Let’s Keep Going

As I told you during last week’s maxim, I want to talk about habits. And oftentimes, when we talk about something as understood and universal as a ‘habit’, we don’t realize that the slight variances in our respective definitions of such a general word can compound into grave misunderstandings. We need to explore that a little bit.

A habit, most certainly, at it’s core, is repetitive. It occurs regularly–not necessarily daily or hourly or weekly, but it’s something that you do often and predictably.


Our next question is why–why do you do this thing?

Some habits are…I want to say primal, or basic, but those words are a tad harsh. They’re simple and effortless and natural to you. I have a habit of chewing the inside of my cheeks when I think and checking Bleacher Report right when I wake up and right before I go to sleep. If we ask ourselves the ‘why’ of these habits, we get the four year old’s answer: ‘…cause’. We won’t call them ‘bad’, because they aren’t necessarily. They’re just…subconscious.

Other habits have more deliberate, goal-oriented foci. They’re established, concerted, conscious. I have a habit of praying every morning and every evening–I only established that after weeks of active engagement. I have a habit of reading before I go to bed every evening–that was really difficult to establish, cause, you know…Netflix…but I pulled it off. I gave effort, I focused, and I pulled it off. When we ask ourselves the ‘why’ of these habits, our answers is ‘because prayer fosters a healthy spiritual life’ and ‘because reading is how I obtain new information and expand my scope’. They have conscious reasoning behind them.

I’m attempting to establish a habit of posting three times a week as well, but as you can see, that’s been a bit of a struggle.

And therein really lies the crux of a ‘habit’–it’s not a struggle. Because of the expectation and consistency and comfortable repetition of prayer and reading, it’s no longer something for which I must strive, something that requires effort.

See, some habits are subconscious, in that we–forgive me–habitually do them. It’s just natural.

Some habits are conscious, in that we foster and nurture them, work them into existence until they begin working on their own–like pushing a boulder down a hill, it starts with great exertion, and as the boulder nears its tipping point, the ‘gravity’ of the habit helps us–the natural momentum–and less and less effort is required until the boulder simply rolls on its own.  It’s something that wasn’t natural to begin with…but we made it natural.

A great book on habits? Better Than Before, by Gretchen Rubin–she speaks of keeping a ‘habit manifesto’ in this work, wherein she meticulously records what she does consistently and examines the impact of those repetitive activities on her life.

I’d encourage you–I’m doing it as well–for the next week, to keep a habit manifesto. Record, as loosely (me) or exactly (Ms. Rubin) as you prefer, what you do, think, feel (more than just actions–your mental and emotional habits are similarly powerful) during the day.

Find common threads, consistencies, and patterns–categorize them as subconscious or conscious, and examine what they brought to your day, what their ‘worth’ was. Was their great value in this habit? Or was it ‘bad’, in that it was a rut, a trench from which you struggled to escape?

Likewise, examine irregularities, anomalies, and singularities–what was their inherent value? Would you like for that value to be repeated, and if so, how can you shape this single occurrence into a regular habit? What prevents you from habitually utilizing that particular event?

I’d be interested to see what you find–and I’ll share what I do as well. However, a primer: I surmise, from my own experience, that habits interact like planets in space–they all pull on one another with some gravity, either strong at proximity or weak from afar. Sometimes the pull is with their natural motion–sometimes against it. But habits interact with and impact one another, as interwoven tendencies.

An example: if I consistently watch an hour of Netflix every day before I do my homework, am I more likely to start homework…or watch some more Netflix, when my hour is up? Well, with incredibly discipline, perhaps the homework. But I do not possess such droves of discipline, and as such…the temptation of that cliffhanger will catch me, and onto Netflix I go.

Habits are powerful. Our days, weeks, months, are defined by what we typically, regularly, do with them–the effect of a repeated action is compounded, certainly, over time.

So consider your habits–log them as you see fit, and ask yourself what worth you’re getting, what worth you’re losing, and how it could all be optimized to a better individual.




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55 Maxims for Christian Living — Day 15

For everyone unaware of that on which I am working, I’m taking The 55 Maxims for Christian Living, as posed by Fr. Thomas Hopko, and I’m focusing on one a day. It should be noted that this is a holistic process–I’m not completely ignoring the other 54, nor do I intend on forgetting that which I discovered about Maxim #15 tomorrow, when I hit Maxim #16. Merely, I am taking every day to be a little more focused, direct, and purposeful in my exploration of these maxims.

This is the sixteenth maxim:

Read the scriptures regularly.

I should take a moment to apologize for how long it has been since I updated with another maxim post–I assure you, it was not without good reason.

