Category “featured”

Minding My Marbles

Minding My Marbles

2740 days is what we are given to pursue the things that matter to us (based on an average life expectancy of 79 years and removing things like sleeping, eating, grooming, work, etc.). I began thinking about how I might translate this into something that I could use in daily mindfulness. I decided to buy a bunch of marbles to represent the days given to me then each day move one from the “remaining” pile into the “spent” pile.

Having 3468 marbles–I’m an optimist, I scaled to assume I will live to be 100–didn’t seem practical because it would be very easy for me to let days slip by given such an abundance. Also, that time is broken up by other activities in our daily lives. So it would have meant that I would have had to take a marble every 10.5 days. Sort of defeats the purpose of daily mindfulness. Plus, it was too much to keep track of and I knew I would lose count so I decided to start with 365 marbles. 365 days to live my New Year commitments. Manageable mindfulness for a year.

I also saw this as an opportunity to find mindfulness in the quality of how I spent those days. I decided to use three colors of marbles: green, for days I felt I had spent well, yellow, for days that were okay but could have been better, and red, for the bad days. At the end of each day I would take one of these colored marbles and place them in the appropriate pile. I found some nifty jars at Crate & Barrel to keep them organized.

After a month, here’s where my experiment stands:

Minding My Marbles

24 green, 5 yellow, and 2 red.

I have tried to start a daily gratitude journal on several occasions and couldn’t quite get it to stick. Combining it with my marbles gave me an added incentive to be diligent. Each day, rather than struggling to find something new I was grateful for (or find myself writing about the same things) I would write what it was about that day that made my marble green, yellow, or red. That did the trick for me. I am much more disciplined about writing in my daily gratitude journal now and I have a built in topic to consider as I write: Why was my day good, meh, or bad?

For my greens: 9 came from time with friends and family, 7 involved doing things for others (random acts or mentoring/teaching), 3 days of inspiration, 3 great career moves, and 2 spent getting necessary things done.

For my yellows: 4 had me just vegging out at home and 1 was from a bad day that turned okay by some meditation and proper perspective realignment.

For my reds: 1 from family hardship and 1 from work stress.

Here’s where the experiment started to yield mindfulness benefits. Knowing I would have to “spend” one of my marbles that evening, it made me more aware of the things I planned to do that day. Whenever I was being a lazy layabout, I would ask myself if this is how I wanted to spend my day. If I had a bad day, I thought about how I might turn it around or what I would do the following day so that one red marble didn’t turn into two consecutive reds. I started finding little tricks to shift my day to green. Bad day at work? Do a random act of kindness. Being lazy? Call someone I love and talk for a bit.

If you’re not quite ready to commit to 365 days–I’ll admit it can be quite daunting–then start small. Maybe you’ve wanted to start exercising more regularly. Get 21 marbles and try it for 3 weeks. Ready to really form a lifelong habit? Then bump it up to 90 consecutive days. Whatever activity or habit you need help with focusing your discipline, daily marbles can help.

The inspiration for this article came from this brilliant video representing the time we are given in this world as illustrated by jellybeans:

The Power of "Will"

Yes You Will

“Yes, you will.”

These are the words on my front door that accompany me every time I leave home. I’ve been asked before why I chose “will” as opposed to “can.” Because for me “will” reinforces a certainty as opposed to “can” which suggests a possibility. That reasoning was always good enough for me but as I’ve been studying a new language lately it’s given me occasion to think about the more precise meanings of those words.

Okay, this is about to go #GrammarGeek on you but bear with me, I’m going somewhere with this…

The root of the verb “can” is “to be able.” That you can–are able–to do something does not guarantee that you will. This is also the reason why you want to punch those annoying people in the throat who stare blankly at your, “Can I?”, until you ask, “May I?”

“Will” is an auxiliary verb that informs us of a future tense of the verb it accompanies. In the case of “Yes, you will,” “will” accompanies an implied “to do” as in, “Yes, you will (do it).” Of course, in English, there is another meaning for “will” which could be used as a polite request but we won’t get into that right now.

Alright, so what’s up with the boring grammar lesson? It’s this…language exists for us to express our meaning and intent. Words have power and I placed these words on my door so that each time I leave home I am placed in a mindful state for my intentions for the day. It is precisely this mindful state and confidence of certainty that have allowed me to have amazing experiences conventional wisdom would have said were improbable.

