mindset

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I may have mentioned this a time or two before, but the way you view something can really impact your behavior. This is just as true when you’re learning something new.

Along those lines, I got this email from a health coach friend of mine, Jennifer Brown, who works for OPTAVIA. I enjoyed the content and thought it was more than worth passing on, so here it is:

Growth vs. Fixed Mindset

According to a Stanford University study, researcher and psychology professor Carol Dweck, demonstrates that people cultivate one of two mindsets in a learning experience. In a fixed mindset, people believe that their qualities are innate and unable to change. They also believe that pure talent leads to success with no effort required.

On the other hand, those that have a growth mindset believe that learning and intelligence can improve with time and experience. They believe that their effort has a direct impact on their success, so they are usually more willing to put in the time and work since they believe that their abilities are just the starting point for potential.

It’s important to develop a growth mindset to realize your ability to succeed, no matter what obstacle you may face. It can also have a positive impact on your self-esteem and relationships. Here are some tips for developing a growth mindset:


View challenges as opportunities.
 Embrace challenges as an opportunity to learn and grow. The more we challenge ourselves to achieve a healthier lifestyle, the more opportunities we open up for ourselves.

  1. Choose learning over approval. If we’re more concerned with getting acceptance from others, we lose perspective on the real benefits for reaching our goal. It’s important to focus on improving ourselves for our own benefit to increase our growth potential.

  2. Focus on the process. Major change usually does not happen overnight, so it’s important to be realistic about the timeline for reaching our goals. Implementing new, healthy habits in the learning process will make them more likely to stick over time.

  3. Reward your effort. Set mini milestone goals to reward yourself for all of the effort and progress that you’ve made along your journey. For example, if you’ve stuck to a healthy sleep schedule for two consecutive weeks, treat yourself to a massage or movie date with a friend or loved one.

  4. Reflect on your learning. Journaling is a great way to reflect on the new lessons you’ve learned. Keep track of healthy tips and also document your physical and emotional feelings to allow the lessons to sink in. This can help identify what is working well or if there are any changes that need to be made. 

authentic

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Authenticity has been a big buzz word for a few years now. These days, calling a product or person “authentic” is high praise.

But I have a problem with it. 

Now, I’ve got nothing wrong with being authentic in itself, but when you’re trying to be authentic or when your authentic appearance is part of some ulterior motive, that’s another thing altogether. 

This quote sums it up pretty well:

“Sincerity - if you can fake that, you've got it made.”

― George Burns


There’s another side to that coin. If something is practiced and performed, does that make it dishonest? I expect all manner of content creators have asked this of themselves.

As a side note, I felt like the movie Galaxy Quest was a pretty enjoyable little exploration of that issue.

In my very brief experience recording for a podcast, this is something that has come up frequently. Even though I’m talking off the cuff for most of it, the whole thing still feels like a performance in a way. Knowing I’m being recorded and that the recording will be freely available online has a very heavy influence on how I think and what I say.

I don’t expect that will ever change, but I also don’t believe it’s necessarily a bad thing.

Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was a scripted show, but it felt as genuine as anything I’ve seen. On the other hand, many ”reality” shows feel completely fake.

To be authentic is to be true to form, the real you. But what does that mean exactly? It seems to me a performance can be more revealing, more vulnerable, than a candid recording. Not always though.

This is still pretty fresh for me and I’m sure I’ll have more to say later, but I’ll leave you with these last few thoughts:

When you pour yourself into your artwork, whatever form that may take, it’s impossible to hide the real you. On the other hand, if you’re trying hard to be yourself, you’re probably failing at it.

a beautiful game

Some time ago I finished Patrick Rothfuss’s book, The Wise Man’s Fear, the second volume in The Kingkiller Chronicle. It’s not a book I’d recommend for everyone, but I did enjoy it. Now if only Rothfuss would hurry up and finish the series instead of working on all those side projects! I only kid (mostly).

