Thursday, February 18, 2010

What happens next

It's kind of amazing how even some successful people, or people on the verge of success, still don't get it.

One of my guilty pleasures is the American Idol show. I've always loved music, always tinkered around the edges of being a singer-composer but never gotten deadly serious about it. So I'm a sucker for struggling musician stories — and here on this television show are thousands of them.

This week was when the winnowing process produced the big final 24 — the two dozen folks who will sing for votes live in front of millions. Fewer than 75 were left from the original tens of thousands who had first auditioned.

And yet at least two of the singers said, while waiting to hear the judges' verdict, something like this: "I can't control what happens next."

But they surely can. And everything that had happened to that point was proof.

They had made the decision to show up for the audition. They had waited hours to perform for a few minutes, and they performed well enough to move on. Then, for several days and nights they worked hard to rise to the top of the group. Now they were on the verge of being among the magic final 24.

Sure, part of making that 24 was dependent on the judgment calls of the people make the selection. But every step of the way, each of those performers had made conscious decisions to be the best they could possibly be. Many more than 75 people had the talent to be among those two dozen, but these people made a conscious decision to get there.

And even when they were not selected, they still control what happens next. A few of the contestants had been this far in previous years but failed to make the final cut; they made the decision to work on their talents, to get better, and to start over in the next year's group of tens of thousands. One of this year's final 24 had made the top 50 last year, only to be told they didn't make the final cut. Twenty-five other people got the same message and went home; she dusted off the disappointment and aimed a little higher. And she made it this time.

Some things in life are indeed out of our control, but one thing is certain: When the unexpected happens, when you're confronted with a roadblock or a challenge, you control what happens next.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

It's all right here.

If you think
you can do a thing

or

think
you can't do a thing,

You're right.

— Henry Ford

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A glimpse of the future

I think Audi meant this to be funny, but stuff like this is happening in legislative chambers everywhere. You don't need armed thugs when you have a statute-writing pen in your holster.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What planning a grocery list and setting life-changing goals have in common

Hello to everyone who is visiting thanks to the lovely mention Wally Conger gave me in his encouraging and informative new Web site this week. Wally is the best friend I've never met and always has some intriguing ideas to offer.

I established this blog to chronicle my thoughts as we move into the world George Orwell envisioned when he wrote Nineteen Eighty Four, and I still visit our growing dystopia from time to time. As time goes on, I've become not so distracted by exterior impositions on liberty as I am by the myriad ways we can still live in freedom — because no one can enslave you without your permission. In fact, as writers like James Allen point out, it's the self-imposed limits that stand between each of us and the lives we want to live.

The transition to a new year is often seen as the time for reflection, goal-setting and preparation, but every day begins as a blank slate — every day is a good day to set goals and embark on new journeys. If the idea of setting a big life-changing goal seems too daunting, start by planning out your day.

We do that anyway. Every day has a to-do list attached. ("Call the plumber, buy eggs and milk.") I find that the days when I remember to take a couple of minutes and write it down keeps me focused. Otherwise inevitably something will be lost in the shuffle. ("I've got the eggs — what else did I need?" "Why is the kitchen floor wet?")

If it works for a day, think of the advantages of making a longer-term to-do list. Sit down Sunday night and map out the week. Now you're doing stuff on Monday that will make it easier to finish that project that's due Friday, because you took a few minutes to look beyond today and understand the big picture for the week.

Now lift your eyes a bit further and plan out the month, and then a year. Then cast out the line and think about where you'd like to be in five years. All of a sudden you're setting goals. The same concepts apply whether you're setting goals for a drive downtown or for a decade.

Discouragement contributes to breaking New Year's resolutions or abandoning goals. That's because we forget those words of wisdom attributed to John Lennon and others: Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans. So what if you didn't make it to the gym three times this week? Just make plans to get it right next week.

If a tree has fallen on the road downtown, you don't shrug your shoulders and abandon the trip; you just find another route. If your favorite grocery store is closed, you find another store to buy your eggs and milk this time — and maybe you discover that store is even better. If you have really latched onto a goal that lifts your mind to a better place — starting a new business, getting healthier, living debt-free, all of the above — expect that there will be bumps in the road and detours, but hang onto the dream.

