Time Marches On – Mindfulness

If you keep a journal or write a blog — anything with dated entries — you are aware of the fact that time marches on. Even if you do not write with dated entries, you perceive the constant march. As I look back at the posts on this blog, I see large gaps of time where I did not post anything. It’s not that I was not busy or that life was not happening. In fact, the opposite is true. I have allowed the activity that springs from my many commitments to prevent me from writing for this site.

Among the many things I have been doing is completing the book Forward Story: Write the Future You Desire. I fully expected to have the printed books in hand by now, but I am learning the challenges of publishing. It is making me even more appreciative of the blessing of books and what goes into their creation. My already lofty view of books has increased considerably. (Update: the book was finally published in 2015).

How do we develop the perspective that since time marches on, we should be about things that really matter? At war with this obvious truth are the daily requirements of life like work, paying bills, buying groceries, changing the oil, and cooking dinner.

I believe the solution is what my good friend David calls “mindfulness.” This is making a conscious decision to be mindful about your life, your future, your past, and your day today.

If we live mindfully, we engage life as an adventure and remain active in bathing our experiences with substance and meaning.

How do you handle the march of time?

What Will You Never Regret?

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I appreciate the fact that you are reading this blog. I desire not only to share what I have learned about life and the future, but to learn from you as well. At this time I could really use your help. I am working on a chapter in my book on regret.

Most of us have regrets over things we have done in the past or over opportunities we have missed. Sometimes this regret can be very serious and require professional help. Other times it just nags at us and ties us to the past.

Here is what I would like to know from you. Envision yourself at the end of your life. You are about to complete this journey. You look back across the years and think about all that you have done, seen, and experienced.

What are the things that at the end of your life you will never regret having done?

Please “Leave a Reply” below to share your thoughts. If you prefer, you can also leave your thoughts on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/ForwardStory

Mind-Mapping the Nearer Term – Adding Age 25

In our last article our 18 year-old John completed his mind map for the time-frame 12 years down the road when he is 30 years old. He put in writing in his mind map his various dreams and goals across three areas – family, career, and personal. However, there is a large gap between where John is right now at 18 and where he wants to be when he is 30. Now comes a crucial step for John. He must answer the question, “How do I get there from here?”

When we introduced John in this series we identified the time-frames that he will plan for. The exact time-frames are flexible and can be defined as John desires. The most important thing is that these time windows make sense to the person creating the mind map – in this case John. Here is the mind map we laid out for John: (all images will enlarge when clicked)

With his age 30 mind-map completed, the next time-frame for John is the next seven years. At the end of that window he will be 25 years old. This period is exactly five years before the age 30 period he has already completed. With each new time period, John has to review the plans he has already written to make sure that what he plans in this new time-frame truly enables him to accomplish what he has already written in his longer time-frames. For example:

  • Family. John wants to be living near his parents when he is 30 in order to be able to take care of them. The likelihood of that happening will depend in large part on John’s decisions by age 25. He has to make sure that this new time-frame takes location into account.
  • Career. John said that when he is 30 he will be in his 7th year of work as an engineer. In order for this to happen, John needs to have already been an engineer for two years by the time he is 25. If he were now to write that by age 25 he wants to start his first job as an engineer, there is no way he will be in his 7th year of work when he is 30. This is why he must review what he has already written.
  • Personal. Since John wants to be under 190 pounds by the time he is 30, he will want to make sure he is setting a realistic goal for his age 25 time-frame with regard to his weight and health. If he does not pay attention to his weight and instead gains weight in his early to mid twenties, John may have weight problem to deal with when he is 30.

In this way John reviews what is already planned in longer time-frames and begins to write a coherent plan for the shorter time-frames. It is important to note that John’s already completed age 30 plan is not chiseled in stone. In working on an earlier time-frame he may discover that something he has written for age 30 cannot be accomplished by that time. OR he may determine that he has been too conservative and that he can really accomplish more in that more distant period. In either case he will need to go back to age 30 and make changes so that his plan has a realistic shot of success. In this way, the entire process is really an iterative process. That is, it will likely take several iterations (or repetitions) to develop a coherent plan.

