Believing in redemption for others gives us hope that we can be redeemed as well. Without this, we are resigned to a world where our lowest moment defines us. And worse yet, we succumb to the belief that there’s nothing we can do about it.

Redemption is powerful, most of all for ourselves. We can change and make things right, even though we can never make things perfect.

This is why the stories we consume matter. Stories that say that redemption is not possible have a hollow rot at the center. They are defeatist and do not honor the full capacity of the human experience. They limit us.

 Look for different stories. Like Bryan Stevenson said, we are more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.

Interrupting Thoughts

Our minds are so good at replaying negative thought loops. For many of us, these loops repeat endlessly without us noticing. “I’m not good enough.” “Everyone hates me.” “I’m a failure.” These can serve as our unwanted personal mantras. But because we shy away from them or try to push them aside, they grow stronger. Like the Terminator, with each reaction, the narrative grows more powerful.

But we can use the machinery of our brains to smooth the edges off these negative thoughts. We can’t force the thoughts to go away. But we can introduce new thoughts into the system.

My friend has this great method where he repeats interrupting mantras to counterbalance these negative thoughts. Over and over again, he says and thinks, “this is a silly thought.” He does it so often that when a negative thought arises, “this is a silly thought” is the next thought loop that plays. And this weakens the negative self-stories by creating a little space, some room for his awareness.

I loved the idea, and brainstormed some other interrupting mantras.

“Hmm that’s interesting.”

“Well that’s one explanation.”

“Thoughts are thoughts.”

“Each day is a new day.”

What are the mantras and thoughts that I want to play on loop? And how can they serve me more than the stories I tell myself now?

Ideal Conditions

Practicing in ideal conditions means practicing under conditions that are never going to happen. The unexpected is the only thing we can expect to happen. This means that we need to prepare for things to go wrong.

Randy Pausch in his Last Lecture described the ultimate story of expecting the unexpected. While giving a presentation in college, his friend’s projector stopped working because the light bulb blew out. His friend then took a spare bulb from his backpack and installed it. That is preparation.

Tennis is an unforgiving sport where the variables to consider are countless. The most helpful tennis lesson I ever received was when I was playing with friends on a beat-up court filled with gravel and weeds. The ball bounced unevenly and would ricochet in random directions.  It was easy to blame an errant shot on the conditions of the court. But through playing, my reaction time got better because I couldn’t anticipate where the ball would go. My volleys improved because I had to use them so often. I improved many parts of my game that I tended to avoid. When I played next on a normal court, I was much better.

Conditions that are not ideal have so much to teach us. Just as playing tennis in the wind or on gravel can improve latent skills, embracing chaos prepares us better for life ahead.

We can choose to blame a late submission on a computer glitch, or we can take the time to save our work in multiple locations, anticipating a technical glitch. We can blame a loss in tennis on the wind, or we can practice playing more with wind. Many things are outside our control. But by embracing chaotic conditions as teaching tools, we can learn to pack that extra light bulb.

On Tension

When discomfort comes, relief is the only thing on my mind. I want to run away, to feel better, to avoid the tension.

But tension is neutral. It exists in our world like storms, swimming pools, and doctor visits. We may fear them, but fearing them gives them power and makes us avoidant to the steps we can take to strip their influence.

I want to embrace tension more, to live in it. It feels unpleasant, but there’s such a relief in inviting discomfort to dinner and making room for it to stay the night. There’s strength in knowing that my fear of the tension is far worse than the tension itself.

Tension is holding an uncomfortable yoga pose. Grimacing, clenching, and cursing through it doesn’t help the experience. But feeling without judgment how uncomfortable it is makes the release that follows restorative and relieving.

I listened to a talk recently by Tara Brach, who described her four-step mindfulness tool called RAIN. Recognize what is happening; Allow the experience to be there, just as it is; Investigate with interest and care; Nurture with self-compassion.

My impulse is to relieve tension immediately; problem solve to feel better.

But it never solves anything. Any relief is temporary. Instead, I hope to recognize, allow, investigate, and nurture. Not change.

I want to invite tension in as part of the beauty of our lives.

Music in all major chords would be boring. We have minor and diminished chords to create a tension that can be relieved in the major chords to follow. Without the tension, there’s no soar to our music; there’s no emotion; there’s no soul.

So tension, I welcome you. Come sit down for a while.

Buying In Bulk

I shopped at a restaurant food supply store over the weekend, which sells food in bulk sizes ten times bigger than Costco.

When I eat one cookie, I don’t generally think about the grams of enriched flour and sugar that I put into my body. But when I look at a 50-pound bag of flour and a 75-pound bag of sugar, my perspective changes. Staring at the wide aisles, I thought about the totality of food we consume.

It’s interesting to see what sells in bulk: flour, sugar, soda, shredded cheese, tomato sauce, and corn meal. The selection provided a raw visual accumulation of our eating habits, in stark contrast to how we likely think we eat. How many pounds of sugar have I consumed, how many cans of soda have I drank, how many pizzas have I scarfed down? And how does it compare to how many heads of lettuce, pounds of nuts, or number of fish I’ve had?

What am I putting into my body in the aggregate and what am I buying in bulk?

The First Thing To Go

When life gets overwhelming, which behaviors stay, and which get cut?

Too often, I cut the things that make the other hours in the day more fulfilling: sleeping 8 hours, eating well, being with loved ones, walking, doing yoga, meditating,  journaling.

What if I instead saw these things as not self-care, but self-preservation? What if I held them as sacred? What if they were essential?

And too often, I keep the things that do not serve me: scrolling social media, reading the latest news headline, eating bags of M&Ms, cleaning my room again, watching TV on my phone. What if I instead considered these non-essential? Nice when I have time, but the first things to go when life gets busy.

When life gets hard, I need to ask myself: is this essential, or is this extra?

On Time

John Steinbeck in East of Eden wrote the best line about time I’ve seen to date. His character Samuel Hamilton remarks, “Lord, how the day passes! It’s like a life — so quickly when we don’t watch it and so slowly when we do.”

Observe your life, and you’ll have all the time you’ll ever need.

It’s Never A Good Time To Do Anything

As part of my job, I call and talk with attorneys and their assistants all day. And I’ve observed that it’s never a good time talk. It’s never a good time to do anything.

Here are common responses to my calls.

8 AM: Called too early, not at work yet.

9 AM: At court and cannot talk.

10 AM: Discussing another matter and not available.

11 AM: Left early for lunch.

12 PM: At lunch.

1 PM: Back late from lunch.

2 PM: Took a late lunch so not back yet.

3 PM: Just stepped out, want their voicemail?

4 PM: Had to leave early for the day.

5 PM: Just left for the day.

The stars will never align for the important work to be done. There will always be unexpected traffic, unforeseen cancellations, national injustices, international tragedies, familial strife,  personal illness, and lunch. The work will not just happen. There’s never a good time.

Thus, we make time for the important things. We prioritize, set boundaries, and nurture the practice, especially when times are hard. The perfect time to start does not exist, unless we create it.

The Work That Matters

…takes time

…will not be praised in the short run

…may not be recognized in the long run

…is easily replaced by more pressing, but less important work

…involves toiling when no one is watching

…involves caring when no spotlight exists

…is proactive not reactive

…involves a vision that others don’t see

…does not involve social media

…cannot be forgotten when short-term fires arise

…is hard, difficult work

…is within our control