Living in the Sweet Spot

Being a man of style and substance does not need to be difficult or challenging.  It does not need to be time consuming or require immense mental effort.  In fact, when a man lives a life of style and substance, it should be both liberating and simplifying.  Living a life of style and substance is really about learning to live in the sweet spot.

Have you heard of the sweet spot before?  Most likely, you have.  However, you have probably heard about it in terms of sports.  Tennis, golf, baseball, football, even cycling and auto racing might be places where the term sweet spot is used.  Regardless of the arena of activity, the sweet spot refers to a particular point where maximum results are achieved for the effort expended.  Those results often take the form of distance, control or some other measure of performance. 

Life has a sweet spot too.  And living a life of style and substance, I believe, is all about finding it.

After much study and reflection, it seems to me that satisfaction in life has much to do with our relationships with other people, having things that we passionately work towards and pursue and, finally, the degree to which we are able to live authentically and in harmony with our highest values.  To make these easy to remember (cause I’m a fairly simple guy, after all) I refer to these three areas as People, Plans and Promises.  I know, that sounds awfully folksy, like an old John Denver song.  But just because it sounds fairly simple doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have some insight that could be beneficial.  Let me share what each of these areas has come to mean to me.

People refers to relationships.  And not just the significant relationships, but the every-day and casual ones as well.  Most of us try to take great care with some of our relationships while being quite careless with others.  Interestingly enough, there is evidence to suggest that often we are kinder to strangers than we are with the people we care most about.  Further, when in tense situations, I have found that, like many others, I have been guilty of being more thoughtful and measured with my responses to work colleagues than I am to my spouse and children.  While this may be understandable (after all, family can’t fire you as easily as a boss can) it is certainly counter-productive.

What I am suggesting is that, if we are determined to live in the sweet spot of life, all of our relationships deserve equal care and concern.  From your spouse to your right hand person at work to the janitor who empties your trash to the young person who bags your groceries to the person who opens a door for you out of the blue, every relationship deserves equal care and concern.  That doesn’t mean you need to get everyone’s life story, but it does mean that thoughtfulness in how we treat and react to others should be consistent, not conditional. 

Plans refers to the goals and systems of goals that we build to accomplish the things that are meaningful to us.  I’m not talking about bucket lists, nor am I necessarily talking about engaging in a goal setting session where you plan out every detail of a project that saves the world from starvation.  What I’m talking about here is a little more mundane, but perhaps more crucial.  Plans, in this context, refers to the wisdom that “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” (https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/planning)  There is a time for wishes, no doubt about it, but bringing them into the world of reality requires some kind of plan.

Setting huge goals to change the world will certainly require plans and planning to make it all come about.  But making small improvements requires some planning as well.  I remember a time in my life when I could scarcely get out of bed in the morning.  Between injury and depression, all I wanted to do was sleep and hide from the world.  But gradually, by setting small objectives and thinking through what was required to make those objectives achievable, I was able to overcome the inertia that threatened my entire life at that time.  

Big or small, world changing or life changing, plans are required if one is going to live in the sweet spot. 

Promises refer to both the spoken commitments we make to others and the unspoken commitments we make to ourselves.  The promises here are often made in relation to the plans that are set in the previous step.  They are almost always made to a person who is going to hold us accountable for our work or lack there of.  If you want to live in the sweet spot, you have to keep promises.  Big ones and little ones.  This isn’t to say that others won’t understand when things are out of your control, or when you have done everything you can and things are just not coming together.  People will understand.  Some of the time.  But if you develop a habit of not keeping promises, eventually it will become ugly.  You can’t live in the sweet spot if you aren’t keeping promises.

In the overlap is the sweet spot.  This is where great things really happen, and when it feels like they happen almost effortlessly.  This is where you begin to notice momentum beginning to catch up with you, when it seems that things just fall into place.  This is the place when you begin to reap the rewards of all the hard work put in along the way.  This is where life becomes fun.

But you must remember, the sweet spot is dynamic.  You don’t stay in the sweet spot on yesterday’s effort.  You have to earn it daily.  You have to be on guard.  If you want to live in the sweet spot, you have to commit to doing these things every day, all the time.  Yes, it sounds tiring, and it requires energy and commitment.  But there is nothing better than living life in the sweet spot. And for a man of style and substance, there is no better place to live.

