Stories

RLL 55: Rainy Days and Recliners--The Importance of Perspective

Real Life Leading #55

Rainy Days and Recliners: The Importance of Perspective

THANKS to my best friend David for recommending this book to me!

THANKS to my best friend David for recommending this book to me!

This past week saw a couple of brutally rainy days where my family lives in north Alabama: flash flood warnings, soaked yards, dangerous driving conditions, etc. These were the kinds of days that make a person want to remain in pajama pants and just read or sleep all day. Unfortunately, we were unable to do that, especially since the end-of-semester exams are rapidly approaching. It would have been easy to be depressed or irritable about the weather and the work to be done, but fortunately I had a couple of great reminders this week about the importance of my perspective.

You see, this week I read two amazing books by Andy Andrews, called The Noticer and The Noticer Returns. In both of those books, the main character has an uncanny ability to help people gain what he calls ‘proper perspective.’ Inevitably, Jones (the main character) helps various people to realize that things are different than they had originally thought by helping people change their perspective. When that happens, they also see a change in their attitudes and eventually their choices. And that is the key today: how we think about and how we view our situation will greatly shape our future.

A kid, a book, a pup, and a recliner. This is a serious high-point of life in my world!

A kid, a book, a pup, and a recliner. This is a serious high-point of life in my world!

For example, if you’re reading this right now, there’s a great chance you’re reading it indoors: in a home, a school, or a business somewhere. This building has electricity, heat, and (obviously) internet access. These things that we take for granted are not as universally available as we often tend to think, and when we remember that, it helps us regain proper perspective as well.

By way of another example, let me share this: on my off days, I enjoy reading books in a recliner that my siblings and I gave our dad as a gift not long before he passed away. Since then, it has been in my home as a place of comfort and ease and memories. Often, to what used to cause me great annoyance, I would come into the den only to find that my recliner had been usurped by either one of my daughters or one of my dogs. One day, however, I was struck by the thought—and I can’t believe it took me so long to realize this—that Dad would have been happy for his recliner to be used not just by me but also by others that he loved. He would have preferred it, really, since that meant that more people were enjoying his chair. And ever since then it’s become my habit to say a quick prayer of thanks whenever my recliner is occupied, because it means I’m also surrounded by loved ones, even if they’re in my seat.

These books contain incredible truth and power. Give them a read!

These books contain incredible truth and power. Give them a read!

The same goes for each time I see my wife or one of my daughters wearing some of my clothes, especially soccer gear: t-shirts, pullovers, hoodies, etc. I like my clothes and I like to wear them, but it makes me smile to see my wife and kids borrow them and enjoy them too. So instead of being irritated at not being able to wear a specific shirt on a certain day, I can be glad that I have loved ones around who want to borrow them.

Gaining ‘perspective,’ as Andy Andrews points out, has the power to change not just how we view our situation, but the situation itself. Correct thinking is the key to gaining wisdom, to seeing things properly, and to growing in appreciation for the gifts we have been given.

“The way a person thinks is the key to everything that follows -- good or bad, success or failure. A person's thinking -- the way he thinks -- is the foundation structure upon which a life is built. Thinking guides decisions. Thinking -- how a person thinks -- determines every choice.” - from The Noticer Returns

Action Step: This week, let us commit to right thinking and proper perspective. Make a list of situations that cause you stress or annoyance. Then spend some time thinking of ways to view the situation differently, to regain happiness or joy from the situation.

(For more info on this and how to change your thinking, be sure to go by www.beliefhacker.com and check out the work being done by my friend Dr. Bill Findley. #ThinkBetterLiveBetter)

RLL 54: How Gratitude Changes Our Hearts

RLL 54: How Gratitude Changes Our Hearts

My best friend, David, and me—just doing what we do at his wedding rehearsal dinner back in October.

My best friend, David, and me—just doing what we do at his wedding rehearsal dinner back in October.

I’ll get this out right up front: I am a short, short human being. I am 5’3” inches tall (that’s 160.02 cm for my metric-minded friends, according to Google), roughly the same height as Napoleon Bonaparte (at least according to British propaganda from the era) and much shorter than many notable celebrities that are considered ‘short.’ Also according to Google, the average American male is 5’9” tall…which puts the average American man as a full 6 inches taller than I am. Half a foot. Shorter than average.

I get hobbit jokes all the time from my students, elf jokes every Christmas season from the whole world, and short jokes from my best friend (who is 6’4”) and his family pretty much always.

As a result of my short stature, I’ve always felt frustrated at many aspects of life that average height men take for granted: getting things off of high shelves, washing my hands in public restrooms (which for me results in getting water from the counter top on my shirt right at belly-button level), etc. But here’s the thing: it could be worse.

When my daughters put heels on, they really are almost my height!

When my daughters put heels on, they really are almost my height!

Over the past year, though, I’ve realized just how much I have to be thankful for, despite the fact that I’m roughly the size of a middle school student. And the more I focused on reasons to be thankful, the more thankful I’ve become. C.S. Lewis talks about a similar phenomenon in ‘Mere Christianity’ regarding how we treat others, and I believe the principle holds true for how we think of ourselves. Here’s what he wrote:

“When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less…[W]henever we do good to another self, just because it is a self, made (like us) by God, and desiring its own happiness as we desire ours, we shall have learned to love it a little more or, at least, to dislike it less.”

