Category Archives: habits

Rule for Life


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As New Year’s approaches, many of us will be establishing New Year’s resolutions.  These often help us to direct our lives in a more positive direction.  Sometimes, they come from a healthy desire to grow, and sometimes they come from guilt and shame over how we have managed our lives up to this point.  Oftentimes, we abandon our resolutions after a short time, adding to the guilt and shame that might have motivated them in the first place.  Maybe a better approach to this practice would be to establish Rules for Life.

A Rule for Life establishes a rhythm in your life.  (In fact, you could call it a “Rhythm for Life” if the word “rule” seems too legalistic.)  It is a spiritual discipline that invites the Holy Spirit to partner with you as you practice Romans 12:1-2.  A Rule for Life “[offers] your [body] as a living sacrifice” so that you can “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” It puts you in the right place at the right time with the right heart for God to do transformation work.  Your part of the partnership is showing up with the right heart.  God does the rest.

Sometimes, we try to rush God into the few minutes that we have available for Him in our busy schedules, but my experience is that God rarely shows up when I summon Him.  He is unlikely to give in to my need for Him to be present just when I have the time.  He is a jealous God who won’t compete with the idols of work and entertainment that I choose to worship with my time.  Instead, He requires that I make Him a priority both in my time and in my behaviors.  He wants me to schedule Him into my calendar and show up ready to spend time with Him.  He wants me to choose Him in moments when I’m tempted to choose my sinful nature. God wants me to prioritize Him even when I don’t see the benefit. I am often impatient for the proof that my behaviors are making things better, but much of God’s work in my life is way below the surface.  It’s inner transformation.  If I show up regularly and choose God over evil when I am tempted, God will be faithful to reorient my soul towards Him.

Some examples of Rules for Life are:

  • Begin every day with prayer.
  • Meet with my accountability partner each week.
  • Practice a Sabbath rest.
  • Tell God thank you.
  • Stop eating before I’m full.
  • Let each person be my teacher.
  • Visit God’s creation.
  • Bounce my eyes when I feel tempted to look.
  • Spend time journaling each day.
  • Demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit with each person I meet.
  • Keep Christ on the throne of my heart.

Notice that these are not SMART goals.  Making them Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound can lead to legalistic observance.  Instead of worrying about whether you met the specific criteria of a Rule for Life, allow God to speak to you about them.  Practice the spiritual discipline of Examen at the end of each day by asking, “How did I do with my Rules for Life today?  What pleased you?  What would you have me do differently tomorrow?”  God won’t beat you up over what you didn’t do, but He will redirect where necessary and encourage you so that you have the strength and motivation to keep going.

Rules for Life can sound a lot like New Year’s resolutions, but they shouldn’t come with emotional baggage.  A Rule for Life should help you love God more.  If it makes you feel guilty because you aren’t doing it, let it go.  It shouldn’t be a legalistic practice to “earn God’s love.”  If it becomes one, you know that Satan has gotten ahold of your Rule for Life and twisted it for his purposes.  As long as you cling to it, Satan will have the power to accuse you for not living up to your commitment.  Just release it, and try to find a different Rule for Life that gives life to you. When you think about your Rule for Life, it should bring peace into your soul.  It should be time that you long for or practices that resonate with you.  Keep experimenting with different Rules for Life until you find ones that uniquely fit who you are and where you are in life.

Instead of New Year’s resolutions this year, try establishing some new rhythms.  Make yourself more accessible to God’s good work of transformation in you.

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Filed under Daily walk, discipline, habits, sanctification, Sharpening the Saw, spiritual disciplines, Substitution

Desire – Discipline – Delight


HabitsGood habits are difficult to form.  (The bad ones just seem to leap into existence!)  When we are working on incorporating a new habit, we often struggle mightily to get started.  We do well for a few days, and then our inspiration leaves us.  Guilt ensues.  We begin again.  We fail again.  More guilt.  We wrestle with our own best intentions, but so often, Newton’s first law of motion wins out – things at rest really do stay at rest.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  Understand the universal process for implementing good habits, and you will recognize that victory is simply a matter of time and persistent effort.  According to Dr. Larry Lea in his book, Could You Not Tarry One Hour, the process involves three stages – Desire, Discipline and Delight.

