The Learn a New Skill Fast Challenge

A childhood friend of mine once called me a “jack of all trades and master of none.”  I said, thank you.  He said it wasn’t a compliment. I wish I had known the term renaissance man (a person of many talents and areas of knowledge) at the time.  I could have come back with that as a defense.  But at the time I had no reply.  Guy stuff, he won that round.

As it turns out, he was right on.  Nothing is more exciting to me that learning new skills.  But once I have, I get bored and am ready to move on to something else.  Therefore, I never master any of them.  Wait, except for maybe one … learning new skills quickly.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggests that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become world-class in any field.  Working 40 hour weeks, that is close to 5 years of dedication to a particular field of study, or 20 hours a week for ten years if you are in no hurry.  I’ll bet I’ve done 5 hours a week for 40 years of learning new skills, that math works too.

Anyway, I am always at my happiest when I have learned and am able to demonstrate a new skill.  There is just nothing like the feeling of accepting and successfully completing a difficult challenge.  Proving to yourself that you can do something that you had your doubts about will make you happy too.

In fact, whenever I am feeling a little down I choose to learn a new fun, interesting, and challenging skill.  It takes my mind off of whatever is troubling me, and serves to restore my confidence that I can overcome any obstacle.  It will work for you too.

I actually believe that the ability to learn new things quickly is an essential life skill.  It helps you to build your courage to try new things, your confidence as you experience success, and your ability to become your best and share your best with others in order to make the world a better place.

So without further ado, I hereby challenge you to learn a new skill … this week.  I’ll give you my simple formula for success below.  Oh, and good news, it will only take you one hour a day or less.  Can you spare 7 hours this week to learn a new skill that you can use for a lifetime? Yes you can:-)

I’ll give you the basics below, four simple steps.  It occurred to me during this writing that I have enough information on this topic to create another book.  But then I thought, why not learn how to do something you haven’t done before? So I have decided to develop a comprehensive on-line course instead.  I’ll let you know when it’s available and provide it to you free of charge for being such dedicated readers.  Thank you for that by the way:-)

Okay, here we go. You can do it!

Step 1 – Know Your What, Why, and Goal

Decide what skill you want to acquire, why you want it, and specifically what you will be able to do in order to declare success.

For purposes of this challenge I’m going to give you your why:  To provide a fun distraction during this strange time in history.  As long as so many of us are self-isolating to avoid the virus, we might as well put the extra time to good use.

The what you are going to learn is up to you.  I suggest it be something that you have wanted to do for a long time, but that you never felt you had the time for.  Something that you might not think is important, but you know would be fun to know how to do.

Choose something that will amaze your family and friends.  Something that you have seen others do and thought, “wow, that’s cool, I wish I could do that.”  Like juggling, twirling a pen, or a fancy dance step like the moon walk.  Or maybe you already play an instrument and you want to learn a new song.  Or enhance your skills with a ball or racket. Learn a card trick or fancy shuffling.  Choose something you know will make you smile when you succeed:-)

Take a few moments to brainstorm a list of skills you would like to have.  Now choose one that you think is possible to learn in a week.  It should be challenging but not impossible.  And you should be able to do it on your own and have ready access to the equipment and supplies required.

Now set a specific goal.  Define what you will call success.  Like, I will spin a basketball on my finger for 10 seconds, or juggle three balls twice through the rotation without a drop.  Make your goal a double D, difficult but doable.

Moving on … steps 2, 3, and 4 all start with the letter P to make them easy to remember: Probe, Practice, and Play.  Taken together I call them the Tricycle system since there are three steps which are designed to be cycled through as needed until you successfully accomplish your goal.  Plus, anyone can learn to ride a tricycle quickly, as can anyone learn a new skill fast.

If you have the Playground Heaven book you can read more about the system in Chapter 15.

Step 2 – Probe

Start with an internet search of “how to fill-in the blank with your desired skill.” Take a Goldilocks “just right” approach to this step. Learn enough to understand the basics, but not so much that you become overwhelmed.  Learn to the point of feeling, “I can do this” and stop before you get to, “Wow, this is way harder than I thought it would be.”

I suggest browsing first and then honing in on a few articles and videos that you can easily relate to.  Make sure they break down the skill into its basic steps.  There are usually a few key steps to being able to acquire a skill.  Knowing those critical few will accelerate your ability to succeed.

Personally, I go to YouTube first.  I am so thankful for all the people that take the time to share their skills and know-how with the world.  I learn the fastest by listening to advice and seeing a demonstration of the skill from others who have already succeeded.  If I need more detail I then move on to reading articles or books.

Step 3 – Practice

Practice makes perfect.  Perfect practice makes perfect.  Practice makes progress.  Common locker room signs.  I like the last one best for our purposes.  We are not going for perfect. Our goal is progress, gradual improvement, getting better every day until we achieve our goal.

First, make a plan.  What are you going to practice?  When?  Where?  How, and for how long? And Goldilocks again, not too little or too much.  I prefer brief and frequent practices to long extended sessions.  My advice, do whatever you are in the mood for at the time.

Next, make it easy and convenient to practice.  Whatever skill you have chosen to learn probably requires a physical object of some sort.  Place that object in a place where you will see it often.  Move it around with you.  Always have it nearby.

