Decisions, Decisions, Decisions – Part 1

In last week’s post, Multiple Choice Gone Mad, the topic of being inundated with choices was addressed. The questions posed were: “How can we reduce the number of decisions we make daily? Is this even humanly possible? What tips do you have for making this happen?”

The discussion produced a variety of tips and perspectives related to decision making. In addition, a couple of posts from blogs I read regularly added another dimension to approaching decision making. The tips below and in next week’s Friday post come from these sources. Some of the points overlap, but all provide solid ideas worth consideration, especially if overwhelmed, busy and stressed commonly describe your life.

  1. Don’t waste decisions on the trivial. Eliminating possibilities and options where possible is good advice suggested by Mel Corbett. For example, a year ago I underwent a simplification process that involved reducing my wardrobe (I only wore about 20% of it anyway). Because I have less to choose from, my time is not spent on what I consider a trivial decision. I realize this example does not fit everyone, but everyone has some way to minimize trivial decisions.
  2. Optimize decision making. Because this is a new way of thinking for me, I’ll let Mel Corbett’s words explain this point. Mel said, “Optimizers make a decision based on minimum requirements and a maximizers compare all the options to find the best. It’s harder to choose the best vs. which one meets your basic needs. The optimizer’s decision is less complex than the maximizers, leaving her more decision making ability than the maximizer.”
  3. Let others make their own decisions. As a mom, this point goes to the heart. I try to help my boys make good decisions and all too often end up doing their thinking for them. Instead, I need to do what Mark Allman recommends, which is to “not take or accept making decisions for other people. Part of their growth is making decisions, so don’t do it for them or let them push it to you.”
  4. Get help when appropriate. Many of our decisions fall into areas about which we know very little to nothing. When this happen, leaning on an expert is a good idea. Whether choosing a new cell phone or buying a vehicle, consult the ones who have been there. This can mean finding a trustworthy salesman (they do exist), or it can mean reading user reviews online. There are a variety of ways to receive experienced advice to help make decisions.
  5. Schedule decision making. As noted in Multiple Choice Gone Mad, the more decisions we make in a day, the more run down we can get, and the less able we become to make good decisions. Be aware of when you are mentally at your best, and try to make big decisions at that time.
  6. Simplify. Simplifying is a very personal and individualized process. What one person considers simple, another may consider overwhelming. Whatever “simplify” means for you, pursue it. There are a variety of resources under Simplify in the Victory! section of Struggle to Victory to aid you in this pursuit.
  7. Prioritize. Loren Pinilis posted a terrific article that clarifies this point nicely. In Why Covey’s Big Rocks Illustration Is Wrong , Loren explains that sometimes the best decision means choosing not to cram yet another “pebble” into your “bucket.” Kelly Combs in Choose Well also emphasizes prioritizing decisions and even takes the point to another level by discussing temporal versus eternal decisions. Making the eternal decisions first shapes all else in our lives.
  8. Create margin. This begins with learning to say “no.” Over-commitment plagues our society like a disease, and people live stressed and overwhelmed as a result. Create margin by choosing to let space exist. Dr. Richard Swenson has several books on this topic, including Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. Swenson’s books provide a plethora of tips and ideas for creating margin.
  9. Systemize where possible. This point speaks toward habits. Find decisions that can be done almost automatically. For example, I have 5 social networks I follow, and I have a system for checking them regularly. Because socializing is not my area of strength, I must deliberately follow a system for doing so. This helps reduce my decisions in that I don’t have to fight with myself to complete them; I simply follow the system I have in place.
  10. Group decisions to avoid needless repetition. What decisions do you make over and over again that could be grouped together and made at once? Choose on Sunday evening what you will wear for the week. Cook a week’s worth of meals every Saturday. I group decisions with meal planning by scheduling meals for a month at a time. Making similar decisions at once can help keep the “What’s for dinner tonight?” type of frustration from hitting you day after day.

Look for additional suggestions next Friday in Part 2. While this week’s tips get at practical “how to” ways of making better and possibly fewer decisions, next week’s list goes deeper into methods and reasons behind the decisions we make.

