But automation isn’t all roses. It keeps us inside a “safe” zone where we can roam freely without fear of pain or other potential pesky problems like death. As great as that sounds, growth is never pain- or problem-free. If we don’t step outside our comfort zone, we’ll never approach our potential, let alone achieve it.
Fortunately, you have choice. Yours need not be a mediocre life on autopilot. You can be phenomenal, and it starts when you step outside your comfort zone to embrace the new you.
Pay the price
Admittedly, the prospect of stepping outside one’s comfort zone literally terrifies many of us. The mind quickly presents memories of past pains that linger on into the present. It’s like our brain is saying, “Hey, remember this? You don’t want to go there; you might get hurt again!”
And that’s true. You might. But here’s another piece of truth: Nothing ventured, nothing gained. You can stay inside your little hobble with its practically guaranteed pain-free life. And you’ll live that life first with the repressed yearning of wanting more and then with the regurgitating regrets of never responding to that call.
Again, the good news is you have choice. If you want to have or be something more, you can have or be it. You just need to be willing to pay the price in full and in advance to get it.
That’s how everything is. If you want to see the show, you need a ticket. But you’ll never get the ticket until you pay the price in full and in advance. Only then do you get admitted to the show.
Push through the pain
And that’s where most people get off the train. That’s why most New Year’s resolutions don’t even last a week, let alone the whole year or even the first month. The vast majority of us collide with that eternal truth and decide we’d rather be comfortable. And so we revert back to our old habits and spend the rest of the year wishing we had a better life only to repeat the whole cycle again at the start of the next year.
Seriously, is that the life you want? Do you want to go through the same motions over and over, always wondering why you can’t ever seem to escape that rut of failure? Are you sick and tired of always getting less than what you want? If you want a different life, you can have it. You just need to be willing to pay the price to get it.
For many, that point doesn’t come until they get sick and tired of being sick and tired. Only after that moment do they have resolve to push through the pain of growth, achieve their dreams, and become the embodiment of their potential.
Take the risk
And yeah, it’s scary. You very well could get hurt again. But you’ll never see the new you emerge unless you’re willing to risk.
Take love, for example. Many burned in a romantic relationship retreat back to their hobble where they play the turtle in a shell. These people will never know the love they dream about because they’re acting contrary to the nature of what they want.
You can’t have the amazing love we all dream about having without trust. And trust wouldn’t need to exist unless there was something to lose. Without opening yourself to be vulnerable, there’s no need for trust. And without trust, there’s no way to have the deep love we all want in life.
Everything else worthwhile in life — the elements comprising your best life — operate on the same principle. To achieve success, you must be willing to risk failure and all its attendant heartache, pain, and other assorted problems. You must pay the price to get your ticket to the show.
And what a difference it makes when you do. You can embrace a new you. When you step outside your comfort zone and risk failure, you can experience the growth that will set you on the path to your best life. And that will bring you more joy in your journey.
Take a lesson from a farmer
Many don’t believe that. They assume life is the collection of circumstances outside their control. But that’s why many people aren’t all that happy.
Your focus determines your reality. Because you can choose what you focus on, you can choose your reality. True, most don’t choose their circumstances, but that never stopped anyone who lived joyfully from living joyfully. These people lived their best life because they made different choices with the same circumstances.
Some of us should take a lesson from a farmer. Farmers don’t choose their circumstances. They have the soil and the water that’s available. Their seeds for planting are whatever they are. The weather will be whatever it will be. So much of what’s needful for the harvest is outside their control. Yet with hard work in what they can control, they produce bountiful harvests year after year.
In like manner, we haven’t chosen many of the circumstances of our lives. What we have is what we have, and it’s often all we have. But if we work hard in what we can control, we can produce harvests of truly joyful living year after year. This is what I call your best life.
Embrace what you control
I can hear many of you now. What exactly can we control? Here’s my answer: Standards, attitude, approach.
