What are you thinking?

November 20, 2019

A quote today from the Jack’s Winning Words Blog got me to thinking – “It’s not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well.”  (Rene Descartes)

Rene Descartes

Maybe Descartes should have added “or to use it at all”. How many times have you seen news stories or heard about some incident  and immediately what popped into your mind was the question, “What were they thinking?”

Maybe they weren’t thinking at all. Perhaps their actions were being driven by unbridled anger, such as in the numerous “road rage” stories that we hear about so often. Perhaps preconceived prejudices or unfounded fears had taken over, as we witness in the many stories in the news about black people being discriminated against in restaurants and elsewhere. In many news stories, we are told that they probably weren’t thinking at all because their minds had been clouded by drugs or alcohol.  In all of those cases there is no good answer to the question, What where they thinking?

Jack wrote in his post that he admired Descartes because he was not afraid to use his mind and to disagree with others in his day. It is also important to use one’s mind to question your own thoughts, opinions and actions or reactions to things that are occurring around you. I have not yet mastered the ability to completely shut out old prejudices or preconceived ideas from my past; however, I have developed more awareness of when they take over my mind or cause a specific reaction. I am more able now to stop myself quicker from proceeding down a path that those prejudices may be dictating. When I stop and ask myself the question, “What were you thinking?” the answer most often is that I wasn’t really thinking, I was letting something else control my emotions and actions or reactions. That pause to think allows me to regain some measure of control.  I only wish that I took that pause to think more often.

Perhaps the best take away from today it that you can’t go through life on cruise control or auto-pilot. Just like current experiments with autonomous cars, there are too many things that may occur in life that require that you keep your mind focused upon the steering wheel of your life.  That means using your mind, as Descartes recommended and constantly being aware of what you are thinking and (more importantly) why you are thinking that way. It is important to examine and challenge the thoughts and actions of others; however, it is just as important to challenge the basis of your own thoughts and actions and to ask yourself the question – What were you thinking?

The real challenge for us all is to move from the past tense in that little phrase and become more aware in the present of what we are thinking and why. That is what Descartes was saying when he advised that we use our minds well. It means staying in control by constantly being aware of your own thoughts, preconceived or otherwise, and making better decisions about what you allow to control your emotions and reactions to events in life. Just keep asking yourself, “What am I thinking ?” and, like Descartes, keep questioning, why?

Use your mind well today.  What are you thinking?


Be happy with what you have…

November 18, 2019

As we approach the Christmas season (which some stores started before Halloween), some focus upon what they don’t have and makes lists of things that they want, in hopes of getting someone to give those things to them. Many of those people  believe that they won’t  be happy until they get all of the things that they want. Back in 2015, I wrote the post below, inspired by a quote from my favorite blog. It still applies, today.

“Just remember there is someone out there that is more than happy with less than what you have.”  (Unknown) From the Jack’s Winning Words blog.

Sadly, we live in a society that conditions us to be unhappy with what we have and to always be striving for more. Whatever we have is not enough to make us happy because someone else has more or different things.  Now there is certainly nothing wrong with striving to get ahead, but one has to stop every now and then and ask, “Ahead of what?” Very few of us live in survival mode, scraping along for our next meal or a place to sleep tonight; but there are those people among us. In general we are able to provide at least food and shelter for our family and for most a good deal beyond just those necessities. But, are we happy with what we have; or, do we constantly want more, in the belief that having more will make us happier?

One of the most unhappy men in the Bible was the man who asked Jesus what he needed to do to get into heaven. When Jesus replied that he should sell everything that he had and give the money to the poor and follow him; the man wandered off unhappily muttering to himself, for we are told that he was very wealthy and obviously did not want to give up that wealth. Are we the same way today? Do we reach and reach and reach for what we don’t have, instead of being happy with what we do have and what would we do if Jesus asked us to sell everything that we have, give the money to the poor and follow him? Jesus might be a pretty lonely guy in today’s world.

The key to being happy with what you have, it seems to me, is to change your focus from things to people, from possessions to relationships, from those that you’d love to be like to those who love you as you are. Learn to express your love for them without holding out a gift of some sort or buying a new possession to share with them. If you ever get to an honest state with them, they’d probably tell you that they could care less about your car or your house or your boat or any other of your possessions. What they value is your time and attention; your love and affection; you sharing of yourself and not your possessions.

