An Ordinary, Flourishing Life

I think of my life in terms of these domains: spirit, mind, body, emotion, family, community, vocation, finances, and household.  A flourishing life exhibits health and vitality in each of these domains.

If we suffer a collapse in one of these domains, it becomes difficult to flourish.  If two or more collapse, we are well on our way to a train wreck.

I keep a practice for each of these domains by which I can improve or maintain the well being of each.  It is particularly important for householders to keep their balance, and especially difficult as well.  The life of a householder is full of obligations, commitments, and stress.

If we are determined to become “the best” in a particular domain, that translates into at least 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, or three hours a day for ten years, while still maintaining enough gas in the tank to keep the other domains in a state of health.  That is no mean feat, especially if you’re a householder.

What happens to someone like me if he lets go of excellence, and chooses instead to flourish? 

His practices teach him what’s important, teach him discipline, and give him a sense of accomplishment.  His practices lead to emotional and behavioral stability.  He is a blessing to his family, and blessed by them in turn.  He practices vulnerability, reaches out to others, and serves his community.  He becomes skilled at his vocation, financially secure, and lives in a clean and organized home.

He is an ordinary person, flourishing in an ordinary life.

Dealing with Toxicity in a Group

Have you ever been in a group where one person in particular was having a toxic affect on the rest?  Maybe that person is dominating the conversational flow, or perhaps radiates some toxic emotion like anger, or is a source of invidious gossip or backbiting.

What do you do?  Do you do anything?

If you don’t do anything, then your experience and quite possibly that of everyone else in the group is going to be degraded.  If the experience is bad enough, you may find the persons whose company you enjoy most are leaving the group.  If you take your concerns to others in the group, then your comments may make their way back to the person in question, but probably not in the way you intended.

A couple of scriptures may help us out here.  Proverbs 25:9, Debate your cause with your neighbor himself, and discover not a secret to another, and Matthew 18:15-17, 15“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. 16But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. 17If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector. (New Living Translation)

This is admittedly a difficult thing to do, to confront the offending person with the things that are bothering you.  But in my experience it usually pays big dividends.  The trick for me is to write a letter first that tries to describe my issue without giving offense.  Then I’ll sleep on it for a night.  I may ask someone I trust to read it and give me their impression of the letter and the reaction it might provoke.  Then I’ll rewrite it if necessary.

After writing the letter I will share it with the person and ask if we can talk about it afterward.  If the person disagrees with me, or thinks I’m the problem, I’ll then ask for a third person in the group to weigh in on the issue.  Then lastly if there is still no resolution, I will bring it before the group and ask them to decide.  If the group decides against the person, and the person is unwilling to change, then I think you need to resort to ostracism in order to preserve the integrity of the group.

Practicing Perspective

About 25 years ago I was in a conversation with someone in our book club when it dawned on me the person I was talking to had begun to fear for his physical safety.  My body language and tone of voice had become positively homicidal.

Since then I’ve tried to be aware of both my body and my attitude when engaging in conversation.  What am I feeling and why?  What is my purpose?  Am I trying to understand the people engaged in conversation, or trying to win an argument?

If what the person is saying is producing an unpleasant reaction in my body, I know it’s time to be careful; time to focus on my breath, and try to understand what the person is saying.  What are her assumptions?  What is her point of view?  What is her life experience?

Sometimes someone will say something that just pushes my buttons, which produces an immediate bile dump in my gut; my blood pressure goes through the roof and my breathing becomes rapid and short.  When this happens I need to breathe through these feelings and calm down before I open my mouth.  Often times this is a signal to me that I am feeling disrespected in some way.  Sometimes this comes, not from any intended disrespect, but from my own sense of inadequacy.

If the person says something I don’t understand, or uses a word I’m unfamiliar with, I’ll ask her what she means.  If I’m unsure I’ve understood what she said, then I’ll try to paraphrase what I think she’s said.  If I think I disagree with her, I’ll try to understand what she feels is important in the situation, or what life experiences have influenced her conclusions.

How do you practice perspective?  Do you have a method for psychologically distancing yourself from the conversation in some way?  Or is your source of perspective from something other than conversation?