It starts with standards. You’ll never design your best life without knowing what’s acceptable and what’s not. The best delineations between what you’ll tolerate and what you won’t are made after partnering with the Lord to get good with you. Once you know and accept who you really are and what your personal ministry should be, you can best draw that line between what you’ll accept in your life and what you won’t. The more clear you make that definition, the more able you’ll be to live the life you intend.
Once you know exactly what you want, you need resolve to do whatever it takes to get it (within the realm of covenant living, of course). You need the attitude of the victor and not the victim. That attitude will fire your imagination to design a life you’ll truly enjoy and pull you through to that fulfilling end when the road there gets tough.
Of course, attitude without action will never bring you achievement. To live a life you design, you must take action. Working smart as well as working hard requires attention to one’s approach. Too often we think what we seek must come in one specific way. But much of life is not path-dependent; there’s often more than one road leading to the top of the mountain. And sometimes the road that’s best for us to travel is not the one we expect.
Get clear and get going
With these three elements in place — standards, attitude, and approach — you can decide what you want your life to be and feel the joy that comes from working to make it happen. Usually that means taking small steps every single day to inch yourself closer to the life you dream.
That’s where many of us fall short. We don’t do the little things everyday that can near us to our best life. Then, after a larger block of time has passed, we can’t help but notice we’re left standing on the pier because our ship has long since sailed.
That’s where being clear about your standards, attitude, and approach holds its best value. Once you’re crystal clear on those elements, what you need to do everyday will be obvious. Performing those seemingly small and insignificant actions everyday will collect to create the very significant life you design for yourself.
So what are you waiting for? Get clear, and then get going. None of this happens overnight. But as you move closer to the life you design for yourself, you’ll feel the joy that comes from making progress. And that will bring you more joy in your journey.
Last week we discussed how to find your useful passions and get busy making other people’s lives better. Until you do, you’ll never see the results you want to see from adopting a personal ministry.
But that’s true in every arena of life. If you want results, you must take action. And isn’t that what we all really want? No matter where we are in life or what we’ve been through, at the end of the day we all want results.
How do we get results? Results come from one and only one thing: action. Too many of us are sitting on the sidelines waiting for God to act so we can receive results when in actuality God is waiting for us to act by using the agency and the talents He gave us to deliver our results to ourselves.
We must act. When we know what we want out of life, we need to get down on it and get busy going after it. Only then will we have our best life.
Most people do nothing to effect the change they want. When life throws them a curve — and life will always throw you a curve — most people complain. They complain about how unfair it is, how disadvantaged they are, or how luck doesn’t favor them. And the only thing they do in addition to complain is complain some more!
But where does that leave them? It leaves them at the station because they never got on the train; they never took action. And therefore, they didn’t get results. Results don’t come without action. So if you don’t take any action, you don’t get any results.
In addition, your focus determines your reality. That’s why people who constantly complain can never rid their lives of the misery and depression that prompts them to complain about how miserable and depressed they are. When you focus on the negative, your reality will be filled with negativity. The way to change your reality is to change your focus. To have a positive reality, take action to focus on the positive.
Change it up
Now, I can hear some of you saying, “Yeah, well, I took action and I didn’t get results.” Maybe you asked someone out and got rejected. Maybe you applied for a job you didn’t get. Maybe you tried to stick to a weight-loss diet and couldn’t resist eating that pizza. Whatever it was, you saw what you wanted, you took action to get it, and you fell flat on your face.
It’s true that if you don’t take action, you don’t get results. But perhaps it would be better to say if you don’t take any different action, you don’t get any different results. Your results are always consistent with the action you take. So when you want different results, you need to change it up and take different actions, ones consistent with the results you want.
Is your life the same as it was two years ago? If so, it’s because last year you didn’t do anything different than you did the year before. And next year will be just like last year unless you start doing something different. The next two, five, or even ten years of your life will be just like the last two, five, or ten years unless you start doing something different.
Look for the little things
And this is where most people get stuck. They know they need to do something different. They just don’t know what that something is.
