Do more by managing this resource: energy

When it comes to productivity most of us think about time. It is important, but there is, I believe, another resource that is even more so. It’s this.

Energy.

I don’t mean that we are battery-operated, like a Tesla, no. But it’s not too far from that, in some sense. I mean, you can feel it, right? It’s that draggy feeling you get through the day, or, if you’ve been working really hard and hardly sleeping, you might start feeling burned out. That’s you mismanaging your energy.

Or, on the opposite side, it’s those days, when you’ve been eating well or exercising and sleeping better, that you sense your energy levels are at full capacity. You’ve got a bounce in your step and feel like you can take on the world.

That’s what I’m talking about. That’s energy.

And many of us believe that to do more, we need to work harder. But that’s not true. It’s a recipe for hating your work or burning out. I know. I’ve been there. And doing that makes you incredibly unproductive.

Energy is critical. It’s what helps you do your job, learn, create, parent—you know, live. It’s the fuel you have within you that powers your ability to be productive in your life.

And, the truth is, too many of us are terrible at managing our energy. We don’t really think about it, let alone talk about it. But we should. It’s not easily quantifiable, but, as I said, you can feel it.

You see, highly productive people have learned to dial in their energy. They aren’t just thinking about time. They find times to play, rest, relax. Jeff Bezos talks about getting eight hours of sleep. Winston Churchill took regular breaks just to doze off or stare out over his pond and daydream. Me? I like to watch Netflix or read.

I’m not saying I’m a master at this. I’m not. My point is to make you aware of this dynamic within all of us. Awareness is key. Take stock of how much energy you do or do not have. Look at your life patterns, your routine, and consider changing things to improve your management of this.

When you are running low, learn to rest, sleep more, say no to requests. Find the things that give you energy and incorporate the into your life. Maybe it’s reading poetry, or watching a feel-good movie, even really cheesy romantic comedies, or spending time with your loved ones. Whatever it is, do it regularly. Doing that will help you have the oomph to accomplish the things that really matter.

And you’ll produce more than you thought you could, even more than when you were working longer hours.


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A secret to winning

We all want to win in our relationships, investments, love. But winning is often counterintuitive. And we can sum it up like this.

To win, you must be willing to lose.

You see, in relationships, we want to be right or argue our point or make people see our way, our hurts, our pain, our truths. But if you’ve been around the block and have some experience, you know that doesn’t work. In fact, it only poisons relationships. Making people see what you see isn’t a way to create intimacy. To go deeper with people, you have to lose that need to be known first and, instead, try to understand others before being understood, empathize with them, feel their pain. When you do that, you will likely deepen your relationships. Of course, you want to find people where this “losing” is mutual. They are willing to “lose” for you and you for them. But sometimes, it takes someone to initiate it. And if you do, you will not find yourself without friends and loved ones.

Who doesn’t want more money? Of course, we all do. I’m just keeping it real here. But, what we aren’t real about is how to win in this area. In investing, winning is also about losing. Maybe you’ve lost money trying to invest, and you don’t want to touch the stock market. But I think there’s a reason for that. It’s the fact that you’re trying too hard to win. I know that sounds confusing. But let me explain. When I lost money in the market, often it happened because I was too afraid to lose money: anytime my stock or investment started losing money, I would sell. Then that investment would recover and appreciate, and I would feel terrible because I felt like I was missing out. So then I would buy back into that stock when the price was higher. Then it would go down again, and I would sell again because I was losing money. And that cycle kept happening. In short, I would try so hard to win that, at any moment when I was losing, I would try to save myself by getting out of the market out of fear of losing more money. Maybe you can relate. After reading books and reflecting on my countless mistakes, I realized that I needed to just buy and hold. But to do that, I had to get my head right. I had to be willing to lose my money, all of it if necessary, if I had a high conviction about a company. That’s when I started making money. To make money, you have to be willing to lose it.

Love is complex. And I don’t want to say that to make romantic relationships work, you just have to lose, because that’s not necessarily true. But it does help. I’ve seen it in my marriage. When I’m willing to die to myself for my wife, our relationship goes better. And, when I say “die to myself,” what I mean is that I’m willing to set my agenda, preferences, desires, etc. aside and let hers be higher, more important. That’s losing. And if you do that, you will win. Your love will grow. Now, I don’t mean for you to get abused. No, marriage or romantic relationship is a two-way street. So you need to tell the other person to treat you better if they are treating you like crap. But often, to engender love, love will feel like a one-way street. And you might be the roadkill sometimes. But your relationship will likely flourish.