I recently learned how to spin a basketball.  I made sure the ball was always close at hand.  Whenever I had a moment with nothing better to do, I would give it a try.  Little by little I made progress.  Then as I got closer to the goal, my practice time increased.

Do what works for you.  Just make sure you are consistently practicing and making progress.  If you need more instruction, go back to probe for a while.  You may need other sources of information based on your practice experience.

Bottom-line, get started.  Take it slow, step-by-step.  Be prepared to fail.  Every failure is one step closer to success.  Be patient.  Repetition is key.  Keep tying.  Push through frustration.  Take breaks and come back later to surprising new abilities. And never ever give up.

Step 4 – Play

When you are feeling ready, demonstrate your new skill to someone else.  Play to an audience.  Even if you have not yet completely reached your goal.  Share you progress with others.

Knowing that you will eventually have an audience helps with your practice motivation.  You don’t want to hoard your talent like your toilet paper, do you?  Of course not, you want to share it with the world.

Here’s another good play option if you are not feeling ready for a live audience; video record yourself attempting your new skill.  It is so easy nowadays with our fancy phones.  Viewing a recording is a great way to get a reality check of where you are with your new skill development.  You will likely recognize ways in which you can improve quickly.

Finally, go back to probe and practice as needed until you are ready for prime-time.  When the time is right, record yourself again and share it on social media.  Challenge others to learn something new as well.  You can share this article to help them out if you’d like.

Okay, go!  Have fun, and share your new skill with the Playground Heaven Living Facebook Group when you’re ready.  If you aren’t already a member of the group, please join us.  All you have to do is request to join here.

Live Happy, Scott

What is the Meaning of This?!

Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.  These are the 5 stages that dying and grieving people go through.  They were first identified in the 1969 book, On Death and Dying authored by Elisabeth Kübler Ross.

I first read this book when I was about 14 years old.  I was not an avid reader at the time, but I saw it on a bookshelf one day and felt a strong call to read it, without anyone telling me to or making me … very unusual.

It was so interesting that I remember reading it in one sitting.  I found it fascinating and could see its application to situations other than dying.  Turns out that what I learned through it has been extremely useful throughout my life.  Most of what I have done has involved leading or participating in some type of change.  Guess what stages people go through during any change?  Yep, the same ones.

And guess what stages we are all going through right now?  In fact, do a quick reality check on yourself.  Which stage are you in primarily going through currently?  Of course currently I’m referring to the COVID-19 situation.  But if you happen to be reading this years from now there is likely some other event or condition you are dealing with.  Death, grief, and change are omnipresent.

Understanding these stages helps me to remember that what I am going through during tough times is both normal and necessary.  Normal because everyone goes through them in some way, and necessary in order to eventually be able to move forward.  Without experiencing the stages in some form, we risk getting stuck, maybe for a very long time.

In doing a little research about the stages to make sure I was providing you good information, I discovered that there are two follow-up books to the original: On Grief and Grieving and Finding Meaning.  The first was co-authored with David Kessler, and the second by him alone.  I haven’t read either, but thought I’d make you aware in case you’re interested.

In case you are unfamiliar with the stages, let’s review them briefly.  Then we will move on to what I think is the most important stage to our ongoing happiness, the sixth one that was added in the last book, Meaning.  Here goes.

Oh, but first it is important to note that you won’t necessarily go through theses stages in order, I find them to be random and reoccurring.  And annoying in that you might think you are finally done with one, only to see it come back out of nowhere to bite you again later.  Remember, normal and necessary.

Last preparatory point, these are my personal interpretations of the stages drawn from my experience.  I encourage you to read the book yourself if you want further details.

Denial – This can’t and shouldn’t be happening.  I refuse to acknowledge its existence.  I’ll cover my ears and shut my eyes.  Maybe it will go away.  Avoidance is my friend.

Anger – Okay fine, this is really happening.  But I don’t like it!  I know that patience is the virtue to be used in times like these, but I have no patience for that. It’s okay to be angry at a situation and express your frustration.  Just don’t break anything or hurt anyone, like yourself.

Bargaining – Hey God, if you fix this I promise to be a better person. I wonder about what could I have done differently to have avoided this situation in the first place?  Too late, it doesn’t matter, quit thinking about it or you’ll drive yourself crazy.

Depression –  This is awful.  How am I going to get through this? Can I?  How long will it take?  What will life be like afterwards?  Is it even worth it?  Yes, it is!  Start with gratitude for all the good in your life.

Acceptance – I still don’t like it, but I acknowledge that it is what it is.  I’ll do what I can to adapt to the new normal.  It will take time, but I know I can do it.

Do you recognize yourself in any of these stages currently?  Can you see that you have moved successfully through a couple of them already?  Have you gone through a few of them more than once?

Just for fun I wrote the stages on a sheet of paper in a circular fashion.  I thought about my journey over the last couple of weeks and drew lines between them in the order I recalled experiencing them.  In the end it looked like a pentagram, you know, a circle with a star in the middle.  Interesting.  Try it.

Personally, I’m tired of bouncing around them and hereby choose to escape and move to Finding Meaning.

