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great article from http://impossiblehq.com on remote work.  been looking for a ton of advice on this lately. this looks unique and strong. trying this next week.

The Big Problem

If you work for yourself or from home, you’re probably familiar with “fake work” - work where you’re not really doing anything. If you have a day job, a lot of the crap that your boss sends your way may feel like this too – work for work’s sake.

However, if you’re an entrepreneur, it can be even worse.

You find yourself spending hours at your computer, dutifully “working” but getting very little done. You finish each day with the dreaded feeling that you’re behind, and that you’re only falling farther and farther behind. You’re buried below an ever-growing to-do list. There’s a feeling of dread that tomorrow is coming, and that it’s bringing with it even more work that you probably won’t be able to get ahead on.

Meanwhile, deep down, you know you’re not being effective 100% of the time. You know you’re secretly wasting time browsing Facebook and Reddit, answering email, and doing stuff that simply doesn’t move the needle in your business. You spend hours at your computer, making almost no progress on the stuff that needs to get done, yet feeling like you’re working longer hours than ever.

How do you fix that? How do you become more productive, focus more, and get more stuff done in less time?

The answer: workplace popcorn.

Here’s how it works:

Workplace Popcorn

Create A List Of Things To Do Today

List out everything you need to do today. Try to be as specific as you can. Ensure that each item on your list is a clear action rather than a vague intention.

By the end of the day, you want to be able to look back at each item on your list and say, “Yes, I did it,” or “No, I didn’t do it”. If you’re not quite sure if you’d be able to say yes or no at the end of the day, I’ll save you some time: you’re not being specific enough.

todo list

Here are some examples of tasks that you could and could not add to your list:

Bad

  • Get some stuff done.
  • Make some progress on Impossible Fitness.
  • Get started on blog posts.

All of these tasks suck. You wouldn’t be able to look back at the end of the day and say, “Yes, I did that,” or “No, I didn’t do that.”

Here’s what you should do instead:

Good

  • Write a post of at least 800 words about my new productivity technique, and send it to Joanna.
  • Write a complete guide to creating your Impossible List (at least 2,000 words), and send it to Joanna for editing.
  • Write a mini guide on the FPC Protocol (upcoming).

I can cross off and either say “yes” or “no” to every single one of these tasks.

A great tool for this part of the technique which I use for my daily tasks list is Any.do. Of course you can simply take this offline and use a notebook. That works just as well.

Break That List Up Into Three Equal Sections

Next, break that list into three sections. These sections should be equal in terms of how much time they’re likely to take to complete. If you’re not sure how long a task will take, guess. It’s okay – you don’t have to get it spot on.

Group #1

  • Task 1 (1 hour)
  • Task 2 (45 minutes)
  • Task 3 (45 minutes)
    • Total time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Group #2

  • Task 1 (1 hour)
  • Task 2 (30 minutes)
  • Task 3 (1 hour)
    • Total time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Group #3

  • Task 1 (30 minutes)
  • Task 2 (45 minutes)
  • Task 3 (45 minutes)
    • Total time: 2 hours

Find Three Locations To Work From

Whenever I move to a new city, the first thing I do is hunt down all the good coffee shops.

cafe

I now have a few favorites that I hole up at to get work done. They were picked based on the following criteria:

  1. Good coffee
  2. Space to work
  3. Outlet availability and WiFi

The chances are that, if you’re in a similar sized city, you’ve got quite a few shops to choose from.

Take your time. Check out Yelp, Google maps, and Urbanspoon, or just walk around and find new spots, whatever. Find at least three different locations to work from that are outside your house.

You can find more locations later but, for now, start with three.

Please note: “Working from home” is the least desirable option here. If you do “work from home”, select a space in your home as your “work area”. Use this space for work only. Resist the urge to work from your bed or couch. It’s comfortable and tempting but you will get approximately zero work done there.

Take Action

Now you’ve done all the lead work already, this part will be pretty simple. Here’s the full two-step process:

Step 1: Go to cafe #1.

Step 2: Start working on action item group #1.

Important: Only focus on the items in action item group #1. In fact, try to forget about the other items on your list. You want to laser in on the action items for this list and nothing else.

Once you finish all the tasks in group #1, get up and move. Close your tabs, pack your bags, and physically move your butt to your next spot. If you can, walk or bike to your next stop. Avoid driving if you can. The physical activity is important.

