Tag: Awake

Let’s Give Thanks

Thanksgiving is upon us and we are gearing up to celebrate. This has always been one of my favorite holidays. Growing up, our family shared Thanksgiving each year with another family in Denver. We would drive the 450 miles one year, and they would drive the next. That tradition held on for about 25 years (I think) and it was a wonderful extended family experience, although they are not technically related. That tradition has faded away with the kids having grown up, been married, had kids, etc. Now, there are too many moving parts to make it work reliably. I still have many fond memories, though.

What Are You Thankful For?

I believe gratitude is one of the most helpful emotions we have. I find when I am grateful for my life, I give others a lot more grace, I am happier, and I can deal with challenges much more easily. Although I am not very good at remembering that fact on a daily basis (like I wish I would), Thanksgiving is a good time to reflect on giving thanks.

I very thankful for my family and how we have built into each other and stayed together. We can discuss difficult topics and (usually) come out pretty much unscathed. We know we are truly there for each other, even in those contentious times.

I thought about creating a long list here about all the things I am grateful for, but I will spare you. I think it doesn’t matter what you are thankful for, as much as it matters that you are thankful at all. Henry Cloud book, talks at length about this subject in his book, The Law of Happiness. I recommend reading it.

What You Going To Do With That?

I mentioned gratitude being a “useful” emotion. I wanted to expand on how I use it.

  • Curing Depression. When I get in those long standing down times and everything is wrong with everything, gratitude can be the cure. Although it is tough to remember to do it, when I take time to be thankful in those times, my outlook on life is much improved. In engineering, there is a saying, “When you are up to your neck in alligators, it is hard to remember to drain the swamp.” If that is the case for you, find a friend to help.
  • Creating Patience. When I am frustrated with some person, I stop and think about what I like about them. Why am I thankful they are here, right now? If I can be thankful about their existence, then the things they do to frustrate me are not really that big of a deal.
  • Ignoring Problems. Much like the patience thing with people, being thankful for my life situation helps me to ignore the problems I perceive. When I can be thankful for the house we live in, it is easier to ignore the cracked tile in the bathroom…at least for a while. For me, hyper focus on those little problems lead me to a negative attitude, so I try to ignore them for a time.

While I think all the range of human emotions have value, gratitude is one that creates quick and consistent results.

Your Next Move

Take the time as you walk through the day, the weekend, and this life to be thankful for things.

Be thankful for the people around you and how they have made you better.

Be thankful for the “stuff” in your life and how life is better as a result.

Be thankful for you and how you are changing the world for the better.

That’s Not Awesome

It seems everywhere I go these days, I am hearing, “That’s Awesome!” I am a huge fan of encouragement and excitement. I am even a fan of hyperbole from time to time. When I looked it up, I found the definition to the word:

Awesome: extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear.

Maybe I am just hard to please (probably), and I feel like the things we are praising with Awesome just aren’t. Do they really inspire awe? Do those everyday events truly cause a stunned silence, a wonderment, a reverence for the moment? Not likely.

Choose the right word

One of the things I feel strongly about is using words correctly. Very possibly, this relates to the fact that my parents are well educated and my mother is an educator. She taught in the school system for many years, then brought her practice home to teach kids who were struggling. It was pretty inspiring to see the droves of kids over the years come in struggling and leave triumphant.

I think there are two aspects to using words properly.

  • Only use words you understand. In the Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” I believe using a word incorrectly is worse than not knowing the best word to use. If you don’t know that “just right” word, string a few others together to convey your meaning.
  • Learn more words. I love to learn new things and there are many times I start with the attitude, “there must be a word for this.” Most of the time that is true and I can find it on Google or through friends that are smarter than I. If you want to learn more words as a habit, start with A Word A Day. Today’s word is Mata Hari, in case you were wondering.

Experience Awe

Although this sounds like a diatribe on word usage, what inspired me to write this was the actual experience of awe. I felt it and realized I couldn’t call it “awesome” even though it truly was. It just didn’t seem to pack the punch I wanted it to. There will come a day I will write about that awe-inspiring event, but in the meantime here are a few places you might look for awe.

