Why Pushing Through Usually Doesn’t Work

Last week I was fortunate to go to Arizona for a few days to visit a long-time friend and his family. After a long, gray and rainy northwest winter and a tiring couple of months at work and home I was pretty exhausted and looking forward to soaking up some sun and relaxing with friends.

As expected in Arizona, the sun was out in full force and the temperature was in the mid-90’s, the perfect recipe to melt away my winter blues. Seeing my friend and his family was great as well. They were on spring break so I got to tag along on their adventures. We went hiking, swimming, cliff jumping and also saw a movie at a drive-in theater. We even ate at In-N-Out Burger which is a necessary and celebrated tradition for any Oregonian visiting the Southwest United States.

Unfortunately, even though the trip was so much fun, when I got home I was almost as drained as before I left. At first that was really frustrating. This was supposed to be my chance to recover so why was I still worn out? Then as I got to thinking, I realized it was pretty silly to expect a four-day trip, no matter how great, to unwind months of exhaustion. Even so, I was perplexed as to why I’d be feeling so tired still.

As usual, I did some research online and discovered that much of what I’d been experiencing prior to my quick vacation was consistent with something called Brain Fatigue.

Arizona
Slide Rock State Park – Sedona, AZ

For a long time I’ve known how prolonged stress and exhaustion can be harmful to our overall health, but I hadn’t thought much about how our brains can get fatigued just like any other part of our body. It turns out they can and as the control center of our bodies, that fatigue can have significant negative effects on our health and well-being. In reality when any of us have experienced all around exhaustion, brain fatigue probably played a role.

According to wellnessresources.com brain fatigue is “a symptom of your brain reaching a point of dysfunction. Brain fatigue happens on a large spectrum of dysfunction. The spectrum ranges from momentary blips on the radar of simply needing a break, or needing to eat lunch, to more severe, devastating, life-altering, neurodegenerative disorders. Brain fatigue, when it is not managed well, or goes on for too long, reflects wear and tear or neurological oxidative stress. In essence, brain fatigue is a symptom of neurodegeneration.”

It can be caused by anything that taxes the brain – intense studying, prolonged concentration, stress, poor nutrition, lack of sleep, emotional tension, mental over-stimulation, etc.

The symptoms of brain fatigue are quite broad and vary from person to person and with age, but in hindsight what should have tipped me off to look under the hood was when I was experiencing the following: trouble with cognition (I would often not be able to think of a word I was trying to say, sometimes I’d open a new tab on my web browser and forget what I was going to look up), trouble focusing, being extra tired, being irritable and emotional, etc.

I specifically remember one day at work when I was literally staring ahead blankly off and on for a couple of hours. Finally my co-workers suggested I go home and rest. That’s what I should have done but instead I pushed through. Not only that day but for many days to come, when I should have taken those symptoms as a warning sign to slow down and take care of myself, I kept going. That’s what I so often do and look where it led me.

I don’t think it’s just me. I think so many of us do the same thing. We expect ourselves to be superhuman and eventually it catches up to us. I don’t think our bodies were built to deal with many of the pressures or the pace of modern life and we have to develop habits that help us maintain both our physical and mental health.

I’ve written quite a bit on this blog about things I’ve been trying to do to improve my overall health and live a more balanced life – meditating, practicing gratitude, prioritizing fun, being gracious to myself, etc. I also try to exercise regularly, and eat right (at least most of the time) – two of the most important factors in overall health.

These things have had a positive impact but I’m realizing a pattern. I’ll try something out for a few days or weeks but then often, I’ll get busy or distracted and it’ll fall off the priority list and I’ll default to less than helpful routines as I “push through” only to end up overwhelmed again eventually.

I want to develop longer term habits of healthy activity so there are less extreme ups and downs. Obviously the seasons of busyness and stress ebb and flow in life but I believe there is a lot we can do to help ourselves better weather what is thrown at us. The pace of life and how much we’re “on” grows every day so if we don’t respond to take back some space for our overall well-being, including brain health, we could be in trouble in the long run.

