Monastic Productivity for Everyone

Can monastic communities teach us anything about our own productivity?

The monastic lifestyle is designed to allow monks to devote themselves to their spiritual development and to their work. The founders of monasteries well understood how quickly ordinary people loose focus. In response, they developed ways to help their followers shed their concerns for the mundane and to avoid distraction.

This article examines some of the techniques that monks use to maintain their productivity as monks, and shows how they you can apply them in a modern, non-monastic setting.

Practice Simplicity

The monastic life is a life of simplicity. Monks typically little more than the absolute bare necessities, often wearing simple attire, eating basic but healthy meals and living in uncluttered, simple accommodation.

Simple living can bring considerable benefits:

  • In reducing the amount of effort needed to live. For example, you don’t have to tidy, clean or maintain things you don’t own. You don’t need to spend time cooking fancy meals.
  • In reducing the amount of distraction in your environment.

Fortunately, there is a great deal of literature on translating these ideas into a modern, urban lifestyle. An exploration of these is outside the scope of this article, but the basic idea is to shed everything that isn’t strictly necessary to life.

Develop Personal Discipline

Monks are known for living a disciplined, highly regulated life. Their daily routines are the bedrock of both their spiritual development and their working day.

Your productivity can be enhanced by healthy routines. However, many of us baulk at the idea of discipline, and think of discipline as something unpleasant, and self-discipline as something unobtainable. We think of ourselves as lazy, lacking will power, and unable to achieve very much in the way of self-discipline.

We must remember, however, that monks are not super-human; they face the same kinds of struggles as the rest of us when it comes to self-control. My own epiphany came when I realised that self-discipline isn’t really about willpower. Rather, it is about developing good habits. Habits, once formed, require very little will-power. They become automatic, largely effortless responses to triggers in our environment. By structuring our habits and environment to get the results we want, it is possible to develop monk-like self-discipline and gain significant improvements in our own productivity.

Share the Burden

Communal living is a feature of monastic groups, with the benefit that jobs can be shared out between members of the community, thus releasing time for other activities.

You can adapt this principle to your own situation.

If you live with family or sharing accommodation with friends, you can share out chores, eat together to cut the number of meals cooked, and so on.
If you’re living alone, you can find creative ways to off-load some of the mundane day-to-day tasks. For example, you could pay someone to do tasks like washing, ironing, cleaning, cooking etc. You might even find that you can share tasks with friends and neighbours, e.g. shopping, making meals.

Seek Out Like Minded People

Monks benefit in several ways from spending time with people with similar convictions. Their passion for their lifestyle is reinforced, their minds stimulated, techniques are shared, tasks are shared out and so on.

We can gain similar benefits from seeking out people in our own field who are already productive, and learning from them. On-line communities are better than nothing, but local groups where you can meet face-to-face are even better. If no such group exists in your locality, then perhaps it is time to consider starting one.

Spend Time Alone

In addition to removing physical distractions, the monastery provides a refuge from relational distractions, too. This can be difficult to emulate, especially when you have a family, it isn’t impossible.

For example, some people take a personal retreat. Others choose a holiday where entertainment for the rest of the family is laid on, and take time out to read or attend seminars on topics of interest.

Personally, I try to get up earlier than everyone else in my household so I can enjoy a little distraction-free reading time, try to get away from the crowd at lunch time to catch up on more reading, and then listen to audio books as I walk home from work. Even these relatively short breaks from other people make a significant difference to my productivity in the long run.

Live for a Purpose

Many monks feel drawn to the monastic lifestyle because they feel called by a “higher purpose”. This sense of calling provides the impetus to let go of day-to-day matters and focus on something they consider more important.

There are many techniques available to help us find our personal mission or calling. And once we find and feed that burning “yes”, it will be a lot easier to say “no” to the distractions.

Acknowledgements

Image courtesy Dean Moriarty, via Pixabay.
This article was inspired by a question on my favourite Personal Productivity Q&A site.

Our Response to Terrorism

How can ordinary people respond meaningfully to acts of terrorism?

