Simplify: to say no to as much as necessary so you can say yes to the truly important.
What gets in the way of saying “No”?
Have you defined what is truly important?
Simplify: to say no to as much as necessary so you can say yes to the truly important.
What gets in the way of saying “No”?
Have you defined what is truly important?
Simple growth is about removing barriers to creating and keeping habits and commitments that will lead to personal change.
Significant change can be overwhelming. We see the chasm between where we are and where we want to be and give up before we start.
Making a change or growing personally requires four things:
A clear starting point means two things:
If I want to lose weight, then I should decide when and where I’m starting my exercise program. There needs to be an initial line in the sand.
I also need to stand on a scale and take stock of where my weight is.
What the scale says might be upsetting, but we won’t grow what we don’t measure. And we can’t measure without a baseline.
It’s not enough to know where you’re starting. You also should set a destination point.
In most of our pursuits, a preferred future will not mean an ‘end point.’ A destination doesn’t necessarily mean a moment in time when you can take your foot completely off the gas.
It’s a description of the ideal situation.
For instance, if one of my growth areas is to be a better husband, then my destination or preferred future might look like this:
I will never be ‘done’ with those things, but they still represent a preferred future. And knowing these characteristics of the marriage will inform my actions and give me clues on how to set up a plan.
I won’t move from my starting point to my preferred future without a plan. But the plan should not be complicated.
The plan demystifies and bridges the chasm between the current reality and the preferred future.
A plan is our chief weapon against overwhelm. All that is needed for the plan is the identification of a single action.
For example, if I want to lose weight, my planning can be as simple as committing to a 20 minute walk every morning. I don’t need to kill myself about food. I don’t need to get a trainer. I don’t need to find a CrossFit gym and start posting pictures of myself pushing monster truck tires.
I need to simply pick one small keystone discipline or habit. There’s a good chance that one simple discipline will actually lead to other disciplines to support it.
Willingness captures what we often call self-discipline, and makes it more forgiving.
If we lack self-discipline we consider it a character flaw. We either have it or we don’t. If we don’t, we give up.
But if we focus on being wiling, then we graciously challenge ourselves to pursue the change we’re seeking.
Willingness means that we are open to enlisting help. We will start over after failing. We are willing to pivot and try a new approach. And we are willing to get up early, turn off the TV, seek accountability, and do whatever it takes to see the change happen.
To sum it up, simple growth as it will be pursued and discussed in this blog, is about taking consistent, intentional steps from a current reality toward a preferred future.
It isn’t easy. Simplicity means that we don’t get to hide behind venn diagrams and flow charts and complicated goal systems. Those things are complicated, but they are easy because they distract us from action.
Simple growth requires action. Simple action. Daily. Before you know it, the simple actions taken daily will have the appearance of massive action and effective change.
Questions (answer in the comments):
It’s impossible to be on Facebook and not be aware that folks are trying to post one thing a day that they are thankful for. It’s November. The month of Thanksgiving. So let’s practice gratitude for a month. Sounds simple and easy, but as with all things simple, if we drill down enough, it ain’t easy.
Right now I’m sitting in a slightly chilly courtyard at my church having an hour or so of quiet. I’m thankful for this hour.
This morning, one of my sons and I had some time together while he worked out a “difficult” attitude. I sat with him through his frustration until he came out of it on the other side. I was thankful for that – both that he came out of it and for what, if I say so myself, was a supernatural display of patience.
If I didn’t sit down to write this post, I wouldn’t have thought to be thankful for either of the above.
By the end of this section, I’ll probably get a little schmaltzy. But I’ll start with a little confession.
Anytime I’ve been encouraged to create ‘gratitude lists’ to counteract some character defect I’m struggling with, I develop the character defect of being easily annoyed by the person who made the suggestion.
I don’t love the idea of sitting and thinking about things to be thankful for. I’m not sure why, but it’s like eating healthy food. You know you’ll feel better if you do, but it’s hard to make yourself do it.
