Hero. Fireman Rescuing a Baby From Burning House

Hero

The meanings of certain words have been diluted in this age of instantaneous information. People throw the them around without a thought to their meaning or their impact. To me, “hero” is an important example.

In the past, I tended to cringe whenever I heard the word “hero,” mainly because I heard it so much. It used to be reserved for those among us who did truly extraordinary things or were able to get jobs done in extremely trying circumstances.

So what is the essence of acting heroically? Is it overcoming fear? Is it committing fully to a course of action? Is it going the extra mile? It may be all of these, some combination, or something entirely different. The essence of heroism is inherently ineffable. If it was something that could be measured or taught, it would lose its mystique.

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Beginnings. Young woman sitting and looking through window

Beginnings

Have you ever found yourself going down a path that you know isn’t right?

We may feel we’re stuck on that path, that the events that led us here will lead us relentlessly in the same direction.

We may feel that we’ve messed up, or dropped the ball, and that we can’t escape the consequences.

I’ve had several times in my life when I knew (or later realized) that I was on the wrong path—that I had done, or was still doing, something stupid (smoking, staying in unhealthy relationships, making poor choices). But I was shortsighted or pigheaded or oblivious—or a combination of the three.

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Woman volunteering at community soup kitchen

Action

Walking the walk and talking the talk.

Do you act on what is important to you, or are your values more of a feeling?

I write a lot about values, thoughts, and emotions, but what does all this mean in terms of how we interact with the world? Does it translate into a foundation for our actions?

What we do on a day-to-day basis matters. Taking the extra step when it’s consistent with our worldview or values is important.

In our busy society, we are constantly working the margins of time management. We try to make every second matter so that we can add to our stock of available time (see time). We get irritated if we lose a few seconds at a stoplight or if we have a slow driver in front of us. With this mind-set, it can be hard to take advantage of unscheduled opportunities to act on our values and to step up when we see a need.

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Woman driving a convertible car at the beach.

Drive

Who’s in the driver’s seat?

Who (or what) drives our actions, decisions, and thoughts?

Some people go through their lives firmly in the driver’s seat. They know what they want and they do what it takes to get there. But even the most self-assured people have others who guide them, advise them, or otherwise influence them. They may be in the driver’s seat, but there is usually someone else in the car with them.

On the other extreme are people who are just along for the ride. Someone else is (or a series of people are) in the driver’s seat, and they may not even know where the car is going. These people might lack the confidence to make their own decisions or may be susceptible to manipulation or control. They are drawn to others who have strong visions even if they don’t share them, because the others provide them with a sense of direction, which they would otherwise lack. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with this—some people are just naturally more comfortable in a supportive role—it is important for us to move our lives in ways that we understand and approve of. Even if someone else is driving, we should be aware of the route and destination.

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Habit. Girl practicing violin.

Habit

We are what we do.

Each of us has activities, things we do day in and day out, over and over. Our habits become part of our psyche—part of our identity.

A famous statistic from Maxwell Maltz said that it takes a minimum of 21 days of doing something to make it a habit. Subsequent research suggests that it takes more like a minimum of two months and up to eight months before an activity becomes ingrained. So, if we want an activity to become part of our lives, we know what we have to do to make it happen.

However, knowing this is easier than doing it. We have to be motivated to do something day in and day out, for that long. To get that kind of motivation, we must have a clear image of how and why those activities should be part of our lives. That means that we should be able to consistently fit them into our routines and recognize what they will contribute to our happiness, health, or fulfillment.

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