Wednesday, April 29, 2020

An Educated Conscience Principle #4: Plan and Act

Before being appointed as England's first woman prime minister in May 1979, Margaret Thatcher was actively involved intellectually, socially, and politically in the affairs of her country.  Born in 1925, she was raised in a small flat above their family's grocery store in Grantham, England in a tight-knit, religious, and conservative community described by the website margaretthatcher.org as "bounded by strong traditions of self-help, charitable work, and personal truthfulness." Her early life was marked by purposeful family and educational pursuits. By the time she married, she left the study of chemistry to pursue a career in law and politics. On August 15th, 1953, her life expanded significantly with the birth of twins, Mark and Carol.  I am amazed by the energy and productivity that marked her life. Her stamina earned her the title: The Iron Lady.  What drove her?  What personal philosophies fueled her accomplishments?  How did she think about her time and her ability to act? The primary sources we have of her life come from her speeches and writings.

One of her more famous quotes reveals her daily commitment to both preparation and action. She said:


It is so simple. Make a daily plan. Work that plan.  She doesn't say, "wait for someone else to tell you what to do."  She doesn't say "be reactive to every negative person or situation that affects you" or "wait for the stars to align." The invitation is clear and direct: 1.) Plan--think, organize, decide, and then  2.) Work--create, act, move, do.  This is the foundation for the fourth principle of developing an educated conscience or, as we discussed in my last post, of developing higher social and emotional intelligence: to act.  Act on your commitments. Act on your values.  Act in accordance with your vision, your mission, your purpose, your best intentions, your best knowledge.  Act in the roles you have been given and in the roles you have taken upon yourself.  Act on your hopes.  Act as if the outcome were inevitable.  Just act.

Action is the step where thoughts, beliefs, desires are transformed into physical reality.  This is the phase where life is actualized, not just dreamt of.  Do you need help creating a plan?  Do you need guidance?  Where do you start?  Let's begin by saying that how you plan your day, how you plan changes of habit, and how you plan a new phase of life that's purpose and mission-driven are very different and require different strategies and resources.  Let's just focus for a minute on how to tackle a day.

How to Plan a Day

As a kid, my mom and dad would let us pick one pair of new shoes at the beginning of each school year.  For them, they wanted us to pick something comfortable, durable, and able to match most of our clothes so we wouldn't "look like orphans" my mom would joke.   But I had a different standard. I still remember one particular shopping trip.  I was about 10 years old and was looking at sneakers with my younger brother Justin.  When we handled each consecutive shoe we would turn to ask each other with excitement, "I wonder how fast these are?!"  In the end, we would select the pair that we each judged to be the fastest.  That year I still remember choosing teal Nikes with a bright yellow swoosh--or checkmark--or whatever Nike calls those things.  They were my fastest shoes ever.  That year, I was made captain of our local soccer team.  I guess I chose well!

Later, when I was in Junior High school (7th-8th grades) I ran both the 800-meter race and the 2-mile relay race.  That means I had to go around that big 'ole track twice for each race.  I had learned by then that shoes can only get you so far and that maybe other factors mattered, too: training, mental strength, running techniques, breathing patterns, strategy, endurance, etc. I remember my heart pounding with the stress of anticipation as we each were asked to line up on the starting line at a specifically assigned spot.  An official, called a starter, would stand near the track and announce On your mark, get set, go! Most of the time, however, instead of yelling go! the starter would fire a gun into the air. And then we ran. How like a single day this short process is!  We wake--on your mark. We prepare--get set.  We run--go!  Have you picked your best running shoes, rather, are you ready to run?

In a letter traditionally, attributed to Paul the Apostle (about 4 B.C to about 62–64 A.D.), written to the Hebrews 12:1, Paul counsels:
...let us run with patience the race that is set before us...
(Hebrews 12:1; Bible, The New Testament, KJV)
Another witness named King Benjamin, who I hold to be an ancient prophet, teaches:
And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.  (Mosiah 4:27; The Book of Mormon ) 
Though I dislike thinking of life as a race against others, it does still often feel like a race: a race against time, a race against changing resources, a race against ignorance.  You get the idea.  We want to act at the 'right' time, in the 'right' way, in the 'right' place.  We want to maximize our efforts.  We want to be ready. And we want to be successful!

On Your Mark,

The website grammarist.com tells us that "Originally, on your mark, get set, go! was used in the 1800s to begin foot races. The word 'mark' referred to the place on the running course where the runner would start, whether a line or a set of starting blocks."  To be on your 'mark' is to be prepared and ready. Your 'mark' location is based on your own personal roles, responsibilities, and commitments.  It's precisely where you are right now. It can also include where you want to be or rather, where you see yourself being at a specified time in your future.  Looking ahead is a powerful tool of faith when getting 'on your mark.'

What do you do to be on your 'mark'?   How do you start your days?  How do you end them?  What does your schedule reveal about what roles have you prioritized?  Are they what you intend or are they reactive? How do you make a plan to address that?  How do you 'get set'?

Get Set, 

I found this quote quite compelling:


Ah, Eisenhower!  How did you get so smart?!  This quote implies that life happens--it's messy, it's unpredictable, it requires resilience and flexibility.  But it also acknowledges that you can't run into each day just willy-nilly.  Well, you can but where would you end up?!

