What You Gain From Sitting in the Fire

My alarm trills. It’s a cruel imitation of a bird’s chirp welcoming a new day. Except it’s too early for the birds. Or for most humans, for that matter.

But still I get up. Just as I have most every morning for the past four months.

Not because I really want to.

But because I know that the benefits are worth the temporary discomfort.

After I swallowed the first mug of coffee, I strapped the pup into his weighted pack in preparation for our morning power walk, the reason for the early start. Like me, he’s groggy, yawning and stretching as I try to secure the clasps of the pack on his undulating body.

Our first few steps are a bit creaky as we shake off the remnants of sleep. But by the time we exit the cul-de-sac, we’ve hit our stride.

Even as I dread the shortened nights of sleep and the often-unfavorable weather, I’ve come to enjoy our morning exercise. This morning, we got to gaze at the full moon for much of the course. Other times, we get to see the neighborhood fox on a pre-dawn hunt or the deer grazing in someone’s yard until we surprise them with our arrival.

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The local fox in the daytime.
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The full moon in the pre-dawn hours this morning.

 

I listen to podcasts over our hour-long trek, but it’s mostly a time for me to think. Which at this time of the year, often means that I’m reflecting back on how the school year has gone, considering the lessons I’ve learned and the adjustments I want to make for next year.

Much of my consideration is directed towards my 6th graders, because in many ways, they have the biggest challenge and growth potential over the year. I think about the ones who’ve made it, who successfully navigated the unfamiliar trial of accelerated math. And I think about those that didn’t quite make the cut.

All of these kids have to demonstrate the ability just to be accepted into my class in the fall. So why are some able to overcome the challenge and others never quite find their stride?

As I turn a corner, I catch a whiff of a fire pit that must have hosted a fire the night before. I smile as I think back to a recent yoga class. Although I certainly wasn’t smiling during the class.

The instructor apparently had some sort of vendetta against quadriceps that day, as we seemed to spend the majority of the 75-minute class in some sort of squat or lunge posture.

“Stay with it,” the teacher said, “You grow by sitting in the fire.”

And that’s the answer, isn’t it? The reason that some students make it and others don’t. The reason that some people return to hot yoga even with the anticipation of difficulty and others vow to never return.

The reason that some people make progress in their lives while others make excuses.

It always amazes me how often people who are looking for advice on how to get into shape, how to rejuvenate their finances, how to navigate a relationship or how to organize their homes know what they should be doing.

They don’t struggle with the know-how.

They falter when it comes to sitting in the fire. To do what they know needs to be done, even when the doing pretty much sucks.

 

Sitting in the fire is…

The discipline to exchange temporary discomfort for some future benefit.

The commitment to staying on the path you want for yourself even when the terrain becomes difficult.

The courage to tackle something that may lead to failure.

The faith that the pain isn’t as bad as it feels and that it won’t last forever.

The gratitude that you’ve been given this opportunity to test yourself.

And, at least for me on my morning walks, it’s the knowledge that there’s another mug of coffee waiting for me when I get home.

 

When I left that difficult yoga class the other day, I immediately decided that the efforts were worth it. I was proud in my determination to persist even when child’s pose was calling to me. I felt energized by my perseverance and calmed because my inner critical voice had nothing to criticize.

My students are voicing similar sentiments as they look back at their year. They share how hard it’s been. Remember those moments where they wanted to give up and return to the safety and ease of an easier class. And then satisfaction and self-respect creeps into their countenance as they recount those periods of intense effort and the gains that were made from the achievements.

Kazh the pup has been able to celebrate as well. We’ve put him through the proverbial fire these past few months. We have high expectations for training and behavior and we’ve put lots of time and effort into teaching him how to be in our pack.

And it’s paid off. His first big even, a March of Dimes charity walk for babies, was this past Saturday. Here he is walking a trail filled with people, dogs and strollers without his leash. And he did awesome. It was amazing to watch his face as he settled into the day and into the expected behavior. He was confident. He was proud. He was accustomed to challenge and so he didn’t let it phase him.

 

 

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I love how he’s looking at his Daddy to make sure he’s doing the right thing:)

 

When you sit in the fire…

You feel at peace with yourself because your values and actions are in alignment.

You gain confidence in your ability to overcome and persevere.

You become stronger with every fire you endure.

You feel honor for keeping your promise to yourself.

And you feel empowered by your ability to make it through.

 

When I finally pulled out of the driveway this morning to go to work, I was a little more tired than I would have been if I had spent that extra hour sleeping. But I was happier that I didn’t simply hit the snooze button.

