One of the best ways to stay motivated

Many of us push ourselves to stay motivated. We force, cajole, pressure, sometimes even yell at ourselves to get going.

But pushing yourself isn’t as effective as being pulled.

I don’t mean being yanked or dragged like a prisoner, no.

I mean something summoning you by an irresistible force, like being in love, where you’re carried forth, wooed, because you want to be, have to be.

And the thing that best pulls us is this.

Purpose.

Purpose gives you meaning

It’s the why we do what we do. It’s the reason for which we live and act and rise.

Purpose gives us meaning.

It clarifies our lives, bringing it into focus, letting us see the reason for living.

Purpose gives you the feeling that you are connected to a bigger plan than just making money, accumulating things, raising your status, lifestyle, and well-being. It’s something you would die for. But more importantly, it’s something you live for.

Purpose propels you further

Purpose is life’s greatest magnet, drawing you forth. It beckons you to attempt greater feats, go farther lengths, pursue higher goals, and achieve more than you could ever imagine.

It provides the oomph to lean into the most challenging seasons of life, face the darkest times, learn in the face of failure. It strengthens us in the face of stress, fatigue, and uncertainty.

Purpose’s purpose

So, if you want motivation, energy, a reason to get out and face the day, don’t spend your time shoving and pushing yourself—no.

Instead, answer this question.

What is your purpose?

Doing that will help you do everything else.


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Is remote learning hurting my kid?

The school year kicked off and it’s nerve wracking.

Many classrooms are empty and our living rooms have replaced them. Our kids are sitting in front of a device all day, and they aren’t physically interacting with anyone.

They’re remote learning.

And we, parents, are wondering, Will our kids remotely learning anything?

And let’s face it, it’s scary. At least, it’s uncertain. And many of us are worried, and concerned. My wife and I are, too.

Worried about our kid being on a device all day

Our first grader just started school and he’s constantly on a device. There’s a school issued iPad sitting on his desk as I type this. And he’s staring at it right now. He has been for hours since the beginning of last week, all day every day, for like five hours a day.

And my wife came to me, worried, and said, “Should he be on that thing all the time? I’m concerned that it’s hurting him.”

I paused. And thought. And I realized I’m on a device all day every day. I’m on my phone right now, typing feverishly on it to clarify my thoughts around my kid being on a device. So I’m on a device talking about my kid being on a device. I know—meta.

But, I’m not watching YouTube or playing candy crush or whatever. I’m writing. My device is rarely used as an entertainment portal to get lost in. If I’m not writing on it, then I’m reading or doing some other kind of learning on it. I use it as a tool to produce good for myself and for others. And that’s exactly what my son is doing, too.

A device can be a learning tool

He’s engaging with kids his age, talking with them, learning social skills. He’s getting lessons on social studies, English, science, math. He’s drawing on his iPad, taking photos of his work to show others. He’s breaking out into small groups to talk about what they’re learning, listening to book readings, building relationships. This remote learning seems to be making an impact on him.

I get why some parents would be scared. (I have been one of them.) Over the years there has been a lot of talk about how kids can become zombies and irritable and get ADD from devices. And there was also this article that talks about how parents being distracted by their devices are also contributing to the problem. (I’m probably one of those, too.)

But after thinking about this, I realized that the issue isn’t about usage but use. And, as I see it, for five hours a day, my son is using his iPad as a tool. And so are all of the other kids in his class. Just because he’s on device for lengthy periods doesn’t necessarily cause him harm or make him a poorer student. On the contrary, it’s actually improving him and his mind and his social skills. He’s even learning ways to make connections digitally and how to deepen them, which will only serve him well as interactions become increasingly digitized. That’s something many of us Gen-Xers or older never learned in our youth. I think this generation may even be stretching their EQ (emotional quotient) in ways that we’ve never seen before.

Socialization and blue light and homeschooling

I do wonder about his ability to socialize in the physical presence of people. Will he know how to handshake properly if and when that ever happens again? Will it be firm enough? Will he know how to look a person in the eye, not the screen eye or camera eye? Will he know how to stand in the presence of strangers and present himself well? Those are all questions I’m asking. You probably are, too. And the truth is, we don’t know. All we can do is teach them what to do around us and wait and see.

Blue light, the light emanates from the screen, is also another concern. Researchers aren’t sure if they are as harmful as some may suspect. But it may be good to be careful nonetheless. We bought these blue light blocking glasses (affiliate) for our son. They aren’t cheap. But they were the best we could find. We wanted to err on the side of caution especially since, as I said, he’s looking at a screen every day for five hours a day.