Back to Age 25

After reviewing his age 30 mind map, John will now begin writing for age 25 across all three realms. Here is the blank template for age 25 with the familiar fields to guide John in his planning.

Since John has already completed his more distant time-frame, he can more easily step back in time and create his goals:

Family

  • Family Status: Mom & Dad 62, Steve 27, Jane 24, Kate 20
  • If we are not already living near Mom & Dad, we will look for career opportunities to move closer.
  • Steve may have children by this time, and it is important to me to be a good uncle to my nieces and nephews. This is true even if we do not live near one another.
  • I will have contributed my love and help to Jane and will have a healthy, supportive relationship with her as an older brother. I will maintain healthy boundaries.
  • I will continue my strong relationship with Kate and assist her in whatever ways she needs me.
  • I may be an uncle to Jane and/or Kate’s children at this point. As with Steve’s, I will invest in these nieces and nephews and be a wonderful uncle to them.
  • Robin and I will be celebrating our third anniversary.
  • I will support her in her career, life, and interests.
  • I will spend quality time with her and work seriously on making our marriage great. I will invest in us.
  • We may have children by this time. I will take fatherhood seriously and will look out for the well-being of them all.

In reviewing his age 30 map, John notices that he failed to say anything about his in-laws in what he wrote about family. He address this now in the new time-frame by writing:

  • I will make it easy for Robin and the kids to spend time with her parents.
  • I will look for ways to help Robin’s parents.

Also, now that John has identified this oversight from the age 30 plan, he will go back to that age 30 map and add his thinking about his in-laws.

Career

  • I will be in my 2nd year of work as an engineer.
  • I will establish a reputation as a person with a strong work ethic.
  • I will cultivate relationships with engineers I admire in order to learn from them and grow my network.
  • I will look for and participate in continuing education opportunities.
  • I will earn at least $60,000 per year.
  • We will practice wise budgeting and will pay off all student loan debt.

Personal

Body/Health

  • I will keep my weight under 190 pounds.
  • I will play tennis and walk regularly.
  • I will eat a healthy diet, and continually educate myself about the latest in nutritional science.
  • I will get annual physicals from my doctor.

Fun

  • I will take guitar lessons and review the fundamentals of music.
  • I will play in at least one charity golf tournaments each year for fun and to support good causes.
  • I will hunt annually with my Dad and brother.

The World

  • I will explore various charities and volunteer my time to determine the place I am most passionate about serving.
  • I will explore the mentoring a young person through Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
  • I will financially support humanitarian relief efforts through world-class charities.
  • I will vote in local, state, and national elections as an exercise of my civic duty and of patriotic gratitude.

Spiritual

  • I will continue to learn and explore my own spiritual nature and the nature of God.
  • I will focus on my spiritual journey with my wife and grow along with her.
  • I will explore and identify a good group of people/church to belong to and to do spiritual work with.
  • I will strive to be consistent in my religious beliefs and allow them to guide my actions in work and personal life.

Here is all of this information in the mind map for age 25:

When both the age 25 and age 30 map are included, here is John’s map. Remember, this image will enlarge:

Now that we have gone through two different time-frames for John we can begin to understand the process for doing a complete mind map. I think you will agree that it is actually hard work. We have not even completed John’s plan yet for his two closest time-frames. One thing that will emerge as we look to the closer time-frames is that the specific goals will become more like tasks as he begins to realize actions he will need to take to make his longer vision a reality. In our next article we will examine how the closest time-frames will drive John’s actions.

Getting Personal About Forward Story Through Mind Maps

This article is part of a series that began with “Using Mind Maps to Develop Your Forward Story.” We have used fictional 18 year-old John as an example and have started building his Forward Story by using the creative tool of mind mapping. In the last article we continued looking at John in twelve years when he will be thirty, and we focused on his career realm. He defined his career ambitions in light of his commitment to his family. As a reminder of where John is so far with his age thirty mind map, here is the map with those two realms completed. (All images will enlarge when clicked).