Enter partnering with the Lord stage left. When you partner with the Lord, He’ll show you what you need to change. “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5) — including the truth of the changes you need to make to move towards your best life.
In that effort, it’s best to look for the little things you need to change — the small habits you can practice every day that will move you in your desired direction. After all, the big wins we want in life are just collections of the little wins accumulated consistently over time.
When you know what little habits you need to adopt every day, get down on it and stick with it. Don’t wait for your blessings to appear magically. Know the results you want, determine the actions you need to take to get those results, and then get down on it. When you start to move in the direction of your goals and dreams, feeling that progress will invigorate you to do and be more. And that will bring you more joy in your journey.
We all know the LDS single who’s so eager to be married that he or she instantly gravitates towards anyone who appears to promise a blessed end to single status. Maybe you’ve even been that single yourself.
I was once all about finding that eternal companion but never actually finding her. I felt like that hamster down at the pet store, always just spinning my wheels and never getting anywhere. And I felt miserable.
I thought I was doing the right thing. After all, our leaders have talked endlessly about the importance of marriage and family. Our LDS culture is centered around family. It made sense to go after it directly.
But that’s exactly the problem. It doesn’t come when you pursue it directly. It comes when you let it come to you.
Understand how it works
We’re all hard wired to operate out of habit. And what we do determines what we get. So if we entertain less effective habits, we’ll keep getting less effective results. And it won’t end until we replace the less effective habit with a more effective one.
Many LDS singles have the less effective habit of making a beeline for anyone appearing to promise hope for marriage. But when you understand how everything works, you’ll realize you need to ditch the beeline.
Here’s how it works. Marriage means the agency of another person is involved. You can’t choose for others. Someone else has to choose you. That means the most you can do is influence that choice.
That’s why you keep hearing platitudes like “Just be yourself” or “Keep working on yourself.” They’re all true up to a point. Doing these things will influence the right person to choose you.
But beyond that point lies the reality where we all live. This most important choice has many influences in addition to the one you exert. And these other considerations outside your control can drown any hope of acquiring desired blessings. Your challenge, then, is to exert your best influence, trusting the Lord to cross your path with someone who will choose you. Are you up to it?
Rise to the challenge
You can best rise to the challenge by letting go of pursuing marriage directly and adopting a personal ministry. This really is your best approach for exerting your best influence.
Here’s why. When you pursue marriage directly, you broadcast to everyone around you you’re all about marriage. No one really wants to marry someone who’s more interested in some personal agenda. So you come off appearing desperate.
When you drop the beeline and adopt a personal ministry, you’re about something bigger than yourself. You let your best self shine while serving others. Devoting yourself to your own personal ministry shakes off the scales of desperation so that others see you as someone interesting, someone worth getting to know better, maybe even share a life with.
Guess what? Now you’re influencing others to decide in your favor.
Other powerful influences exist, yes, but that’s where walking by faith comes in. When you partner with the Lord, He’ll lead you to those with whom your best influence will be more than good enough. That’s because they’ll hearken to the voice of the Spirit when He says, “Give this one a chance.”
Embrace your best self
Many LDS singles live in fear that their desired blessings won’t come. But that’s no way to live. It’s much more joyful to let go of directly pursuing marriage and instead pursue what will influence others to choose in your favor.
Devoting yourself to your own personal ministry can make the waiting more joyful, however long that waiting lasts. Do you want just to endure to the end? Or do you want to thrive?
Of course, you should keep looking for and pursuing opportunities that arise. But your universe won’t be rotating around them. So let go of directly pursuing marriage. Let it come to you. When you devote yourself to your personal ministry, you can embrace your best self. And that will bring you more joy in your journey.
After church on Sunday, a member of the stake high council asked me if I were going to attend the singles activity later that day. I confided that I haven't been attending because I don't feel welcome. Why should I dress up in a stuffy shirt and tie to sit on benches that aren't that comfortable only to be all alone? I can wear a T-shirt and sweat pants on my couch and be just as alone but far more comfy. So why go?
