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Brain power: The king of pain

Your mind can be very powerful. It controls much more than you realize. I realized this a few years ago after several years of dealing with sporadic lower back pain. The pain seemingly appeared for no reason. In other words, I would get lower back pain without doing anything like pull a muscle. The pain just seemed to come from of nowhere.

One day I came across a report from John Stossel. He is the news reporter from ABC’s 20/20 and now on Fox News. In the report he described the same back pain I had. He came to realize that the pain came from mental stress. Every time he had significant stress, his back pain would return.

I was very skeptical. I started paying attention to my back pain and came to realize every time I had lower back pain, I could point to a significant stress in my life. So, I started paying attention to stress. Now when something particularly stressful is happening, I deal with that stress immediately. I have gone more than 3 years now without any significant back pain.

Now, I know there are people out there who have real medical conditions that cause back pain not related to stress. A few years ago, I had a herniated disc that ruptured in my neck and I had to have the disc removed. That was not stress related. I also have several relatives with significant degenerative back issues. I am not talking about medical back pain.

My point is that your mind can have a significant effect on your physical health. We all know the other health issues that can be created from stress. If you have health issues, consider that it could be related to stress in your life. So, relieve the stress.

To eliminate stress:

  1. Identify the stress. Determine what is causing your stress. Take the time to figure out what is wrong. Unless you can identify the source of your stress, you will never be able to do anything about it. Write it down if you have to so that you can remind yourself of the source of your stress.
    I started getting that old familiar sign from my back earlier this week. I identified that the stress was because I was behind in my blogging plan.
  2. Do something about your stress. The stress may be from outside forces, or may be self-inflicted. Either way, determine what you can do about the stress and fix it. Fix it now.
    I took action to catch up my blogging plan by converting my voice notes to actual drafts. Within an hour my back pain was gone.
  3. If you can’t do anything about your stress, accept it. Sometimes whatever is causing your stress is out of your control like gasoline prices. If it is, acknowledge it is out of your control. There is no reason to stress about something that you cant do anything about.

Lance Armstrong says, The real reward for pain is this: self-knowledge. My lower back pain has taught me a lot about myself. I have been able to better manage stress because of this biological barometer.

What are you stressed about? What effective ways have you found to deal with your stress?

Why read?

Why do you read? Reading is for enjoyment, for entertainment, because it is required (for school or work). Reading is also for learning. Reading can change your life. Think hard about the last thing that you read. What have you done with what you learned?

Charlie “Tremendous” Jones (no relation) said, “You are the same today you’ll be in five years except for two things: the people you meet and the books you read.”

I am a slow reader and even today I have to read some sentences two or three times until I understand what what I just read. When you read like me, sometimes reading is not fun. But reading is one of the best ways to learn because what you read and what you do with the information you read is up to you.

There is great satisfaction in finishing a book. You can put it on your book trophy shelf. You may even take notes while reading the book but how often do you take time to use the notes that you wrote? To be honest, in many cases, as soon as you move on to the next book you have mentally forgotten what you have learned. How do you apply the information that you learn from reading?

A book that changed my reading life was “Love is the killer app” by Tim Sanders. Success Magazine (my favorite magazine) just posted about a visit from Tim Sanders earlier this week. In a section of Tim s book he describes how to read a book so that it becomes a tool for you. He uses a “cliffing” technique to extract the most important information and quickly access it later. That one concept has completely changed my reading life. I have significantly increased the number of books that I read because I have more purpose in my reading. I turn the books in to tools of reference.