Begin with planning, even if the plan ends up changing during your day, even if it gets wildly off track. You may already follow such a regimented schedule that a written schedule would feel like a waste of your time and you would probably be right.  Or your day may be so adaptive that a plan would feel futile and supremely frustrating.  This would be especially true if you are the mother of very young children who are darling but, in reality, act more like chaotic forces. I remember only one day in all my parenting of small children that went according to my perfect schedule.  And I've been a mother for 23 years. So, let me share a simple schedule with you that may be helpful and which you are welcome to print for your own use.  It is open enough to be massively flexible but structured enough to help you establish boundaries for your roles. I have three of them for you: a Daily Plan, a Weekly Plan, and a plan for what I call Sunday Solitude.  The first is the Daily Plan:


Set your priorities first.  What matters the most to you? What do you want to show you value?  And in what order will you arrange them?  For me, time to pray, time to catch up on the news, time to reconnect myself to truth through scriptures (whether I read just a single verse or an hours worth), and a second to remember what I need to improve in my demeanor or in my communications are big priorities.

Second, make a quick list of things to do: get groceries, call so-and-so, pick up x, y, and z, defrost the lasagne, get in two loads of laundry,... you get the idea!  These are the simple but important tasks that keep your life running smoothly, help you create order, help you stay efficient.

Next, include any appointments that you have to keep: meetings, book club, dental appointments, social engagements, etc.  These are events that you'd have to call someone to cancel or change. They have been set previously by a well-meaning past you.

In notes, you can use this space for whatever miscellaneous things you want.  You can add favorite quotes, an interesting event, or something you heard that was funny which you want to remember, a child's first like a lost tooth, or first steps, a phone number you want to remember, an appointment to schedule for later, a reminder.  Go wild!

Lastly, Write down the newest habit you're trying to establish.  Trying to keep healthy and hydrated?  Write '8 cups of water'.  Trying to make your bed every day?  Write 'make bed and enjoy!'  Trying to reign in that temper? Write 'count to 10 first' or just a simple 'breathe.'

If you like, you can also map out the essentials of your week.  For this, I recommend my Beautiful Living Systems Weekday and Weekend Plan:


As you can see, you have space to generally map out each day, including the primary evening meal, that--let's be honest--we all waste a lot of time stewing over (forgive the shameless pun!) if we're in charge of preparing it regularly.

Note that I've included a Friday 'Date Night'.  This really doesn't have to be Friday, nor do you have to have a married partner to get this delicious time out.  Plan it whatever day it suits you, and go with a friend if you don't have a significant other, or just go out by yourself.  My daughter, Madeline, has inspired me with the "dates" she has taken herself on to get out of the dulling rhythm of life or to treat herself a bit.  She is such a great example to me!

Also, the 'Chores and Errands' space doesn't have to be limited to the weekend even though I've put them there.  If you have a bit of time throughout the week, sneak one or two into your daily 'To-Do' list.  Then on Saturday, go play!

Use the 'Grocery' spot for quick pick-ups at the store, plan a BBQ or picnic with your little ones or friends, etc.  And for the 'Budget' section, keep track of what you should (or should not--wink! wink!) spend over the course of the coming week.

Sunday is definitely my day of rest: to think and to plan.  For this day, I've created a carefully thought out map for introspection and accountability to myself.  My Sunday Solitude schedule looks like this:


Okay.  You can see that this is a little more detailed than the previous two schedules.  That's because, to me, it's by far the most important.  It is my process of reflecting, reviewing specifics, and resetting or rather, renewing my highest life priorities.  And it helps me remember what to remember--if that makes sense.

All personal accountability and growth begin by reflecting on the events of the past week, how I acknowledged them, how I handled them. I think that it's easy to get negative in this section so I have one rule: just focus on what fills me with gratitude.  This helps me start in a place of peace and humility.  It helps me feel both remembered and loved by Divinity.  It pulls me out of materialism and out of that constant lure of the "more," the "better," and the "faster" world we live in.

When it's time for the 'Review' section, I pull out my goal sheets that are linked to the 7 Pillars of Beautiful Living Systems.  If you're interested in creating goals in the 7 Pillars for yourself, just contact me.  I teach self-guided workshops to help set reachable, realistic, but motivating goals in all areas of life.  I focus first on what I'm doing great in and then focus on what I'd like to improve--because I feel like I've missed the mark or just straight up blown it.  I've written about the 7 Pillars of Beautiful Living Systemes in previous posts but will include a Cheat Sheet here:


Isn't that pretty?!  That took me some serious time to put together--and a lifetime, thus far, to learn and organize.  I hope it helps!

Okay, next I try to anticipate the resources I'll need to reach my goals for the upcoming week.  What MONEY will I need to use or earn to reach my goals? How much TIME do I anticipate needing to reach them and when will I do it exactly, during the week?  How much ENERGY will I need, meaning, how much sleep and exercise will I have to get to be more prepared to reach my goals?  What KNOWLEDGE will I want to pursue? What books will I read?  What podcasts?  What sources will I turn to to help me keep inspired or redirected?  What TALENTS will I need to grow or focus on?  What TOOLS will I need?  For example, during this crazy pandemic, I've finally tried my hand at making rustic, crusty bread.  Yum!  I am a serious bread addict.  It is positively my favorite food when it's done right. One tool I was missing was a cast iron pot.  I couldn't afford those glorious, French, enameled pots that I drool over by Le Creuset but I could afford a simple one by Lodge, made and manufactured in Tennessee.  (P.S. Thank you Cabelas for being a "vital" enough store to be open during this unprecedented time so I could snag one when I needed it!) I got one for my birthday and have used it tons since!  Do you have the tools you need to get things done?  If you don't have your ideal tool, can you get creative and resourceful enough to improvise?

