The Rituals in Work

I have a notebook I write all of my first drafts in. When it comes out words seem to flow better.

I have a lamp on my desk that I turn on when it’s time for writing or serious reading. When the lamp turns on I feel like my brain snaps to attention.

There’s no magic in the notebook or the lamp. The magic is in the ritual they are a part of.

You likely won’t feel up to full speed or firing on all cylinders when it’s time to do the important work you do. Having a ritual that supports that work helps you overcome the ups and downs so you can be consistent in showing up.

James Clear has talked about the pre-game rituals he used as a pitcher in college. Steven Pressfield has a little toy cannon on his desk that “fires inspiration” when he’s in his “sacred space,” his office where he writes.

There is a lot of value here for you to explore. Create your own rituals and you’ll find that the resistance to getting started starts to melt away. Keep up your rituals and you may even find inspiration coming to visit.

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Developing Character in Kids

I had an abrupt wakeup call last week when I read Adam and Allison Sweet Grant’s article Stop Trying to Raise Successful Kids and Start Raising Kind Ones. If we want the kids in our lives to grow up to be kind adults we need to show them that we value kindness just as much as we value other kinds of achievement.

As the dad of three kids in middle school I try hard to talk with my kids about their day, their experiences, and how they are doing academically and socially. Music is important to our family and is probably the area I’m most “tiger mom” about. For my wife it’s math. We talk about their grades each day as well as their music practice. What we haven’t talked much about are their daily experiences with developing kindness and good character.

I recently wrote about my goal this year to do a good deed daily. After counseling together as a family, we decided our daily good deeds would be the first thing we discuss after returning home each day. Making service and kindness top of mind in my life has changed my daily experiences, and I hope it does the same for my kids too.

The early results have been fun. Yesterday we had a great conversation about whether or not letting a classmate look at your test paper for an answer is a good deed or not. We’ve heard how our kids sat with friends at lunch they haven’t talked to in a while and reached out to students they didn’t know who were sitting alone. I even have renewed hope that my kids will finally learn the dying art of holding the door open for people!

This won’t be a short term project, just as doing well in math or learning an instrument aren’t short term projects. Our actions are a daily vote for the person we want to be and who we will become. Make sure that character development is part of our daily vote!

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Thoughts on Letter Writing

One of my mentors growing up was a local man named Tony. Tony was in real estate and seemed to know everyone. He volunteered at church and spent a lot of time with the young men in my youth group. Even though he was older, he went with us on campouts and was always up for an adventure. A great man!

One of the things I took for granted during the years Tony was part of my life were the notes and cards he sent.

If your name ever appeared in the local paper for honor roll or a sporting accomplishment, a few days later you’d get a letter of congratulations. My first public talk at church was terrible, but Tony sent me a thank you note a few days later. Every note was hand written and always included a Tony dad joke.

Seven years ago I moved back to my home town and Tony and his wife still lived in the area. The first time my son gave a talk in church, a note arrived in the mail a few days later from Tony. Through most of this time Tony was suffering from pancreatic cancer and was in a lot of pain, he never stopped showing gratitude and spreading joy with his terrible jokes. At his funeral last year many people mentioned receiving letters from him over the years. I decided I would try and keep a bit of Tony’s spirit alive in me by becoming a letter writer.

I’ve had mixed success. One of the hard things with writing letters today is that hardly anyone responds in kind. It took me until the middle of last year to decide I would write my letters by hand and that seemed to make a difference to how I felt about the letters, even if it didn’t improve my response rate. There’s something about writing a letter by hand that makes the process more meaningful. I think I usually get more out of the letters than the people I write to.

If you’re interested in trying your hand at letter writing, here are a couple of resources that I found useful:

A couple of things have made letter writing a lot more enjoyable for me. I started using a fountain pen. I’m definitely a novice in that world, but I do really enjoy the feel of the pen gliding over nice paper. It makes the experience something to look forward to. Nice paper makes a surprising difference. I bought a ream of heavy writing paper, cut it from letter size to half sheets, and made my own stationary.

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Awareness of the Waterfall of Your Thoughts

One of my favorite vacations was a camping trip in Taiwan where I got to go River Trekking. This is hiking upstream in a river. It’s very intense and calls for you to climb over boulders, swim through deep spots in the river, push against the current, and generally have a great time playing in the water. At the end of our trek, a small 10 foot waterfall fell into a deep pool. My friends and I swam over to the waterfall and spent a few minutes playing in and around it. I’ll never forget the feeling of the water pounding down on my head, the power of the waterfall, and how it blocked out all other sensations.

Our thoughts are like a waterfall. Sometimes they trickle and sometimes they pound down, but our thoughts never really stop. The commentary running in our heads is relentless. When we focus on it, our thoughts have the power to completely absorb our reality.

You are not your thoughts.

That voice in your head, the constantly running commentary with the force of a waterfall, is not who you are. It seems amazing that I made it into my late 30s before I learned this simple fact. Just because my thoughts are in my head doesn’t mean that my thoughts are who I am.

One of the keys to mindfulness is learning to observe and be aware of your thoughts. Just because there is a waterfall of thoughts running through your head, it doesn’t mean you must stand beneath it and be pummeled. It’s possible to observe and be aware of your thoughts without getting caught up in them. It’s like watching a waterfall from the shore rather than standing beneath it.

This is incredibly liberating, though of course it’s easier said than done. Being aware of your thoughts means you observe the things running through your mind without interacting with them. Since you are not your thoughts, there is no reason to judge yourself based solely on your thoughts. Watch them as they float by, be aware of them. As you do this you’ll be struck by how varied, strange, and absurd your mind can be.

This shouldn’t really be a surprise when you think about the wild and outlandish world of your dreams. We’ve all had dreams that make us shake our head in amazement when thinking back on them, right? It shouldn’t be a shock then that our conscious thoughts can wander into strange places too.

Training our mind to be aware of and observe our thoughts is just as important as training our body through exercise. Take time each day to practice mindfulness, whether through meditation, solitude, or any other way that works for you. Enjoy the waterfall of your thoughts from the shore instead of from under the waterfall.

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