40 For 40

In less than three weeks, I’ll turn 40. While many people dread that milestone, I’m looking forward to it! And I want to do something special to celebrate this coming year.

Since my late 20’s, I’ve kept a bucket list and a list of things that bring me joy. After more than a decade, I only regret that I spend so little time engaged with the things on either. With that in mind, I made a combined and condensed list of goals for growth and fun. I’m going to do these 40 things during the year of November 2, 2017-November 1, 2018. You may notice that each goal has something in common.

  1. Read the Book of Mormon cover to cover every 40 days
  2. Do some family history or temple work 40 times
  3. Read 40 articles about the Bible
  4. Talk to 40 people about the Book of Mormon
  5. Study 40 General Conference talks
  6. Make 40 positive contacts with students’ parents
  7. Track my meals and nutrition for 40 straight days
  8. No soda for 40 straight days
  9. No fast food for 40 straight days
  10. No sugary treats for 40 straight days
  11. No social media for 40 straight days
  12. No Netflix for 40 straight days
  13. Don’t buy anything unnecessary for 40 straight days
  14. Drink 40 oz. of water a day for 40 straight days
  15. Run ten miles 40 different times
  16. Do sit ups for 40 straight days
  17. Do 40 pushups in a set
  18. Take 40 relaxing baths
  19. Ride my bike to work 40 times
  20. Learn 40 new Portuguese words each month
  21. Sketch 40 new drawings
  22. Study 40 paintings
  23. Read 40 great books
  24. Listen to 40 new symphonies
  25. Listen to 40 new jazz and blues classics
  26. Listen to 40 great albums from my teenage years
  27. Learn 40 new chess moves
  28. Eat at 40 new places
  29. Do 40 acts of service
  30. Watch 40 classic Simpsons episodes
  31. Watch 40 episodes of The Twilight Zone
  32. Read Calvin & Hobbes comics every day for 40 days
  33. Pray every morning for 40 straight days
  34. Pray every evening for 40 straight days
  35. Give my wife 40 back rubs
  36. Watch 40 classic films with my children
  37. Do 40 fun activities with my children
  38. Don’t say anything negative about anyone for 40 straight days
  39. Write 40 poems
  40. Write in my journal 40 times
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General Conference and Choosing the Bigger Life

Late last year, I was preparing for 2017’s New Year’s resolutions. As I surveyed where I was and where I wanted to be, I knew that I wanted to simply get more out of life. I was already happy and satisfied, but I just wanted even more: more happiness, more goals reached, more great experiences, more memories, more health, more spiritual feeling, more deep and rich living with all the wonderful people around me. I decided to approach the new year with a private new motto: “Choose the bigger life.”

This means that whenever I had any choice or opportunity–even in mundane daily activities–I would do whatever would lead to those things, no matter if it took time or energy I didn’t have or want to give. That would lead to the bigger life. And I’ve tried to center my life in the Church more than ever because, more than anything else, that vehicle leads to all of the things I want–it’s our Heavenly Father’s gift to us for realizing the abundant life.

This isn’t the kind of resolution that one keeps “starting right NOW.” It’s a process, and like all such processes, your vision of it grows as you practice. I’ve done a lot more with life this year, but I also realize just how much farther I can and will go.

Nearly twenty years ago, I was sitting in the celestial room of the temple. I didn’t have any particular question or issue on my mind; I was just thinking about my life. In one of the clearest spiritual manifestations I’ve ever had, a concrete idea came into my mind, in a character different from my usual internal monologue. It wasn’t a voice, distinctly, just an outside feeling coming in, and it used a phrase that was pretty common at the time. “It’s time to kick it up a notch,” the thought said. I knew what it meant and have tried to live up to it.

As with this year’s new motto, it’s been a gradual process of fits and starts. Still, it’s made a difference. I really have had a bigger life this year.

What does any of this have to do with General Conference? After all of these talks, I really want to recommit and do even better and even more. I’ve been feeling very tired, stressed, and run down lately. But not now. Now I’m excited, and I want to crystalize that motivation and direct it to the most important things. I want to choose the even bigger life.

Going forward into the final third of 2017, I still have the motto from that resolution in mind. The teachings and stories of General Conference have added fuel to that fire. Looking back on the finished life of Elder Hales, the winding down life of President Monson, and the examples from the life of President Nelson shared by himself and by Elder Andersen have all shown me anew the way to live exactly the kind of passionate, productive life that leads to the biggest life of all, eternal life.

Let’s do this thing.

 

New Year’s Resolutions 2017

I get excited about goals and self improvement–I make a ton of resolutions every year and I actually keep most of them…or at least I keep trying to reach them. I also have a bucket list I made a decade ago and I keep track of progress towards each item; most of my resolutions come from that (alas, I’ve only finished six of them). It’s helpful to publish goals and create more accountability, so here are some plans for 2017.

Infinite, permanent “cold turkey” resolutions are rarely successful, so I’m starting off with a couple of one-month goals: no french fries, soda, or Netflix in January. I’ve done these before, and the short-term aspect works really well. Sometimes I renew goals like these, sometimes not. I’ve gone months without soda several times over the years, but I always end up going back. I’m okay with that, though.

I try to start new goal projects before New Year’s–I find that that helps, too. Less artificial pressure. I’ve already started those above, plus this one: only check Facebook and Twitter twice a day. Clearly, I’m trying to reduce time wasting. It’s weird that I feel boredom so often pulling me to these habits, but that just means that refraining is important.

