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Gratitude For Fantasy Novels

Other than a mystery genre based reading contest in the third grade, I’ve been a solid fantasy and science fiction fan for most of my life. The bulk of my teenage years were stuffed with book after book, sometimes reading two or three books at the same time. I am immensely grateful for these authors who spent the time to develop and craft these novels for my (and everyone else’s) pleasure. Their stories have stayed with me decades after, and through occasional re-readings and fond remembrances of the stories within.

Although it’s strange to me, I tend to write science fiction and read epic and high fantasy. I am not sure why this is so – perhaps because we’re living in an age of science fiction – a time where what was once fiction is now fact. In any case, since I read much more fantasy, I will focus this post on that genre, though both science fiction and fantasy are similar. Perhaps I will write a post in the future on why I am grateful for science fiction and the benefits of it.

The first way that I am grateful for fantasy novels is that the heroes depend on their own skills and inner strength to accomplish the tasks set before them. While it is true that magic often exists (but not in every case), it is usually an aid to the heroes and not an all-powerful savior. Even with a magic system in place, it is still the protagonists that must develop their skills and wield it to the best of their abilities. It is a tool that the characters use to accomplish their goals and not magic that is the master. It is interesting to note though, that there are many stories where the villains are the slaves of magic or some other powerful force that they are using to defeat the heroes.

The second way that I am grateful for fantasy novels is that – at least with the sub-genre of high fantasy – good and evil are clearly defined. While there are epic fantasy series that are dark and gritty, it seems that most of the sub-genre has a clear-cut morality to it. Contrast this to other sub-genres of fantasy, such as urban fantasy where the characters live in world of gray and a shade of moral relativism. Some people might say that this more like the world we live in now, but I think that this is a result of personal pain and loss. Good and evil do exist and there is a strong appeal to stories that reflect this.

One of the great things about high (and most epic fantasy) is that good and evil are apparent and choosing one or the other has definite consequences. I consider this to be an aspect of the writing adage of cause and effect sometimes known as Chekhov’s Gun. Chekhov said that if a gun is hanging on a wall in the first act, it needs to go off by the third. In this case, good and evil are major aspects of these sub-genres, and as such have real consequences in the world and to the characters that live in them. Intentions matter and actions have consequences – just as they do in the real world.

The third way that I am grateful for fantasy novels is that the characters often face great adversity, suffering from greater pain and sacrifice than most people face in their daily lives. It is true that other sub-genres of fantasy and all genres in general deal with these issues, high and epic fantasy tends to deal with them on a larger scale. That is to say, the stakes (or the risks) involved are much greater and the burdens laid upon the hero or heroes is much more intense because of it. Personally, it shows me that my own issues are much smaller by comparison and more manageable. Although it is a work of fiction, it does give me a sense of perspective and I am grateful for that.

Perhaps the greatest reason that I am grateful for these sub-genres is that the struggle matters and that the protagonists have the seeds of victory within them, no matter how daunting their foes. I think that this is true in our own lives as well.

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Gratitude For My Mother

When I mention that I am the oldest of seven boys, I’m asked if we drove our mother insane or if she’d gotten her sainthood. Every time, I answered, “sainthood.” It is not that I think that she’s perfect, as we all have our faults, but her virtues and the sacrifices that she made over the years are more than enough to place her in the hall of heroes in my life. I think that many children feel the same about their own mothers and they are correct. I know my own mother the best, so I will speak from my own experiences, and perhaps they will be of value to you as well.

One of her first sacrifices, (and one that I am grateful for) was the choice to have children before she was financially secure. I know that many people wait until they’re financially comfortable. My mother felt that bringing children into the world was more important than having a stash of cash. Personally, I am infinitely grateful for her decision, as I am the direct product of that choice. I know that this isn’t an easy choice for anyone to make, especially for a young family already struggling to pay all of the bills and keep afloat in uncertain times. Yet, it can be done as my mother demonstrated, and it continues to happen.

That isn’t to say that she was a stay at home mother the entire time, for she did pick up work as we children were growing up. However, taking care of us was her greater priority. There were several times that she quit her job so that she could spend more time at home. It was not a decision that she made lightly, but she realized that her family meant more to her than her career. Having a job can seem critical in the moment, but familial bonds strengthen over a lifetime and few, if any, individuals looking back on their life wish that they had spent more time at the office and less time with their spouse and children. I am grateful that my mother was able to make that distinction and choose us instead of a paycheck.

A second sacrifice she made was with her education. She had been a top-tier student with straight A’s. When she decided to have children, she put off her formal education to focus on her family. That was hard for her, as she was a strong advocate of education. That said, she continued to develop herself, to read, and study on her own, as she raised us. Also, she was concerned for us and encouraged us to do well in our own educational paths. I remember countless hours of sitting down at my kitchen table and completing homework assignments. I imagine that she had a number of wistful moments, assisting us with our studies, thinking about her own education deferred.