What happens when you get to that state of understanding and happiness with your loved ones is that you grant yourself permission to be happy with what you have. That doesn’t mean that you just quit your job or don’t accept the next promotion or even stop looking for a bigger house someday. Giving yourself permission to be happy with what you’ve got just means that you will no longer use the pursuit of possessions as the measure of your life and your happiness. You stop keeping score on that scorecard, because you’ve started keeping score based upon the smiles on the faces of the one that you love; and those smiles come because you were there sharing your love and not because of what you brought with you. Once you change to that focus getting the next possession will be much less important to than attending the next little league game or the father daughter dance or maybe going out to dinner with your significant other.

Dale Carnegie  put it well when he said – “Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.”

May you find happiness in what you have. Then, it will be a merry Christmas indeed.


Knowing when not to battle…

November 15, 2019

Jack used this quote today in his blog, Jack’s Winning Words“Be selective of your battles, for sometimes peace is better than being right.”

That’s certainly good advice in politics and for life. How many of us have had to implement the old advice to “bite your tongue” or maybe to heed the advice that Archie often gave Edith in the Archie Bunker show to “stifle yourself”? Sometimes swallowing your pride or your need to be right about something is the better choice.

The use of the word “peace” in the quote is interesting. Obviously, it refers to being at peace with those with whom you might disagree. In the current political environment, one might substitute the word civility. Things would certainly be better in Washington if the politicians could find a way to act with civility towards those with whom they disagree.

Another aspect of the peace that the quote is alluding to is the ability of being at peace with your decision not to do battle just because you believe that you are right. The decision not to jump into battle over an issue requires that you pause long enough to consider the circumstances and the worth of doing battle. Is it worth possibly losing a friend? If you were to win this battle, does the other party have to lose? What possible benefit will accrue to you for having won this battle? What loss is there really in not doing battle? I think if we all stopped long enough to consider one or two or those kinds of questions there would be far less battling going on and more of us would be at peace with our decisions not to do battle over every disagreement.

The final aspect of the quote that bears some introspection is the final word – “right”. Right by what standard? Right based upon what proof? Right from what perspective? If one is “right” based upon unproven and unsupportable prejudices are they really right? If one is right, based upon” facts” that are not true are they really right? If being “right” is based solely upon ones opinion, rather than facts or proof, how right is it really? If I’m “right” must you be wrong; or, are we looking at things from two completely different perspectives? Can we both be “right” at the same time? Why not?

So, consider these thoughts today, as you encounter situations in which the impulse to do battle because you are “right” pops up. Try instead to be at peace with your decision not to waste your energy on skirmishes that really have little meaning or value in your life. That is not to say that you should be passive in all things. Rather, you should pick the battles that are really worth fighting because they involve things for which winning the battle will make a real difference in your life or the lives of others.

Have a peaceful day. It’s the “right” thing to do.


Decide to be happy today…

November 14, 2019

In today’s post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog, Jack used a couple of quotes that seem to fit together and which lead to my thoughts about the topic.

“The world of the happy is quite different from that of the unhappy.”  (Ludwig Witherspoon)

“We are about as happy as we make up our mind to be.”  (Abraham Lincoln)

Do you know someone who seems always to be unhappy? How about someone who seems to be happy all the time? Which would you rather be around today? Why?

The first quote that Jack used gives you the best clue about why you might choose to be around the happy person – their world is a happy, pleasant place to be. There are smiles and laughter and good feelings that are contagious; whereas the dark world of the unhappy person is foreboding and full of frowns and tears and sorrow – not a pleasant place to be. The two worlds are different and those who choose to abode in it with them are impacted by that difference.

So, the choice is to be dragged down into an unhappy world or to be lifted up in joy by a happy environment.

It is now important to understand what Lincoln said. You have the choice to make each morning about which world you will live in that day and which world you will let the public see. Your world, and your day, will be quite different, depending upon which choice you make.

You may retort, “That’s easy for you to say, you aren’t facing the problems that I have today.” Before you start sharing that pity party routine, let us establish that you are correct that no one else has exactly the same challenges facing them as you do. However, there are also people facing much worse situations and problems than you have; so, you can start by being thankful that you are not in their situations. That may lead you to realize that you should be thankful to be alive, so that you can deal with your issues. You are already one-step better off than the alternative and a step closer to a happy place.