Carefully selecting my words in different scenarios has shaped dramatically different outcomes for me. You’ve encountered this before in your personal or professional life…you are talking with a particularly difficult person who can’t seem to open their mind to the possibility of things. These are the people who are the first to tell you why something can’t work, why you shouldn’t do something, or what restrictions and boundaries prevent something from happening. Your discussion gets bogged down in the “can’ts” and never find their way to solutions. Sound familiar?

More than likely, those conversations involved phrases like “can we” or “could we” or maybe even “should we.” You might have asked, “Could you get those reports to me by 9 a.m.?” Nope. I’ve got too much to do. I’ve got other things taking priority. Instead, what if you asked, “What would it take to get those reports first thing in the morning?” If I finish this other report you asked for first. If I skipped that useless status meeting this afternoon. Great. This report is more important than the other one so put that one on hold. I can cover for you in that meeting. Thanks. I will get it to you first thing. It’s the use of the phrase “what would” (or “how would”) that automatically suggests to the person you’re speaking to that there is a solution, so now let’s figure it out together.

Consider this the next time you need to ask for a day off or a raise. For most businesses these days, “Can I have a raise?” invites explanations of why you can’t. We’re not doing so well. The economy is tough. Sales are down. I just had to let people go and you’re asking for a raise? Instead, if you were to ask your boss, “What would I need to do to get a raise?” or “What would it take for me to get a raise?” it opens up the discussion for solutions. If we improve our numbers this quarter. If you close that deal. If we find a way to reduce margins. It might not be easy but it’s better than “no,” right? You can take actions on “ifs” but the “nots” will stop you dead in your tracks.

In addition to using the word “will” in place of “can” for yourself, try seeing what effect it has as you interact with others. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised how differently it plays out. That’s “will” power.

Okay, I have to admit, that last bit was a bit forced (and super cheesy). But give me a break, I just dropped some knowledge on you. They can’t all be gems (nor will they).

My Personal Report Card

My Personal Report Card

Two years ago I came to the realization that my life was dangerously unbalanced. Okay, to be honest, I had known it for a while but was in some serious denial. If I ignore it, it will just go away, right?

I had neglected my health for far too long and was bouncing between periods of extreme stress. Chances to catch my breath were growing too infrequent. I wasn’t taking enough time to pause for reflection and appreciation. My body was on the verge of collapse and I was risking my long-term health.

Thankfully, I had a wake up call before it was too late and was able to recover. It’s taken a couple of years of living healthier, forming lifelong habits, and a re-balancing of my priorities but I’m in a much better place.

Still, I don’t yet trust my intuition on maintaining balance without some built-in precautions. Old habits die hard. In order to help protect myself from growing neglectful I decided to put together a personal report card. I wanted to focus on four areas of my life: health, wealth, wisdom, and happiness.

I didn’t want to go crazy with too many metrics on my personal report card. For one, even the most exhaustive of lists will fail to capture every important aspect of my life. Secondly, I’d simply go mad obsessing over too many data points. It’s just not practical.

So instead, for each specific area in my life I selected a few key indicators to signal if I was straying too far off balance. Better to have a few data points I can track faithfully than an overly ambitious list that I abandon in a few weeks.


My Personal Report Card:  Healthy

Depending on your current health situation other points might be important for you to track. I’ve chosen a few metrics that aren’t too onerous for me to track on a weekly basis. I’ve been doing it consistently for over 2 years so I think it’s fair to say it’s become habit at this point.

The combination of weight plus percent body fat1 should keep me honest about whether I am maintaining those numbers in a healthy fashion. Staying under 180 lbs by starving myself or using dangerous health supplements would not be an acceptable solution for me. Good nutrition is table stakes. So is dessert.

It’s important to note that these are my aspirational targets and should not be taken to be what a doctor would recommend. For example, a BP of 130/85 is indicative of pre-hypertension2 and would not be a healthy number to sustain. Considering that 30% of Americans have full-blown high blood pressure3 I think I’m sufficiently motivated to stay out of my C grade.

I should also mention that I get a full blood panel done every quarter and schedule regular visits to the doc just to stay on top of other things these factors wouldn’t highlight. An ounce of prevention, ya dig?


My Personal Report Card:  Wealthy

Again, these are my targets. Some folks will want to have way more cash in reserve. Others might consider saving a year’s worth of income in cash unrealistic. My friends in the Netherlands probably think me insanely irresponsible choosing a 35% DTI ratio as a C but considering that the average American household currently has something north of 80%4, I think I’ll be alright. Choose the numbers that make sense for your situation.