I think the best way to do that is to figure out what habits or practices help us and then build them into our routine making sure we stick with them, whether or not we’re busy, stressed or whatever else might tempt us to get off track. Obviously I’m still figuring out how to do that. It’s also really important to allow ourselves time to rest and recover when we’ve had to push hard for a while. In the long run our bodies and minds will thank us and I can almost guarantee we’ll be happier and more productive too.

To learn more about brain fatigue and how to help prevent it I recommend this excellent article on wellnessresources.com.

Does God Have a Feminine Side?

Female relationships have always played an important role in my life. I grew up very close to my mom, I’ve have had many female friends and now I’m happily and gratefully married to one.

I‘ve definitely had some great friendships with guys (and still do) but they’ve tended not to be with macho/alpha male types. I’m not exactly sure why but I think it’s mostly because I’m not a stereotypical male. I’m pretty emotional and can be quite sensitive. To be honest even though I’m growing much more comfortable with my own brand of masculinity, I still feel out of place in certain tough guy settings.

From a young age spirituality and faith in God have also been very important to me. As I’ve grown in my faith, my understanding of who God is has also grown and developed as well. In so many ways he has become more real and personal but in my mind he is also very male.

Hawaii Sunset
God’s radiant beauty in nature.

That is probably the primary image of God held by most in our culture and, based on how he is depicted in scripture, it is probably a pretty accurate portrayal. But recently I’ve realized that image of God has served as a barrier for me to a deeper relationship with him.

It is not to say that God’s masculine characteristics are not real, true or important, but because I don’t necessarily identify with the ultra-masculine, at times I’ve have had a hard time relating to him and believing that he completely understands me or that he could complete me as I’m told he should.

As I’ve reflected on this I’ve realized that because of my narrow image of God I’ve often looked to females in my life to fill some of the voids that only God can. Not only have those misplaced expectations created frustration for me, they have at times been hurtful to the people I’ve projected them on.

Thankfully, God has started to reveal a different side of his character to me. As side that is more tender, more nurturing, more compassionate, more sensitive and also more radiant, more mystical and more beautiful…………more feminine.

I’m at the very beginning of this journey but already I feel like a whole new world is being opened and I’m beginning to relate to God on much deeper and personal levels than ever before. I feel like I’m just scratching the surface but I’ve already learned so much. Here are just a couple examples.

There are countless references to God’s feminine nature in scripture. For example:

  1. Genesis 1:27 – “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
  1. Isaiah 66: 12 – 13, “This is what the Lord says: ‘I will give Jerusalem a river of peace and prosperity. The wealth of the nations will flow to her. Her children will be nursed at her breasts, carried in her arms, and held on her lap. I will comfort you there in Jerusalem as a mother comforts her child.’”
  1. Wisdom is considered a very important aspect of God and often in scripture it is described in feminine terms.
    • Proverbs 1:20, “Wisdom shouts in the streets. She cries out in the public square.”
    • Proverbs 4:6, “Don’t turn your back on wisdom, for she will protect you. Love her, and she will guard you.”
    • Proverbs 8:1, “Listen as Wisdom calls out! Hear as understanding raises her voice!”

As I’ve started to pay attention I also see feminine characteristics of God in everyday life. I see them wherever there is beauty – in colorful and delicate flowers, in majestic mountains, in radiant sunsets, in the deep blue ocean, in art, in music and in all other parts of his creation.

In reality using terms like masculine or feminine are much too limiting as descriptors of God. As a spirit he is that but so much more, more than we’ll ever be able to comprehend. But I believe he wants to continually draw us to him, to greater intimacy and understanding of his nature. I’m so grateful that he is revealing new dimensions of himself to me. Seeing the feminine aspects is just the beginning and I’m excited to see where the journey takes me next!

What takes more faith than anything else?

There are lots of things in life that take great faith. My list of most faith stretching experiences would probably include getting married, having kids, studying in a foreign country, changing jobs, etc. All of these events legitimately require a big level of trust because they tend to involve big life change without much knowledge or certainty of how things will turn out.

Recently though, I’ve discovered something that for me takes more faith than all of that.

