Day 1,493 – Thankful for a Quote from Seneca

“You are your choices.”

Seneca

This quote from Seneca has been in my head for much of the day. In my opinion it is a quote of extreme personal ownership in every action I take. While I may have ideas (or delusions of grandeur) of who I am, I am truly my choices. Nothing more, nothing less.

Do I wake up early or do I sleep in? Do I read a thought provoking article to ponder throughout the day or do I mindlessly stare at my phone? Do I push myself on the bike or do I coast a bit? Do I eat healthy and only what I need or do I eat as much as I’d like of food that is not nutritious? Do I focus on what truly needs to be done or am I going to complete what’s easy first? Do I make the tough decision or do I allow the decision to be made for me? Do I prep completely to perform at my best or do I waste my time on something else and half ass the other project? Do I stand up for something I believe in even if it means disagreeing with the majority or do I choose to back down? Do I stay calm or do I allow my emotions to control my actions? Do I become part of the solution or do I complain and make the problem worse? Do I remember the words of Marcus Aurelius and not allow myself to be harmed or do I take words and actions personally? Do I remember the story of the two monks and the muddy road and let something go or do I hold on to frustration well past its expiration date? Do I take action to make something happen or do I sit back and hope for something to happen?

So many little choices to be made throughout the day. Each of them simultaneous minor and trivial while also being of infinite importance as they each shape who I am.

Today I have not been the best version of myself that I am capable of. I have made many poor choices, especially as I read the list of choices above. Frustrating, of course. Also a chance to improve with each moment moving forward today and tomorrow. The choice is mine. I can choose to be the me who I know I can be. I can become that me by making the right choices.

Thanks!!!

Bonus Seneca quote 😉

True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.
― Seneca

Day 1,492 – Thankful for Moments of Growth Disguised as Moments of Pain

My mind tends to fix on themes often.  If I were to go back and re-read many posts over certain periods of time there are definitely themes flowing from one through the next to the next to the next.  The most recent theme is focused on a combination of gratitude and growth.  Yesterday I wrote about my presentation on gratitude tomorrow and it also got me thinking of growth.  The day before was focused on meditation and a sense of enlightenment. 

After going through the normal morning routine I opted to work on my breathing practice before hopping in the shower.  I laid on the bed and spent the next 28 minutes breathing in a specific pattern.  Sound easy?  It was more intense than I would have thought!  Interesting and unrelated side note – I didn’t realize that I could empty my lungs, not breathe in for over two minutes, inhale deeply once, and then not exhale for another minute and a half until this morning!

I’m not sure if it was a combination of the past blogs, my breathing practice, a crazy earworm, prepping my training, or random-ish chance, but I got myself thinking about one of the lower points in my life.  Back many years ago I just felt off.  I was feeling unfulfilled and like I was just drifting without purpose.  Becky helped pull me out of that funk by suggesting I take a road trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michicagn.  While sitting alone on the shore of Lake Superior I took time to think, chill, and dream.  It was one of the first times I put tangible dreams on paper.  By the time I came home I was already changing.  I was motivated, had goals, and was actively finding ways to grow into those dreams. 

From that one weekend I transformed and grew closer into the person I feel I should be. This was the spark of my dream book before I read Dream Manager.  This was when I realized how important my health was, not just for me, but as generational gift and benefit for my boys.  When I go back and look at how much started blossoming from that difficult time I see it was one of a handful of turning points in my life.

This morning I kept thinking back to that mindset before the weekend in the UP. I was so lost, so disengaged. Hopelessness was rampant. Motivation was a struggle. I was in a complete and total funk. The Killers wrote a great song – Rut – that really nails the feeling I had in a way much better than I could ever dream to:

Can’t keep my mind off of every little wrong
I see the mouths are open but I can’t hear the song
I’ve done my best to fill ’em
But the cracks are starting to spread
Hey, I won’t blame you baby
Go on, turn your head

But don’t give up on me
‘Cause I’m just in a rut
I’m climbing but the walls keep stacking up

I can’t keep pretending this next stop isn’t mine
The truth is on the table, and someone’s gotta sign
I’ve done my best defending
But the punches are starting to land
I’m sliding into something
You won’t understand