My definition of automated income is that which I earn with fewer than 4 hours of effort each week. That could be investments, self-sustaining businesses, and so on. Just so long as I don’t spend more than 4 hours each week on it.

I choose to grade myself as all-or-nothing. Even if my cash reserves were at 200% of my annual salary but I hadn’t automated any of it then I couldn’t claim anything above a C. Similarly, my debt-to-income ratio may be way below 20% but I’m still a C if the other objectives aren’t achieved. I’m deliberately setting aggressive targets for the financial aspect of my life.


My Personal Report Card:  Wise

“Wise” is probably a bit of a misnomer. Perhaps knowledge or lifelong learning are more appropriate but they don’t roll off the tongue as easily as “wise.” I thought about how I would measure my pursuit of wisdom for quite a while. The points I’ve chosen by no means guarantees wisdom. What’s missing from this picture is the actual content. If I’m just reading drivel then I’m not making the right investments in gaining meaningful knowledge. If I’m not writing about and discussing thoughtful ideas then attaining wisdom is a bit dubious. Talking to strangers isn’t in itself a path to learning.

What these things do, however, is create an opportunity for learning. Selecting books that enrich my mind, sharing ideas in my writing and inviting conversation, and taking the time to connect with another human being in our shared human experience all help create opportunities for learning.


My Personal Report Card:  Happy

This one is sure to be a point of debate. After all, how does one measure happiness? Originally, I only had healthy, wealthy, and wise on my list with the thought that if I deliver on those areas of my life happiness would follow. Perhaps it will. But I was uncomfortable with leaving it out because I could see a scenario where I get A’s across the board and still be unhappy. They also fail to capture the things that I do for no other purpose than pure joy. The Dalai Lama said, “The purpose of our lives is to be happy.” Why else be healthy, wealthy, and wise if not to be happy?

I’m generally a really happy person. Spend fifteen minutes with me talking about my passions and purpose and it would be hard to deny that I’m very happy where I am. My concern was allowing contentment to keep me from pursuing my potential for greater happiness. Through that lens, then I suppose my happiness grade is more about the degree of happiness since unhappiness would be fairly apparent.

I decided that the best way to track my happiness was to see how well I was living up to two of my values: turn potential energy into kinetic and part ways leaving others feeling enriched. I’ve found I feel most happy and fulfilled when I am living up to my values and purpose.

I’ve got 360 Things I’d like to experience in life. Making sure that I experience two of them per quarter seemed like a good practice for happiness.

Some research suggests that the act of smiling can positively influence mood and health. At the very least I’m pretty sure smiling won’t make me less happy. It’s fun to smile. It’s infectious. Plus, if you smile mischieviously people think you’re up to something. That makes me giggle inside.

I like the idea of tying random acts of kindness to my happiness. I’ve been very blessed in life. Spreading a bit of that blessing to others without agenda or expectation of reward brings me happiness and increases the happiness out in the universe. Karma, son.

I’ll admit, the measures I’ve selected can seem insubstantial and a bit like sandbagging but they can also be a forcing function to be mindful of my happiness. That’s good enough for me. I’m fairly certain that their opposites would make me unhappy. At present I’m a B. That doesn’t freak me out it’s just a relative degree of happiness that says I’ve got room to get to an A. Though I’m blowing my 360 List out of the water this year, I need to be doing more smiling and random acts. All-or-nothing, remember?

People way more brilliant than I have thought about the nature of happiness more intently. I don’t know if these are the right measures or if I should even bother. I just wanted to take some action to ensure I wasn’t defaulting to, “I’m happy…ish.” If you’ve got other suggestions on how I might better track my happiness, please share in the comments below.


My report card is meant to be a tool of empowerment. A reminder of intention. An impartial observer to help me avoid drifting into complacency and neglect. A chance to be grateful and celebrate my blessings. A scale to measure balance.

What it’s not is an inflexible blueprint of my life. Nor an exhaustive measure of the quality of my being. Nor a roadmap to Nirvana.

Perhaps it might even be unnecessary in the future. For now, it’s data and mindfulness. How I define each grade level will change over time and will be subject to the ups and downs of my life. I will have my good days and bad. I may only get a passing grade once in a while. And that’s okay. At least I’ll be in a better position to understand why.