Monday, January 28, 2019

Two Pathways for Embodying Success

Most people desire to be successful. This begs a couple of questions: What do we mean by success? What does a successful life look like? 

I want to share my two favorite definitions. Both have helped me.

Success as Pursuit of a Goal

First, Earl Nightingale known as the “Dean of Personal Development” describes success this way:

“Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal.”

I resonate with this definition because it reminds us that success is more a journey than a destination. It involves setting goals as we talked about previously, but notice that Nightingale includes the word “ideal” as a synonym for “goal.” 

In other words, a key to success is establishing a large vision or ideal on your horizon that will guide you in your growth. Jim Rohn puts it this way: “You want to set a goal big enough that in the process of attaining it, you become someone worthy becoming.” 

When we think about success in this manner, we will realize that instead of asking, “How long will it take to achieve?,” we need to ponder, “I wonder how far down the road I can get in this lifetime?” This outlook transforms our life into an unfolding adventure of purpose and possibilities. Success then is not merely about money or past accomplishments. Success becomes a compass and an engine that keeps us moving forward and enjoying the journey.

Success as Maximizing Potential

John Wooden was one of the best coaches of all time in any sport. He led the UCLA Bruin’s men’s basketball team to an unprecedented 10 national championships over a twelve year period including a run of seven consecutive years. 

Wooden’s genius as a coach and teacher is found in his definition of success:

"Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable of becoming."

Amazingly, Wooden never talked about winning games or championships. In his mind, if his players worked harder on themselves than on winning games, success took care of itself. He focused his practices not on beating the opposition but on the development of the skills, teamwork, and character of his players. 

One of Wooden's other maxims was “Make each day your masterpiece.” Wooden knew that there will be challenges and that sometimes our best will simply mean that we climbed out of bed and went to work. But regardless of the circumstances of the moment, success is found in giving all that we can muster.

How would you live differently if your goal each day was simply to make your best effort in growing toward your potential? Imagine the satisfaction and fulfillment that comes from realizing that life is about growing into the person you were created uniquely to be. There is no competition with others. Instead of competing, try to view head to head challenges as opportunities to assess current progress rather than in terms of winning and losing. The only true loser is the one who gives up or doesn’t try their best. In fact, reread Wooden’s definition and observe that you could potentially win and still not be successful because you gave less than your best.

Action Steps

Which definition of success do you most gravitate to? Why?
What is your big dream? 
Who is God calling you to become? 
How will you take the first baby steps today on your journey of success? 
What can you do or learn today to create a slightly better version of yourself than you were yesterday?

© 2019 Brian D. Russell

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Writing Life Changing Goals

"Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible." Tony Robbins

One of my favorite quotations about success and achievement is from the pen of Jim Rohn. He wrote, “You want to set a goal that is big enough that in the process of achieving it you become someone worth becoming.” We thrive in life by having a target at which to aim.

Aim for the Right Target: A Personal Warning

A critical key for an abundant life is to make certain that you are aiming at a target that you truly desire to hit. I can remember working on a book project for six years. The writing had been interrupted for over a year because of my need to focus on healing and solo parenting following a painful divorce. By the time I returned to the manuscript, it had become burden rather than the passion project it had once been. Writing became a matter of “grinding out” words rather than feeling inspired and in the flow. When I emailed the final manuscript to the publisher, I felt more relief than joy. Even worse, the next morning I awoke feeling down and empty. I had achieved a target, but it ended up being one that I didn’t truly desire.

Guidelines for Writing Life Changing Goals

As you dream about your future, here are some guidelines to help you discern your goals:

(1) Make sure that you truly want it. 

Is this a heart felt personal passion or is it something that you only think you should do?

(2) State your goal in the positive. 

This practice keeps you focused on what you actually want rather than what you are trying to avoid or change. Observe the difference between these two statements: I want to stop eating fried food. I want to eat healthy, organic, whole foods. One statement puts into your mind the practice you want to avoid whereas the positive goal focuses you on what you actually desire.

(3) Be specific and descriptive. 

State what you want as specifically as possible. Rather than say, “I want a job that pays more money” say, “I want to work in the healthcare industry and earn a salary of $100,000 per year.”  An even better one would be for example, “I desire to work as a highly paid ($100,000+) physical therapist in a well respected private practice in a growing suburban area in the southwestern U.S.” Notice how you can see, feel, and even hear what the achievement of the rewritten goal is like.

