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.


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.


Faith is the foundation that hope builds upon

October 28, 2019

In a recent post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog, Jack used this little quote – “A life without faith in something is too narrow a space to live.”  (George Woodberry)

I have a feeling that I could have inverted the words in my headline for today by stating that hope is the foundation upon which faith builds, but I really believe that faith comes first. Out of faith grows the hope for a better life. Out of faith comes the courage to try. And, it is faith that give us the strength to try again in the face of failures.

Faith embraces the idea that there is something working in our lives that is bigger than us and stronger than us. Faith requires that we accept something that we cannot see or touch, yet it touches us in every aspect of our lives and “sees” everything that we do. Faith requires that we believe, rather than understand; that we accept what happens, rather than futilely fighting; that we trust, rather than demand; and, that we openly accept God in our lives, rather than stubbornly rejecting His help.

 Once the foundation of faith is laid down in your life, you can begin to hope with a sense of confidence that everything will turn out all right. You may get what you hoped for in ways that you never imagined. You may begin to see that underlying almost all hopes and dreams is the desire to be happy in life. Having a strong faith at your core may allow you to be happy with yourself and you may discover that little else matters. You might come to understand that you are living your dream already and that your hopes have been answered. Little in the material world matters much, once you have a firm faith as your foundation.

So don’t just hope for a better day, have faith that you will have a better day. .  In Hebrews 11:1 we are told, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Have conviction, have faith, have hope and have a great week ahead.


Believe it, accept it, forget it, and move on with life…

October 21, 2019

In a recent post, Jack used this little quote in his blog – Jack’s Winning Words.

“Not the power to remember, but it’s the very opposite; the power to forget is a necessary condition for our existence.”  (Sholem Asch) 

I’m not sure that most people really forget things that were significant in their lives, especially bad things; and, I suspect that forgiving the things that others do to us is even harder for many. However, the ability to put things behind us and move on with life is a trait that most should try to adopt.

I’ve posted here a few times about forgiving others and ourselves. One post comes to mind –  https://normsmilfordblog.com/2019/04/24/use-your-powers-today/ , but there are others.

I’ve also posted about putting things into better perspective, especially things that you might be down on yourself about. The key to that is focusing upon the good things that are happening and not just on the bad – see https://normsmilfordblog.com/2019/08/29/look-for-good-and-focus-upon-it/

So, perhaps the advice that is in the quote from Jack’s blog is really telling us that we need to stop wasting our time agonizing over things that are passed and let go of them. We can’t go through life saying to ourselves, “I can’t believe this has happened” or “I can’t accept that this has happened”. It happened. Believe it. Accept it. Put it behind you. That will allow us to move forward with life.

The immediate reaction to those statements may be “That’s easy for you to say, it didn’t happen to you.” The fact is that similar things happen all the time to lots of people. People die. People get divorced. Relationship[s end. People leave home. People disappoint us. Things happen. You’re still here, so what are you going to do? Curling up into a fetal position and whimpering about it won’t help. Getting mad at the world won’t help. Wallowing in regrets won’t help. Getting mad at God for letting this happen to you won’t help; but perhaps turning to God for help will.

Perhaps some advice from people wiser than me will help –

“Even though you may want to move forward in your life, you may have one foot on the brakes. In order to be free, we must learn how to let go. Release the hurt. Release the fear. Refuse to entertain your old pain. The energy it takes to hang onto the past is holding you back from a new life. What is it you would let go of today?” – Mary Manin Morrissey

And

“Cry. Forgive. Learn. Move on. Let your tears water the seeds of your future happiness.” – Steve Maraboli

A common theme in all of the quotes that I found on this topic was the need to move on, in order to achieve future happiness. So, give some thought to the question that Mary Morrissey asked – “What is it that you would let go of today?” If you need to have that cry, do it and move on. Let your tears water the seeds of your happiness tomorrow.

Find those things that are holding you back and let go of them today. Tomorrow will be a better day if you do that today. Heck, the rest of today will even be better. Time to let go and move on.


What will you do with your opportunities today?

October 16, 2019

From a recent post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog come s this tidbit of wisdom – “The world is full of abundance and opportunity.  Too many come with a teaspoon instead of a steam shovel.”  (Ben Sweetland) 

This refers to the preverbal “toe in the water” approach to life and the opportunities that we encounter. Far too many allow their fear of failure prevent them from even trying, when opportunity knocks at their door.  Others may be held back by prejudices or misunderstanding, especially in opportunities that require that we interact with someone who is “different.”

The opportunities to know someone else are abundant for most. Just think about the number of people that you encounter during a normal day. Do you come with a teaspoon to those opportunities or do you embrace them whole-heartedly with a steam shovel, open-arms approach? What are your first thoughts when encountering someone new? Are they questions about who they are, where they come from and what fascinating things you might learn from them? Perhaps they are thoughts of fear or distrust and perhaps even hate, because of how they look? Do you go in the offensive to welcome and greet them or put up your defenses to avoid or put them off?

Each encounter with someone new should be viewed as an opportunity, not a threat. These are people who bring with them memories and knowledge about things that you have not encountered. They have back-stories that can be fascinating. They have opinions and points of view that you may never have considered. They allow you to add their perspective to your view of things. They expand your realm of human experience by sharing theirs. You can’t achieve that with an object, a non-human thing. No matter how fascinating it might seem initially, it cannot share with you. Even a beloved pet provides only a one-sided relationship, as much as we try to give voice to them. Only a relationship with another human is one that may be truly enrich our lives through its sharing.

Can you put aside your fears and prejudices long enough to allow yourself a real opportunity for a relationship with someone new and perhaps different? Opportunities often hold out the chance for rewards, if you take advantage of them. The rewards of friendship, companionship and perhaps even love are there for the taking in your encounters with new people. How you chose to share those opportunities for relationships is up to you. Will you use a teaspoon or bring your steam shovel into the relationship? Are you willing to give the relationship as much as you get from it? A lot depends upon how you approach it. The opportunities are all around you. I suggest that you get out your steam shovel and dig in.

Hi, my name’s Norm and I’m glad to meet you.