Have you ever made a mess, like having a party when your parents were gone and not getting it cleaned up before they got home?  Of course not.  But if you had, what would they have said?  Something along the lines of, “What is the meaning of this?!!!  Clean this up, think about what you’ve done, and we’ll talk about it later!”

If in the very unlikely case that this ever happened to you, what would you have been thinking as you cleaned up?  Excuses?  No, they never work.  Reasons?  There are no good ones.  Explanations?  Nope.

How about simply saying you’re sorry and it won’t ever happen again?  Good start.  Probably better tell them what you have learned and what you will do differently going forward to ensure it never happens again.  Yes, great idea, hopefully that will lessen the punishment.

What does this have to do with our current situation?  Well I could be wrong, but I believe we all have at least a little mess in our lives.  Something that isn’t quite right.  Something that we could clean up.  And there is probably some meaning in our mess.

I choose to believe the meaning of this virtual shutdown of our normal life is to give us a little time to clean up.  To remind us of our mortality.  To cause us to slow down and recharge.  To reflect, reassess, and refresh.  To determine what is important going forward.  To redefine our priorities and adjust our routines.

Think of it this way.  My phone had been slowing down and quickly draining its battery recently, it was a mess.  To fix it I removed a bunch of apps, updated the software, turned it off, gave it a rest, and restarted it.  Problem solved.  We can go through a similar process to fix any messes we might have in our lives right now.

Actually, times like these often lead to complete life transformations.  We suddenly realize through a tragedy or near death experience that there is more to life.  We are determined to make the most of our remaining time.  We live life with a new attitude of gratitude and appreciation.  We live a life of meaning, purpose, and happiness.  Maybe this is that time for us.

I know we are all looking forward to life getting back to normal, but should we be?  How about instead we define a new normal for ourselves before that happens.  Take some time to ask and answer these questions for yourself this week:

  • What do you miss that serves to make you truly happy? Get those things back in your life as soon as you safely can.  For me it’s going to the gym and hanging out with friends.
  • What have you found that you don’t really miss? Stop doing those things.  If you said your job, maybe it’s time to start searching for work that you would miss doing.  I’ve found that I don’t miss watching sports on television at all.
  • What have you done differently that you would like to continue? No doubt you have done some things out of your normal routine recently.  What have you found that has improved your happiness.  Keep doing those things.  Learning new skills and walking in nature are a couple of mine.
  • Have you had any epiphanies? Thoughts that have come out of nowhere that suddenly make your path forward clear.  If so, what are you going to do about it?  I see the use of video in my future.

I challenged my playground heaven living Facebook friends to learn a new skill this week.  I’m learning to spin a basketball on my finger.  I’ll prove success soon through my first ever short video.  Back to practice.

Stay Safe and Well My Friends!  Scott

Your Guide to a Happy Panic

Are you having trouble maintaining your happy with a new virus in the air?  I have never seen this level of universal panic. When there is no toilet paper on the selves, there is obviously a crisis underway.

At the beginning of this writing I still wondered if this was truly going to be the crisis we were being told it would become.  Many experts were writing on both sides of that debate.  Then I realized the question is moot.  Our collective actions at this point have produced a crisis, real or not.

Schools and businesses are shut down.  Shelves are empty.  Major events have been cancelled.  People are afraid to come into contact with one another.  The financial markets have taken a nose dive.  We have all been negatively impacted in some way at this point.  And we are told that it will become worse before it gets better, so it will.

So how can we maintain our desired happiness level at such a troubling time?  I have a three-step process that works for me, it will for you too.  But first, here’s a brief semi-embarrassing personal story to provide context for the solution.

I had a close encounter with panic many years ago, technically it was an attack. According to the Mayo Clinic, “A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.”  Yep, that’s what I had.

We were in the process of moving back to Iowa from Florida.  It was a sudden unplanned move due to a job opportunity.  I packed a few essentials, flew to Iowa to live in a small apartment, and Melanie stayed back to sell the house and make arrangements for our move which officially happened about six months later.

We made trips to see each other every couple of weeks.  Then out of nowhere, for no reason, sitting on a plane waiting to take off, I had my panic attack.  I could hardly breathe.  I felt I had to get out of that plane immediately.  I was scared and on the verge of causing a disturbance.

Just before I did, a scene from the movie “Airplane!” entered my mind.  A woman is freaking out and a stewardess shakes her and screams, “Get ahold of yourself!”  Passengers are lined up behind her with weapons, waiting their turn to make her clam down.  It made me laugh and I sure didn’t want that to happen to me.

Thankfully the panic then passed quickly.  I reasoned that it was caused by separation anxiety.  Yes, I am an amateur psychologist.  But the thing is, once you have experienced an attack, you are naturally afraid that it will happen again.

I now had a big challenge to face.  We were scheduled to fly to New Zealand soon after my incident.  Although I tried to put it out of my mind, I couldn’t shake the feeling that another attack was coming on that 14-hour plane flight.  Not good!

Over the next couple of weeks I rationalized that my attack was a one-time thing.  It had never happened before and would likely never happen again.  There was really nothing to fear.  It’s just a plane ride.  I’ve done this at least a hundred times.  Plus, Melanie and I would be together so no more need for the anxiety.  Still I was concerned and wished I could cancel the trip.  But we needed a vacation, so instead I developed my avoid-a-panic strategy.

