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 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 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.


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 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

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