And when I finally sit down and make a list, I’m surprised.
The list never looks like what I think it would. Baby back ribs and beer are never on it.
All of it by the grace of God.
So the simplicity lies in this: there is nothing that has happened to me or that I’ve done that can’t, somehow, over time, be leveraged as a gift.
The tough part is that many of the same things can be leveraged destructively too.
Gratitude at its finest takes what could be understandably used and leveraged for guilt, shame, regret, or bitterness and repurposes it.
That’s the beauty of gratitude. It’s a filter. It creates gifts where we didn’t notice gifts before.
So enjoy your November and be encouraged in daily thankfulness. May we all uncover some new, powerful gifts.
There is no shortage of blogs about decluttering, organizing, and creating a more peaceful living space by trashing, donating, or selling as much stuff as absolutely possible.
If you took a gander around my garage, you would not be overwhelmed with feng anything, much less shui. But I know the importance of neatness and order and clean lines. I’ve seen the light, and I’m a believer.
This blog will address my journey toward creating, with my family, a more simple home (in addition to the other categories discussed over the last few weeks).
Posts that fall under this category will focus on physical space. While I’m not an expert in minimalism, I am certain that I feel a greater amount of peace when I walk into a room that has no molded plastic toys on the floor and no random piles of mail on the shelves.
Keeping a simple home reduces the moving parts. It frees up time and mental energy. There is fewer stuff to put in fewer places, and that takes a load off of everybody.
Simple home, then, is about shedding physical clutter. It’s not about creating more complex and Container Store driven organizational plans. It’s about decreasing the need to manage things.
It’s a strange phenomenon. When our children have rooms full of toys, they tend to play with none of them.
When we’ve binned up a good portion of the toys and leave our sons and daughter with fewer choices, they actually start enjoying the toys. If the room looks like someone exploded a Toys R Us bomb in the boys’ room, they would never see the box of perfectly good Legos. But if we remove everything but the Legos, a few puzzles, some books, and their box of Hot Wheels, then their room becomes a world of possibilities.
It’s the same for adults. If a room is cluttered, I don’t read. If I don’t sort, file, and deal with mail, I won’t write. There’s a correlation between less stuff and more fun or productivity or simple, stress-free conversation.
There will be times when my wife will push us more on this. There will be times when I push us more. I can pretty well determine that my children will never push for it. You can show them that you’re throwing away a book from 4 years ago, missing front and back covers, and featuring some ‘additional artwork’, and they will go into full-scale mourning.
We all suffer from shiny object syndrome or from feeling fine about dumping our spouse’s stuff while considering our things sacred. I mean, if I lose that shell necklace from my junior year spring break, I might not remember all those evenings singing ‘The Joker’ by Steve Miller Band and ‘Panama’ by Van Halen. A piece of my life would be gone!
Living in the suburbs (my context – and I’m sure it’s no different anywhere else), it’s easy to just add and add and add: things, commitments, and complexity.
Some posts on this blog will simply explore how subtracting things might lead to greater clarity around commitments and priorities.
We’ll see. It’s all about exploration and trying things and learning what works best.
Those of you who know us and have recently seen our house aren’t allowed to shout ‘hypocrite’ in the comments. We’re in process.
I’ll tread lightly on this topic. I am not a nutritionist or a personal trainer.
But it doesn’t take a nutritionist or personal trainer to understand that eating well and exercise are important. As with other areas of our lives, we over-complicate our approach to basic health.
Weight Watchers works for a lot of folks (especially if the meeting component is involved), but over time, counting points can become as tedious as counting calories. Other food plans can work, but the key is keeping the plans simple and easy to execute.
Further, complex and time-consuming exercise plans aren’t viable for most of us who have work, family, and other obligations.
In my world, I will get my notebook out, write out all my weightlifting exercises, head to the YMCA at 5:00am and give it my all for one hour. Then I head home by 6:15 or so and rush to the shower and get the kids ready for school and so on.