Near the end of my Sunday Solitude, I cap off my session with 'Remember' moments. Remember birthdays or anniversaries.  Remember the upcoming holidays I want to plan to make more special.  Remember to read something sacred every day.  Remember to say 'I love you' early and often.  This Sunday Solitude sets my tone.  It helps me recenter.  I hope it can help you.

Go!

It's 'go' time! I think it's truthful and honest to say that a restful and full night's sleep, a natural and stress-free awakening (minus the blaring alarm clock or crying baby), and the most balanced and nutritious breakfast is not the norm.  Not if you're a mom of small children.  Not if you are a mom of teens. Not if you're working full time to provide for your family and a full-time mom of small children and/or teens.  Not if you're on the road half of the year.  Not even if you are quarantined in your own home.

The ideal may elude us regularly but we can create as much consistency as possible. We can try. I remember the nightly bedtime routine with 5 little ones at home: no empty tummies? (check), toys tidied? (mostly, check), brushed teeth? (check), bathed? (check), prayers? (check), story? (check), kiss and hug? (check, check).  Even after going through "the list" there were many, many nights when my children absolutely resisted.  I remember exclaiming in exasperation one night, "We do this every night! Why does this still seem like a surprise to you?!"

More important than just having a routine to begin and end your day is the acceptance that where you are, your location, your roles, is a great place to get something good done.  There is an old Scottish proverb, originally written in Gaelic, that goes: "What e'er thou art, act well thy part."

Be realistic. Again, find that elusive daily balance. It's regularly in reset mode.  Our values and priorities help us stay afloat.

The Truth About Running (By Great Runners)

As you "run the race set before you," let me end with a few insightful quotes from people who are associated with running for a living who are very accomplished. I found them neatly compiled at the website verywellfit.com and selected a few that stood out to me. After you read each one, reread it.  Think about each race or each act of running as your day, how you prepare, how you plan, how you act.  Then apply it to yourself. I added brackets and inserts to help you do this.  What does each idea, about running and racing, teach about how to live daily?

"Be confident in the work you did to prepare for the race [the day]. Take a look back at your training logs [journals, posts] to remind yourself that you've done everything possible to prepare. The race is [This day is] the fun part where you get to see the hard work pay off. Enjoy it."
—Desiree Linden, U.S. Olympic marathon star

"Let's just say it and be done with it. Racing [Days] hurts. But here's another truth: having put in the effort to prepare for a race [a day] and then not giving it your all hurts even more. The first kind of hurt goes away in hours or a day. The second kind of hurt can last a lifetime."
—Larry Shapiro, author of Zen and the Art of Running

"[In a race, as in life] Fear is gradually replaced by excitement and a simple desire to see what you can do on the day."
—Lauren Fleshman, American distance runner

"My times become slower and slower, but the experience of the race [of my days] is [are] unchanged: each race [day] a drama, each race [day] a challenge, each race day] stretching me in one way or another, and each race [day] telling me more about myself and others."
—George Sheehan, running columnist, and writer

"It's just as important to remember that each footstrike carries you forward, not backward. And every time you put on your running shoes you are different in some way than you were the day before. This is all good news."
—John Bingham, American marathon runner

"Racing [Daily living] teaches us to challenge ourselves. It teaches us to push beyond where we thought we could go. It helps us to find out what we are made of. This is what we do. This is what it's all about."
—PattiSue Plumer, U.S. Olympian

"Why race [Why keep going from day to day]? The need to be tested, perhaps; the need to take risks; and the chance to be number one."
—George Sheehan, running columnist, and writer

"The beauty of running [daily living] is its simplicity; the beauty of runners [those who act] is that we all have a similar drive to improve. We are either trying to run [be] a personal best, or toeing the line for the first time, which will snowball into a future of trying to run [live] personal bests."
—Deena Kastor, American Olympics medalist

What impresses you?  What do you take away?  What do you think you could implement now? What helps?  Please share your thoughts!  Post in the comment section below!

Let's get on our marks, get set, and go! Until next time, remember to...

Live Beautifully!

Heather Butler
Founder and CEO of Beautiful Living Systems

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

An Educated Conscience: Principle #3 Commit

The Commitment Principle is a sign of readiness to act.

To gauge readiness to act, consider the following stages discussed by the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, written primarily by the authors Cary Cherniss, Daniel Goleman, and Robert Emmerling and published in 1989.  They teach that "people go through several stages of readiness for change before they are ready to make a true commitment" (26). They discuss 5 stages of readiness before any significant change can be made:
In the first stage, they deny that they have any need for change. In the next stage, people begin to see that they need to improve, but they are not sure that anything can be done about their problems and they put off making a decision. In the third stage, the individual recognizes that there is a problem and also that there are ways of dealing with it, but the person has not made a concrete plan to act. It is not until the fourth stage that the person is ready to act. People at this stage have a concrete plan, and they put it into action. 
Because I'm more of a visual learner, I made this diagram to show what Cherniss, Goleman, and Emmerling were teaching:


(Source: http://www.eiconsortium.org/reports/technical_report.html)

The ability and readiness to commit does not even enter the realm of possibility until the fourth and almost final stage! Commitment is hard-earned.  It assumes a person has become self-aware enough to recognize a need for change whether it's based on external or internal stimuli, overcoming stage 1. It assumes a certain depth of knowledge about one's condition has developed in stage 2 and that this person has an idea about how to proceed as acknowledged in stage 3.  It also assumes, in stage 3, that this person knows what resources they will need and have access to them even if they have to get creative. It also infers that this person believes they are capable of accomplishing their objective and have enough faith in themselves and their available resources to act.  Finally, it assumes this person also believes their goal is reasonable and workable. We'll talk more about stage 5 in the next blog post as we continue our discussion about developing an educated conscience: Acting on that Commitment.  Interestingly, the 5 Stages of Readiness are closely parallel to the 5 Principles of an Educated Conscience.  There are a few minor differences but the central points are so closely related, they are almost the same.  In the end, to have an educated conscience is to have emotional and social intelligence.