Stage 1 – Desire

The essential first ingredient in a habit is desire.  You can have all the knowledge, skills and resources you need to get started (remember that treadmill that’s gathering dust in your living room?), but if you don’t have desire, it ain’t happening.  Sure, other people can coerce you into starting a habit through authority, nagging or guilting you into it, but without your own personal desire to make a change, you’ll dump the habit as soon as they take the pressure off.  Desire is the gas in your engine.  Use it to help you push through Stage 2.

 

Stage 2 – Discipline

Once you have the desire (yours – not someone else’s) to make a change, you have to discipline yourself to follow through.  Yes, it’s hard.  Yes, it’s painful.  Yes, it takes you out of your comfort zone, but it’s also temporary.  Studies have shown that it takes twenty-one consecutive days to form a habit.  There have been no studies that say you have to enjoy the process.  You just have to stick with it.  Keep your eyes on the larger goal that fuels your desire, and keep plugging.

 

Stage 3 – Delight

Here’s the secret.  If you push your way through the wall of discomfort during the discipline stage, you make it to the third stage.  This is where the habit that was such a chore before becomes a delight.  You long to accomplish it each day.  You can’t wait to get started, and if you neglect the habit for some reason, you feel a tangible gap in your day – like something is missing.  When you get to the Delight Stage, benefits of the habit that you never knew existed suddenly materialize.  You’ve developed momentum that makes the habit easy to continue.

So many times, we give up too soon.  We allow our feelings to dictate our actions.  If we’re tired, we make excuses for not practicing our habit.  If we feel unmotivated, we let ourselves off the hook.  If someone dangles an option before us that is even slightly more appealing, we give in to temptation.  That’s backward thinking.  Feelings follow actions, not the other way around.  When you discipline yourself to take action, you push through to delight.

It’s just a matter of time and persistent effort.  Do it even when you don’t feel like it.  Fake it until you make it.  Resist the temptation to do nothing, and you can take advantage of the second half of Newton’s first law: things in motion tend to stay in motion.  Be a thing in motion!

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Filed under Change, character, development, discipline, growth, habits

Q3 Magnets


In Stephen Covey’s Time Matrix, Quadrant 3 (Q3) describes tasks that are urgent but unimportant.  It’s the quadrant of “Other Peoples’ Priorities.”  The tasks that fit into this quadrant are important to someone, but they don’t have to be important to us.

It may seem crazy that we would spend any time working on things that are unimportant, but we often confuse urgency with importance.  When a phone rings, we feel we have to pick it up.  When there’s a knock on the door, we feel we have to answer it.  When someone drops by, we feel like we have to stop what we’re doing to talk to them.

But what if we could make it so that they rarely dropped by anymore?  We can…by getting rid of our Q3 magnets: the things that attract and invite the interruptions in the first place.  Try these strategies:

  • Get rid of the candy dish on your desk. It’s an invitation to stop by for a sugar fix, and they will feel obligated to stop and talk if they are going to take your candy.
  • Remove chairs from around your work space. A standing interruption won’t last nearly as long as a sitting one will, and it may not happen at all.
  • Stay busy. If someone peaks in and sees you staring into space, he/she won’t feel bad interrupting you.
  • Take home the conversation piece. If you have something near your desk that invites questions or discussion, take it away.
  • Relocate out of high-traffic areas. If your desk is on the way to the restroom or the breakroom, you can be sure that a percentage of the people going that way will drop in to chat.
  • Get out of the line of sight. If people can’t see if you are at your desk when they pass by, they are less likely to stop in.
  • Put your inbox as far away from you as you can. Make it easy for people to drop things in your inbox without having to engage you.
  • Move popular resources elsewhere. If people have to come to you (or near you) for files, supplies or other materials, you’re inviting interruptions.
  • Kill the grapevine. It may be that people are frequently interrupting you because you’ve got the best gossip.  It may be painful, but if you stop passing along information, people will stop coming to you.
  • Close the “open door.” The open door policy is widely misunderstood.  It’s was originally intended to allow an outlet for employees who needed to air issues or unload burdens – not for unproductive interruptions.  Close your door (if you have one) when you need to concentrate, and let everyone know that they can come by and see you during a particular hour of the day.  Schedule your “interruption time.”