Still, she did not give up on her dream of finishing her degree. When I was about twelve years old, she decided to go back to the university part-time. She took enough just enough classes to continue on with her schooling and also watch over her young household. Obviously, it wasn’t easy, but she did it and continued to hold on to her 4.0 GPA. I distinctly remember my mother bouncing my youngest brother, who was two years old at the time, on one knee, and having an open Spanish language textbook on the other. Her dedication to her family and education allowed her to raise us and obtain valedictorian status at her university. She went on to obtain both her masters degree and a Ph. D.

She made these sacrifices while maintaining her sense of humor. I think my own humor stems from hers and I am grateful for that. A certain levity makes hard situations easier to bear, and I think that is part of why she came out of the other side of raising large family, while not unscathed, but with an undefinable grace. It’s a constant reminder that my own life is much easier than what I like to imagine and my trials are tiny compared to what she went through.

Most of all, I am grateful for her presence through the years. I am also grateful that I am still able to visit her and share my love of her and all that she has done for me. She is a role model that I will spend the rest of my life attempting to live up to.

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The Soul Of Thanksgiving

When I decided to do a post on what makes Thanksgiving Day special to me, I spent a long while pondering the subject. At first, the three main pillars stuck out to me: family, turkey, and football. Of the three, family is the most important and I have a great family to celebrate it with. Also, the stuffed bird in the center of the dining room table is an iconic staple that I grew up expecting on that day. On the other hand, ours never was a football family and I am fine with that.

Yet, I felt that something was missing, as if there was a blindspot in my vision. Not to the back and left, like when I’m driving, where the rear and side mirrors refuse to show me that vehicle right behind my wing. No, this was a spot in the center of my vision that my thoughts skittered across without really seeing. It was a curious thing, both uncomfortable and troubling, that I would have this difficulty discovering what made this holiday important for me. Certainly it lay in a virtue that I repeatedly skipped over, conscious of it or not. There was a pain tied to this virtue and by ignoring it, I attempted to avoid staring it in the eyes.

However, I knew that if I continued on this course, greater personal issues were in my future. Comfort zones are great and I have spent years in mine – but deliberately avoiding anything that pushes the edges of these zones causes our positive natures to shrink, where they become weak and anemic. Strength comes from facing resistance, not sprinting from it. Not confronting this blindspot, this aspect of my nature, was an attempt to run from myself. And the funny thing is that you can run, but you can never escape yourself.

Anyway, after a week of contemplation, I think that the virtue most associated with Thanksgiving is love. There is no gratitude and thankfulness without love. The most important love is that which is not focused on the self, but on serving and loving others, which is true for any virtue. If my life is based on a self-centered end, then yes, I can develop that skill or ability, but it will fall short of its potential. If instead, I develop myself so that I can assist and serve those around me, then my skills will surpass anything that I would have thought possible. Perhaps I feared the power that love brings.

At its heart, love is the freedom of communication, of sharing through vulnerability and (hopefully) reciprocity. It has to be returned, not through force or threats, but by free choice. Love is an expression of freedom – an openness of the heart. Love must be freely given and freely received to reach its greatest power. Anything less is a shadow.

I hope that this Thanksgiving Day you have those that you can express love to and demonstrate it – and receive it back in kind. Because behind all the pageantry, the turkey, and yes, the football, this is what Thanksgiving is all about.

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October 28, 2019

Gratitude For Disappointment

Once upon a time, when I taught high school, I had a discussion with an English teacher I’ll call Cliff. We shared stories of our first experiences teaching. He told me that his first day was the hardest. I wasn’t surprised. He caught me off-guard with his next sentence – after the day’s classes ended, he shut the door, collapsed in his chair, and wept. The students were unruly, the classroom management difficult, and the lessons ineffective. I had known Cliff a long time, back before we taught our first lessons, and he always appeared confident and sure of himself. I never imagined it possible for him to break down. He experienced disappointment at the highest level.

To my mind, disappointment is the gap between expectation and result. Prior to his classroom awakening, Cliff dreamt dreams of classroom discussion where students participated, engaged in group activities,and gathered knowledge. This type of thinking happens to most, if not all of us. We set goals, imagine the outcome, and then make it happen. Only the reality is that the activity of life never matches what we envision in our heads. This because we make assumptions about what it takes to reach our objectives, and the assumptions are based on what I call “virtues.”