DISCUSSION: What tips will you begin to immediately incorporate? What additional advice do you have for applying any of the above tips?

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Sunday Reflections – Are You Strong Enough to Admit You are Weak?

Pastor Steve Miller defined weakness as “any limitation you can’t change by yourself.” That definition gives hope. Weaknesses limit but possibility for improvement exists.

The best way to overcome weaknesses is to admit and acknowledge them. So, here goes! Shyness has holds me back in a variety of ways, including connecting with others. Lack of spontaneity causes me to miss out on adventures with my husband and kids. My struggles with patience and perfectionism make pleasing me very difficult. The list continues, unfortunately, but these are the big ones.

Considering my own weaknesses, while not pleasant to acknowledge within and then admit outwardly, takes me down a path of self-evaluation that will hopefully result in improvements in my life.

Automatic Pilot

My instincts and automatic “flesh” reactions with regard to my weaknesses depends on how my physical self feels. Am I hungry? tired? stressed? If any of those conditions exist, and all too often they all exist at once, my weaknesses consume me, and I retreat safely into the places where they protect me. Shyness means not being hurt by others. Sticking to a plan keeps me from the unknown. Impatience and perfectionism allow me to control others in an attempt to create my version of an ordered life. They create a comfort zone that protects my fragile self-esteem. And, unfortunately, one that also keeps me from growing spiritually.

Walking With a Limp

Jacob walked with a limp, and it served as a reminder of His encounter with God (Genesis 32:22-32). Paul had a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Our weaknesses can also remind us of our dependence on God and can counteract the dangerous state of independence. Both Jacob and Paul moved forward, depending on God for strength even in the face of weakness. What Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 helps us understand the strength that comes from walking with a limp.

“Each time He said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So, now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Want the power of God to dominate your life? Acknowledge the weaknesses in your life, and let Him be glorified as you limp through life.

Weaknesses Provide Opportunity

Weaknesses result from being “earthen vessels.” But, weaknesses also allow for the “surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:7). Our weaknesses can keep us from doing God’s will and growing spiritually, but they can also motivate us to keep in daily contact with Him as we learn to rely on Him to overcome the limitations of our weaknesses. God overcomes my shyness by allowing me to teach others. Every time I get in front of a group of people to speak and teach, the overwhelming presence of His power reminds me that in and of myself I am completely incapable.

Ministry opportunities also increase when we become aware of our weaknesses and allow God to use them. Weaknesses connect us with others with similar weaknesses, making us more relatable and authentic. This can’t happen if weaknesses remain unnamed. My oldest son has a personality very similar to mine, shy and introverted. His current struggle with popularity and fitting in remind me of my own struggles over 20 years ago. Because we have this same weakness and because I have walked longer with this thorn than he has, I am now able to minister to him out of my weakness. Perhaps doing so will lead him to dependence on God a lot sooner than it did me. For this reason and purpose, I rejoice that shyness makes me weak.

Weaknesses Promote Fellowship

As we become more aware of our weaknesses, we also become more aware of those who can help us in those areas. God works through others in amazing ways, including through balancing each other through strengths and weaknesses. While shyness, lack of patience and not being spontaneous represent some of the strongest areas of weakness in my life, they also represent the areas in which my husband holds tremendous strengths. He balances me and at the same time challenges me to not let my weaknesses limit my ministry and my witness.

In addition, knowing our own weaknesses helps us to not undervalue weaknesses in others. When I see others struggling with their weaknesses, whether similar or not to my own, I find myself rooting and praying for them instead of being critical of their failures. This fails to happen when I fail to acknowledge and admit my own weaknesses. Instead, I take my weaknesses, project them on others, and then see them as tremendous character flaws. For this reason, I know to look for what bothers me most about others within myself. Chances are, where I am critical of others indicates weaknesses I am failing to address in myself.

Being strong enough to admit you are weak means realizing that you need the power of God in your life. It means understanding that these weaknesses will not go away, that we really don’t want them to, and that only the power of God can turn them into great triumphs. The key again likes with acknowledging them within and admitting them without.  Then we must then do our part, and our part is to let God do His part.