For now, though, let's stay focused on principle #3: Commit.

Roadblocks to Commitment

There are always roadblocks to making a commitment. There will always be some form of lack.  It's the nature of living. There is opposition to everything. Vincent de Paul has said, "There is nothing good that does not meet with opposition, and it should not be valued any less because it encounters objections."  Some roadblocks we can influence and sometimes control, they come from within ourselves. Other roadblocks are external and will need to be anticipated if possible and addressed as they arise.

Negative Inner Voice
Sometimes when we get big ideas or when we want to change our status quo, we come face-to-face with a nagging inner voice that is deeply averse to risk and change.  That inner dialogue goes something like this:
I would love to change.  I would love to act on what I'm learning but I don't know where or how to start.  And, so many of my good intentions and ideas have flopped. Why do so many of my goals and hopes fizzle out and die? Why can't I do what I say I'm going to do? Why can't I keep commitments to myself? Why don't I have enough willpower to change? Is it just a lack of willpower or is it something worse?  Am I incapable? Am I misguided?  Am I broken? Am I lying to myself about what I really want? Is something wrong with me?
When this dialogue goes through our heads, rarely is there another voice talking back to calm the long list of fears, insecurities, doubts, and recounts of past and present failures.  Why do we give our fears so much air time in our heads?  Why don't we talk back?!  What stands in the way of a new and better focus or commitment?

Absence of Resources
There are very few people in the world who either have or can do every possible thing they could ever want whether it be time, money, influence, energy, control, support, love, knowledge, or talent.  I might even say that no one does.  No, not one living soul.  I can hear you, you know!  You're saying, "Yeah! I'd love to have Jeff Bezos's 'lack of financial resources'!" And, gimme some of Bill Gates 'lack of influence'!" But be honest.  Even they have unique roadblocks.  We all experience them: opposition, disappointments, setbacks, lack.  We all deal with some forms of limited resources.  The question is, what are you doing about it?  How creative are you? How resourceful can you be?

Roadblock Solutions

To get to a point that you are able and ready to commit to a purpose and plan of your choosing, it is essential to anticipate and plan for roadblocks.  Roadblocks to commitment come in the form of fears, unaddressed needs, insufficient hope, unexpected opposition, or a lack of guidance.  Let's address these one at a time.

Identify Your Fear
It helps to look directly at what you are fighting or at what you feel chased by.  Where did it come from?  How did it get there? What caused it? Was it caused it intentionally or ignorantly?  Or does it exist because of something outside of your influence? To look directly at it is to put it in perspective, to identify its context, to size it up honestly and directly.  The next natural step when addressing fear is to ask two sets of questions that go something like this:

The first set of questions ask:
  • Can I fix it or resolve it? 
  • Was it within my influence or control?
  • Is it a permanent condition or is it temporary?  
  • If so, what does it mean? 
  • What do I need to come to terms with? 
  • Have I evaluated it accurately?
The second set of questions ask:
  • How do I handle it?  
  • Is it within my influence or control?
  • Is it workable?  
  • What can I do to adapt?  
Whereas the first set of questions looks to identify, clarify, and understand the roots of our fears, this last set of questions is the mind's attempt to find hope and resolution.  This not to say that all fear needs to be resolved before we commit.  Being an adult means working in spite of fear.  But, if fear has gotten to the point that it is paralyzing or suffocating, progress is also stopped.  Manageable fear precedes the ability to commit with any confidence.

Acknowledge and Assess Your Needs
As we prepare to make commitments to act, we need to do another important self-evaluation: an evaluation of our needs.  How can we trust ourselves to act on a new commitment if in the past we have not accurately taken our needs into account and have failed because of it?  Do you know what you need: emotionally, mentally, spiritually, socially, physically?  Do you acknowledge that your needs matter? That you matter? Do you know how to separate your needs from your wants?  Can you prioritize your needs and wants appropriate to the demands of your roles and responsibilities?  Whew! These are really big questions!  But you don't need to meltdown or start from scratch.  You can begin where you are. What do you need now? What do you need to make and keep a plan you want to enact?