The Life Calendar

Have you seen Tim Urban’s Ted Talk about Procrastination?  Click the link if you haven’t.  It is amazing.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Good stuff, right?  Monkeys, Monsters and YouTube, Oh My!  Yeah, it was pretty awesome.
I first found that delightful little gem about 3 years ago.  I have shared it almost everywhere ever since.  I have shared it with the people I supervise, with co-workers, with students, with friends, with family.  It has given a common vernacular with which to approach the question of activity and time.   “Are you in control, or is the monkey?”  “Do I need to poke the Panic Monster to get him moving right now?”  “Are you in the dark playground at the moment?”  All of these questions have been cool conversation starters, especially with my kids.  It has helped to remove much of the shaming, blaming and yelling in our house, especially in regards to chores and homework.  Not all of it, mind you, but much of it.  It has allowed our conversations to be more civil, more proactive, and more about priorities than about guilt.
And if that was all I had gotten out of it, that would be awesome.
But lately, as I have rewatched it (almost once a month) for the past 3 years, something has become much more powerful for me.
At the end of the video he talked about a life calendar.  Remember, the big slide he showed toward the end of his talk where he displayed a box for every week of a 90 year life?  And the importance of considering that many of those boxes are already filled in?  They’re already gone?  Remember that.
Boy, I just watched it about a week ago, and it hit me hard.
I’ve got more than half of those boxes filled in.
And that was when I realized that he was talking to me.  Directly to me.
Not my children.  Not my employees.  Not my wife.  ME!
Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been just sitting around doing nothing.  I’ve been anxiously engaged a good many causes, many of them noble and all about helping others be better people as well.  But there are a lot of things that I have been saying to myself, “I’ll get around to that a little later.”
Well, that has to stop.
It has to stop for anyone who claims to be a man of style and substance.  We have to be more than busy, we have to be moving things forward.  That’s one of the hallmarks of a man of substance.  Men of substance are more than busy, they are passionately improving the world.
So that’s my challenge to you, and of course to me.  Get busy passionately improving the world.  Wake up your own panic monster.
And maybe, just maybe, it’s time to start measuring our lives and accomplishments not by years, but by weeks well used!

Five Things You Don’t Check at the Door

Do you remember the days of the coat check?  Some places still provide them.  You arrive at a party or event and there is someone waiting to take your coat to someplace secure.  You get a tag, and on your way out you pick up your coat and provide a small gratuity for the service.  It’s a little dated, but not uncommon. 

The idea of the coat check was to leave something behind that would get in the way and be cumbersome or bulky or interfere with the event.  Useful, and in cases where quarters are close, absolutely necessary.
But there are some things that should never be checked at the door.  It doesn’t matter the party, the venue, or the company, there are some things a man of style and substance should never “check at the door.”

Manners – No matter where you are, “Please” and “Thank You” should always be a basic part of your life and should never be left behind.  Ever.  These basics of society used to be fore-gone conclusions, but today it seems that manners are ever on the retreat.  Whether you are speaking with the host of the event, a fellow guest or even a member of the wait staff or the maintenance crew, treat them with courtesy.  Just because you are going to pay someone to do something for you doesn’t give you the right to be rude, abrasive or inconsiderate and discourteous about it. 

A Pen – This doesn’t need to be a flashy or showy pen; any pen will do.  I actually often carry two pens with me, one in a shirt or coat pocket and the other (a smaller one) on a keychain.  Carrying a pen is a mark of preparedness; you never know when you will have to sign something or you will want to jot down an idea.  Also, it prevents you from needing to ask to borrow a pen (and all the accumulated germs that accompany the loaner). 

A Small Wallet – Even if you are leaving the monster wallet at home, make sure that you keep something small with a few bills and one card that you know has room on it.  You never know when you will get an opportunity to pick up a round of appetizers, drinks or a desert.  Also, it is bad form to rummage through the pockets of the coat that was just returned to you for the tip for the coat check personnel.  Have it in your hand, produced from the small wallet you have kept with you, and present it with your claim check.

Your Phone – There was a time a few years ago when I would have recommended a small notebook to go along with the pen.  Jotting down ideas, names and phone numbers or email address is easier on the paper you keep with you than on a napkin at the table.  However, the phone becomes even more useful for this.  You’ve probably got an app for taking notes.  And it is very easy to send a quick text with contact information, even if you just send it to yourself.  However, remember that a man of style and substance will be conscious of the phone without letting it interfere with the evening.  If you are a heart surgeon on call, by all means, check every text coming through.  Other than bona fide emergencies from sitters, kids, and work, keep the phone in the pocket.

