Buckets, lines and outcomes.
Recently, my youngest son and I were having a conversation. Okay, it was less a conversation and more a mini lecture. Hey, he’s just turned eighteen, so I don’t have many more opportunities to lecture him, so I have to take them when they show up. Anyway, the conversation developed from a simple question, “Do you want to come and do a workout with me?” His answer was more a grunt than real words, and it communicated an idea of, “Not particularly, father dear. I have lots of other things to do that require me to sit in front of my computer screen for the next four hours, much like I have the entire day.”
That’s when the lecture kicked in.
Now, I’m not going to replay the lecture blow by blow, but as I talked at and with him, I started to realize that what I was saying to him is something that every human being on the planet should hear at some point or another. So I decided that the next blog post would contain the insights from that interaction. So here they are.
You trade a day of your life, 24 hours, for the outcomes of the day. You either move forward or move backward in each facet of life, a little bit at a time. Keep in mind, we will all be busy. The twenty four hours will be filled with something, that isn’t the question. The question is whether or not the things we are filling our days with will help us make progress or not.
Imagine that each facet of life had two buckets. One bucket was for making progress. The other was for not making progress. Simple right? Now, imagine if each day, you had six coins, one for each facet of life (Spiritual, Family, Business, Physical, Mental/Emotional, Social). You are only guaranteed the coins for today; you can’t save them. Each coin has to be put in a bucket. Either you make progress in each facet, or you don’t.
Now it doesn’t take hours to make progress in each facet. Sometimes it takes as little as fifteen minutes to make progress. But making progress is always intentional. It won’t happen by accident. You have to choose to take action that leads in the direction of growth, of Making Progress. If you don’t, the coin automatically goes in the bucket for Not Making Progress.
Now visualize that the buckets have lines on them, and the lines are labeled. On the Making Progress bucket, they would be labeled with desirable outcomes, like gaining confidence, or improved muscle tone, or a stronger sense of connection to the universe. Likewise, on the Not Making Progress bucket, this lines are labeled with outcomes that are undesirable, like self doubt, or heart disease, or a sense of isolation. The challenge is that we can’t see how close we are to any of the marks in advance. We have to fill the bucket without knowing when those benefits will be realized, just that they are there. Positive and negative outcomes, they creep up on us, a little at a time, all based on the small, almost insignificant choices of the day.
During my chat with my son, this is where I started to get emotional.
I told him that the way you win is by doing what needs to be done to get the positive outcomes each day. I told him that this is what I mean when I talk about Winning the Day. And the more days we win, the more likely we will have desirable outcomes in our lives.
Winning the day, each and every day, is hard. Some days, we win in all the facets. Other days, we are lucky to win in a single facet. But the effects are cumulative. So working each and every day to win is critical.
That’s what I told my son.
He worked out with me.
And tonight, to win the day, I wrote this blog post.
And tomorrow, we start all over again. And so do you. So I guess the big question is, what are you going to do to Win the Day?
Recently while playing games with my teenage children, I heard them talk about “the grind.” At the time, I thought that they were referring to the day-in-day-out workaday grind that is so much a part of adult life. I was about to ask, ” When did you too become so aware of adult concerns?”
Several years ago, I set a goal to complete a 200 mile bicycle road race. At the time I set the goal, I hadn’t even cycled more than 100 miles in a month, but I said to myself, “Yeah, I think I could do that.” I tentatively set the goal to complete this monster event in the summer of my fiftieth year.
That’s this summer!
Now, in the back of my mind, I had been thinking about this for a long time. I have been training somewhat consistently for several years now. I am probably more fit today than I was 20 years ago. But still this monster goal seemed undoable.
But I had committed to it, right? So I started to get ready. I’m well on my way, and while there are likely going to be more posts about this event, I thought I would take a few moments to share a few insights I have had at the beginning of the process.
1 – I prioritize my time better. When I have a goal in mind, I will always find ways to work it into my daily life. The bigger the goal, the more effort and time it will take, and the more I have to be thoughtful about making time in my life to accomplish it.
2 – The goal is a puzzle to solve. When I start looking at the goal like this one, I start setting smaller goals, training objectives, and schedules. In this way, I am forced to get intentional about planning and preparing, and not just the obvious factors of training. There are logistics to be handled and planned for, travel and time off to be arranged, and all kinds of various events to be planned around. Solving puzzles like these can help keep the brain active, which is immensely valuable, especially as we age.
3 – It helps me clarify the other important things in my life. When I started thinking about all of the training that I would have to do for the event, I started to realize how much of a toll this event would take on my family and other activities as well. I have to be honest, I wanted to accomplish the goal of competing in the event, but I didn’t want to put my family on hold completely for 4-6 months. Clarifying that, I inquired with my family and some friends and found a relay option for the event. Doing it this way, I can accomplish the big goal, but I got a chance to remind myself of how important the other facets are in my life, and that I needed to find a way to balance them all.
4 – I had to be public. Small goals require small commitment and small efforts. As a result, we could complete them and sometimes no one else even knows we did anything. With this goal, especially when I decided to pursue the relay option, I had to put myself out there and try to form a team. That meant telling people, lots of people, in the hopes of finding three others who would be willing to join me. I found them, and now we are all committed in very public ways to people around us.