Last night, a series of mass shootings and suicide bombings occurred in Paris and Saint-Denis, France. The attack is one of a growing succession of carefully planned, brutal attacks on ordinary folk were simply going about their day-to-day business, just like the rest of us. With families, friends, jobs… just like the rest of us.

In the wake of such atrocities, many of us are asking these questions:

  • How can we show solidarity with people who are directly affected by such brutality?
  • How can we fight back?
  • How can we protect ourselves?

We don’t have all the answers. But what little light we have; we must live by it.

Many of us have updated our social network status to show our support for the victims. It isn’t much, but it is something. Many of us will pray for peace just a little more fervently today. We feel helpless to do much ourselves, but we believe that there is someone up there who hears us. And many of us will hug our kids a little tighter today; because we want them to live in a better world.

Today, we’ll be thankful for more of the good things in life; because these are the things that we take for granted, and they are also the things that we’re fighting for. We will show love to our families, laugh with our friends, and greet our neighbours warmly; because today is a day to cherish the people around us.

Some of us will put our energies into tidying up, cleaning up and repairing; because today is a day to drive back chaos. Some of us will do our jobs with just a little more effort; because every little really does help. And many of us will be more forgiving, more patient  and more generous towards the people around us; because simple kindness is a powerful antidote to hate, to fear and to anger.

We will live our lives, because they are lives worth living; and we will honour those whose lives have been taken from them, because their lives were worth living, too. No, we do not have all the answers, but we will live by what little light we have.

We will undertake small acts of rebellion against the evil in this world; because every ounce of goodness drives back the darkness. And we will take courage; never giving up, never losing faith, always hoping, and always persevering. Because we believe that, in the end, light will overcome darkness, kindness will overcome hatred, and goodness will overcome evil.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.John 1:5

It is true that we do not have all the answers. But we are not powerless. We have weapons that we have at our disposal, and we will use them as effectively as we can. Because, in the war against evil, small virtues are more powerful than men with a gun and bombs.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Acknowledgements

Image by jean jullien via Twitter.

The Three Dimensions of Daily Renewal

Our personal productivity is primarily determined by three things:

  • Our motivation
  • Our physical ability
  • Our mental clarity

In order to stay on top of our game, we need to work on these daily:

  • Our purpose
  • Our fitness
  • Our organisation

As the good book says:

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.2 Timothy 1:7

Gifts and Choices

I have been given a mouth
But I must choose my own words
I have been given a mind
But I must choose my own thoughts
I have been given a body
But I must choose my own actions
I have been given a heart
But I must choose who I share it with

My destiny is influenced by my endowments
But it is determined by my choices

Summary: The Starfish and the Spider

A brief summary of the book “The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations” by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom.

Introduction

The starfish and spider in the title serve as a powerful metaphor for two types of organization, and illustrate the contrast between them.

The Spider

The Spider represents the centralized organization. A spider is controlled by its head. Cut off its head and it dies.

The Starfish

The Starfish represents the decentralized network. It has no head, and its major organs are replicated throughout each arm. Cut it in half and you get two starfish.

Principles of Decentralization

  1. When attacked, a decentralized organization tends to become even more open and decentralized (p.21)
  2. It’s easy to mistake starfish for spiders (p.36)
  3. An open system doesn’t have central intelligence; the intelligence is spread throughout the system (p.39)
  4. Open systems can easily mutate (p.40)
  5. The decentralized organization sneaks up on you (p.41)
  6. As industries become decentralized, overall profits decrease (p.45)
  7. Put people into an open system and they’ll automatically want to contribute (p.74)
  8. When attacked, centralized organizations tend to become even more centralized (p.139)

How to Recognize Starfish?