Other may refer to them as characteristics, attributes, or values, but I feel virtues best reflects their nature. We adopt them to assist us in getting the meat out of life. They can be grouped into two broad categories: virtues of the mind and virtues of the heart. Virtues of the mind are the aspects of ourselves that deal with our intellectual activities. They guide us in navigating the workplace, public interactions with others, executing personal habits, enjoying hobbies, and so forth. These virtues include creativity, risk tolerance, pleasure, entertainment, and financial success. The other side of the equation has the virtues of the heart, which attends to the emotional and relational aspects of our lives – with ourselves and others. A partial list of these virtues are love, patience, empathy, humility, and integrity.

Keep in mind that each virtue has an opposite, a negative aspect, if you will. Creativity has dullishness, financial success has poverty, patience has impetuousness, and love has apathy. The positive virtues create openness and vulnerability, while the negative virtues create walls and barriers to protect from the inevitable heartbreak.

Now, the question to ask is this: are these virtues I am building my expectations around pushing me towards my best self or away from it? People often embrace negative virtues because they cannot handle the pain and rejection that accompanies an open heart. However, choosing to adopt negative virtues may offer benefits in the short term, but they they stymie growth and deep personal connections over a lifetime. When one or both people in a relationship build walls around their passions, a superficial association is the only result.

Of course we are not going to throw open the gates of our emotions to everyone we meet, but we must be mindful of our virtues and where we have placed our default settings.

When we have taken this step and have developed an awareness for how we are installing our virtues in our relationships – then we can truly exhibit gratitude for our disappointments. If we focus on our expectations and their attendant negative virtues, then we can be grateful that we now know what we have sown into our hearts and minds. We possess the ability to alter our direction, to adjust our course to unite with our best selves. For we become who we want to be and there is much in that to be grateful.

Conversely, when we look at our virtues and find them to be positive and directing us towards our best selves, we have great cause to celebrate with gratitude. We are marching in the direction of our goals. And yet we often feel disappointment because the reality of our lives does not match our expectations of that reality. In most cases, if we are living according to the positive virtues, then the gap between the two is of time. If this is the case, it is an opportunity to turn an analytical eye to where we are. If we are on the path to where we want to go, recalibrate the expectations to match the speed of accomplishment to the ultimate destination.

However, it is possible that we can be living the positive virtues of the mind and heart and still never close the gap between expectation and reality. We must be at peace with that and we can be grateful for the freedom to stretch ourselves, even if that desired outcome, that treasured outcome, never materializes.

Gratitude For Self-Directed Learning

When I was in seventh grade, my English teacher was the worst I’d experienced in my life up to that point, or ever since. She had a nickname that seemed to be perfect for her nature – “the Cockroach.” She lectured, condescended, and tested, all without engaging. I didn’t do well in that environment and I was punished for it. I remember one time when she showed the movie “Shane” to the class. I and several other students didn’t get to watch it because we were behind on our schoolwork. She placed us at a long table against one of the classroom walls and set up a curtain behind us, so that we couldn’t see the movie, but we could hear it. Unfortunately, that was the year that grammar was taught. That being the case, I am grateful for self-directed learning, which due to the Internet, has far-reaching and amazing potential.

One of the ways that I am grateful for self-directed learning is through audio books. I have used CDs and online services. A few years ago, I was commuting to work, which meant that for an hour a day, I was sitting in my car listening to the radio. I decided to be more effective with my time and visited the local public library. I found a wealth of books on CD and started listening to them. It was a great way to spend my time and I learned a lot. Nowadays, I subscribe to a service and I get around three books a month. I download the books to my phone and listen while I’m getting ready for work in the morning and while I’m in my car. I also love how I can change the rate of playback – I usually listen at 1.5x speed and when I do a replay listen, I listen at 2x.

I have to make a note here – these books are great, but if all that I am doing is listening and then moving on, then it is a waste of my time. I also have to write down what I’ve learned and make a plan to put the key points into action. I’m grateful for those authors who create workbooks that go along with the audio and make it available for download. Learning sticks best when we make it a part of our daily experience. The more we use our knowledge and skills, the more we develop them and they become part of our nature. To me, it’s useless to listen to something once and not attempt to use it to improve my life.

A second way that I am grateful for self-directed learning is through online videos. Youtube is probably the most used form of this, but there are other services, both free and subscription-based that have fantastic benefits. Almost anyone can put up a video, so it is important to me to know that the content o is accurate and true. That often means watching many videos on a subject (or reading and listening to related material) to see if what the video creator is saying is in line with the data. I think this is a good general practice in any case – I try to send out a wide net when I am learning something – and check to see whether the various sources of information connect and where they contradict one another.

One of the great things about videos is that it can combine the visual and the auditory to enhance learning. Other than through the use of computer-based training, there aren’t many methods that are as engaging as through videos. The opportunities for this type of learning, is growing, especially as more colleges and universities are putting up their courses on the Internet. I still need a way to remember the information – I’m a big fan of notebooks – and a plan to put the information into action.