It works for a bit, but it’s not easily sustainable. It’s sustainable, but when life happens then it’s easy to get off track.
Simplifying our approach to health is similar to simplifying other areas. The more we clear our paths and make things easier, the more likely we’ll keep a new habit.
In other words, having running shoes out and exercise clothes ready removes the hurdle of reaching around in the dark to get dressed. A goal to walk for 10 minutes removes the time barrier and at least gets the blood pumping. And you might get going and tack on another 10-15 minutes.
Here are some other suggestions…
With food, again, make it easier to eat well. How to make this easy will vary, but it’s key. If you have healthy food where it needs to be, then it’s easier to eat healthy.
Select one or two eating principles and follow them, for example:
The long and short of it is this: Lower the bar. Don’t go all or nothing with your exercise or nutrition if you’ve not been consistent.
While you might want to see massive change, a Simple Health plan requires early and frequent wins in your program. Lower the bar and slowly raise it. And, finally, be merciful on yourself if you fall of the wagon.
I look forward to experimenting in this area and sharing how things go.
Do we parents consider ourselves leaders at home?
At work, we work to develop as leaders. In the church, we take leadership roles. When our children’s schools need a room mom or a team needs a parent to help coach, we step up.
But do we think about growing in our leadership ability at home?
I recently read an advanced copy of Mark Miller’s The Heart of Leadership and intentionally reviewed it with one eye as a growing leader in the marketplace and another as a dad.
Miller writes about Blake Brown, a husband, young father, and businessman. We follow Blake’s story as he tries to understand why he was passed over for a promotion. He simply didn’t have those intangibles that make leaders different.
The business parable book (think Ken Blanchard’s The One Minute Manager, Patrick Lencioni’s work, and Bob Burg’s The Go-Giver) sends Blake on a quest, guided by Debbie, an old friend of Blake’s father. Debbie connects Blake to five leaders who give him five keys to developing what Miller calls ‘Leadership Character.’
I’m growing to love leadership and business content delivered via story. There’s something about contextualizing well-thought-out and proven leadership theory in a story that makes it more memorable and easier to apply.
I read the book a couple weeks ago and was able to recite Miller’s five key elements of leadership character to my wife while we cooked dinner tonight.
Leadership requires similar character, regardless of context.
I love books with transferable concepts. The Heart of Leadership indicates throughout that the leadership lessons aren’t just for business. They are for the home. After all, what good would leadership character be if it weren’t grounded in a commitment to family.
The first leadership nugget that Blake learns is to ‘Think Others First’. Since reading this, I’ve had more than a few opportunities to stay a little later at work to get just a few more items checked off my task list.
But this lesson to think about others first reminded me to not just get up from my desk and get on the road home, but also to leave the email open on my computer so I can’t easily get it on my phone. Thinking others first means being present. And when I’m home, that means being with my wife and kids.
Finally, key concepts in the book challenge my understanding of what true leadership is. While I know leadership is not about position and not about power, I’ve not really been able to put a finger on why some people – parents, corporate leaders, pastors, nonprofit executives – seem to just ‘have it’.
The book revealed where I’m growing in leadership character and where I need to shore things up a bit. And much of this is around not checking my leadership development at the door when I get home. As a dad, I’m a leader. I can’t forget that or take it lightly.
Honestly, people at my office might or might not care if I lead. If I don’t, then someone else will. But at home? I’m the only dad to Jake, Sam, and Maggie. And I’m the only husband to Tina.
Miller’s book has given me some guidance in identifying where I can grow stronger as a leader at home. Where better to think others first? Or to expect the best? Or to make the hard decisions?
Obviously, I recommend the book. I think it would be a great book to read with a group of young leaders, even if by ‘young leaders’ we’re talking about a group of dads or moms. The concepts are simple yet important, intuitive, yet often forgotten and very seldom clearly articulated. They are desperately needed in the marketplace, in the home, and in the community
To read Mark Miller’s blog (great, by the way), and to get a free chapter of the book, please go to greatleadersserve.org.