Don’t give up on me
‘Cause I’m just in a rut
I’m climbing but the walls keep stacking up

As I listened to that song in the shower I chuckled to myself.  How many times in life have the most profound changes come as a direct result of the most difficult challenges of my life?  Sure, in the moment the pain is intense and in the moment I would prefer to skip it, but if I keep my head, if I keep my emptions, if I live my true self I know I will be better for the experience.  Those difficult moments are when I’ve grown the most.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to actively seek those moments out, I’m not that big of a masochist.  However, when I look back at the challenges of all sorts that 2020 has thrown I’m going to someday look back and see it as another pivot in my life, an opportunity to take the next step in growth.  There’ve been so many lessons and steps of growth already, but this morning I couldn’t help but think of how much time I’ve spent reading, in thought, in meditation, in nature, in motion, and with family.  The breathing exercise and cold showers (three days going strong, up to 40 seconds!) might be another of those changes that maintain and continue to bring joy to my life for years after 2020.

Moments of growth disguised as moments of pain. Keep my head, keep my emotions, live to my true self… do those things and the pain will melt into growth every time. Keep the faith, stay positive, always smile, always grateful. Memories of pain will fade, the growth, joy, and gratitude will remain.

Thanks!!!

Day 1,491 – Thankful for a Lesson of Gratitude Causing Me to Appreciate an Opportunity to Take Action

This week it is my turn in the training rotation for our weekly learning session on Thursday. In case you have missed hearing about those they are our opportunity to pause everything in our working world for 30-45 minutes to focus on learning more about our core values. We rotate the trainer each week so everyone has an opportunity to share an idea with others. The value we’re keying in on for the next few months is near and dear to my heart… gratitude!

I took a little time last week reviewing some of my favorite articles and videos on the topic. Once I landed on the winner ( David Steindl-Rast’s TED Talk https://www.ted.com/talks/david_steindl_rast_want_to_be_happy_be_grateful/up-next?language=en ) I went back and watched it a few more times. One of the pieces that I found most I retesting was his simple way to be more grateful – Stop, Look, & Listen. Yes, the same simple instructions we were taught when we learned to cross the street. What I hadn’t tied together before was those are the steps in my daily blogging practice that have helped it to create so much joy in my life. I stumbled/lucked into it totally by accident.

As I prepped my brief presentation for Thursday I realized that there are some additional things I must focus on to continue to grow my gratitude practice. At first I kind of shrugged off the cosmic messages and plowed ahead. For some reason I finally stopped, mid sentence, and opened my calendar. I found three days that I did not yet have booked up in the next handful of weeks. Some key strokes and mouse clicks later and I had finally accomplished setting the date to work on something I’ve had in process for quite some time. I will be working those three days, but not on my career, on another passion instead. Had it not been for the lessons I had recently re-learned while watching the video again I most likely wouldn’t have taken action like I did.

Thanks!!!

Day 1,490 – Thankful for Insomnia Leading to the Most Profound Meditative State of My Life

As a middle aged dude I’m apt to wake up once or twice in the night. Last night I fell asleep, awoke at 1:30am, got up and then went back to bed. Laying in bed I could tell my brain was dangerously close to the precipice of full blown mind racing thoughts. I smiled and had an awesome idea that was way better than expected.

On Saturday night I happened across a book online that quickly caught my attention. The entire focus was on breathing techniques and the use of cold to help relaxation and health. I clicked on Audible, downloaded it, and proceeded to listen to approximately a quarter of the book yesterday. One of the techniques that was explained was a deep breathing exercise. It was pretty easy to remember, even in the middle of the night.

As I laid on my back looking up into the blackness of our dark bedroom I figured why not try the breathing exercise. I spent the next minutes (though I couldn’t tell you how long for sure) drawing in deep breaths of air until my lungs expanded my stomach and then slowly releasing the breath. Forty breaths later I expended all the air in my lungs and didn’t breathe in until my lungs made it very clear that I should. I then threw a long, slow, and deep breath and held it until my lungs were ready to release it. This process alone led to some interesting sensations throughout my body and I quickly understood why they recommended doing it only when laying down in a safe place.

