40 For 40 Progress Report 7/12

7 months down, 5 to go. This month I only added two more finished goals, bringing my total up to 18, still less than half.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes life happy and worthwhile. Is this little project doing that? Am I living more deeply, more consciously, more in tune with who I want to be, or am I just jumping through hoops, creating an illusion of satisfaction?

I once pondered this in my journal, wondering if all that time spent chronicling my life might be better spent out doing other stuff, but in the years since then, I’ve found that looking back over that journal feels wonderful. I expect the same will hold true here–in another decade, I’ll look back on this project and enjoy these experiences just as much if not more than I do now.

Speaking of a decade from now, I already want to spend the year that I’m 50 going back and re-reading my 50 favorite books. Looking forward to it!

Here’s what little I finished in May:

Track my meals and nutrition for 40 straight days. I didn’t try to eat better or anything, I just wanted to record my reality, though I did obviously try to “be especially good” sometimes, and failed pretty spectacularly. Here are my notes. What did I learn from this? I get more protein than I thought, but much of that may not exactly be the best kind of protein. Also, some days I don’t eat very much, because I’m really busy, and it doesn’t seem to bother me much; on the flip side, it is super easy to eat way too much–over 3000 calories–largely due to fast food meals. I guess I’ve learned how important it is to avoid too many of those.

No social media for 40 straight days. This was surprisingly easy, maybe because I just went even deeper into news aggregators like Instapundit during these 40 days, but this was a great illustration for me of just how ephemeral social media is. It really does suck up time and distort reality, but it also obviously has legitimate good uses, when done in moderation. Moderation may be the big buzz word for habits like this that I need to reign in. Also, I missed Twitter more than I missed Facebook. Hmmm.

Why didn’t more get done this month? I could say the end of the school year is busy at work, which is true, but I don’t think that’s why. I think I’m running out of steam for some of this–maybe some of what’s left are lower-priority goals, anyway. With summer here, I have much more time to devote to these projects, so I’ll try to punch out a bunch more soon, and hopefully make some more enjoyable memories in the process.

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40 For 40 Progress Report 5/12

Today ends my 5th month of being 40. I finished 5 more goals this month, bringing my total to 12:

Watch 40 classic Simpsons episodes: I did this by re-watching all of seasons 4 and 5. Holy cow, not a dud in the bunch! So many great moments I’d forgotten about. Maybe the biggest surprise was “Whacking Day,” a Schwartzwelder masterpiece that was even better than I’s remembered: the snake story is really a small part of it–this episode has the awesome Alien parody at the start, just after the bullies are locked up and forgotten until the episode’s final joke. Genius. I’m also surprised at just how many different great writers worked on those seasons, though the biggest writer surprise was noticing that Conan O’Brien wrote “New Kid on the Block.” I never knew that.

Write in my journal 40 times: I recently finished a biography of Henry B. Eyring, a book which was helped along greatly by the fact that he was apparently an inveterate journal-keeper in his middle years, when he was my age. Inspiring. I really enjoy this habit, and tend to be bemused/motivated/flabbergasted by reviewing old entries. I’ve tried to inculcate this habit in my children as well. Still, it’s a tough habit for me to keep: I’ve written more in that journal since my birthday than in the last few years combined.

No Netflix for 40 straight days: Continue reading

40 For 40 Progress Report 4/12

I just finished my fourth month of being 40–that’s 33% of the way through the year now–and I finished three more goals this month, bringing my total from 4 to 7. The three I just did were: Read the Book of Mormon cover to cover in 40 days, Make 40 positive contacts with students’ parents, and Read Calvin and Hobbes every day for 40 days.

I already wrote about my Book of Mormon reading. Since then, I’ve been reading it in Portuguese, listening here and following along with dual-language text here. The biggest thing I’ve learned so far is “E aconteceu.” Book of Mormon readers can probably guess what that means.

I’ve made efforts to make purely random, positive parent phone calls a few times in recent years, but never anywhere near this many. I simply praised the student for some quality, and thanked the parent for the great job they’re doing. Some folks were befuddled, most were sweetly touched, a few cried. Often, the student was grateful to be recognized and rewarded in any way, though some clearly thought it was odd to be complimented like this. I tried to focus on those who don’t always get as much attention in school as they deserve. Even after forty, there are plenty more who need and deserve some extra positive feedback. So…

I’ve loved Calvin and Hobbes since the first collection I got in 7th grade. In fact, that book, Weirdos From Another Planet, might actually be the oldest book I still have from my childhood. Not only has it aged well, I appreciate it more now than ever. Obviously, it’s full of social commentary, but there are satirical aspects that younger me couldn’t appreciate. This was by far the easiest goal I’ve checked off so far!

I’m actively in the middle of eleven other goals right now, many I hope to have done by next month. I was trying to give up soda for 40 days, a second attempt this year, but only lasted 15 days. That was still better than the other time–11 days. I was inspired by Lent, so I feel extra bad for failing. But I’m also in the middle of a Lenten Netflix fast, and that’s going surprisingly well!