Use this time to practice your zen, take a break from your screen, and get some movement into your day. Keep your phone in your pocket, and move. Take a break away from work for at least thirty minutes. Whatever you do, don’t go back to the same place you just left.

Biznass Class Option [2] - Switch up your iPod while you’re walking and jam out to a podcast on 1.5x speed. Here’s a good one. :)

When you get to the next cafe, start on the next action item group, and repeat.

Do this until everything on your list is done.

When you’ve completed everything on your to-do list for the day, you are done working. Relax, kick back, and live your life. Don’t take work home with you because that won’t help you get more done – it will just wear you out.

Workstation Popcorn

My Experience

Ever since I stumbled on this idea, I’ve been tweaking it a bit to fit my needs, and I’ve seen an immediate spike in my productivity levels. Here’s what’s happened.

A Few Intentional (and Unintended) Consequences

I Work Fewer Hours

I found that, as well as getting more stuff done, I was also working less time. Instead of working out of a home office, and “always being on”, I’ve been able to get more done and actually finish my work earlier. I’ve also been able to stop bringing work home.

I Get More Done

Okay, so this wasn’t an unintended consequence (it was actually the aim) but, using this system, I’ve gone from writing one to two blog posts a week and getting some other non-important stuff done to writing over six posts a week and getting ahead of the curve on most of my projects.

I Explore More Places

When you have to go to three new places each day, you tend to find yourself roaming all over the city, finding new spots that you wouldn’t normally get to if you stuck to one or two “go-to” spots or if you worked from your home office.

I Sleep Better

This is sort of strange but I’ve found that I’ve actually started sleeping better. Before, I often used to keep myself up at night, wondering whether or not I’d actually done enough for the day and worrying about the stuff I’d have to do the next day. Approaching my day this way has given me a sense of closure at the end of the day, and I’ve been able to relax a little bit. Whenever I start thinking about the stuff I have to do the next day, I just write my ideas down and trust that I’ll knock it out when it’s time to work.

I’ve Don’t Waste Time

With the crazy focus on just three tasks per location, I don’t screw around as much anymore. I force myself to get started as soon as I sit down and I know exactly what I have to do. When I finish my tasks, I get up and leave. I don’t mess around on Facebook, on news sites, or with other time wasters. When I’m “working”, I’m actually working.

I Work Out More

Now that I’m forced to move every two hours or so, I’ve found that I move more overall. As I’ve forced myself to walk or bike everywhere, the default amount of exercise that I get in each week has shot up. Also, since I’ve decided to make myself stop working at certain times each day, I’ve now got much, much more time to actually work out before and after my work day.

I Find That The Hardest Part is Deciding What To Do

If nothing else, this framework has shown me once again that working usually isn’t that hard.Deciding to work is hard. Even worse, deciding what to focus on is hard. The greatest productivity hack in the world is simply deciding what to do. By getting this out of the way of your work flow by doing this at the beginning of the exercise, you leave tons of open space in your work schedule to just get $#*! done.

Custom-Built – How To Make This Your Own

A few things to note:

  • Obviously you can choose to do more or fewer tasks at each cafe. The point is to divide the tasks into different categories that take approximately the same amount of time. Three is usually a good number because it, with just three tasks ahead of you, it’s hard to get overwhelmed.
  • Email is not an important task. You’re not allowed to put this on your list. It can be “end of day” work that you tack on once your other stuff is finished.

  • If you need to complete a task which will require a longer period of focused creation time, make a “focus Oreo”. A focus Oreo is made up of two short sessions which bookend a longer focus session. Feel free to play around with this idea to make it suit your needs.
  • If you want to be really hardcore, don’t use your computer charger for one of the sessions. Instead of imposing an “outside” restriction on your work that you may or may not follow, you’ll force yourself to finish all your stuff before your computer dies. Good luck.
  • This is sort of a macro-level version of the Pomodoro technique, except that, instead of working in 25 minute segments, you’re planning out your entire day. You can combine this with the actual Pomodoro technique for uber-productivity.
  • A productivity post wouldn’t be a productivity post without some mention of music for productivity. This could be a whole post on it’s own (and maybe it will be). Typically, I listen to EDM and it usually puts me into a trance. It also has the unfortunate side effect of making me bounce my head back and forth in the middle of a coffee shop, leaving me looking ridiculous. If you’d like to increase your productivity without looking like an idiot, these tools might help:

That’s it. Plan out your daily task items, and get stuff done. Try it out and let me know how it works for you!