A third way that I am grateful for self-directed learning is through online courses. While they will be more expensive than a series of youtube videos or an audiobook, they can have great benefits. For one, they are often taught by a well-known expert on the subject. This is especially true of such services as masterclass. Brendon Burchard also has a variety of online courses, some of which are fairly inexpensive. Whatever you desire to learn, there is likely a course out there that will give you the knowledge that you need.

If you lack the resources to take these courses, you can make your own. In the book “Ultralearning,” by Scott Young, he talks about how he wanted the knowledge that a degree at MIT offered, but he didn’t want the schedule or the price of that degree. He found that the professors offered lectures, slideshows, test questions, and other data that would allow him to tackle the degree, but at his own pace. Thanks to the Internet and the wealth of information there, we can learn just about anything that we want.

And now, even though I missed out on some key learning, I can now dive into subjects that evaded me so long ago.

Gratitude For Boredom

After work last Friday, I was sitting in front of my tv watching a show and playing a game on my tablet. I was bored. Considering everything going on, that didn’t seem possible. I was tuned in to a show that I liked and binging and the game was enjoyable as well. Yet there I was, almost listless, but I knew the reason. And that is why I am grateful for boredom.

I think that most people have a struggle within themselves between what they ought to do and what they want to do. This is the way it is for me. I havn’t yet come into harmony between these two aspects of my life. I put off, I procrastinate, I rationalize the things that in my heart that I know that I should be doing, but I don’t. I have a long list that I know that I’m supposed to get done, both for myself and for others, but instead, I sit down, play games, and stare at a television screen for hours. Boredom is a warning signal that there are more important tasks to do.

Boredom is a form of pain and discomfort. I’ll often go to astonishing lengths to avoid being uncomfortable or in pain. I want a feeling of control and homeostasis. Pain is a signal that things are not going well for me and to change something. When I do what I want instead of what I ought, I am sapped of energy, making it harder to take action in a better direction. I keep doing the actions that take the least amount of physical and mental effort, since taking more effort in these areas would make me even more uncomfortable, at least in the short term.

This leads to a wonderful puzzle: not only am I at a low level of energy, but I want to expend as little energy as possible. That means that as I continue to stay on this path, I will continue to feel discomfort and pain as I struggle to avoid doing what I ought. However, to get out of this cycle, I must take action, but given My current state, this will lead to greater discomfort and pain, at least in the now. So, the question becomes do I continue along as I have been doing and suffer minimal pain now and maximum pain later? Or do I suck it up and endure the pain of inertia and enjoy the rewards of doing what I know what I ought later? Most choose the former. Successful people choose the latter.

The second type of boredom comes when I am doing what I ought to be doing. Strangely enough boredom can come even when I am doing what I want to be doing. I can feel that it is something important, something that has value, but my attention still wanders. Personally, I find this disconcerting, as I know that what I am doing is in line with my core values and it is providing worth to others. As I see it, boredom shouldn’t be occurring. It took me a while to realize that my mind was giving me information to enjoy my experiences more, if I paid attention to what was going on. That knowledge allowed me to feel gratitude for boredom – it showed me what I needed to change to love and value my experiences more.

I noticed that boredom usually kicked in when I wasn’t focused enough on the task. When I allowed my mind to wander, when I took my eyes off of what I was attempting to work on now, that is when I felt boredom. I also felt it when I became impatient with myself and thought that the task should be completed already. Instead of allowing myself to take the time to do the task correctly, I was trying to force myself to be done with it now, and then berating myself when it wasn’t done. Instead of making the thing that I am doing at the moment the best that I can do, I was already looking ahead at the next task, the next reward, the next obstacle, instead of focusing on where I was right now and doing what I could with what I had. It doesn’t mean being perfect, but it does mean doing my current best. That is all I can do.

Although I am grateful for boredom, it is a signal that I need to change my mindset and activities. It is a warning that I am not doing what I should be doing and that I need to change. One of the more effective techniques for changing mindset and behavior is through anticipation. There are a number of activities that create a surge of dopamine in the mind and probably the easiest one to access is through anticipation. The stronger that we desire a reward, even if that desire is fabricated, the more I will push to get that reward. For example, a salesperson who has to make a set number of salescalls, but wants to check Facebook, might set out a hundred paperclips on the left side of his desk and then moves a paperclip to the right after each call. Once they reach the goal of one hundred calls and able to see the progress of the paperclips moving across the desk, then they get the reward of checking Facebook for a set amount of time. The key is to use anticipation as the drive to action and then to reward that action with the promised activity.

