earlier, when we had a chance.

    Take physical rest, for example. If you know you should be getting more rest, but continue to neglect that area of your life, it’s only a matter of time before your body will begin to feel the effects. And it’s quite possible that eventually you’ll be forced to rest due to a medical emergency. You may not have planned to rest, but at that point, you may not have a choice. Or consider those situations where you continue to neglect having the hard conversation that needs to take place. Eventually, you may wind up in a position where you’re forced to act, although the situation itself grew messier and more difficult because you waited.

    They’ll be plenty of times where you’ll end up doing things you didn’t plan to do. Sometimes these may be pleasant surprises, and sometimes they may be due to forces you have no control over. But they can also be the result of continuing to neglect what you know needs to be done. So if something has to be done, why not do it sooner rather than later, while you still have options of how and when to proceed? Otherwise, the things you neglect may end up one day hijacking your schedule, regardless of what you were originally planning to do that day.

  2. Why the Rush?

    This morning, as I drove to the office, a blue truck came barreling up behind me. It was moving fast, and soon used a turn-only lane to get around me; I was obviously only slowing it down.

    Well, a minute later, lo and behold, I roll up behind the same truck at a stoplight. As the light turns green, I see it blow through the intersection. But only a moment later it has to pump its brake as it quickly closed the gap between it and the cars in front of it.

    This same pattern of acceleration and braking happened repeatedly at the next few intersections. Eight minutes later, as I turned onto another road, I could still see the truck. In fact, we ended up going through that final intersection at approximately the same time. I was in the turn lane making a right, and it continued at full speed straight ahead.

    It was obvious that whoever was driving was in a hurry. And I’m assuming that the repeated slowing down and braking was pretty frustrating for them. But for all the hurry, and all the frustration, they didn’t seem to be actually getting anywhere any faster than the rest of us.

    It reminds me of those times in life when we’re in such a hurry to see something happen, and get frustrated whenever there is any delay to our plans. How many times would we end up in approximately the same spot if we had not been in a hurry? And how much self-imposed annoyance and frustration do we experience, all because we’re in such a rush?

  3. Always Listening

    Whether it be the radio, or podcasts, or cable news, or your favorite album or show, there are countless ways you can keep yourself from experiencing silence in the course of day, if you so choose. Now, I know we’re all wired differently, and some people enjoy silence more than others. But regardless of your personality, there’s value in having at least some space in your life to sit with your own thoughts. It’s in these moments you can gain a little perspective; you can glean insights that you may otherwise miss; you can decide on the best path forward.

    Yes, there may be lots of good—maybe even really good—things to listen to. And they can be valuable. But always being plugged in can also become addictive, distracting you from more valuable uses of your attention. For instance, you may listen to something that has potentially valuable information, but because you don’t take a moment to reflect on what you learned, or figure out how you’re going to use that information, or whether you should change anything in your life as a result, it fails to have any lasting impact.

    Or when you encounter silence, you immediately, out of habit, begin looking for something else to listen to, even though there may be other things in life that could use your attention. Reflecting on the current state of your life, what you’re learning, and what kind of person you want to become, requires some space. It’s hard to think clearly about these kinds of things when you’re giving your attention to something else.

    Which means, although I’m grateful for all the options that I have to keep myself occupied, I also know first hand how easy it is to allow them to squeeze out moments of silence for reflection. These moments need not be too frequent or too long, but I’ve found that having at least some moments of silence during a given day gives my heart and mind a chance to check and see what else may be going on in my life—things that I may fail to notice if I’m always listening to something else.

  4. Willing to Fight

    ”…The really important things are the things about which men will fight.” –J. Gresham Machen

    You can often tell what people care most about by what they choose to fight for. Some will argue over politics or religion, others over sports teams, still others over artists or schools or tech companies.

    Now you may say you care about this or that. But if you’re unwilling to take a stand for it, what are you saying about the depth of your conviction? Or, you may say you don’t care that much about something else, but invest plenty of energy in taking, and defending, a position concerning it. I can say my religion is more important to me than my favorite football team, but if I’m more willing to take a stand for the team than I am for the truths I say I believe, what does that say about what I really find important?

    If you’re curious about what’s really important to you, take an honest look at what you’re willing to fight for. Because that’s where you’ll find your answer.

  5. Learning When to Compare

    Over the past couple months my son’s become increasingly fascinated with comparison. He’s beginning to understand comparative words (e.g. older, younger, shorter, taller, bigger, smaller, etc.) and is constantly looking for ways to use them.

    For instance, he’ll ask how old someone is, and as soon as he gets an answer he’ll begin to verbally figure out how that age relates to other people he knows. He’ll do the same with people’s heights. It’s not uncommon to overhear him talking about how Joey is older than Jimmy, but how Jimmy is taller than Joey. And how both of them are younger than Jill.

    Learning how to compare is part of growing up, and can be a valuable skill to have. When faced with multiple options, knowing how to properly compare them can help you make better decisions, and may even save you money or pain down the road.

    But there are other times where comparing does you little good—and may even cause some harm. You can be tempted to compare your life with those you see online, forgetting that you have no idea what’s really going on behind the scenes. Or you can allow your contentment in life to be altered by comparing what you have with those around you. What was once a perfectly nice car or house or phone suddenly isn’t good enough because of what others have.

    Or you can get caught up in the comparison of things that are beyond your control. You can’t control your physical features, or your family-of-origin, or certain opportunities you may (or may not) have had in life. And yet, if you’re not careful, you can wind up comparing yourself to others in these areas, instead of simply focusing on running your own race.

