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Posts Tagged ‘self improvement’

“It isn’t about finding who you are, it’s about creating who you are.”

 

Running and listening to two literary classics?  Huzzah!

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I set out to check four things off of my bucket list this year.  One proved too arduous for now, and petered out in March.  I finished the other three.

One was seeing every film on AFI’s “100 Years, 100 Movies” list, except the R-rated ones.  Finally finished in July.  More on this next week.

Another was ministering to each of my home teaching families at church every month this year.  I didn’t always have a visit–I can’t control if people open the door or pick up the phone–but in past years I’ve gone months at a time without trying to contact people.  This year, everyone at least got a chance, and a lot of good work did come from it.

But the third thing was by far the coolest.  In fact, I consider it one of the best things I’ve ever done in life.  I surprised my wife with a romantic gesture every week for a year.

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To be self-contented is to be vile and ignorant, [but] to aspire is better than to be blindly and impotently happy. 

–Edwin A. Abbott, Flatland

 

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Jesus Christ was a people person.  I am not a people person.  But I want to be more like Jesus.  Therefore, I should be more of a people person. 

Sounds simple enough on paper…

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In an episode of The Simpsons, Lisa tries to warn Homer about becoming obsessed with revenge on an animal, citing Moby Dick as an illustration of such a foolish course of action.  “Oh, Lisa,” Homer breezily corrects her.  “The point of Moby Dick was ‘be yourself.'” 

The joke is based on Homer’s character–a lazy, entitled idiot who swallows whole everything Hollywood feeds him (remember his movie-addled mindset in “Homer Goes to College?”) and, therefore, thinks the world revolves around him.  Homer thinks the point of everything is “be yourself.”

Many a Simpsons episode has poked fun at our tendency to accept ourselves as we are, conveniently declaring that our natural state is good enough.  For example:

  • “Bart’s Inner Child”–After being suckered by a self-help guru, Springfield puts on a feel-good festival which nobody prepared properly because they felt their automatic impulses should be validated, i.e. nobody wanted to work and nobody should judge them for it.  The festival is a chaotic disaster.
  • “Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala(Annoyed Grunt)cious”–After suffering a nervous breakdown from stress, Marge hires a Mary Poppins-like servant to help the family.  Despite her magical powers and inspirational attitude, the Simpsons persist in dysfunction, until the nanny gives up and tells them just to do what’s natural, suggesting (for instance), sweeping garbage around the house under the rug, because, “It’s the American way!”
  • “Homer’s Enemy”–After a life of suffering, sacrifice, and hard work, the new guy at the power plant can’t believe how successful Homer is despite his total incompetence, which nobody else seems to care about.  At the episode’s end, he goes insane and dies; at his funeral, Homer is childish and oblivious, and everybody laughs with him.  My favorite episode. 

These jokes work for the simple, obvious reason that our culture is awash in the message that we’re entitled to high self esteem, that the American Dream now encompasses self-realization and total, universal acceptance.  (more…)

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Even in the fairly brief hour and a half in typically takes, the LDS temple endowment frequently, both explicitly and implicitly, directs participants to identify themselves with–even to integrate themselves into–the narrative of the ceremony. 

As the endowment takes the form of a chronological story–a fully realized dramatization of the plan of salvation–I’ve often tried to benefit from it by pondering where I am at in that story.  Certainly none of us is at the very beginning, nor are we at the very end.  Mortality, by its very nature, lies in the middle. 

So, if the endowment tells the story of each of our individual lives and that story is in a recognizable order, then where in that story do we find ourselves in our lives today? 

Trying to pinpoint a specific, exact moment for this correlation is surely impossible–and probably counterproductive, anyway–but I find that having such a mindset fosters useful self-analysis.  Which aspects of the ceremony–certain covenants given, laws explained, standards taught, characteristics exemplified, degrees of light and truth attained, etc.–could we each say we’ve practiced faithfully, are working diligently on, or have yet to seriously attempt? 