Anyways, there’s this game in the story called Tak. Though only briefly described in the story, it bears similarities with Go. I only just learned that notable game designer James Ernest actually worked with Rothfuss to create a real life version of the game, which was successfully funded on Kickstarter. Neat, huh?

Anyways, in the book, the main character Kvothe plays Tak against Bredon, a mysterious acquaintance who later becomes a friend. Though Kvothe is ingenious and a quick learner, he has a hard time beating Bredon. At one point, Kvothe celebrates after a near victory, but he receives no congratulations from his opponent.

Bredon instead corrects Kvothe’s approach. He’s been going about it all wrong. The point of the game is not to win, the point is to play a beautiful game.

Obviously, this isn’t just about the game, it’s a metaphor for life, and one I find profound. 

There are so many ways we can “win” at life (I mean the real thing, not the board game with the same name).

Winning (at least in the world’s eyes) usually involves acquiring wealth, property, possessions, fame, family, or even making significant contributions to society.

There is nothing inherently wrong with any of those, but it is possible (I’d even say easier) to gain them without having played a beautiful game. On the other hand, it is possible to have not gained those things, and yet to have played (lived) beautifully.

But what does a beautiful game look like, exactly?

I think the Apostle Paul says it pretty well in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

When the goal is to live and love beautifully, we are the only thing standing in our way.

No loss, no defeat, no setback can deter you from it. The beautiful game, much like Tak, is simple yet deep. It is easily understood but takes a lifetime to master.

So, how’s your game going?

attention

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In the past, I’ve made a big deal about focus and how important it is to maintain. I still stand by my words. Or most of them anyway, generally in the same order they were written.

That said, research is showing a particular quality of creative people: something called a leaky attention. I know, sounds kinda messy.

Apparently, the propensity to shift attention often can lead to more creative thought. It makes sense to me;  creativity often means noticing the things other people ignore. And most creatives I’ve met are pretty easily distracted.

Hey what’s that over there?

Whether it’s noticing the sound of a paper bag crunching underfoot, a particular shade of blue painted on the wall, an unusual bug crawling across the table, or the fact that the man in the purple trench coat has been following you for the last three blocks—creatives have a special ability to take in their surroundings and use it toward a creative act.

But there’s a catch, this leaky attention can also become a hindrance when attempting to actually produce creative work, it can distract you from finishing the work itself—or even getting started for that matter. Hey, someone should write a course on how to overcome that. Wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more.

As the Psychology Today article points out:

Artistic creativity is a delicate balance of spontaneity and deliberation. 

I’ve found this to be true in my own life. There is a time to be open, to breathe in the inspiration around you. But once that spark has ignited a flame, you must nourish and protect it. You must concentrate your efforts on building that flame into a bonfire, sheltering it from the winds of distraction. Like a vacuum cleaner, you’ve gotta flip the switch from intake to output. However, unlike my metaphors, fires and vacuums don’t mix. You can take my word on that one.

There are times when it’s best to pay attention and times when you’re better off taking a rain check on it. It takes time and practice to learn the difference. Still, there’s nothing keeping you from trying it now.

But first, I recommend ditching that trench-coated creeper on your trail. Based on his fashion sense, he’s either up to no good or he’s a distant relative of Grimace. Either way, not one to be trusted.

And here’s the link to that article one more time:

The Cognitive Balancing Act of Creativity

agency

How much control do you really have over your own life?

That’s a tough one. It’s a question I’ve often wrestled with and I’m not going to pretend I’ve found the perfect answer. 

I can tell you this much: it’s somewhere between absolute control and none at all.

I know. Helpful, right?

There’s a benefit to finding the balance here. If you believe you have no control, you might wonder what the point is in trying. If you think you have total control, you’ll be frustrated and disappointed when, inevitably, things don’t go your way.

Somewhere, there is a place of healthy surrender that allows you to accept what you can’t change and a determination to change what you can.

If this is sounding familiar to you, it’s likely because I’ve touched on it before.

There’s a word that’s come up a lot this past year, one I’ve rested my thoughts upon like a bag of potatoes on a scale. The word: Agency.

Just what is agency?