Being in the moment

On the surface it sounds really simple. Just be in the moment with whatever you’re doing or experiencing. It’s seems easy…..until you try it.

I first encountered the idea that you could practice being in the moment and strengthen it as a skill when I starting meditating over a year ago. As I started working at it, I was surprised how often my mind would wander. It was literally every few seconds. Most often my thoughts would gravitate towards something in the past that I was frustrated about or something in the future I was worried about.

With time I came to realize that to truly be in the moment I had to let go of those things. I had to trust God and have faith in the fact that he has the past and the future in his hands and let myself just be present with him. I couldn’t worry or ruminate while doing that. I was just being, letting God be with me.

While I believe God is everywhere – in the past, the present and the future, I’m discovering that his presence is extra strong in the here and now. We have to totally rely on him to be present.

Cascade Head
Take some time to be in the moment and appreciate your surroundings.

There’s a lot of different ways to describe being present but mindfulness is the word that’s gotten lots of attention lately. In fact, if you’ve been online at all in the last couple of years you’ve probably run across the term many times.

According to Psychologytoday.com mindfulness “is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”

The benefits of mindfulness are well documented scientifically. They include everything from reduced stress, pain relief, improved mood, attention span and focus, enhanced creativity, improved physical health, etc.

I’ve definitely experienced many of those benefits but practicing mindfulness has helped me in other ways as well.

  • I’ve started to appreciate what is around me more. There is so much beauty everywhere but we have to stop and notice it.
  • I’ve gotten more in touch with God. As I’ve quieted my mind I’ve been able to experience his presence more and hear from him better.
  • I tend catch myself more often when I default to mindless activities that have not been helpful in the past.
  • When my mind starts to going into its spin cycle of worry, I’m often able to pull it out of that by focusing on something in the present.

So how do you get started? There’s lots of ways to begin but I found some great suggestions in a Psych Central blog post. I’ll summarize a few below but I’d encourage you to check out the full article here.

  • Practice it during routine activities. Pay more attention as you’re brushing your teeth, taking a shower, eating breakfast or walking to work. Zero in on the sight, sound, smell, taste and feel of these activities.
  • Practice it while you wait. In our fast-paced lives, waiting is a big source of frustration – whether you’re waiting in line or stuck in traffic. But while it might seem like a nuisance, waiting is actually an opportunity for mindfulness.
  • Learn to meditate. The best way to cultivate mindfulness in everyday life is to formally train in meditation…..it is like learning a new language. Meditation helps us tap into mindfulness. I mentioned this in a past post but I use the Headspace app and really like it. It provides really simple guided sessions that focus on different areas of life and make meditation accessible and easy to learn for anyone.

Like anything else that we practice regularly, being in the moment gets easier and the benefits continue to grow the more we do it.  My experience is relatively short and limited but I’ve learned so much in that time that I’m inspired to keep at it, stretching my faith and leaning into these experiences, hopeful for what I’ll learn next.

Tempted to give up on your New Year’s goals? Hang on spring is coming!

I’ve never been much into New Year’s resolutions. They’ve always seemed too lofty and vague, like general hopes for the year that are thrown up against the wall in hopes that maybe they’ll stick.

“I want to eat healthier this year,” “I want to spend more time with friends this year,” “I want to watch less TV this year,” etc. All great intentions but not much substance or specific plans for how they’ll be accomplished.

Instead this year I decided to set some New Year’s goals for myself. I suppose that isn’t all that different from making resolutions except theoretically my goals are better thought out and planned than your average resolution.

I did everything I knew to do to ensure success. I used the S.M.A.R.T. method of goal setting making sure they, were specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound. I broke each goal down into bite sided action items, wrote them down where I can easily see them, set myself regular reminders to check in on my progress, etc.

Spring is Coming
Spring is coming!

The journey started really well. I had lots of excitement, energy and confidence. I followed each action step to the detail daily. That optimism and enthusiasm carried on for the first few weeks but the truth is now, only two weeks into February I’m already starting to grow weary and wonder if I’ll be able to hang on and accomplish what I set out to do.