The ability to understand and manage your needs and wants are skills associated with experience, wisdom, and maturity. Additionally, the ability to discern between needs and wants and act appropriately has been defined by social scientists as a form of intelligence.  A quick Google search defines emotional intelligence as "the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically." We are most familiar with the Intelligence Quotient or I.Q. which measures the more preferred technological skills which our past industrial and present post-industrial economic society has prioritized for over 100 years.  The intelligence beyond I.Q. includes both emotional and social intelligence.  The Institute for Health and Human Potential identifies qualities of emotionally intelligent people which include:
  • Self-management (the first Pillar of Beautiful Living Systems)
    • "resilience" or an ability to "handle stress"
    • "efficiency"
    • "adaptability" or an ability to employ "flexibility"
and
    • Interpersonal-management (the second Pillar of Beautiful Living Systems)
      • "an uncanny ability to sense what [is] most important to [another person]"
      • an ability to "develop a trusting relationship"
      • an "excelled" ability "when it came to helping angry [people] to calm down and be more reasonable about their problems"
      • an ability to "make connections, and build relationships"
      • an ability to "get along with people"
      • an ability to experience "empathy" 
      • an ability to "listen" 
      • an ability "to approach people positively instead of avoiding them, to listen better, or to give feedback skillfully"
    This is not to say that sacrifice is not needed.  In our roles, in any position of influence or leadership, sacrifice is a foundational principle.  Idowu Koyenikan, the author of Wealth for All, states without equivocation:
    “There is no progress or accomplishment without sacrifice.”
    Our needs and even our wants are sometimes preempted by the need to sacrifice for something greater.  We chose this "something greater" based on our value system hierarchy.  For example,  I am a mother and wife.  I truly believe the principle taught years ago both in 1935 and again in 1964 by David O. McKay:
    The home is the first and most effective place to learn the lessons of life: truth, honor, virtue, self control, the value of education, honest work, and the purpose and privilege of life. Nothing can take the place of home in rearing and teaching children, and no other success can compensate for failure in the home. (emphasis added) (Source: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/287590-the-home-is-the-first-and-most-effective-place-to)
    McKay was not the original creator of this sentiment.  In 1924, The Southern Co-operative League published a book written by J. E. (James Edwards) McCulloch entitled, Home: The Savior of Civilization, who emphasized the same idea.  (Source: https://www.timesandseasons.org/harchive/2004/03/about-the-mckay-quote/.)   Because I deeply believe this is correct, I regularly prioritize the needs of my children and spouse.  As a young mother with five children, I was regularly wrung out.  Endless requests, cleaning, bathing, teaching, preventing, organizing, preparing, and cleaning again absolutely consumed the time and energy of my days for many years.  Late nights, early mornings, 24/7.  But I don't regret it.  Ever.  My children love me so much and I feel the same back!  I think they love me even more than I have actually earned or deserve.  As young adults they trust me.  They talk to me.  They tell me about what they struggle with, what they care about, and when they mess up.  They ask me for advice about relationship dilemmas and heartaches. We talk about books they've read.  We still stay up late and watch cartoons or scary shows and do late-night burger runs.  We go to church together and pray together.  They share their faith with me.  They kiss me goodnight now as I used to do for them.  When they are in the right, I defend and protect them ferociously.  When they are in the wrong, I am clear and firm in reproof.  My commitment to family first came to me by my own mother and grandmother but I had to choose to embrace it, too.  In the end, we all sacrifice one thing for something else, time for money, money for time, sleep for service, pleasure for peace, indulgence for health.  The list is impossible to categorically encapsulate but you get the picture. What do you put first? When? Why? What are you willing to sacrifice for? To what degree?

    There is no pat answer to the challenge of balancing our private needs with the demands of our interpersonal or public roles.  The best we can do is to try to learn the best principles of emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical health, and apply them with wisdom as events and circumstances present themselves.  We can make healthy decisions in advance when possible by committing to true principles but we cannot prevent nor foresee all scenarios or circumstances that will challenge our balance.  Therefore, the acknowledgment, evaluation, and prioritization of mental, emotional, spiritual, and social needs is a vital skill.  Like any skill, we get better at it with correct practice. It grows stronger as it's exercised properly.  A better response leads to a better result.  Your ability to acknowledge and assess your needs are pivotal skills that influence your capacity to make and keep commitments.

    Acknowledge and Address Opposition
    Opposition hurts. It prevents.  It crushes plans. It even shakes faith.  But it can also open eyes, inspire resourcefulness and creativity, urge humility, lead to new opportunities, and give a chance to start over anew.  There is an ancient Chinese proverb about a wise old farmer and his quick-to-judge neighbor.  I heard a version of it as a youth but found a version of it recorded by Dr. Marlo Archer:
    A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbors exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
    A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
    Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
    A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury. Friends shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”  (Source: http://www.drmarlo.com/dr-marlo-speaks/maybe-so-maybe-not-well-see/).
    The story can go on indefinitely but the point is clear: not all "bad" things are what they seem at the time they occur.  Some opposition leads to greater fortune. Some opposition actually protects us.  All opposition, over time, increases learning.

    Opposition teaches us what to value by presenting an array of opposites for us to experience. The calming television artist Bob Ross said, "Put light against light - you have nothing. Put dark against dark - you have nothing. It's the contrast of light and dark that each give the other one meaning."  Does that make sense?  Opposition gives context, creates definition, uncovers boundaries, reveals limitations to accept or expand.

    Opposition is inevitable. Meher Baba said, "Every good work has to face opposition, and the reaction of the opposition offered always helps the work" (source: https://www.azquotes.com/quote/1046829). The online Encylopedia Britannica describes Baba (1894-1969) as a self-titled "Awakener." His original name is Merwan Sheriar Irani, a Persian of the Zoroastrian religion, described as a "spiritual master in western India with a sizable following both in that country and abroad" (source: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Meher-Baba).  It is also Baba who said of the journey of life:
    ...[I]t is not necessary to have a complete map of the path in order to begin traveling. On the contrary, having such complete knowledge may actually hinder rather than help the onward march. The deeper secrets of... life are unraveled to those who take risks and who make bold experiments with it. They are not meant for the idler who seeks guarantees at every step. Those who speculate from the shore about the ocean shall know only its surface, but those who would know the depths of the ocean must be willing to plunge into it.
    In his quote, Baba discusses what he had learned about developing spiritually.  But it applies to all life paths.  Living naturally involves varying degrees of risk, ignorance, and opposition.  Knowing opposition is inevitable, we could use some help.  We need encouragement.  We need hope.