    Knowing how to compare is a valuable skill to have in life. But knowing when—and when not—to compare can be just as important.

  6. Evaluating Pain

    Not all the pain you experience is created equal. Sometimes it’s part of striving to reach some other goal; other times it’s a signal that something is amiss; and still other times it occurs for seemingly no reason.

    Sometimes you may choose a path that involves pain because you know it’s required to get where you want to go. The athlete who punishes his body in training does so in order to achieve victory in competition. The farmer who toils long and hard does so for the harvest. The training and toil aren’t easy, and may be painful at times. But they’re important and necessary steps in achieving a higher goal.

    Other times, the pain you face can highlight things you need to address moving forward. Maybe the current pain is due to previous poor choices. Maybe it’s a signal that something’s been neglected. Granted, you can’t change the past at this point. But you can choose to pay attention and make any necessary changes, which in turn, can dramatically change the course of your future.

    And other times, the hardships you face will stem from sources beyond your control. That’s just the way life is. Just remember that even in these moments, where you’re unable to change the circumstance, you still retain the power to choose your response.

    Next time you’re experiencing pain, take a moment to consider the cause. Is it stemming from something outside your realm of control? Or is it highlighting something else that needs your attention? Or is it a necessary step in the journey you’ve chosen to take?

  7. Irrational Fear

    How often in life do we end up doing (or avoiding) something out of fear? And not just any fear, but irrational fear.

    A friend could have statistics showing he’s more likely to die in a car than on an airplane. Yet, he’s deathly afraid of flying but has no problem with a cross-country road trip. Another friend may be worried sick about what others are saying about her, and yet they may not be talking about her at all. In fact, she hasn’t crossed their minds once.

    Fear can lead us to underestimate the possibilities, and overestimate potential danger. It can cause us to forget what could go right, and fixate on what could go wrong. We end up spending a lot of mental bandwidth worrying about things not worth worrying about: things that in all likelihood will never take place.

    This doesn’t mean we should be oblivious to potential dangers or pitfalls, physical or otherwise. But that’s different than being paranoid. It means assessing the situation rationally and not emotionally. Otherwise, fear can both hijack our thoughts today, and drive us to live in ways we’ll one day regret.

  8. The World Our Mind Creates

    “…there is nothing either good nor bad but thinking makes it so.” –Hamlet, Shakespeare

    When hard or frustrating or painful times occur, we have a choice. We can focus on all the ways life didn’t meet our expectations, or we can focus on how we will now respond. We can complain about what everyone else did, or we can focus on how we can make the most of the cards we’ve been dealt.

    Over the years, I’ve heard plenty of people who, when looking back on times of pain or loss in their lives, still maintain an attitude of gratitude for what they went through. They recognize the positive impact those times ended up having on them – perhaps in what they learned, or how they changed their outlook on life – and sometimes they even say that they wouldn’t trade in those hard times for anything.

    This kind of response is not to minimize the pain or difficulty they endured, but rather to frame it in a different perspective. It’s to recognize that our experience of life is profoundly shaped by how we choose to think about the events and circumstances we encounter. Because while we may not be able to change what’s already happened, we always have a choice of how we’ll choose to view it.

  9. Counting the Cost

    When it’s time to begin, it’s worth taking a moment to gaze down the road a little and make sure the route in front of you is the one you really want to take. The end may look appealing, and the first steps may be exciting, but how about all the time in between?

    For instance, if you’re a young athlete, and you want to make it to the pros, the path to that dream is going to be extremely difficult. It will take discipline, and practice, and even saying no to other enjoyable activities, in order to even have a shot. Are you sure you really want to go down this demanding, and at times painful, road? And if so, are you willing to pay the price to do so?

    It can be easy to get caught up in focusing on the fame and success that others have achieved, while overlooking what it actually took to get there. But if you’re unwilling (or unable) to do what it takes to get what you think you want, wouldn’t it be better to not even start down that road?

    Everything worth having will cost you something. Better to account for those costs on the front end, than to start down a road and only later realize the tolls to continue were far more than you’re able to pay.

  10. How Distance Affects Our Perspective

    When I was growing up, whenever my family went on vacation we would always drive. Some of those trips, especially the ones out west, resulted in quite a lot of time in the car, and so we as kids had to come up with ways to occupy ourselves during all those hours. One of the little games we would sometimes play was to choose something in the distance and then to each guess how far away it was. Was it 5 miles away or 15? Would we drive past it in 2 minutes or 10? Now depending on the terrain, making accurate guesses could get quite tricky. Sometimes things that looked pretty close were actually much further away than you realized.

    * * *

    This effect that distance has on our perspective is something you’ve probably seen first hand. But have you noticed how the same thing can happen in relation to time? The further away something is temporally, the harder it can be to keep it in proper perspective.

    For instance, sometimes the future consequences of our actions seem so far off that we don’t give them proper consideration. Maybe it’s the impact of what we eat, or how much (or little) we save, or how we choose to spend our free time. It’s easy to focus on what’s most pleasurable or profitable now, while neglecting the long-term implications.

    Or, it can go the other way too. We put too much emphasis on what may happen in the future, and then get caught up in needless worry or fear. We give things that may not even happen an inordinate amount of attention in relation to what they deserve.

    On those trips as kids, we quickly learned that our initial guesses were usually way off. And knowing that was helpful. We could take our initial thought and bump it up, knowing that we naturally tended to underestimate. Similarly, many of us have a tendency to deemphasize the future consequences of our actions today. But if we’re aware of this tendency, we can also compensate for it, being sure to give proper attention to the future. Because while the future may indeed be a long way off, that doesn’t mean it’s any less important.