[1] If you’re reading this, random HN commenter, thanks! (Let me know who you are and I’ll credit you properly.)

[2] Biznass Class is an unregistered trademark of TMBA :) (Seriously, you guys should trademark this already.)

Photo credit: Stacy SpensleyAlper Çuğun

 

Workstation Popcorn: How To Become Uber Productive While Working For Yourself | IMPOSSIBLE.

On lifechngr.com I post a ton of business articles, productivity articles and other pertinent information around life in the business world and changes that are occurring right before our very eyes.  Well, this post is about something that changed me personally.  Organization.

 

I’m not a very organized person. I like to think I am by saying I keep everything in stacks.  I work on organization by reading books like Getting Things Done or other books about building a system around completing tasks.  I am a task oriented person and I am a doer so this is why I humbly submit to you today that I signed up for @alejandradottv’s blog and spent 3 days organizing as she asked me to.

 

Day One, we cleaned the bathroom counter before bed.

Day Two, we cleaned the counter + picked up 5 things.

Day three, we did one and two and added washing the dishes before bed.

 

Simply. Best. Experience. Ever.

 

 

I tell you what, this changed my life.  After day one, I went to my wife and asked for forgiveness for my frustration around organization and cleaning around the house. After Alejandra’s lessons it totally opened my eyes to where I am missing in my organization at my desk, in my bathroom, at the kitchen sink and places that I could really take ground in improving there.

I feel so much more organized on a daily basis by doing these few things and have a new appreciation for organization.  Now I need to find someone who organizes desks and garages.  :)

Looks like she’s already got a system for that!

Thank you Alejandra, preciate your help.

Link to the site here.

Alejandra.tv | How to Get Organized with Alejandra’s Home Organization Tips!.

Note that some of these tips and tricks will vary depending on which exact iteration of OS X you have.

1. Use Command + Shift + V to paste text without formatting.

Use Command + Shift + V to paste text without formatting.

If you’ve ever copied and pasted text from a website into an email, you’ve experienced the frustration. All of a sudden your email has this chunk of mismatched text, and it takes you at least a minute fiddling with the font options to make it all conform.

For some programs (like Word), the shortcut is Command + Shift + Option + V.

2. If you need to type a special character, the easiest way is to hold down the letter and a character menu will pop up.

If you need to type a special character, the easiest way is to hold down the letter and a character menu will pop up.

From there, you can select the special character you want to use. This will especially come in handy if you’re fond of typing words like resumè, Beyoncè, naïf.

3. Place your mouse cursor over any text and press Command + Control + D to get an informative pop-up menu.

Place your mouse cursor over any text and press Command + Control + D to get an informative pop-up menu.

It includes the dictionary definition, the thesaurus entry, and the Wikipedia entry.

4. Use Command + Delete to delete a file instead of dragging it into the trash can.

Use Command + Delete to delete a file instead of dragging it into the trash can.

No more repetitive wrist ache when you’re mass deleting files from the finder.

5. Invert the colors of your screen to make it easier to read if you’re sitting outside in the sun.

Invert the colors of your screen to make it easier to read if you're sitting outside in the sun.

Just press Command + Option + Control + 8 again to switch it back.

Note that this feature is by default disabled on Mountain Lion, so you’ll have to go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > Accessibility to turn on the feature (just check the box that says “Invert Colors”).

6. The “Purge” command will free up memory when your computer starts to feel sluggish.

The "Purge" command will free up memory when your computer starts to feel sluggish.

It’s less complicated than you think! You simply open the Terminal application and type “purge” into the command line. Keep Activity Monitor open in the background so you can see exactly what’s going on. The first time you do this, you’ll free up 500MB+ of memory. You’ll need OS 10.7+ in order to do this. Watch this video if you need more exact instructions.

7. Get the date to show up in the menubar with just a simple checkbox embedded in your System Preferences.

Get the date to show up in the menubar with just a simple checkbox embedded in your System Preferences.

Open up System Preferences, go to “Date and Time,” click on the “Clock” tab, and check the option “Show Date” under “Date Options.” Now you’ll always know what the date is with a simple glance.

8. If you have a couple different audio output sources that you toggle between, click Option + Volume Icon to get an input/output menu.

If you have a couple different audio output sources that you toggle between, click Option + Volume Icon to get an input/output menu.

