Monthly Archives: January 2012

“No” is the New “Yes”

Too many people I speak to tell me they spend their long days responding to emails, putting out fires, and running around in a constant state or urgency.

Sound familiar? You are not alone.

It’s a problem many of us struggle with – a vicious cycle we cannot seem to solve or free ourselves from. We react to what’s in front of us, whether it truly matters or not.

More than ever, we’re prisoners of the urgent.

We know that setting goals and prioritising help tremendously, but the problem is that prioritizing requires reflection, and reflection takes time. Most of  are so busy racing just to keep up, we don’t believe we have the time to stop and think about much of anything. It is a myth we live by now.

And so too often we default to saying “yes” to everything and everyone. It’s just easier that way. We can avoid conflict, and it takes less time than pausing to decide whether or not the request is truly important. Some believe there’s also an adrenaline rush in saying “yes”. As Tony Swartz writes,

Many of us have become addicted, unwittingly, to the speed of our lives — the adrenalin high of constant busyness. We mistake activity for productivity, more for better, and we ask ourselves ‘What’s next?’ far more often than we do ‘Why this?'”

But as Gandhi put it, “A ‘no’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.”

So what does saying “no” actually look like? Well, I think it means:

  • Taking time out to reflect and prioritise
  • Deciding what to do less of, or to stop doing altogether
  • Regularly stepping back from the madding crowd
  • Sometimes disappointing people
  • Fighting the urge to respond to the latest urgent demand or seductive source of instant gratification
Of course, these things are hard to do, and it requires greater discipline and effort on our part. BUT… when we learn to thoughtfully say “no”, we give ourselves the space to reflect on, metabolize, assess, and make sense of what we’ve just experienced, so that we might live proactively, rather than reactively.

And so… in a world of relentless demands and infinite loops, saying “no” just might be the most undervalued skill of our times.

21 Steps to Awesomeness

As I was checking out my blog stats the other day I realised that many of my most popular posts all have something in common: NUMBERS. Check it out:

And I totally get why this is. Most of us are busy people with busy lives, and so when we come across a post like “5 Ways to Fix Your Marriage”, or “12 Tips for Awesome Abs”, it grabs our attention and pulls us in. There is something attractive about a nice clean-cut formula – a simple set of principles to apply or steps we can take that will put things right.

But here’s the deal. There are no magic formulas or quick fixes in life.

I’m not saying these tips or steps aren’t helpful. I really believe in the steps I’ve written about. But the reality is that life is complex, and the idea that you can break it down or fix it all in a few steps is rather silly.

The truth is there are a million steps.

And a lot of the time we don’t even know what those steps look like. Or we may not be willing or able to take them at any given moment. And they’re probably different for you and me.

And this is not a bad thing. It’s actually a really good thing. Something that I believe can ultimately bring us closer to God.

As Donald Miller writes in his book Searching For God Knows What, I have come to believe the sooner we find this truth (that there are a million steps) beautiful, the sooner we will fall in love with the God who keeps shaking things up, keeps changing the path, keeps rocking the boat to test our faith in Him, teaching us to not rely on easy answers, bullet points, magic mantras, or genies in lamps, but rather rely on His guidance, His existence, His mercy, and His love.”

Will I continue to write blogs with “tips” and “ways” to live better and more intentionally? Absolutely! But if you want “21 Steps to Awesomeness”, I’m afraid I can’t help you today. You’re just gonna have to go out there and be awesome all by yourself.

You Are What You Eat

You’ve probably heard that saying a thousand times before.

When I was younger and training 4-5 hours a day as a gymnast, I could eat whatever and as much as I liked. Literally. It didn’t matter how much junk food, alcohol, chocolate etc I put into my body, I never gained weight, and always stayed in shape.

Now, however, as I’m fast approaching my 30th birthday, times… they are a changing!🙂 Now I just look at a piece of cake and gain weight! Perhaps you feel the same way.

And so, in an attempt to make sure I’m eating right in 2012, I’ve enlisted the help of a good nutritionist friend of mine, Stephanie Wills, who helps run Lifestyle Health in Ballito. Here are a few tips from Steph’s blog on eating well, feeling good, and staying healthy.

1. Snack right

Rather than chocolate, sweets or chips reach for healthier snacks to balance your blood glucose levels, maintain adequate energy levels and promote healthy weight management. Choose an apple with 2 tablespoons of almond nut butter, plain yogurt with seeds and blueberries, a home-made trail mix, a sprout salad or a small protein shake.