From Chapter 2:

Question Spider Starfish
Is there someone in charge? Yes. Depends on hierarchy. No. Flat structure. Relies on influence rather than control.
Are there a headquarters? Yes. No. Location is flexible.
If you thump it on the head, will it die? Yes. Take out the HQ and it dies. No. If you take out the leaders, new leaders emerge.
Is there a clear division of roles? Yes. Divided into departments. No. Anyone can do anything. Units are autonomous.
If you take out a unit, is the organization harmed? Yes. Every department is important. No. The network can rebuild itself.
Are knowledge and power concentrated or distributed? Centralized. Information and power are concentrated at the top. Distributed. Information and power are dispersed throughout the network.
Is the organization flexible or rigid? Rigid. As a result of their structure. Flexible. The organization is amorphous and fluid, leading to agility. Constantly growing / shrinking / mutating / spreading / dying / re-emerging.
Can you count the employees or participants? Yes. Membership is fixed and closed. No. Membership is fluid and open. Nobody is able to keep track.
Are working groups funded by the organization or are they self-funding? Centrally funded. Without funding, departments quickly die. Self-Funding. Individual units are responsible for obtaining and managing funds.
Do working groups communicate directly or through intermediaries? Through intermediaries. Important information is processed through HQ. “All roads lead to Rome”. Directly between members. No roads lead to Rome, because there is no Rome.

Example Starfish

Mostly from Chapter 3:

  • Skype
  • Craigslist
  • Apache
  • The Apache
  • Wikipedia
  • Burning Man Festival
  • eMule

The Five “Legs” of a Starfish

From Chapter 4:

A decentralized organization stands on five legs… When all five work together the decentralized organization can really take off.

1. Circles

Each group is independent and autonomous. Everyone in a group is an equal, each contributing according to ability. Group membership is open and fluid – people come and go as they please. Instead of rules, groups depend on norms and developing trust between individuals.

2. The Catalyst

Circles don’t form on their own. A catalyst is the person who initiates a circle. They develop ideas, lead by example, and inspire others. They then recede into the background, trusting the group to take appropriate action.

3. Ideology

Ideology is the glue that holds a decentralized organizations together.

4. A Pre-existing Network

Most successful decentralized organizations launched from a pre-existing, decentralized network.

5. The Champion

The Champion is an evangelist or salesperson for the group. Champions have excellent people skills, high energy and limitless tenacity. They relentlessly promote the group and its ideas.

The Catalyst’s Tools

From Chapter 5:

Genuine Interest in Others

The Catalyst’s view is that people are full of interesting stories, like walking novels.

If you find someone boring it’s only because you, the listener, haven’t asked the right questions or found that person’s true passions.

Catalysts are great listeners …

[When someone] cares about what we’re talking about… we tend to open up and reveal more about ourselves.

… and this helps people to be open to new ideas.

When we feel understood… we are most open to something new.

Loose Connections

Catalysts thrive on meeting new people and making new connections.

Knowing so many people allows a catalyst to make connections between individuals who would otherwise never meet.

Mapping

Catalysts have a strong sense of where people fit into their social networks – who people know, how they relate and how they fit into the Catalysts mental map. The Catalyst excels at making connections and forming new circles.

Desire to Help

The fuel that drives the Catalyst is the genuine desire to help others.

Passion

A Catalysts passion results in action.

[A decentralized organization] can’t draw upon command-and-control to motivate participants, it needs a strong and ongoing ideology to keep them going.

Meet People Where They Are

The Catalyst is neither pushy nor persuasive. Rather, the Catalyst helps people realize their latent potential.

When people feel heard, when they feel understood and supported, they are more likely to change. A catalyst doesn’t prescribe a solution, nor does he hit you over the head with one. Instead, he assumes a peer relationship and listens intently. You don’t follow a catalyst because you have to—you follow a catalyst because he understands you.

The Catalyst avoids giving advice, because that leads to hierarchy. Instead, the Catalyst inspires others to change.

Emotional Intelligence

Catalysts develop strong emotional connections, and help the organization bond emotionally. The Catalyst, “Weaves emotional connections into the very fabric of the organization.”

Trust

The Catalyst trusts people to do what is right.

Inspiration

The Catalyst inspires others to work toward a common goal without material reward.