Ultimately, such a course of meditation would lead us to this single, crucial query: How effectively are we following Christ, serving Him and letting His atoning sacrifice be active in our lives? 

The areas where I “see” myself most strongly in the endowment change almost every time I go to the temple, and I hope that means I’m making progress.  It’s good to have a clear vision of the final goal, though!

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So, in case nobody noticed, blogging was a wee bit light this summer.  Actually, chances are that nobody did notice, as the light blogging has dropped my daily hit count down to some of its lowest levels ever.  There’s a chance that nobody will ever read this!

So, what gives?  Well, my summer was eaten up by a few things: I put a ton of time into the autobiography of President Monson that I posted a few days ago, I took 18 credits of classes for my job (I wrote a few dozen essays and research papers this summer when I much rather would have been scribbling away here), and, alas, more than a little time and energy was expended in the management of a stressful matter. 

But I also devoted a lot of my summer to the work of self improvement.  After a pretty successful Spring, I started out this three month block with an ambitious list of twelve items to work on.  I finished seven.  Two others were very close–in fact, one of those that carried over to Fall has been finished already and another should be done within a week–two more were in process, and one was just a dumb idea. 

Here’s a report on the seven things I accomplished, in the order they were done:

1. Complete five more New York Times Sunday crossword puzzles.  Check.

2. See five more movies on the AFI list of 100 best American movies.  I saw:

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Last year, I started breaking down my list of lifetime goals into smaller steps and making those my resolutions.  Instead of just starting at New Year’s, though, I split the calendar up into the three major divisions that my life as a father and teacher naturally fall into: a Spring semester, summer, and a Fall semester.  To keep my summer at a useful three months, I schedule those goals to be done in the three months before I report back to school for the new year, which means that this year my “summer” is defined as May 22-August 24 (even though I still have two weeks left this school year). 

That also means that my Spring semester for self-improvement–January 1 through May 21–just ended.  I had set ten goals for myself to achieve during this time, each correlated to the larger “bucket list,” and it went surprisingly well.  For comparison, out of the ten goals I set for last Fall, I only accomplished…two.  A poor, piddling, puny little two.  This time around, out of these first ten goals for 2010 (including the eight I rolled over from last year), I finished seven.  Not bad. 

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“Hey Huston,” you say.  “Whatever happened to that project where you were gonna do all the Boy Scout stuff?  Gave up, huh?”

No, but I have neglected it.  As I haven’t mentioned it for three months, I can’t blame you for thinking I’d quit.  I still have half of the second class items to do, but they all deal with outdoors stuff.  Last November, my family and I went out to try a new campground where I was going to knock out the rest of it, but we couldn’t find a good spot, so we went somewhere else, but by then it was too dark and cold to set up.  Long story short, we ended up at Burger King that night and I’ve had the project on hiatus ever since, tentatively waiting out the cold weather. 

Still, there’s plenty I could have done, especially after I read that I could work on second class and first class things at the same time.  The only thing I’ve done in the last few months was requirement 5, “Identify or show evidence of at least ten kinds of wild animals (birds, mammals, reptiles, fish, mollusks) found in your community.”  Using the animal index from Desert USA’s Mojave Desert page, the family and I took turns picking local animal life (mostly bugs) and sharing a few facts about them.  (Note that not all animals on that page refer to this desert.  Elephants?  Ostriches?  Uh…no.)

This delay has set me far back on my original schedule; I should be working on Star requirements by now.  I’ve resolved to finish both second class and first class ranks by the end of May, so I can take a big chunk out of Star over the summer.

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For a long time I’ve wanted to go through the 50 questions that Alma put forth in Alma chapter 5 in order to spur people back into spiritual activity, and answer them based on where I’m at in life.  I feel like I’m active and serious in my faith, but I know that I have a long way to go, and a lot of improvments to make both in my “spotlessness from the world” and in my discipleship.  I hope this exercise helps, and I’ve created a starter to-do list at the end based on my answers.  I can see these being good spiritual goals for 2010.  The chart I filled in is found here

I’ll “liken the scriptures” to myself by picturing the current prophet, Thomas S. Monson, asking these questions, in place of the ancient prophet Alma.  When he mentions my ancestors and other prophets, I’ll think of the pioneers and Church history. 