2. Switch to small plates and teaspoons

Research has shown that downsizing dinnerware promotes portion control and mindful eating without the feeling of deprivation that comes with other dieting methods. It really is one of the easiest and most effective small changes you can do for weight loss.

3. Salt, pepper and CHIA

It’s time for the modern dinner table to welcome an additional partner to our familiar duo: chia seeds. Chia is incredibly high in fibre, full of anti-oxidants, omega-3, protein, vitamins, minerals and enzymes as well as being virtually tasteless. This means you can boost the nutritional content of any meal with a sprinkling or two of this amazing superfood!

4. Support your body with supplements

Steph suggests 5 basic nutrients to ensure long-term health and well-being: A comprehensive multivitamin, omega 3, vitamin C (the non-acidic form), vitamin D, and a bone/joint support formula high in magnesium. If you can’t do them all, just start with one.

5. Sleep

I know you’ve heard it all before but be honest – you’re probably getting far too little? Sleep is when your body does its best healing and repair including preventing viral infections, maintaining proper fat metabolism, reducing stress hormone levels and rejuvenating your liver. Turn off that TV, iPad, cellphone and computer, and go to bed!

6. Grow your own

Why not try grow as many of your own organic vegetables, sprouts, and herbs as possible! It is cheap and easy, extremely convenient and of course highly nutritious. I started my own herb garden about a year ago and it has been such fun!

7. Learn to love lemons

Lemons are full of anti-cancer, anti-acne, liver supporting and immune boosting nutrients as well as being incredibly cleansing and alkalising. Drink hot water and lemon juice in the morning, add lemon slices to your water, cook with it and use it in salad dressings.

Hope these few tips help to inspire you to achieve improved health and happiness.

Tribes

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” – Jane Howard

I’ve recently finished reading Seth Godin’s book “Tribes”. In it Godin describes a tribe as any group of people, large or small, who are:

  • connected to one another
  • connected to a leader
  • and connected to an idea

For millions of years, humans have been seeking out tribes – be they religious, ethnic, economic, political, or even musical. It’s our nature.

Now, with the rise of the Internet and the explosion of social media, tribes are no longer limited by the barriers of time, cost or geography. Now you can get groups of ten or ten thousand or ten million people from all over the world who are connected to each other, and who care about their iPhones, or living like Jesus, or a political campaign, or a new way to fight global warming.

And all this is good and exciting and wonderful stuff. But the killer question Godin poses in his book is:

Who is going to lead us?

According to Godin, while the Web can do amazing things, it cannot provide leadership. That still has to come from individuals – people like you and I who have a passion for something and who want to make a difference.

And if you think leadership is for other people, think again.

In fact, never before has it been easier for regular people like you and I to lead. All the tools are at our fingertips. All we need is the desire to change things, the ability to connect a tribe, and the willingness to lead.

Throughout the book Godin pleads with his readers to step-up and lead. He says that if you ignore the opportunity, you risk turning into a “sheepwalker” – someone who fights to protect the status quo at all costs, never asking if obedience is doing you (or your organization or your church or the world) any good.

Ultimately this book has made a significant impact on me in how I view community and leadership, and made me think (really think) about the opportunities I have been given to lead. Whether it’s by writing another blog post, preaching a message, or meeting with a bunch of friends.

Stepping up to lead isn’t easy, but it’s easier than you think. What are you waiting for?

Becoming Human

This is a guest post by Kevin Light that really moved me.

I followed him as he walked away from the crowd to the bottom of the garden. He stood there with his face in his hands, sobbing. I put my arms around his shoulders and I held on through the waves of grief that wracked his body.

“There’s only so much superficial crap you can take,” he said.

“Why do they talk like that? They’re adults, with degrees and successful careers. They drive cars. They buy houses. Why, then, must they talk such meaningless junk? Especially at a time like this.”

As we stood in silence, his question hung between us.

Eventually I replied, “They may have degrees and successful careers, Joe. They may own cars and buy houses. They may look and act adult. But perhaps they talk in this meaningless, superficial way, especially at a time like this, because they are not as skilled at being human as they are at those other things.”

Joe’s very small child had died in his arms just a few days before as he desperately tried to resuscitate her.