A family we know decided to pull their kids out of school because they didn’t want them wearing masks or sitting in front of a screen, all day. So they’re homeschooling. And that’s a perfectly viable option. In someways I’d like to do the same. Last year we saw our son do rather well while he was under the my wife’s tutelage. But we decided to go full remote learning because our extroverted son needs more interactions than what he’s getting from just his parents.

And it’s working, I think. He seems to be doing well. He’s enjoying the classes, most days. It’s a little early to say he’s flourishing. But he could be. He seems to be. We’re hoping he will. I’m wishing the same for your child, too.

Parents, remember this in remote learning

But the biggest thing to remember, parents, is this: we’re all making due with a terrible situation. We’re all making lemonade out of the lemons. And whatever direction you go, it won’t be perfect. I mean, no one has the perfect solution for educating kids in normal life, let alone in a pandemic. So, take it a little easier on yourself, take a breath, keep moving forward, and know that you’re doing the best you can for your child. In times like these, that’s the best we can do.

And, listen, since the beginning of time, parents have been worrying about their kids. I’m fairly sure that all of the Neanderthal parents were worried about how their Neanderthal kids would handle this or that change, like the discovery of fire or the Ice Age, or whatever. Those parents might have even been concerned about how the sun reflected off of the rock tablet their prehistoric child was using as they were making a cave drawing on it and sat them under the shade of a tree to block the ferocious light from their little cave-person eyes.

You get it. Parents worry—no matter what Age you’re in. It’s a part of the job description for parenting.

But if your kid is learning and, more importantly, learning how to learn, you’re going in the right direction. Whether with an iPad or a paper notebook or chalkboard or a stone tablet, the whole point is that they are growing as humans. And when we are directing them on that trajectory, we’re doing the right thing.

Parenting is a tough business. Full stop.

But parenting in a pandemic is something else entirely. It’s like survival of the fittest. It’s our ice age. Some could liken it to warfare. But whatever you’re calling it, if we can help our kids find pockets of goodness and growth, you should be feel good about it.

Remote learning isn’t perfect, but I think it’s going to be far less harmful than we fear and far better than we hope. We, parents, will need to supplement that learning and stay with our kids in this process. But, I believe, it will work out.

I mean, look at far we’ve come from Neanderthal Man.

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Use your mind to change your brain: changing your temperament

We all have aspects of ourselves, our temperament, that we wish we could change.

Me—I’ve had a temper all of my life. It can get ugly. But that’s not the most interesting part. What is is that it has changed, improved as I’ve aged. I get angry less and with less intensity. I ultimately attribute that improvement to Divine Grace, but there was also work that I did to bring it about.

Maybe you don’t have a temper, but maybe you’re too pessimistic or fearful or anxious. And it’s easy to think that we’re doomed to stay that way for life. But you’re not.

We can change our temperaments.

What is temperament?

“Temperament” is rooted in a Latin word that means “correct mixture”. The idea is that each person has a mix, like a margarita. And your internal mixture is how your mind has been arranged, or your disposition, which is the way you are inclined to go, act, do, think. And it’s inherent. That means you’re born with a certain concoction that affects the way you act in life. It’s like your preloaded software. We all have our own OS.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not upgradable, or there aren’t bug fixes. Temperament needn’t be like our eye color and height and cheekbone structure.

Temperament is malleable. It may not be completely changeable. But it’s not set in stone. We’re more like clay. Our raw material will always be clay, but it can be shaped. We know this because our brains are constantly shifting and learning.

Neuroplasticity at work

That’s called neuroplasticity.

It’s a fancy word for saying that our brains are constantly changing. And according to neuroscientists, they can be changed. In short, your mind can change your brain. That means your thinking can actually play a role in molding your brain. We can teach ourselves how to be better.

And we do that by reflecting and writing. If we reflect on our lives and the hurtful things that have happened to us or the stories that are shaping us or the quiet ideas that direct our thoughts, and study them to understand what they are doing to us, we can make breakthroughs. And writing those thoughts and reflections down helps us process what is driving us and our thinking, and what we realize will help us change and upgrade our software.

My story of shaping my temperament

For example, my wife and I used to have brutal fights. And my temper would flare like a wildfire. And there were even times when I tried to walk out of our marriage. After several of those episodes, I started wondering if I was the problem. I reflected on my early twenties and how I was engaged to a different girl who broke our engagement. And I saw how that broke me. I didn’t know it at the time, nor for years afterward, that that break up created a deep, deep fear of rejection in me. Years later, when I got angry at my wife and tried to leave her, it wasn’t totally about her and our fight. That anger was rooted in that broken engagement and in the deep-seated fear it had caused. So my temper in this situation wasn’t about anger but a fear of being left again. And taking the time to understand that fear of rejection revolutionized my marriage, and me. And I learned to trust my wife, and I stopped trying to leave her.