A second strategy to overcome boredom is to take immediate action. An action deferred is an action denied. The strength to take on a new activity diminishes the longer I take to get started. Mel Robbins became famous for her promotion of the five second rule. She posited that we have motivation to take an action for about five seconds, then rationalization takes over and we don’t take the action. So, the way around this is to count to five and then get up and do the activity. If you desire, you can combine this with the two minute rule, which runs like this: promise yourself that you are going to do an activity, but only for two minutes, then you can go back to what you were doing before. The important thing is to keep the promise to yourself. Do it for only two minutes. Personal integrity, especially with yourself is important. Get comfortable with the activity that you worked on for two minutes. Set a timer and do it again. After a while, you can expand the time that you do the activity, but feel comfortable doing the activity first. That is your greatest obstacle. The second obstacle then becomes how long each session lasts. Work on extending the time, but be patient with yourself. Don’t run a mile a couple of times and then belittle yourself because you aren’t doing marathons.

A third strategy comes from Nir Eyal and his book Indistractable. He shares the idea that we need to put more fun in our activities. His idea of fun is more along the lines of intense activity, not an amusement park ride. One of the aspects that he says that makes activities more fun is setting up the rules. All games have rules and we can intensify our enjoyment of an activity if we set up the rules and then strictly follow them. For example, if I was going to set up an exercise routine, I could say that I had to start by 5:30am four days a week, no more than twenty minutes of exercise, and each exercise must take up no more than four minutes each, with a one minute rest period between each activity. These constraints will keep the activity fresh and the mind alert as you work within the rules that you have set up for it.

Boredom doesn’t have to be the death knell of achievement – far from it. It is a signal that we are meant for something better and that this better life is within our grasp.

Gratitude For Heartache

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Gratitude For Heartache

A quick search of online dictionaries gives a very mediocre definition of heartache. They define it as emotional pain or sorrow. I think it goes much deeper and reflects an emotional wound that a simple salve or bowl of ice cream will not solve. Perhaps this poem from Joy Harjo sums it up:

“And this ache

this trembling ache
haunts me endlessly
like you.”

  • She Had Some Horses

In my mind, an ache is a pain that is deep, one that never completely leaves you, but has a vibrational quality to it – like a resonance that fluctuates in its intensity. This doesn’t sound like something to be grateful for. Yet, I am. Heartache shows me that I do care deeply about the events and people in my life. Heartache is the counterweight to joy and happiness. The depth of one causes the other to deepen. This means that as I feel greater heartache, my soul is opened up to greater joy and happiness.

The question that, at least for me, started all of this was this: where does heartache come from?

First off, I think that not all heartache is created equal. Those with less experience in the world tend to feel it more deeply because they don’t have the background of experiences to judge it against. At the time that they are feeling it, it is the most intense feeling that they have dealt with up to that time. The events of life and the wisdom that hopefully comes with it will deepen a person’s understanding of emotion and the attendant aches, but for the youth and the uninitiated to life’s troubles, an emotional intensity of a “four” will seem like a ten if their deepest emotional responses have been fours. Limited life experience means having a limited depth of emotion that is attached to those experiences, at least in the general sense. It is a given that there are some that although young in years, have experienced life in a way that others will have a hard time comprehending. However, for the vast majority, emotional depth comes from greater experience in life.

Second, the level of heartache that we feel depends on how much control we have had over the situation that caused the heartache. For example, if I had a strong desire to visit a dozen historical sites in Europe, but didn’t save up the money, didn’t make plans, didn’t identify the specific sites that I wished to visit, and so forth, then the level of heartache is much lower than if the opposite was true It seems to me that the more control and personal investment that a person has in a situation or a relationship, the deeper one feels heartache when it doesn’t work out.

Third, the heartache that we feel becomes the impetus for action, but the type of action depends on whether the emotions behind the heartache are based on positive or negative virtues. Simply put, a positive virtue is one that fosters growth, love, patience, and similar types of values in oneself and in others. Negative virtues are those that promote selfishness and greed, that destroy relationships because the individual who possesses them is thinking solely about what they have to gain, even at the expense of others. When heartache is based on a positive virtue, that individual will begin to examine themselves – their mindset, actions, words, and so forth and look at what caused the situation to fall apart. They are not seeking blame, but facts, and to identify the key points that caused the problem. The main goal is to improve and be a better person the next time that the situation shows itself.

Those who suffer from heartache based on negative virtues find that they become consumed with jealousy and envy, an inner rage that others possess what does not belong to them. It is a mindset of blaming others and victimhood. It does not look at what the person has done to create the result, but at what others have done to them. This mindset shuns personal responsibility and destroys relationships because it is focused on the pain that others have given the individual, instead of personal growth and honest analysis.