John has set some excellent goals for when he is thirty. The statements contained in each branch feel right to John. He gets excited thinking about it. The old saying goes: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” John wants to be a mature adult, but he also wants to have some fun. He does not want to be a dull boy. He wants to enjoy life and to live in a meaningful way. So the next realm he will think about is what we will call the Personal realm. We include in this realm body, health, fun, the world, and spirituality.

Body/Health

John knows that thirty is still young, but he wants to take care of his health so he will be able to handle all of the other goals he has already chosen for himself. If he gains a lot of weight, develops diabetes, and suffers from heart disease (like his father has), he may not be able to take care of his parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, or his wife. He  has seen this happen to other friends and family members, so he is determined to make his health a priority.  John writes the following statements:

  • I will keep my weight under 190 pounds.
  • I will exercise at least three times per week.
  • I will eat a healthy diet, and continually educate myself about the latest in nutritional science.
  • I will get annual physicals from my doctor.

For fun John really likes playing guitar. He is currently a novice, but would like to be much better in twelve years. He knows he can do it, so writes the following about guitar and other “fun” activities:

  • I will be able to play guitar for my family and friends without embarrassing myself.
  • I will play in three charity golf tournaments each year for fun and to support good causes.
  • I will hunt annually with my Dad and brother.

Also in this personal realm, John needs to think about the larger world in which he lives. He is aware of people in other places and of his responsibility as a citizen of his own country. He writes:

  • I will regularly volunteer my time to help with our local food pantry.
  • I will mentor a young person through Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
  • I will financially support humanitarian relief efforts through world-class charities.
  • I will vote in local, state, and national elections as an exercise of my civic duty and of patriotic gratitude.

Finally, John will address spirituality. He is not quite certain where his spiritual life will take him, and he has a lot of questions. John considers himself a seeker after spiritual truth, so he has some expectations that by age thirty he may have found some answers to his questions. He contents himself with the following for now:

  • I will have an understanding of my own spiritual nature and the nature of God.
  • I will continue my spiritual journey with my wife and grow along with her.
  • I will find a good group of people/church to belong to and to do spiritual work with.
  • I will strive to be consistent in my religious beliefs and allow them to guide my actions in work and personal life.

Putting all of this together into his mind map, here is what John’s personal realm looks like at age thirty:

John’s final mind map for age thirty is pretty busy. Here is what it looks like all put together:

This branch of John’s map represents a lot of hard work in thinking, visualizing, and writing. As good as this is, this is what John envisions his life looking like in twelve years. In order for this to be more than a fairly tale, he has a lot more work to do to bridge the gap between now and then. So, as a reminder, the thirty year branch is only a small part of John’s overall mind map. Here is a visual reminder of what is left to define:

In our next article we will look at the way John’s closer timeframes relate to this age thirty branch.

How do you think John’s completed branch will affect his thinking about the next few years of his life? How is it likely to impact his behavior?

Today I’m 50 – Now What? Maybe Write a Book!

I recall as a kid being really excited about birthdays. What was not to love? My friends and family made a big deal out the fact that on that date some number of years before, I made my exit from one environment into another. I was the center of attention on that day each year. There were presents, there was cash, there were games, there was singing, and best of all, there was cake. Let them eat cake! What a great thing.

At some point in my adolescence I stopped getting so excited about birthdays. As an adult I observed the annual ritual with indifference as the various milestones clicked past like so many center stripes on a long road trip.

  • At 30 I remember feeling like a “real” adult.
  • At 40 I felt like I had gained some wisdom.
  • Now that I am 50, what do I think? What am I feeling?

According to the United Nations, the average life expectancy of an American male is 75.6 years. What does this mean to me?

  • The hypochondriac in me says that there are a lot of things that will probably get me well before 75.6.
  • The optimist in me says that I will live to be 100.
  • The realist in me says that this means I only have around 25.6 years left. Unless, of course, the Mayans are right (but that’s another story).

Which will it be? I have no crystal ball, so I have no idea. I am not losing sleep over it, either.

I began this blog on July 20,2010 with an initial post on narrative. Before now I have never promoted the blog. I have told a few people about it, and a few more have stumbled upon it, but I have not sought widespread readership. In the past 20 months I have written on a variety of topics all revolving around the idea that all people should be working on a story that looks forward, into the future. I call it a Forward Story.