My mind was already clear of all thoughts and I went deep into myself. Very quickly I reached that beautiful space in which no thought exists, only sensation and existence. For what seemed like and incredibly long period of time my entire existence was the sensation of my heart beating and pushing the hot blood throughout my entire body. Each beat of my heart was followed by an intense wave of warmth flowing through my veins. It was one of the most intense experiences of my life, certainly the most profound meditative state I’ve even been in.

One of my favorite books, American Gods, has a character who has come back from the dead. She mentions that one of the things she misses the most is the warmth of blood being pushed from her heart to the rest of her body. She never noticed it in life, it was only after her heart stopped beating that she was aware of its now missing presence. When I read the book I thought I understood. After my experience last night I am much closer to a complete understanding of the concept the author was describing. All day long I’ve had these little mini moments of that same sensation in which I can feel an individual heartbeat or two and the following echo across my body. It’s been wild!

When I woke this morning I can’t even being to explain what an amazingly joyful mood I was in. I was excited to wake up and get out of my warm bed. I was pumped to run outside in the frozen air. All my being was in a deep state of gratitude for life and for the gift I received in mediation last night. Throw in some other awesome experiences (like my first dose of 15 seconds of cold water at the end of my shower) and it was one of the best Monday mornings of my life!

This pick just seems to fit for some reason tonight… Not sure if it was the cold, the feeling of being alive, or something else.

All that from one little bit of insomnia, how crazy is that?

Thanks!!!

Day 1,489 – Thankful for My Boys, My Winter Loving Role Models

Dominic is pumped and excited for winter to come so he can go snowboarding. Gavin is very enthusiastic for winter to arrive so he can try out his new snowshoes. I’m… well, before this weekend I wasn’t very pumped for winter to show up.

In watching the excitement level of the boys increase for the prospect of snow that sticks on the ground I’m finding myself smiling more and more. I’m not usually a fan of winter. In past years my only excitement for winter was that it would be so extreme that I could finally talk Becky into our (my) plan to move to Hawaii 😉 This time around I’m finding that I’m borderline excited for the season myself… and for good reasons.

The boys are reminding me on a daily basis to think like a stoic. Winter is coming, there’s nothing I can do to stop it. The options of moving away for the season are not what I want, I am choosing to be here. If I can’t change the cold temperatures and snow from coming why bother fighting it? How can I lean into it instead? That’s where the boys come in.

There is a lot they could be frustrated about right now. There are many aspects of “normal” that aren’t happening due to COVID. Winter is only going to restrict us further. Are they sulking about it or complaining? Nope! They’re finding ways to stay active and focus on what they can do. Dominic is focused on snowboarding. Gavin is focused on snowshoeing. The idea of getting frustrated about winter isn’t even on their radar. They welcome it and are planning to make the best of it.

Yup, he was outside practicing a few things even though there wasn’t enough snow. That’s how excited he is for winter. Heck, he didn’t even complain about me getting a picture of him, that’s how pumped he is!

With role models like them who am I to complain or be frustrated about winter? Screw it, I’m kind of excited to get out and snowshoe. The idea of spending time hiking out in the cold actually sounds like fun in a slightly twisted way. Our morning runs have already been chilly, would a few degrees and/or inches of snow really make a difference? Haven’t we just spent the past six months proving that we can find and create ways to sustain joy even in less than ideal situations?

Boys, thanks for reminding the Old Man of how important it is to choose the right attitude and focus on the positive. I am grateful for awesome role models like you guys! Bring on the cold and the snow, I’m ready dudes!

Thanks!!!

Day 1,488 – Thankful for Spending Time Hiking New Trails In the Sun

I’m not sure how to explain this the right way, but I’ve felt more and more compelled to spend time out in the woods lately. Maybe it’s all the craziness in society, maybe it’s from the additional outdoors time we’ve had this year, or maybe it’s something else. Regardless, spending time outdoors has been even more appealing for me now than in the past.

The boys are outside at Scout camp enjoying their annual Spook O Ree so Becky and I found ourselves with a full day of nothing on the agenda for a Saturday. That in of itself is something I’m very thankful for. Becky has an awesome idea and we decided to head out a little later in the morning.

