Six Ways “Sweating the Small Stuff” pays off!

Do you remember the day you first heard the phrase, “Stop sweating the small stuff?” Me neither, but I remember that it didn’t happen just once. It became something of a refrain during the middle 90’s and into the beginning of the 21st century. All of this seemed to coincide with the publishing of a self-help book called “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff (And it’s all small stuff).”
Personally, I have nothing against self-help books. In fact, I think they are magnificent! Used wisely, this segment of the publishing world is useful to maintaining healthy psychological balance in the same way that OTC medicines are good for helping a person get through a cold or deal with a headache. I have read both the first of the series and one that was specifically targeted for use by professionals who have difficulty keeping things in perspective at work. What I read of the book series was great! I really enjoyed them, and found the insights generally useful and sometimes downright profound.
But I have struggled with this “Small Stuff/Big Stuff” analogy. Part of that may be from a competing perspective that has been a big part of my life for years. That competing perspective is best summed up as follows: By small and simple things, great things come to pass.

These concepts might be easily portrayed as competing ideas, presenting exactly opposite perspectives on the way of handling life. Small stuff holds the key to big stuff! Don’t sweat the small stuff! One seems to be rooted in the past, hearkening to the organic processes of growth and finding examples in building walls, bridges, homes and great buildings. The other appears connected to our present, finding corollaries in our use and understanding of big data, socio-economic trends and population analysis.

Is there a way for these two ideas to both be beneficial without throwing one or the other out? I believe there is! It comes from understanding how small stuff and big stuff are related.

The big stuff in our lives are the long term outcomes, the things that are not transitory, things like family, careers and significant friendships. Frequently in this blog and in the many presentations I have given, I have referred to these as the Facets of Life. It has always been my contention that in order to live a life of style and substance a man must be vigilant regarding the health of each facet. I also contend that the best way to ensure that the Facets of Life remain healthy is by “sweating the small stuff” in each Facets.

Given this, let me share six ways I try to Sweat the Small Stuff in the Facets of Life.
Think in blocks of 15 minutes. When we talk about small stuff, it should really start with the block of time that we talk about. 15 minutes is just enough time to get something done, regardless of the facet being discussed, but not so much that it feels like the entire day has to be dedicated to it.

Think in terms of routines. Trying to make sure that you get some physical activity in, but can’t go to the gym? Try doing some push ups and squats every time you stand up from your desk at work! Not connecting with your family to the degree you would like? Start a group chat and share a text with a positive, uplifting idea first thing in the morning (maybe before you even get out of bed) and then watch the conversation thread grow and look at it when you can.

Think about technology. Reading is key for most of us who want to improve how we handle life, but when do we have the time? Most of us can find small blocks of time (see above) but don’t have a book with us all the time, unless you have kindle or another e-reader. Consider keeping that app filled and ready for a sliver of time to open and be filled with a good book. Also, you might want to consider a subscription to audible, or finding other ways to get books on CD or audio file.

Think about others. Does it take long to smile? No, not really. Try it right now! Smiling is perhaps one of the easiest things to do in the world, but few of us take time to do it. We generally wait for someone around us to smile first, and since they are often doing the same, we pass the vast majority of human kind without so much as a cheerful greeting. That is unfortunate, because I have noticed in my own life that when someone greets me with a smile, my whole day is better. Perhaps it would be best to remember to do that for others.

Think about your wardrobe. As a man of style and substance, the wardrobe should be well taken care of. That isn’t to say that everything you wear needs to be trendy and expensive. However, when the clothes you wear are clean and well taken care of, interesting things happen. For instance, your confidence goes up. After all, if you know that you are wearing clothes that fit and don’t smell like they have been sitting in a locker, who wouldn’t be confident!

Think about thinking. Throughout the day, stray thoughts are likely to wander into your mind. Being aware of them can help us take control of the outcomes that follow us. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to stay cheerful when you are thinking about good things happening? Conversely, have you noticed how easy it is to lose that cheerful feeling when your focus is taken to something going wrong? In that case, I choose to try to keep my thoughts on the good that is happening around me!

There you go! six things to help you “Sweat the small stuff!” And by doing so, consistently, success in the big things in life is sure to be more pronounced, more frequent, and more likely to be permanent!