For those Maxims 1-15 which called for a regular practice (Maxim #11, Maxim #12), I don’t have daily access to the activities in question. While it rings as an excuse, I think it is meant to be that way: to take communion and confession daily, to attend a service daily…it would rob them of their impact. I still engage with these activities regularly, but it is in having days without confession and communion and church that I can appreciate the magnitude of their effect on me.

Not so, with scriptural reading. That’s a daily practice–like vitamins in the morning, it’s a predictable influx of something valuable–vital, even. Something you need to have, if your day is to fulfill its magnificent potential.

I have a little app on my phone that tells me the daily, prescribed reading–for goodness’ sakes, it’s called “DailyReadings“. But wait! Wait, it doesn’t just tell me the reading–it has it in the app! All I have to do is click the darn thing, and it shows me the reading for the day, and I sit down, and I read it, and it’s great, right?

I went 4, 5 days forgetting to read.

I just couldn’t get in the swing of it–I couldn’t find a nice place to stick it in my morning schedule and then I’d remember during a class that I forgot to read it and I’d promise myself once I left the class I’d read it and then…I’d forget. I’d forget, remember again later, get mad at myself all over again, and never escape that vicious circle.

I’d love to turn this post into a discussion of the establishment and power of habit–how it is the driving force of our daily schedule, and consequentially our daily effectiveness, which compounds into weekly and monthly and yearly effectiveness. I’d love to, and later in the week, I’ll write on habits–I found another app (7Weeks) that helps with habit establishment, and it’s a topic ripe on my mind. So I will expound upon habits later.

But when I remembered today–finally–and read the prescribed scripture for today…I just couldn’t believe it, and I’d like to share it with you.

My most recent post was about a dude running to first base with really bad form–also, jungles. If you haven’t checked it out, I recommend you do–it’ll help you understand why this reading impacted me so.

1 Corinthians 12:7-11

7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit,
9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,
10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
11 All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

That’s the jungles, man.

But go a little farther down in Corinthians 12:

12For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
13For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
14For the body does not consist of one member but of many.
15If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.
16And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.
17If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?
18But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose.

Can’t say it any better than that.




The Speedy Runner With Awful Form

If two guys run from home to first base in the exact same time, and one of them has perfect form, and the other has awful form, who would you rather have on your team?

The guy with awful form, because, if you teach him good form, he’ll get there faster.

I love that, I really do. It’s funny, because the guy with awful form must have some God-given, innate talent, while the guy with perfect form probably worked his tail off, and normally, I write on how much more important it is to work your tail off.

And it is–it is unimaginably more important to know how to get good at something than to be good at something. Think of the runners again–let’s say they both get there in record time. But if one has no idea how he does it, he can’t replicate it or teach it to others; if the other knows exactly how he reached that speed, he can produce consistently at that level and help others achieve it, too.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man how to fish, feed him forever.

So yes, working your tail off is important. But I love this, and I love the idea of the speedy runner with awful form, and here’s why:

If you remember, when I wrote of pride and goal-orientation, I spoke of a team of men in the jungle–you can find it here. The leader of the men is the one who figures out that they’re in the wrong jungle–gearing their effort towards a failing enterprise.

You see, the thing about our speedy runner with awful form?…he’s in the right jungle.

He’s got some God-given, innate talent! He’s got a skill that delineates him from the average person, and even though his form is just atrocious, he can use that skill for impact: he’s going to make a baseball team because of it!

I explored an incredible Viktor Frankl quote here–for now, I’ll just share the quote:

Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.


You’re being asked what your jungle is! I know that I’m not gonna be the guy who cures cancer, because biology and medicine just could not possibly interest me less–and I wish I was! How honorable it would be, to pursue such a noble and worthy endeavor? However, it does not belong to me–it is not where my natural strength lies, where my God-given talent rests. I could force myself, like a square peg into a round hole, into that profession, but it would not serve me, other members of the profession, or my prospective patients and families. It’s just not my jungle.

But, incredibly, my pursuit in life can be as noble and worthy as the attempt to cure cancer. It can be so noble only if it falls in line with my internal principles, my central values, and my natural skill. When asked, point-blank, as Frankl posits: “What is the meaning of your life” or, in context, “What is your jungle?”, we are called upon to gear our efforts and our talents towards an idea in harmony with our principles and values.

This is true meaning. When effort, talent, value, and principle align. When the predetermined, inherent qualities of a person work seamlessly with the daily, conscious decisions he or she makes.

I urge you today, like the speedy runner with awful form, to find your jungle and answer Frankl’s question. It is not something of which you should be ashamed, having talent wherever it is you have it–sports, children, crocheting, quantum mechanics. It is something of which you should be ashamed, not optimizing that gift with which you were born.