DISCUSSION: When you examine the areas you are most critical about in others, do you see those as weaknesses in yourself? This post illustrates a tremendous struggle with even articulating how weaknesses work in my life. Do you find that same struggle to be true in your own life?

Sunday Reflections – “Are you giving your best?”

When asked the question, “Are you giving your best?” my initial thoughts usually gravitate toward the tasks I am currently working toward accomplishing. Work. Writing. Housecleaning. Volunteer activities. I also think about my physical self such as my efforts toward sports and exercising. All worthwhile activities, but the focus with each really lies only with this life. Sure, an argument could be made that these activities hold eternal value too, perhaps in the example I set and the attitude I possess while accomplishing them. But I have to be honest and admit that I don’t always consider the eternal when initially asked, “Are you giving your best?”

The fact that I am a perfectionist greatly comes into play since I struggle with doing something simply because that’s the right way to do it. Also, I care too much about what others think and am motivated by appearing to be doing my best. People are easily fooled though, and simply performing above average can give the illusion of best. But God knows the difference, and He knows that I don’t always give my best. What’s more, He knows that even when I am giving my best, I often fail to do so for the right reasons, for His glory rather than mine.

Why? What prevents me from giving my best at all times? And, when I feel like I am giving my best, why do I feel the need to seek the recognition and approval of man? These questions have forced a self evaluation, one long in coming and one that needs to take place before my spiritual maturity can progress. As I attempt to truly evaluate myself in a way that will move me toward my absolute best for God, I ask myself the following questions to help assess where I currently am with regard to “doing my best.”

  1. Does the goal sometimes hinder me from doing my best? In other words, am I focusing too much on the future at the expense of the present? Do I need to take my mind off my vision, at least partially, to focus on doing more right now rather than on what I need to do? Am I out of balance and need to redirect myself by Focusing on the Now?
  2. Are my goals temporal or eternal? Do I focus myself more on that which will one day “pass away”? (John 1:17) Or, do my goals reflect my belief in eternity? (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
  3. Do I need to see in order to believe, or am I willing to believe in order to see? Do I need to be quiet and silent for a while like Zacharias (Luke 1:5-25) in order to overcome my doubt? Do I have simple faith in God to be faithful as He has always proven Himself to be? Am I willing to have the faith of a mustard seed knowing He gives me the faith I need to accomplish His will? In other words, am I willing to walk by faith and not by sight? (2 Corinthians 5:1-9)
  4. Am I willing to accept that I need to have doubt in order to have faith? Am I willing to think and question and wrestle and struggle in order to see that He really is true and faithful? (See Faith and Doubt by John Ortberg for more on this topic.) Am I willing to have faith even when I can barely keep up and feel like I might drown?
  5. Can I accept that trials are opportunity for growth rather than simply as obstacles to my happiness and comfort? Am I willing to allow God to help me, knowing that He allows trials (tests) in order to build my faith? (James 1:2-4)

As I consider these questions, I realize the vital role that faith plays in doing my best. I realize that when I let God control my faith through His Holy Spirit, my faith blossoms and strengthens. But when my faith comes from my life circumstances, whether or not I face trials as well as if my focus lies in the temporal or the eternal, I realize that I am allowing my faith to be directed by forces (Satan & my flesh) other than the Author and Perfecter of my faith. (Hebrews 12:2) When my faith is misdirected, so are my efforts.

Perhaps this was too personal of a reflection for you to relate to, or perhaps you understand exactly why this personal reflection is necessary. I don’t know where you stand today, but I do know that when I allow my focus to be on anything except God, my growth becomes stagnant, and my attitude begins to stink. When this happens, I am unable to do my best. Either that, or my best becomes focused on that which does not go on into eternity.

No matter where you are with regard to the above questions, my personal belief is that we all need to assess our attitudes frequently to check The Aroma of Your Heart, and we all need to consider an Attitude Upgrade from time to time in order to truly become the Living Sacrifice and Living Stones that Christ calls us to be.

DISCUSSION: Are you giving your best on the things that truly matter? Is this sort of self assessment tough for you? Why or why not?