Your Character – This might seem like it doesn’t need to be said.  After all, a man of style and substance is all about character, right?  Yet I have seen instances where individuals have believed that the event they were attending somehow gave them leave to adjust their standards ever so slightly.  And while they were certainly small offenses, even small actions built up over time have consequences.  I try to remind myself that, no matter where I am, my actions in that moment are perhaps the only exposure that they will have to who I am and what I represent.  And a momentary lapse in character can result in a lifetime of negative consequences.

What do you think of this list?  Was there anything that I missed?  Let me know in the comments below.

A sixth grade graduation

Recently, I wrote a post regarding my son’s graduation and commencement exercises, detailing how one speaker combined both Admiral Ackbar and Eminem into an address that was at once entertaining and inspiring.  Tough to do, I know, but if I’m being honest, it was one of the finest commencement addresses that I have ever heard.

But what about a sixth grade graduation?

Like many small towns and suburbs across America, we take education seriously here.  We also love our children and look for every opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments and achievements whenever possible.  To that end, I recently attended the sixth grade graduation ceremonies for my youngest daughter.  Aside from the emotional aspect (which means I cried the tears of a proud papa!), the speakers had some marvelous words of wisdom for their students and for the rest of us attending.  Here’s a sample from my notes.

Keep doing hard things.  The students were reminded that they had done some very difficult things, at least difficult for sixth graders.  After all, difficult is about going to new places, doing new things, often with little evidence that you will be successful at the outset.  Doing hard things requires the use of positive imagination, facilitates the development of confidence and ultimately develops new strengths.  This is what life and growth is all about, and unless we choose to do hard things, we will not grow into better people.

Learning things matters, but learning how to be a good friend matters more.  What marvelous insight!  I know men (and some women) many times the age of the graduating sixth graders who seem not to know this remarkable piece of wisdom.  We often want our children to learn information, concepts, ideas, times tables, how to do math in their heads, how to read and evaluate and make good decisions.  But as valuable as all of that is, without the richness of relationships, life is little more than moving from one accomplished task to the next.  Machines can do that. We are raising our children to be powerful people, not simply skilled workers.

Gratitude is not optional – especially because we live in the United States.  What a wonderful life perspective.  I have spent much of my life dealing with psychology, perception and the role our mindset plays in the way that life unfolds for us.  In the vernacular, much of this study is found in the discipline called Positive Psychology, and one of the more powerful tenants is that a persons choice to be happy makes them more effective at everything we do.  In the research, one of the best ways to develop a positive outlook is to focus on the things that we are grateful for.  Amazing that a concept that is seen as revolutionary is being passed on to sixth graders upon their graduation.

Playing with the best always ups your game.  I have said on a number of occasions that a person rises to the level of the challenges that they face.  This is true in sports, its true in performance, and it is certainly true of life.  Whenever we accomplish anything we are building a kind of self-esteem or as I like to call it, a Self-Worth Account.  This thought has caused many to conclude that the best way to build an individuals recognition of self worth is to recognize and reward everything.  However, that may not unlock the power we think it should, because things to easily obtained are not valued in the same way that things difficult to obtain are.  Playing against the best is always hard, it requires the best you have to give.  And when you give the best you have to give in any contest, even if you fail, the investment in Self Worth is far superior to the outcome when you won too easily.

People who are determined to make a difference are never satisfied.  Sometimes this leads to individuals being seen as  perpetually confrontational, but this is not necessarily the case.  When you want to make a difference, you are always asking “What can be done better,” This lack of satisfaction must be tempered, in the life of a man of style and substance, with a graciousness recognizing that the reason things are currently being done the way they are is that it is the best we have found so far. This way, our dissatisfaction and questioning doesn’t come across as the more critical, “What is being done is wrong!” Gracious acknowledgement of the current good combined with a desire to see even more improvement can lead to uplifting and ennobling conversations that leave everyone committed to fine tuning the good that we have already discovered.

Small changes built up over time can change the world.  At a time in history when everyone is being told to find their passion, be a leader, and do what feels best to them, it is amazing that so many of us feel inconsequential.  No matter how good things may be, it can often seem that things aren’t good enough.  We haven’t gotten the right recognition at work, we don’t live in the right neighborhood, we haven’t been invited to the right parties, we haven’t made a difference.  I personally believe that this type of thinking, while easy and common, is the most destructive to individual and societal growth and development, largely because it is self-centered and past focused.  It is about what has been and is comparison based.  To revolutionize life, to truly be committed to style and substance, and individual should be focused on what is being done and never allow themselves to be comparison based unless that is comparison is based on how life situations have improved for someone else because the individual took action.