The problem with the original goal of earning more money is that you could achieve it by simply finding a job that pays $0.01 extra per hour and you’d achieve it. 

(4) Make Sure that It is in Your Power to Achieve It. 

If your goal depends on the actions or response of anyone/thing other than yourself, you may have to rethink it. It must primarily be your actions that drive your achievement of your goal. 

(5) Reflect on How the Achievement of the Goal Would Affect your Life. 

This brings us full circle to the opening Rohn quote as well as the story about my book. Achievement is about the person we become. How will I need to change to achieve my dream? What will it take to acquire the skills and knowledge required to take action? Does it align with my highest aspirations and ideals? Will it positively or negatively affect my relationships? Am I prepared for the different life that I will need to embrace to achieve my goal? 

I look forward to hearing about your successes. Just imagine how good achieving your dreams would feel.

For a broader look at Goal Achieving, see my essay “The SET Method for Goal Achieving.”

© 2019 Brian D. Russell

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Learning to Say "No"

It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped. - Tony Robbins

There is no decision that we can make that doesn't come with some sort of balance or sacrifice. – Simon Sinek

If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will. – Greg McKeown

Learning to Say, "No"

I’ve experienced too many times when I’ve been dog tired and feeling burned out because of taking on too much work. This has been entirely my own doing. No one forced me to accept a speaking engagement, an invitation to write an article, or an offer teach an extra class. In fact, I love to do all of these activities. The problem was that I lacked a process for making decisions about what was best. I was so committed to living out my mission that any opportunity that seemed good in the moment received a “yes” from me. The result was that I became a prisoner of my own success. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked on a project or sat in my seat moments before being called to the front and simply wished that I had never accepted the opportunity. Other times I’ve received epic opportunities, but because of my already scheduled activities I either had to turn these down or literally shoehorn them into a calendar with little margin for the rest of my life. I managed to pull these off but I often found myself under the weather, burned out, exhausted or wondering if I could have performed at a higher level if I had not been so overcommitted. Moreover, I missed out of much joy of enjoying these moments because I was always distracted by what I had to do next.

Learning to say, “No” is key for living the life of God’s dreams. If we don’t learn to say, “No” with intentionality, we will lose the freedom to say, “Yes” when a truly great opportunity appears. Of course, there will be obligations on which we must take action that involve work mandated by a superior or certain family commitments. These are not my concern here. I desire to reflect on avoiding my mistakes hinted at in my earlier confession. 

My Process for Discerning “Yes” or “No”: Default to “No” Except for these Exceptions

Here is my current process for discerning. My default answer is now “No.” It is rooted in the following principle and then filtered with three additional ones.

First, set this rule in stone. If the opportunity does not align with your goals and values, you must say, “No.” 

This rule assumes that you’ve established clear goals and know your core values. Jim Rohn wrote, “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.” If you don’t know what you want and who you are, you will default into people pleasing or dollar chasing.

Second, just because an opportunity aligns with your goals and values does not mean that you say, “Yes.” 

This is particularly true if you are in a religious vocation when most invitations and opportunities will line up with your calling. 

How do you say “No” when there is an opportunity to do something good that aligns with our mission? This is the problem. Therefore we need additional filters. 

From my reading and reflection, I ask myself these three questions:

(1) Would I want to participate in the activity/project/event tomorrow? 
This question is crucial. If you would be too busy or tired to enjoy the opportunity tomorrow, you will likely feel the same way 3 months, six months, or a year from now. This means you should automatically say, “No.”

(2) If I say, “Yes” to #1, ask: “Is this opportunity an absolute life or death “must do” for me and do I feel a high level of energy that signals ‘I’m all in on this!’?” 
Derek Sivers writes, “When deciding whether to do something, if you feel anything less than ‘Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! [Heck] yeah!’ — then say ‘no.’”[1] 

(3) Last, can I reasonably fit this invitation into my life during the season it will come due? 
Learning to recognize one’s limits is critical. I try to divide my year into four quarters. I’m at my best when I’m only working on a couple projects per quarter. When I set goals for the next year, I try to spread out work and projects. Then I can reasonably accept an additional opportunity or two per quarter without burning myself out.

This makes life much more enjoyable and allows us to be at our best when we do say, “Yes.”