There are also eleven goals where I’ve made very little to no progress at all yet…

 

After Reading The Book of Mormon Again

fd445fc55ad1517bb03f62e79b2441de--count-to-readI started this year by reading the Book of Mormon in 40 days, using this schedule. I really enjoyed it this way, because that schedule breaks the text into big but natural narrative chunks–all the Abinadi chapters in one day, all the Ammonihah chapters in one day, etc. The stories made a lot of sense, and the connections from day to day were clear.

The biggest take away from this reading is just how eventful the Book of Mormon is. I’ve read it many times, but I still found myself saying, almost every day, “Oh, yeah, that’s right! I forgot all about this awesome part!” Those moments just kept piling up. Hardly a day passed without some major, deep, impressive section making me pause and think. The mere fact of the book’s density of originality and quality would be enough alone to make me love it!

I was really overwhelmed with how strongly I was drawn to Helaman 7, until that reaction rang a bell and I checked this blog, to find that I’d had the exact same reaction just last year. To that entry’s love for Helaman 7 and 3 Nephi 5, I now need to add Ether 4: I never realized until now just how special and powerful that obscure little chapter is–the Savior starts speaking in verse 6, but verse 13 begins a direct plea from Him to the latter-day readers of the book, that lasts for the rest of the chapter. That’s a pretty big deal!

 

 

40 For 40 Progress Report 3/12

Yesterday marked the end of the third month of being 40–that puts me 25% of the way through the year. Ideally, for the things I want to do 40 times, I should have ten by now. Here’s where I stand on my goals:

  • The big item first: I only finished one more item in the last month–40 straight days of sit ups–bringing my grand total of completed goals up to big fat whopping…four. My abs are pretty strong now–I can do 40 (coincidence) crunches in a set with no resistance on my feet.
  • I wanted to check off the “40 push ups in one set” goal this month, but I tested myself twice in the last couple of weeks, and I can only do 30.
  • Today was day 34 of reading the Book of Mormon in 40 days. It’s a pretty amazing experience. More on that next week, after I finish.
  • I’ve done 15 days of temple or family history work.
  • I also wanted to be able to check off the 40 positive contacts with students’ parents, but reaching people is harder than it sounds–I’m only up to 16.
  • This is day 12 of tracking what I eat–I need to do better with recording calories and protein, though, but I’ve never stuck with this kind of resolution this long. It’s sobering.
  • This is day 8 of no soda. Man, I love Dr. Pepper.
  • I’m starting to wonder when I’ll even try 40 days of no social media or no Netflix. Not sure if I even can. How sad.
  • I’ve changed the “run ten miles 40 times” goal–which was far too ambitious to be realistic–to the much more sensible “run a 10k 40 times.” I’ve only done 4 of those since my last birthday, though, so I’m still way behind. I’ll try to add a 5th later today.
  • I’ve only relaxed in the bathtub eight times. Two behind schedule! I’ll add a 9th to that later today, after my 10k run :)
  • Twenty bike rides so far…but only 4 if I don’t count the ones at UNLV…
  • If I want to learn 40 Portuguese words a month, I’m already over that goal! According to Duolingo, I know over 600 words. Still, I’m not checking off this goal–I need consistent practice over time–the real goal is to become fluent. I’m averaging every other day for practice since December, but I need to step that up.
  • I’ve finished 12 books since my birthday, just slightly ahead of the goal.
  • Not sure why I specified “symphonies” in the list of goals, but any classical music will do. Actually, I’ve decided to do nothing but Haydn this year, and it’s been great. I recently heard his Piano Concerto in D major, and it was fantastic!
  • 12 albums from my youth listened to again, but only 4 new jazz and blues albums. Hmm.
  • I’ve eaten at nine new places so far. Mostly really great!
  • Last week I sent out 12 cards for Sunshine Snail Mail. I’ll do 5-10 more this month.
  • I’ve decided that my Simpsons goal will be achieved by re-watching all of seasons 4 and 5. Glorious!
  • This is day 15 of reading Calvin and Hobbes again. It seriously does get better as I get older!
  • Ten great movies with the kids so far, including a few Marvel movies, a nature documentary, a history documentary, and two black and white classics.
  • I’m finding it hard not say anything negative for long at all. Sarcasm comes much too naturally to me. I’ve had to start that one over three times already :(
  • I’m over halfway through 40 journal entries, but barely started any poetry. Not sure my heart’s really in that last one. Maybe it’ll end up being mostly limericks and haiku. We’ll see.
  • Last month, there were 17 goals that I hadn’t started yet at all. Now there are only nine!
  • This project would have been much easier when I was ten.

 

40 For 40 Progress Report 2/12

A couple of days ago I finished my 2nd month of being 40. Of the 40 goals I have set for this year, I have successfully completed…three. There would be a fourth–doing sit-ups–but my consistency was spotty, and I decided to start over.