  • Nature. Our God has created a pretty amazing world. Go look at it with the intent of being amazed and inspired. Whether that be the vastness of the plains, the size of the mountains, or the delicacy of a flower.
  • Transparency. When people really open up and share their heart it is, well, awesome. To see someone push past the fear and awkwardness and expose themselves to you is to see their beauty and power in a way rarely seen. When that happens, be fully present even if it is uncomfortable.
  • Greatness. When someone does something great, enjoy it. There is no need to judge them, or yourself, for their activity. Just revel in it. I enjoy watching sports for this reason. Last week, we attended a high school football game and saw a truly great pass and catch. It was amazing to watch these young men push their bodies to new levels of performance. Granted that play was by the other team and they scored against us, but there is no reason that should diminish my appreciation for the act itself.

Your Next Move

Since this blog has two thrusts, you have two action items this week!

First, pay very close attention to the words you use. Do they convey your meaning precisely? If not, use a different word, even if that means you have to go find it first.

Second, spend some time looking for things that are truly AWESOME…and get absorbed in that moment. Those times leave an indelible mark on your soul.

Learning is State Dependent

Jim Kwik

I enjoy learning about learning. How do people learn, and what prevents them from learning? I was recently watching a video by Jim Kwik talking about learning and memory. He had a lot of great things to say about improving your memory. One thing that stuck with me was a comment that, “all learning is state dependent.” He was talking about your ability to learn and how it is impacted by your current state, emotionally, physically, mentally, etc. If that is true, and I think it is, then what do we do about it?

Recognize your state

Becoming self aware is a great idea, but not one attained by many. Although I am not “there” yet, I have found a few things that help me recognize my current state. I have found paying attention to my physical body gives me insight to my emotions better than anything else.

First, pay attention to pain. Do I have pain somewhere in my body? If so, where is it and how much am I paying attention to it? If we are focused on the pain in our body, we are likely not paying attention to the larger task at hand. Pain is a great reminder of where we are out of alignment with our health and our mission.

Second, pay attention to my rates. What is my heart rate, my breathing rate, and my digestion rate. Do I feel like my heart is racing and breathing is shallow? Is my stomach churning, or peaceful?

Third, pay attention to my posture. Whether I am sitting or standing, am I doing that in a natural, healthy way? Or am I sitting in some awkward position with my shoulders bunched up and my back hunched over? Since I spend a lot of time at my desk, this is a major issue affecting my state of health and natural flow.

Correct your state

OK, so you noticed some things about your state – but who cares? What does it mean if my heart is fast and my breathing shallow and my shoulders tight and my stomach churning? Well, I don’t really know what it “means”. Interestingly, the deep and philosophical meanings are often not all that important. It is sometimes nice to have that clarity, but action can happen regardless. So, let’s talk about responding to the state rather than understanding it fully.

If you feel like you are not at your best state for learning, then try these:

  • Take a Breath. Breathing is so critical to life we can only afford to avoid it for a few minutes. However, we seem to avoid doing it well for long periods of time. A good breath starts with your nose and ends at your belly button. Take a deep, slow breath in through your nose, and let it fill your belly. As you feel the pressure to exhale, then do that…slowly. This brings oxygen to your blood (and your brain) and allows so much of your body to relax. Do it now, I’ll wait.
  • Get Balanced. If your posture is out of whack, fix it. Take just a minute and get as straight as you can. I don’t mean that stiff-as-a-board posture we think of from parochial school. I mean balanced left to right, front to back. The easiest way to do this while sitting is to sit in the center of your chair and wiggle your hips and shoulders a bit until they are loose. Then let them naturally settle to where they below. Now, work in that posture for a while.
  • Think Laughter. It has been said that laughter is the best medicine. I am not sure that is exclusively true, but I do believe it helps. While it might seem like a waste of time, take a few minutes to laugh. This might be finding some funny video online, remembering a fun experience, or telling yourself a joke. Whatever works for you – get a smile on your face and pay attention to how the rest of your body and mind responds.