There are about six miles of new hiking and biking trails up on Grandad Bluff. The new trails are BEAUTIFUL!!! There’s an excellent variety of trail types from hard packed gravel to rocky. The views are gorgeous and provide some epic views of the the driftless area. Seeing as they are all new we decided we might as well hike the entire trail system!

Spending time out in the woods hiking brings such peace to my soul. Surrounded by nature the rest of the world drifts away and I’m able to be in the present moment focused only on appreciating the natural wonder all around. Sharing these magic moments outside with Becky makes it even more enjoyable. By the time we got back to the car my soul was filled and I felt totally recharged.

Something that added to the experience was the sun shining down almost the entire time. It’s been quite dreary as of late so the warmth of the sun was a wonderful addition to the scenery. I’m thankful for the cloudiness of the past week as it really helped me take a moment to appreciate the bright sunshine. The remaining brightly colored leaves were all the more brilliant thanks to the sunlight.

Ahh… serenity now. For reals, not in a Frank Costanza kind of way. 😉

Thanks!!!

Thanks!!!

Day 1,487 – Thankful for a Surprise Lemon Bar and Remembering I Always Have a Choice

So from an early point in the morning today my mind was focused on how grateful I am for remembering that regardless of the situation there is always a choice. Then my shiny syndrome kicked in and I went in a completely different direction for a period of time. Becky picked up some treats for some folks and sent Gavin up to my office to deliver this beauty:

YES!!! Lemon bars are amongst my favorite desserts and are totally on my personal Mount Rushmore of sweets. When life hand me a lemon bar… I pause, enjoy every single delicious bite of lemony heaven, and take time to be grateful for such an awesome snack. Lemon bars, proof there is a God and He loves us. 😉

Time to wipe the drool off my face and move on to the deeper slice of gratitude today.

No matter what is happening or what the situation is there is always a choice to make. Sometimes I can get myself all worked up and bent out of shape about something. If I’m not careful and I stew on it too long I can keep going down the wrong path and start to feel trapped, stuck, forced, and out of control. Before long I catch myself thinking ridiculous thoughts like “that’s not fair” or “why does this have to be like this?” Instead of actually dealing with the present and reality my mind wanders off into “What If? World.” The only thing that happens there is more frustration, disappointment, and denial.

What helps hold me in the present instead of floating into too much frustration is remembering that I always have a choice. There is always something I can do. Maybe it’s changing the situation. Sometimes it might be remembering what I can learn from this and seeing it as a way to grow. There are other times when it reminds me that I could take action to fix the situation rather than sitting back and complaining about it. Regardless, I always have a choice to make. In pausing to remember that I am choosing a certain path I put the ownership of it back on me. I may not like the options, but I always have a choice to make.

Today was one of those days when I remembered that I have a choice and it helped bring calm to my day. Funny how a reminder of the little bit of control we always have puts everything in the right perspective.

Thanks!!!

Day 1,486 – Thankful for a Stumbling Upon an Often Used Nugget of Wisdom

Several years ago I was turned on to TED Talks. The short 5 to 20-ish minute videos shared such wonderful insights on many different topics. There are so many wonderful stories, ideas, nuggets of information, strategy, and inspiration. If I wasn’t careful I could spend a few hours jumping from talk to talk as my mind continued to seek out new ideas and information.

Many of the talk come down to one or two truly defining lines. Those were the pieces of gold that helped me mentally catalogue the talk for future reference and examination. One in particular has stuck with me more than almost any other through the years.

Dan Conley has an excellent talk focused on measuring what makes life worthwhile. You can check it out at https://www.ted.com/talks/chip_conley_measuring_what_makes_life_worthwhile. In this conversation he brings up a very profound idea from a book written by Rabbi Hyman Schachtel. The basic idea is that happiness isn’t about having what you want, happiness is wanting what you have. Conley further distilled it into the following equation:

Our happiness is equal to how much we want what we have DIVIDED by having what we want. The more we want what we have the more happiness we have.

What is this concept in a single word? Gratitude.