First I reminded myself about how ridiculous my fear was.  Then I practiced visualizing being on that plane and remaining calm.  Finally I thought about the opportunities awaiting us on the other side of the flight.  I focused on how much fun we would have on this vacation.

We boarded the plane and I was feeling good … until we got to our seats.  For some reason I had assumed international flights of this length would have a larger seating area … wrong!  Our seats were located next to a handicapped woman who was already sitting in the aisle seat.  She couldn’t move without significant assistance.

We reminded ourselves that someone always has it worse as we crawled over her to get into our middle and window seats.  We were trapped for the next 14 hours.  Please get this thing in the air and step on it!

Thankfully my preparation had worked and all was well.  It was rough, but we made it.  We had a great vacation, my anxiety was completely gone and has never returned.  But that experience taught me some valuable lessons.

I know first-hand that, (1) panic is scary even when there is no apparent reason for it, (2) we can avoid and overcome our fears with proper preparation, and (3) there is happiness on the other side of our fears. Let’s get happy again right now.

Here’s your guide to happiness during this or any other panic inducing situation.  Take these three steps to maintain your happy and to help others do the same.

Step 1 – Get Real – See the situation for what it really is.  Take the emotion out of it and be logical and rational.  In the case of this virus, we have an illness that is spread through contact with an infected person or something they have been in contact with.  If you think about it, this is always the situation, every day of our lives.  Cold and flu viruses are always lurking about, this is just a new strain.  Do we really need to panic?  No.  Stay calm and carry on with the next step.

Step 2 – Back to Basics – Focus on continually striving to be and to do your best for the benefit of others.  Behaving virtuously is especially important in a time of crisis, especially demonstrating charity, kindness, and patience.  Basically, we should put more emphasis on doing the things we should have been doing all along.  In the case of this virus that means doing the same things we should always do to avoid the spread of disease:

  • Wash your hands.
  • Wash things you are going to come in contact with that others have touched, and vice versa.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Exercise and eat right.
  • Stay away from crowds when there is high likelihood of illness being spread.
  • Stay home from work if you are sick, please. Yeah, I know you want to save your time off for vacations.  So do others.  Stay home!
  • Don’t attend church if you are sick, God will understand and forgive you.
  • Keep you kids home when they are sick. I know this is hard with your work obligations.  Do it anyway.
  • Don’t go out to eat during peak times of illness. Unfortunately the people who prepare your food are those least able to take time off from work when they are ill. Instead consider buying gift cards from your favorite establishments to support them financially in their time of need.  You can use them when order is restored.
  • Travel by car rather than by plane, train, or bus. You will get sick using public transportation during the flu season.
  • Don’t go to the hospital, emergency room, or walk-in clinic unless absolutely necessary.  Use telehealth instead.  Most health insurance providers make this service available, check with yours.
  • Work from home if you can.
  • Don’t worry. Worry doesn’t solve anything.   You can’t worry and be happy at the same time.  Worry can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  We tend to get what we think about often.  Instead be optimistic, think positive thoughts.

Step 3 – Find the Good – What good can you see coming from this situation?  What can you do to make it better right now?  How can you find enjoyment in this new altered state of life?  Then look past the crisis.  Envision a better future.  Find something to look forward to.

I can see many positives coming from this situation.  Like maybe we will all finally develop healthy hygiene habits that we will use consistently.  Every couple of years we all have to be reminded about the basics in step 2.  Why are we so slow to learn?  Hopefully we will this time, once and for all.

How about this, instead of rushing to get prepared for a crisis, we plan ahead and are always ready.  Check out this site for help  At a minimum, maintain the supplies you just stocked up on.

Here’s some good news, you will probably have more free time on your hands for the next month or so.  You won’t have to be running around town taking kids to school and events.  You might also be working from home saving your commuting time. Think about what can you do with the gift of that extra time.

What are things you’ve been wanting to do but never have the time for?  What can you do at home with your family.  See this extra time as a stay-cation.  Do things together.  Go outside and play.  Make puzzles.  Play board games.  Go on hikes.  Visit parks and playgrounds.  Watch something funny.  Learn something new.  Read a book.

Remember to keep in touch with your friends and neighbors.  They may need some help that you can safely provide. Maybe you can even share your toilet paper supply.  What an act of kindness and charity that would be:-)

One last bit of advice for you believers.  Place your faith in God.  Know that things will turn out for the best, whatever the best is.  It may not be what we want, but it will be what we need.  These hard times are meant to make us stronger and to put us on a better path going forward.  We will survive and thrive.

Here’s your challenge for the week.  Find one way to be happier in this time of panic and share it with the Playground Heaven Living Facebook Group.

One final note.  Thank you in advance to all of you who work in and around the health care system.  No doubt you will be called upon to work long hours, with few breaks, in a stressful environment, while putting your own health at risk over the next weeks and months.  Please know that you are highly appreciated for what you do and for the courage you continually exhibit!

Be Safe, Well, and Happy my Friends!  Scott



Living A Dog’s Life

Our dog, Roxi stayed at a lodge last week while we were traveling.  I think they used to call these pet boarding places, kennels.  That was back in the day when they were basically a bunch of cages.  Now they are like mini hotel rooms with comfortable beds, toys, background music, televisions, and views of the great outdoors.  She stays in what they call a cabin, how nice.