As I celebrate my half century on the planet today I am taking the wraps off my plan to publish my first book in 2012 entitled Forward Story. While I have been sporadically writing the blog, I have also been working on the book. In writing style the book will be specifically targeted to young people up to their mid-20s, but it will have something to say to all of us, including those 50 and above. The fact is that regardless of your age, you need to have a story for where you are headed. Writing the book Forward Story has been a part of my personal Forward Story for a while now. This is the year to launch it.

This website will be the primary place to keep informed about the book. Feel free to subscribe to the RSS feed or otherwise bookmark forwardstory.com. You can also follow us on twitter at www.twitter.com/forward_story The exact timeframe for publication is not set, but I am committed to publication before the end of the year. In the meantime, feel free to poke around the site and join in the conversation.

Regardless of how many candles you will find on your cake this year, I hope you are writing a beautiful and meaningful Forward Story. Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

An Update: It took a lot longer than I hoped, but the book has arrived. You can get your copy here:


Forward Story: Write the Future You Desire

 

Repetition & Learning

Repetition is boring for most people. If we hear something over and over again, it gets annoying. Think of your least favorite television commercial and how you feel when it is repeated over and over again during a program or game you are watching. It can be like dripping water.

The same can be said for learning information. Once you have learned how to add 2 + 2, you are ready to move on to something more challenging. If your teacher began each lesson with how to add 2 + 2, it would become very tiring. Let’s move on to subtraction or multiplication.

For all we can say negatively about repetition, however, we have to admit it works. Advertisers know that even if you get annoyed at their ad that runs ten times during the game, chances are you will remember them when buying-time comes around. The guitar player knows that repeated practice hour after hour will lead to competence and fluidity in performance. The tennis player hits forehand after forehand after forehand. Why? Because repetition builds memory — in this case muscle-memory. Of course, it is important to repeat effective behaviors to avoid building bad habits. It is likewise important to learn accurate information in order to avoid believing what is false.

I have discovered that the more complicated a subject is, the more repetition I need in order to really get it. This is the reason medical school is not one semester long. It is the reason law school takes three years. It is the reason that becoming a master electrician is no walk in the park. Before I take a new medicine that my doctor has prescribed for me, I want to know that she really understands the anatomy of the human body, the chemistry of the drug, and why it is going to help me. I trust that she repetitively learned all she needed to learn to be competent to prescribe this medicine.

It takes patience and energy to learn via repetition. There is a biological function occurring as we learn. The brain is stashing information collected from our entire sensory system into various places for future access. The more complicated or unconventional the information, the more repetition is required. I have to give this biology time to work.

Two examples:

  • When I am learning how to effectively manage my personal finances I know that conventional wisdom will not help me. How do I know this? Most people are broke. What is “normal” is not working. To learn a more effective way of handling money requires repetition of some better way. This more effective way is not part of my cultural common sense, so I have to purposely and repetitiously learn this better way. If I stop listening to and learning the better way, I will fall back into the culture’s way, which I get through being part of the culture. As a matter of fact, the way I learned that cultural way of thinking and action about money came about through years and years of…repetition. I am only going to replace that way of doing things with something better if I use the same process — repetition. For me this means podcasts, blogs, books, and conversations with other weird people who are also repetitively learning a better way.
  • I am an American, and like many Americans I have struggled with my body weight. As with personal finances, what is normal in our culture is not what I desire. I desire to be healthy and thin. I desire to avoid the many negative health outcomes of being “normal.” How does a person break away from the cultural norm to begin eating in a different way and to get healthier? The answer is repetition. How many food messages does our culture (and agribusiness) repeat to us each day? That onslaught of information cannot be counteracted once and for all. It has to be counteracted continually and repetitively. Again, for me the repetition takes the form of books, blogs, podcasts, and conversations.

Whatever we want to learn is going to require energy. Our capacity to learn is rooted in language, which along with our large brains is our great advantage over the animal kingdom. We just have to be committed to learning the right things and be willing to put in the work required to make that knowledge an effective force in our lives. This is the reason that life-long learning should be an important part of your Forward Story and mine.