Hard to believe that there could be so much in a sixth grade graduation, I know, but there it is!  Hope you enjoyed it, I know I did.

 

Eminem, Akbar and The Graduates of 2017!

Spring brings with it one of the most treasured, and sometimes dreaded, experiences in modern civilization: commencement exercises!  These moments serve as both punctuation and milestone.  They are times for reflecting on accomplishment and opportunities for renewed goal setting.

I’ve attended many graduation exercises.  Some have been for myself, some for friends and colleagues and many for students I’ve taught.   The most touching have been for my children and other family members.  As different and varied as they have all been, they have also had many similarities.  They have been filled with celebration, shouts, dances, tears and thanks.  They have also included words of wisdom offered by students and distinguished guests.  

Much of that advice has been offered with earnestness and enthusiasm.  Sometimes the presenters took themselves very seriously, sometimes not.  In most cases, I believe the presenters were giving the informatiom that had proven to be particularly valuable to their personal success.  I believe they wished that these ideas would be treasured, though most realized that the words wold likely be forgotten before the graduates changed out of their caps and gowns and the last strains or pomp and circumstance faded away.  

That’s a shame.  To think that a lifetime of wisdom would be shared and lost within minutes.

So today I wish to share some highlights from a recent commencement that I attended at Snow College.

You can accomplish far more than you think you can if you keep your focus on the next milestone.  Jessica Guymon Cox was one of the student speakers.  She spoke of the power of concentrating on the next goal, relating her educational and life success to experiences she had climbing in the mountains of Utah with her father.

Any life experience can be related to farming, even if it is only removing rocks.  Bryce Wayne Sorenson was the other student speaker.  He spoke of how his life as a farmer prepared him to be successful at school, both in the classroom and in the dorm room prank wars.

Special thanks go to my parents, who did all the heavy lifting associated with my success.  Wayne Stoddard, one of the distinguished guests,  spoke only briefly, but appeared earnest as he credited his parents with having set the stage for the success that he has enjoyed in his life.

Learning how to learn is the most important skill to learn in today’s economy.  Lt. Governor Spencer  and Abby Cox shared the podium, and the rest of the quotes are theirs.  The Lt. Gov. began his talk saying that he was going to use a Winston Churchill quote, and then quoted “If you had one moment, one opportunity . . . ” immediately recognized as the into lines from Eminem’s Lose Yourself.  He had my undivided attention from that point on.  

Don’t buy into the idea that life is primarily about choices between polarized opposites; as Admiral Ackbar said,”It’s a trap!”

HONESTY should always rule your life and choices.

Find someone to fall in love with that makes you a better person, and thenjoy fall in love with them over and over again.

By the way, he did use a quote from Winston Churchill, closely related to the Eminem quote: To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents.  What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.

The graduates who attended the commencement at Snow College may not remember thsee remarks, but I will.  Hopefully you will, as well.  And hopefully we can continue to share these through our words and our lives .

Go forth and conquer.

Try these 5 things to be a sexier spouse!

Being attractive is something that dominates our thoughts collectively.  Our culture seems obsessed with trying to look younger, fitter, better dressed, better accessorized or better employed not because these are good things in themselves but because they make us more attractive to the opposite sex.  

It is neay impossible to check out of the grocery store without being bombarded  by magazine cover stories that promise the secret answer to the all-important question, “How can I be more desirable?”  Women’s magazines or  men’s magazines, it doesn’t seem to matter.  The old adage, “sex sells,” certainly seems to be true, judging by the magazine covers.  

The Internet is filled with articles like this as well.  Click bait, as it is often called, leads to articles which are often only thinly veiled sales programs for supplements, intimate toys or some other solution that promises to solve the problems of boredom in the bedroom and missing marital bliss.

And today I’m guilty of it, just as much as the next writer!

But hopefully you will discover that, while my approach may be the same old same old, perhaps the information I share is less sensational and more substantive with an eye to crafting better relationships.  You see, I think the sexiest individual is one who forms a meaningful connection with their partner.  So, here are 5 things to help men become sexier to their spouses.

1.  Do the dirty jobs.  Taking a cue from Mike Rowe, take the time to do the truly dirty and disgusting jobs around the house.  Clean the toilet, if not the whole bathroom.  Take out the garbage.  Vacuum a room or two.  Do a load of laundry, including her laundry.  And do this regularly, gladly,   And if possible without being told.  This is a measure of shared responsibility and can go a long way to helping your spouse feel like you are her partner, not simply her provider or protector who must be cared for.  And partnership is sexy.