These simple things can make a huge difference in your physical, emotional, and mental state. If you would like more exercises to improve your memory, go watch Jim’s video and pay attention to the 41 minute mark for his own exercise recommendations.

Your Next Move

The next time you are not excelling, take stock of your current state, then try these few quick techniques to get back to a place you can be great.

Habit Creates Ignorance

Are you Awake?

Are you Awake?

As many of you know, I work at a software company, Church Community Builder. We were recently in a meeting deciding how to communicate something to our staff and I suggested we use our own software and proceeded to explain how that could work. I felt so confident, I had created message threads like this many times, maybe even hundreds of times. Turns out I was wrong.

Over the years, I have been in the habit of working in our churches’ software and logging in with very high administrative privileges. On our internal software, we all have permissions as a regular user. My habit of being an administrator made me ignorant of how our tools actually worked. I felt so confident…I was loud, positive, and wrong. Luckily the team extended me some grace and gently reminded me why my idea would not work as I had described.

When Habits are Harmful

We often think of habits as synonymous with disciplines – the daily activities I have put into my routine to make me better and stronger. Someone might say they have a habit of doing pushups every day before they read their Bible. Wonderful habits. Many years ago, a friend of mine defined habit as, “an unconscious routine performed without thinking.” Yes, I know..’unconscious’ and ‘without thinking’ are pretty similar. I think he stated it that way to make his point. Once something has become a habit for you, you stopped thinking about it and you are no longer making real decisions to do it, or not do it. At that point, I believe the habit is no longer serving you well. I prefer to live consciously and choose each action and decision as best I can.

Live Awake

Much like the software example above, another unconscious habit I have developed is driving home from work. Many times I have arrived home and have no recollection of driving at all; I was effectively asleep the whole way. To avoid that, I have decided to change my route home from time to time. I choose a new route and pay attention to the buildings and signs and turns and bumps in the road. That allows me to stay awake and alive. Interestingly, I find myself feeling more alive when I get home and I can better serve my family. What can you do to live awake?

  • Change your Routine. As we repeat a pattern of behavior, we are strengthening the synapses related to that thought. Great for practice, but remember the other synapses in your head are decaying at a similar rate because you are not using them. Change something. The route to work, the hand you use to brush your teeth, the order you put your socks and shoes on. (Do you know how you put your socks and shoes on, or has ignorance grown there?) Change something and watch your brain come alive.
  • Change your Language. Words are the programming language of the brain and body. The words we use matter. Learn some new ones. Subscribe to the Word of the Day emails…and actually use that word in a sentence that day. If accountability helps, set up a competition with a friend in the office – who can use it (correctly) first?
  • Let them Decide. Next time you have a meal out, let the other person decide where to go. Not only is that nice to them, but also can encourage flexibility for you. Rather than your regular place, experiment a little. If you are feeling really bold, let others decide what you will eat as well. Ask the server to bring what they think they do best.

All these changes might be great, it might be horrible…doesn’t matter. The goal is to open up your world to new experiences and live more consciously each day.

Dan Millman tells a story of living awake:

The old man I call Socrates, my old mentor, was watching me in the gymnasium one night and I had done a full-twisting double somersault or something like that off the horizontal bar and I had stuck my landing, which is a good thing. I landed perfectly and I kinda went, “Yes!” And then I said, “That’s a good time to stop the workout.” So I ripped off my sweatshirt and I threw it in my workout bag.

And we were walking down the hallway afterward. And he turned to me and said, “You know, Dan, that last move you did was really sloppy.” And I said, “What are you talking about? That was the best move I did in two weeks.” He said, “Oh, I’m not talking about the dismount. I’m talking about the way you took off the sweatshirt and put it in your bag.”

He was reminding me again that I was treating one moment as special and another moment as ordinary. So he echoed that oft-repeated phrase, “There are no ordinary moments.”

Your Next Move

This one is simple, and not easy. Change something so you may live more conscious each day. Ask yourself what are those habits so deeply ingrained you have become ignorant of how the rest of the world works. Test new options and decide how you will behave next time.

© 2018 Dave Bair

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