Three Critical Reads for Maximum Productivity: Best of 2018

All three of these books are outstanding. I strongly recommend them as they provide clear strategies for doing our best work in a world that does its best to distract us 24/7. You will notice a theme in these books: all advocate 

Greg McKeown Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less Essentialism is about creating space to be able to get the right things done in our lives. It is not about doing less. McKeown has written a critical tool to help us to succeed in achieving our actual goals by maintaining focus on them. This involves learning to say "No" and removing obstacles in our lives that hinder us from the pursuit of what we actual want/desire to accomplish. Every time you say "Yes" to something; you are saying "No" to something else. Problems happen when we say "Yes" to "non-essential" tasks to the detriment to our goals. This quotation from McKeown captures the heart of what he teaches: "If you don't prioritize your life, someone else will."

Cal Newport Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World 

Newport is an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University. He is a prolific writer who has studied the art of productivity. Deep Work is one of the best books that I've read for writers, teacher, pastors, creatives, and designers. If part of your career demands high level thinking and planning and you struggle organizing your life to be at your best, then Deep Work is for you. Newport offers strategies for prioritizing your life via habits that support blocking out focused time for your critical work/thinking. This means identifying your best hours and allocating them to the most important and intellectually demanding projects and cutting yourself off of distraction. Newport walks the walk as he produces a tremendous amount of scholarly research in his field in addition to all of the productivity content. 

Brendon Burchard High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way 

This is Burchard's best book to date. He studied carefully several hundred high performers from around the world and distilled key principles that are immediately actionable in our lives. Burchard distills six habits under two broad headings: Personal and Social. The personal habits are Seek Clarity, Generate Energy, Raise Necessity. The social habits are Increase productivity, Develop influence, Demonstrate courage. All of this may sound like standard fare if you are familiar with personal/business coaching. What sets Burchard apart are the specific tactics that he includes with each habit. He also offers worksheets and tactical breakdowns to operationalize what he teaches. Sort of hiring a private coach this book offers tremendous value to anyone looking to take the next step in finding your edge.

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Monday, January 14, 2019

The SET Method for Goal Achieving

Goals are essential for bending the future to fit our sense of calling, our dreams, and our desires. Goals empower us to be self-directed. I’ve been a generic goal setter for decades but in late 2013 I began to set better goals and my life has changed. I’ve written more books, essays, reviews, and blogs in the last five years than in my previous 15 years as a professor. I’ve gotten fitter. My relationships with family and friends are richer. I’ve even increased my income by 50%. 
Without goals, time will pass and we will wake up wondering where the years went. Without goals, the agenda of others becomes our agenda (and others frequently don’t have much planned for us other than helping them achieve their goals). Without goals, we will expend the majority of our energy and time on tasks that don’t bring true satisfaction and growth. Without goals, the dreams that we have deep within will lay dormant and whither.  

What do you truly want? What do you deeply sense you were created to achieve? What are God’s dreams for your life? 

In this post, I will introduce you to the SET Method for setting and achieving goals. In coming weeks, I will breakdown the process more deeply and offer hacks to help you gain exponential results.

The SET Method  is a three step process:

S: State your goal as a positive target. What do I want?
E: Explain the "why" behind it. Why do I want to achieve this goal
T: Take Action. "What can I do NOW to move forward?"

First, State your goal as a positive target. Ask: What do I want to achieve? Establish goals for different parts of your life: family, finances, spirituality, work, fitness, and fun. It is critical to set goals for what we really want and not merely what we should want. We must also not settle for goals that are easily achievable. I used to make the mistake of making my goals for the next year more of a “to do” list of my obligations than a true set of targets that when achieved would lead me to true growth as the person I was created to be and bring deep satisfaction in my life. Go for the moonshot rather than aiming for getting 10 feet off the ground. Don’t just look for 5% improvement. Be audacious. When we shoot for the moon, we may not make it but we’ll likely be much higher off of the ground than if our goal was simply to attain lift off.

So what do you truly want? Write these targets down using positive language. In other words, don’t set targets to avoid or flee from; set targets that pull you forward. For example, if you are presently deeply in debt, don’t state your goal merely as “I want to get out of debt.” If you achieved this, you would only have made it to $0. Instead, focus on achieving financial abundance. Be specific and include the date when you’ll achieve this. For example, I want to increase my income by 50% by Dec 31. Increasing your income would take care of your indebtedness and help you build a more robust future.