A word of caution:

These strategies are not meant to completely eliminate time that you use to interact with your coworkers.  Building relationships is important, even when it’s not urgent.  It’s a Q2 activity that requires a time investment but pays off in the long run.  Be careful that as you eliminate your Q3 magnets, you don’t send the wrong message to those you need to be building relationships with.

 

 

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Filed under Challenges, communication, fatigue, focus, habits, importance, Interpersonal, overcoming obstacles, priorities, Prioritize, Priority, Productivity, Relationships

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks


Maybe you’ve heard the analogy about how difficult it is to teach an “old dog” new tricks.  An “old dog” is someone who is set in their ways, who’s “been there and done that” and who is not particularly impressed by our leadership credentials.  We run into “old dogs” all the time when we inherit teams, and they can make our jobs a chore.  I once had a children’s joke book that had stellar advice about how to deal with “old dogs.”  The joke went like this:

“What do you need to know to teach an old dog new tricks?”


“More than the dog.”

 

Great advice!  As leaders, we need to stay at least one step ahead of those on our teams.  You do this through continuous improvement – taking courses, being a bookworm or a tapeworm (someone who listens to tapes), reading trade publications, attending conferences….  There are a gazillion options available to us.  The hard part isn’t finding a way to learn more; it’s making it into a habit!

Think about this:

If you haven’t learned anything new lately, have you earned the credibility to lead a group of people who are experts in what they do on a daily basis?  You can’t lead any farther than you yourself have gone.

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Filed under authority, coaching, discipleship, expertise, Fathering, growth, habits, leadership, learning, mentoring, modeling, parenting, Sharpening the Saw, Spiritual Growth, Teaching, trust

Soft Hands


During a Monday night football game a few years ago, the Dallas Cowboy’s were defending at their own three-yard line.  The quarterback for the opposing team dropped back and fired a bullet…right to one of the Cowboy’s defensive linemen.  To my disgust, the lineman dropped the ball even though it was right between the numbers and even though he got both hands on the ball.

At the time, it seemed unthinkable that he would drop a sure interception, but I stopped yelling at the TV long enough to hear one of the commentators (a former lineman himself) explain why we should give the guy a break.  As he explained it, linemen spend their entire careers pushing against three-hundred-pound gorillas on the other side of the line of scrimmage.  Every muscle in their body is invested in the struggle to push past the opposing lineman to get at the quarterback.  When a ball is thrown their way, they don’t have the “soft hands” required to catch the ball.

By that last comment, he meant that because the linemen were totally focused on the goal of overpowering their opponent, it was supremely difficult for them to switch goals in the middle of battle.  I can relate.  I remember countless times when I was insensitive to my wife when she called me at the office.  Her calls always seemed to come right in the middle of my battles with three-hundred-pound gorilla projects and three-hundred-pound gorilla deadlines.  Bruised from her own battles with the kids, all she wanted was a sympathetic ear.  What she typically got were short, curt responses indicating I had better things to do than to talk with her.

Because I was so focused on the battle, I didn’t have the soft hands necessary to respond to my wife appropriately, and I forgot we were playing for the same team.  Each time I dropped the ball, I regretted it the second I hung up the phone.  Realization of how important and unrecoverable the moment was always made me wish I had not been so single-focused.

If we are going to be effective leaders, we have to learn to develop the soft hands required when our team members come to us for help.  We have to be skilled at transitioning from driving the line, chasing down the goal, sacking the competition… to taking time out, being receptive and possibly moving in a whole new direction.

While success requires us to be totally invested in our work, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that teams are made of people, and we can’t play this game alone.

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Filed under Attitude, Challenges, Change, communication, conflict, determination, emotions, family, Fathering, Goals, habits, Interpersonal, leadership, management, marriage, mentoring, paradigm shift, pressure, priorities, Prioritize, Priority, Relationships, Serving Others

Prime Your Pump


There’s an old story about a thirsty traveler who came across a pump in the desert. An attached note explained that there was a jar of water buried nearby to prime the pump.