Apparently I’m not alone. According to USA Today a full “80 percent of New Year’s resolutions (or goals) fail and many of those have already been abandoned by the second week of February.”

As I sat the other day, discouraged and reflecting on my short lived motivation, a thought hit me that has put a different perspective on this challenge and convinced me to keep pushing forward.

Pursing our goals is like growing a plant from a small seed.

Like a small seed our goals have all kinds of potential to begin with as we envision the beautiful plant they will grow into. We plant the seed in the ground carefully, choosing a place where it will get the right amount of sunlight. Then we set about watering the seed faithfully and checking on its progress eager for any signs of growth. At first we approach this with lots of excitement and energy but after a while we start to get discouraged. We’re doing all this work but nothing seems to be happening.

At this point it is so tempting to give up. But the truth is, breakthrough is probably right around the corner and our plant is about ready to sprout.

Up until now all of the growth has taken place underground where the work is constricted and extra difficult. It takes a lot of energy for the seed to sprout. The shell has to be cracked and then the young seedling has to push through the ground. Even though so much of the effort is unseen, it is some of the most important because it lays the foundation for the plant’s life and health.

Once the plant breaks the surface it begins to be seen by others for the first time. At that point it is free to grow more rapidly and with less constriction. It also receives nutrients more easily from the sun and rain because it has more surfaces with which to absorb them which further speeds up development. Now it will grow quickly and blossom brightly, starting to show the world what it was meant to be.

With on-going care the plant will continue to grow and mature, potentially even bigger and more brilliant than originally imagined.

I’m learning that the process of attaining a goal has a similar natural progression to this and am going to hang on to this vision as I continue to work towards my objectives for this year. I’m hopeful that like the plants, flowers and leaves at are about to bloom in the next weeks, so too will my work. As I see the first signs of progress I’m confident the momentum will build until my goals are fully accomplished.

If you’re tempted to give up on your New Year’s goals, I’d say the same thing I’m saying to myself. “Hang on, spring is coming!”

How I Fight the Winter Blues

Since at least high school winter for me has arrived with an accompanying set of pretty unpleasant symptoms. I tend to have less energy, have more trouble focusing, am more sensitive and irritable, have less interest in social activities (I’m normally pretty social), crave more carb heavy foods, and just feel downright depressed at times.

For the longest time I thought it was just me and that these experiences were something I had to deal with and get through until spring and summer came. It was only a couple of years ago that I discovered I was actually dealing with seasonal affective disorder.

According to the Mayo Clinic seasonal affective disorder (SAD) “is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year……symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody.” It is believed to be caused mostly by reduced exposure to sunlight.

Winter
Winter doesn’t have to be gloomy. Some small adjustments can make it much more enjoyable.

FamilyDoctor.org notes that “between 4% and 6% of people in the United States suffer from SAD. Another 10% to 20% may experience a mild form of winter-onset SAD. SAD is more common in women than in men and winter-onset SAD is more common in northern regions, where the winter season is typically longer and harsher.” I think that risk is exacerbated in cloudy climates like the Pacific NW.

Even if you don’t experience full-blown seasonal affective disorder, if you live in the upper half of the continental US, I’d guess you deal with some winter blues. Here are some tools that have been really helpful to me in fighting those blues. I think they can be useful to anyone wanting a little more pep in their step during the long winter months:

Exercise – Exercise is important all year long for many of reasons. Besides the obvious physical benefits, it has been proved to reduce stress, ward off anxiety and feelings of depression, boost self-esteem, improve sleep and boost energy levels. I think it’s even more important in winter when many of us are more susceptible to feeling down and experiencing low energy.

Get Outside – In many parts of the country going outside during winter isn’t very enticing. It can be cold, wet and plain uncomfortable. But I’ve discovered that even a little time outside, even if it is cloudy, makes me feel better. During warmer, sunnier months it is easier and more natural to spend time outdoors so we’re automatically getting the benefits of being in the fresh air and natural light. In winter we have to be more intentional to get out but it really only takes bundling up a little to make it much more comfortable. Even better, we can exercise outside and get double the benefits.