I said that I make a ton of resolutions, but they don’t all start at the same time, nor are they equal. A list might be sequential throughout the year. Other items are small enough that they can be worked on in tandem. These are to be done in order: Update 72 hour kits, type 50 words/minute, work through a college algebra textbook.

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A Great Quote on Living Deeply

I wrote on this subject a few weeks ago, but just today I came across this quote below.  It perfectly illustrates my own take on the other quote I used in that other post.  This is exactly what I have in mind:

I don’t want to drive up to the pearly gates in a shiny sports car, wearing beautifully, tailored clothes, my hair expertly coiffed, and with long, perfectly manicured fingernails. I want to drive up in a station wagon that has mud on the wheels from taking kids to scout camp. I want to be there with a smudge of peanut butter on my shirt from making sandwiches for a sick neighbor’s children. I want to be there with a little dirt under my fingernails from helping to weed someone’s garden. I want to be there with children’s sticky kisses on my cheeks and the tears of a friend on my shoulder. I want the Lord to know I was really here and that I really lived.

–Linda Bentley Johnson, in the 1997 BYU Women’s Conference, about what kind of summing up she wanted her life to have.

(hat tip: Real Intent)

On Living Deeply

I’ve often seen this quote used as an inspiring motivator:

“Life is not a journey to the grave with intentions of arriving safely in a pretty well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming … WOW! What a ride!”

Most people would probably interpret that as, “Do a lot of what you want and have as much fun as possible.”  Not me.

I like the sentiment, but I like it because I hope to see myself ending like that as a result of achieving goals, serving others, and leaving a positive mark on the world: stuff that requires sacrifice and consistent hard work.

It reminds me of this quote from Thoreau: “I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die discover that I had not lived.”

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“Choose the Bigger Life”

This mantra is a phrase from Gretchen Rubin’s new book, Happier at Home.  I found the book decent enough (the part that stuck with me the most was the advice to clean our houses with the goal of clear horizontal surfaces in mind–that really is what we think of as clean, isn’t it?), but the best part of it wasn’t part of it at all.

It was Laura Vanderkam’s review of it on her blog last August.  Her post, “Don’t keep it simple,” includes such wisdom as this:

But here’s a different question: what are you saving your energy for? There’s another image in Happier at Home of someone saving her expensive truffle oil for a special occasion, only to see it go bad in the bottle. Children won’t get to repeat a childhood. Someday, sooner than we’d all like, the friends who could come over for dinner will not be available to do so. The years pass by and the somedays become no longer. So spend out now.

Yes.  Every Autumn I fall into a work coma, where the new school year dominates my time and energy, and everything else suffers.  It’s productive, but miserable.

This year, I’ve been trying to “choose the bigger life.”  I’ve only had middling success.  Still, I have dedicated a little more time to worthwhile things, and making work time more focused, and I’ll keep working on it.  The results are worth it.

A Universal Mission Statement

For believers or skeptics, atheists or theists of all stripes, might this function as a call to arms that everybody could support?

Discern the nature of reality as accurately as possible and, as far as any facts have practical applications, bring ourselves into alignment with them and exercise them habitually.  

Sure, that’s just a draft, but I think it gets at the point clearly: we all just want to learn things that are true, and act on them accordingly, to the benefit of ourselves and the larger world, whether those things are secular or spiritual, artistic or scientific, or all of the above.

2011: My Year In Self-Improvement

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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Spring Self-Improvement Report

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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Answering Alma’s Questions

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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MSP: Second Class Requirements 3, 6c

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.

New (School) Year’s Resolutions

On this eve of yet another glorious year of teaching, I want to set three goals for myself to improve my work.  After reflecting on what my strengths and weaknesses are, and what I want to achieve, I’ve settled on these basics:

1.  More time for independent readings in class.  Each quarter will start with a good book chosen by each student from my lists, and I’ll set aside a couple of class days to read and take notes and/or fill out a log.  After that, they might bring in their own stuff for a few more days of reading here and there.  We read plenty in my classes, but it’s usually from the textbook, with most of their other reading being done on their own.  That doesn’t cut it.  This will pack in more quantity of reading, which kids desperately need.

2.  Speaking of desperate needs, we’ll do more short, spontaneous compositions with instant editing and feedback.  I always want to do more of this, but never get around to it, and it’s so essential.  Quick writing workshops with paragraph-or-two compositions that they’ll peer edit / I’ll edit and they revise in another quick draft, all in one day.  This will benefit their mechanics better than enything else I can think of.  This must be done every other week, at least. 

3.  Finally, I’ll be nicer.  Not in class, I mean, where if anything I should be more strict and where my ability to act enthusiastic when “on stage” serves me well, but outside of class, when kids come in for help or make up work, or when I see kids outside of school.  As it is, my painfully shy, introverted side takes over there and I tend to mumble dismissive one liners and look the other way.  As much as I hate to admit it, a more engaging personality from me does improve classroom performance for them, so here’s one to work on…

Six Summer Goals Achieved

You know how you always look forward to time off, and make grandiose plans for sucking the marrow out of every second, and then when the time finally comes you invariably squander it?  I do that constantly, but summer is the worst.  This year I decided to break down some of my larger goals and focus on making small progress on some of them. 

On May 22, I wrote a list of 27 things to do this summer.  I gave myself until the last day before I would go back to work–August 18–to do them.  Now, two of them were very poorly planned, so I really had 25 things to do. 

Out of those 25, I did 6.  A few others were close or in progress, but only 6 can be confidently checked off. 

Still, sadly, that makes this my most productive summer ever.

Here are the six things I did:

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