When life is outa control

I love my students. I learn so much from them; they offer such novel ideas that I totally steal and mutilate, then pass on. Recently one mentioned that her life is “outa control!” which led to a conversation about what we can and can’t control. Physics demands that there is much (mostly all) that we can’t control. Just too many variables. So of course it got me thinking about what we can actually control. And here is what I came up with…

The three things in life that if you do not control them they will control you

  1. TIME. I am a time lord. Well, sort of. I do pretty much what I want when I want. Of course there are limitations (mostly financial) but I keep my own calendar and set my own schedule. As I am a slow learner I have to think back many years ago to a most amazing introduction. I met a guy whose business was buying up small businesses and optimizing them. He at the time owned I think like 42 different companies. How can one possibly do that?? Aside from his business acumen he did one thing: he took control of his calendar! He showed me his planner and it was fascinating. He literally had each day planned in detail, highlighted with different colors to indicate personal, business and family time. It was discipline at an extraordinary level (key word discipline!) He said that if someone wanted a meeting at say 10:30 on Tuesday he would (usually) say “I’m sorry, I have a previous commitment. I can speak with you for 15 minutes on Wednesday the __th at 3:15 pm at my office.” And if that didn’t work for you well too bad. He didn’t need the meeting, you did. What happened though is that he not only practiced the discipline, he also earned the right to via his success (also an expression of discipline.) As only a moderate tangent, the best voicemail message I ever heard was: “Hi, this is Doyle. Sorry I missed your call. If it’s important to you leave a message. If it’s important to me I’ll call you back.”  Hooee! I aspire to that level of obnoxiousness. Sort of…
  2. MONEY. If you don’t pay attention to your money it will wander off like a 5 year old at the park. I remember doing my taxes in like 2005 or something, and was aghast at the disparity between our income that year and what we had to show for it. WHERE DID IT GO?! Well, it wandered off. $50 here, $80 there. We gave generously to our church that year so that was something I suppose, but my wife wasn’t driving a Lexus, we hadn’t gone to Europe for vacation, and at that level of income that’s what folks do. Oh, and we ended up owing the gubmint a wee bit ‘o money… It sucked. I also recall working with a client years ago and hearing him complain that he was broke and couldn’t become who he wanted to be. So I had him give me 3 months worth of his bank statements and lo and behold he let it wander off, $1.19, $2.09 at a time (swipe swipe swipe of the card.) The only difference between he and I was where the decimal place was. And so it goes, the mindless swiping of the card whenever the mood or “need” strikes you, and off wanders your money. What to do? PAY ATTENTION! Saber and I teach the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University class and the principles are spot on. The “Baby Steps” are simple and achievable but require discipline (that pesky word again.) I strongly encourage you to take the class or at least read the book. The Every Dollar app is excellent: you take your take-home income and spend it all on paper. Tell it where it’s going! Use cash whenever possible, STOP SWIPING! And if you really want to have some fun, go to an on-line compound interest calculator (like https://www.investor.gov/additional-resources/free-financial-planning-tools/compound-interest-calculator) and play around with it. Your mind will be blown when you see how just a few hundred bucks a month can turn into millions over time. OVER TIME! Slow and steady is the way to get rich. Apologies to the impatient out there…
  3. ATTENTION. You go where you look. You feed what you pay attention to. I have held forth on this before so I won’t belabor the ways to do it. Suffice it to say that the intentional control of your attention is the most important discipline you can work on. The previous two will fall into line when you control what you pay attention to! The vast majority of people in the world have no sense of themselves outside their emotional awareness. Judgmental perhaps but the evidence is there. War, famine, greed, ignorance. All have their roots in the (childish) emotional mind. Fear, impatience, selfishness, the same. Socrates said “The unexamined life is not worth living.” One cannot examine their life and the patterns therein without the ability to control attention; the emotional mind will drag you off and stick your head in a bucket of suck (the propaganda of the mind) and you won’t learn anything. Anxiety and depression are notorious life-sucks, but with skillful teaching and practice you can literally turn your mind away from them. With all due respect to those who suffer, oftentimes medication is necessary to get you off dead center and maybe even keep you on track long term. They are serious problems and I don’t want to invalidate the experience of them.

All of these elements of control have one thing in common: discipline. I think discipline can be learned, and it doesn’t take a drill sergeant to teach it. You have to know why you’re doing it. Identify your why and you have made a good start. Sick of being broke? Start by learning the basics. Sick of being a slave to others? Get a planner. Sick of being “sick”? Practice mindfulness.

Consistent effort over time equals behavioral change. It’s an equation 🙂 Take charge of these things and you are well on your way to becoming a truly free human being.


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