Since I first viewed this video so much has happened in my life. Throughout so many moments this concept has come back to the top of my mind. Sometimes it is to remind me to be thankful for what I have instead of wanting more. Other times it’s to remind me that I have to find a way to want what I have – even if it is something I don’t want. In those moment more than any other it is even more important to to find a way to be grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow from the experience. This one little phrase has had such a profoundly positive impact on my life.

To have stumbled upon it again this afternoon was incredibly well timed. I’ll be going to bed with a smile on my face as many thoughts of gratitude for so many blessings in life go through my head.

Thanks!!!

Day 1,485 – Thankful for a Gift of Remembrance to Myself and a Day Which Has Shaped My Life

Pause and think back to October 20, 2017. What were you doing that day? What was one of your highlights? What was the weather like? Was it an early winter or an unseasonably warm autumn day?

I am fortunate and blessed to remember parts of that day with complete clarity. I can still sense the sun on face, feel the breeze on my skin, and smell the fresh leaves on the ground. I remember the sensation of a hug from above as I was showered with falling yellow leaves. I still hold on tightly to the message that hit me so deeply that day.

One of the ongoing benefits of blogging each day hit me last night and has stuck with me through today. In taking time to write each day I’ve accidentally started a record of some of my favorite moments from the past five years. Little details that would have possibly remained buried in my brain are brought back to the surface much more often than they usually would have been. I am so deeply grateful for this wonderful gift I’m giving myself!

What’s also stuck with me is that since I wrote this post three years ago I’ve visited this same place often. Sometimes it’s a quick yet reverent drive through on my way in to the office. Other times I walk through and take my time reading old headstones. A couple of weeks ago I caught a picture of the sunrise, and just this past Monday I spent time taking it all in.

Each time I am there or think of that place my mind goes to the same thought… Memento Mori… Latin for “Remember you will die.” …and I feel more alive than I did moments before.

As I wrote about three years ago (https://thankful4forty.com/2017/10/20/day-388-thankful-for-memento-mori/) this is far from a dark or depressing thought. Remembering that life is finite, that our time here will end, and that this physical form is only temporary are amongst the most precious gifts we’ve been given. In remembering that one day we will die we are reminded to live each day to its fullest. Another way of looking at it is put wonderfully in a song lyric:

I don’t want a never ending life, I just want to be alive while I’m here.

The Strumbellas

The experience I had on that day three years ago was one of the building blocks of my foundation of my view of life. Only a handful of months prior I lost Dad. Within a month of this day I would be picking up Meditations by Marcus Aurelius in the San Francisco airport while the boys and I were headed to New Zealand. In many ways October 20, 2017 was one of the most meaningful days of my life.

Tonight I’m thankful for the gift I’m giving myself of remembrance, and I’m just as grateful for a day that helped shaped me into who I should be.

Thanks!!!

Day 1,484 – Thankful for More Adventures In Habit Stacking

Habit stacking? Yes, habit stacking. A while back I wrote about being thankful for habit stacking – the practice of intentionally using one habit to create another desired habit. When used correctly it’s a wonderful way to change behavior for the better. On the flip side, it’s also how negative habits can build more and more negative habits over time.

Today I’m thankful for my latest intentional habit stacking adventure. When I get into a TV series I really get into it. So much so that I could consume the entire series in a very short period of time. Spending that much time watching TV does not align with my purpose or the goals I would like to accomplish in life. As such I need to keep that habit minimized, but I still like different series to help round out life experience and provide entertainment.

What I needed to do was take something that comes very easy (watching TV) and combine it with something that I would normally have to push myself to do. For a while I was sleeping in on Tuesday and Thursday mornings instead of getting up to get an early sweat going. I wanted to get back into the habit of early morning exercise on those two days, specifically biking on my indoor bike trainer.

The habits I’m now stacking are watching TV while I ride my bike on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. I’ve just finished up watching World’s Toughest Race and this morning moved on to the documentary of the the New Zealand All Blacks 2017 season (no spoilers please, I’m already fighting the urge to hop on Google and find all the results!). The weather is too crappy to bike outside but I still like getting my miles in. There are TV shows I want to watch, but I don’t want to take time away from other activities to watch them. Put the two together for 60-75 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and we’ve got a wonderful habit stack!

Thanks!!!