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Verse in Alma 5

Remembering God’s Acts for His People

1.  6 Have you sufficiently retained in remembrance the captivity of your fathers [or the LDS pioneers] ?  Probably not sufficiently.  Learning more about them and doing more to remind myself, more often, of their suffering and sacrifices would surely do me good.
2.  6 Have you sufficiently retained in remembrance God’s mercy and long-suffering towards your fathers?  Again, I’m aware of it, but I could stand to refer to this in my study and prayer more often. 
3.  6 Have you sufficiently retained in remembrance that he has delivered their souls from hell?  Not yet.
4.  8 Were your fathers destroyed?  No.
5.  9 Were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled your fathers about, were they loosed?  Yes. 
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Knowing the Essential Logic of the Gospel

6.  10 On what conditions were your fathers saved?  Their faithfulness to the commandments and covenants they’d made. 
7.  10 On what grounds had they to hope for salvation?  The grace and mercy of God, through the power of the Atonement; through His promises about His role in the covenant.
8.  10 What is the cause of your fathers’ being loosed from the bands of death, yea, and also the chains of hell?  A combination of my answers to the last two questions!
9. 11 Did not my father Alma  [or any other modern prophet] believe in the words which were delivered by the mouth of Abinadi [or any earlier modern prophet] Yes, our prophets are definitely role models of faithfulness.
10. 11 Was Abinadi not a holy prophet?  Indeed, prophets are great guides for us.
11. 11 Did Abinadi not speak the words of God?  Yes, he did.
12. 11 Did my father Alma believe them?  Yes, he did.
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Being Personally Converted

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3.  Participate in a flag ceremony for your school, religious institution, chartered organization, community, or troop activity.

I started our weekly family home evening this week with one of the younger kids helping me unfold the flag, which we then all saluted as I led us in the Pledge of Allegiance.  Another little kid helped me fold it back up. 

6c.  Demonstrate first aid for the following:

- Object in the eye
- Bite of a suspected rabid animal
- Puncture wounds from a splinter, nail, and fish hook
- Serious burns (partial thickness, or second degree)
- Heat exhaustion
- Shock
- Heatstroke, dehydration, hypothermia, and hyperventilation

We went through each of these in the handbook as a family, discussing bad advice/outdated methods that we had heard in the past for first aid.  We acted out the handbook’s methods and then had a quick oral quiz.  This is the kind of thing that we think is fun.  My family is awesome. 

Lest you think that October has been fairly unproductive for me, let me assure you that progress is being made.  I have dates set for camping and a service project in November.  I just got a book from the library about local animal life, and a DVD is on hold about drug abuse.  I’ll relate the stories of how each one goes as they come up in the next few weeks.

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Second Class Reqiurement 7:

  1. Tell what precautions must be taken for a safe swim.
  2. Demonstrate your ability to jump feet first into water over your head in depth, level off and swim 25 feet on the surface, stop, turn sharply, resume swimming, then return to your starting place.
  3. Demonstrate water rescue methods by reaching with your arm or leg, by reaching with a suitable object, and by throwing lines and objects. Explain why swimming rescues should not be attempted when a reaching or throwing rescue is possible, and explain why and how a rescue swimmer should avoid contact with the victim.

I wish I’d looked at this sooner.  Now I have to go swimming in October. 

This afternoon I called a family friend who has a pool.  When I asked if I could come over and jump in for a bit, she said it was fine, but asked if I was sure.  “It’s really cold!” she said.  Yes, even in Las Vegas, pools get cold in October.

I picked my son up from school this afternoon and told him that we were going to make a quick stop to work on one of my Scout activities.  His main reaction was that he wanted to dunk his head in the pool. 