Now family and friends had gathered for the funeral. Well-meaning people had come in love to bring comfort and consolation. Some brought flowers, others brought food, most brought cards. It was brave of them to come because it was a very tough place to be: so much brokenness and no way to fix it.

But that is where the clumsiness lay – some of the people tried to fix it, to make it less sore.

“You’re young and can have more children. God gave you this because you can cope with it. She was an old soul and was just here for a while until her job here was done etc. etc.”

These may be common responses, but Joe’s right, they are superficial and meaningless. Try them on for size the next time your life breaks, and let us all know how that works out for you!

The bottom line is that if we are going to become skillful at being human we need to develop more than degrees and careers, and acquire more than money, cars and houses.

If we are to become human we will need to learn how to sit with pain without trying to fix it, or go around it, or smooth it over. And that will be difficult, sometimes impossibly difficult, but it will refine us, and define us, and give us lives of courage and integrity. It will give us gravity and significance as human beings.

As Alan Paton said, “All who are mature, whether young or old, accept suffering as inseparable from life. I cannot even conceive that life could have any meaning without suffering. There would certainly be no music, no theatre, no literature, no art.

If you want to give somebody a lighter spirit when they are in pain, you will need to have the courage to sit with them when there is nothing to say, and say nothing. To get that right you will need to first enter the place of your own brokenness and sit there too.

“When the heart
Is cracked or broken
Do not clutch it
Let the wound lie open
Let the wind
From the good old sea blow in
To bathe the wound with salt
And let it sting.
Let a stray dog lick it
Let a bird lean in the hole and sing
A simple song like a tiny bell
And let it ring.” – Michael Leunig

Keeping It Simple in 2012

“A simple life in the fear of God is better than a rich life with a ton of headaches” – Proverbs 15:6

I’ve shared a lot on this blog about simplifying your life, but here’s the problem when it comes to trying to keep things simple: It’s really hard!

It seems life tends to move towards complexity. It keeps handing us more and more stuff to worry about. More responsibility. More complications. More balls to juggle. And unfortunately our fast-paced, “always-on-always-connected” culture isn’t helping.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The good news is that we can change. That even though we live in a world that is growing ever more complex, it is still quite possible, and actually not as difficult as we might think, to keep things simple in 2012. Here’s how:

1) Filter

Learning to filter starts by giving up the fiction that you have to be on top of everything. Many “good” things may come your way in 2012, but filtering is about about choosing the best over the good. This means you have to learn to say “No”. It means learning to protect your time, and being intentional in how you choose to spend that precious time. It’s about setting your priorities, and putting first things first.

2) Forget

Forgetting is about giving yourself downtime to rest and recover. It’s about daring to slow down in a world that is speeding up. It’s about making a conscious choice to stop caring about certain things: Like everyone else’s opinion of you, or the things you have no control over. It’s also about giving yourself permission to let go of, or eliminate, those things in your life that ultimately are not helping you get where you’re going.

At this time of year people often talk about New Year’s Resolutions – those things you are going to do in 2012. But my question for you is rather, “What are you NOT going to do this year?” What are you going to forget?

3) Focus

Focusing is about knowing where you want to be, or rather who you want to be. It’s about having a plan and a vision for your life and setting your eyes to that plan. It’s about starting with the end in mind, and understanding that which matters most.

Now, in my opinion, the thing that matters most is Jesus.

In fact, I believe that if we truly want to simplify in 2012, then we must turn our focus to the person of Jesus. The man who modeled divine simplicity in everything He did and said. Who placed value not in temporary things, but in ultimate things. Things like people, and relationships, and family, and friendships, and kindness, and compassion, and justice, and peace. These were the things that mattered to Jesus, and He never lost sight of it.

And so, as you learn to FILTER, FORGET, and FOCUS in 2012, may you know God’s love and grace in your life, and may you be filled with a great sense of peace that comes from Him.

 

The Second Thing You Should Do in 2012

Item no. 81 on my Bucket List...

On Monday, I blogged about taking time out to reflect on the year gone past, and to start 2012 by asking the right questions. Today, I will share with you the second thing I think you should do as you launch into the new year:

Make a plan.

That’s it. Simple. Have a plan, and start working the plan. Of course, there are many ways to go about doing this, but here is my own simple 3-step process:

1) Start by creating a “Life Plan”

I first learnt about life planning many years ago from Stephen Covey’s book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and as I have used the process in some shape or form ever since, it has made all the difference.