Now we are ready for step two: Explain the “why” behind your goal. Too many of us make the mistake of trying to figure out the “how” of achieving a goal. The “why” is perhaps more critical because it is the “why” that will drive us to discover the “how.” Think about our above goal of increasing income by 50%. What is the “why”? Perhaps its to provide a better life for one’s family. Perhaps its a desire to have more wealth to fund a non-profit. Find your “why” and write it down. It will become the inspiration that motivates you to achieve the goal. But make sure that you are descriptive and multi-sensory in describing your “why.” See your children smiling and laughing while enjoying a family vacation paid for in cash with the increased resources. Feel your own joy in having a more secure financial footing with a positive net worth. 

Last, Take action. You’ll know that you’ve nailed the “why” when you are chomping at the bit to move to the final step. Our “why” inspires us to find the “how.” We do this by taking actions that move us toward the goal. Immediately work out an initial plan of action. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Sketch out daily/weekly/monthly activities. Then, review your goal and your “why” and take action daily. If your initial plan doesn’t seem to work, revise and keep moving forward. Focusing on our sample goal of increasing income by 50%, here are some possible actions: ask for a raise, request overtime, start a side business, begin studying a new skill or topic that will allow you to earn more over time. Focus daily on the “why” to keep yourself energize. If your initial plan does not pay dividends, make revisions until you succeed.

This is the SET Method in its basic form. Stay tuned for more specific breakdowns and tips regarding each of the steps.

© 2019 Brian D. Russell

Friday, January 11, 2019

Best Reads of 2018: Spirituality/Theology

2018 was a year of substantive growth for me. For the last couple of years, I've been doing a deep dive into spiritual formation. This has helped me to serve my students and readers better, but perhaps more importantly it's given me new insights and resources for growing deeper in grace. I'm grateful for all of the learning that I gained from the reading that I did as well as esteemed friends and colleagues who recommended and discussed these books with me over the course of the past year.

1) James K. A. Smith You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit 

This is Smith's most accessible work to date. His academic background is philosophy. You Are What You Love makes a provocative statement. Smith argues essentially that we may not love what we think we love. We are shaped consciously (and unconsciously) by liturgies. Liturgy is one of Smith's favorite words. The challenge for Christians today is learning to deconstruct and subvert the secular liturgies that desire to shape us into consumers rather than God's holy people. I like and dislike Smith book. It is certainly worth reading because he does (I think) make a correct diagnosis: Our loves/desires are likely more shaped by culture than by the Gospel. Having offered this diagnosis, Smith does not provide (in my mind) a radical enough antidote. His hope is in the rekindling of a robust liturgical movement within the Church. I think that this is certainly part of the solution, but once Smith opens the pandora's box of the human unconscious, he is going to need more resources for renewal than merely renewing Christian worship. Smith is one of the most engaging thinkers in recent years. This is a book worth reading.

2) Murchadh O Madagain Centering Prayer and the Healing of the Unconscious
I've been practicing Centering Prayer for several years now and it has been truly formative for my spiritual growth in God's grace and love. This book was recommended simultaneously and independently by two colleagues to me. It was profoundly helpful for my thinking and personal growth. Madagain explores the history of Centering Prayer and judges it to be orthodox and a means by which God may transform a believer. Madagain dialogues with the desert fathers, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, The Cloud of Unknowing as well as 20th century authors Thomas Merton and Thomas Keating in order to show how centering prayer fits into the stream of historic Christianity. It offers mature reflection on centering prayer and draws clear contrasts between its practice and meditation practices in eastern religions (as well as Western new age spirituality). I rank this text as one of the most important books on spiritual formation that I've ever read.

3) Peter Scazzero Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It's Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature

Scazzero is a gift to any Christian who struggles with integrating one's past wounds with a robust spiritual life. All of us have "shadow work" to do as we allow God's grace to integrate painful aspects of ourselves into the new person whom God creates us to be. He writes transparently of his own struggles with overwork and conflict in relationships despite serving as a pastor and being fully committed to the work of the Gospel. He also shares many anecdotes of other Christians with whom he's served or counseled. This book is helpful because he does not merely diagnose a problem; he also offers tools. One of the best is the creation of a family genogram. It allows us to map out our family of origins and reflect on the strengths/weaknesses of our family tree. This is a particularly powerful tool for couples as they bring much history into their relationship. If you haven't read Scazzero this is the place to start, if you are familiar with his work and particularly if you are a pastor you will also find his The Emotionally Healthy Leader: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team, and the World helpful.