It’s frustrating to see such a big list with so little apparent progress, but in my notes I see that most of my goals have some work done. Last month, I had done something for fewer than half the goals. Now, there are only 17 that I haven’t started.

The biggest problem for me before was the one about Portuguese vocabulary–how exactly to do that and track it? I decided to use Duolingo at least every other day, and if I keep that up, that’ll count. Three weeks into that so far. Parabens! 

My biggest worry now is the one about running ten-milers 40 times. Seems a bit ambitious. I ran a solid 10k this week, but while that’s good, that’s still zero to check off for the goal. Can I really get better and do 40 of those in under 10 months now?

Note that #29–about service–has changed. The wording before was too ambiguous; I needed something simple and specific, so I could be sure of achieving it. I plan on doing 40 letters for Sunshine Snail Mail for this now.

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40 For 40 Progress Report 1/12

I’m a month into being 40 now. I set 40 goals for this year for fun and self-improvement–the list is at the end of these notes on my progress so far:

  • I’m finding that for the ones that say “do such and such 40 times this year,” I need to average 3-4 times per month, and most of those are still at zero. I’ll make a weekly list for those to keep me on better track. I’ve also had to decide what counts and what doesn’t–eating at a new location of an established franchise I’ve been to before for #28? (No.) Riding my bike across the UNLV campus at work for #19? (Yes.)
  • I started with some that I felt were easy and/or foundational–today is day 32 of morning and evening prayers, and drinking 40 oz. of water. The prayers have helped me be more serious and self-reflective…and more critical of how I pray. I missed one night of prayer around that halfway point–not sure how to handle that. The water has been really easy and very rewarding–I have less soda and junk food just from trying to drink more water; I find that I crave even more than 40 oz. now.
  • Today is day 12 of doing sit ups–I realized that I didn’t want to just do these goals in isolated rounds; it would be better if they overlapped at irregular intervals. I’ll start another new one this week, as the first round starts wrapping up soon.
  • The biggest failure so far is the one about learning 40 new Portuguese words a month–I did nothing at all with that last month. Well, time to start and do better now.
  • Other items I’ve made some progress on so far: 2, 5, 6, 18, 19, 23, 24, 28, 30, 35, 36, 39, and 40. It was a great month, but life always has so much more to offer!

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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.

 

My 3 Time Management Questions

Time management is tricky, but when the daily decisions about my time are grounded in values, I get the most out of each day. I’ve learned to ask myself three questions about life’s decisions, big or small, and when I act on the answers, I never regret it.

1. Does it pass the Bus Test?

When I have options to choose from and I’m flummoxed as to which way to go, I ask myself, “If I were to get hit by a bus tomorrow, which option would I regret NOT doing as my life flashes before my eyes?” Then I go for the one that I’d want to remember in that final moment.

I suppose it would also work by asking what memory you want to have when you’re 100 years old.

2. Is this the very best thing I could be doing right now?

Sometimes life has clear-cut times and places that are set aside and better than any alternative. Any Sunday morning at 11:00 AM, for example, the very best place I could be is in church. Rarely could anything outrank that. (I did make my family miss church seven years ago, for example, to attend my brother’s wedding, an even high priority.)

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Sundays With Shakespeare

screen-shot-2016-12-15-at-7-14-40-pm

I put together a small book of 52 Shakespeare and scripture quotes, as a weekly spiritual devotional. From the Amazon description: “Each entry has a title based on the theme and a quote from scripture on the same theme, all focused on inspiration, reflection, and self-improvement. 50 footnotes explain difficult wording, and an index for play titles, subjects, and scriptures make this a useful resource for talks and lessons, as well as for personal study.” A perfect Christmas gift! Set some self-improvement goals for 2017 and this can help you.

Text of Simplicity Talk by Elder Lynn G. Robbins, from Area Broadcast

I received a reply from Elder Robbins through his secretary, with the text of his talk and permission to share it. It’s in the link below.

This is one of my favorite messages I’ve ever heard at church, and I hope it spreads far and wide. Even more so, I hope we try to live it.

Simplicity Final

John Stuart Mill on Living Well

I’m getting a lot out of Mill’s autobiography. From the end of chapter 3, wise advice:

I learnt how to obtain the best I could, when I could not obtain everything; instead of being indignant or dispirited because I could not have entirely my own way, to be pleased and encouraged when I could have the smallest part of it; and when even that could not be, to bear with complete equanimity the being overruled altogether. I have found, through life, these acquisitions to be of the greatest possible importance for personal happiness, and they are also a very necessary condition for enabling any one, either as theorist or as practical man, to effect the greatest amount of good compatible with his opportunities.

And near the end of chapter 4 Mill details the casual self-improvement programs he and some friends conducted, mostly as a sort of intense book club. They studied languages, read and discussed serious works, and debated issues. Where are such groups today?

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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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