    Look for Hope
    Hope is the energy of commitment.  Hope is the sustaining influence that supports and underlies our power to act for good and for change.  I don't know about you but if I have hope I can put up with just about anything.  Why?  Because with hope the obstacle feels either temporary or workable. This isn't the pie-in-the-sky, blindly optimistic hope often peddled by pull-yourself-up-from-your-bootstraps philosophies.  This is a hope based on tried and tested precedents.  It is a hope based on "the laws of nature and of nature's god" (Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence). This is a hope born of real-life case studies, of proven-possible-by-others examples. One of my favorite Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) poems is precisely about hope.  It's been so often quoted and taught I'm afraid it has become cliche.  But if it has gained such immense popularity it's only because the topic is so universal and because Dickinson has captured it so succinctly and completely:
    Hope is the thing with feathers
    That perches in the soul,
    And sings the tune without the words,
    And never stops at all,

    And sweetest in the gale is heard;
    And sore must be the storm
    That could abash the little bird
    That kept so many warm.

    I've heard it in the chillest land,
    And on the strangest sea;
    Yet, never, in extremity,
    It asked a crumb of me.
    (Source: https://poets.org/poem/hope-thing-feathers-254).
    Why did Dickinson use a "little bird" to epitomize hope?  Why not a strong eagle or a graceful swan? Dickinson seems to indicate that if hope were a living "thing," it would appear small and frail but that its size would belie its true strength.  This tiny bird--this "Hope"--is built for agility, resilience, endurance.  I love the idea that the stronger the wind or "gale" blows, the sweeter seems her message.  Her song has the capacity to remind huddlers from the storm that life continues, prospers, and thrives even amidst cruel forces.  The storm doesn't stop the indomitable creature from her song--ever.  She "never stops at all."  Where do you draw hope from?  What keeps the song alive in you when things get bumpy?  For me, it's my belief that God is all-knowing and all-powerful; He is in control so I have hope that all things will work together for my good.  Because I believe He placed me in a time and place unique in world history on purpose, I have hope that I am where I am supposed to be.  Because I believe He knows what challenges I have endured and have yet to face, I have hope that He gave me talents and abilities to succeed when these things arise.  I also have hope that He is inspiring me to seek and develop new talents because He wants me to do more than just serve my own needs. Because I believe Christ's atonement is infinite and eternal I have hope that He wants me to have chances to make better choices and work through choices that brought regret.  I have hope that He can heal me and teach me in spite of the choices others make which affect me negatively.  If just a small bird can both keep, embody, and spread hope maybe I can, too.

    The famous French Protestant reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) left us with wise counsel regarding the renewal of our hope.  He said:
    We should ask God to increase our hope when it it small, awaken it when it is dormant, confirm it when it is wavering, strengthen it when it is weak, and raise it up when it is overthrown.
    I am encouraged by his knowledge, no doubt based on hard experience, that hope can be resuscitated when its waning and resurrected when it feels gone.  Hope is a vital key to unlock our power to commit.  We hope that what we want to do or create is good, is possible, is workable, and that we are capable.  It is the invisible energy of soul behind our decisions to act either consciously or subconsciously.  Hope is the powerhouse of commitment.

    Find a Mentor
    One of the primary reasons we find mentors is because mentors give us hope!  They are our case studies, our evidence that if they can do it, it can be done, maybe even by us! Mentors come in two forms, indirect and direct.

    An indirect mentor is someone who you do not have direct access to but whos life, examples, teachings, wisdom, experiences, values, and virtues are influential to us. We admire them.  Our admiration comes from a desire to imitate something they represent or have done which, often, we have yet to accomplish.  They embody what we hope to become or achieve. An indirect mentor may include a beloved family member or a friend who has passed away or are not directly accessible in person; an author or thinker past or present who is inaccessible for personal dialogue; a person in our field of study who is unavailable to speak to you directly for any number of reasons: cost, time, distance, availability, practicality; a leader.

    A direct mentor is simply someone you have personal access to, like a work colleague, a living family member, a teacher, a trusted and accomplished friend, a boss, or a professional in your chosen field.