Be Social – Sometimes during the dark of winter for me it’s tempting just to hang out at home and hunker down. That’s good for a while but prolonged isolation is a recipe for feeling down, even for introverts. Once again during lighter months it is more enticing and easier to get out, but it is just as important during the winter. Research shows that social connections and community are critical to our well-being so we can’t give up on that during the winter even if it takes a little more work.

Take Vitamin D Supplements – Since most of us get the majority of our vitamin D from the sun it is natural to develop a vitamin D deficiency during the darker days of winter. According to Psychology Today, “several studies have suggested that the symptoms of SAD may be due to changing levels of vitamin D3 , which may affect serotonin levels in the brain.” Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is critical to mood regulation and low levels of it are linked to depression. Taking a supplement to help boost levels of vitamin D can offset these negative effects and improve our mood. People who work indoors can show low vitamin D levels even during summer so in reality, many of us would probably benefit from extra vitamin D all year long.

Light box – In researching treatments for SAD, I learned that one of the most common is using a light box. I asked my doctor about getting one and he suggested a medical grade model which is really bright. I sit in front of it for about 15-20 min. each day while eating breakfast and it has made a big difference. People with mild winter blues probably don’t need such a powerful light but there are smaller, consumer grade models available that would help still help.

This probably goes without saying, but if you’re experiencing many of the symptoms that I’ve described, especially for a prolonged period of time, it’s a good idea to see a doctor. They can help properly diagnose you and recommend treatments that will be most effective to your situation.

If you experience any level of winter blues I hope you’ll give at least a couple of these tips a try. Putting them to use has greatly improved my winters and I’m confident it will do the same for you. Here’s to a happier rest of winter for all of us!

Simple yet Powerful Advice for Getting Unstuck

I’m a pretty idealistic person. I usually have lots of dreams and hopes for my life but often struggle to know how to get from here to that distant imagined outcome down the road. I’ve experienced this in all areas of life – in my career, my relationships, my hobbies, etc. All too often the gap between a dream and the reality of the current situation seems too vast and instead of venturing down the road in the direction of my dreams, I end up paralyzed and doing nothing.

As I’ve reflected on this tendency I think it is caused by fear of the unknown. It can be really scary to step out not knowing how a given situation will turn out. What will people think if I take this risk? What if I get embarrassed? What if I make the wrong decision? The what if’s can go on forever.

Recently I heard some excellent advice for what to do when we find ourselves in these situations. It comes from one of my favorite blogger/pod casters, Michael Hyatt. I’ve heard similar advice in the past but I really like the way he frames it. Michael says when we feel stuck and don’t know what to do we just need to take the next best step.

Trail 3
Even when we don’t know where the path leads the most important thing is to keep moving forward one small step at a time.

It’s simple yet profound advice. While we may not be able to see all of the steps to our long-term goal, most of us can probably identify at least one action that would move us in the right direction. Even if we’re not entirely sure what the next best step is, doing something is almost always better than doing nothing.

It is really tempting in these situations to think that our next step should be really big or drastic because we want to move far down the road. That line of thinking is often what keeps us stuck because those types of moves can be pretty intimidating. Instead the next best step is often really small. Say you’re goal is to start your own business. It might be tempting to think your first step should something drastic like quitting your current job. In reality your next best step could be something really simple like checking a book out from the library on entrepreneurship.

I’ve heard for people that are severely depressed (one of the most profound experiences of being stuck I can think of) it is often a very small movement like cleaning the bathroom, or going out to coffee with a friend that can get them going in the right direction and begin their journey to recovery.

Don’t get me wrong, while this is really simple advice, I fully recognize that even the smallest steps can be really difficult and take great faith. It can be really scary to step out without knowing all of the following steps. When we feel really stuck and have been for a while, even one step can seem really difficult. I’ve been there and understand how challenging it can be. The good news is the first step is often the most difficult.

The key to the power of this advice is forward momentum. Even the smallest steps tend to build on themselves. Each successive one gets a little easier and before we know it we’re doing things and going places we never thought we could. Also, while our temptation is often to wait until we see the whole picture to start; forward momentum usually reveals the picture. As Michael said in a recent blog post, “People don’t want to commit until they have clarity, but clarity comes with movement.” We have to keep moving.