Maybe you frequently toggle between using headphones and speakers. This is an easy way to access those audio settings without having to go into the System Preferences.

9. To get the volume or brightness to your exact preference, you can fine tune the settings in smaller increments by adding Shift + Option.

To get the volume or brightness to your exact preference, you can fine tune the settings in smaller increments by adding Shift + Option.

10. When restarting your computer, keep it from making that notorious startup sound by holding down the mute button.

When restarting your computer, keep it from making that notorious startup sound by holding down the mute button.

If you’re in the middle of class, or just work in a super-quiet office, this trick will save you from ruining everyone else’s concentration.

11. Along the same lines, press Shift + the volume button to turn the volume up or down without making noise.

Along the same lines, press Shift + the volume button to turn the volume up or down without making noise.

12. Did you know that the Preview application provides a handy way to sign forms from your computer? No fax or scanner needed.

Did you know that the Preview application provides a handy way to sign forms from your computer? No fax or scanner needed.

Just open the PDF document you want to sign, click “Annotate” in the toolbar, and then click the Signature drop-down menu. Choose the first option. Sign a piece of paper and hold it up to your iSight/Facetime camera while Preview snaps a photo. It’ll then detect the signature and allow you to add it to your document.

13. You can select any text, right-click on it, and TWEET IT with one click.

You can select any text, right-click on it, and TWEET IT with one click.

It’ll even open the app for you if you don’t have it open.

14. If you just converted to PC from Mac, this little shortcut will let you keep using the delete button the way you’re used to.

If you just converted to PC from Mac, this little shortcut will let you keep using the delete button the way you're used to.

Use the fn + Delete shortcut to delete the letter in front of your cursor instead of behind. Another handy tip: use option + delete to delete the last word typed. You’ll get the hang of it eventually.

source: Buzzfeed - 14 Mac Hacks That Will Change The Way You Use Your Computer.

Here’s a little piece from a great article by PopSci about how you learn, sounds like a ton of old exercise magazines I used to read where one says to work your legs at the start of a workout, the other says the end, and they both show the same results:  
Schoolhouse Science

Schoolhouse Science Irving Rusinow, NARA via Wikipedia Commons
GoDoLearn

When I was in middle school and high school, teachers loved to impart various tidbits of wisdom about the way students learn during lectures, always couched in such a way as to indicate these were scientifically accepted facts. You know everyone learns differently. Do you think you learn better through words or pictures? Did you know you learn different subjects with different sides of the brain?

Welp, they were wrong. Many of the theories of “brain-based” education, a method of instruction supposedly based on neuroscience, have been largely debunked by rigorous science. Brain-based education studies are usually poorly designed and badly controlled. Nevertheless, myths about how we learn persist in the popular imagination, and, most importantly, in educational materials and references for teachers. Here are just a few things we usually get wrong about the way the brain learns:

1. We Learn Best When Teaching Is Tailored To Our Learning Style

Every child is a beautiful, unique snowflake, as the theory goes, and every individual learns in a slightly different way. Some of us learn best by hearing, others by seeing information displayed as pictures, still others by reading words on a page. One study found that there are more than 70 different learning styles, which usually categorize people into dichotomous types, like visual versus verbal or active versus reflective, or, in the case of the Myers-Briggs test, Introversion Intuition Feeling Judging versus Extraversion Sensing Thinking Perceiving. According to what many psychologists label the learning styles hypothesis, instructors should teach in a way that targets our various learning styles, what’s called “meshing.” Sounds fair enough.

Except for years, the evidence has been mounting that a curriculum tailored toward a specific learning style isn’t any more effective than just, well, teaching.

Hal Pashler, a psychology professor at the University of California, San Diego, led a review study on learning styles in Psychological Science In The Public Interest in 2009. He and his co-authors found little evidence to suggest teaching to a specific learning style improves a person’s education. More precisely, to prove that there’s a learning style that you can teach to, you have to prove that people have a harder time learning if they are taught to a style that is not their style. And few studies even test that hypothesis.

“It takes a fairly particular sort of research design to really test whether learning styles really have any utility,” Pashler tells Popular Science. “There are hundreds of articles on learning styles–practically none, a small handful, that used appropriate research design. Their results tend to be negative.”