With the next book you read try these techniques:

  • Underline key concepts. Some information just grabs you. You may think that it is something you will remember. But you won’t. Underline it. The effort of underlining makes an additional connection in your brain.
  • Make a note about the information you underline. This may seem like a tedious task. Writing a note about the information makes an even more significant connection in your brain. These notes go on the blank pages at the beginning and end of the book. Hint: include the page number with your note since you are writing anyway.
  • Review the book after completing it. Reviewing a book becomes very easy and quick with your underlines and notes. You will find that it is like re-reading the entire book when you read your notes. And, re-reading the book takes just minutes.
  • Extract key notes for action. There is a reason you underlined and noted the information. Determining action with a few of the most compelling ideas from your notes. This will ensure that the book makes a change to your life.
  • Make tasks of key notes. Assign them as actions to take. Don’t feel like you have to assign action to every note, just assign action to 2 – 5 of the key notes you wrote. Make the extra effort of determining when you will complete each task.

M. Scott Peck, MD said, “Once a mind is truly stretched, it never returns to its former dimensions. Reading a book does not truly stretch your mind. Taking action on what you learned is what stretches your mind. That is when a book changes your life.

Look back at the last book or two that you have read. What do you remember from these books? How have these books changed your life? Please leave a comment to share some of your favorite books.

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Too much time on my hands: Exercising your body and your mind

Our culture is undeniably focused on overindulgence. We have more leisure time than any of our previous generations because of great technological advances. With this additional time, we need to be more intentional with it.
Just two generations ago, it was common that the entire family was involved in the family business. As soon as the children were able, they were in the fields, tending livestock, cooking meals, doing laundry. There wasn’t much time for leisure. It may not feel like it now but we have more discretionary time than we realize.

 

Look at the most successful people you know. What do successful people typically have in common? They use most of their discretionary time doing something productive. People who are waiting to be successful make poor choices with their discretionary time. Dont get me wrong, you need to take some time to rest and do something just for fun. However, if you want success, the majority of your focus should be on accomplishing something.

It’s common to hear people say (including me) that successful people exercise because they have more time. The argument sounds good because successful people can make time to be in good shape. If you ask people who are physically fit, they will say that they are physically fit because they make the time. They will also say that they made time for exercising before they were successful.

Successful people also make time to exercise their mind. People who have learned to exercise their mind consider this a form of mental fitness. Examples include reading, listening to presentations, attending conferences, watching inspirational shows and movies, studying new topics that increase their productivity, etc.

It can be difficult to make time to be physically and mentally fit. I struggle with it all the time. There is always something seemingly more important than going to the gym or reading a book or attending a lecture. I made up my mind to be physically and mentally fit. Once I made up my mind, I had to take action.

To ensure you develop your physical and mental fitness:

  • Determine weekly goals. Each week determine how many times you will spend exercising your body and your mind. Determine what will be your physical fitness and what will be your mental fitness for the week. You may decide to exercise for one hour 3 – 4 times per week and read for at least 30 minutes every day. Make sure these goals are achievable. Start small and expect to add more later.
  • Include these goals in your daily to-do list. Putting exercise and reading on my to-do list gives me something to cross off. I have a sense of accomplishment when I can cross off these goals.
  • Schedule the time in to your calendar. It is great to list these goals for the week, but you will not complete them unless you take action. Decide when you will do them and commit to it. Block out the time to make the time.
  • Now is the time to rest. Once you accomplish these mental and physical goals each day is when you can do something relaxing or for entertainment. Make it a mini celebration for making yourself better.
  • Repeat. It can be difficult to keep going but make this a weekly habit to ensure your physical and mental health.

Try these techniques for 21 days and reassess. If you don’t feel better about yourself or feel you are accomplishing more, let me know.

What are you going to do this week to exercise both your mind and your body? When are you going to do these exercises? Leave a comment here.

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Change in blogging

I have been blogging now for over two months. I have really enjoyed being able to share my experiences, ideas, and lessons that I have learned with you. This project is an experiment.

 

An experiment to me is when you try something to see how it works then make a change to see how that works. I have decided to make a change in my publishing schedule. Starting next week, I will reduce my blogging schedule from three times a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) to two times per week (Tuesday and Thursday).

I am making this change for several reasons. This change has nothing to do with a lack of ideas. I have so many ideas and topics for posts that I don’t know what to do with them all. I feel that the recent quality of the content in each post isn’t as rich as I think it deserves to be.