Although I am grateful for heartache, it isn’t a place I wish to dwell in longer than necessary. How do I learn from it and move to a greater level of happiness and wisdom? One of the keys is through our expression of it. Sharing our struggles with those we trust or a therapist can be liberating. We keep so much emotional baggage within ourselves that we stunt our emotional growth when we choose not to express it in healthy ways. If we have a place of respect and love where we can share these feelings and troubles with others, then we will have an increased strength to carry on and deal with life’s struggles.

Another method of relieving heartache, used in conjunction with verbal sharing, or in place of it, if trusted individuals are not available, is to write it down. Pen or pencil on paper, not on the keyboard. There is something special about the physical act of writing that punching plastic keys cannot match. When I have a problem, I write the problem as a question and then freewrite whatever answer pops into my head. I am not trying to control the output, but to simply put down what is in my heart. I never edit what I write, even misspellings. I will find my answers, the actions to take, the people to talk to – it all comes out on the page.

After writing, I often find that I have to forgive myself and others. I have heard it said that we judge others by their actions, but judge ourselves by our intentions. If my heartache is based on another person’s behavior, I have to remind myself that I do not know their thoughts. I need to take their actions in the kindest light possible. More times than not, it is my own personal hangups that caused the misunderstanding, and it is I that needs to change.

In the end, I believe that is why I have gratitude for heartache – it tells me that I can be better and with some introspection and work, I can and will be better.

Gratitude For Exercise

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I was thirty pounds overweight and uncomfortable in my body. In an upright position, if I attempted to bend over with knees locked, I couldn’t touch my toes. Run for ten minutes without breaking a sweat? Forget it. Try thirty seconds. I had been thinner in my past and had ridden my bike all over the place, sometimes hitting a century week – a hundred miles in seven days. But that had been years ago and my bad habits were a series of dominoes, creating cascade of events in my life that although pleasurable in the moment, created a lifestyle that I didn’t want. Exercise was my way out.

That’s why I’m grateful for exercise. Of course diet played its part as well. I kept my calories around twelve hundred a day for three months, then modified it to around eighteen hundred after that. However, it was the exercise regimen that pulled me out of the negative mindset that I was in and provided several other benefits as well. I noticed an increased ability to think clearly, I had more energy during the day, and I had a greater overall sense of well-being and self-concept that came from taking greater care of myself.

I noticed that the motivation to exercise changed over time. At first, it was to shed my weight and to gain endurance, so that I wasn’t breathing hard at the end of my run. I measured my success by how far I could go without having to walk. I didn’t care about my speed – in fact, I often slowed myself down because I came across information that mentioned that the best workout in running involved staying in the aerobic zone – that is, breathing with air. I paid special attention to my ability to breathe while exercising. If my breathing was labored and high in my chest, I took it as feedback from my body that I was running low on energy. If my breathing was easy and coming from my diaphragm, then my body was giving me the green light.

However, once I began to see improvements in both my weight and endurance, then the gains were my motivation, as well as not wanting to return to my original state. In this way, I was using both positive and negative reinforcemen to keep myself going. I used the positive in that I celebrated the gains that I was making, no matter how small and I paid attention to how I felt after the exercise was over – it was exhilarating. I also focused on the pain that I would feel if I went back to my old self and what it would take to get back into shape again. It kept me going when I didn’t want to exercise.

A final reason that I am grateful for exercise is that it costs next to nothing to get started. When I decided that I was going to make exercise part of my daily routine, I wore a t-shirt, jeans, and shoes. I didn’t waste my time buying special clothes or go for a certain look. I made it easy for myself and focused on what was important – the exercise. Too many people get hung up on crafting the proper look, choosing the right gym, or even going with the right people. That’s a bottleneck that stops people from making change. I made it easy on myself. One writer said there is a difference between motion and action. Motion feels like action because you’re choosing the best running shoe, the aerodynamic clothes, the gym that has all the equipment you need, but you aren’t actually exercising. Focus on the action – the actual doing of it.

The end result is that exercise is now a part of my life and I look forward to my daily workouts. I feel more comfortable with myself and this one habit has given me the drive to develop myself in other areas as well. Besides it feels good and that is important to me.

Gratitude For Friendships – A Second Look

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Aside from family, friends are the most important relationships that we have. I am not talking about “Facebook friends” or some other euphemism, because in the majority of cases, we don’t know those people – we connected through some event or share an emotional experience. The way that I see it, that is more along the lines of acquaintances, and although they are important in their own right, they don’t have the emotional heft that real friendship offers. That’s why I am grateful for a true friend and the value that they add to my life. Perhaps that’s why I can probably list my close friends on a single hand. The more that I think on this, the more I believe that friendship has two crucial dimensions.