Perhaps those two realizations will have already led you to thanking God for another day and for not being in a worse place; but, if not, take time now for that. While you are thanking God, ask for His help in facing your issues and the day. You might be surprised how fast God can put a smile on your face after you have said the little prayer, “Not my will, but thy will be done.” Your world will be different. You may not think of yourself as being happy. Perhaps you feel that you are just less unhappy. That’s OK. It will show on your face and in how you interact with others. You might be surprised how much more people want to interact with you when they see you as happy, rather than seeing a sourpuss. People would much rather interact with a Cheerful Cherise  than with a Debbie Downer.

A side benefit of deciding to be happy, rather than down, is that more people will also be willing to help you with your problems. The reason is that many people tend to avoid an unhappy person, so they never get to know you well enough to offer help. Whereas, people who have encountered a happy person and gotten to know them want to help you stay happy, so they offer help.

So, take Lincoln’s advice and make up your mind to be happy today. Take the time to thank God for all that He has already done for your and ask Him for His help with the issues that you are currently facing. Then put on a smile and head out into a happy world. It’s a better and more helpful place to spend the day in.

Decide to be happy today!


Don’t imprison yourself…

November 12, 2019

In a post to his blog recently, Jack Freed used this quote from Lady Gaga – “Fame is prison” He went on to relate that Gaga can no longer enjoy life in public because she is always hounded by fans or paparazzi. In a sense, her fame has served to imprison her.  Almost all starts come to that conclusion, once they have achieved the fame that they so fervently chased for years. Some have found that going out in disguise, especially in big cities like New York, is still possible.

Most of us will never be famous, so we need not worry about the problems that Lady Gaga and other stars have; however, many create a prison of sorts for themselves based upon just the opposite cause – anonymity. Being anonymous is especially easy if your move to a new town or area. It is also relatively easy to become anonymous if you are a shut in. Over time, people forget about you and you may start to forget about other people. You have imprisoned yourself, somewhat by choice.

People with whom I talk who volunteer for the Meal on Wheels program that delivers meals to shut-in senior citizens tell me that the recipients often talk their heads off during the delivery, because the Meals on Wheels person may be the only person that they ever see. That is sad, but not unusual and not limited to just those shut-in seniors.

Many people, of any age, imprison themselves by remaining anonymous in their communities. They may get out of the house to go to work and back, but never seem to have time to meet anyone local. In this modern age of air-conditioned houses and lawn services to mow the lawn, it may even be rare to see them outside. That sometimes leads to the stories that we see on the news about a person dying and their bodies not being discovered for days or weeks. They were anonymous and thus not missed.

It is easier than you think to end your anonymity, without flipping over to the problem that Lady Gaga pointed out. You don’t have to become famous, you just have to be engaged in your community. Going to church is a great start. Church people tend to be friendly and you will quickly make new friends. Volunteer in the community. There are also tons of volunteer opportunities in every community – things like driving for Meal on Wheels or perhaps serving as a docent in a local museum. Join local organizations. All communities have local chapters of clubs like Rotary International, the Lions Club, the local Chamber of Commerce (you can be an associate member, even if you don’t have a business), the local society for the arts, and many more. Find a club or organization that focuses upon something that you are interested in, join and get involved. Many clubs or organizations may have members who are willing to pick you up and drive you to and from meetings, so even “shut-ins” can participate.

All of those ideas and more require that you not only join whatever organization it is; but also, that you attend meetings, volunteer for events and otherwise commit your time and efforts to the organization. The side benefit is that you meet other people and you are no longer anonymous. You have freed yourself from that prison.

The bottom line is that you hold the key to the prison of anonymity that you may have built for yourself. Get yourself out there and meet people. Have a great day in the crowd.


Sleepless in Seattle and elsewhere…

November 9, 2019

A recent post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog had this advice – “Don’t try to solve serious matters in the middle of the night.”  (Philip Dick) 

Good advice, but hard to implement. I had a recent night of fitful sleep as I tried to search for the solution to an upcoming matter. During that process, I also recalled this advice and started thinking about what it is that keeps me, and perhaps others, up at night in search of solutions. While I occasionally spend a restless night trying to solve problems involving things (perhaps a repair issue with the house or a problem with a car), more often than not the matters that really keep me up at night involve people. That is especially true in situations where I imagine that a confrontation of some sort will occur.