And, in general, too many of us care too much. We live like we have something to lose. We strive to upgrade our cars, houses, jobs. And we are terrified of getting them taken away from us. But what we don’t see is that this race robs us of joy. When we care so much about our stuff and titles and money, keeping up with the Jones, we just end up living poorer lives. We lose.

It’s when we stop caring so much that we begin to live more richly. When we stop trying to make another buck, sacrificing time with loved ones, and start making sure they feel loved, we are richer. I mean, have you ever seen someone who seems to live so effortlessly, who doesn’t seem to have a care in the world? I don’t mean that they are careless. They just are not that burdened. They may not be the wealthiest person, but they have something money can’t buy. They are free. I’m not saying we should all become homeless people. But we all burden ourselves with things that just don’t matter that much. If that’s you, stop worrying about winning. In fact, be more willing to lose.

If you do, you’ll become a real winner.


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A secret to writing even when you don’t feel worthy

One of the hardest things about writing is saying something worth sitting down to write.

I know. I’m feeling it right now, as I’m trying to write this.

And that’s the thing about writing; it’s often based on our feelings. When we write, we can feel not only that our work isn’t worthy enough, but that, somehow, we are unworthy. That’s what makes writing so hard.

In writing, it’s less about what is being written than it is about the writer. You. Me. Us.

But, if you remember anything from this post, remember this. You are good enough to write.

Sure, you’re going to write crap. A lot of what you create will be garbage. Yes, most of it won’t get read, or it will get ignored. And all of that will feel horrible.

I know. I’ve been there. I still get there. I was there today.

But that doesn’t mean all of your writings are bad. You’re just in process. You’re growing. And that is painful.

I find that I must repeatedly give myself the permission to write, even if it’s poor, unread, ignored material (especially in those times). We as writers so easily stop ourselves because we have this imaginary person inside of us, criticizing us, telling us that we have no business sitting here writing.

But they are wrong. You do belong here. You do have something to say. You must write.

You must because you feel it in your heart. You have a desire within you. And, if you do, you must keep at it. Don’t stop. Keep writing.

You see, writing isn’t about whether your writing is worthy or not. Every writer, even Stephen King to Shakespeare, wrote words that flopped. So, no, it’s not about how worthy your writing is. It’s about what you do.

And if you write, you, my dear reader, are a writer.

And, over time, you will improve. You will find readers. You will write words that will resonate with the world, people, whom you never thought you would reach, will begin reading your words and find them worthy of reading.

I don’t know if it will get any easier to write as you proceed, but I do know this.

You’ll be a writer no matter how you feel.


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Silence: hearing the sounds of the soul

Silence. It’s one of the best things for us. Even so, for many, it’s scary.

So we surround ourselves with noise, TV going in the background or music streaming, podcasts playing, zoom meetings zooming. These days we have more noises than ever before. There are videos, shows, audiobooks, and on and on chattering in our ears all of the time. And that’s not mentioning the real people you may have on the phone or in the room with you. We live in a noisy world. It’s loud.

And that’s not the real issue. It’s this: the fact that we don’t allow for silence in our lives.

You see, silence lets us hear what’s important. It cuts through the noise. Without it, we can’t hear what we really need to hear: our inner voices. I’m not talking about the voices of a mentally ill person. No, these are the ones that make us better. They show us the way. They tell us who we are, who we can become.

Silence is about giving yourself the ability to hear your inner voice speak. In the quiet, we can hear the negative voices and correct them. We can understand what our conscience is actually saying to us. We can hear our souls sing. And, for those of you who believe in Jesus, like me, it’s in the silence where you often hear God.

I’m not saying you need to become a monk. You don’t need to go on a silent retreat where you have thirty-six hours of straight silence, without talking, walking in the woods barefoot in a robe. That would be nice but unnecessary.

What I’m saying is that you need to have some quietude programmed into your life. Whether it’s an hour or two once a week or some minutes a day, you should have some regularity where you seek and find quiet so that you can commune with those quieter voices that need to be heard.

And I’m not saying that this will solve all of your problems. It won’t. But it will make your life better. It will make you more self-aware. It will help you grow as a human.

It will help you hear the signal through the noise.


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Resolutions are good, legacies better

Don’t just make resolutions; leave a legacy.