5 ideas for an awesome Stay-cation

Frequent readers of this blog will know that I am very much in favor of frugality.  In my mind, style and substance should be pursued intelligently, not in a way that can handicap a budget or put a family deeper in debt.  Thinking like that flies in the face of substance!  However, going the entire summer without some type of adventure for the family doesn’t really make sense either. The stay-cation becomes a wonderful way to do both.
But when children (and some adults) hear the word “stay-cation” they often immediately connect it with another word … BORING!
So how do we dissociate stay-cations from boring and connect them with more exciting adjectives?  Here are some ideas to start with!
A map and a pencil!  Granted, this might be easier said in terms of google maps, but the principle is pretty easy.  gather the family and ask them how long they are willing to ride in a car, one way, for a good adventure.  For every hour the mention, draw a line showing a radius of 50 miles from where you live.  50 miles allows for traffic, surface street speeds and potty breaks (as necessary).  Now, you have your planned vacation area!
Jump on the web!  Most states and many cities and counties have websites that list recreation and entertainment activities.  In our area for last year, my wife found a museum that we drove past almost every week for fourteen years.  When we went, we were the only people there, and we not only had the run of the place, but asked all kids of questions that we might never have been able to ask had it been a more “well known” museum. Additionally, many museums offer summer engagement activities for children of various ages, so check websites and ask around.
Change the eating routine!  We make a promise when we travel; limit the fast food chains!  Instead, explore local dining options.  It can be fun to do the same thing in your own neighborhood.  How many places do you drive by and say, “We ought to try that place one day?”  A stay-cation is a perfect excuse to get to those new places.  Not only that, but within the circle you have drawn, if you are visiting someplace away from home, this is a perfect time to try a mom-and-pop diner or hamburger joint.  Who knows, you might find an awesome place!
Unplug!  With this I am not just talking about unplugging from electronics and social media, except of course for posting to Instagram.  No, what we are talking about here is staying away from all forms of electronics as much as possible.  Video Games? unless it is one that the whole family can play together, leave it!  It will still be there when the stay-cation is over.  Tempted to binge the latest on Netflix?  Instead, negotiate a board game or a card game and play something old-fashioned for a while.
Consider Service!  At least for part of the stay-cation, give some thought to finding a service project.  The app, JustServe, (and its sister website, justserve.org) gives some options based on selectable criteria.  You simply input your zip code, select the radius that you are looking at (here’s that map and pencil again!) and you can see different types of service opportunities.  Depending on the age and experience level of your family, you may just be looking for something that can be completed in an hour or two, but the experience is sure to set your stay-cation apart in their minds for the rest of their lives.
Being a man of style and substance is an all-the-time kind of thing.  Hopefully these ideas give you some ways to inject both style and substance into your summer.
Go forth and conquer!

My Four Mentors.

Style and substance, two ideas that are neither mutually exclusive nor guaranteed traveling companions. Why then would I devote myself to a project of championing both ideas? It would be easy to say it is exactly because of the dichotomy represented by the ideas, but for me it is a bit deeper than that.
I want to tell you a story of four men. These four men shaped my life. They were dramatically different men, having come from entirely different kinds of lives, but each of them gave me an element that helped shape my life and my appreciation of style and substance.
First is Marvin, my paternal grandfather. Marvin was an example of consistency and simplicity. A Marine who served in WW2, he was somewhat rough around the edges. He owned his own plumbing business in small town Minnesota. Our visits to the family home were a high point in my life, partly because he always made time for me. He was always kind and gentle with me. I don’t remember him ever wearing anything other than his work coveralls, and he always drove a 1950’s era truck, his work truck. From him I learned to shoot, to fish, and I learned about consistency. He never pretended to be anything he wasn’t, and imperfect as he was, he always made me feel important. He was a man of style and substance.
Second is Leo, my maternal grandfather. He was a powerful example of joy found in the midst of responsibility. He was a missionary for his church to war torn Europe in the aftermath of WW1, and a father before the start of WW2. He ran his own grocery store through much of the depression and through the war, extending credit and kindness to the people in his small town in Utah when times were difficult. He sponsored a family wanting to emigrate to the US during the rise of communism throughout Europe. He and his wife raised 6 children, and tended his lawn after retirement with the care and attention of a master gardener. I never knew a day to go by that he didn’t laugh heartily at something! Overflowing with love, he was a man of style and substance.
Third is my Uncle Jim, the namesake of my youngest son. He was a scientist and a teacher and he fostered in me a love of discovery and an insatiable curiosity. He was always the first at family parties to ask me about my adventures, listening to them as though they were the most interesting things he had ever heard. I’ll never forget the hours I spent sitting with him at the player piano, playing pinball, or heating the goo that came from the inside of a Stretch Monster to see if we could figure out what it was made of. He encouraged me to pursue things I was interested and passionate in. Truly, he was a man of style and substance.
Finally, my father. We didn’t always see eye to eye, as I imagine is somewhat typical of fathers and sons, but he always took care of me. A quiet man, we spent hours shooting rifles and shotguns, riding motorcycles in the mountains, playing softball and baseball, and watching old westerns. We sang John Denver songs together nearly every week, he playing the guitar and me finding harmony. He was my first and only basketball coach, and he always encouraged me to do my very best in everything. All the things I learned from the other mentors in my life he helped solidify. Quiet, steady and dependable, he was a man of substance, and a style all his own.
As I became a father, I looked for mentors and role models. I desperately wanted to be the kind of example to my children that these men had been to me. Sadly, three of them are no longer with us. My wife never met either of my grandfathers, nor my Uncle Jim. And for a time my relationship with my father was strained enough that we struggled to connect. Like I said, fathers and sons.
None of these men were followers of fashion, but they all had a sense of style borne of practicality. Because of them, I learned to recognize the value of timelessness in the face of trendiness. I also learned to prize the permanent over the passing. These men helped me learn what it meant to be a man of style and substance.
May we all have men in our lives to help us learn these lessons!