Because although I have regretted making excuses, I have never once regretted sitting in the fire.

 

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Looking For a Challenge

Kazh’s training is progressing well. He’s super-responsive, wants to please his humans and hasn’t shown any signs of aggression. Based on observing him in many situations, our biggest obstacles are going to be building his confidence and working to moderate his tendency towards excited dominance behaviors.

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Yesterday, we loaded him up with a weighted pack and brought him to a local park to walk the trail before we approached the off-leash dog area.

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Almost immediately, we encountered another dog on the trail that had the excited energy that seems to trigger Kazh to respond with a similar intensity. We didn’t remove Kazh from the situation, rather we deliberately approached it. Brock immediately corrected and redirected Kazh’s attention until he was again calm in the presence of that other dog. A short time later, we again crossed paths with that dog on the circular path. “Oh, good,” I said when I saw the dog approaching, “Another opportunity for Kazh to learn.”

And he is learning. In the ten short days he has been with us, he has improved in almost every dimension.

It would be easy for us to simply avoid the situations where he struggles. We could keep him away from excited dogs on the trail and refuse him entry to the dog park when the energy is too high. He would still be a perfectly awesome dog.

Yet he would also be limited by the challenges that we refused to allow him to master. And without those opportunities to learn from his mistakes, he would never have the chance to become better.

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How often do we do similar in our lives? How frequently do we approach those situations that we struggle with instead of merely avoiding them?

Yes, you can a perfectly amazing person even if you never approach those things that challenge you. Yet by meeting them head-on, you are giving yourself an opportunity to overcome them.

And you never know what you’re capable of until you try.

 

 

The Problem With Doing What You Know

When I first started teaching math, I followed the general wisdom of the time that the majority of independent practice should take place outside of the limited classroom time.  As I was advised, I took grades on homework completion, quickly glancing at thirty-plus student papers filled with equations before going over the answers.

At that time, if you had asked me which students would be successful in algebra at the end of the term, I would have replied confidently, “Well, the ones who do all their homework, of course.”

I would have been wrong.

Because what I was unaware of at the time is how many of the students were completing their homework, yet because of some critical misconceptions about the topic, did every problem wrong. Even worse, when the class went over the assignment, they discounted their errors as one-time mistakes or simply careless omissions instead of the deeper misunderstandings that they were.

And by asking the students to complete their assignments in the relative vacuum of home, I was providing the opportunity for them to continue to practice the material incorrectly, thus solidifying the errors. Without outside feedback, they lost perspective on their choices and their progress.

Because if we do something enough, we begin to believe it’s right thing.

When the only voice we listen to is our own, we fail to account for our misjudgments and we lose track of improvement. 

When we do only what we know, our established neural pathways and assumptions become deep-worn grooves, lessons practiced and mastered, even if the conclusions aren’t accurate.

It’s easy to operate like those responsible students, dutifully completing every task that crosses our path. It’s easy to believe we’re doing the right thing because we’re doing some-thing. And it’s easy to discount any missteps as purely accidental or careless when they’re really because of some deeper understanding.

Before my first full year of teaching was out, I changed the structure of my class. I gave more time in class for independent practice and I always devised a strategy for students to verify their answers before the bell. I emphasized the importance of mistakes and that refusing to admit one is the worst mistake of all. I focused more on the quality of work completed than the quantity, making deals with the more reticent students that low homework grades could be modified upon successfully mastering a concept on a quiz.

That year taught me the danger of doing only what you know. I initially modeled my classroom on what I had experienced as a student, and the results were suboptimal. My students were practicing the procedures they knew, reinforcing incorrect pathways.

Progress was made only when other perspectives were considered, assumptions were challenged, mistakes were admitted and risks were taken.

Because sometimes the best step to take is the one into the unknown.

Guest Post: How Life’s Struggles Shouldn’t Rob You Of Its Joy

My grandmother has faced so many enormous struggles in her almost 100 years on this earth. And it seems she has emerged from each one wiser and more joyful. Not because of the struggles, but because of her determination to not allow the bad days to steal her smile.

When my own bad days threatened to consume me, I thought of my grandmother and her continued joy. It seemed like a good mindset to strive for.

Guest poster Dave Scott has also reached that mindset and he shares with you his story along with some encouragement to keep your smile bright.

How Life’s Struggles Shouldn’t Rob You Of Its Joy

Life has never been easy for me.

There’s never been an ‘simple-street’ that I got to live on.

My journey on this earth has been one challenge after another, and it often times seems like one monumental conflict.

Can you relate?

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this.

