Archive for June, 2008

Open Communication

June 25th, 2008  |  Published in Mormonism, Spirituality

Welcome to Above Yourself, a blog about self-improvement and faith. If you're new here, you may want to subscribe in a reader or subscribe by email. Many of the topics here are related to my faith in Jesus Christ and Mormonism, but all are welcome to share their own beliefs. Thanks for visiting!

Last month I had the opportunity to participate in a training course that focused on Communication Skills. Among all of the things that we talked about in that training, I learned that I needed to focus on being a better active listener and to be direct and straightforward in my own communication. Being straightforward and direct ensures that our message is clear and understood, and it helps to emphasize the importance our message has to us. Active listening means that not only do we hear the message, but we can communicate it back through paraphrasing. As our instructor said, it’s “<em>para</em>phrasing, not parroting”.

Although this was a training class for my job, it was clear to me from the beginning that improved communication skills might help me in other aspects of my life as well. When I put the things I learned into practice in my own personal life I can see the benefits of better communication. When I looked back over some of the course materials this morning, I realized that better communication could help me in the spiritual aspects of my life as well.

A significant part of our personal spirituality can come from our communication with our Father in Heaven through prayer. As we pray to Him, He can communicate with us through the Holy Ghost. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said the following about the communication that can be had through prayer:

As we commune with our Father in humble prayer, our hearts receive the gentle outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The Lord tells us, “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24).

Those who do not have this light ever struggle with disbelief. They cannot understand the things of God because their souls have little light. On the other hand, as our souls become filled with light, we begin to understand clearly things that once were dark.

-Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Improving Our Prayers,” Ensign, Mar 2004, 24–31

Prayer is an invaluable tool for communicating with God. As we improve the sincerity of our prayers and our own messages to our Heavenly Father, these messages earn increased attention from our Father and help us to be better guided by Him through the Holy Ghost. Our prayers earn new power when we become more open in our prayers, more sincere, and more in tune with our own personal feelings. In the same message, Elder Wirthlin said this about making our prayers meaningful:

There are many reasons our prayers may lack power. Sometimes they become routine. Our prayers become hollow when we say similar words in similar ways over and over so often that the words become more of a recitation than a communication. This is what the Savior described as “vain repetitions” (see Matt. 6:7). Such prayers, He said, will not be heard.

Our beloved prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley, has observed:

“The trouble with most of our prayers is that we give them as if we were picking up the telephone and ordering groceries—we place our order and hang up. We need to meditate, contemplate, think of what we are praying about and for and then speak to the Lord as one man speaketh to another.” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (1997), 469.)

Do your prayers at times sound and feel the same? Have you ever said a prayer mechanically, the words pouring forth as though cut from a machine? Do you sometimes bore yourself as you pray?

Will prayers that do not demand much of your thought merit much attention from our Heavenly Father? When you find yourself getting into a routine with your prayers, step back and think. Meditate for a while on the things for which you really are grateful. Look for them. They don’t have to be grand or glorious. Sometimes we should express our gratitude for the small and simple things like the scent of the rain, the taste of your favorite food, or the sound of a loved one’s voice.

-Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Improving Our Prayers,” Ensign, Mar 2004, 24–31

As I focus on increasing my communication skills, I will also focus on increasing the sincerity and meaning I put forward in prayer. Each time we communicate well with others we can enhance our relationships with them by getting to know them better. Each time we pray we become closer to our Heavenly Father and we better know His will for us.

Focusing on Fitness

June 18th, 2008  |  Published in Goals

Physical Fitness didn’t used to be an area in which I really had to put extra effort. I played team sports from early elementary school and into high school, and even in college there were always people looking to play a pick-up basketball game or to throw a baseball around. After I started dating more (and especially after getting married) it seems that I must take more initiative for myself to stay physically fit. This is no fault of my wife’s - she’s actually been quite an inspiration for me in terms of wanting to get into better shape. I’ve even lost significant weight since our first child was born, but my weight seems to have reached a plateau that gradually increases or decreases depending on how long it has been since we last went on vacation.

What does this mean? I’ve got to kick it up a notch and take ownership of my own level of fitness. Although I don’t use them every day, sites like have helped me recognize how many calories I burn and how many I take in. This resolve makes it easier to say no to myself when I want an extra slice of pizza, or when choosing between soda and water with my meal (especially when it’s pizza).

Next, I’ve started to work exercising into my routine. It’s not firmly established yet, but today I ran for twenty minutes on our elliptical trainer before work and began a program called One Hundred Pushups that I found through the blog Get Fit Slowly. The one hundred pushups routine is simple, free, and challenging. I’m just starting out so I can’t comment on long-term results, but I definitely feel a burn in my chest and shoulders already. It’s humbling to try to do pushups these days considering how many I could do ten years ago, but I’m committed to do many more than I started out with.

Finally, I’ve decided to seek out support. I’ve informed others that I want to eat healthier and make better food decisions, and I’ve found support in the community at Get Fit Slowly in the form of reminders and the knowledge that I’m not alone in my goals. I’m even telling you so that I can publicly commit myself to these goals.

President David O. McKay stated: “The healthy man, who takes care of his physical being, has strength and vitality; his temple is a fit place for his spirit to reside. … It is necessary, therefore, to care for our physical bodies, and to observe the laws of physical health and happiness” (“The ‘Whole’ Man,” Improvement Era, Apr. 1952, 221).

“Lesson 24: Keeping Physically Healthy,” Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders, Part A, 177

Pruning Our Goals

June 11th, 2008  |  Published in Goals, Habits

We just got back from two weeks away from home, which means that a lot of the things we usually do haven’t been done. There is grass to mow, groceries to buy, clothes to wash, and plenty more items like that on our to-do list. Does this mean we’re stressed about all that we have to do? Not really. We’re excited to get back into the swing of things and we’re looking at today as sort of a fresh beginning. Looking at our back lawn (which is really more weeds than grass, but we’re working on that), I think of these few days of “back to normal” before a routine sets in as an opportunity to prune back the things that have crept up on us and kept us overly busy.

It’s been almost two months since my last blog post? No problem! This post as an opportunity to redefine my goals for this blog. I’m not going to commit myself to posting here every day- a few times a month sounds more like it. I’m planning on taking the same strategy to fix the other things that are left undone.

Some things that went undone over the last few weeks will definitely stay that way, getting pruned off and out of our lives in the process. For me, that list includes a few TV shows I recorded to our DVR but were really more of a time-waster than entertainment, RSS feeds that I didn’t really read anymore, and other similar goals. Now the only trick is to make sure that other time-wasters don’t creep in to fill the void- there are plenty of other worthy goals worth tackling.