Monthly Archives: March 2007

All We Have to Decide

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. – J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien’s quote was spoken by Gandalf the Gray in The Fellowship of the Ring is one of my all time favorite quotes. I feel it succinctly sums up one of the most important activities we should focus on. It clearly shows that we have freedom of choice at every moment regardless of our situation or circumstance.

Doesn’t it at the same time reduce the amount of decisions that need to be made in any given day? It’s relegated to one choice; “What should I do right now?”

I think it’s important to spend a good bit of time taking care of your self. Only when you are in a good place can you give assistance to others. If we take care of others before ourselves we eventually feel drained and unhappy. I find that when my cup is full, I have so much more to give.

What are you going to do with the time you have?

Michael

Small pleasures, continued

We went to the movies tonight, Will Ferrell’s “Blades of Glory,” about 2 male figure skaters who end up skating as a pair. It wasn’t as funny as I had hoped, but it had its moments.

The theater was packed with teenagers doing what teenagers do at the movies: talk loudly, snort at the bathroom humor, and walk in and out in front of you throughout the movie. I moved from my original seat toward the very front of the theater to carve out a little private space for myself, but a late arriving group of 6 sat in the row behind me.

I like to watch the movies in peace and quiet, so all of the chatter around me bugged me. However, when I asked the two boys right behind me to please be quiet, they stayed absolutely silent for the rest of the movie.

It makes me really happy when people surprise me by being unexpectedly polite, or friendly, or helpful. Those boys could have told me off or ignored me. Instead, they respected my request and allowed me to enjoy the movie.

That made me feel even better than the movie did.

By the way, feel free to wait for the DVD. It’s not a great movie.

Running amuck

It’s Saturday morning and I am “all over the map”.  Five windows are open in Internet Explorer and six in Outlook.  I have started letters to friends, searched the internet for information on an accident, looked at my blog, written in my journal, written an email, started an email to a friend, started an email to another friend, washed and sorted laundry and had two large cups of tea.  I wish I could honestly say that this state of mind is due to the amount of caffeine in the two-large-cups-of-tea.  Although they definitely contributed, they are not to blame.  It is the nature of my brain when running amuck.

While trying to ensure the correct spelling of “amuck“, I found an alternative spelling A-M-O-K and that the definition includes “to rush about in a murderous frenzy”. Hmmm – no murderous frenzy in my brain, just a “jumbled or confused state” as well as “an uncontrolled state or a state of extreme activity”.  I can accept the jumbled and extreme activity parts of these descriptions.

It seems that when my brain does not have to focus on a particular client, task or activity, it has a life of its own and I am following it around saying “oh, what’s that?” or “Let’s do this” and the brain just keeps a-runnin’.  It is controllable and I can rein it in at any time; there are just times I feel like letting it run its course, ambling, jumping and leaping around until the most important thing is landed on and one task can be completed.

Maybe it’s just Saturday.

The wonder bed

Late last year, my wife and I bought a Tempurpedic mattress. We call it the wonder bed, because it is ridiculously comfortable. It’s a great luxury to know that the final moments of the day will be relaxing, delicious even.

Tempurpedic mattress foam molds to your body like a cake mold, which makes you settle down to the point that the mattress supports each of your body parts equally. On nights after I have exercised heavily, I’m asleep virtually before my head hits the pillow. I rarely wake up in the middle of the night.

My wife and I work very hard, so it’s really nice to know that we can rest comfortably at the end of a hard day. It’s a small pleasure, but it’s one we have to look forward to every night. Including tonight.

Extracting Happiness

The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things. – Henry Ward Beecher

As we look at ways to create more happiness in our lives, I believe we tend to focus on the big things, the events in our lives that don’t happen everyday, the extraordinary times, the celebrations, etc. Those times in our lives are truly happy ones, but it’s similar to a huge adrenaline rush, since it can be somewhat of a let down when the special occasion is over.

The trick or art to true happiness is finding ways to really enjoy the common place events and times in our lives. That can be a tall order for some of us, especially when we think about chores or other work that seems to be complete drudgery. How can we make those times be happier? I’ve found that “tweaking” some small item can make all the difference between being happy or just getting by.

For example, if I’m doing the dishes, I’ll put on some of my favorite music. My focus becomes the music and the dishes seem to wash themselves because I’m having a good time. Another thing you can do is take a short break, do something you enjoy for a few minutes and then get back to your chores.

I’ve talked previously about focusing on the present moment. Use all of your senses to extract everything you can out of every moment. You will find more pleasing things because you are more aware of what is going on around you.

What things can you think of that can help to extract happiness out of common things?

Michael

Growing Young

My daughter found the following quote by Pablo Picasso: “It takes a long time to grow young.” She liked it a lot and modified it to:

“It’s easy to grow old, but it takes a lifetime to grow young.”

I believe she has insight into a key component to living a good, productive and fun life. A lot of people grow old very quickly. They become rigid in their thoughts, beliefs and behaviors. Everything becomes serious. They forget what it’s like to be a child again.