Note: This reflection was inspired by a sermon given by Jeff Zachary, associate pastor at New Hope Assembly of God in Three Rivers, MI.

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Follow the Signs

After spending a couple of hours on a specific task with a specific goal and getting nowhere except frustrated and annoyed, I gave up. At least for now anyway. Perhaps it’s my ignorance or lack of skills causing my wheels to spin, or maybe it’s simply a stop sign in the road telling me to wait. What for what? Good question.

What I know for sure comes from experience: pushing through obstacles when there’s a stop sign only causes crashes. Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t push through struggles. I mean, the title of this blog site clearly indicates my belief otherwise. What I am saying is that some struggles exist to change our direction or path, some exist to get us to stop and wait for traffic to clear, and others are meant to simply be pushed through.

Victory always waits on the other side of a struggle, though it is often not achieved the way we envisioned nor does it always look like we imagined it would when we get there.

A Change in Direction: Exercise has always been a part of my life since I was a teenager 25 years ago. Yet, no matter what method, intensity or frequency I choose, my body cannot handle the level of exercise I envision as ideal (think Jillian Michaels). My body has continually sent me messages letting me know what I can and cannot handle (mostly through injury and fatigue). I’ve had to significantly change direction with regard to exercise, and my view of victory in that area has had to change too. Sometimes we must take a different route to our planned destination. And sometimes, the destination has to change.

Stop and Wait: Along the road to any victory, there have been places I’ve needed to stop and wait. The waiting was often just for the traffic to clear before moving forward, but sometimes it was for the purpose of recalculating my route and choosing a completely different path. But always, it seems, the stopping was for my benefit. Sometimes, I needed to rest and refuel. Sometimes, I needed to be protected from the MAC truck barreling through the intersection. And sometimes, I needed to realize I was going completely the wrong way and that my choices to some extent were simply mistakes.

Pushing Through: When I hit 30, my health began to decline. Doctor after doctor and diagnosis after diagnosis, and only symptoms were being treated. I knew there was a root cause, and I was determined to find it. After 10 years of struggling and pushing, the cause was pinpointed (food allergy & several sensitivities), and I’m on the road to victory as my body heals. Had I not pushed through the many obstacles, my health would still be on the decline. Some struggles serve to test our persistence as we push through them to victory. Stopping is not an option. As I hit dead ends along the way, I did need to change routes, but the victory was still waiting at the end of the road.

What is God doing? To some extent, I think the verse “God does not allow a temptation we cannot bear without giving us a way out” (1 Corinthians 10:13) is at work here. He either gives us a way to bear it (push or struggle through), or He gives us another route to follow. Also at work in this is the verse “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). This is where we stop, bask in His protection and grace, and allow Him to be God. In any case, He is offering us guidance and protection.

How do we know? In the daily stillness before Him. In the perfection of His Word. In the act of spinning our wheels. In those places, we find Him directing traffic. Signs are everywhere. We simply have to take time to see and obey them.

Drawbacks vs. Benefits of Simplicity

In considering that Balance Requires Simplicity, we must take time understand that simplicity does have its drawbacks, but those drawbacks pale in comparison to the benefits.

First, simplicity is never complete. It must always be pursued in order to keep complexity at bay. I’ve seen simplicity come and go way too many times both in my own life and in the lives of those I love, and that happens when it’s no longer doggedly pursued.

Second, simplicity makes you feel like somewhat of and outsider since most of the people around you will remain trapped in busyness and overload.

When my life was so busy that I barely had time to keep up with laundry, I guess I just wasn’t bothered that everyone else was that busy too. Maybe misery loves company, or maybe I just didn’t have the mental room to consider the level of everyone else’s busyness when I wasn’t even keeping up with my own.

Third, pursuing simplicity makes you more aware of complexity. Now that I have more margin built into my life, I notice how much others don’t have. They aren’t able to chat and hang out, and they don’t have the time to read, exercise and pursue personal interests. What used to seem like just another busy person now seems like a chaotic life.

Fortunately, the benefits of simplicity by far outweigh the drawbacks.

First, simplicity allows time for pursuing passions. Not until I focused on simplicity did the dream of becoming a writer come to fruition. Having the freedom to pursue God-given passions is truly amazing.