“The evidence is a great big zero,” Pashler says.Most assessments that identify what a person’s learning style might be are based on self-reported surveys, where people describe how they learn best. But “self report really doesn’t work very well if you’re trying to get into psychological traits,” says Paul A. Kirschner, an educational psychology professor who directs the Learning and Cognition program at the Open University of the Netherlands. People might prefer to learn a certain way–or think they prefer a certain way–but that isn’t necessarily what’s best for them.

(find the rest of the article here) Everything You’ve Ever Been Told About How You Learn Is A Lie | Popular Science.

Krav Maga Technique of the Month: Overhand Direct One-Handed Strike Defense

by A MANLY GUEST CONTRIBUTOR on AUGUST 22, 2013 · 3 COMMENTS

in MANLY SKILLSTACTICAL SKILLS

Editor’s Note: We had such a great response to our Primer on Krav Maga article back in July, we thought many of you would be interested in learning more about this devastatingly effective martial art. To that end, each month we’ll publish a different krav maga technique explained by krav maga expert and author, David Kahn. Many of the techniques that David will share with us are featured in his latest book, Krav Maga Weapon Defenses.

The Israeli krav maga self-defense system has achieved global recognition for its efficiency, simplicity, and, when required, brutal efficiency. Krav maga’s world-renowned defense moves against weapons were developed for a modern army. Over the next few months, we’ll take a look at ways to defend against various attacks using impact weapons.

Impact weapon attacks can come in many forms — baton, hammer, crowbar, or any number of weapon-like objects. Impact weapons (along with edged weapons) are often referred to in krav maga parlance as “cold weapons.” Attacks can come from a myriad of directions, heights, and angles in single-swing attacks. The three fundamental principles of defense are either (1) to close the distance between you and the assailant while deflecting-redirecting the attack, (2) to disengage until you recognize the correct timing to then close the distance, or (3) to retreat straight away.

Close the distance. The end of the weapon generates the most force, as the assailant’s wrist is used as a fulcrum. Therefore, the most dangerous range of the attack is to be struck with the very end of the weapon. In other words, the object’s momentum decreases the closer you come to the assailant’s swinging wrist. That’s why it’s vital to close the distance between you and your attacker as quickly as possible. Optimally, the distance between the defender and the assailant can be closed before a weapon is deployed while debilitating the adversary with strong combatives, blocking access to the weapon, and achieving dominant control. If the weapon is successfully deployed and put into action, closing the distance will allow the defender to either deflect-redirect or block the weapon, the majority of the time in combination with body defenses, while delivering withering counterattacks. As with all krav maga defenses, the hand always leads the body to deflect-redirect in conjunction with simultaneous multiple counterattacks.

Time correctly. Another essential to a successful defense is precise timing; closing the distance and using the correct tactic at the correct time. Fight timing is best thought of as the fusion of instinct with simultaneous decision making to either pre-empt the attack, move off the line of attack/fire, deflect-redirect, control the weapon and strike, or retreat from harm’s way. In other words, fight timing is harnessing instinctive body movements while seizing or creating opportunities to defend both efficiently and intelligently. Defined yet another way, fight timing is your ability to capitalize on a window of opportunity offered by your opponent or to create your own opportunity to end the confrontation using whatever tactics come instinctively to you. In short, you’ll attack the attacker. Importantly, the tactics and techniques are designed to provide the defender with a pre-emption capability prior to a weapon being deployed. The goal is not to allow an assailant to get the drop on you. Your recognition of his intent and body language literally and figuratively will allow you to cut the legs out from under him.

Retreat straight away. As soon as you see that the threat has been neutralized, retreat as soon as possible to avoid future attacks.

Below, we take a look at how to defend against a common impact weapon attack: the overhand one-handed strike with a blunt object like a bat or crowbar.

Overhand Direct One-Handed Strike Defense

One of the most typical attacks with a blunt object is an overhead swing. In this technique we assume the assailant is using his right hand and the defender is squared up or face-to-face. You will execute the defense with your sameside (left) arm and counterpunches with your right arm while controlling the weapon with your left.

Your goal is to close the distance to intercept and deflect-redirect the impact weapon harmlessly over your shoulder while delivering a simultaneous punch to the throat, jaw, or nose, trapping the weapon arm to remove it from the assailant’s grip while delivering moreretzev (continuous motion) combatives. One way to practice the deflecting-stabbing movement of the defense is to simulate diving into a pool with your arms in a “V” motion to pierce the water while keeping your legs straight. Keep the fingers together and simply touch both of your hands together at the fingertips, resembling the inverted “V.” Do not touch your palms together, only your fingertips. Now, drop one arm into a straight punch position. Continue building this defense by aligning your deflecting-redirecting hand with a forward body lean, burying your chin into your shoulder.