She always seems to be in good spirits when we pick her up.  She is so excited when we get home.  She runs all over the yard and then explores all throughout the house as her way of celebrating her new-found freedom.  She is so happy!  I don’t know if dogs can actually smile, but she sure seems to be.

She especially loves going to the park following a kennel stay.  We take her during a time we know others won’t be present so we can let her roam free.  She runs all over the grounds looking for varmints to chase.  She is a Scottish terrier and that is what they were bred for, ridding castles of rodents.  She didn’t need to be taught how to do what she does, she just does it.  And she is smiling again.

Watching her makes me smile too.  It reminds me of the most important thing we humans can do to be happy.  It should be the easiest, but seems to be the most difficult.  We must figure it out for ourselves.  No one else can help us.  In fact, the more others try to help, the harder it is to make it happen.  What is this key happiness component?  Being your true self.

What does that mean?  Who else could we be?  How can we be anyone but ourselves?  There is only one us, right?

Well, if you were a dog it would be that simple.  As a dog you were bred to be something in particular, that is your true self. You don’t have to be taught what to do, you just do it.  As long as you are free to do that thing, you are a happy dog.

Unfortunately for us humans, we do not innately know what our thing is.  Or maybe we do, but we are so heavily influenced by others that we don’t recognize what it is.  Or it could be that we have so many choices about what to do that we get confused.  I’m not sure, I just know that finding our true self is a difficult task that often lasts a lifetime.

What I do know is that we all have natural talents that can’t be explained.  There are also things that inherently peak our interest.  And when we do things that use our talents and that we find interesting, we are happy.  Maybe we are each “bred” for something specific.

I actually do think we each have a special purpose in life, something that we are uniquely qualified to do.  I also believe that when we do our thing, it will provide value to other people in some way.

Further, I believe that collectively our things fit together in a way that could make the world the place I think it was intended to be … heaven.  Yeah, I’m a dreamer, an idealist.  Sounds nice though, doesn’t it.

If only we could live a dog’s life.  What if we innately knew what our thing was?  Then we could spend our time becoming the best we could possibly be at doing that thing.  We could ignore everything else, in fact we would want to.  All we would want to do are the things that help us become better at what we are supposed to be doing to make the world a better place.  Wouldn’t you be unceasingly happy if that was how you were spending your time every day?

The more I think about this, the more I am convinced that we do all have a specific purpose, a calling.  It is calling from within us, telling us what to do, and what not to do.  We are happier when we listen and do what we are being told.

Think about it.  How do you feel when you are doing something that (1) is in line with your talents, (2) you find interesting, and that (3) benefits others in some way?  Now contrast that feeling with times when one of those three components is missing.  They are very different feelings, aren’t they?

When you are being your true self, that person you are meant to be, you are happy.  The further you stray from yourself, the less happy you become.

Test this theory for yourself.  Gauge your level of happiness at any time and examine what you have been doing to generate that feeling.  I’ll bet you are happier when you are doing things that are in line with your talents, interests, and the needs of others.  We are happiest when we are doing something we enjoy and that others appreciate.  That brings meaning and fulfillment into our lives.

It is so logical, so simple.  Why then is this not the way of the world, everyone doing their thing and living happily ever after?  Do we know what we should do, but resist it?  Does it seem too hard so fear creeps in?  Are we peer-pressured away from doing our thing and being ourselves?  Is our one size fits all educational system not geared toward helping us find our true self and our purpose in life?  My answer to all these questions and many more like them is yes.

So what can we each do to overcome the inherent difficulty in finding and being ourselves?  The first word that comes to my mind is, Explore.  Take time to identify your talents and your interests.  Then figure out what you can do with them to provide value to others.

If you are lucky you may find that what you are doing now is your thing.  Congratulations!  If not, keep searching.  There is nothing more important in life than finding and doing that thing that makes you happy, and as a by-product that serves to help others be happier as well.

If you want to learn more, check out chapter 10, “Mission Finder” of my sAint Me?! book or Chapter 8, “What’s Your Game” of Playground Heaven, which provide a step-by-step process for finding your thing, your calling, your mission, your game, whatever you want to call it.  I’m thinking of developing an on-line course that will walk you through the process as well.  Let me know if you would find that useful.

In the meantime, here’s your challenge for the week.  Identify one thing that you do which is not in line with your true self.  To be more specific, pick a behavior that you dislike.  Like maybe you are too agreeable to doing things you really don’t want to do.  Or you go along to get along too often.

Whatever it is, choose something that you want to change, that is not in line with how you really want to act.  Then do what you really want to do next time you encounter that situation.  It will take some courage and maybe a leap of faith that things will turn out okay.  But you know you can do it, and you know you should do it to be yourself.  If you don’t, who else will?

Here’s to living a dog’s life by being who you were meant to be:-)  Scott

You Can Do It!

Coming soon – The Summer Olympics Games! Having something to look forward to always helps in maintaining our happiness.

Watching the Olympics reminds me of the greatness we are all capable of achieving.  Not necessarily in sports, but in playing your game in life.  You know, the thing you are good at and that you spend most of your time doing.  That thing that you do for the world to make it a better place.