In the ensuing conversation, I learned that he recognized the people hold the perspective of the dating forum. I then shared with him some of what I’ve shared about the dating forum and the activity club many times in this forum. We quickly came to agreement there, but then he simply repeated his invitation without any resolve to change anything. I said I’d think about it. Of course, I didn't go.
I did think about that conversation, though, during the following days. Those thoughts led to an important realization: Clearly we see the problem in how singles view activities, but the problem will never be solved unless we take action. But exactly what action is anyone supposed to take? I’ve done this before and so know what to do. But do my local leaders? Based on the conversation I had Sunday, it doesn’t seem so.
What can be done to turn around a local singles group so that people choose the support network over the dating forum and the activities club? That's the very question I’m going to answer right now.
Get buy-in from leadership
The first thing you need to do is get buy-in from leadership. Nothing happens in this church unless leadership is on board. So you've got to get the vision of the support network yourself. And then you must sell that vision to leadership.
And by leadership, I mean both married and single members serving in leadership positions. Everyone from the stake presidency to the high council to the bishopric to any singles leaders serving on both stake and ward levels must adopt the vision of the support network. Anyone who thinks their responsibility is just to calendar activities doesn’t have the vision. You've got to work with them until they adopt the support network.
You’ll know they have the vision when they start playing their part in the support network. Those attending activities will actively greet and welcome everyone they can. They'll talk to people, helping them feel somebody cares enough to be interested in them. They'll also look for those sitting by themselves, offering to sit with them or inviting them to join a larger group seated together.
Get buy-in from the people
Once leadership is on board, you’ve got to secure buy-in from the people. That means you instill the vision of the support network in every single adult so that they do the same things leaders do — connecting with people and helping them feel supported.
Too often we think those in leadership positions do things no one else does. In some respects that's true, but more often than not, leadership is something everyone should display. Leadership is a choice, not a position.
And leadership in spreading the vision of the support network is something every single adult should practice. Otherwise, you'll never have the support network. The arrangement of everybody helping everybody happens only when everyone reaches out to everyone. It can't be just those in leadership positions. Everyone has a part to play because everyone matters.
Accept nothing less than glory
Support networks take time to build because you must change the way people think. And because we’re hardwired to follow habit, you're going to meet some resistance both from leaders who think their job is to do nothing more than plan activities and from singles who think in terms of the dating forum or the activities club.
That's why part of leadership’s role is to instill the vision of the support network in everyone. You must tell people directly what you're trying to accomplish. You must show them what can happen when everyone gets on board with the vision. And you must invite them one by one to play their part in making that vision reality.
It won't be easy, and it will take time. But it is possible. I know because I’ve done it. So be patient. Keep working. Love the people. Accept nothing less than glory, and in time you’ll see the support network start to take hold. You'll see people reaching out to each other. You'll see the needs of people being met. You’ll see that you can turn it around. And you'll feel more of the Savior's love for one another. And that will bring you more joy in your journey.
Sometimes your dreams can seem so far away as to be unreachable. So much remains to be done, and so much of that lies outside your control, that you wonder how you’ll ever arrive. How could the blessings you desire ever be yours?
Very often there’s a real difference between how things feel and how things really are. Sure, nothing worth having comes easy. But sometimes the obstacles before you can seem bigger than they really are. Only by stepping out of your comfort zone and rising to your challenges do you see how big they really are.
And that's when you find what you thought was insurmountable really is doable. You just have to get started and take it one step at a time. By consistently doing the small things that move you further in your journey, you can conquer any challenge set before you. You can go the distance.
What drives those who achieve phenomenal results in life, those who make their dreams reality? It’s vision. Vision is different than sight. Sight depends on what you see with your physical eyes. But vision depends on what you see with your spiritual eyes — the eye of faith.