Persistent Behavior

Persistence comes of our belief that we will accomplish what we’ve set out to do.  How do we build that belief if we don’t already have it?  Where does that belief come from in those that do have it?

I remember reading in Duhigg’s The Power of Habit about Michael Phelps.  His coach, Bob Bowman, believed the key to winning was building the right routines.  Routines built of small wins; small wins that built preparedness, confidence, and a sense of calm; which in turn led to a series of record setting victories on one of the world’s biggest stages: the Olympics.

My secret dream since college has been “to be a writer.”  But as soon as I turn my thoughts from “practicing writing” to “being a writer” I’m a deer in the headlights.  It was the same way with “practicing mathematics” versus “being a mathematician.”  One perspective keeps my pencil moving, the other keeps me from even getting started.

I thought writing a 250 word essay every day would be easy.  It isn’t.

“Being a writer” isn’t a small win.  In fact it isn’t even well defined.  Does writing this essay make me a writer?  Or writing a book that never gets published?  Or writing an article for a newspaper or magazine?  It’s too vague; and “Being a writer” focuses on identity rather than practice.

Obviously I’m no expert on this matter.  But I suspect the key is to have a well defined and very specific routine that leads to the behavior required to produce the desired outcome.  For example if you, like me, are interested in writing essays here is “How to Write an Essay – 10 Easy Steps.”

How about you?  Do you struggle with persistence?  Or are you one of those who seem able to beat down any obstacle that stands in your way?  Do you understand where your persistence comes from?  Please share your thoughts with me.

Virtue: the Practice of Well-being

Well-being is that state of wholeness, meaningfulness, and connectedness we associate with happiness, the good life, or a life well lived; a life that aims to fulfill its potential.  Virtue is the practice that leads to well-being.

These ideas of well-being and virtue have been discussed and debated by philosophers and theologians down through the ages.  But it is only recently that science has begun to investigate them.

In 2004 Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman published Character Strengths and Virtues, an attempt at a scientifically derived catalogue of the healthy human character.  They made “a comprehensive literature search of lists of virtues critical to human thriving” that was both interdisciplinary and cross-cultural, and made a determination as to whether those lists converged.

Their research strongly indicated an historical and cross-cultural convergence identified by what they describe as six core virtues:

  1. Courage: the capacity to overcome fear; the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition.
  2. Justice: that which makes life fair; broadly interpersonal, relevant to the optimal interaction between the individual and the group or the community.
  3. Humanity: relating to others, interpersonal strengths; positive traits manifested in caring relationships with others; dispositions to tend and befriend.
  4. Temperance: moderation; positive traits that protect us from excess.
  5. Transcendence: meaning or purpose larger than ourselves; that which allows individuals to form connections to the large universe, and thereby provide meaning to their lives.
  6. Wisdom: hard fought knowledge used for good; exceptional breadth and depth of knowledge; creativity, curiosity, judgment, and perspective; positive traits related to the acquisition and use of information in the service of the good life; cognitive strengths.

If well-being or happiness is our aim in life, then it behooves us to find one or more practices to inculcate each of these virtues into our lives.  I will be inquiring into what the nature of these practices might be over the next few days.

Practicing Persistence

Why do you persist in your practice? What do you do when you get discouraged? How do you make yourself do it again when everything in you says “No mas!”?

I am trying to learn the answers to these questions. So please share your experience with me.

It is easier to quit when I lose sight of what I’m trying to accomplish, or lose faith that I can accomplish it, or lose the expectation that my practice will bear fruit.

So to persist, I need to continually revisit and sharpen the vision or description of the expected results of my practice in all its blossoming glory.

I need to carve my practice into a series of small achievable steps of gradually increasing levels of difficulty, with well defined milestones along the way. These milestones are the “small wins” that will build my confidence and my expectation of future success.

I need to document these wins, so I can go back and look at them, and remind myself when I’m discouraged that I have succeeded in the past.

I need to surround myself with like minded individuals, who share in these experiences, who share their encouragement, with a mutual expectation of success.

I need a mentor who is a model of practice, persistence, and who has already accomplished what I want to achieve.