Anyway, there are always a few truly amazing and memorable moments at every Olympics.  One in particular has stuck with me.  It occurred at the 1996 summer Olympic games during the women’s team gymnastics competition.

Team USA was narrowly leading Russia going into their final event, the vault.  The next to last American gymnast to perform fell during both of her vaults, putting enormous pressure on 19-year-old Karri Strug to secure the gold medal.

Imagine being in that position.  You have worked your whole life for this one moment to arrive.  Now with tens of millions of people watching, you finally get your chance to fulfill your lifelong dream of being a gold medal winner.  And not just for yourself, but for your team and the entire nation.

To add to the drama, Kerri fell on her first vault attempt and injured her left ankle.  She didn’t know it at the time, but she had torn two ligaments.  Thankfully she had one more chance. She limped all the way back to the start of the runway, prepared for her final vault, and heard her coach, Bela Karolyi shouting: “Kerri, you can do it! You can do it! You can do it!”

With a tear rolling down her cheek Kerri ran, flipped and twisted, and executed a nearly-Screen Shot 2020-02-28 at 9.51.21 AMperfect landing on both feet.  She then immediately lifted the left foot and hopped on the right as she took her post-routine bows.  Then she fell to her knees in pain. She had done it, she sealed the win and gold medal for team USA!  It gives me the happy shivers and makes me smile every time I watch it.  You can view the minute-long version here.

When asked about her coach’s words of encouragement Karri said, “I think it’s kind of strange that being the best gymnastics coach in the world, that’s all he came up with. But in a competition, when he’s really excited and being positive… you’re like, yeah, you’re right, I can do this, and I will do this.” She did do it!

I think of one word when I look back on that moment, Courage.  And when I need a little en-courage-ment to do something I know I can and should do, I think of the simple phrase that worked for Karri: “You Can Do It!”  I actually hear it in the voice and unique accent of Coach Bela Karolyi.  Here’s a 7 second version of that if you’re interested.

If you think about it, it takes courage to do everything in life that is worthwhile.  Figuring out what you are good at and pursuing it to the absolute best of your ability.  Finding the love of your life and committing to that one person for the rest of your life.  Being a parent most definitely takes courage.

Earlier in this series we talked about the 7 heavenly virtues (Charity, Kindness, Patience, Chastity, Temperance, Diligence, and Humility) that we can use to battle the 7 deadly sins in order to live our best and happiest life.  I think we need to add Courage to the virtue list.

C.S. Lewis said that “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” I think that means we need courage to have any chance at consistently living out the seven heavenly virtues.

It also takes courage to overcome our doubts and fears. We must acknowledge those doubts and fears, face them head-on, and take action to push through them.  Courage requires thoughtful action, to do something, or maybe even to not do something you would like to do in reaction to a situation.  Yeah, it gets complicated sometimes.

So how do we build our courage?  First, recognize you are already a courageous person, just like the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz.  The Wizard told him that he was a “victim of disorganized thinking,” reminded him of all the courageous things he had done on their journey, and gave him a ‘Courage” medal.  Instantly the lion felt courageous.

We can do the same.  So much of our fear is a result of our own disorganized thinking. We think about fear of failure instead of the opportunity for success.  We talk ourselves out of doing things we know we should do.  We care too much about what others think and too little about what we could do for others.

Courage is an inside job. It requires us to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, to face our fears, to make tough decisions, and to take action.  Others can encourage us, but no one can help us move from fear to courage except ourselves.

I ask myself these questions when faced with a doubt or fear:

  1. What is the worst that can happen?
  2. What are the chances that will happen?
  3. What is the best that could happen?
  4. What can you do to make that happen?

I usually discover that the worst is not as bad as the best is good, and that my ability to make the best happen is more likely than the worst occurring. I use the motivation of the best to overcome the fear of the worst. Try it.

Here’s your challenge for the week.  Identify one of your fears.  Pick something small in the scheme of life.  I chose dancing.  I realized after writing about taking a leap of faith last week that the first step in taking that leap is courage.

That became obvious when the moment of truth arrived and I tried to back out of dancing with Melanie on our 40th wedding anniversary last weekend.  Thankfully she en-courage-d me, or maybe more accurately shamed me into it.  I’ll post the video in the Playground Heaven Living Facebook Group later today.

Anyway, first visualize yourself facing your fear and successfully overcoming it.  See it in detail and see it often. Then when you actually face that fear, you will already know you can overcome it.

Relax, close your eyes, imagine a situation, be courageous, and win. Your imagination is a powerful tool. It doesn’t cost a thing and is always available for your use. You can use it to cause fear and failure, or courage and success, your choice.

Now take action.  The best way to become a courageous person is to act like a courageous person. You have already conquered your fear in your mind, now make it happen live. Nothing changes until we face the thing we fear. Don’t wait; act now.

You must get outside of your comfort zone and take action. It is the only way, there is no shortcut, sorry. But great news, overcoming a fear results in instant happiness and confidence that you can do the same with all your other doubts and fears.