You begin by seeing yourself in a different way. As we’ve frequently discussed, that requires you to think in new and different ways. If you surround yourself with negativity, if your self talk is consistently negative, you'll find it hard to believe in possibility. You'll find it hard to believe that your life could be any different than how it has been. Only when your self talk is consistently positive and you surround yourself with positive energy will you be thinking in ways that allow you to see a brighter tomorrow for yourself.
But just seeing yourself differently isn’t enough. You must believe that vision can become reality and that it can be yours — because the truth is that can! Such belief comes from faith — faith that you’re a child of God and that he loves you, faith that He wants you to succeed, faith that He’ll help you realize your dream and become everything you’re capable of becoming.
When you have a vision of what you can become, that vision can drive you to do incredible things. But you must make the conscious choice to do what is necessary every day to move yourself closer to the realization of your vision. You must adopt a habit of consistently doing what is necessary.
The so-called little things in life are really the big things. It's the small actions performed every day that move us closer, inch by inch, to the reality our vision shows us. Observed in one moment of time, those little actions may seem insignificant. But collectively over time, those small actions done every day can comprise a considerable sum.
That's why you need the determination to do what’s necessary every day. Never surrender. Results come from action and nothing else. When you fail to act, you don’t make the small contribution that over time adds up to a considerable sum. Only by denying the natural man or woman who wants you to coast, to be satisfied with a life beneath the reality your vision shows you can you overcome mediocrity and achieve your fullest potential and the phenomenal life you dream of having. You must be determined never to surrender.
But that determination can turn to frustration unless you begin to see the opportunities amid your obstacles. Every obstacle comes with at least one opportunity. Most people, however, never see that opportunity because they're too prone to look only at the obstacle.
As I’ve said many times, your focus determines your reality. If all you see is the obstacle in front of you, then your reality will be one of obstruction. But when you focus on seeking out the opportunity that comes with every obstacle, your reality will be one of opportunity. And as the Savior once taught, “Seek, and ye shall find” (Matthew 7:7).
Only by gaining the vision of what your life can be and then resolutely moving towards it, though you move only inches a day, will your dreams ever become reality. But that's what walking by faith is all about. It's not living life based on what you see with your physical eyes. It's living life based on what you see with your spiritual eyes.
When you walk by faith, taking each step with vision and determination to do what’s necessary and find the opportunity, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing your dreams will one day be your reality because you choose to go the distance. And that will bring you more joy in your journey.
Last week I addressed how habits can keep LDS singles back from enjoying the eternal blessings they seek. At the end of the day, results are what matter. And whatever results we have come from the choices we consistently make. Our results come from our habits.
Habit is so individualized that no one can detail every habit holding people back. But I can describe some less-effective habits many LDS singles have in common. We talked about some of them on the program last week.
In thinking about that program this past week, I recognize one habit many LDS singles have that deserves special attention. Too many of us want perfection to waltz into our lives and set comfortably in our laps. We look at people as they are now, and we act on the assumption that what we see now is what will always be.
But the truth is that people will always change over time. The question then is in what direction. Will that change be positive or negative? Direction, not position, determines what results we’ll get in the future. If we truly want to think about the long game of eternity, we should value direction over position.
Get to know people
This may seem incredibly simplistic. You might even be thinking to yourself this isn’t a problem you have. But such is the nature of habit that very often what we do and what we think we do don’t match.
A common manifestation of this habit appears when we judge others by their external appearance. Just because someone is fat or otherwise physically unattractive doesn't mean that person will always be that way. And yet isn't that what we think when we see people like that?
With just a single point on a graph, you can’t tell where the next point on a line will be because the line could be oriented in any direction. But with other points to mark the way, forecasting a future point on a line becomes easier.
Likewise, you can't tell from a single conversation or other encounter what direction someone has. You can tell only their position. But after multiple encounters, it's much easier to determine someone's direction.