So, why do you need a life plan? Three reasons:

  1. It will give you clarity about where your life is headed.
  2. It will keep you in balance when things get crazy.
  3. It will give you peace of mind, knowing you are are addressing those aspects of your life that matter most.

Sadly however, very few people I’ve met have a plan for their life. They plan their career, their wedding, even their holidays. But it never occurs to them to plan their life.

As Michael Hyatt writes, “Most are passive spectators, watching their lives unfold, one day at a time. They are reactive rather than proactive. I believe that this is why so many people end up discouraged, disillusioned, and wondering what went wrong. They arrived at the wrong destination.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. You can live your life on purpose by creating your own personal life plan. If you have no idea what a life plan is, or where to start, check out these links:

Creating a Personal Life Plan & 7 Reasons Why You Need A Written Life Plan

2) Write Your Bucket List

When I was in Grade 8, my Life-Skills teacher told the class to write a list of 101 Things To Do Before You Die, and that’s exactly what I did. Today, 17 years later (yikes!), I still have that original list. If you’re interested check it out here.

To date I have completed 56 of the 101 items on my bucket list, which has been no easy feat.

Over the years this list has stopped me from becoming passive, apathetic or lazy. It has inspired me to take risks, step out of my comfort zone, and pursue adventures and challenges I could have easily made excuses for. Not only that, but is has been a whole lot of fun! Sometimes I think we take ourselves and life  too seriously, and having a few big-hairy-audacious-goals in front of you forces you to let loose and live a little.

So, what’s on your bucket list? And what are you waiting for?

3) Write Down Your Annual Goals

The last step is to look at the year ahead and, with your Life Plan and your Bucket List in hand, to write down a short list of goals, wishes, and dreams for 2012. Don’t overshoot – everything on the list must be achievable within the year – but also be bold and don’t sell yourself short.

My annual goals list usually has between 15 and 25 goals on it, and I try to include a few Bucket List items in there every year. It includes financial goals, goals for my marriage and my relationships, goals for my health and fitness, work goals, fun goals, and goals for my spiritual growth.

Finally, make sure you display your Annual Goals List somewhere where you’re likely to see it everyday. Mine is stuck up on the inside of my cupboard, as a daily reminder to me.

While steps 1 and 2 do take some time (I suggest trying to get away for an entire day), it is well worth the effort. Once you have your Life Plan and Bucket List in place, it becomes a quick and easy process of reviewing them every year, and writing down your annual goals. 

Bottom line is this: I want to be better in January 2013 than I was January 2012. And to do this, I believe I need a plan. And so do you.

The First Thing You Should Do In 2012

Ants in my pants... c'mon, I was cute!

When I was growing up my mother always told me I had “ants in my pants“. I was always excited or agitated about something, and couldn’t sit still for a second.

Not much has changed.

Even now I struggle to simply “be still”. My mind always active – always looking ahead to the “next” thing – I have to force myself to live in the present, and find quiet reflection really difficult.

And yet, in a world where things are moving so fast, I realise that sometimes in life, you have to stop before you can truly begin, and that pressing pause to be still and reflect is often the best way to start. Of course, you don’t want to live life looking behind you, but taking time out to intentionally slow down and consider the year gone past can be an extremely beneficial, rewarding, and productive thing to do. Trevor Hudson says,

“We don’t learn simply from experiences; we learn when we reflect on those experiences.”

Travis Gale, leadership coach and a good friend of mine, believes strongly in taking time out to reflect, and says that the key to healthy reflection is all about asking the right questions. He says, “Many of us look for answers, but few sit down and think about the right questions to ask. Questions have the uncanny knack to open up possibilities, to get us thinking out the box, and perhaps break down the limitations we put on ourselves.”

And so, before you start 2012, why not  STOP and ask the right questions? Questions like:

  • What energised me most in 2011?
  • Which relationships brought me the most joy? Why?
  • Which relationships put me under the most pressure? Why?
  • What were the “defining moments” of 2011?
  • What strengths did I see in myself during 2011?
  • Under which conditions did I see myself thrive?
  • What did I avoid doing that I know I most needed to do?
  • What books and mentors had the greatest impact on me? Why?
  • Am I closer to my friends and family from my activities last year?

Answering these kind of questions allows you to accomplish two objectives. First, it forces you to focus on the important things in your life and not get lost in the trivial. Second, it provides an excellent platform to set goals for the new year.

On Thursday, I’ll post the second thing I think you should do in 2012…