Tourette Syndrome

When I was seven years old, I was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome (TS).

Tourette’s is a neurological disorder that involves uncontrollable repetitive movements or unwanted sounds, called tics.

Some tics that are common to those with Tourette’s are repeatedly blinking the eyes, shrugging shoulders, or blurting out offensive words.

Ever see the Rob Schneider movie, Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo? There’s a scene where he goes on a date with a lady that’s afflicted with TS. It’s actually a hilarious scene, but definitely not for little eyes, if you know what I mean. This scene will give you an idea of what TS is..albeit a bit skewed.

TS isn’t catchy, or dangerous. I got because someone in my family has it. It’s a genetic disorder. And it sucks.

Because I was diagnosed with TS back in the 80’s, there was very little knowledge about the disorder. Many of those in my life were incredibly ignorant about what I was going through. (my family excluded; they were amazing)

I was labeled a “trouble-maker” and “weird” by school counselors, and mercilessly picked on from the age of seven through middle school. (the harassment died down the bigger and older I got)

TS is a part of me. I embrace it. I don’t run from it. I also don’t have any super-crazy symptoms that you would notice, today.

But if you ever notice me doing a weird motion with my face, I promise I’m not chewing on lemons.

Chunk

If you’ve ever watched the movie The Goonies, you’d undoubtedly remember Chunk. He was the main character’s best buddy, and he was also the resident chubby kid.

I resembled Chunk’s body-type from about eight years old until I turned twelve. At twelve, my body leaned up and I’ve been the same, semi-fit shape ever since.

As you know, kids can be cruel. Not only was having Tourette’s tough, but I was overweight as well. It’s like having two strikes against me for the kids who enjoyed making fun of others.

I got into fights (just a few), struggled with depression, felt lonely and sad. I was suicidal and a very angry young man.

Being overweight was nothing short of terrible, coupled with having Tourette’s.

A brush with death

To add to the messiness of life, I then almost died in horrendous skiing accident in December of 1994. I was skiing over Christmas break with my brothers and was attempting to keep up with them.

Trying to keep up with my brothers was my first mistake, as they’re both much better athletes than I am.

In my feeble attempt to chase them, I decided to hug inanimate object, while traveling at a high speed.

I was rushed to a regional hospital where I was immediately thrown into surgery.

While on the operating table, my blood pressure dropped and my heart stopped.

Twice.

I had lost so much blood because of internal bleeding that my heart was fighting to keep beating. I didn’t know any of this, of course, as I was sedated during surgery, but found out afterwards.

Post surgery, I’ll never forget the conversation with the doctors. I remember the doctors giving me their grim prognosis. They told me that I may not walk again, and probably wouldn’t run again due to the injuries. (I fractured my hip, shattered my pelvis, and broke my tailbone)

Life was not awesome in my teens.

I’m also not sure which was worse: being diagnosed with a weird, neurological disorder, the consequences of being overweight, or being paralyzed for a period of time.

The encouragement of your experience

During all this, I heard something incredibly profound.

I heard a pastor say “your experience is your testimony.

This is one of the wisest things I’ve ever heard. The meaning of this nugget of wisdom is simple: your journey in life, however tumultuous, is a period of time that when shared, can encourage others.

My life-experiences have shaped who I am, today. I’m proud of them. I’m grateful for them, despite the pain.

But my story, and yours, shouldn’t be be kept a secret. The intent is to share them, with the appropriate persons and under the right situation.

The trick is to use your experience as a tool to encourage others to rise above their current pain and become better.

Not finding joy

It’s hard to find joy when you’re in a heartbreaking season. There was a time that I was miserable, going through what I did.

You might have a lot of unhappiness in your life. The idea of joy in your everyday routine may seem like a distant memory.

You might have a physical ailment that’s limiting you. You may be suffering from some rare physical condition that’s not ideal. Or you might have a terrible addiction, or be in a marriage that’s completely dead.

Perhaps you’re living through a time of financial or professional stress. Maybe you’re about to become an empty-nester as your child goes off to college only to be faced with the reality of having to get reacquainted with your spouse after years and years of putting the needs of your kids first, and your marriage second.

Whatever you’re going through, there are definitely plenty of reasons that can keep us from finding joy.

You have 2 choices

As humans we were created with a thing called freewill.

Whatever your circumstance, you have the power of freewill, which is the ability to make choices that affect your overall mindset.

When faced with these times, we have 2 options:

  1. Let your circumstance consume you with fear, anger, and self-doubt.
  2. Choose to use your current condition to as a stepping stone to something bigger.