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 9.56.14 AM

The forward combat lean achieves two purposes: it both defeats the attack and protects your head. Essentially, you are diving/bursting into your assailant with the sameside arm and leg to close the distance while deflecting-redirecting the strike and simultaneously counterstriking. Another way to think about aligning your deflecting-redirecting arm is to stand in a neutral stance and jettison your arm directly out to meet an imaginary incoming attack. Proper arm alignment requires a slight curve in your hand that will intercept the attack. Keep the fingers together and the thumb attached to the hand; do not allow the thumb to jut out because of the danger in breaking it. The deflecting-stabbing defense, when timed correctly and with proper interception alignment, will redirect the object harmlessly along your arm and over your head, glancing off your back.

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 9.56.36 AM

Time the defense and counter-attack punch together. The next (literal) step forward is with your left leg, closing the distance to the attacker. Remember to lead with your hands!

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 9.56.53 AM

Redirect the overhand blow with one hand, while simultaneously counterpunching.

Slide1

As you move into the assailant with your redirection and counterpunch, without breaking contact with the attacker’s arm, loop your deflecting-stabbing arm over the assailant’s impact weapon arm to secure the impact weapon arm.

slide2

Continue your counterattack with a foreleg kick or multiple knee strikes to the groin depending on distance.

The most popular method to remove the impact weapon is to use a 180-degree step (tsai-bake) with your right foot to break or rip the impact weapon away from his hand without taking your eyes off the assailant.

The most popular method to remove the impact weapon is to use a 180-degree step (tsai-bake) with your right foot to break or rip the impact weapon away from his hand without taking your eyes off the assailant.

Once you feel comfortable with the initial defense, add a simultaneous punch with your other arm, thrusting both arms out together. I recommend a palm down punch or keeping the palm of the hand parallel to the ground, targeting the nose, chin, or throat.

Next time we take a look defending a two-handed overhead attack with chair or stool. Until then, train hard and always remember retzev.

Krav Maga Technique of the Month: Overhand Direct One-Handed Strike Defense | The Art of Manliness.

Many people, including those within the church, are wrestling with the fundamental character and nature of God, with questions concerning his goodness and trustworthiness. So how do we who identify ourselves as Christians help others see the hope of the gospel and persevere in hope ourselves in a world where the biblical view of a loving and good God is constantly challenged?

I attempted to suppress my stunned disbelief with a question: “What do you mean?” I listened as a dear Christian friend of more than 25 years shared with me that she was considering moving in a direction that was a reversal of what she had long held true and what the Scriptures clearly proscribe. Over the days that followed I tried to refrain from continually pointing her to numerous Bible passages that would challenge her intentions—after all, she knew them well. Rather, I spoke about God’s compassion in our brokenness and the Holy Spirit’s transformative work in our lives, and encouraged her to talk with a counselor who could help unravel her deep and knotted burden. Sadly, a few months later, she chose to leave her church home and move in the direction she expressed.

“I’m happy,” she told me—and how does one counter that?1

I have had the privilege of working with Ravi Zacharias for over twenty years. If my experience with my friend and the emails and letters we receive are any reflection of the wider evangelical culture, there has been a noticeable shift in the questions raised by those who would identify themselves as Christians. Less than ten years ago, the predominant questions were, if you will, intramural ones: “What is your view of predestination?” “Which version of the Bible is most accurate?” “What is the unpardonable sin?”

More recently, however, many questions resemble ones we usually receive from skeptics or seekers at university engagements: “How can God be morally good if He ordered genocide in the Old Testament?” “Why should I believe in a God who sees my suffering and doesn’t answer my prayer?” As such, I would suggest that many people, including those within the church, are wrestling with the fundamental character and nature of God, with questions concerning his goodness and trustworthiness. 2

Think, for instance, of the confusion generated by Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. Yes, numerous pastors, scholars, and bloggers revealed its flawed exegesis and arguments. Yet the book created profound cognitive dissonance for some readers and accomplished its purpose: to stir an emotional response to a depiction of an angry God and unfair judge.