Here’s a last little tip to feeling more courageous. Try this.  Slouch, frown, and take fast short breaths for a while. How do you feel? Now stand up tall, smile, and take slow deep breaths.  Now how do you feel?  I bet you feel more relaxed, confident, and courageous doing the latter. You can do this anytime to be that brave person you know you are.

You Can Do It!  Scott



Leap of Faith Year

2020 is a leap year, we get an extra day of happiness:-)  It happens this Saturday, February 29.  Do you know why?  I didn’t, but do now.  Here’s what I found out.

A leap year occurs every four years to help synchronize the calendar year with the solar year, the length of time it takes the earth to complete its orbit around the sun, which is about 365¼ days.  If we didn’t add a day to our calendars, the seasons would gradually shift from their traditional time-frame causing us to have Christmas in July for instance.

And get this, the length of the solar year is actually 11 minutes and 14 seconds less than 365¼ days. To compensate for this, a leap day is not added in a century year unless it is evenly divisible by 400. So the year 2000 was a leap year, but 2100 won’t be.

Hey, why is it called a “leap” year anyway?  Because each date on the calendar jumps ahead two days of the week instead of one in a leap year. For example: Christmas in 2018 was on Tuesday, last Christmas was on Wednesday, and Christmas this leap year will be on Friday.  Interesting, now we know.

Leap years are special for Melanie and me since we were married on February 29, 1980.  This year is our 40th or 10th anniversary depending on how you look at it.  Melanie counts it as both and expects the traditional gift associated with each number.  So this year she is expecting a ruby or something red for 40 years, and something made of tin/aluminum for 10. Which do you think she would like better?

Screen Shot 2020-02-23 at 12.53.14 PM

As a person who has basically never been camping, and who doesn’t like the inconvenience of travel in the first place, buying a travel trailer would be a real leap of faith for me.  Faith that it would be fun and that I could handle all the responsibilities that go along with that lifestyle.

For Melanie it would be one small step, but for me it would be one giant leap.  Maybe that would be a good thing. But right now I’m in a look before you leap mindset.  I want to do it for Melanie, but I have doubts and fears that are holding me back from making that commitment.

Looking back, we should have had doubts and fears about getting married at age 20 as juniors in college.  But we had none.  Were we too young and naïve to know any better?  Probably.  But we somehow just knew it was the right thing to do and that everything would work out for the best.  It has.  Were we right, lucky, or just stubborn enough to make it so?  Probably all of the above.

As we age we seem to lose our leap of faith capacity.  We do all sorts of crazy things as kids and young adults with no fear.  We are blind to risks.  We seek freedom and fun and don’t think much past the desired activity to evaluate all the potential consequences of our actions.  We see the fun and never the potential risks.  Sometimes that is good, and other times not so much.

Somewhere along the way, like in our 30’s, there is a tipping point where we transition from wild abandon, to abandoning the wild thinking.  It occurs when we realize we have something to lose.  We are solely focused on winning in our younger years.  Winning a job and promotions.  Winning the spouse of our dreams.  “Winning” a home, car, and all the stuff we think we need to be happy.

Then one day we realize we have a lot to lose and we go into protection mode.  We start protecting our lead.  That spells trouble.  Instead of continuing to play to win, we begin playing not to lose.  By winning I mean getting better, growing, advancing.  Basically, continually striving to make the world a better place.  That is winning.  All else is losing.

We lose when we let our fears and doubts win, when we continually focus on the downside risk over the upside potential rewards.  We get skeptical.  We think too much and do too little.  We usually talk ourselves out of something rather than in to it.  Inaction is so much safer.  We value our safety and security over all else.  We worry too much and dream too little. In the process, we tend to lose our ability to laugh and have fun.  We might be happy, but we could be happier.

With all of this in mind, here’s our challenge for the week.  Take a leap of faith.  Do something that you know you should do, but that your doubts and fears have been preventing you from actually doing.

Think about your list of woulda, coulda, shoulda’s.  Your “I wish I would have’s.”  Your “I always wanted to, or someday I will’s.”  Pick one thing and just do it.  No more thinking about the reasons not to.  No more risk reward calculations.  No more pro and con thinking.  Just make it happen, whatever it is.  Get over yourself, have no fear, and get it done.

Melanie and I are going to dance together on our anniversary.  It is scary to think about.  We have studied and practiced a little, but we are far from feeling ready.  We are going to do it anyway.  And we are going to have someone take a video that we will post next week for you to prove that we did.  Really scary!

We challenge you to do the same.  No, you don’t have to dance.  But do that scary thing you have always wanted to do.  Share with the Playground Heaven Living Facebook Group what you are going to do.  Then do it, make a video, and share if you dare.  We double dog dare you!  Yeah, this is serious.  You will be happy when you do:-)

Happiness lives on the other side of fear and doubt.  You just have to believe and take that first step.  Who knows, it may even be a defining moment in your life.  It sure was for Melanie and me forty years ago.

To Your Ongoing Happiness, Scott

What’s Your Problem?!

We all have problems.  We deal with them every day.  Can you even imagine going through an entire day without facing at least one problem?  What would that feel like?  Heaven?!

In striving to live the playground heaven life I think of problems as “Bullies.”  You know, those kids who are determined to ruin everybody’s fun just because they are unhappy.  It’s harder to be happy with a bully on the loose.