    Marcus Aurelius was the emperor of what we in the West call the Golden Age of Rome. He ruled from 161–180 A.D. (or C.E. for Common Era).  Even after Marcus Aurelius became the emperor of Rome, according to the Oxford Classical Dictionary he still attended the lectures of one of his teachers, Sextus of Chaeronea. (Source: https://oxfordre.com/classics/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199381135.001.0001/acrefore-9780199381135-e-5892) He was mentored directly by many of his teachers, friends, and family members. During his reign as emperor, Aurelius recorded The Meditations, a collection of thoughts and ideas by others which inspired him, gave him insight, guided his decisions, and helped shape his self-improvement. (Source: http://files.libertyfund.org/files/2133/Aurelius_1464_LFeBk.pdf) In it, he acknowledges Sextus's influence in Book I:
    From Sextus [I learned] a pattern of a benign temper, and of a family, governed with true paternal affection and a stedfast purpose of living according to nature; to be grave and venerable, without affectation; to observe sagaciously the several dispositions and inclinations of my friends; not to be offended with the ignorant, or with those who follow the vulgar opinions without examination: His conversation was an example, how a man may accomodate himself to all men and companies; for tho’ his company was sweeter, and more pleasing than any sort of flattery, yet he was at the same time highly respected and reverenced. No man was ever more happy than he in comprehending, finding out, and arranging in exact order, the great maxims necessary for the conduct of life. He taught me by his example, to suppress even the least appearance of anger, or any other passion; but still, not withstanding this perfect tranquillity, to possess the tenderest and most affectionate heart; and to be apt to approve and applaud others, and yet without noise: to desire much literature, without ostentation. 
    Aurelius mentions another one of his direct mentors Rusticus, probably Arulenus Rusticus (100 - 170 AD), was "a Roman teacher and politician," "whom Aurelius treated with the utmost respect and honor." (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junius_Rusticus)  Also in Book I of The Meditations, Aurelius states:
    To Rusticus I owe my first apprehensions, that my temper needed redress and cure, and that I did not fall into the ambition of the common Sophists, either in writing upon the sciences, or exhorting men to philosophy by public harangues; as also, that I never affected to be admired by ostentation of great patience in an ascetic life, or of activity and application; and that I gave over the study of rhetoric, poetry, and the elegance of language; that I did not affect any airs of grandeur, by walking at home in my senatorial robe, or by any such things. I observed also the simplicity of style in his letters, particularly in that, which he wrote to my mother from Sinuessa. I learned also from him an easiness and proneness to be reconciled and well pleased again with those who had offended me, as soon as any of them inclined to be reconciled; to read with diligence; not to rest satisfied with a light and superficial knowledge; nor quickly to assent to greattalkers: Him also I must thank, that I met with the discourses of Epictetus which he gave me.
    Through his mentors, Marcus Aurelius learned that he could, among other attributes, control his temper, be a devoted father, be humble, sincere and genuine, be orderly in organizing knowledge and to search deeply and diligently for it.  He also thanks his direct mentors for introducing him to one of his indirect mentors Epictetus (50 – 135 AD), a Greek Stoic philosopher who was born a slave to Nero's secretary but who gained his freedom when he turned 18. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epictetus)  Aurelius was greatly influenced both directly and indirectly by his mentors and was greatly loved, respected, and honored by his people and armies at the time of his death. For those who love classical education, his own indirect influence continues today.

    The influential American Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, was particularly moved by the writings of Marcus Aurelius who acted as one of Jefferson's indirect mentors.  The Stoic beliefs embraced by Aurelius, though not singularly followed by Jefferson, still influenced his writings and beliefs.  This is pointed out in great detail by Donald J. Robinson in an article titled, "The Stoicism of Thomas Jefferson: Ten Rules to Follow in Daily Life," where Robinson points out that in 1823 Jefferson wrote a letter to his son advising him:
    Jefferson’s Ten Rules for Daily Life
    1. Never put off till tomorrow what you can do to-day.
    2. Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
    3. Never spend your money before you have it.
    4. Never buy what you do not want, because it is cheap; it will be dear to you.
    5. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst and cold.
    6. We never repent of having eaten too little.
    7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
    8. How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened!
    9. Take things always by their smooth handle.
    10. When angry, count ten, before you speak; if very angry, an hundred. (Source: https://medium.com/stoicism-philosophy-as-a-way-of-life/the-stoicism-of-thomas-jefferson-e9266ebcf558)
     Deeply influenced by Greek and Roman philosophers and thinkers, Jefferson allowed himself to be indirectly mentored by their writing, values, and virtues.  They inspired his thinking, beliefs, and behaviors.  According to the website https://www.john-uebersax.com:
    Jefferson supplied lists of recommended books in letters to Robert Skipwith1 in 1771 and Bernard Moore2 about the same time, to his nephew, Peter Carr, in 17853 and 1787,4 to John Minor5 in 1814, and to several others.6 The following is a distillation and synthesis of his recommendations in classical studies -- history, philosophy, religion, and literature. Items in each section are in a rough suggested reading order based by Jefferson's comments. Clearly more works could be added; as Jefferson wrote to Moore:
    "These by no means constitute the whole of what might be usefully read in each of these branches of science. The mass of excellent works going more into detail is great indeed. But those here noted will enable the student to select for himself such others of detail as may suit his particular views and dispositions. They will give him a respectable, an useful and satisfactory degree of knowlege in these branches." (Source: https://www.john-uebersax.com/plato/reading2.htm)
    The website then gives an incredible list with links to the readings Jefferson enjoyed and was guided by which compasses Ancient History, Philosophy, Literature, and American History including an additional link to Marcus Aurelius's The Meditations.