Mark Miller, well known business leader, best-selling author, and communicator, is excited about sharing The Heart of Leadership: Becoming a Leader People Want to Follow with those who are ready to take the next step. You can find it on Amazon and in bookstores everywhere.
The Pixar Pitch was recently made popular in the world of business by Daniel Pink’s To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others. But it’s not just a powerful tool to pitch a movie or a sale.
It’s also a powerful tool to change your own personal story.
If you’ve seen any Pixar movie (probably any number of other movies), then you will find it holds true.
There are six parts of the Pixar Pitch sequence:
Let’s use Cars (here’s my best guess at the pitch):
Now, let’s use a common suburban family’s situation:
The cool thing is that most of us haven’t hit the end of our stories. We can actually take this story structure and be proactive with our own personal stories (the Pixar PItch has it’s origins in playwright and improv actor Kenn Adam’s Story Spine structure, created as a tool for helping improv actors move a story forward).
Where is your family’s story? Where’s your personal story? How can you create it instead of allowing it to just kind of… happen?
Pick one area in your life where you’ve struggled with change. Your weight. Your money. Your spiritual life. Perhaps pick something simple and easy – one piece of the pie, like getting up earlier to start a new habit.
Let’s say that you are only at the “Once upon a time” phase: Once upon a time, there was a man who struggled with his weight. Every day, he would eat dessert too late and grab snacks throughout the day when work would overwhelm him.
That’s as far as you’ve gotten. You’re sitting at “Once upon a time” and “Every Day”.
But you can start writing your story. You can decide on the ‘One Day‘ (or it will, no doubt, happen anyway). The ‘One Day’ is your decision point. It could be a heart attack, a type-2 diabetes diagnosis, or perhaps seeing yourself in a mirror and briefly not realizing that the fat guy was you.
Because of that, you realized what you couldn’t continue the bad habits and had to lose weight.
Because of that, you… joined a gym, Weight Watchers, went to the doctor….
Until finally… things changed and he was living a healthy physical life… (which led to renewed commitment to his faith, family, and work that was meaningful).
Hardly anything wraps itself up in a neat little bow like that, but I believe it’s possible to choose to bust out of our ‘Every day’ routines – especially the ones that no longer work for us or those close to us.
You can participate in helping to create your own story. I would say, though, that the story will be even better if it’s treated as two fish and five loaves of bread.
I am not a financial guru. I am not independently wealthy. We do fine and are rich by the world’s standards, but not by North Fulton County in Georgia standards.
Approaching finances in a simpler way is one of the key pillars to having a more simple, focused family and being able to engage more deeply in faith and other areas. In my experience, having a clearer financial picture also has health benefits and personal growth benefits.
Simple finance has five basic tenets:
I’m guilty of Excel abuse. My budgets have had sections and subsections and sub-subsections. I’ve broken down clothing with a line item per child. I’ve broken down medical expenses into vision, dental, doctors’ visits, medications, and insurance.
The budget becomes so cumbersome that I have an emotional reaction against using it. I’ll set it, but then I won’t monitor my spending by it. There’s a master spreadsheet with each line item corresponding to additional worksheets. In some ways it’s a thing of beauty. In other ways, it’s a mess.
Simple finance keeps the budget short. The budget should be an easily used tool, not an overly complicated puzzle.
We recently paid off all of our credit card debt in one fell swoop. Immediately, the number of auto-drafts out of my checking account was cut in half.
The freedom from debt is powerful, but the reduction in the number of bills has some powerful benefits, too. There are less opportunities to miss a payment or stress about having money in the right place at the right time. It seems small, but it’s huge.
My next goal: pay life insurance once a year, and my auto insurance as soon as my bill comes for each 6-month renewal.