Those multiple encounters are like multiple points on a graph revealing the patterns that evidence what habits someone has. And understanding their habits allows you to forecast more accurately what results they’ll have – and also what results you’ll have if you both intertwine your lives together. To value direction over position means getting to know people well enough to ascertain their direction.
Accept the risks
Some don’t want to spend that time. Maybe they accept that people will change, but given someone’s present position they don’t want to deal with the inconvenience that change will bring. In this age of instant everything, we want the results we want to appear now. Spending extra time with people to get to know who they really are doesn't jibe with that culture.
But it does mesh well with a Christ-centered culture. Christ was the ultimate example of that love called charity. When we surrender to love and take the time to get to know who people really are, we follow in the path marked by the Master.
Why don't we make more effective choices more often? The best answer is the simplest; we have less effective choices encoded in our habits. We've adopted the habit of not surrendering to love, of staying safe within our own comfort zones, and of avoiding the risk of pain or other difficulty in our lives.
Yet the only true safety lies in taking risks. You can’t have the greatest happiness without risking having the greatest sadness. You can’t have the greatest comfort without risking having the greatest hassle. Greatness simply cannot come without risk.
Put aside the agendas
When we put aside our own agendas and get to know people for who they really are, we not only surrender to love but also invite into our lives the love we seek. When we value direction over position, we declare with our actions that we value the fundamental nature of people more than what appears superficially today.
When we value position over direction, we send the message that we love people only if they meet certain conditions. But when we value direction over position, we send the message that we love people unconditionally because we don’t insist that people be a certain way today. We recognize we’re all imperfect today and on the same journey towards perfection tomorrow.
Value love for others over love for self. Value people over personal agenda. Value direction over position. When you do, you'll find your dating journey more enjoyable. And that will bring you more joy in your journey.
This has been called the age of the knowledge worker. The great heroes of the age are all intellectual giants. We elevate those with superior intellect to the top of the mountain and then stand at the base looking up in awe and admiration.
That's why I know it sounds amazing. How can we be hardwired not to think? Well, for most of what we do, automation just makes sense.
Have you ever had to use your brain all day? Remember how your head ached? Why would your brain hurt if it was doing what it’s designed to do? It wouldn’t. Your head aches because it spent too much time operating outside its intended design.
Understanding how you’re designed to work can help you live your best life more easily, avoiding the frustration that attends life. It all starts by understanding that you’re hardwired not to think.
Life on autopilot
Imagine what life would be like if you had to think about every breath you took in order to breathe. You wouldn't have time for anything else. So yes, automation has its benefits.
But automation also has its detriments. Automating means doing that for everything. We’re designed to operate out of a set of instructions. And that set of instructions is habit.
Because most of what we do is automated and the instructions for that automation are our habits, we act out of habit for most of what we do. And here’s the kicker: That means we do what we do without really thinking about it.
Notice our design is just to follow instructions. There’s no evaluation of the instructions in the operational design. We’re hardwired to follow a set of instructions, not pick and choose which instructions to follow.
This scenario sets the stage for much frustration in life. We’ll follow the instructions in habit regardless of the effect those instructions have upon us. Thus, many go through life experiencing failure after failure when they’re simply acting out of less effective instructions encoded in their habits. Those who aren’t self aware enough to realize what’s happening will just keep doing what they do without thinking about it.
In many ways, we really are our own worst obstacle.
Life by intention
But it doesn't have to be that way. The same process that produces a negative effect can produce a positive one. You just need to replace the less effective instruction with more effective instruction. You need to adopt a better habit.
This is more than just quitting a bad habit. When all you do is quit a habit, your brain (hardwired to have a habit) goes looking for one. And the default selection is always the last habit you had. So to get rid of a less effective habit completely, you must replace it with a more effective one.
To do that, live life intentionally. Consciously choose what you do. To go where you want to go, you must steer the ship of your life. You must consciously choose your direction. You must live with intention.
I know that sounds simplistic, but so many of us don't do that. Again, we’re hardwired not to think. That means our default selection is to follow a habit rather than make conscious choices. Many who just “go with the flow” find their lives unsatisfying. But what they’re really dissatisfied with are their habits.
