Doing it Now

March 19th, 2008 by Alex  |  Published in Goals, Habits  |  1 Comment

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 by Alex  |  Published in Habits  |  2 Comments

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 by Alex  |  Published in Habits, Mormonism  |  3 Comments

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.

Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Chain

August 10th, 2007 by Alex  |  Published in Habits  |  2 Comments

Turning a goal into a habit is all about consistency. When we start to do something as part of our routine, it becomes a habit, but the hard part is to incorporate it into our routine. This can apply to our own personal daily goals or anything we want to start doing on a regular basis. Lifehacker.com explains Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity secret, which is as simple as a calendar and a marker. For example, if I my goal is to read the scriptures every day, I make a big red X in the box for today when I’ve accomplished that goal.

“After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”

When I started this blog, I made it my own personal goal to have one post every weekday. As you can see, once that chain got interrupted it became a whole lot easier to skip writing. I’ve now got a calendar and a marker near my desk so that I can more easily highlight my accomplishments. I’ve renewed this effort, because I want to see that chain grow.

I personally recommend using a paper calendar, but others may prefer a web calendar. Whichever you choose, make sure that your calendar is in a place where you can refer back to it easily.

A quick, easy-to-use task manager Joe’s Goals has added this functionality into its system. Read more about how they use Productivity chains.

Forming Habits: Daily Scripture Reading

May 3rd, 2007 by Alex  |  Published in Habits, Mormonism, Scriptures  |  3 Comments

We live in a time where we’re blessed to have access to God’s word through the scriptures. These holy books contain God’s word written by his prophets. Many of us have read some part of the scriptures before, but why should we read the scriptures on an ongoing basis? Elder Henry B. Eyring replied to that question in a discussion on scripture study:

The Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ, and we learn about Him in its pages. We know that it has great power. It has the power to change lives. It has the power to convert. If you read it with an open heart, you will know that it is the word of God and that it is true.

Through the Book of Mormon the Lord can also teach us about being with and serving people. This book reveals the will of the Lord for family life in a way that the other scriptures don’t even approach. I believe that is largely because of its interesting structure. It’s about families; it’s about people’s relationships. It starts with families, it ends with families, and we come to love these families.

Like any habit, daily scripture reading takes practice. To start, it’s best to decide on a time each day that you can read the scriptures. If you can make a habit of getting up early, beginning your day with scripture reading can have a profound effect on your life. Keep track of your progress and set goals, perhaps using the online tools at Readthescriptures.com. My wife and I are on a scripture-reading “team” that lets us keep track of each others’ reading, as well as to keep track of our family scripture reading.

Let us know of any tips you may have for daily scripture reading in the comments.