From wikipedia, agency is:

The capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices.

Even in Christian circles (and squares too) there are some major disagreements on how much is up to us. Is God doing everything here or do I have some say in the matter? It all comes down to agency.

In story writing, the necessity to create characters with agency comes up again and again. Characters with strong desires and inner drives—the kind that make things happen—tend to be more interesting than those who just get bullied around by the plot and don’t put up a fight.

Indeed, some of the best stories (in my opinion, and probably yours as well) are those in which the protagonist refuses to back down or give up the fight, no matter how grim the odds. The movies IP Man and Unbroken come to mind here. Sorry, Japanese, you don’t get a lot of love in either of those. Does it help if I say Studio Ghibli is amazing? I mean, come on, a cat bus? Wow.

Where were we? Oh yeah, so where does agency come from? Do we muster it up ourselves or is it granted to us from a higher power? Why do some seem to have more of it than others?

Quite frankly, my dear, I’m not quite sure. There is much to consider about agency.

Like most things, it’s helpful to start with a few investigative questions:

What does agency look like in your life and in the lives of people around you?

Is it something you strive for?

Do you take responsibility for your actions?

Do you own the work you do?

Is anything truly yours?

Like I said, I don’t have the answers. But it’s something to think about isn’t it?

How about this: when I figure it all out, I’ll let you know. Until then, I’m going to try my darnedest to do my best at the things that matter most. But at the same time, I want to work on being humble and thankful for even getting the opportunity to try. 

Can any of us really say we’re the masters of our destiny? Or maybe secret agents of agency?

I have my doubts, but, at the end of the day, I’m just glad to be here and I’m glad to be me. And I’m glad you’re here too.

pain zone

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There’s the cone zone and the danger zone. But what about the pain zone?

Let’s be honest, no one really likes pain, at least not when it’s happening to them. Let me rephrase that, no sane person likes pain. I myself happen to have a very strong aversion to the stuff. I must be quite sane.

Pain is not fun. Pain is not enjoyable. Pain is highly unpleasant.

However, pain is a great indicator when something is wrong. Those who are unable to experience pain often end up causing themselves severe damage. They are a danger to themselves.

But what about those unwilling to experience it? It’s another sort of danger.

For many, pain is a limiter. Once they reach the threshold of pain, they stop. For others, it’s an open invitation.

After reading this post from Pressfield (who else?), I can’t stop thinking about what it means to be deep in the pain zone, and how to willingly stay there.

It’s a very short post, but in case you just can’t be bothered, here’s the gist: the difference between someone who is good and someone who is great is their capacity to go deeper into the pain zone and stay longer.

Personally, I’ve been holding this thought while doing my regular sets of pushups. Even when it’s burning and I want to collapse to the floor, I think, can I stay in the pain zone a little longer? Can I do just a few more?

Not all pain is physical. Indeed, some of the greatest pains can’t be felt in the normal sense. 

How many get stuck, unwilling to press on because their own personal pain zone is too much for them to bear? 

Does that pain zone keep you from accomplishing your goals and reaching your dreams? Does it leave you stuck in Decent-ville, right outside the threshold of Great-topia?

I invite you to feel a little bit more of that burn, to let the sting endure just a moment longer before you back down. Then, when you come back to it again, stronger than before, go just a little further. 

Is it fun? Heck no. But when you learn how to endure and you finally watch your  pain lead to progress, you’re gonna smile through the tears.

self check

When our daughter is getting out of control, my wife will often pull her aside and lovingly suggest (or strongly require) that she do a “self check”.

The self check is a reminder to pause and reassess how things are going, whether or not she’s behaving the way she ought. Sure, it doesn’t always work, and it’s still her call whether she’s going to make the right decision, but it often helps bring her back from the edge. It helps us temper our own anger as well.

The self check can be a handy practice, not just for kids on the verge of crazy, but also for your own personal discipline.

I’ve been reading through Dr. Wayne Andersen’s promotional booklet Stop. Challenge. Choose. It’s mostly about recognizing our habits and turning the unhealthy ones into healthy ones. At least, that’s what the parts I’ve read are about.