When the doctors gave me my grave outlook, I was angry. I was so angry. But within a year, I was running, jogging and playing soccer. The joy I found took years to find. I had freewill and made the decision to change my mindset, and as a result, the joy came over time.

With my Tourette’s, instead of avoiding people in public for the fear of ridicule, I chose to walk with my head high and chest out, with a sense of God-given confidence that no one could shatter.

I was determined not to let what I was going through define me or keep me down.

What’s your mindset?

Or are you depressed and playing the victim? Or are you willing to approach life differently by choosing joy, instead of being defeated?

Is your choice to simply say ‘I can’t‘, thus self-defeating yourself before you get started, or is your decision one that finds joy in a mindset that lives in confidence that you can accomplish anything through the power of your Creator.

It’s okay to be emotional

Let me add a disclaimer here, so you don’t think that what I’m saying is some kind of always-be-positive-mantra from a Joel Osteen book, or a Deepak Chopra meme.

It is more than okay to be emotional, when facing a difficult period in your life.

In the book, The Emotionally Church by Peter Scazzero, he’s very clear about grieving. Grieving is a natural part of our DNA as humans. It’s how we were created.

Grieving, and more importantly grieving your limitations, is normal and should be celebrated.

It is okay to allow grief and sadness to be a part of your emotional journey, in order to get through hard times. You need to allow this to be a part of your emotional process.

But you can’t live here forever.

Bitterness, anger, and generally treating people around you like a jerk, is not part of the healing process when experiencing hardships.

And perhaps that’s you. If you’ve spent a period of time in your life, whatever the length, being mean, letting bitterness, anger and frustration rule your emotions then you have some apologizing and reconciling to do. I’d encourage you to do some introspection and then create a list of people that you need to reconcile with, because chances are you’ve allowed your feelings to hurt those around you.

Again, it’s okay to be emotional and extend yourself grace. We are often our worst enemies when it comes to self-criticism. So go easy on yourself, and instead have a plan to grieve, and then eventually you’ll heal and be able to successfully move forward.

Don’t rob yourself

In life you’ll encounter trials. You’ll have moments where you simply want to give up, because you’re facing insurmountable odds. Times where the joy may seem like complete darkness.

But it’s not. Joy is present. It always is.

What are you facing today that is requiring a mindset change, and a good dose of joy?

What joy can you find in your life?

 

self1Dave Scott is blogger, writer, and marketer currently living in Fargo, North Dakota. Dave grew up in the Minneapolis and St. Paul area and is a father, husband, son, and lover of technology. Dave’s not an expert or a guru. He just thinks you’re awesome and want you to know that, too, by writing about topics that inspire and encourage others.

A Different Kind of November Challenge

It’s November.

The leaves are falling. The turkey recipes are circulating. The mustaches are growing. And the internet is awash in NaNoWriMo and gratitude lists.

I love those lists. I enjoy reading how people are thankful for their families, their jobs and their health. I smile when I see their pictures of cooing babies or mischievous puppies. I appreciate the renewed energy that spills from accounting one’s blessings.

Those lists are beautiful.

Heart warming,

But I also think they’re a cop-out.

It’s easy to be thankful for the good things in your life. It’s easy to summon gratitude for the people and situations that bring us joy.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s valuable to take the time to enumerate those things you appreciate.

But it’s even more valuable to find reasons to be thankful for those things which bring us pain or grief or anger.

 

Which leads me to my November challenge.

It doesn’t require that you forsake your razor.

Nor must you write for 30 consecutive days.

You do not even have to share your results with your Facebook feed.

 

But it won’t be easy.

I call it radical gratitude.
Radical because it’s intense.
Difficult.
Almost unthinkable.
But also because it has the chance of being life changing.

Identify the one person or thing or situation in your life that has caused you the most grief. The most pain. The most anger.

Find that dark hole that bleeds you.

That curse.

Maybe it’s an ex. Or an abusive parent. Perhaps it’s your job or lack thereof. Possibly, you face an illness that has stripped your body or had an accident that stole your health in one fell swoop. Maybe it’s not the presence of a person, but the loss of one.

Whatever it is, identify it.

And then be grateful for it. Create a list of ten reasons that you are thankful for your biggest challenge.

You can share it – here or elsewhere – or you can keep it to yourself.

But write it. Believe in it. And then release it.

 

You cannot choose what happens to you, but you can always choose how you respond.

You have the power to turn your greatest challenge into your biggest blessings.

I took this challenge myself several months ago and listed ten reasons I am thankful for my ex.

Read it.

And then write your own.

 

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