2.  Listen while she speaks.   Not when, while.  Women and men process information differently, as multiple studies and books have indicated.  For many women, speaking is a useful processing tool. Regardless of male or female, when an individual speaks the things that are going around inside the mind, they become more real.  It allows the speaker to evaluate the sanity or craziness of the thoughts, both those leading up to the the thought and the thought itself.  But keep in mind, this is for the benefit of the speaker.  Any nearby listeners are not expected to comment on the thoughts unless invited.  Listen, but wait to be invited before contributing. 

3.  Touch her in loving but non-romantic ways.  After several years, much of the touching between a husband a wife seems to move into one of two categories.  It is either the incidental and perfunctory touching necessitated by sharing space or the habitual goodbye-don’t-forget-your-keys-see-you-later daily life or the hasty and less than frequent romantic touching because the kids are asleep early for the night. These are both healthy, to be sure.  However, my own experience has shown that other types of touching, like holding hands in the car, giving a full and somewhat lingering hug or a spontaneous and short rub of the shoulders when she is feeling tense can be valuable.  They can go a long way to letting her know you are concerned for her, as a partner and person, and not just as a sexual partner when the opportunity arises. 

4.  Notice what she does.  This is reminiscent of the first suggestion, and may give you ideas of the dirty jobs that you should do.  Have you ever looked to see what your spouse does through the day?  Whether she works a full time job or not, she is likely the most involved between the two of you in the tasks of keeping house.  Frequently a simple “Thank you,” when she has done some menial and routine task can go a long way to helping her know that you value her contributions to your shared home life.  And a person who knows their contributions are valued is more likely to feel valued personally as well.

5.  Tell her you love her, often!  Not just after a romp in the sheets.  Not just as you leave for the day, as a quick “luv you!” And not just with cute emojis.  Those are all good and fine, but they shouldn’t be the only times that a wife hears her husband say “I love you.”  She should hear it often, regularly, and in a meaningful way.  It should be something that we say not just out of habit, but thoughtfully and with gratitude, as a way of acknowledging that she has chosen to spend her life with you as her most priceless gift.  And if she hears you talk about loving a sports team or a car or a favorite power tool more than she hears you say how much you love her, you may not seem as sexy to her as you used to.

These are just a few ideas.  There are more.  Books and articles abound on the topic, as I mentioned earlier in this post.  But these just might be a good starting point.  And unlike most of the rest of the suggestions that you see around the Internet, they won’t cost you a dime!

Go Forth and conquer love your spouse.

Breaking Up Ice

Recently in Utah, like many places across the United States, we have seen some magnificent storms roll in.  Last week, as the storms began to wane, I heard a radio report indicating that we had received as much snow in the month as we normally receive throughout the entire winter season and then some.  Along with the snow came shoveling, an activity which I have come to dread.  

On one particular night, my youngest son shoveled prior to my coming home and then together we shoveled again.  Shortly after that, the plow came along our street and deposited a small snow berm between our driveway and the street.  It was late, so my son and I looked at it, mentioned how glad we were that it wasn’t as deep as it could have been, and went to bed.

The next day, instead of digging up the berm, we just drove over it, packing it down and turning previously light and fluffy snow into hard pack.  over several days, this hard pack turned into a sheet of ice.  It was then that I realized that I had made an error, and I enlisted my son’s help in correcting the problem.

We took our two sturdiest shovels and some snow melt crystals and went to work.  And bone jarring work it was.  I took time to teach him the best techniques to break apart the ice sheet, now several inches thick.  The chunks broke apart in a somewhat satisfying display of manliness and brute strength.  After nearly an hour, with the ice diminished but not completely gone, we halted our work for lunch.

Now, several days later, I can’t help but think how much that experience is like so many other things in life.  I often find myself looking at tasks that seem easy, so easy that I put them off for later, only to realize that the best time to have taken care of them was immediately.  When postponed, easy tasks somehow become harder, more challenging, often needlessly so.  By postponing 15 minutes of easy work for another time, we sometimes make for ourselves hours of backbreaking work at another.  

In physical tasks this is easy to see, but it is also true in relationships.  A word of comfort or an apology postponed because it feels awkward may wind up inadvertently communicating disdain or indifference.  And then, the chance to offer support in the future may be summarily rebuffed or ignored. 

I don’t know what my son is learning from this little exercise.  I am learning two things.  The first is that the best time to take care of a problem to advantage of an opportunity is earlier rather than later.  The second is the importance of really good ice melt.