A basic advantage from this change is that it will provide more time to improve the quality of each post. Some of you (the readers) might also appreciate the reduced schedule. I have some posts that I get behind in reading because the posts come out so frequently. Reducing the frequency will allow some of you to be able to keep up. I will also have some additional time to make improvements to the web site. You will see some neat changes in the coming weeks.

A disadvantage I know will be at least a perceived lower expectation. I may loose some of you as readers because you will think “Chris isn’t as serious about this as I thought he was”.

If you continue reading and subscribing to this blog post, I welcome your feedback to let me know if I am truly improving the quality of the content. This project will continue to be an experiment and I will continue to make changes. Some day I may be posting every day, but until I create that routine groove it will be twice a week for now.

Let me know your thoughts about this change.

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Why do I blog?

Bloggers will often write about why they blog. All bloggers have their own reasons. My blogging is a means to and end in several different ways.

I was teased and made fun of a lot growing up. As an early teen I had low self esteem. I have a learning disability and really struggled through school. I was a slow reader (still am but I still read). Because of this, I didnt like school or do well in school. I was never expected to go to college (although I have a bachelors degree now). I started to believe I wasn’t going to do much with my life.

I began to get out of that rut and started to become more than what people thought I would be. I looked for ways that I could be efficient.

I decided to start reading. I found a way to enjoy reading. I remain a slow reader but have improved my reading speed and comprehension. I read what motivates me. Through reading I have learned a lot about finding inspiration, creating systems that make me better organized, and accessing motivation through other people’s examples. If you can relate, then this blog is intended for you.

Have you ever said, “If I knew then what I know now . . . “? I blog to share my experiences. I am driven to help people like me so that they can find inspiration to make a difference in their lives and the lives of other people.

I like sharing resources that I have found and have helped me. Most of these resources are very simple and easy to implement. It is diligence and persistence that is hard. Its hard to make the time to find these tools. This blog is to put that information in one place that is easy to find and use.

The topics you find here will not be perfect. I expect to have spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. You may be an English teacher or think that it ruins the credibility of the blog to have mistakes. I am writing to people who can see past that. I believe it is the content that is even more important than having it perfect. I will make corrections and edits as readers like you let me know (and I appreciate every correction).

Thank you for reading and especially for your comments.

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Are you following the crowd? Make a difference with your own path.

Our culture expects you to follow the traditional path. It’s sometimes “easier” to follow what everyone expects you to do. You go to school, go to college, get a job, get married, have kids, work until you can retire, retire and eventually die. Following this path is what everyone else does.

Following the traditional path will make it difficult to discover what makes you unique. Following your path (and not someone else’s) is how you will find your passion and purpose in life. People who simply follow the traditional path are not seeking their purpose. Determining  your path and then following it will get you to your destination quicker.

Everyone has a unique combination of skills that were given to you. This combination is like a recipe except this recipe can’t be made again. The combined flavor of the recipe that makes you tastes like nothing else in this world because you are the chef. You determine what ingredients will make the recipe better. It will take time, but you need to understand the unique combination of ingredients that make you you. Knowing your unique skills and talents will help you determine what you become. Follow your own path.

What is your heart telling you to do? It is up to you do decide which influences are good for you and relinquish influences that are not considering your best interests. Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didnt do than by the ones you did do. So throw off your bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. Mark Twain

What are some unique ingredients make you unique? What do you do that no one else does? Leave a comment here.

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Pay to play: Change your life by paying for it

You probably want to become better at something. If not, you should. We were designed to be better than the day before. My high school band director always said, “just be better than you were yesterday”. What motivates you to fully commit to being better? What prevents you from breaking through to the next level?

Sometimes a new commitment is necessary to break through. To make a significant jump will require you to pay a price (money, time, energy, public announcement). It needs to be something that causes a bit of pain or risk (aka sacrifice). Without sacrifice, you will not commit to make the change.