I don’t think anyone likes confrontations, but sometimes they are unavoidable. I recall several sleepless nights leading up to the firing of an employee. All sorts of things run through my mind as I played out scenario after scenario in my imagination about the upcoming confrontation. In the times in which we live , there are some pretty bizarre scenarios that are not out of the question and I ran through each of them. One can conjure up the same kind of anxiety and fear (and sleepless nights) for breakups of relationships. What will you say and how will they react? Play that out in your mind a few times and you will begin to see the endless possibilities. There are many examples of the kinds of matters that can take over our minds at night and keep us awake.

I do not claim to have discovered or invented a way to prevent this from happening. However, I have developed a technique for quieting my mind when this does happen. Unfortunately, it usually takes me a while to remember to use the technique, so I still spend some time wrestling with the imaginary demons of the night before I try to quiet my mind.

The first step is to realize what you are doing. You are trying to create a solution for something that hasn’t happen yet and which is most likely out of your ability to control (unless avoidance is seen as a solution). I also try to quickly think back on similar past events, which helps me realize that I got through them OK. Perhaps they were unpleasant; but, as I now like to remind myself, “nobody died”. Sometimes that is enough to pause the mental problem solving process long enough to go to step two.

Step two I have shared here a few times. It is the leap of faith that starts by saying the little prayer, “Not my will, but thy will be done.” It is giving yourself a break, by giving the problem to God. If you feel the need to keep more ownership of the problem then pray for God’s guidance and help dealing with it, and put your trust in the fact that His help will be there when you need it.

Step two sounds simplistic, but it works, if you have faith in God. In our real world we may take issues all the way to the Supreme Court – the highest level of authority in our land. In the world of faith, which we cannot see or fully understand, God is the highest level of authority, so taking it to Him is as far as you can go. Trusting in His help is what we call faith and as Bob Dylan said in his song Precious Angel – “Ya either got faith or ya got unbelief and there ain’t neutral ground”.

So, have faith. Give your problem to God.

Problem solved. Now go to sleep.


What is your goal today?

November 5, 2019

In a world seemingly oriented to goal setting and daily To-Do lists that seem to dictate our use of time, Dyer’s advice seems to be most appropriate. In fact, if you threw away your current To-Do list and just wrote down “Be a better person today than I used to be”, you will have recorded the most important thing that you could spend your time on today. It is a goal, which will help you accomplish all of the important things that you need to do today.

Some people find that it is helpful to wear a little bracelet with the initial WWJD – What Would Jesus Do – as a reminder to them to be a better person. You could have one that says WSID – What Should I Do – that would be just as effective, if it reminded you to be a better person.

A recent post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog used this quote – “My goal is not to be better than anyone else, but to be better than I used to be.”  (Wayne Dyer)

One way to focus upon that goal is to stop and say a quick little prayer – “Lord, help me be a better person today than I was yesterday.” Your mind will take over from there, as God puts thoughts in it about how you can accomplish that goal today. You may see things and people that you overlooked yesterday and you will react differently. You may make better decisions today, because you are more conscious of the need to think things through better and perhaps apply better standards against those decisions. Your personal relationships may improve because today you take the time for a warm greeting or a hug; whereas, yesterday you just hurried on by that person.

A side-benefit of focusing upon being a better person is that you won’t end up with a case of the coulda, woulda shoulda’s at the end of the day. There will be no need to say to yourself, “I coulda said ‘Hi’ to Sally, who looked like she needed a greeting”; or “ I wish I woulda ask Mary how her mom is doing “; or I coulda stopped and ask Joe how is wife is doing with her breast cancer treatments”. You won’t have those regrets at the end f the day because you did stop and interact with those people. You were being a better person today than you might have been yesterday. And, didn’t that fee great?

So, after you’ve checked yourself in the mirror; but, before you go out the door on the way to work; stop and say that little prayer – “Lord, help me be a better person today than I was yesterday.”

I promise you that you’ll end up better than your were at the end of thre day.