The power of learning

See, learning is one of the most powerful things you can do to change your temperament. Too often, we avoid the painful parts of our past, which only makes us less capable of changing positively in the present. But when we look into the darker corners of our story, we will discover new insights into ourselves and why we are so angry or hurt or nervous or anxious. And they don’t all have to be dark. They just have to be stories and ideas that drive us. Once we understand them, we can reframe our minds and teach ourselves to think differently.

Maybe you’re really anxious right now. You should consider asking yourself what is causing you to be that way. Yes, there are external factors, of course. But there are also internal ones that are driving your anxiety, too. Maybe it was an event or relationship or family story that is affecting you. The point is to take the time to reflect and write about them, and you will make discoveries that will reframe your thinking and adjust your temperament.

Changing our temperament has incredible benefits. It not only improves our relationships but can also help you at work, in parenting, meeting new people, adapting to change, and even investing.

Temperament and investing

Warren Buffet says that investing isn’t about being the smartest person, but about temperament. “You don’t need tons of IQ in this business,” Buffet said. “I mean, you have to have enough IQ to get from here to downtown Omaha…You need a stable personality. You need a temperament that neither derives great pleasure from being with the crowd or against the crowd because this is not a business where you take polls. It’s a business where you think.” Source

Having the right temperament is the main differentiating factor between good investors and bad ones. Having a good temperament is good business. It’s an edge.

It’s also an edge in life. And knowing that we can mold our temperament is one of the greatest edges we can have.

I’m not going to lie to you. This isn’t easy; it’s really hard.

But it’s worth it.

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Permission to live

Give yourself permission to fail, to overreach, to try.

Give yourself permission to be imperfect, wrong, weird.

Give yourself permission to do that thing you love, pursue your dream, take a different path.

I’m not saying to do anything wrong or immoral. I’m just saying that there are a lot of things that are good that we want but we won’t let ourselves do them because they’re new to us or they might seem odd to our friends or we’re afraid of what strangers might think or, worse, what we might think of ourselves.

But that’s ridiculous.

Too often we lock ourselves in the prisons we create. We shackle our futures by saying no to ourselves even before anyone ever thinks to deny us. Chains of “can’t” weigh us down before we’ve even tried. We strip ourselves of the life we want to live before it’s ever lived. We’ve stopped ourselves before we even begin to think about starting.

That. Must. Stop.

Give yourself permission to give yourself permission. You are the key; free yourself.

And start living.

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Hope, felt

Hope is there even if it’s hard to see.

Yes, uncertainty is everywhere and it’s certainly scary, especially these days. Yes, these times are dark and not knowing what’s around the corner is daunting.

But it’s not hopeless. Just because times are despairing and darkness surrounds us, we needn’t despair.

Often the light can’t be seen in the night, but it comes. It breaks night’s grip on the sky when we are frightened and sleepless.

Dawn dawns.

It’s inevitable. After the night there is morning, a new day, fresh like a newborn child, the reward after the pangs.

Do we know how daybreak will appear for us now? No. Do we know when? No. But, it will.

See, there have been generations and generations before us who’ve lived through terrible times. I mean, could you imagine living through World War I or II or the Civil War or the Revolutionary War or the Spanish Flu or the Black Plague or or or? No. But—many did. And yes, there was incredible tragedy. But humanity (I believe, by the grace of God) survived and, then, thrived.

As the seasons cycle in our lifetimes, there are also cycles that arc across the horizon of history that bring tremendous pain followed by brilliant flourishing. Spring always follows winter.

This time feels like the end. But it’s not. It means hope’s around the bend.

Wait for it. It will shine.

It starts in you. For, hope is best not seen. It’s felt.

In our hearts.

We started a podcast

So…a friend and I started a podcast.

There’s a lot of confessing, challenging, a bit of conflict, and a touch of cussing.

But most of all it’s a conversation between friends.

This project grew out of years of relationship and talking about our ventures and missteps and learnings and stories.

And we want to share them with you.

This podcast is a series of conversations about life, entrepreneurship, money, wellness.

But, really, it’s about improving our lives in midlife.

My friend’s name is Howard Lerner. He’s a great dude and entrepreneur and conversationalist. If you’re from St. Louis, you’ve likely heard of Kaldis Coffee. He started that company. After building it, he sold it.

Join us every week, as we put out a weekly episode. Here’s the latest one entitled Finding Midlife Motivation.