Tolerance for Ambiguity

Catalysts accept that decentralization entails ambiguity. They know there are questions that can’t be answered – about the size of the organization, or about exactly who is doing what – and they use this uncertainty as an opportunity to be innovative.

Hands-Off Approach

Having lit the fire, the Catalyst gets out of the way, letting people figure out for themselves what to do and how to do it.

Receding

The Catalyst’s involvement dwindles as a movement takes off, allowing other people to take the lead and move their relationships forward.

The CEO vs the Catalyst

The main difference:

The CEO The Catalyst
The boss A peer
Command and control Trust
Rational Emotionally intelligent
Powerful Inspirational
Directive Collaborative
In the spotlight Behind the scenes
Order Ambiguity
Organizing Connecting

Taking On Decentralization

From Chapter 6:
When attacked, decentralized organizations become even more decentralized. This makes them difficult to kill.

Change Their Ideology

Changing ideology isn’t easy. Force doesn’t work. Manipulation and control result is people becoming defensive and closed-off. Ideological change only happens when you demonstrate to people that you genuinely want to help them. Building that kind of trust takes time and energy.

Centralize Them

If you can influence the network so that it concentrates power, prestige and property on a few individuals then it will centralize. This is because people want control over things that they own, and control requires structure.

The moment you introduce property rights into the equation, everything changes: the starfish organization turns into a spider. If you really want to centralize an organization, hand property rights to the catalyst and tell him to distribute resources as he sees fit.

Decentralize Yourself (If You Can’t Beat ‘Em … Join ‘Em)

Requires courage and innovation, as old strategies won’t work. Change the way you do business, as old sources oFor example, seeking revenues from alternative sources. Alternatively, becoming a hybrid organization, drawing on strengths of both.

Hybrid Organizations (The Combo-Special)

From Chapter 7:
These are organizations that are neither pure spider nor pure starfish. Decentralizing elements of your business can help you stay competitive.

Decentralize the Customer Experience

…by creating a network around your product:

  • Give customers a voice.
  • Encourage customers to work together to solve their own problems.
  • Let customers build your product.

Examples:

  • Ratings and reviews (e.g. Amazon reviews, ebay seller ratings).
  • On-line forums / user groups. Can be for a specific product, company or industry.
  • Crowd-sourcing (e.g. open source software).

Decentralize Parts of the Business

  • Split the business into smaller, relatively autonomous units.
  • Encourage employees at all levels to contribute to strategic decisions.

The Decentralized Sweet Spot

From Chapter 8:

The decentralized sweet spot is the point along the centralized-decentralized continuum that yields the best competitive position. In a way, finding the sweet spot is like Goldilocks eating the various bowls of porridge: this one is too hot, this one is too cold, but this one is just right.

Hybrids organizations may go through several iterations until they find the sweet spot between centralization and decentralization. The sweet spot can change, and successful organizations are willing to adapt to this change.

The New World

From Chapter 9:
“When the rules of the game suddenly change… it’s easy to be left behind”, and “the forces of decentralization have created a new set of rules”.

Rule 1: Diseconomies of Scale

Traditionally, being big was considered safer than being small. The power that comes from being big outweighed the flexibility that comes from being small. But small size combined with a large network combines the benefits of flexibility and power. New markets are entered easily, and the organization can survive on minimal revenue. Costs are low, but influence is high. The small can rule over the large.

Rule 2: The Network Effect.

Each new member adds value to the whole network. Starfish organizations benefit more from this “network effect”. The cost of adding new members is tiny, and the value they add benefits everyone. Members stay loyal because they value the network.

Rule 3: The Power of Chaos

Organization and structure are often seen as essential to success. However, the unstructured nature of a starfish organization nurtures innovation. Good ideas gain momentum and get implemented and replicated.

Rule 4: Knowledge at the Edge

Starfish organizations can draw on the valuable information at the edges of the organization.

Rule 5: Everyone Wants to Contribute

People have a desire to share, and by doing so, add value to the community.