“You’ve got to give before you get,” the note said.

The traveler was faced with a dilemma.  If he poured the water into the pump, he couldn’t get it back.  Worse, he was going to have to work hard to pump out the water from the well with no guarantee of success.  However, if he drank the stale water in the jar, he would never get to taste the sweet, cool water from the well.  He would also ruin any chance for other travelers to get any water from the well, since there would be no way to prime it.

So, with a sigh, the traveler poured the water into the pump to prime it.  Then he began pumping the lever as fast as he could.  He pumped, and he pumped, but no water came out.  There wasn’t even the sound of water coming up the pipes.  But he pumped and pumped some more….and then some more….and then some more.  Even though he was becoming increasingly frustrated, he knew he couldn’t stop.  As soon as he stopped pumping, the water would go back down into the well.

Just when he didn’t think he could pump even one more time, he heard a gurgle of water….then another….and then, to his joy and amazement, out poured a flood of cool, clear water!!  Everything changed at that point. He no longer had to pump and pump to get the water out.  The slightest pressure sent water gushing from the spout. Slow, easy strokes were all he needed to keep the water flowing.

So it is with success in just about any worthwhile endeavor you undertake.  You’ve got to give before you get.   You’ve got to work hard, and you’ll have no guarantee of success.  If you stop working hard, your success will slip away from you, but if you persist even beyond what you think you can do, your reward will often come.

Don’t drink the stale waters of instant gratification; put in the work to prime your pump!

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Filed under Challenges, Change, Convenience, delayed gratification, determination, discipline, faith, growth, habits, Inconvenience, Instant Gratification, Preparation, sacrifice, Sowing and reaping, Spiritual Growth, stewardship, temptation, waiting on the Lord

Summer Slide


As the kids head back to school, teachers everywhere are facing a common dilemma – the “summer slide.”  Over the summer break, kids’ reading abilities, study habits and knowledge levels erode as books and other intellectual pursuits take a back seat to swimming, movie-going and Nintendo-playing.  Teachers often have to repeat up to six weeks of lessons from the previous year just to get the students back to their previous levels of proficiency and knowledge.

We may know this happens intuitively, but Hopkins sociologists Karl Alexander and Doris Entwisle have actually studied the phenomenon.  They followed 790 randomly-selected Baltimore students from 20 different schools from the time they entered the first grade in 1982 through their graduations in 1994.  By comparing testing scores from one year to the next, the researchers were able to see the impact a lack of academic focus had during the summer.

Those students who enrolled in summer camps, music or art lessons or who were encouraged to read during the break tended to maintain knowledge levels, while those who had less focus during the summer tended to forget more of what they had learned the previous school year.  From year to year, these learning gaps grew wider and wider between the two types of students so that by the end of the fifth grade, the difference in verbal abilities was two years and the difference in math abilities was a year-and-a-half.

Now, I’m guessing that not too many of us adults have been to summer camp, music or art lessons in quite awhile, and statistics don’t look too good for our reading habits.  A Gallup poll on reading habits in 1990 found that the proportion of Americans who had not completed a book in the previous year had doubled to 16% since the previous poll in 1978 reported 8%.  An Associated Press-Ipsos poll in 2007 had the number at a dismal 25%.  If these numbers continue, over 50% of us won’t read any books by 2052, and no one will be reading books by the year 2112.

A.C. Neilson (the company that measures television ratings in the U.S.) reported in 1998 that six million videos are checked out every day (and that’s just my family…).  Compare that to three million library books checked out in the average day (and a good percentage of those are by students).  Neilson also tells us that the average American family watches over four hours of T.V. a day (equivalent to two months of non-stop T.V. viewing a year).

So, how’s your “summer slide” going?  If elementary-age children could lose one-and-a-half to two years of verbal and mathematical ability after just five summers, what does that mean for us (who have had a few more summers on our record)?  Are you actively learning anything, or has life since high school or college been one big summer break?  Don’t let those brain cells drain away; it’s use ‘em or lose ‘em!  Head to the library…we’ve got some catching up to do!

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Filed under brain, growth, habits, learning, Teaching