It’s Andersen’s own brand of the self check:

-Pause when you’re faced with a choice that could lead to unhealthy action.

-Confront the temptation by considering whether it will lead you in the direction you want to go.

-Make a decision.

Besides just examining my daily habits, I’ve been trying to pause and do my own form of self check. At present, I’m focusing on my posture (it can get pretty bad) and breathing.

At different times throughout the day, I’ll do a self check to assess where I’m at and what sorts of thoughts I’m holding. Then I’ll straighten my back, and breathe deep. It actually makes a difference. I’ve noticed I can think more clearly and just feel better and more emotionally stable.

I’ve even found it helps promote creative thought as I end up being less distracted and more open to new and exciting ideas.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy to remember to do this and it’s not like I’m transported to some happy place where everything’s peachy and I’m floating on a cloud. But at least I come away a little more refreshed and with a better perspective.

So, next time you feel out of control or faced with temptation, try a self check. Take a little break and a big breath. Think about where you’re heading. Examine your thought patterns. Then straighten up and press on (hopefully in a better direction).

practice round

While playing board games—something I try to do regularly—there’s a little tactic I’ve found helpful for new players: the practice round.

When one or more people are unfamiliar with a particular game, it’s useful to play a round or two of a pretend game so they can get some idea of the rules and strategy of the game. Then the pretend game is over and the real game starts as if the practice had never happened. This helps beginners avoid making costly mistakes right at the start.

Now, I don’t do this all the time. Some games are easy enough even for the uninitiated. But some players will request a practice round and sometimes I’ll suggest it  for more complicated games or when I know the person playing may need a little help.

Practice rounds are great and occasionally they’ll go well enough that the players decide to just continue on as a real game rather than starting over. But I’ve never just stopped playing a game after a practice round. Any game worth playing is worth playing for real, right up until the end where a winner is determined.

When it comes to the creative calling, there are those who live in a continual state of practice round and those who play for real, win or lose.


I’m currently reading Pressfield’s The War of Art and in it he writes about the difference between the professional and the amateur. I think the practice round serves as an excellent example of an amateur’s mindset.

Don’t misunderstand me. There is a time for practice rounds, a time to test the waters and see if you’re ready to commit to learning a craft. But at some point you’ve got to decide whether you’re going to lay it down or go all in.

I spoke with a friend a few weeks ago who told me of the expensive recording equipment he’d purchased in order to begin making films for his business. It was a big cost, and he hadn’t anticipated some of the purchases. Still, he knew it was necessary if he was going to make top-notch videos for his work.

There’s no doubt in my mind whether or not he was serious about his pursuit. For him, practice time had ended and the games had begun.

I’d also like to point out that I’m not dogging on practice itself. The time and patience it requires to learn a new skill through repetition is all part of the game. What I am saying is that you won’t create something worthwhile by merely dabbling. You’ve got to get serious.

I once heard Brandon Sanderson relate the act of creative writing to a performance art, something you rehearse over and over until you’ve got it down just right.

Perhaps every creative undertaking is a performance in some way, even when the creator is both actor and audience. It’s a determination to go through your lines, reveal the inner workings of your character, and tell your story the best way you know how.

Even if it’s all an act, it’s not just for show. Whether you’re memorizing your lines and placement, sitting down to write the next scene in your book, or trekking around town with a camera and microphone for interviews, it’s all part of the buildup to the big finale, the final score.

Sure, commitment is hard. Games take time to learn and play. Any game worth playing has risk—the possibility of losing. But that’s what makes the win feel so good. Even a loss can be a valuable lesson, one that’ll equip you for the next game. 

When you really love the game, you have fun playing no matter what the outcome. Because sometimes a win is more than just a victory, it’s knowing you played the game well.

Besides, nobody wins in the practice round.

positive

Whether you’re still holding strong to your New Years commitment, or you’re just trying to be a committed person in general, your attitude will have a major impact on the results.