Like most subjects I’ve posted about, this is a lesson I’m still learning. I’m starting to believe this is how God wants us to live because it forces us to rely on him. It wouldn’t take any faith if we had the whole picture ahead of time. I think God honors our faith by meeting us in these small yet frightening steps. He strengthens us and reveals his plan along the way as we walk together in faith with him.

If you’re feeling stuck I hope you can find the courage to just take one small positive step forward today. It could be the beginning of a life-changing journey.

What I’m Celebrating from 2015

I’m pretty bad at celebrating accomplishments and being thankful for what goes well. Instead, once I accomplish a goal or take care of a responsibility I tend to quickly move to working on the next one without much thought on what I’ve accomplished. Also, when I look back on my performance, whether it is at work, or in my personal life, I tend to be pretty self-critical. I always know what I want to do better but rarely take the time to acknowledge what I’ve done well.

Kim
My beautiful wife

I already have a list of goals for 2016 but haven’t really taken the time to consider what I could be celebrating from 2015 –  what I accomplished, what went well and what I can be grateful for. I’m learning about the importance of reflection and celebration for our personal well being and about how it can help motivate us to accomplish future goals. So this post is my effort to write down just a few things that I’m celebrating and am grateful for from this year. I hope maybe it inspires you to do the same.

  • Started a meditation practice that has been really helpful
  • Read the Bible more regularly
  • Helped recruit a record number of students from Hawaii to George Fox
  • Applied to be a host on a travel TV show
  • Kim and I invested in our relationship and celebrated 14 years of marriage
  • Played drums on the worship team at church about once a month and continued to improve as a musician
  • Surfed the North Shore of Oahu
  • Made it through a very busy spring and summer at work with lots of events and without a full staff
  • I have an awesome family
  • Hired two awesome new employees
  • Started blogging
  • Invested in my boys in many different ways

    Boys
    My boys
  • Went on lots of adventures with my boys
  • Got to explore new parts of Oregon this summer
  • Invested in the lives of college students
  • Built new friendships and invested in old ones
  • Went on a class field trip with both Eli and Calum
  • Helped Calum start Cub Scouts
  • Had an awesome long weekend at the beach with family in June
  • Helped recruit, hire and build another awesome University Ambassadors group
  • Visited 40 high schools to give presentations about George Fox
  • Exercised pretty regularly and stayed in decent shape
  • My mom is healthy
  • Got to go to some awesome concerts
  • Got to go to a university of Oregon football game
  • I work with an awesome team of people at a great institution
  • Got to go sledding on Mt. Hood

Each year has its ups and downs, its victories and defeats. I know some of us have had some pretty crippling defeats this year and I don’t want to diminish the impact of those.

Parents
My parents

It can be really important to grieve those but hopefully eventually we can get to the point of finding some things to celebrate even if it has been a hard year. Sometimes we have to look hard but I believe there’s always something. Being able to recognize and celebrate those will help us as we go into the New Year. Hopefully we can take even a few minutes as the calendar turns into next year to find those bright spots and carry them forward as inspiration for what’s to come.

Note: The pictures in this post are of just a few of the people I’m so grateful to have in my life.

Why I’m Prioritizing Fun in 2016

The last couple weeks, I’ve gotten to do something that rejuvenates and fills me up in a way that few activities do. I’ve gone to two concerts. Music is a huge passion of mine, both listening to it and playing it, and getting to see my favorite bands live combines some of the best elements to create pretty epic experiences.

While I used to go to lots of concerts, like many of my other favorite pastimes, as I’ve grown into adulthood it has taken a back seat. It is as if the responsibilities of life have slowly pushed these activities into the corner while I focus on more “important” matters.