Second, simplicity allows room for quality relationships. Relationships can and usually do complicate life. But, this is one area where complication is welcome. When the rest of life is simple, the complication of relationships seems to bring abundance and joy in amazing ways.

Third, simplicity allows for more flexibility. What makes me happy now is less tangible and more associated with meeting others’ needs rather than just having my needs met. I’m less rattled when my plans fall apart and am able to adapt better than I’ve ever been able to before in my life. As with pursuing passions, the flexibility that comes from simplicity is a truly freeing feeling.

The fact that simplicity sets a person apart from the crowd is disheartening at first. Add to that the realization of how much effort simplicity sometimes requires, and taking a step toward it seems daunting at first. But once you opened the door, simplicity will rush in and tear it off its hinges, and you’ll want to forever leave complexity behind.

DISCUSSION: In what ways would you like to simplify your life?

How to Interact with an Introvert

She sits quietly at the table with this deep wrinkle in the middle of her forehead between her eyebrows. She doesn’t say much, but instead gazes intensely and seems to be deep in thought. About what? Who knows!

Conversations take place around her, and yet she says very little.She occasionally stands next to her husband or a close friend and participates in their conversations, but she rarely starts one of her own. She smiles and makes eye contact yet refrains from holding that glance long enough to invite a conversation. Does she even want to talk to anyone?

Perhaps you’ve seen a person like this maybe at church or even attending a business seminar. Maybe you wonder if she’s even happy to be there. Sometimes, maybe you see her reading. Really? Reading in a crowd of people?

She seems smart, yet you aren’t sure if she really wants to talk to anyone. You wonder why she doesn’t talk much. I mean, who doesn’t like to talk, right?

Should you approach her? Would she just ignore you or perhaps find an excuse to escape?

If you’ve ever crossed paths with an introvert, perhaps this description sounds familiar. Many of my extroverted friends said they wondered most of these things about me at some point. Fortunately, they now accept that I simply am not as social as them.

5 Tips For Interacting With An Introvert

The following will help extroverts feel more comfortable approaching an introvert who seems content left alone as well as better understand what’s happening behind that intense gaze.

  1. Approach them. Introverts generally want connection, especially if they put themselves in a social setting. The more you approach them, the more likely they will reciprocate in the future because they are comfortable and feel safe doing so.
  2. Let them listen. They are good at it, and they have less of a need to talk than you do. Many extroverts find that relationships with their introverted friends allow them to sort out their own thoughts in the way extroverts prefer… out loud.
  3. Let them think. Introverts typically take longer to form their responses than extroverts. Silence really is okay. Be sure to pause occasionally because after thinking for a while, introverts usually have something very valuable worth hearing.
  4. Revisit conversations. Chances are, an introvert has done some thinking since the last time you talked and has more to say on previous conversations. Go ahead and revisit what you talked about the last time you chatted.
  5. Remember that it’s all about energy. Introverts get their energy from time alone. Extroverts get their energy from interacting with others.  Neither is wrong but both impact an individual’s approach to social situations.

Introverts In The Church

In Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture, Adam McHugh looks in detail at the life of an introvert and his/her place in the Christian church. What McHugh says applies really to introverts in any organization though.

The book provides advice and insight into how introverts view the world and how they can find their place in an extroverted culture. The above 5 tips were not directly taken from McHugh’s book but from this author’s life as an introvert; however, they are certainly infused within the book.

McHugh talks about how introverts feel constantly pushed to be more outgoing and to change who they are at the core to properly serve Christ. With good intentions, extroverts sometimes encourage introverts toward extroversion not realizing that this is like asking a cat to be a dog.

At their core, introverts want desperately to not just be who God created them to be and for others to embrace and support them in that endeavor. They want to be authentic, and as McHugh says,

“the central component of character is authenticity. Someone with character acts in unison with his or her God-given nature.”

These 5 tips on how to interact with an introvert will hopefully serve as a starting point for extroverts who struggle understanding their less social counterparts.

DISCUSSION: What tips, thoughts, ideas do you have for introvert/extrovert interaction?

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