Some say attitude is everything. I don’t think I’d go that far, but it is super important.

The way you feel about a thing or task has a big impact on how you treat it. If keeping to that low-carb diet seems impossible, you won’t do it. If you don’t think you can become a better pickleball player, you probably won’t. But if you look at such activities and habits with a hopeful, expectant attitude then you’ll likely stick to them and improve.

The sage words from Diamond Dallas Page in his yoga video series keep forcing their way in my thoughts,

“If you think you can or if you think you can’t, you’re right.”

Just after that, the venerable DDP turns and looks straight into the camera (I mean, your soul) and says, “Come on, you can do this!”

You know what, he’s got a point, even if his coaching methods are a bit cheesy. Then again, he’s buff and healthy, so he probably knows what he’s talking about.

When it comes to animals and children, positive reinforcement has often shown to be a more effective training method than the negative version. It helps to catch them doing the right thing and heap on the praise and treats. 

Don’t bother with cats though, they just do whatever the heck they want. No amount of catnip can get them to dance Merengue. Trust me on this.

Rewards and encouragement are a solid path to good actions getting repeated. But how often do we shut ourselves down with our own negative self talk?

“It’s too hard”

“I’ll never get there”

“It’s not worth the effort”

“I’m just not good enough”

I’ve caught myself saying these more often than I’d like to admit. The problem is, these statements only become truthful because we repeat them until we believe them.

It’s time to replace such statements with something more helpful.

“It’s worth a try”

“I can only get better”

“At least I can give it my best”

“I can do this”

Can these statements enable us to do humanly impossible things like jump to the moon? Well, no. But wait … no, still no.

However, they can change our attitude toward what is possible and get us to jump higher and farther than we ever believed we could. You just can’t know your limits until you try and push them.

What creative effort have you talked yourself out of? Why not give yourself a little positive pep talk (and surround yourself with encouraging friends) then try again? Where will it take you? You’ll never know until you try. 

Come on, I’m positive you can do this!

comfort and new

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If you haven’t heard it already, welcome to another year!

As for me, I appreciate having a designated date on the calendar to begin again. It seems to come at just the right time, before I can spend too long regretting all my holiday indulgence.

Having a new year allows an opportunity for hope, for assessment, for recommitment. It’s a time for change.

But change isn’t always easy. It’s unnatural, it takes effort.

One of the big problems with embracing the new is that it’s not familiar or comfortable.

I think of a stuffed animal my niece has—a cow she calls her “Moomoo.” It is old, falling apart, and even when it’s washed, it still looks dirty. But man does she love that thing! It’s special to her, a reliable source of comfort.

Now, there are good reasons for comfort. It’s important for children to have things that give them comfort in a world filled with new, and often frightening, experiences.

And the recent holidays can and should be a time of comfort and joy to you. It should be a time to relax and take a break from the daily grind and instead enjoy the company of loved ones.

But, after all that, there comes a time to leave the old and comfortable at home and head out in exploration of the strange and new. 

Do you know any adults who are still clinging to those tattered old comfortable things in their lives, refusing to let go? Often it can become an unhealthy bond, such as an eating or drinking habit, a relationship, or a source of entertainment. Let’s not judge them too harshly, we all have our particular vices. The call of couch and blanket is a difficult one to resist, no matter your age. And all those screens with endless shows, games, and social media posts, who can say no?

Most of us will admit we know that too much of these things aren’t good for us, but they’re just so stinking comfortable. We’re used to the lifestyle they feed. Sometimes we don’t even enjoy them anymore—they’re old and tattered—yet we can’t quit them because of the habits we’ve formed around them.

And yet, change is possible. Newness awaits.

Now is as good a time as any for a change. Sleeping in and hanging around the house in your flannel onesie was fine for the holidays, but the New Year is here. I bid you, throw off the covers, clean up, get dressed, and take a confident step outside of your front door into the bright and brisk morning of new. Hey Christopher Robin, bring your Teddy bear along for the ride if you like, just don’t let him hold you back.