5 – I have something to look forward to. I remember reading an article some time ago, about the effect on people’s moods when they look forward to a vacation. Everything is handled better, life seems less depressing, and generally people are more optimistic about the difficulties they face when there is something that they are looking forward to. I am finding that the same thing is true with this bike event in my life. Having this thing to look forward to, and all of the little milestones along the way, has helped me discover new energy and enthusiasm that had been waning a bit over the last several months.
Of course, now the real work starts. We are just under four months from the big day, and I have quite a bit of training to do to make sure I am event ready. But that is a post for another day.
If you are feeling like you don’t have the energy or enthusiasm in your life that you wish you had, I suggest you find a goal that (in your opinion) scares you a little bit. Go out on a limb, commit yourself to it, be public, and see if the act of working toward something doesn’t bring you a measure of rejunivation!
Go forth and conquer!
I began my blogging experience a few years ago around my daughter’s birthday. The post I wrote at that time was reflective, emotional and perhaps more than a little self indulgent. I was thinking about all of the things that had transpired in her young life, about the adventures we had shared and about all of the adventures I was anticipating to come.
This year, I turned 50. As I contemplated my milestone and the opportunity to commemorate it with it’s own blog post, I found myself again becoming reflective and emotional, but I was trying to avoid the self indulgence. Instead, it was a little self persecutorial.
When I was in my early 20’s, I really thought that my life would be more meteoric than mundane. I had heard people tell me that I had potential and try to encourage me to use my time and talents to further their objectives. As a result, I had a lot of mementos and accomplishments in things that mattered to others, but never really seemed to rise to the level that I had expected of myself. And now, at 50, I found myself wondering whether or not all of that was time wasted.
Needless to say, the birthday was a mixed bag.
I celebrated with friends and family, and appreciated the time I shared. It was delightful. But nagging in the back of my mind was the thought that I had missed out on things that were really important. I thought if people near my age, some younger, and couldn’t help but compare what I had done (or not done) with what those people had accomplished.
And as often happens, I came up wanting.
At least initially.
It was then that I forced myself to re-evaluate what I was measuring myself against. We’ve all done this. We compare ourselves to others, to their social media posts, to their good fortune, to their accomplishments, to all of the visible things that they choose to put on display. We do this without ever really thinking about the negative aspects of their lives that are surely there. They are there because everyone struggles with negatives. It’s just part of human life.
So I started to evaluate my birthday not so much in terms of milestones on the way to the goals that I hadn’t accomplished but according to the trailmarkers that helped me clarify the path that I was on. Here are the types of trailmarkers that I am choosing to focus on:
What is the quality of my significant relationships like? Let’s be clear, I’m not the perfect husband or father. Let’s be honest, no one can claim the title of perfect. But as a milestone, my perfection of perfect far outstripped the reality of my life in this facet. Until I asked myself, “Do my grown kids still come by the house? Do they make time to spend with me? Do my kids who are still at home actively try to avoid spending time with me? Are they willing to just go for a drive when I ask, to run errands? Does my wife welcome my company when she is just driving to the store?” The answer to all of these questions were postive! And compared to what things could be like, this was all moving in a good direction. Positive trailmarker 1, check!
What has been my experience with my career? I have to be honest, I expected to be making a lot more money by now. I expected to be in a more glamorous position, to be enjoying a level of influence within my company and within my industry that far exceeds what my reality is. But re-examining the question, I was again impressed by the positive direction that things were taking. I have remained employed in the same organization when many people were let go. I have expanded my position and my influence within the organization, helping it to continue to make strides toward achieving goals and initiatives. And in other ways, I am helping people inside and outside of my company to be more successful in their careers.
What has been my experience with my physical facet? I have never won a Super Bowl, a world championship in anything, or even anything more prestigious physically than a local bike race, and even that I have only done once. But again, a shift of focus shows a very different perspective. I have completed multiple 100 mile rides, a marathon, two half marathons, multiple 5 and 10 K races and more than a few Obstacle Course Races, like Spartan. I am controlling my diabetes wisely, and have good endurance and flexibility. I can still play golf with one of my sons, and overall, I’m in great health, something that many of my peers struggle with.
How are my hobbies? I write, I sing and perform. These are my hobbies. I also have a YouTube channel and participate as a regular contributor for a podcast. None of these are changing the world, but in all of them, I acquit myself well. I sing with a fairly well known choir, people are happy to see me at auditions. I have a few subscribers for both this blog and my channel and our podcast just won an award this past year. Overall, these may not be things that movies are made of, but I’m busy doing things I enjoy for people who enjoy what I do. I think that trailmarker is pretty clearly pointing toward success and happiness.
How’s my spiritual life? I’m certainly not perfect, I’m not even sure I qualify as holy. But I am certainly striving for a measure of calm and connectedness to the universe and others that seems to bring me joy. I treat people with kindness, finding things about them that I can genuinely appreciate, and I express that appreciation. I have a spiritual discipline that brings me joy and peace, and I follow it well more days than not. That is a pretty clear trailmarker toward peace and happiness.
So, after taking careful stock of what I have done, it seems that my trailmarkers are indicating that I’m heading in a pretty good direction.
I wish the same for you! Go forth and conquer!