While people can definitely be bullies, in most cases our problems are caused by situations or things. And if it is a person bullying us, that person is likely to be ourselves.  Yes, we often think, say, or do things that cause our own problems.

My all-time favorite quote about problems comes from Albert Einstein.  “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Here’s my most recent example for your entertainment.  Feel free to laugh at my expense.

As I drove into our garage on a cold and windy day following a trip to the gym, I noticed trash was collecting all over our yard.  It was recycle bin collection day.  The wind had blown the lids open all the way down the block.  Our home is upwind, on the corner, with a hill and trees to stop the flight of the recyclables.

I jumped out of my truck and started chasing and picking up cans, bottles, papers, and the like.  I thought this would be a quick chore, but a seemingly endless supply of litter kept coming.  I felt like a can stopping goalie.  To keep this short, I spent the next half hour collecting and depositing rubbish until the pick-it-up truck came along.

That’s when I noticed I no longer possessed my truck key.  In my haste to clean up waste, I had put the key in my glove covered hand.  I realized I had dropped it in the bin along with my first junk deposit.  Nice work, Scott!  Hey Melanie, can I borrow your truck key … permanently?  Problem solved.  New level of thinking: put your key in your pocket before picking up litter.

Back to the point.  We all have problems that can rob us of our happiness if we let them.  But we won’t let them!  Here are the three keys steps to dealing with any bully, whether they be situations, things, people, or ourselves.

Step Number 1 – Adopt an “I can defeat all bullies” mindset.

  • Accept that there will always be problems in your life. Knowing this truth helps eliminate the element of surprise that causes us to react to problems, rather than to act upon them.
  • Learn to see problems as opportunities. Facing and overcoming them helps us to learn how to avoid them in the future and to build our fortitude.  Look for the good in your bullies.
  • Approach your problems using the virtue of patience, not the vice of wrath (anger). Stay calm, be patient, use logic to overcome your emotions.
  • Never let the bully win. How you choose to face your bully is under your complete control. You can choose to wallow in your sorrows and believe you have a dark cloud always hanging over your head.  Have you heard about the curse of the self-fulfilling prophesy?  Or you can choose to deal with it, solve it, and move on to happier times.  Yes, please do that!
  • Be grateful that your problems aren’t worse. I just learned this one from a guy who has spent the last 33 years in a wheel chair.  He shared his trials with a group of us.  I hadn’t really understood what that kind of life would be like.  Now I do.  His problems are much worse than any of mine.  Interestingly, he thinks others have it worse.  He said that if we could each put all of our problems into one bag, throw them in a pile, see what is in each other’s bag, and then choose one to take home, we would all choose to take our own bag back.   No doubt.

Step Number 2 – Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this really a problem? We often create problems in our own minds.  We imagine things that aren’t there.  We assume things that aren’t true.  People talk us into thinking there is a problem where none exists.  We obsess over little things that don’t matter in the larger scheme of life.  We are good at creating mountains out of molehills.  I have too many examples running through my head to be able to share succinctly, I’ll bet you do too.  Enough said.
  • If it is a problem, is it yours to deal with? People love to give their problems away to others.  I once had a colleague who kept a toy stuffed monkey in his office.  The monkey represented a problem.  As people came to him with problems he would throw them the monkey and state that at the end of the conversation one of them would be holding the monkey, and it wouldn’t be him.  So smart!  Make sure the monkey is really yours to hold onto and solve.
  • Can you do something about it? Sometimes we have problems that have no immediate solutions.  Or the solution is outside of our control.  For the time being we just have to accept it, do the best we can, and patiently await a future opportunity to resolve it. I choose to have faith that things will work out for the best in the end.

Step Number 3 – Beat up on the bully.  Obviously not literally, but do solve the problem.  Once you have determined there is a problem, that it is yours to solve, and that you can do something about it, do the following:

  • Deal with it, don’t delay. No procrastination allowed.  Confront your bully immediately.  Challenge it to meet you after school on the playground.  Don’t let your problems fester.  Don’t let a molehill become a mountain.  Small problems can become big if ignored for too long.  Plus, they weigh heavily on your mind, impacting your mood and ability to focus on the more important things in life, like your happiness.
  • Gang up on the bully. Enlist the help of friends. Two heads are better than one, especially when your one is probably highly emotional and in need of a more calm and logical counterpart.
  • Find the real problem. Often what we think is the problem is actually a symptom of a larger problem.  Like my throwing the car key away is a symptom of a larger impatience problem.  Get to the root cause of your problem.
  • Solve it now and forever. Once you know the real cause of a problem you can find a solution that will solve it forevermore.  Don’t rush to a quick fix that allows for the problem to reappear. Huh, I wonder how long it’s going to take to become patient … 60 years and counting … hurry up!

So, what’s your problem?  Your challenge for the week is identify the biggest problem you face.  The one that is impacting your ability to be continuously happy.  The one that if solved has the potential to grow your happiness exponentially.  Then develop a plan of attack to defeating that bully, and do one thing immediately that leads you closer to winning the battle.  There, I’ve handed you the monkey.  Take care of it well:-)

Tell you what, I’ll join you.  I’m off to solve a problem right now.  I’ll tell you what it was next week.

To Your Happiness, Scott