Death Cab
Death Cab For Cute, Dec. 16

The thing is I’m learning that I can’t afford NOT to take time for fun and play. Each time I do something I enjoy I feel more filled up and alive and I’m more equipped to deal with my responsibilities. I’ve had to learn this the hard way. There was a time a few years ago where I was so consumed with work and responsibilities that I didn’t even know what I liked to do for fun anymore. In short, I was depressed. At that time I was in counseling and one of the biggest things my therapist encouraged me to do what start to cultivate fun in my life again. She talked about “acting as if” and doing things I used to enjoy even if they didn’t sound fun at first. That’s what I did and slowly I started to reconnect with my passions, which was one of the keys to getting out of depression.

Alabama Shakes, Dec. 7

There’s plenty of research that supports my experience. In her wonderful book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown cites the research of psychiatrist Dr. Stuart Brown on the importance of fun and play even for adults. “Brown explains that play shapes our brain, helps us foster empathy, helps us navigate complex social groups and is at the core of creativity and innovation.” He also notes that, “The opposite of play is not work – the opposite of play is depression. Respecting our biologically programmed need for play can transform work. It can bring back excitement and newness to our job. Play helps us deal with difficulties, provides a sense of expansiveness, promotes mastery of our craft, and is an essential part of the creative process. Most important, true play that comes from our own inner needs and desires is the only path to finding lasting joy and satisfaction in our work. In the long run, work does not work without play.”

In his book, Shave 10 Hours off Your Workweek, Michael Hyatt talks about the dangers of overworking and the importance of creating margin in our lives, which includes time for fun and play. He says, “Many of us have tried to push excessive hours for months and years at a time. Is it any wonder we’re burned out? One nine-year study of financial workers found that long hours essentially ruined them. They ‘started to break down in their fourth year on the job. They suffered from depression, anxiety, and immune-system problems, and performance reviews showed that their creativity and judgement declined.’”

As you can see, fun is actually serious business and we cannot afford to put it on the back burner. I still don’t spend enough time having fun and I have to come back to that point of realization from time to time. That’s why I’m prioritizing it in 2016. For your sake and those around you, I hope you’ll join me.

The Power of Facing Our Fears

I know I’ve written a lot about my time in Hawaii lately but I always learn so much while I’m there so there’s a lot to share. On my most recent trip I fulfilled a life-long dream of surfing on the North Shore of Oahu.

Because of the concentration of great surf spots, consistent big ocean swells during the winter and the warm tropical climate, the North Shore is really the ideal surf location. Most of the world’s elite surfers go there to prove themselves so it’s considered the mecca of surfing world and making a pilgrimage is a big deal for any surfer.

Don’t get me wrong, the day I surfed there the conditions were nothing like pictures you may have seen of the enormous waves that give the North Shore its reputation. If surfing in typical winter conditions is like running a marathon, this was much more like a jog in the park. But it was the North Shore and I was out there!

Sunset Beach
North Shore Oahu

It was a big accomplishment, not only because I did something I’ve always wanted to do and tested myself in the same waters as the best surfers, but perhaps more importantly, because even though I love the ocean, I’m actually quite afraid of it.

I grew up going to the Oregon Coast and from a young age my parents wisely instilled in me a healthy fear of the ocean. We had rules about how far out we could go, about staying together, etc. Then in high school I had an experience that amplified that fear exponentially.

It was during spring break and I had been out surfing with some friends for a while when I tried to catch a wave and it went right under me. I tried to catch another and it passed by as well. That’s when I noticed I was actually being pulled out to sea. Panic quickly set in as I paddled as hard as I could towards shore only to get pulled further out. One of my worst nightmares was coming true and I was convinced I was going to die. After a few minutes of fighting I gave up out of exhaustion and just floated on my board. Luckily the current eventually pushed me back towards the waves and washed me in.

I didn’t realize it at the time but I was actually caught in a rip-current, a naturally occurring phenomena where the water pushed in by the waves escapes back out to sea. I’ve since learned how to get out of rip-currents and even use them to my advantage when trying to paddle out, but at the time the experience was real and terrifying.

After an event like that many people might stop going into the ocean all together and it would be totally understandable. I considered it, but for me the draw was too strong and I had to get back in. It took a while but slowly I was able to do it again.