Rule 6: Beware the Hydra Response

If you cut off the head of a decentralized organization, you’re likely to find that two more will grow in its place. There are ways to battle a decentralized organization, but the worst thing you can do is to try to cut off its head.

Rule 7: Catalysts Rule

Catalysts are vitally important to decentralized organizations. They inspire people to action, map out the network and then they let go. If you can turn a catalyst into a CEO, the whole network is at risk.

Rule 8: The Values are the Organization

Ideology underpins a decentralized organization. Remove it, and the organization will collapse.

Rule 9: Measure, Monitor, Manage

Despite their lack of structure, it is possible to take useful measurements of a decentralized organization’s health and results.
Counting individual members may be impossible; it is better to focus on circles:

  • How active is the circle?
  • Is the circle healthy?
  • Are circles independent?
  • What kind of connections exist between circles?
  • Are members actively participating?

…and the network as a whole:

  • How distributed is it?
  • Is it growing?
  • How is it changing?
  • Is it becoming more or less decentralized?

Catalysts typically ask questions like these intuitively. They are not interested in reports or control. Instead, they care about members. They connect people, and “maintain the drumbeat of the ideology”.

Rule 10: Flatten or be Flattened

Increasingly, organizations find that they need to embrace decentralization in order to survive. The most effective strategy is, often, to be come a hybrid. This can appear messy, at first, but:

When we begin to appreciate their full potential, what initially looked like entropy turns out to be one of the most powerful forces the world has seen.

Further Reading

The book’s companion web site:

It’s Wikipedia page:

And some other online summaries:

Are You Ready for Growth?

Are you ready for growth? Here are 7 things you need to know when you’re about to embark on a voyage of change.

Life is a journey, not a destination.Unknown

1: Know Your Starting Point

You’re not really ready for growth until you’ve thought about the level you’re on at the moment.

There are two main reasons why this is important:

  1. It helps with planning. You can’t plan a route unless you know your starting point. In the same way, you’re not ready to grow until you know what needs to be changed.
  2. It provides motivation. When you see the difference between where you are now and where you want to be, you experience tension, and that tension can fuel your desire to move forwards.
  3. It helps you see progress. There are two ways to measure progress. One is to see how far you have come, and the other is to see how far you have yet to go. To work out how far you have already travelled, you need to know where you started from.

So, if you’re heading out on a journey of personal growth, it would be well worth pausing to reflect on your current:

  • finances
  • relationships
  • fitness
  • values
  • emotions
  • skills
  • limitations
  • personality
  • strengths
  • dreams
  • knowledge
  • beliefs
  • weaknesses
  • talents

2: Know Your Direction

You’re not ready for growth if you don’t know which are of your life you want to grow in. As someone once said, if you’re headed nowhere in particular, you’re likely to end up there!

The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction not a destination.Carl Rogers

So, what does your ideal direction look like? To narrow it down, ask yourselves these questions:

  • How do you enjoy spending your time?
  • What kind of people do you enjoy meeting?
  • What contribution do you want to make?
  • How healthy do you want to be?
  • What do you want to achieve in life?
  • What sort of environment do you like to be in?

One of the problems in choosing a heading is that we can be overwhelmed by the options. Know what matters to you most about where you want to go, as this may help you choose between the options available to you. Then, if you still have more than one possibility open to you, choose the one that looks like it will be most fun!

Of course, not everything will work out they way you expect. So be prepared:

  1. To compromise. None of us can have everything we want. But we can have the most important things.
  2. To change direction as you travel. It is wise to revise your travel plans as you go, to take into account the things you learn along the way.

3: Know Who is Travelling With You

Sometimes we travel alone, but at other times we have company along the way. Either way, you’re not ready for growth until you have at least some idea of who you’re taking with you.

  • Who is travelling with you at the moment?
  • Who else who should be travelling with you?
  • Do you need to revise your commitments to people who are already your travelling companions?
  • Are there certain kinds of people you need to hook up with along the way?
  • Are there others you need to avoid?