When I was deciding what platform to use for this blog, I could have gotten a free blog from Google. I choose instead to pay for this blog through WordPress. Of course I benefit with a paid platform with better features. What I also get for paying is that I am more committed to blogging now. It was a little painful to part with that money. This pain is worth it because it is one more component that keeps me motivated.

The pain you feel makes overcoming that pain more satisfying. To get a college degree, you have to commit to several years of hard work and a chunk of money to get the degree. To have a great marriage, you must commit to work through conflict, make compromises, and sacrifice your personal time. To become a great athlete, you must commit to countless practices in bad weather, time away from friends, and sore muscles.

To make a true change in your life you must pay for it.

  • Determine what you want to change in your life. Don’t think about how you will do it, just determine what you want to change. Write it down with as much detail as possible.
  • Make a plan. Write out what you will need to do to accomplish your goal. Organize your list by putting it in order by what needs to be done first through completion.
  • What will it take to change? What price will you have to pay to achieve your goal? List everything you know you will have to “pay” to achieve your goal.
  • Pay the price.If you need to buy something buy it. If you need to carve out time schedule it. If you need to announce it tell everyone.
  • Do it. Commit to doing it. You may not make meaningful progress every day. “Just be better than you were yesterday.”
  • Appreciate the pain. When you are in pain, not having fun, wishing you were doing something else, remember that this pain is what will get you to your goal. Celebrate the pain because that is the only thing that will help you achieve your goal. The more pain, the more satisfying your result will be when you accomplish your goals.

What change do you want to make in your life? What have you been putting off because you want to avoid the pain? Read other people’s comments or write your own here.

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But why . . . ?

When we ask someone to do something it can be frustrating why they didn’t do it the way we wanted. It’s as if they deliberately did it their way instead of your way. You can explain everything but until the other person understands why the results will struggle to meet your expectations.

I have been on the receiving end of this scenario. When I was a boy, my brother and I stayed with relatives who lived on a farm. One day my aunt told us we were going on a hike through the woods on their property and that we should wear our swimming suit under our jeans. As a boy, that didn’t make any sense to me. I understood that we should wear jeans so we didn’t get our legs scraped up through the brush. It was a hot day and I didn’t want to be even hotter with a swim suit under my jeans, so I just wore the jeans. During our hike we came to a creek and my aunt said, “take off your jeans and go swimming boys!”

When we ask someone to do something, we usually have it all figured out in our mind. We need to remember that who we ask doesn’t know what we know. The other person will either consciously or sub-consciously try to figure out the purpose.

When you ask someone to do something for you:

  • Start by explaining the purpose. Put yourself in their shoes. It takes time and energy for the other person to figure out the purpose of your task. Make it clear what you want to accomplish.
  • Offer ideas. Your plan may not be the best plan. Many times you have an idea about how to accomplish the task. Offer suggestions about how the other person might accomplish the result you are looking for.
  • Allow the other person to do it their way. We often think the way we think something should be done is the best way. I’ve found that most of the time my way is not best. If the other person understands what you want to accomplish they will figure it out their way. You may be surprised how much better they will do.
  • Shut up and stay out of their way. Don’t go checking in to make sure they are doing it right. Trust that they will accomplish the result and accept that if they don’t it is probably because you didn’t explain “why” well enough.

That hot summer day I w

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Hand me that rake: Tools for results

Now that spring is here, I like to clean up the yard, mow the lawn, edge the flowerbeds, and spread mulch. It is important to get everything cleaned up to make the yard look beautiful again while setting the stage for easy upkeep through the summer months. Before I can do any of this, I need to make sure the lawn mower is tuned up, the wheel barrow tire is inflated, and the edger blade is sharp. This is pretty simple stuff that most people can easily do. What is more difficult is using your tools to maintain throughout the season. Not only tools but time and dedication to weed, fertilize, water, and prune.

Have you or someone you know planted a garden but didn’t plan for taking care of it? If not, weeds grow, the plants are stunted or dry up, the fruits fall to the ground or spoil on the branch. Projects can be easy to get started, but without calculating what is needed to maintain the project and finish can get you over your head before you know it.