Children and dogs live life in similar ways. Think about it and I’m sure you’ll agree with most of their principles of living:

  1. Play a lot.
  2. Friends are forever.
  3. Take a nap when your body says you are tired.
  4. Don’t hold a grudge.
  5. Share your enthusiasm.
  6. Follow an insatiable curiosity.
  7. Ask a lot of questions.
  8. Run for no reason.
  9. Walk in the rain.
  10. Climb trees. (Yes, I know most dogs can’t do this. But you never know.)
  11. Get your back scratched regularly.
  12. Laugh deeply and as much as you can.
  13. Dance when the mood strikes you.
  14. Eat some cake or candy.
  15. Sing.

I believe my daughter’s quote captures how most people live. It takes us a long time to remember how children and dogs live life. But, I don’t think it has to take that long. We can start doing many or all of these things now. If you are having difficulties incorporating these principles into your adult life, try playing with children or dogs. But, don’t forget to follow their example!

Go play!

Michael

Silver lining

I had another air travel mis-adventure with my boss yesterday. It started with a weird canceled flight, halfway through a one-stop journey. Then, there was a rush to fly standby, with no tickets because of a computer difficulty. When we had to leave security in DC to get to our transfer gate after arriving from Charlotte, we couldn’t get to our departure gate (no tickets, right?). Sorted that out, missed the plane anyway by two minutes. 3 hour layover. Home 5 hours late.

But here’s the thing. We went to fill the 3 hours in Reagan National by having dinner at Legal Seafoods. When dinner came, they had scrambled my order and forgotten my appetizer. In stunning contrast to the harried and largely ineffective service from the airline, the restaurant manager at Legal Seafoods immediately came to the table and comped the entire meal, for both of us! The revised order was perfect, and I left the restaurant feeling better about the chain than I ever did after a great meal there. I left a generous tip and felt great about the entire experience.

The lesson for me is that one person who sees a problem and jumps in to fix it means more to me than 10 people who don’t. I want us all to be that one person, starting with me. It’s not that hard.

Nurturing my inner accountant

I’ve been trying to keep better track of my life lately.

By this, I don’t mean that I’m trying to get organized, which I’ve come to accept as a goal instead of a destination — which, in turn, is a nice way of saying that I am accepting my inner slob. If I were more brave, I’d include a picture of my office here to illustrate the point.

Rather, I’m trying to jot down more notes of what I am doing and seeing each day. I’m noting which restaurant I went to for lunch, what movie I saw, or what kind of wine I had for dinner–pretty mundane stuff. Some things might be in the nature of goals — I’m trying to track how many miles I’ve run per day, for example — but most are just observations.

I’m finding that registering the little details makes me take note of my daily life instead of rushing through it. But I also feel no pressure to put all these little events in context, which is one reason I’ve never been very good about keeping a journal.

A source of inspiration for me was this, a personal annual report for 2006 prepared by a New York graphic artist. I’m not necessarily interested in tabulating the same things he is, but it’s a pretty neat idea.

Does anybody else have experience doing something similar?

Napping for the Soul

I don’t know about you, but I always fight taking a nap when my body is clearly giving me the signs to the contrary. I had to wake up quite early this morning to drive to Boston. Around 6:30 or 7:00 p.m., I was struggling to keep my eyes open.

My normal tendency is to resist going to sleep until it is a “proper” time to go to bed. But what happens is that I get that famous second wind and then cannot go to sleep until late. This means I’m tired when I have to wake up for work the next day. Then the cycle starts all over again.

I always have a million excuses why I shouldn’t take a short nap. I have too many to-dos. I won’t be able to go to sleep at a decent hour. I want to try and cram more things into my day. I need to clean. I should cook a proper meal. I have some work that needs to be completed. I want to watch a movie. I need to make some phone calls. And on and on.

Tonight, for the first time, I just listened to my body and took a nap for around 90 minutes. Wow, did I feel great when I woke up! Did I get a good nights sleep in spite of the nap? Yes.

What a simple lesson that I put off learning for years. Listen to your body. It generally knows best. The mind can get in the way sometimes.

Michael

Perfect Morning

It’s my last morning on Amelia Island, so rather than go to the gym, I walked on the beach. The sun rises very late here at this point, so I walked from dawn until the sun was fully up. There were a few dog walkers and joggers on the beach, but not many. The tide was coming in from just past low tide, and I stuck close to the water line.

Before I turned to come back toward my hotel room, I saw a line of birds, large ones, not seagulls. I’ll have to look up the name. The flew one after the other and dropped down from the sky, parallel to the shore. They were flying away from me, and the dropped like a heavy thread until they skimmed the crest of one curling wave, the way a surfer rides it inside the curl, but working less obviously.

Mankind has watched birds like this for tens of thousands of years, I’m sure. Yet it’s surprising and breathtaking every time. Beauty is, in some of its forms, inarguable.

It reminded me that there are simple routines I have that can make me feel fortunate to be who and where I am.