Even we who may seek to hold fast to what we cognitively affirm—that God is sovereign and good—sometimes struggle to make sense of our emotions when we encounter a difficult passage of Scripture or an experience such as betrayal or loss that challenges our view of an all-loving and powerful God. Indeed, consider bewildered Job under the scourge of suffering, or Joseph or John the Baptist languishing in prison, or faithful but barren Elizabeth and Zechariah, and countless others in the pages of Scripture who strained to discern God’s presence and purpose.

So how do we who identify ourselves as Christians help others see the hope of the gospel and persevere in hope ourselves in a world where the biblical view of a loving and good God is constantly challenged?

A Deeper Question

As we seek to address tough questions, Ravi Zacharias has observed that it is critical to understand there is often a deeper question behind the one being posed. Hence, we must listen carefully to hear and respond to the actual question raised. He recalls how a young couple came to him after a speaking engagement in a church and asked how God could allow suffering and evil. As he began to offer a reply, he noticed that the woman was holding a child with a severe physical deformity. He surmised that the couple’s theological inquiry masked a deeper existential struggle and so he set aside the standard arguments of theodicy to consider the pain and confusion they were experiencing.

This is not to suggest that many people do not wrestle with the philosophical arguments for the problem of evil or God’s existence, but rather, that we need to take time to listen to our questioners so that we might truly hear their concerns. Sometimes, as with my longtime friend, we might even ask, “What do you mean?” In apologetics, this approach uses the law of identity, which involves identifying unspoken assumptions and presuppositions. This law states that everything that exists has a specific nature; for example, “A = A” or “A sheep is a sheep” (and not a cow). Thus, if someone remarks, “Sure, I believe in Jesus,” we rely upon the law of identity when we ask the person to tell us more about who this Jesus is. Is this the Jesus portrayed in the New Testament or The DaVinci Code?

Or, we might follow up by asking the person to tell us what he or she means by “believe.” Does the individual’s understanding of belief amount to reasoned confidence or “blind” faith?3 A common misperception is that science involves facts and evidence, whereas religious belief is based on myth, feelings, or a wish-fulfillment for a benevolent God. And yet, science is unable to answer basic metaphysical questions such as “Why are we here?” or “Why is there something rather than nothing?” And atheism itself can be seen as a wish-fulfillment for no God and no absolute foundation for morality.

In such conversations, we may discover that “belief in Jesus” may be radically different from what the Bible presents. Thus, it is critical to listen carefully to those we seek to engage so that we might hear their underlying questions and unspoken assumptions. The art of listening and responding to questions is a learned craft honed with humility, patience, and careful study. As my colleague Alister McGrath writes, “Apologetics is not a set of techniques for winning people to Christ. It is not a set of argumentative templates designed to win debates. It is a willingness to work with God in helping people discover and turn to his glory.”4

Learning To See

Like those we encounter who struggle with questions, sometimes our own unsettled questions and unexamined assumptions can cloud our hope in God and our confidence in the gospel. When relationships fail, health deteriorates, or vocations are lost, our understanding of God can be tested to the core when we, as philosopher Esther Lightcap Meek suggests, “labor under the misimpression that we see what we see, that seeing is believing, that either I see it or I don’t.”The evidence for God’s existence and Christ’s uniqueness looks quite clear to me in light of the historical Scriptures, the pattern of the universe, and conflicting worldviews. But there are times when I have questioned God’s goodness because I perceived Him to be unresponsive and unmoved by my troubled heart. Studying the Scriptures didn’t lead me to this misperception; rather, my experience of loss did.

And when our view of God is misguided, doubt eclipses hope and we may be tempted to take the seemingly “happy road” rather than trust in his sovereign but unforeseen plan. Yes, God is consistent and faithful to his Word, but He is not predictable. If He were, there would be no place for grace or mercy.6 He sends rain to the just and unjust. He rewards a prostitute’s shrewd deceit with a secure place in the Promised Land, while barring his prophet Moses from it because of a rash act of rage.7

In such places of doubt and discouragement, we need the fellowship of other believers to help us see what we cannot see, to pray when we cannot pray, and to hope when we struggle to hope. As Meek contends,“Sometimes, apart from someone else’s insistence and guidance, we don’t even get it right about the thoughts in our own head. We need to be taught how to see.”8

I ran a trail half-marathon recently. I have competed at this distance and longer on roads but never on the trail, so the first couple of miles I was careful to note every root and rock as I tried to run fast. By the third mile, I felt at ease dodging obstacles and began to settle into a competitive pace. I turned a corner and descended a hill with a massive rock just below its crest, and Wham! Suddenly, I was sailing headlong and my splayed body hit the ground. I had seen the rock but somehow its presence didn’t prompt me to alter my stride. With ten miles left to the finish, my throbbing, bloody knee suddenly sharpened my focus for the rest of the race.