The first of these is shared values. I suppose that this is one of my main criteria for making friends out of acquaintances. Just as my own personality stems from my beliefs, deep friendships come from having beliefs in common with others. Now, I do enjoy being around people that have different beliefs from my own, but they aren’t deep relationships, nor will they last over the long term. Some are relationships at work, or with those that I have a hobby in common, like writing, or self-development, but there is little “there” there beyond that common interest. It seems to me that a foundational characteristic for a lasting friendship is a core common value, but the kicker is this – not all values are equal and values can and do change over time. A value or a belief that we have when we are a teenager may fall to the wayside in our late twenties or thirties.

Because of this slow changing of one’s values and beliefs, it can cause strife within a pair or a even a group of friends. There is always a push/pull relationship within a group. People are rarely static creatures, although sometimes these changes are cosmetic and don’t affect the dynamic of a given group, there will be other changes that are structural in nature and can tear at the fabric of a friendship or a group of friends. When this second type of change occurs, then those involved have to have an intimate conversation within themselves and possibly in the group – they have to decide whether they can accept the change. It is when the friends cannot deal with the change, or at least choose not to, that the friends distance themselves or break apart. Unfortunately, most people don’t have the conversation about their values till they are at the breaking point. It’s usually too late by then.

A second dimension is the action in which the friends engage. Of course, the type of friendship may also dictate the boundaries of the gatherings as well. When friendships are forged, there are often certain activities that are tied to the group as well. For example, a band of surfers in Hawaii may have a weekly ritual of having dinner and watching a movie together in one of the friend’s homes. If one or more of the friends gets bored or skips out on the after-party, that will most likely put a strain on the surfing relationship as well. The different parts become aspects of the whole – that is to say, that although there are two distinct activities, both are considered important parts of what the group does to maintain the friendship.

Often one of the values that makes friendship work is trust and when we trust someone, we feel comfortable with them. That’s because an important aspect of friendship is being comfortable with that person or that group. We tend to open up more when we feel comfortable and share the more personal details of our lives. The openness that we feel leads to emotional connection as the feelings are reciprocated and intensified. The downside of this is that when the group no longer works for us – it no longer fills a need or perhaps the needs have changed – and so we pull away. This removal can feel like a betrayal, a rejection of the emotional bonding that had taken place earlier. Also, perhaps the rest of the group feels that the person pulled away because the others were no longer needed or wanted. It can be tough when someone has to move on. It feels personal.

Understanding this, I am grateful for the relationships that I do have. It means that my friends and I set standards for what it means to be friends and we keep to them. I can count on them and they can count on me in times of trouble. When the roots of friendship are based on values that don’t change – values of the heart – then the circumstances of the day do not matter. The friendship is much deeper. I am also grateful for the knowledge that sometimes friends drift apart because we change over time. Everyone does. It’s not a personal rejection and I value the time and the closeness that we shared. Becoming angry and bitter at someone because they didn’t stay exactly the same or act in a way that I wanted them to is the true betrayal.

Gratitude For Friendships

I am grateful for friendships. Although I am not the easiest person to get along with, I feel deep appreciation for those that care enough about me to stick with me through the hard times. It’s easy to be a friend when times are good and the laughter comes often. I am struck with the knowledge that a friendship, although often forged in times of comfort and rapport, shows itself in it’s true nature when times are tough. Personally, I think that this is what defines a true friendship – people who stay with you when it would be a cinch to cut ties. Friends are a treasure that can not be bought, but ought to be hoarded.

The amazing thing is how we form friendships in the first place. In my own life, they have often come in situations where I have a high degree of familiarity. I am not an outgoing person by nature and I am much more willing to sit in the background and observe what is going on around me. I am immensely grateful for people much more outgoing than I who took the first step and introduced themselves to me and we were able to strike up a conversation and find mutual interests. I think it is in these beginning conversations that I have found those that have similar values and beliefs. Although, I must say that there are a number of others that I am friends with that have different values from myself. Sometimes they have very different values and that is just fine.

That said, I think that the strongest relationships are those where we do share deep values and belief systems. Values and beliefs have a strong emotional component to them and when we find others that share those beliefs we also share an emotional connection – somewhat akin to love, I think. Not in the romantic sense, but more along the lines of family and it allows us to create a deep bond with others. This is true especially when the values that we have and see in others – whether they really have those values or not – are in those identity values. Those are the values that when we speak to ourselves or others we say “I am this kind of person or that kind of person.” When we see other people with those same identity values, we attach ourselves to them and seek to be a part of their social circle.

I am grateful that I can have such a relationship with my wife. Our core values are similar to one another and our identity values are closely aligned as well. I suppose that is why we have been married to one another for over twenty-five years. I have also learned to value her judgment and her advice has always been one that I could depend on. That is a friendship that I hope to never lose.