I love what North Point Community Church pastor Andy Stanley says about living off of a percentage of our income. We’ll either live off 100% or even more (i.e. debt driven living) or less than 100%.
It’s powerful to be able to select to live off an increasingly smaller percentage of your take home pay. Having a percentage committed to savings every month is one part of this process.
Simple finance is a commitment to taking a small percentage off the top, regardless of your situation, and putting it in savings. If you have to start at 1% or 1/2%, just start.
This is the other piece of the ‘Select the percentage you’ll live off’ equation.
I’m an old-schooler in this regard. I believe a 10% goal is a great goal to shoot for. This isn’t law. It’s a guide and a principle. There’ve been time periods that I’ve just had to commit to a smaller percentage, but the discipline, even during lean times, has been one area that has helped me keep my wits together.
It also is a huge step of faith: If you commit to give that 10%, then there’s trust that needs really will be taken care of.
The simpler and shorter the budget, the easier to use cash. Take a chunk out to manage the house and be done with it.
Again, the fewer the pieces of plastic, the easier and less complicated all the way down the line. Even debit cards can get out of control. Not that I’ve ever experienced this phenomenon.
**This is a huge point for us. We want to move in this direction, but it’s a struggle. Debit cards are so dang convenient!
In the end, though, why even worry about it? There are a few basic reasons why I think it’s important. I mentioned them earlier, but I’ll sum up here and let you go:
Thus ends my opinion regarding personal finance. It’s been informed by folks like Dave Ramsey and Adam Baker and Kevin Cross. And having in the past been deeply in debt and being currently out of credit card debt, I can testify that the weight lifted is huge.
Who do you listen to regarding your finances?
Do you try to play personal financial shell games or take a straight-forward approach?
What are some principles that have worked for you?
Bibliography & Resources
Part 2 in my walk through the core pieces of Simply in the Suburbs. Part 1 was ‘Simple Faith’
A simple family is characterized by margin and purposeful intentionality (that phrase might be redundant, but I’m fine with that). The less margin we have, the less we are able to enjoy being a family. The more margin, the more breathing room, the more we can enjoy each other.
Suburban families, from my observation, have very little margin. There is little margin in schedules. There is little margin financially. This lack of margin will sap energy and derail even the most well-meaning parents.
As a result, we have little margin relationally. Our tempers flare more quickly. Our patience leaks out more swiftly. We look forward to getting everybody to bed and vegging on the couch for an hour a two before turning in and doing it over again.
My children are still relatively young, and even now I’m feeling the internal pressure to get them involved in sports, dance, gym, computer skills, etc. etc. ad nauseum. I mean, if we don’t, then won’t we miss finding out if we sired the next Bill Gates, Peyton Manning, Serena Williams, Carrie Underwood, or Matt Damon?
Comparison becomes the parenting method of choice and margin is the casualty.
So we join this that and the other thing. We schedule our worlds around leagues and recitals and practices. We wear ourselves out.
I wonder how much of it our children love? I wonder what it is that we’re trying to accomplish?
Just like with any other area of our lives, the less clutter we have, the more effective we’ll be.
Having a ‘simple family’ isn’t about physical clutter (we’ll get there). It’s about being selective, as a family, about our commitments. It means that I can’t continually punt family time for work. It means we do not over-fill our schedules. It means we have goals and core values through which we attempt to filter how we live our lives as a family.
My particular family is made up of five distinct people, yet we are a single unit. We would love it if our family, over time, shows clear, healthy core values and guiding principles.
Haven’t you ever seen a family and said, “That family is so ________________”?
Perhaps it isn’t a bad goal to have that blank filled in by “Generous” or “Loving” or “Fun” or “Committed”.
So far, we are not completely clear on what this will look like over time. I do know it won’t be easy. Most attempts at simplicity are not ‘easy’. You know – simple, not easy, like getting up early and going for a jog. Simple idea. Tough to execute.