First, I did requirements a and c, which did not make me get in the water.  Yet.  I summarized the handbook’s rules for safe swimming and demonstrated how to rescue a swimmer in trouble. 

Then it was show time.  I regret now just how long I stood at the edge of the pool and hesitated before jumping in.  I was pretty afraid of the cold. 

Finally I did.  The cold didn’t hit me until I broke back up to the surface.  I swam the length of the pool and back with a loud gasp from the chill every time I took a breath. 

I figure if I’m going to follow in the footsteps of Boy Scouts as much as possible, I should probably get used to occasionally getting into very cold water.  It actually felt a lot better as soon as I got out.  In fact, mostly to make up for my sad hesitating before jumping in, I jumped in again and did another lap.  I still hesitated, but not quite as long, which is something, at least.  My son almost missed that second try, as he was busy dunking his head. 

I found out soon after that the water was 62°.  This experience at least let me teach my son by example an important principle that he probably gets tired of hearing me preach: suffering builds character.

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I ended up doing exactly what I planned NOT to do: I waited until the last week of my scheduled time to finish the requirements for this rank.  I could have done it earlier, and I had wanted to add the extra time to my next rank, but life got the better of me. 

6. Demonstrate how to display, raise, lower, and fold the American flag.  Last week I emailed the principal of my kids’ school and asked if we could use the flagpole for this demonstration tonight, adding that I have my own flag to use.  He wrote back that it was fine, and this was the first activity in my family’s weekly home evening tonight.

As we drove over, I recounted all the material from the handbook about displaying the flag.  When we got there, I showed the kids how to fold and unfold it, then one kid helped me attach it to the line, while the little kids helped me hoist it up and then down again.  While it flew at the top for a minute, we decided to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.  Afterwards, the oldest child folded the flag, as I had shown them all, while I held the other end. 

11.  Identify local poisonous plants; tell how to treat for exposure to them.  I went over the handbook’s section on this, adding my own warning about oleander, which are very popular in Las Vegas.  Of course, one kid pointed out that it was unlikely that any of us would ever eat one. 

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I love this list, from former LDS Church President David O. McKay (1873-1970):

 

TEN RULES OF HAPPINESS
By President David O. McKay

1. Develop yourself by self-discipline.
2. Joy comes through creation — sorrow through destruction. Every living thing can grow: Use the world wisely to realize soul growth.
3. Do things which are hard to do.
4. Entertain upbuilding thoughts. What you think about when you do not have to think shows what you really are.
5. Do your best this hour, and you will do better the next.
6. Be true to those who trust you.
7. Pray for wisdom, courage, and a kind heart.
8. Give heed to God’s messages through inspiration. If self-indulgence, jealousy, avarice, or worry have deadened your response, pray to the Lord to wipe out these impediments.
9. True friends enrich life. If you would have friends, be one.
10. Faith is the foundation of all things — including happiness.

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Yes, I have been working on my project, but I’ve been very busy with school starting.  Here’s what progress I’ve made recently:

8.  Know your patrol name, give the patrol yell, and describe your patrol flag.

Since my patrol is my family, I figured our patrol name would be “The Huston Family.”  Silly me.  When I discussed this with everyone, we had just watched an old episode of a certain great 80’s show that we’d borrowed from the library, so everybody quickly decided that we would call ourselves “The H-Team.”  Our yell is based on an old inside joke we share–when people ask for comments or feedback from us, we respond with the most random, inane thing we can imagine: “I like pie.”  This is our yell.  “I like pie!”  Inspiring, no?  Surely it will strike fear into the hearts of any opponents that we might meet in some game. 

We brainstormed a list of things that should be on our flag, and I slapped some related clip art together from the list.  We made our list last Monday, but I just made the “flag” today (in Microsoft Paint).  A copy is printed up and “flying” on the wall of our kitchen.  Here it is:

familyflag

  

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