And when you consider these people:

  • What are they looking for in a destination? It may not be the same as you.
  • What are their limitations? Not everyone can travel as fast as you, for example.
  • What are their resources? Sometimes they’ll bring things that you can’t bring.
  • What you can offer to them? Sometimes you’ll bring things that they can’t carry.

Sometimes the journey is hard. But, no matter what you’re going through, someone else has been through something similar before. Seeking out those people and learning from them can make the rigours of travel a lot easier to bear. Indeed, personally, I take great in this verse from the Bible:

Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.Isaiah 41:10 – The Message

4: Know Your Travel Options

There is usually more than one way to make a journey: by boat, aircraft, train, or on foot, for example. The happiest travellers assess their options before chosing their mode of transport. You’re not ready for growth until you’ve explored at least a one of your options.
So, what are your options for closing the gap between where you are now and where you want to go? What are the pros and cons of each?
When you’re considering your options:

  1. You don’t need to over-analyze. You don’t need to evaluate every detail of each option – stick to the main features such as cost, speed and comfort.
  2. If you can’t see how to get from here to there, you may need to seek help, either from someone who has travelled that way before, or from a professional travel guide.
  3. Sometimes you find that your destination is unreachable from where you are now. If that is the case, you’re going to have to pick a more realistic destination.

5: Know Your Route

You’re certainly not ready for growth until you have a growth plan. So, once you know where you are going, who is going with you and how you are going to travel, you can begin to plan your route. You don’t need to plan it all in detail. After all, you can’t know everything that will happen on the journey, so you are likely to have to make course adjustments as you go. Nevertheless, you can plain in the main waypoints, and you can plan the first leg of the journey in some detail.

6: Know How To Take Your First Steps

You’re ready for growth when you know what to do next and how you need to do it.
Once you’re ready… just do it!

The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction not a destination.Carl Rogers

7: Know What You’ve Learned So Far

Once you’ve been on the road for a while, you’re likely to have learned a few things about travelling. So, make the most of your experience. To make yourself even more ready for growth, reflect on the journey so far:

  • What have you learned?
  • What will you do differently on the next leg of your journey?
  • What will you do more of?
  • Or less of?
  • Do you need to adjust your course?
  • Or alter your destination?
  • Are you ready to pick up a new travelling companion?
  • Or let go of an old one?
  • Are you slowing others down?
  • Are others holding you back?
  • Is your mode of transport still appropriate?
  • How can you help others on their journey?
  • How can they help you?

Bonus: Remeber Why You’re Travelling

Whenever you set out on a journey, you have a reason for going. When the road gets tough, it can be helpful to remember what made you go in the first place. Similarly, personal growth can sometimes be hard. You may get tired, bored, lonely… Keep your spirits up by reflecting on the reasons you started out, and you’ll always be ready to take the next step on your voyage of change.
Thank you for travelling through this article with me. I hope you have enjoyed the trip, and I wish you a very pleasant onward journey.

Acknowledgements

  • Image by Doris Antony, Berlin (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Poor Leadership vs Great Leadership

Some of the differences between poor leadership and great leadership.

The Bible is a surprisingly rich source of leadership wisdom, and has been a significant source of inspiration to many of the most respected leadership gurus of our age, including John Maxwell, Ken Blanchard and Stephen Covey [1. which is not to say that everything these authors say is Biblical].

The table below illustrates some of the differences between poor leaders and effective leaders. It is loosely inspired by the contrast between the self-serving leadership of the Pharisees and the world-changing leadership of Jesus and his early followers.