When preparing for any project, make sure you have all the tools for the job. Take that little bit of extra time to plan, determine all the tools you will need, gather them so that you not only start the project but finish it.

A few years ago I started blogging. My only consideration was to start. I didn’t have a plan, a purpose, or an end goal in mind. I really didn’t know what I needed to be a blogger. I blogged about topics that came to mind. They were scattered and unorganized. Over time I blogged less and less. Eventually I realized that I stopped blogging. What result did I create from this blog experience? Not much of anything that I or anyone else can use. Looking back now I didn’t have a plan or the tools to be a blogger.

For your next project, plan and gather your tools.

  • What result are you shooting for? This is the Stephen Covey habit of “begin with the end in mind”. When I decided to create this blog site I decided that I wanted a blog that people could look forward to and count on. I envisioned how my blog would look and how people would interact with it. I determined the purpose of the blog so that the content is consistent.
  • Plan. List the steps it will take to start and maintain. For several months, I created a simple project plan that listed major tasks I needed to accomplish to set-up and maintain this blog site.
  • Collect your tools. Determine the tools you need to create your results and to continue to create those results. You will probably have some tools but others you will need to get. One tool I needed was a blog hosting service that met my needs. I decided that a free blog site wasn’t going to get the results I planned for. So I subscribed to a professional blog service.
  • Learn how to use new tools. If you haven’t used these tools before, take time to learn how to properly use them. I watched videos and followed tutorials to learn how to use WordPress.
  • Get to work. You can only spend so much time preparing. As soon as you have enough to get started, start. Don’t wait until everything is perfect before you start (this will be a post later). I could have planned forever but my accountably group pressed me to start on April 1 with my first post.
  • Review. Evaluate how successful you are at achieving your original plan. Make refinements and continue with your project.

What project are you preparing to start? What do you need to get started, and what do you need to keep it going? Read other people’s comments or write your own here.

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You are lying to yourself. You wont remember.

When you make a commitment, how d0 you follow-through? How often have you told yourself, Oh, Ill remember that., but then later realized that you forgot? Everyone has the good intent of remembering or doing it later. How often do you really remember? Its amazing how complex our brains are and how much information can be stored but I still forget the thing I said we would do yesterday.

 

I have a system for any commitment.

  1. Write it down. It all starts with writing it down. I carry a small notebook with me to record any commitment. I write down as much detail about what I need to do. For years I used a FranklinCovey® binder but have recently moved to a Moleskine® notebook.
  2. Transfer notes to a list. I review my notes at least daily (each morning) as I plan my day. I prioritize my list of commitments and action with the most important ones first. I only have one list (no post-its).
  3. Mark it complete. Nothing comes off the list until I do it.

When I make a commitment, I ask myself, Am I really going to do it?

  • If the answer is no, I try to be honest with myself and with the person I commit to. I dont commit if I don’t really expect to do it.
  • If I really intend to do it, I write it down. I write it down right now. I do not wait or convince myself that I will remember. I write it down now.

Dont be fooled after you get in the habit of writing down your commitments. Because you are writing down your commitments, you will tend to remember more. Writing things is an additional connection to your brain. Many times the act of writing is enough to remember later what you said you would do. At some point you may think that your memory is better. You start remembering without referring back to your notes. Once you stop writing down your commitments, you will begin to forget again. It is an evil natural cycle to keep you from doing what your commit to doing. Don’t fall for it.

You dont necessarily have to write down your commitments. You simply need to record it in some medium. Leave a voicemail for yourself or make a recording on your smart phone. Sure you dont like listening to your voice, but get over it. It is a great method for when I can’t write it down. Later when I listen to the recording, I add it to my prioritized list.

I even go the extra step and schedule what I commit to into my schedule. I block time when I will focus on completing the commitment.

How do you ensure that you do what you promise? Have you ever made a commitment but forgot to do it?