Friday, May 26, 2006

Promises – Discipline, Focus & Balance (May 26)

It has been a week since I last posted an entry ….

This past Sunday Roger spoke on the part of the Sermon on the mount where Jesus said “Let your “yes be yes” and your “no be no”. He made the point that the underlying principle here was that God expects absolute honesty in all of our dealings. The people Jesus was speaking to had many practices to establish the degree to which they could be untruthful without being “liars” depending on the type of oath that was used. – and we do that today – "If I cross my fingers then I can fib".

Have you ever heard yourself say – “to be perfectly honest with you” or “to tell the truth”. Over the past couple of years I have tried to remove those phrases from my language. When I heard myself saying this, I would stop and say (something like) “Oops – That seems to be saying that I haven’t been being honest with you before and I want to be honest all the time so I’m going start over and drop that phrase). While I occasionally have failed in this, it has helped me to be more conscious of always being truthful so I wouldn’t have to come back and correct something later when the “stretching” of the truth becomes apparent. (which we cover up by saying “I didn’t really intend to say that” or “What I really meant to say was”)

The thrust of Roger’s lesson was that we should be so committed to being truthful and honest in all our dealings that any oath is unnecessary – rather than the lesson we often take which is that we shouldn’t use oaths. He also gave some practical approaches to help us deal with the reality that “telling the truth even when it hurts”. Things like being honest about the fact that we do struggle with truthfulness and being careful about our promises.

This brings me back to the beginning of this posting “It has been a week ..).

I could rationalize by saying I was too busy but the reality is that I was in a slump. There is a long-standing “bad habit” in my approach to life that has to deal with my ability to make and keep promises to myself (and others). I call it my “buffet table” approach to making promises. There are only a few people I know (my wife being one) who can go through the line at a church pot luck and only take as much as she needs and avoid the things that are really not good for you. My eyes are always bigger than my stomach (or at least bigger than what my stomach should be getting because I usually do eat it all!!).

My approach to work has always been that way. When someone says this needs to be done, I’m the first to say “I’ll do it” – and then the juggling begins – what is going to get done – what can I avoid – etc. etc. My favorite line for many years was “If it wasn’t for the last minute nothing would get done”. If I didn’t have a crisis of 3 or 4 things that had to be done “right now” I would put off starting stuff and “play around” with things that I didn’t have to do until things got so bad I couldn’t ignore them any more.

The reality with this approach was that my life was filled with never started, half done or poorly done projects although I worked hard enough and long enough under pressure to meet the commitments that were of most importance – those that would allow me to advance my career, those that would defuse a family crisis – etc . and I also became a good judge of who would and wouldn’t accept my lame “the dog ate my homework” type of excuses when things were late. One consequence of this was that I often spent more time on the "urgent things" rather than making time for the "important things"

Several years ago I met Terry Miller who is a consultant that I now consider to be a friend. Terry coached me about making and keeping promises – rather than trying to manage priorities. The basic idea was always know what you have on your plate and what it is going to take to fulfill those commitments. Focus on the actions that must be taken each day to meet those commitments and when you are looking at a new commitment only “pick it up and put it on your plate” if you can do it without interfering with other commitments. And if you can’t -- either say No! or, if that isn’t possible, renegotiate some other commitment to allow you to do it. This is a very powerful approach to dealing with life rather than the normal approach of the being stressed out by trying to juggle 10 balls when you are only capable of juggling 5.

When I had the discipline to manage my commitments (i.e. always ask can I do this and still meet my other promises?), kept focused on the daily review of all of the commitments and progress and took action to “renegotiate” when I could no longer meet some FUTURE commitment because “life happened” , I could keep balance in my life –

However, as I have often said there is a big difference between knowing and doing. It seemed that I just couldn’t stand success so, every so often, when it was working well, I would lose my discipline of managing commitments, start focusing on “today’s project” and I would lose my “balance” – things would begin to pile up, deadlines would be missed. My reaction was to make it even worse by spending time on frivolous things like TV or computer games rather than biting the bullet and doing the work needed to get back into balance. I would get depressed and moody and stressed often without really knowing why. Eventually - usually when I was really in trouble, I would finally recognize what happened, pull out Terry’s notes or give him a call and get myself back on track.

Well, that is what has been going on this past week. The church painting project took more time than I thought it would. I wasn’t watching my commitments and a bunch of small things started to pile up, I had a sermon to prepare for Sunday because Roger was away and I just stopped doing anything useful when we weren’t at the church painting. That included the blog (which may be questionable as a useful activity but it is part of a commitment I have made to myself because I find it helpful to write these things down and I hope that there may be some value to others who may read this.)

To-day I’m in the process of regaining my balance. I’ve written out the list of commitments --- I’ve sorted out which ones I need to change and I have done the Nike thing (jo do it!) on a bunch of small things. There is less clutter and more reality in the current list – Life is good.

God Bless

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