This list, just like my ideas around simplicity in any category I’ll write about, will change. Growth means two things:
What does living simply as a family mean to you?
Maybe a good filter for the question is this: When your children hit the 18-22 age range, what do you want your family to look like?
Have you ever been in the right place at the right time?
The egg that your spouse put on the counter is slowly rolling to the edge, and you step in, just in time, with cat or ninja-like reflexes to nab it.
The child deciding that he just has to have some object on the top shelf. He teeters a chair onto a precariously stacked group of books and perhaps a riding toy. You walk in the room just before a trip to the emergency room is required.
Or how about this. You go to a going away party put on by people you hardly know for a person you know slightly less just because you’re new back to Atlanta, are bored, and have no more local friends..
You see the young woman that is the sister of the wife of the guy who works with your mom. And you end up talking all night until they kick you out of the joint. She becomes your wife.
Right place. Right time.
But too often, we feel like we’re out of place and out of sync. We should have been born in the 50s, 60s, 1880s.
I heard Australia-based Director of the A21 Campaign Christine Caine say this: “We’re a product of eternity, positioned in time and we’ve been given gifts and talents for the purpose of serving our generation.”
Her story? She was born and put in a hospital. And her name: #2508, 1966. Later, she suffered 12 years of physical abuse.
That’s her story, yet she said those powerful words: “We’re a product of eternity, positioned in time and we’ve been given gifts and talents for the purpose of serving our generation.”
Basically, she’s saying we’re all in the right place at the right time. It’s a matter of believing it.
You and I are the product of everything that came before us. I’m a product of my parents. My dad who was a midwestern, German stoic. The accountant. The bookkeeper. The G-man.
And my mom. A slightly more turbulent later adolescence. Fighter. Passionate. Urban minister and nonprofit executive director.
And everyone who went before them and folks coming at me from every direction. We are, partially, the product of all these things… leading us to this time, right now. The Right Time.
Placed, situated at our current location. Whether you believe it’s random or whether you believe there’s some sort of plan going on, it doesn’t change the fact that we are currently positioned exactly where we are. Each one of us has a particular place. It might take a choice to believe it, but if we will make that decision, this can be the very best place to be. The Right Place.
There is absolutely no one else just like you or just like me. We have the perfect mix of gifts, talents, and experiences. Even if you’re not particularly pleased with your experiences. There’s regret, remorse, or even bitterness. Think about the people or person who has influenced you. Any chance they have a perfect background or are particularly ‘world-class’ in their talents? Any chance that it was their regrets or challenges that were the very things that they used to love you, to teach you, and to influence you?
The good, the bad, the happy, the sad. You and I have the unique gifts and talents… available to respond to the people in our path at the right time.
That’s a little intimidating. I’m suppose to serve my generation? How about this: I have a generation of coworkers or circle of friends to serve. I’m the only one who sits in my particular office or who has my particular schedule. Any person who happens to come across the place where I am at the same time I’m there is a potential opportunity to serve.
Let me ask you this: Has anyone ever been in the right place and just in time.. for you? She was there with the perfect word, or just a shoulder. He was there with just enough encouragement to keep you doing the thing you wanted to keep doing but were too fearful. That person who had gone through just what you had gone through when you were a child or a teen or in your 30s or 40s. That person was just the perfect person at just the right time and he had just the right gift to affect you for the next generation.
Have you ever met that person? Me too.
But let me attempt to encourage you: You are in the right place, at the right time. Just like Christine Caine who started with a name that’s a number, but now runs a ministry that battles human trafficking around the globe. There’s no reason that anything we’ve done or gone through or any combo of talents, as awesome as normal as they might be, can’t be leveraged.
You have exactly what someone else needs to stop them from falling off the chair or to keep the egg from crashing to the floor or to be the right person for someone for the rest of your life.
Own it. Be the right person, because you have been given the gifts, the talents, the experiences, for just this place, at just this time, to serve your little piece of your generation.