Feel free to ask us questions or give us topics you want to hear us discuss. And we welcome any feedback you might have. Contact me through this site or @itsjohnpa on Twitter or Instagram.

Find all of our episodes, and subscribe, on Spotify and check us out at www.howardandjohn.com.

Or if you want to watch us, go to YouTube to get the full facial experience. We don’t have the latest episode up yet, but you can watch one of our first versions.

Everyone, lastly, I just want to thank you for joining me on this journey. It’s almost weekly that I get to hear from someone that’s said they read my blog at one point or another, and that always makes me feel honored and grateful to feel connected to you somehow.

I love you. And I wish you the best as we continue this beautiful journey called life.

Lots of love,

John


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Overcoming one of our greatest obstacles: ourselves

Our lives are determined not just by what we think but how we think.

Before I started writing I used to believe I couldn’t write. It probably had a lot to do with the fact that my high school papers, after being graded, had so much red ink on them that they looked like someone dragged a freshly killed animal over them. It was traumatic for me. And add the fact that I grew up in an immigrant family where English was a third language and Dr. Seuss wasn’t read to me, I thought I was doomed to be a poor wordsmith.

That frame of mind followed me all the way through college, into my career, and got worse when I started a creative agency, and reached all the way into my midlife.

But I was wrong.

See, in the cradle of our minds we nurture something that forms us all. It’s weened in the shadows of our psyche, hidden, growing into an idea or narrative that chokes our dreams and kills opportunities because we are often too afraid to challenge it.

This “how” we think is a framework of thinking that we all possess. They are the ideas that we have about ourselves and others and the world, that guide us.

They exist in the forms of memories, stories, experiences, phrases spoken to us in anger by loved ones, past failures, etc. And they hold incredible power of us.

Once I heard about puppies that someone was training and they used a gate to keep them in the kitchen. And one time, when the puppies were playing with the gate, testing the limits, it fell on them. And never again did they try to test that barrier. They were terrified of it even when they out grew it and towered over it; they dared not cross it.

We are those puppies. And we all have gates in our lives.

Even if we’ve outgrown them, they still feel like they tower over us and can hurt us, even if we can clearly see that all we need to do is jump a little and we would easily clear it. But, instead, the gate traps us.

But it’s not the gate that traps us but how we think of it.

You see, the puppies weren’t trapped by the physical gate. It was their idea of the gate that was trapping them.

The same was true of me: it wasn’t my bloodied high school papers and growing up immigrant that kept me from writing—no. It was my idea of myself that did that. And it held me back from doing what I enjoyed, loved, all because I was afraid of something I had outgrown.

What are your gates?

It can be anything. I’ve had friends who believed they couldn’t get married, or that they couldn’t be happy, or that they couldn’t get fit, or that God wouldn’t forgive them, or that the world is ending. Maybe you’re wondering if you can make it through this pandemic. There are endless options of the gates that imprison us.

To find out what they are, an exercise you can do it just to write down all of the things that you believe you can’t do but enjoy doing. Take time to slow down and really parse through your thoughts and beliefs about yourself and actually put them down either in your device or even on paper with a pen. Doing that will help you practice awareness. Wake yourself up to the way you see yourself. You don’t need to write Pulitzer Prize winning work. You just need to document your observations so that you can read it and reflect on the ideas and stories that are barricading you.

Also, you can’t do it alone. Often, we need help. For me, it was my wife and God. I felt like there was divine assistance that sparked my mind to see the possibilities, then my wife fanned the flame. There was a God given desire to write. And my wife had heard my musings and love for words and encouraged me.

“I can’t…” is too often said about this or that dream or possibility. But more often than not, it’s just a gate that fell on you when you were young.

It’s time to jump the gate.

Lots of love,

John


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The YouTube ad that made me cry

Last week, we were watching a video when the greatest YouTube ad I had ever seen appeared. We couldn’t stop watching it. The skip ad button turned on and I ignored it. The ad went on for seconds then minutes. Until it ended nineteen minutes later. (I know, it might feel weird reading about a YouTube ad, but it’s just as weird or weirder writing about one.)

What was the ad? It was a Charity Water video.

Charity Water is a nonprofit started by a guy named Scott Harris. And in the ad he told his story from his challenging childhood in the suburbs to becoming a nightclub promoter in New York City. He got paid to throw huge parties and be around beautiful people and drink. It was fun until wasn’t. Eventually he discovered he wanted something more. That led him to abandoning that thrilling life and paying a nonprofit so that he can go with them to third world countries to take pictures for them as they did humanitarian work. When he was there, he discovered people drinking the most heinous water. It was dirty, muddy, diseased, bug infested water. And they (mostly the women in those villages) would walk miles to bring it home even though it was unclean enough to kill and carrying it was backbreaking work. That’s when Scott found his calling and started Charity Water which has a mission to bring clean water to the 780 million people who don’t have access to clean water.