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Living life on purpose

In the first song of his valedictory album Brainwashed, George Harrison caught me up short with a line I've since come to realize is an old one, but it was the first time I'd heard it.

If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there.

All of the self-help books I've ever encountered seem to come down to a few basic truths, and that's one of them. Expressed more positively, it's simply: Know where you want to be, set a goal to get there, and act on the goal.

The Earl Nightingale and James Allen pieces I referenced the last couple of days, use agrarian examples to make their point, Nightingale referring to a farmer and Allen to a gardener. Their point: If you want to grow flowers, or corn, you till the land, plant the seed and do what's needed to bring the plant to fruition — weeding, watering, etc. And you'd better plant in the spring if you want the food by the end of the summer.

Their point is that the mind is like the soil, and goals are the seed. You set the goal and do what's needed to bring it to fruition. And you'd better set a deadline if you want to reach the goal. Without a specific timeline, you have no way to know whether knee-high by the Fourth of July is a sign of coming success or of impending failure.

The farmer analogy works well because most people understand how hard farmers work, with a single-minded purpose — grow the corn, keep the cows milked. Setting your mind and going for a goal is not easy. As my friend John Newman reminded me the other day in an e-mail, have you ever tried to think about just one thing for two minutes straight? It's pretty much impossible; your mind has a will of its own and will skip off on a tangent. Keeping eyes on the prize is a simple concept, but not an easy task. If it were easy, everyone would reach the goals they set.

Allen takes it a step further, however, suggesting that everyone does reach the goals they set — and because most people don't set goals, they reap what their minds sow (or failed to sow). "If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there." Allen says:
Man is buffeted by circumstances so long as he believes himself to be the creature of outside conditions, but when he realizes he is a creative power, and that he may command the hidden soil and seeds of his being out of which circumstances grow, he then becomes the rightful master of himself.
And on a subject that recurs frequently here:
The will to do springs from the knowledge that we can do. Doubt and fear are the great enemies of knowledge, and he who encourages them, who does not slay them, thwarts himself at every step. He who has conquered doubt and fear has conquered failure.
We all face doubt and fear on a daily basis, and manipulative men and women encourage us to be afraid so they we will buy into their self-serving solutions. Refuse to be afraid — that is, refuse to let doubt and fear control you — and you're on the road to freedom.

As I wrote during the last election season, "Freedom is not about having the right ruler. Oh, wait, yes it is. Freedom is understanding that I am the boss of me." You can live a life without doubt and fear weighing you down; you simply have to live it on purpose.

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

'You will be what you will to be'

Yesterday's excursion into Earl Nightingale led to today's excursion into James Allen and As A Man Thinketh, as nice a summary of basic truths as I've found in a long time.
Cherish your visions; cherish your ideals. Cherish the music that stirs in your heart, the beauty that forms in your mind, the loveliness that drapes your purest thoughts. For out of them will grow all delightful conditions, all heavenly environment; of these, if you but remain true to them, your world will at last be built.
Read it all.

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Earl Nightingale's 'Strangest Secret'

An oldie but goodie to share today — because it's brand-new to me. Dan Miller mentioned on his podcast that "The Strangest Secret" by Earl Nightingale is one of the most influential pieces of writing he's ever encountered. I did a quick search and found it, and it's as good as Dan made it sound. The article sums up well a simple truth we've all heard thousands of times — that we become what we think about.

A sample:
A person who is thinking about a concrete and worthwhile goal is going to reach it, because that's what he's thinking about. Conversely, the person who has no goal, who doesn't know where he's going, and whose thoughts must therefore be thoughts of confusion, anxiety, fear, and worry will thereby create a life of frustration, fear, anxiety and worry. And if he thinks about nothing ... he becomes nothing.
Simple advice — so why is it so hard to follow? Nightingale has some insights into that, too, in this article worth reading.

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