Over the break, I, like many of you, reflected on the past year and casted hopes for the next. It was a mixture of memories and dreams, sadness and joy, grief and gratitude. There wasn’t much clarity that came from that exercise for me. But there was one question that rang clearly.

And it was this: What legacy will you leave?

When I say “legacy,” I don’t just mean an inheritance of money or property or things that you leave behind to your inheritors. I certainly don’t mean getting your name on a big building with Roman columns, no.

I mean less conspicuous things that leave a greater impact, like shaping your children to make them more loving, unselfish, and honorable human beings. I mean giving the hopeless hope and beauty and truth. I mean the immaterial things that make the world materially better. A legacy is more than the items we leave behind; they are the impressions, even imprints, we make on a person’s soul and the world’s spirit.

Isn’t this a question that we should all ask ourselves? So, What legacy will you leave?

For me, as I let that question slap me across the face, and I feel the reverberations of its meaning pulse through me, I think of my children. I am far from a perfect parent. In fact, often, I think, “I’m a terrible father.” But that doesn’t mean I don’t try to improve. I do. But I fail often. And when I do, I ask for forgiveness, from God, from my wife—from my children.

The question also compels me to write more, better. I don’t just want to write on this blog, although I do love it. I want to create art by writing a novel. I want to tell stories that shape not only this generation but generations to come. I don’t know if I can or will. But I must try.

Maybe you don’t want to have children, or you’re not a writer, or whatever. That’s fine. There are other ways to leave a legacy. You can create something else. You affect your neighbors, coworkers, friends, etc. We all have an impact on the people around us. And it’s not just about what you do, but how you do it. Do you respect others even when you disagree with them? Do you treat people who have less than you with more dignity? Do you love people as you want to be loved? Those are legacy leaving questions.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not perfect at this. I’m awful at it, really. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t continue fighting to carve out a better world. If anything, if my family and friends can say that I never gave up and continued to fight for good, that would be enough, I think.

So, in this season of making resolutions, setting goals, trying to be a better you, do that, but do more than that. Those changes are good. But let’s all find ways to create more lasting change, something that will live longer than ourselves. Let’s leave a legacy that will bear fruit beyond 2021, or the years to come, that will echo past the grave.

And, the fact is, we are all leaving a legacy whether we like it or not. The question is, What kind will it be?

That’s a question only you can answer.

It’s a choice.

So, what will you choose? It’s one you get to make every day, every moment.

Right now.


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This is your bet of a lifetime

We’re all betting, but there’s more to winning.

You see, how we spend our time, energy, and money requires us to decide how we want to allocate them. How much time and money do you spend on this or that, invest in the stock market, get together or not, buy expensive clothes, or not are all investment decisions. They’re all bets.

Life is a bet.

But that’s not the problem, though. It’s that many of us don’t know how to bet well.

Some of you are conservative, others aggressive. Some of you play not to lose, others to win it all.

And, really, some make better bets than others. Some tend to win far more often.

And what makes the difference? That’s the question.

There are a lot of factors. But I think it boils down to one thing. It’s this.

Short-term thinking.

We think if we cut corners, or buy that shiny thing right now, or sell that stock to get the $1000 profit instead of waiting, we will be better off.

That’s why we buy fancy cars or too much house or refuse to save our money and invest because we’re too tempted by instant gratification.

But, all the while, we don’t realize that we are undercutting ourselves from getting the things we really want: respect, wealth, flourishing, wellness, etc.

See, all of those things take, well…time.

They are goals that take a lifetime of building, doing, working.

If you want healthy relationships, you need to cultivate them with truth-telling and integrity.

If you want wealth, you need to spend less than you make and save and invest your money.

If you want respect, you need to earn it one decision at a time and pay the same respect to others.

If you want wellness, you need to practice daily practices that make it so.

By betting well, you will increase life’s quality. You’re not just betting you’re life but how you will live, not just your livelihood but the quality of your life.

Making great bets take time to play out. They aren’t quick wins.

They’re long ones, even a lifetime. Knowing that will make the difference.

You’ll win more.


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Gratitude is good, but contentment is better

Gratitude. It’s something we hear a lot about, especially this week. But, there is something that has a greater impact on our lives, like gratitude, but more richly. What is it?

It’s contentment.

You see, gratitude is something you do, an action. But contentment is a state of being. It’s not just an act; it’s who you become. What I mean is that we don’t say “practice contentment,” like you would say with “gratitude.” Rather, we say to “be content.” We do say “be grateful,” but that often means for something or a particular time, like “you should be grateful for this present, or this food, etc.” Whereas, “contentment” is what you are. And therein lies the magic.

