A couple of times each year Shannon asks me to guest post on her blog. It’s always fun, but I’m particularly excited about this week because there are a few lessons I’ve been leaning into that have helped me and I think they might help you too.
Just before Christmas I finished an experiment called “75 Hard.” The big idea is that doing anything that matters requires toughness, courage and discipline. The program seeks to these by laying out 5 simple but difficult daily disciplines (work out hard 2 times each day, spend daily time outside, drink a ton of water, follow a diet faithfully, read a lot).
First, an underlying principle and caution. Jesus tells a story about 3 guys. One guy gets a lot of stuff and turns it into a lot more. One guy gets a medium amount and turns it into a bit more. Then one guy gets not much stuff and because of some combination of fear and laziness he doesn’t maximize it at all. Guy #3, lazy guy, is taken to task and even called “wicked.”
There are basically 2 reasons the “do stuff” guys are praised and guy # 3 is called wicked. First, God wants us to do the most we can with what we’ve been given. You’re smart? Awesome! Go do something with it. You’re naturally loving and create connection and comfort? Sweet. Go build relationships and make people feel loved. Make the most of it.
Behind this is an issue of heart. Guy #3 didn’t maximize what he’d been given not only from laziness but also fear. He didn’t trust his boss. God wants us to risk boldly for things he loves because we fundamentally trust in his goodness. Dream big, fight like mad, and sometimes you’ll fail. That’s part of the point- if you dream small, you don’t fail and then you never get the abundance of grace from when you crash, burn and God picks you up.
I’m about to push you to chase greatness in everything you do. The truth is that we can get this wrong in either direction. Sometimes we can fail to make the most of the life we’ve been blessed with because we’re lazy and soft. Sometimes we instead switch to idolatry and make good goals into fake Gods. I know some workaholics, but frankly I know a lot more people who claim to be workaholics but are actually checking their fantasy football score or taking a BuzzFeed quiz to determine which muppet is their spirit animal. So my assumption is that you, like me, have concrete areas of your life where you want to improve and thing that these areas require more toughness, courage and discipline.
Principle One: Be a little skeptical of comfort
This is a pretty humbling thing to write, but it’s the realization that pushed me to this experiment. I was reading a passage of scripture where Paul was calmly describing the risk and pain he was facing as he made his way to Rome. Bit by snakes, imprisoned, nights without sleep, stretches of time with no food. At the time I read this I was getting increasingly mad at my little boy for not falling asleep. I had to sit in a relatively uncomfortable chair. The horror. So as I read about this hero of faith risking everything for the Church I’m too soft to be patient with my awesome kid. I’ll fight for you, I love you to the moon and back, I’m…internally whining about a cushion. Super lame. I’m not saying comfort is inherently bad. God clearly calls for a pattern of work and rest. I’m simply saying it’s prudent to question it just a little bit. Two questions that helped me: What am I ultimately giving up in order to be comfortable right now? What good or bad will happen if I push through and keep going right now?
Principle Two: Identity, Action and Environment are Mutually Reinforcing
People often preach on this concept, “Identity flows to action.” So, if you’re trying to fix your actions, reset and align with your identity. This is undeniably true, but both scripture and loads of science on behavior indicate that it’s incomplete. Think of how many Proverbs point to the idea that your friends determine the outcome and quality of your life. If life was a linear progression from identity to action this would be irrelevant. Instead, try to think of things as a mutually reinforcing triangle-Your identify is reinforced by your actions. So if you want to remind yourself that you’re an Ambassador of Jesus in your office, immediately do something concrete that shows love and grace to your co-workers. This not only flows from your identify, but reinforces it. Further, take time to shape your environment to reinforce your identify and support those actions. If you want to get in shape, take immediate action (I’m an athlete, thus I do athlete stuff) and also find a partner so that your environment helps force action when you’d rather not. Sometimes I’m disciplined, sometimes I come home, look at a Banana for two minutes, and take my shirt halfway off. At the very least, shaping our environment helps us win back this marginal time in our day. A simple question to lend clarity here-What can I change about my surroundings, schedule, budget or relationships to help my identity turn into action. Maybe this is getting in a group, exercising with a friend, publicly committing to a goal. Arrange your life on purpose.
Principle Three: Do Enough That it Matters
Think back to any accomplishment that mattered to you in a big way. At the moment when you experienced the rush of “I did it!” you probably felt two things. First, there was a profound sense of growth and fulfillment. There was also a practical realization-victory is hard. You probably said to yourself, “that was way harder and took way longer than I expected, but it was worth it.” So, assume that going in. You want to become a biblical scholar, do it. Take the effort you think it requires and multiply it by 10. Build a business? Plan, then multiply it. Get in great shape? Same. There’s nothing more discouraging than doing a lot and seeing no results, so…don’t. There is a level of effort at which you’ll see results. It varies by person and activity. Figure out what level of effort it takes for your work to yield results, and then plan for that level of effort.
If you want to elevate yourself, let me encourage you. Start, and try these things to make the maximize your success. Even more important, give yourself a chance to fail while pursuing greatness, and let that open the door to grace.