The table below is loosely based on this contrast:

The Poor Leader The Great Leader
Needs to feel superior to others Seeks growth through personal humility [1. Luke 2:52]
Derives status from good connections [1. Matthew 3:9] Derives authority from good character [1. Matthew 7:29]
Is concerned with external appearances [1. Matthew 5:20] Is concerned with internal realities [1. John 14:27]
Is fearful that their mistakes will be discovered [1. Matthew 5:20] Is honest about their failings [1. James 5:15]
Avoids being seen with the wrong kind of people [1. Matthew 9:11] Sees value in everyone [1. Mark 2:17]
Makes a show of self-denial [1. Matthew 9:14] Enjoys life to the full [1. John 10:10]
Thinks they’re better than other people [1. Matthew 9:14] Recognizes that we all share the same struggles [1. Hebrews 4:15]
Treats rules as more important than people [1. Matthew 12:2] Treats people as more important than anything [1. John 3:16]
Lives by the rules [1. Matthew 12:9-16] Lives by convictions
Imposes rules on others [1. Matthew 12:9-16] Frees others from their limitations [1. Mark 10:52]
Is threatened by the success of others [1. Matthew 12:14] Celebrates the success of others [1. Matthew 25:23]
Assumes the worst of people [1. Matthew 12:24] Sees the best in people
Speaks ill of good people [1. Matthew 12:24] Speaks well of others
Understands right behaviour is defined by tradition [1. Matthew 15:1-9] Understands right behaviour is what benefits people
Resists change [1. Matthew 15:1-9] Embraces beneficial change [1. Matthew 5:17]
Neglects family [1. Matthew 15:1-9] Takes care of family [1. 1 Timothy 3:4]
Focuses on resources [1. Matthew 15:12-14] Focuses on production
Is easily offended [1. Matthew 15:12-14] Is not daunted by the opinion of others
Is unaware of their ignorance [1. Matthew 15:12-14] Knows that they have a lot to learn
Has a damaging influence [1. Matthew 16:6-12] Has a healing influence [1. Matthew 8:1-4]
Wants people to be just like them [1. Matthew 16:6-12] Helps others to make the best of their potential
Asks questions to catch people out [1. Matthew 19:3] Asks questions to help people think for themselves
Is quick to point the finger [1. Matthew 15:8] Encourages despite their failings [1. John 3:17]
Lives a life based on rules [1. Matthew 15:8] Lives a life based on healthy relationships
Is fearful of emotions – their own and those of others [1. Matthew 21:15-16] Lives a life of passion [1. John 11:35]
Talks a good talk [1. Matthew 23:3-5] Walks a good walk
Makes it hard for others to be successful [1. Matthew 23:3-5] Encourages success in others
Seeks high positions [1. Matthew 23:3-5] Seeks to influence others to their benefit
Is keen to impress [1. Matthew 23:3-5] Is keen to make a difference
Seeks status [1. Matthew 23:3-5] Looks for ways to serve [1. Matthew 20:28]
Knows-it-alls [1. Matthew 23:3-5] Is too busy living to show off
Defines a standard [1. Matthew 23:3-5] Sets an example [1. 1 Corinthians 11:1]
Teaches a pipe-dream [1. Matthew 23:3-5] Shares an experience
Points the way [1. Matthew 23:3-5] Demonstrates the way [1. John 14:6]
Watches people get weary and sick and tired [1. Matthew 23:3-5] Helps people to recharge their batteries [1. Matthew 11:29]
Keeps up appearances [1. Matthew 23:3-5] Isn’t out to impress [1. Mark 18:18]
Is a consumer [1. Matthew 23:3-5] Is a producer
Builds their importance on the productivity of others [1. Matthew 23:3-5] Sees the importance of helping others to build productive lives
Seeks status [1. Matthew 23:6-7] Values the contribution of others
Enjoys positions of honor [1. Matthew 23:6-7] Sees others as fellow travelers
Like titles [1. Matthew 23:6-7] Eschews titles
Want public recognition [1. Matthew 23:6-7] Gives honor to others
Is self-important [1. Matthew 23:6-7] Is humble
Is ineffective [1. Matthew 23:13-15] Is effective
Reduces the effectiveness of others [1. Matthew 23:13-15] Promotes effectiveness in others
Wears a mask of respectability [1. Matthew 23:13-15] Is authentic [1. John 1:14]
Acts a part [1. Matthew 23:13-15] Is genuine
Insists that people emulate their way of life [1. Matthew 23:15] Encourages others to be the best that they can be
Applies rules selectively, but is unaware of their own inconsistencies [1. Matthew 23:15] Applies principles consistently
Insists on the letter of the law [1. Matthew 23:23] Allows for people’s mistakes
Quibbles over minor matters [1. Matthew 23:23] Focuses on the bigger issues
Nit-picks the presentation [1. Matthew 23:23] Majors on the meaning
Is hard on self and others [1. Matthew 23:23] Is kind to self and others
Focus on appearances [1. Matthew 23:25-27] Focuses on character [1. Galatians 5:22-23]
Desires more for self [1. Matthew 23:25-27] Wants more for everyone
Has a scarcity mentality [1. Matthew 23:25-27] Has an abundance mentality [1. Psalm 50:10]
Pays lip-service to heroes [1. Matthew 23:29] Seeks to emulate heroes
Is quick to say what they would have done better [1. Matthew 23:29] Is keen to demonstrate a better way
Sucks the life out of others [1. Matthew 23:33] Gives life to others
Dismisses visionaries [1. Matthew 23:34] Is a visionary
Rejects innovation [1. Matthew 23:34] Stimulates innovation
Refuses to learn [1. Matthew 23:34] Is a life-long learner [1. Heb rews 5:8]