With gratitude, we’re told to give thanks for this and that, and we have our gratitude practices, journals and yoga poses (I don’t know if the last one exists or if I just made it up). But after we’re done practicing, journaling, yoga-ing. It’s easy for us to fall right back into complaining, wanting, pining.

“But John, I practice my gratitude sessions every day,” you might be thinking, “and I hear people talking about gratitude all of the time.”

I applaud you and am sure that you are practicing it, but I think we talk too much about gratitude; and not enough about contentment.

Because, even though you have that practice, you still live with dissatisfaction and envy and a grass-is-always-greener syndrome. Deep down inside, you probably think that if you get that upgraded car, or prettier spouse, or more money, or that new job, or better home, or whatever, then you’ll be happier. And you might be for a bit. But you won’t stay that way. That happiness will fade because practicing gratitude is a start, not the fulfillment.

Just because we practice gratitude doesn’t make us live gratefully. When we are content, that’s the fulfillment of gratefulness.

A sign that someone is content is if they look at their life and sincerely say, “This is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now, and I’m glad” even with all of the crap going on, the pain, the difficulties, mixed with the joys and blessings and goodness.

“Contentment” means you’re satisfied with who you are, what you have, where you are, etc. When you look around at your life and at yourself, you’re filled with satisfaction.

It’s not that gratitude or the practice thereof is bad—far from it. Gratitude is a part of contentment. To be content, we must have a gratitude practice and that can include our spirituality.

For Christians, like me, contentment should be particularly applicable to us. God is called our “portion” in the Scriptures, and that means he is everything we could ever need or want. And if we believe in him and that he is truly God, then we should grow in our contentment. We can know that this world does not have what we really want. For what truly feeds us and gives us joy isn’t here. It’s him, the Eternal Being.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I struggle with contentment, too. Very much so. Even when I’m doing my warrior one gratitude poses on my fancy yoga mat, getting my grateful namaste on, telling myself that I’m glad to be here right now, I can still feel a twinge of envy for this or that thing I want but don’t have.

But, I am improving. If I can, so can you.

So in this great season of Thanksgiving, let’s not just give thanks. Let’s learn to be content.

For, today is a gift.


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Patience: the secret to growth

Growth is a winding, circuitous, and weird path. It’s rarely a straight line. It doesn’t go the way we expect nor want it to go. Sometimes it even means going backward before we begin moving forward. 

And that’s not necessarily the problem. It’s this. The problem is we often expect our growth to progress linearly, and when it doesn’t, we get disappointed, frustrated, upset.

That can lead us to slow down our growth no matter where it is, or, sadly, some of us even give up. That’s why we need to see growth differently.   

What I mean by “growth” is any activity in life like learning, gaining physical capabilities or skill or fitness or spiritual development, etc. I mean any area of life where a human can progress and get better. That bettering is growth. It’s you getting better. 

And, yes, it requires hard work. We need to challenge ourselves and try to do it. We all know that. But what we may not know is that it’s more than that. 

Sometimes we must realize that even after working hard, things don’t always work. Sometimes you will have setbacks that will cause depressions. Sometimes you will feel like an utter and complete failure. But you’re not. 

You see, your growth isn’t linear. You’re on the winding path of growing. And as long as you are still trying and working and learning, you are still on that path, no matter how you feel in the moment. Even if you’re failing, you’re not a failure; you’re just on the circuitous route toward success. 

And, this is when we need patience. It’s the secret weapon for growth. Stop looking at your progress in terms of days or, worse, hours. No, look at it in terms of years, and decades. That’s what it often takes to make real leaps of progress. When you have that mindset, you’ll be able to overcome the hiccups of the day, or the week, or the month, or even years. The mistakes you made or the shortcomings or the face-plants will be blips in the grand scheme of things.

If you’re patient, you’ll give yourself space and time to grow. 

And, before you know it, you’ll see a better you. 

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Become true for yourself

Don’t be true to yourself; be true to the truth.

“Be authentic.” We hear it all of the time. It’s about being true to yourself. But often, being ourselves is the last thing we should be. Often we can be awful. We make mistakes, fail others, hurt our loved ones. I mean, sometimes, I’m a terrible father. And that’s authentic. But that’s not who I should be. Often, being authentic is exactly what we shouldn’t be.