Huddled around our computer screen with us was our first born. He loves YouTube videos. We’re Dude Perfect subscribers. These days we’ve been watching ones with deep sea fishing on BlacktipH. But this YouTube ad did something different to our boy. He saw people’s pain and had compassion. He saw for the first time that too many children didn’t have something he took for granted ever day—clean water to drink. And that was not the only story in the video that moved him.

There was a 9 year old girl, Rachel, who gave up her birthday in hopes to raise $300 for the nonprofit. She didn’t reach her goal: she raised $220. But weeks later she died in a car accident. It was tragic. But from the ashes of tragedy arose a phoenix of hope. As news traveled about Rachel’s death, people and media noted how while she was alive she offered up her birthday to give clean water to others—and many were inspired. They gave hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands, eventually more than a million dollars for the cause she sacrificed for just before she died.

I was crying. And my son says, “I want to give up my birthday. I want to give money.” And he ran off to get his piggy bank and wanted to give right then.

“Buddy we can’t jam dollars through the screen,” I said gently to him.

“Why not? I want to give right now,” he said adamantly.

It was beautiful.

In times like these, when brokenness and sadness reigns, there are still stories that can shift our paradigm and remind us how rich we are. We have clean water. I still have my child. We are alive.

We are richer than we know.

If you have a chance check out Charity Water.

It’ll make you want to jam your money through the screen.

Most of all it will help you see the world afresh.


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One of the best ways to deal with uncertainty

Uncertainty is everywhere. And the best thing we can do isn’t fight it, try to force things to happen—control. No.

Sometimes the best thing we can do is just do this—surrender.

That’s not the same as giving up. You’re not quitting. Absolutely not!

Surrendering is different. It’s not giving up; it’s giving in. And that’s an important distinction, especially in times like these.

It’s like quicksand. When you get stuck in it it’s terrifying and your temptation is to just fight and flail and twist and turn and writhe. The fear grips you and you want to gain control, but that only saps your strength and weakens you until you don’t have any energy to actually solve your problem.

Instead, when you’re in that situation, you need to relax. Make yourself light, and then you make slow and deliberate moves to get yourself out. It takes time, patience, and persistence.

We’re all in quicksand now.

We feel it. With a crazy political world, incredible divisions, an election year—a pandemic—looming possible school openings, quarantines, lockdowns, financial stress, and the list can go on, there’s just more to make us want to fight and flail and twist and turn and writhe, isn’t there? We want control but can never really get it, can we?

And we’re tired. We’re stressed, fatigued.

Stop trying to control and fight.

Instead, surrender. Don’t give up. Give in. Let your mind and body relax. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Think about today. Make a plan. Take deliberate and slow steps. Feed yourself. Feed your family. Find time to laugh and play. Create. Work. Find a way to survive.

Remember, you can’t control the quicksand: the political mayhem, people’s comments on Facebook, their ideologies, the economy. You can control yourself, your mindset, your prayer-life, your meditation practice, your routine, your actions.

Slow down. Let the future unfold. Persist. Go with the flow.

And, when you do, I believe, you’ll be free to find freedom.

You’ll even grow.

Love,

John


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When things get bad, go long

These days it’s easy to think that everything’s crap. But that’s wrong.

You need to go long.

See, the short-term is crappy. Yes, the pandemic is still here. It’s swelling. There’s a second wave. It’s looking ugly, uglier every day.

But, that’s shortsighted. You’ve got to look yonder. Over the horizon. Set your sights on the vista, farther ahead, further still.

I don’t mean distance, but time. Don’t measure life in days, or even months. Do it in years, far beyond the boundaries of immediate gratification.

We need to go long.

To “go long” is often a phrase used in investing. It means to buy an asset like a stock or index fund or something that appreciates—and you do this.

You hold on.

You don’t get out. You don’t sell. You don’t liquidate. You grip it tightly, knuckles whitened, even if life and fear and market gyrations and recessions scream at you to pull out. But no, you hunker down. Maybe you even double down. You’re in it to win it.

That’s what we need to do right now. We need to go long on life.

You need to invest yourself in something that will appreciate. And then, hold on. No matter what happens.

It can be in relationships, or a business, or your health, or spiritual wellbeing, or investing your money. Whatever it is, make sure it’s worthwhile and appreciates and pays dividends in joy and laughter and blessings and hope in the future.

And then, be patient and consistent, and you will see amazing payouts. Your investment will compound.

And you will be rich.


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