4) Richard Rohr Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life

This is one of Rohr's finest books. Falling Upward is a Christian reading of the Jungian idea of a middle passage or midlife crisis. We spend the first half of life building a house; we spend the second half of life learning to live in it. Problems arise when we discover that we may not have erected the proper home and begin asking questions such as "Who am I apart from my history and the roles that I fill?" Rohr offers rich insights into growing in grace on the other side of midlife. Maybe its because I'm turning 50 in 2019, but I really enjoyed this book.

5) Augustine On Christian Teaching

Augustine penned this thin volume (for him) of meaty reflection on the interpretation and teaching of Scripture. It remains relevant and helpful to us in the 21st century as we face anew some of the same the challenges faced by the early Church when it struggled to communicate the Gospel clearly in a world that did not yet know the Christian God.

6) Dallas Willard The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives by Dallas Willard (18-Apr-1991) Paperback 

Willard offers profound reflection on the importance and role of spiritual disciplines in the Christian life. Cultivating the habits of spiritual formation is critical for preparing ourselves to be fully present in the world ready to embody the Gospel to those around us. 

What were your favorite reads in spirituality or theology for 2018?

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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Best Reads of 2018: Fiction

I intentionally read more fiction in 2018. I've grown intrigued by the power of narrative to shape and form us. Early in the year, I finally read Joseph Campbell's seminal work The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell). Campbell traces two primary narrative arcs through the literature and mythic lore of the world. First, he describes what he calls the hero's journey. This is the call to adventure that transforms the individual into a person of honor and influence upon the return to his community of origin. Most famously, George Lucas credits Campbell's study of the hero's journey for inspiring the plot of the Star Wars movies.  Second, Campbell studies the Cosmogonic cycle. If the hero's journey focuses on an individual place and growth with in the world, the cosmogonic cycle explores meaning of the universe from its inception to transformation to dissolution. Campbell uses a Freudian and Jungian reading as the means to understand the mythic soul beneath the cultures of the world. Campbell's reading of world literature intrigued me so I began exploring some class works of fiction.

Favorite novels that I read in 2018:
(1) Albert Camus, The Fall. Originally published in 1956, this was Camus final novel before his tragic death in a car accident. Camus uses a second person perspective to craft this novel that unfolds through a series of confessions by the narrator to a French lawyer whom he meets in a bar in Amsterdam. By using this style of direct address, Camus subtly entices the reader into his web. The Fall articulates a post-World War 2, post-faith understanding of human lostness. 

(2) Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (Dover Thrift Editions) Conrad's 1899 novella about a journey deep into the Congo serves as a critique of colonialism with a biting portrayal of the human capacity for evil. Conrad's original remains a potent investigation of the human heart that in the 1970's served as a vehicle for the iconic Vietnam war film "Apocalypse Now." 

(3) George Orwell, Animal Farm. I first read Animal Farm as a senior in high school. It remains one of my favorite novels. Its thinly veiled critique of Marxist Leninism/Stalinism serves as a healthy antiseptic to utopian political fantasies of all eras. I've always found the slogan in the book's closing scene to be an ironic explanation for much that occurs politically/organizationally/socially within alleged systems that espouse equality of outcome: "All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others."

(4) Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage (Plus). I've long considered a trip to Spain in order to walk the "El Camino de Santiago" ("The Way of St. James"). This is an ancient pilgrimage that ends in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in NW Spain. Coelho pens a story of a man who must face his own demons on the road to the Cathedral. The narrative is imaginative and more fantasy than a realistic portrayal of the pilgrim's path. It's spirituality is less Christian and more Gnostic themed.

(5) Herman Hesse, Siddhartha (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition). This was perhaps my favorite novel that I read in 2018. Hesse's Siddhartha is not about the Buddha. The main character Siddhartha does indeed meet the historic Buddha, but Hesse's focus is a tale of enlightenment told through the lens of a deep reading of Carl Jung. It's timeless message warns of the danger of self-centered spirituality, the allure of riches, power, and sex, and the potential to find oneself fully in unexpected places.

What were your favorite works of fiction that you read this past year?

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