Habits

Pruning Our Goals

June 11th, 2008  |  Published in Goals, Habits

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!

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.

Tips for Family Scripture Study

March 21st, 2008  |  Published in Habits

Family scripture study with little kids is no picnic, but my sister recently finished reading the Book of Mormon with her family. Congratulations, Beth! She even shared several tips for developing a family scripture study habit that she learned along the way.

Doing it Now

March 19th, 2008  |  Published in Goals, Habits

I’ve had to work on my mental mindset recently. We all often experience setbacks in accomplishing our goals, and it isn’t until we do something about it that things really start to change. I’m working to try to establish regular goals for writing, but other things like schoolwork sometimes get in the way for a day or two and derail those plans. Even though I’m on spring break right now, I haven’t been focused on getting those goals back in order like I should. So here’s my plan: get back up, start up on my goals again, and continue forward!

Until I can turn my goals into habits I may have to get up over and over again, but it’s much more important to work on my goals right now as much as I can instead of using excuses like “I’ll start doing that after I graduate” or “I’ll wait until I have some free time”. Those aren’t very good reasons to delay goals, and the end result is that we lose out on all the progress we could have gained in that time. I love this quote from Elder Bednar:

A spurt may appear to be impressive in the short run, but steadiness over time is far more effective, far less dangerous, and produces far better results. Three consecutive days of fasting ultimately may not be as spiritually effective as three successive months of appropriate fasting and worship on the designated fast Sunday. An attempt to pray one time for five hours likely will not produce the spiritual results of meaningful morning and evening prayer offered consistently over five weeks. And a single scripture-reading marathon cannot produce the spiritual impact of steady scripture study across many months.

David A. Bednar, Brigham Young University-Idaho Devotional, September 9, 2003

Decluttering Your Life

January 23rd, 2008  |  Published in Habits

ClutterOne of the most rewarding activities we’ve done so far this year is to remove clutter from around our house. After our Christmas vacation, some of the stacks of mail, coupon clippings, and extra “stuff” intruded into our daily life, making it difficult to remember which bills were still due and generally preventing us from getting things done. We took advantage of our extra-long weekend to finish packing up those Christmas decorations which were still left out, organize the piles of stuff, and make things much better. It wasn’t an intensive cleaning or anything like that, just an organization of sorts. Now that everything is where it should be, we see a lot of benefits of giving everything a place:

  • Things are easy to find. If I need to go out, I have to grab my keys and my wallet. If they’re not in their usual location (I put all the things I take with me daily in one spot), there are only a few more places I might have left them.
  • It’s easy to keep track of things. Not only is it easy to find something I know I have, but when things are organized it’s easy to know what you don’t have. We have two locations for food: the pantry or other kitchen cabinets or in our food storage area. That makes it easy to see when it’s time to buy more of something.
  • Your things don’t impede your daily life. When things are put away it becomes easier to focus on specific tasks or even just relax.

Decluttering a home isn’t just a one-time weekend project, it’s something that evolves over time. As our stuff has grown, we’ve had to make decisions about where things go and how things are stored. We’ve had to come up with creative ways to store our daughter’s toys and live with temporary fixes until we can get things just how we want them, but this progress gives us a sense of accomplishment that we can build on until things are just the way we like them. This doesn’t mean that our house isn’t lived in, it just means that we try to use it so that we can fully enjoy it.

If you’d like some creative ideas on this subject, I recommend visiting unclutterer.com or the excellent post at Zen Habits. For those trying to get the whole family involved, take a look at this Family Home Evening Lesson, Making Work Fun

Learning How to Learn

November 29th, 2007  |  Published in Habits, Mormonism

A recent article in Scientific American says that “more than three decades of research shows that a focus on effort- not on intelligence or ability- is key to success in school and in life.” Although talent is certainly part of the equation, it doesn’t get us anywhere by itself. A few key concepts mentioned in the article are as follows:

“Our society worships talent, and many people assume that possessing superior intelligence or ability—along with confidence in that ability—is a recipe for success. In fact, however, more than 30 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings.”

“Several years later I developed a broader theory of what separates the two general classes of learners— helpless versus mastery-oriented. I realized that these different types of students not only explain their failures differently, but they also hold different “theories” of intelligence. The helpless ones believe that intelligence is a fixed trait: you have only a certain amount, and that’s that. I call this a “fixed mind-set.” Mistakes crack their self-confidence because they attribute errors to a lack of ability, which they feel powerless to change. They avoid challenges because challenges make mistakes more likely and looking smart less so… such children shun effort in the belief that having to work hard means they are dumb.”

“Such lessons apply to almost every human endeavor. For instance, many young athletes value talent more than hard work and have consequently become unteachable. Similarly, many people accomplish little in their jobs without constant praise and encouragement to maintain their motivation. If we foster a growth mind-set in our homes and schools, however, we will give our children the tools to succeed in their pursuits and to become responsible employees and citizens.”

Carol S. Dweck, Scientific American Mind

Line Upon Line

Learning is more about persistence than it is about natural ability. Ability certainly helps, but it doesn’t win us a marathon. Running a marathon takes persistence and applied effort. As children we certainly didn’t know all that we do now. In the same way, our current level of learning and understanding isn’t a cap on our maximum learning. Although we may have completed high school or college or graduate school, this doesn’t mean we’re done. Our efforts can take us up another level, and we can continually expand on that knowledge.

For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have. 2 Nephi 28:30

As a missionary, I was asked to learn Spanish to be able to teach the people of Argentina. I had studied Spanish on and off since elementary school and had always received good grades, so I thought this would be pretty easy. In the Missionary Training Center, we received lots of lessons on Spanish grammar and pronunciation. I did well in those lessons and thought I knew Spanish. Actually speaking it, however, was very frustrating. My mouth wasn’t used to forming Spanish words, and I became a little disheartened. Apparently I had no natural talent for actually speaking Spanish, I thought.

When I really learned Spanish, it came from actually speaking it. One of my instructors told us that learning a language means making mistakes and then correcting those mistakes. When I arrived in Argentina I was pretty intimidated because I still made plenty of mistakes. Luckily, many of the people I came in contact with were very willing to correct me. At first this was frustrating again, because I wasn’t used to being wrong so often, but after a while I realized that these comments were a real help.

That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the task itself has become easier, but that our ability to perform it has improved. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Learning Never Ends

In a devotional speech given at Brigham Young University, Dilworth B. Parkinson, a professor of Arabic at BYU, said that “One of the clearest results of language teaching research is that when a student becomes satisfied with what he knows, when he feels he “knows the language,” he almost immediately ceases to make progress.”

This quote really hit home for me, because I fell in the trap of thinking I was done learning more than once. It has been a recent challenge of mine to know that learning is never really finished. I had the opportunity to translate our church meetings into Spanish, which led me to realize there were many more mistakes to be made and many more lessons to learn. It’s a challenge to maintain the proper learning mindset, but if we do, our progression has no limits.