Life with joy
What does all this have to do with LDS singles life? Everything! Many LDS singles dissatisfied with their lives don't realize they’re really dissatisfied with their habits. They keep looking outside themselves for why they're single, when the answer they seek is really inside them.
You don't have the results you want when you don’t do what you need to do. Instead of blaming others when your life isn’t what you want, own your life and blame yourself. Take ownership of your choices and the role they played in leading you to the life you have now. Examine your habits and replace less effective instructions with more effective instructions. In short, reformat and reboot yourself.
When you own your life and take charge of your choices, you position yourself for success. You can consciously eliminate the less effective habits you follow without thinking — habits that keep you from the success you want — and replace them with more effective habits that will deliver the results you desire.
It's not an overnight ordeal, but if you consistently stay at it, you can start seeing changes in your life. You can see yourself moving towards the blessings you desire. When you give your all to that process of continuously trying to incorporate into your life what’s right for you, you'll find happiness. And that will bring you more joy in your journey.
Last week, I invited LDS singles everywhere who currently feel stuck in their lives to declare their independence from a life of mediocrity. I also described a three-step process to help them get on track to their best life — make a decision to change, commit to that change, and then execute.
But it's not enough just to be on the right track. You can start down that road toward your best life, but you won't get very far if you can't change with the changes life will bring you. To correct the set of your sail as the winds blow this way and that, you must develop self-awareness.
Self-awareness is a skill and like any other skill can be learned. Also like any other skill, the more you practice it, the better you get. You start to develop that skill when you wake up out of life on autopilot and live your life by conscious choice.
Don’t be a zombie
If you think self-awareness isn’t a part of the solution you need to live your best life, think again. You’ll never have your best life (or anything else you might call greatness) by accident. You must intend to have it and act with that intention.
That means making conscious choices instead of living on autopilot, which has you making choices out of habit. When you fail to practice the self-awareness skills that can take you outside yourself, you’ll simply be playing out whatever habit you have because that’s how you’re designed to operate.
Your brain is hardwired to follow instructions. And the instructions it follows best are the ones encoded in habit, because having a habit is also hardwired into your brain. It doesn’t matter whether the habit is good or bad, helps you or hurts you, or brings you success or failure. Whatever habit you have is the default you’ll turn to when you don’t make a conscious choice.
Because you have habits for practically everything you do, and you’re hardwired to follow the instructions encoded in those habits, it’s easy to live life just going through the motions. And indeed, this is how most people live. They walk through life like zombies!
But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you feel like a zombie as the years of your life tick on by, then here’s some free advice: Stop being a zombie! Wake up!
Step into the light
Many people walking through life like zombies don’t even realize what’s happening. That’s why it’s called life on autopilot. They’re so caught up in their own lives that they don’t see their habits playing automatically in the background. And when their habits keep bringing them the results they’ve always had — results they don’t want — they feel stuck in frustration that seems unending.
Only when you step outside yourself can you get a clear view of the way out of that dead end perspective. Developing self-awareness skills allows you to step outside yourself. It’s very much like stepping out of the dark and into the light.
Once you understand your habit-based operational design, it’s easier to step outside yourself to evaluate the details of those habits. You can also better see how your habits have brought you your results — the life you’ve known up to now. At this point, if you own your life, it won’t be hard at all to accept the changes you need to make in you to get better results.
Find your exercise
Of course, you can find many different approaches to developing self-awareness so you can see more clearly the changes you need to make in you. Many of these approaches rely on seeking answers to questions through reflection and/or writing.
Some of my favorite exercises for improving self-awareness involve other people. The whole point of developing self-awareness is so you can step outside yourself to see more clearly. Other people are by definition already outside yourself. Getting feedback from these, especially friends who provide honest yet constructive criticism, can help you make improvements light years ahead of the ones you could make without their help.