Find your jungle.



The Golden Rule

You’re not willing to do what others do.

See, you rationalize with yourself. It’s the same, conceptually, as giving advice: because we are not embedded in the situation of our friends, we can isolate ourselves from the many emotions and struggles that accompany their particular obstacles, and in that isolation, we can better make rational evaluation and decisions. That’s why we go to the people we trust for advice–we know that their input comes from a safe, more emotionally stable place.

But flip that.

When it comes time to go to work–when things need to get done–you rationalize with yourself. We all do, to varying extents. If we want to get in shape, then maybe we run and we work out for a few days, and once we get tired and it starts wearing on our resolve, we find an excuse to quit, to cheat ourselves–we rationalize, we make excuses. But when the guy next to us wants to get in shape, and he hits the same roadblock, we tell him that it’s supposed to be tough, and nothing good ever came easy, and you’ve gotta be willing to make sacrifices and tough decisions to achieve a goal.

The difference is the investment, the turmoil. In the first situation, we are barraged by the voices in our head that make us doubt, make us question ourselves and our convictions. ‘Will any of this really matter?’ and ‘Well, I’m just gonna end up giving up tomorrow, so why not do it today?’ and ‘Nobody is expecting this from me, why do I need to do it?’ plague us. In the second situation, we do not experience those cries of failure and inability, we do not have to endure those tribulations.

My cross-country coach always used to remind me, as I raced by:

Your body doesn’t hurt, Benjamin! Your body isn’t tired! That’s your mind! Your mind thinks your body is tired, but your body is fine! Who is in control, Benjamin? Are you in control of your mind, or is your mind in control of you? Are you going to listen to your mind, are you going to listen to your body, or are you going to take charge of yourself?!

It was a reminder that my fatigue was fabricated; my exhaustion, exaggerated. It was a reminder that every voice in my head–good and bad–was neither absolute nor final. It was a reminder that my force of will was stronger than anything else in my body or mind.

The battle-cry holds for all aspects of life: the force of will is the greatest strength you can possibly wield. If you remember your force of will, no obstacle is insurmountable. There is no ‘too’. Perhaps some days, it will be harder than on others–but never too hard; sometimes, it will require more of you, but it will never require too much. The well of willpower is bottomless.

This is why you can turn so easily to your friend and insist that he soldiers on, when presented with his struggles: without the distractions of doubts and fears and questionings, you can all the more clearly see the vast power of conviction that inherently belongs to every man. You exceed doubt. You exceed fear. You can answer every question.

You all know the golden rule: treat others as you want to be treated. I’d like to flip that, too.

I’d like to flip that into ‘What you expect from others, expect from yourself’.

What you expect from others, expect from yourself.

You are not an exception, but an exemplar, and for every moment of your day that you live up to the willful expectations that you set for yourself, so drastically will that moment be compounded in the lives of those who witness it and realize that they, too, possess that power of will.

Consider it: the best way to empower others? Empower yourself, and live as an example. The best way to help others achieve? Demonstrate that achievement is an inevitability, if you harness your incredible conviction.

So expect from yourself what you expect from others. Make not excuses, but examples. Think of the type of person that you wish everyone in the world would be, and then be that person.

Be the change you wish to see in the world.

– Mahatma Gandhi

It sounds so much better, when smarter people say it.


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Frankl on Meaning

Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.

 – Viktor E. Frankl


Go read that again. I mean really, go read that again, slower and with purpose.

Viktor E. Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, drops dimes like this all over the place, especially in that, his primary work. I chose this quote among a plethora that stand out and speak to me–I encourage you to check out some others, and see which impacts you the most drastically.

But for now, this one.

Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. 

Immediately, everything is turned on its head. Man shouldn’t ask what the meaning of life is?! What am I supposed to think about when I stare listlessly at my ceiling in the dead of night?! For what am I supposed to search, if not for the answer of the burning question I ask myself: what is the meaning of life?

Must recognize that it is he who is asked.

I’ve been investing myself in personal development for about two years now, and let me tell you, I’ve never felt so empowered in my entire life.

Think about it for a second–think! Really think! When we ask the world “What is the meaning of my life?” we turn over all of the control: our experience of life becomes a series of closed doors, of uphill trails, which we must wrench open and trudge up, in a never-ending search for an answer that, according to Frankl, is within us!

When the world asks us “What is the meaning of your life?”, all of a sudden every door turns to us and opens itself, and we teleport from the bottom of the mountain to the top of the peak, and every path we can possibly take lays before us, and we elect which one belongs to us, and we decide the exact pace and fervor of our travel, and we decide to travel off the beaten road when we desire.