Gratitude For Writing Conferences

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I am grateful for writing conferences. I had the opportunity to to attend the Life, The Universe, and Everything Writing Conference in Provo, Utah about two weeks ago. I attended the conference last year and I had enjoyed it then, and I wanted to go again for several reasons – to see authors that I enjoyed, to listen to discussions on how to better my craft, and to be among fellow writers. I was happy to learn that a number of the sessions had to do with self-publishing and the business of writing, as I am writing a book on gratitude as well as having a fantasy series in the works.

I am definitely grateful that the overall price of the conference was within my budget. There have been a number of conferences that I have wanted to attend, but the cost was prohibitive. This one was easy to afford and it was close to my home, so I didn’t have to worry about staying at a hotel or renting a vehicle. Similarly, there is an excellent chance that I will attend the Salt Lake City Fan X. It should be a lot of fun.

I write and read both fantasy and science fiction, so it was an immensely pleasurable experience for me. I was interested more in the “nuts and bolts” aspects of writing and hearing from experienced writers. My favorite speaker had to be Larry Correia – he was both humorous and knowledgeable. Once upon a time, my brother had given me a book – Hard Magic – and enjoyed it. I ended up attending a number of sessions that he either headlined or participated in. One thing that I wish that they had put in there was at least one session on blogging, but given the name of the conference, fantasy and science fiction writing was the main focus of the conference.

One thing that was surprising to me was that last year, they gave out bags along with the other conference materials. Nothing fancy – just a basic drawstring bag. This year, it was just the paper products that every attendee receives: the main information package and a couple of advertisements. The conference didn’t have any breaks for meals, so I had to skip sessions to eat properly. I ended up skipping all of the keynotes and used that time to stock up on food supplies. I’m sure at least one person was irritated as I pulled crackers and cheese from cellophane packaging during late afternoon sessions to stave off a grumbling stomach.

All in all – a great experience. I walked away with somewhere between ten to fifteen pages of notes that I still need to transcribe into a file. Although I have read dozens of books on writing, I gained additional insights that I will be putting into my writing. Not to mention I was able to create the final climactic scenes for each of the eight books that I will be writing. Fingers crossed.

Gratitude For Antagonists

I am friends with a young man named Rich. He suffers from depression and low-level paranoia. Although he lives in a safe neighborhood, he is certain that there are prowlers outside his home. Those thoughts keep him awake at night and I can’t but help wonder if part of the cause is a fear of antagonism – wanting life to be problem-free and these imaginary threats are a subconscious manifestation of that fight within himself. Rich is not alone: we all struggle with both real and imagined threats to our well-being.

These threats, which I’ll term as antagonists, are something that I am grateful for. I admit that on more than one occasion, I’ve wanted to run from the problems in my life. At the same time, it is not lost on me that such feelings are part of the fixed mindset, as set forth by Dr. Carol Dweck, as it is based on fear, self-imposed limitations, and maintaining the status quo. The issue is that when I focus on the negative, those thoughts multiply and loom in my mind. In my view, that much of what happens to me is a consequence of the thoughts that I think and the emotions that I feel on a regular basis.

The ironic thing is that antagonists are the source – or at least the catalyst of our greatest strengths. Although it is human nature to take the path of least resistance, it is also the path of least growth. Personal development comes from overcoming obstacles and tapping our inner reserves of strength to master the problems in our lives. Just as a person cannot gain strong muscles by doing easy exercise routines, we cannot grow by avoiding the antagonists in our lives. They must be faced and beaten or we will reinforce habits of fear and dodging that which challenges us, which in turn will keep us from achieving our goals and solidify a negativity-based mindset.

This is why for the antagonists in my life. I don’t seek out troubles. I have enough in my life without actively seeking them out. However, I am grateful for the opportunity to engage my positive mindset, to use creativity to solve any complications, and to practice personal courage and proactivity. Although it is a struggle for me, I know the reward is equal to – or greater – than the risk that the problem entails. My strength comes from the challenges that I seek, not in spite of them. There is no way around it. If I want personal strength, then I must stand up to the antagonists in my life and commit to doing my personal best.

Unfortunately, the mind latches onto negative emotions and thoughts more firmly that it does the positive. For me, this reinforces the need to start and finish the day on a positive note. I created a list of questions to ask myself at the beginning and end of each day. These questions are positive and success-minded. They are designed to put me in a resourceful mindset. I provide them in the hope that you will be inspired to come up with your own set of questions that will give you greater fulfillment in your life.

  1. What is great about today?
  2. What is my top priority for today?
  3. Who needs my help the most today?
  4. How can I best help them?
  5. What is my greatest obstacle today?
  6. How can I turn this obstacle into an advantage?
  7. What is my learning goal for today?
  8. How am I going to achieve that learning goal today?