I believe this same idea also applies to how we think about our situations in life: if we constantly focus on the negative, then the negatives only seem to grow. If, however, we choose to focus on the positives, then the negatives seem to fade into the background.

They don’t go away entirely (after all, I still need help getting things off of high shelves), but they’re not as big of a deal as they used to be. And they can even turn into moments of light-heartedness and fun, such as when my children get to laugh as I jump up to knock something off of a store shelf and then catch it before it hits the tiled floor.

I’m thankful that I’m short, because it means I get more opportunities to jump than most adults get on a regular day.

When my wife and I visited Cameron Indoor Stadium this summer, It was fun to see just how much smaller our feet are than those of former Duke basketball players.

When my wife and I visited Cameron Indoor Stadium this summer, It was fun to see just how much smaller our feet are than those of former Duke basketball players.

I’m thankful that I’m short because not once in my life have I hit my head on a pull-up bar, a ceiling fan blade, or the top of a door frame (all of which my best friend has done).

I’m thankful that I’m short because the old “Jump, knock it off a shelf then catch it” trick made for a lot of laughs (and extra tips) when I was a bartender in college.

I’m thankful I’m short because when I played soccer in high school and college, I almost never got called for fouls because referees thought, “Surely that little guy didn’t actually knock that big dude over. He must have been diving.”

I’m thankful I’m short because it’s obviously how God intended me to be.

Action Step: This Thanksgiving week, in addition to just listing things we’re thankful for, I would challenge you to ask yourself how you might reframe your situation mentally (to learn more about ‘reframing,’ check out podcasts from both Bob Burg and Jordan Harbinger). In other words, think of something that normally bothers you or drags you down; then, examine how can you think differently about it so that it becomes an opportunity for gratitude.

(Bonus: For more info on how to do this, also go check out my friend Dr. William Findley over at BeliefHacker.com to learn how to #thinkbetter and #livebetter)

RLL 51: What's Your Story?

Real Life Leading #51: What’s Your Story?

A gift I received after coaching my younger daughter’s soccer team this fall.

A gift I received after coaching my younger daughter’s soccer team this fall.

When I was in 8th grade, I played varsity soccer for a man named Ken McIntosh, and at the end of the season Coach Mac said to me, "You really should think about pursuing soccer as a career." I thought he meant as a professional player, so I really focused on soccer in high school and even played in college. But when I stopped playing midway through college, Coach Mac's words came back to me. I realized he was right: I should pursue soccer as a career, but not as a player; as a coach. I began as a student assistant at Covenant College while I was still a student there, and I've been coaching ever since (a total of 15 + years now).

Coaching soccer has opened up doors I never imagined, from jobs at high schools to getting to coach at camps at Duke University. It's allowed me to work with athletes and players from all areas of the country and of all different ages. And it's also continued to bring me a specific type of joy that I don't find anywhere else. Most importantly, coaching soccer has allowed me to spend many extra hours with my children, coaching them at different levels.

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Why do I share this? Because that one comment changed my life, and the stories and comments that you remember and focus on have the power to change yours too. Stories can serve many purposes: transmit information (‘how to’ stories), stir the emotions (every Nicholas Sparks and John Green novel ever written), rally support to a cause (Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle was written with this in mind), create an identity (think family histories told around the dinner table), and to reinforce beliefs (every religion in the world has sacred texts full of stories and history). But for our purposes, the power of a story is in its power to change your life.

Here’s the key today: the stories we tell ourselves shape who we become.

Many books have been written on this topic, from the Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s classic The Power of Positive Thinking to the more recent Search Inside Yourself by Chade-Meng Tan. Going back even further, the Bible is very clear about this in many different places. Philippians 4:8 reminds us, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, knew that how we think, the stories we tell, what we focus on, has an incredible impact on who we are and what we do.

So the question is, what stories are we telling? Do you tell yourself you’re not smart enough? Not good enough? Don’t have the right skills? Or do you tell yourself that you can, you’re capable, and you will succeed? As Henry Ford said many years ago, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” This has been true throughout all of history, and it remains true today. If you want to change your world, you first need to start by changing your thinking.

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To help people think better and change their lives is the major goal of the BeliefHacker project, recently created by a friend of mine named Dr. Bill Findley (this is not an advertisement, and I don’t get compensated, but I would recommend you check out his work at www.beliefhacker.com). The premise is simple: “Think better. Live better.” Again, the Bible is also very clear on this when Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2)

My favorite story of all time is The Lord of the Rings. I never tire of reading it or of reading other books about it; I even listen to podcasts and belong to discussion groups devoted to LOTR. The reason is because that story is so powerful to me, with themes of good vs. evil, the possibility of redemption, the necessity of perseverance even against overwhelming odds. I even quoted LOTR in my own book. This story has helped shape who I am, just as the stories you involve yourself in help shape who you are.

One last word, this from the excellent and generous Dondi Scumaci (international business speaker and consultant, and author of Career Moves, and Ready, Set…Grow). She says, “It’s how we tell the story (to ourselves and others) that will ultimately determine how we move forward. How we frame those events—what we pull from those experiences—will shape who we become in the future.”

Action Step: Take a few minutes today to write down the stories that you consistently tell yourself and determine if they are helping you move forward or just holding you back.