Acknowledgements

Effort and Reward: The Big Snow

Snow days can teach us a lot about effort and reward (and fun).

Don’t you love those winter days when everything shuts for snow? At least, didn’t you love them as a kid? Instead of going to school, everyone went out to play in the snow.

I remember one year when I was a kid, living in Cardiff. In the late 1970s or early 80’s it must have been; the year we still call “the big snow”. School was shut for what seemed like weeks! We spent your day building snowmen, having snowball fights, rolling snowballs to see who can make the biggest. The snow was so deep we made “caves” in it, and we dug out fortresses for our snowball fights. But best of all was going up “the dell”, a steep normally grassy hill at the top of my road, and racing down it on the sledge that our parents bought for us.

The thing about sledging was that you spent more time dragging the sledge up hill than you ever did riding it. But we didn’t mind, because the thrill of riding was worth every ounce of effort we put into dragging that sledge back up the hill.

Whoosh!

Finally, at the end of the day, frozen to the bone and completely exhausted, we’d trudge back home for tea and a toast by the has fire.
There is a point to my sad-old-man reminiscence:

We often talk about the ride, but rarely the walk back up hill. Perhaps that is why we see the success that other people enjoy, but rarely the effort that they’re putting in behind the scenes. The truth is, the people who have the most fun are are often the ones who work hardest and who sacrifice most. But they don’t mind, because the thrill of the ride is worth it. The rewards far out-weigh the effort that it takes to achieve them.

So, given that you don’t get to ride unless you put in the effort, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate that up-hill climb? Is there some “ride” you want to enjoy? If so, then what effort will you need to put in before you get to enjoy it? Are you willing to do it? Because I think we’re setting ourselves up to have… a lot of fun!

Acknowledgements

Today is Father of Tomorrow

Who do you want to be tomorrow? What do you want your life to look like?

To some extent, the direction of our lives will always be influenced by factors that are outside our control. Nevertheless, the older we are, the more our circumstances are shaped by our own past actions. Much that is good or bad in our lives today is the result of what we did in the past. It follows, then, that much that will happen to us in future will be determined by what we do today.

The effects we experience today are a result of yesterday’s causes. The effects we will experience tomorrow will be the result of today’s causes. We reap, as they say, what we sow.

For example:

  • The seeds we plant today determine the crops we can reap tomorrow.
  • The choices that we make today determine the choices that are available to us tomorrow.
  • The things we attend to today feed the thoughts we think tomorrow.
  • The friendships that we nurture today are the friends we have tomorrow.
  • The questions we ask today determine the answers that we’ll receive tomorrow.
  • What habits we grow today determine who we become tomorrow.

Who do you want to be tomorrow? What do you want your life to look like? And what are you doing about it?

Acknowledgements