I said it turned everything on its head, and it does! It takes a question of futility, of subordination, of powerlessness: “World, tell me what I am supposed to be, for I don’t know for myself,” and utterly transforms it. You hear people say that success can only come from failure, that struggle brings forth progress–and that’s the truth! That’s what we see here right now! Only in knowing that powerlessness of fruitlessly seeking ‘meaning’ can you understand the strength that comes from that claim: it is he who is asked.

In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.

And there it is. Life asks you–YOU–what the meaning of your life is, and you answer by living your life. Catch that, you answer by living your life. You don’t tell life “Oh, this is what the meaning of my life is” and then you live nonsense. You don’t front with life, you don’t get to say one thing and do another–this is a walk the walk situation if there ever was one.

How else can you answer life, if not through your actions thereof?! What words could you possibly say, that they carry more weight than your actions, day in and day out?! He said you can only respond by being responsible–that is, you can only respond by being response-able, by having a response, by enacting a response.

See, I know me, I know you–I’m gonna want to put on a face for others, I’m gonna want to make outlandish promises and claims, and then in private, when I think nobody’s watching, I’m gonna do my own thing. But life’s watching–hear that–life’s watching! And what you’re doing in private? That’s the meaning of your life there.

What’s the meaning of your life? You choose.


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Pride Forfeits Our Reward

The concept was shared with me a while ago, and I’ve been musing over it ever since. It is a scary concept–difficult to swallow, against our grain. It is an idea that, I think, the world at large would mostly reject, on the basis that it is too austere, too stringent. It is a hard teaching, but that which is difficult is oh-so-often that which is worthwhile.

It was presented as such:

A hermit said, “The miller must blindfold a donkey working the treadmill. If he does not, it will eat the grain. Merciful God has blindfolded us to prevent us from noticing anything good that we do. Otherwise, we might be proud of ourselves and forfeit our reward…If you accuse yourself, you keep your reward.

That’s pretty harsh.

I love the image of the donkey eating the grain, however, and that’s where I want to put our focus. A rowdy debate could be–and certainly has been–had over the necessity of positive reinforcement, of noticing that good that we have done as an incentive to continue going. Viewpoints vary, with reason at all degrees. I don’t know precisely where I fall just yet, and shy from hastening to remark upon that balance.

But the donkey on the treadmill, distracted by the grain…that speaks to me.

So often, we are enraptured by production, mystified by our ability to create daily tasks, and then knock them out of the park. We are, quite sincerely, spellbound by the much ballyhooed victories of daily completions, of setting a goal and fulfilling it, incontrovertibly certain that we have arrived at the fullness of effectiveness.

It reminds me of a story in Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People–I am aware, of course, that I reference this book with nearly every other breath. Let it speak not to my redundancy, but to Dr. Covey’s masterful work.

There was a team of men hacking their way through the jungle. The hackers marched at the forefront of the team, timing their machete swings to coordinate with nearby hackers, aiming their swings to clear the most branches, calling down the line to one another to communicate needs and strategies and ideas.

Behind them the managers followed, establishing a rotating system of hackers to ensure every man got his proper rest, installing a machete-sharpening and muscle-strengthening regime, absorbing and digesting feedback from the hackers, who had certainly unionized by this point, to more readily communicate with the managers.

And one man–the leader, as the point is made by Covey–climbs up the tallest tree, looks around, and says: “Guys…we’re in the wrong jungle!”

But the managers and hackers derail him, saying: “Shut up! We’re making progress.”

So spellbound were the hackers and managers by their daily activities, so self-absorbed we they in the system they had created, that they neither realized nor accepted that their efforts were all for naught. They had planted the apple seed, watered the soil, fertilized, and chased away birds and squirrels–but they were still living in Minnesota, and the apple tree wasn’t gonna grow no matter how avidly they worked.

Pride forfeits our reward because it, quite literally, forfeits our reward. It takes our attention away from the jungle and puts it on our hacking and planning and communicating and efficiency; away from the tree and on our planting and watering and fertilizing and shooing.

The donkey–humbling, in its dullness–is distracted by the grain he has produced, and in his distraction, precludes himself from producing more grain. He becomes satisfiedas many of you know, my least favorite of states–even exultant at his work, and forgets his goal; forfeits his reward.

Pray, dear reader, that you forget not your goal, and consequentially forfeit your reward. Be your own, proactive miller: blind yourself to the progress, that you preserve the aspiration. Think not of the 9 you have done, but the 10th yet to come.