Instead, we should be looking to be better than ourselves. And the way to do that is by finding the truth.

Many of us avoid the truth because it’s unpleasant. We don’t like hearing what might make us wrong. That’s why we tend to read articles that only support the ideas we already believe. We’re biased. We’re so much so that we don’t even realize we are. So we stay the same. We don’t change. How can we if we never see ourselves as wrong?

But isn’t that what we all want? To change, I mean. Don’t we all want to get better? Isn’t this why you’re even bothering reading this post? We don’t want to be like ourselves; we want to transform.

And we do that by searching for the truth. It needs to be searched for, sought after. It doesn’t come to us; it requires work. It’s not easy. Admitting that you may not know as much as you think is a good start. Doubting our presuppositions helps us peel away our biases. From there, we can see that what we’ve “always been told,” may have always been wrong. To find the truth, you must read sources from the other side, talk to others wiser than you, and find and debate people who disagree with you. (And having a Facebook comment war doesn’t count.) You must hunt for the truth.

These days, there are many lies, or at least untruths and misinformation, being spewed out into the world. It’s getting harder to decipher truth from untruth. And it’s not just out there.

The ones that are often most disturbing are the ones we tell ourselves, the lies in us. It’s easy for me to fall into thinking I can never be this or that, or how my failures define me and my future, or how my worst fears will become a reality.

Maybe you do the same.

That’s when we must sit and really examine ourselves and our thoughts and pit them against science or God or the ideas of more learned people than us. Doing that will set us aright. And we will find that being truer to truth makes us far more ourselves and better humans than we could ever achieve by just trying to “be our authentic selves.”

See, being authentically true to truth makes us far more ourselves than we could ever imagine. It helps us transcend the lies and untruths. The truth isn’t about you or me. It’s bigger and better than all of us. And when we find it, it raises us up, transforming us to be better and truer than we ever could have been without it.

The truth sets us free.


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To live your best life, be wrong more

Often we worry about being right. But I think we should be spending more time being wrong.

Because sometimes, in life, being wrong is the most right you can be.

This sounds strange, I know. But that doesn’t mean it’s false.

You see, we live in a world that is obsessed with being right.

The schools we went to taught us that getting A’s, 100%s, 4.0 GPAs was the way to be.

And we learned that if we followed that paradigm of always being right, it would lead to success, riches—our dreams.

But that’s not how our post-school lives work. Real-life isn’t about being right. It operates quite differently. There aren’t A’s, 100%s, 4.0s here—no.

Work isn’t about perfection. It’s about creativity, ideation, iteration.

And, relationships are murky, muddled, messy. And no one is acing that class.

Life isn’t school.

Trying to be right all of the time makes us paralyzed, inflexible, ineffective.

Often, it keeps us from being our best. It makes us play it safe, take fewer risks, live less life.

And that, in my opinion, isn’t how most of us really want to be like. We want more. And, I think, we should.

To do that, we need to be wrong more.

See, there are times to “move fast and break things” to err on the side of doing things without knowing if those things we’re doing will work.

We need to experiment.

I’m not saying to be wrong just to be wrong.

No, that’s dumb.

What I mean is that we should be trying to do things that we’re unsure about, that are uncertain, you know—risky. And we’re not doing that for just any reason. We’re doing that for a very specific purpose—to reach our dreams.

But, going after them can make us wrong. What I mean is that you’ll make a lot of mistakes. What you do will be filled with failures and imperfections. That’s what happens when you pursue a dream: you’re wrong, a lot.

But, when we make errors, that’s when we can find corrections. Problems allow us to create solutions. Without an error, we often don’t know what to correct and how to move forward.

But the good thing about mistakes is that they are rarely final. After we make a mistake, most of us get retakes. We get to try again. We get second chances, and third chances, and fourth chances, etc.

And that’s where the magic happens. That’s where we get opportunities to learn from that wrong and make it better.

You can take a failed experiment, a terrible proposal, an ill-timed investment, a shuttered company, a broken relationship, and study them. And you’ll begin to understand what went wrong and how it could have been different, better and glean the lessons you need to succeed in the future.

Then, on a retake, apply those learnings when you try again in that next experiment, proposal, investment, company, relationship. Because as long as you are alive, you will have retakes.

Take them. And make the best of them. Take all of the wrongs and make them better.

And over the years and decades, you’ll see that you’ll be far more right than you would have ever been if you were only trying to be right. You’ll even live your best life.

In fact, you’ll have lived a dream.

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