Even today though, if I’m in the water and the conditions remind me of that day, panic can start to set in. It happened briefly as I paddled out on the North Shore. Because of the reputation of the place I was already a pretty nervous before I got in the water. As I got farther out that familiar cold feeling of fear started to creep in and I actually decided to paddle back in. Initially I wasn’t sure if I’d go back out, but as I sat on the beach staring out at the waves I realized how much I would regret if I didn’t face my fear. So I gave myself a pep talk and paddled back out, this time determined to only come back in under the power of a wave. The fear quickly subsided and I stayed in the water for over an hour catching several good waves and had a huge grin on my face the entire time.

I’m so glad I didn’t let fear get the best of me that day and rob me of an incredible memory. There have been so many other times that I’ve stayed on shore, either literally or figuratively, and I regret those missed opportunities.

When we face our fears we gain so much. It empowers and strengthens us for the future. The next time we face a tough situation we’re able to look back and say, “I did that, so I know I can do this!” For those of us that are Christians, it forces us to rely on God and get to see him work. We also learn that what were afraid of wasn’t as nearly bad as we thought it would be and we get an huge sense of accomplishment!

Of course the opposite is true and we can push ourselves too far into what I think of as the danger zone. There are certain surfing conditions that would put me back there and potentially be traumatic. That’s not the goal. The goal is to push just far enough outside our comfort zone to where we’re challenged and to where growth can occur.

So here’s to getting out there, to pushing past our fears and trying something new; to challenging ourselves and giving ourselves to chance to experience something great!

How Practicing Gratitude has Improved my Life

I realize it could seem a little predictable to write a post about gratitude the week of Thanksgiving. But the subject has been on my mind lately, mostly because I’m not very good at it.

Like I’ve mentioned in past posts, my mind can easily get caught up in negative thinking and worry. I’ve discovered that trying to focus on gratitude helps me combat that tendency as well improve my life in other ways. I’m convinced it will do the same for anyone who works at it.

Cuddling Sethy
A recent moment of gratitude – cuddling with Seth

My gratitude practice started a couple of months ago. I was going through a guided meditation series that focused on gratitude and one of the exercises involved writing down three things that you’re grateful for at the end of each day. I know it sounds really simple but it is really a powerful exercise. I haven’t been perfect at it but over the last couple of months it has become pretty regular practice and has made a positive impact on my life in  several ways.

Almost immediately I noticed myself physically feeling better. Worry and negativity don’t usually feel good but gratitude does. I don’t think they can exist at the same time, so by focusing on what we’re thankful for, we’re replacing bad physical feelings with good ones.

My mind feels more clear and alert. Negative thoughts tend to clutter our minds and bring us down but gratitude has a way of pushing that clutter away and bringing clarity. 90% of what we’re worried about or thinking negatively about isn’t true. So in essence when we focus on gratitude we are replacing lies with truth. That is bound to bring life into focus and help us pay attention to what it most important.

My perspective has changed. I have become more aware of how much time I used to spend entertaining negative thoughts. The more we focus on gratitude the more we’re aware when negativity creeps in and it becomes less of a habit to entertain it. I’ve also started to realized that in any situation we have the  choice of whether to focus on the positive or negative. I believe both options exist in most circumstances. I’ll be honest, there have been days where I didn’t think there was much to be grateful for and I didn’t want to try and come up with anything. But I’ve discovered there is always something and often it is the smallest and simplest things that come to mind first.

I now have a repository of gratitude to refer to when negativity creeps up and I’m tempted to focus on the down side of a situation. Looking at my gratitude list I realize how much I have to be thankful for and how much evidence I have that is contrary to many of the things I worry about.

Most importantly, gratitude has spilled over into other parts of my day and I find myself noticing things to be grateful for even when I’m not thinking about it. Weather it is just walking down the street and noticing the beauty in nature or finding the positive in a situation where in the past my immediate reaction my have been to focus on the negative. By practicing, gratitude has become a more natural part of my everyday experience.

This is just my story but I believe that anyone can benefit from a little more gratitude in their life. It may not be easy at first but with a little practice it makes a  big difference.