    I would be remiss if I didn't mention, even in only briefly, a direct mentor to Jefferson while studying law: George Wythe.  According to the website https://lawlibrary.wm.edu/:
    Jefferson spent the three years learning the intricacies of the law under Wythe and was admitted to the bar in 1767. Wythe’s tutelage had a profound impact on the young lawyer. In his autobiography, Jefferson recognized Wythe as one of the three most influential men in his life, along with Dr. Small and Jefferson’s benefactor, Peyton Randolph. Jefferson described Wythe as "my faithful and beloved mentor in youth and my most affectionate friend through life" and "my ancient master, my earliest and best friend." (Source: https://lawlibrary.wm.edu/wythepedia/index.php/Thomas_Jefferson)
    I have a huge number of indirect mentors who give me hope, inspiration, and courage to act.  Though I do not have direct access to her, I adore Condolezza Rice.  To me, she is a pinnacle of education, courage, and accomplishment. She broke unnumerable barriers as the first black, female Secretary of State to George W. Bush as an adult and pushed through psychological and class barriers as a child in Birmingham, Alabama during the bombings and violence in that city which she particularly mentions during the year 1963. I highly recommend her books to you which can, of course, be found on Amazon.com and at other reputable booksellers:

    Condoleezza Rice: A Memoir of My Extraordinary, Ordinary Family and Me Democracy: The Long Road to Freedom No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington

    From Suze Orman, I learned that a woman can be bold and take her money and her success into her own hands while remaining compassionate, nurturing, and driven.  From her book Women & Money, I learned that all wealthy women have 8 virtues in common:
    Harmony: Agreement in feeling, thinking, and doing
    Balance: State of emotional and rational stability in which you are calm and able to make sound decisions and judgements.
    Courage: To act in the face of fear. Gives harmony expression.
    Generosity: The act of giving the right thing to the right person at the right time and which benefits you both.  It never can be demanded.  I should never diminish you.
    Happiness: A state of well-being and contentment; a quality of the other traits in action; cannot be pursued directly; feeling that nothing is missing; state of no regrets
    Wisdom: The knowledge and experience necessary to make sound judgements. Comes from inhabiting all the qualities that came before.
    Cleanliness: A state of purity, clarity, and precision; living according to order and organization.
    Beauty: the quality or aggregate of qualities that gives pleasure and exalts the mind or spirit; is created when you incorporate the other 7 qualities in your life.
    I haven't read all of her books but I trust her judgment.  I have read and do recommend the following by Suze Orman:

    Women & Money (Revised and Updated) The Courage to be Rich: Creating a Life of Material and Spiritual Abundance, Revised Edition by Orman, Suze(January 1, 2002) Paperback

    Last Summer, my dear brother-in-law, Peter Butler, recommended a book he and his wife Sarah enjoyed by Melody Beattie called Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself.  Both my husband and I read it voraciously!  We discussed it together intently and made commitments to each other about what we wanted to teach our children and how we wanted to make personal improvements. I now consider Beattie's teachings and example mentor-worthy to me.  In her book, she taught a great deal about how to think about relationships with family and friends, how to think about our values, and how to think about our own power to act.  She taught me to put rejection in its proper context; that it does not determine personal value.  She said:
    We don’t have to take rejection as a reflection of our self-worth. If somebody who is important (or even someone unimportant) to you rejects you or your choices, you are still real, and you are still worth every bit as much as you would be if you had not been rejected. Feel any feelings that go with rejection; talk about your thoughts; but don’t forfeit your self-esteem to another’s disapproval or rejection of who you are or what you have done. Even if the most important person in your world rejects you, you are still real, and you are still okay. If you have done something inappropriate or you need to solve a problem or change a behavior, then take appropriate steps to take care of yourself. But don’t reject yourself, and don’t give so much power to other people’s rejection of you. It isn’t necessary.
    The idea that self-worth is not based on external stimuli or even on past mistakes gives me new energy through hope to prepare to make new commitments. From Beattie, I also learned to recognize and let go of things outside my circle of influence, things that are neither in my stewardship nor in my power to control:
    Worrying, obsessing, and controlling are illusions. They are tricks we play on ourselves.
    and also:
    I know when to say no and when to say yes. I take responsibility for my choices. The victim? She went somewhere else. The only one who can truly victimize me is myself, and 99 percent of the time I choose to do that no more. But I need to continue to remember the key principles: boundaries, letting go, forgiveness after feeling my feelings—not before, self-expression, loving others but loving myself, too. 
    This is what her book looks like:



    Lastly, from the indomitable character, Janie, in Zora Neale Hurston's classic book Their Eyes Were Watching God, I was deeply reminded that finding meaning and purpose is both personal and divine.  From the very last pages of the very last chapter of Hurston's poetic masterwork, Janie confidently summarizes her turbulent, glorious journey:
    Two things everybody's got tuh do fuh theyselves.  They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin' fuh theyselves (192).
    My copy of Hurston's book looks like this (except mine is a little more ratty and worn):

    Their Eyes Were Watching God

    Absolute classic! It's beautiful! and through it, Hurston has indirectly mentored me.

    There is so much more--countless more that shapes my understanding and sharpens my views--that I count as mentoring.  Who are your mentors both direct and indirect?  Who has moved you?  What did they teach? What have they modeled well?  Did you learn that if they can do it, so can you?  Do they help you find the strength to confront your fears? Do they help you understand and asses your needs and wants? Do they help you deal with opposition? Do they increase your hope?  Do they teach you that you have the power to change, that you can live principle #3: Commit?

    I hope you are finding solace during this temporary season of quarantine as the COVID-19 pandemic passes over.  I hope you find moments for reflection to be fed mentally, emotionally, and spiritually by those you admire and trust, to be encouraged, to be renewed.  I hope you are finding hope in your ability to commit--to prepare and act for your benefit and for the benefit of those you can influence for good. Until we can get together again...

    Live Beautifully!

    Heather Butler
    Founder and CEO of Beautiful Living Systems