Meditation is another self-awareness exercise gaining popularity and one that I’ve started recently. The main benefits I’ve seen so far from my practice are lower stress levels during the day and better sleep at night. The best part is that it takes only ten minutes just before bed. In exchange for these disproportionately positive returns, I’ll gladly stay up an extra ten minutes.
Whatever approach you decide to take, developing self-awareness skills can help you leave a life on autopilot for an intentional life lived through conscious choices. By acting with more intention from conscious choices, you can more easily live your best life. And that will bring you more joy in your journey.
Yet the Prophet’s remarks weren’t the only ones which inspired and impressed themselves upon me. President Dallin H. Oaks’s address entitled “Small and Simple Things” reminded me of the great power of small actions performed consistently over time.
To be clear, I’ve always liked President Oaks. His logical approach to addressing any question has always resonated with me. And he’s been a real champion for LDS singles. Some of the most classic discourses for singles have come from him.
Considering that admiration, I’m always impressed with his remarks. But something was different for me this around. As President Oaks spoke, I felt an urgent need to consider what small and simple things I have in my life.
Ask the questions
President Oaks began by sharing two photographs each showing a tree with a root that had slowly grown underneath an adjacent sidewalk and cracked it. He observed that “the thrusting power that cracked these heavy concrete sidewalks was too small to measure on a daily or even a monthly basis, but its effect over time was incredibly powerful.”
President Oaks then mentioned many of the small and simple things that can uplift us (like prayer, scripture study, and repentance) as well as those small and simple things that can hold us back. He of course mentioned the Word of Wisdom and pornography in this regard. But I remain impressed with the other areas he included in his cautions:
For good or ill, those small and simple things we embrace consistently will shape us into who we become. President Oaks quoted Brigham Young when speaking on this point.
All this begs questions for each of us. What small and simple things do I have in my life? Will they lead me where I want to go? And what ones should I have to help me achieve my goals and dreams?
Consider the time
Whatever we decide to incorporate into our lives will have little if any effect if we don’t perform it consistently. The half-hearted, occasional, or sporadic effort won’t produce change. Consistency is the key that unlocks success.
What really struck me about President Oaks’s remarks is his holistic perspective. Of course he mentioned the small and simple things we’d expect, like prayer and scripture study. But he also talked about other things, like how we spend our time.
So many of us spend so much time in consumption. We constantly seek to be entertained. We often think more about how we can satisfy our own desires than how we can help someone else.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have a good time and enjoy ourselves. I’m just saying we shouldn’t be spending so much time consuming at the expense of time producing. Excess consumption practiced consistently will not make you any better, nor will it improve anyone else’s life. And if no one’s life is better because of how you spent your time, how can that not be considered a waste of time?
Embrace your daily practice
Many of President Oaks’s examples of small and simple things describe our environment. And indeed, much of our environment we make with what we choose.
Lately I’ve been discovering the choices I make in the first and last hours of the day largely determine my environment during the day. There’s nothing hugely momentous that I practice in either of these hours. I of course have prayer and scripture study but also embrace exercise, reading, language study, and meditation.
Taken together, my daily practices form only about 8% of my day. But I’m starting to feel effects growing within me from my consistency in performing these small and simple acts every day, including increased confidence, increased desire to work, greater feelings of gratitude and abundance, and of course less distance between myself and my Heavenly Father.
What small and simple things do you have in your life? Are they helping you to become everything you’re capable of becoming? Or are they preventing you from improving? The Lord has said, “Out of small things proceedeth that which is great” (D&C 64:33). When we consistently practice the small and simple things that uplift, we can achieve the impossible. And that will bring us more joy in our journey.
Howdy! I'm Lance, host of Joy in the Journey Radio. I've been blogging about LDS singles life since 2012, and now I produce a weekly radio show to help LDS singles have more joy in their journey and bring all Latter-day Saints together. Let's engage a conversation that will increase the faith of LDS singles and bring singles and marrieds together in a true unity of the faith.
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