The evidence for God’s existence and Christ’s uniqueness looks quite clear to me in light of the historical Scriptures, the pattern of the universe, and conflicting worldviews. But there are times when I have questioned God’s goodness because I perceived Him to be unresponsive and unmoved by my troubled heart. Studying the Scriptures didn’t lead me to this misperception; rather, my experience of loss did.

Like listening, seeing is a learned craft. For example, experienced trail runners can fly down a hill with seeming ease, nimbly dodging small and large obstacles on their path. Their bodies have a heightened sense of proprioception (literally, “one’s own perception”), which is the ability to orient to an environment with limited visual clues. “The special balance that is so key to trail running is … proprioception,” writes elite endurance runner Adam Chase. “Proprioception comes through muscle, joint, tendon, and inner ear sensory nerve terminals that respond to and adjust posture and positioning through stimuli originating from within the body. When trail runners complain that they are bad at running down rocky or otherwise sketchy descents, it is usually a testament to the fact that they need to work on their proprioceptive abilities.”9 Trail running is an art that requires keen awareness and practice.

The prophet Daniel and the apostle Paul overcame obstacles in their pagan, foreign environments by a resolute focus on a sovereign God who alone “changes times and seasons” and “reveals deep and hidden things” (Daniel 2:21-22). Both were given the gift of vision, but they were “taught how to see” through persistent prayer, a community of friends, and a humble understanding that all wisdom and ability come from God. “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened,” wrote Paul, “in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe” (Ephesians 1:18-19a).

A Gift to All

This hope to which God has called us is a “living hope” (1 Peter 1:3). Like any living substance, hope must be nurtured and exercised for it to grow. Isaiah tells us that “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31). Hope can expand even as we endure trials, for “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4).

Like the fine art of listening and seeing, I am discovering that persevering in hope is a learned craft. This is not to suggest it is something we must earn. No, hope is a gift to all who call upon God. Yet just as an Olympic sprinter gifted with speed must sharpen her skills consistently to succeed, so our hope matures when we “run in the path of [God’s] commands” and “feed on his faithfulness.”10 “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis observes that we must be taught both to recognize and to exercise hope:

Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither. It seems a strange rule, but something like it can be seen at work in other matters. Health is a great blessing, but the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects you start becoming a crank and imagining there is something wrong with you. You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more—food, games, work, fun, open air. In the same way, we shall never save civilization as long as civilization is our main object. We must learn to want something else even more.

Most of us find it very difficult to want “Heaven” at all—except in so far as “Heaven” means meeting again our friends who have died. One reason for this difficulty is that we have not been trained: our whole education tends to fix our minds on this world. Another reason is that when the real want for Heaven is present in us, we do not recognize it. Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise.11

Ultimately, hope grows as we sit before the mirror of God’s Word, for it is the one true and trustworthy reflection of who God is and who we are becoming. Here we are exhorted and comforted, chastened and encouraged by the One who loves us and can speak into our lives like no other. Here we can bring our longings, fears, and questions before his throne of grace and let the light of Jesus’s presence shine into every dark and confusing place in our lives, “for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”12 This is the hope of the gospel. And God promises that all “who hope in him will not be disappointed” (Isaiah 49:23).

Hope is a gift to all who call upon God. Yet just as an Olympic sprinter gifted with speed must sharpen her skills consistently to succeed, so our hope matures when we “run in the path of God’s commands” and “feed on his faithfulness.” “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

____________________

A shorter version of this article was composed for Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Contact Magazine.

Danielle DuRant is director of research and writing at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, GA.

1 This question is intended merely to be rhetorical. There are several approaches one might use as a follow-up depending on the person’s struggle and faith commitment.

2 In his conversations with Christians wrestling with doubt, philosophy professor Gary Habermas has observed a similar trend. See his chapter “Evil, the Resurrection and the Example of Jesus” in God and Evil: The Case for God in a World Filled with Pain, eds. Chad V. Meister, Norman Geisler, and James K. Dew (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013), 163-174.

For a fuller discussion of reasonable belief and so-called blind faith, see chapters 3 and 4 of Alex McLellan’s A Jigsaw Guide to Making Sense of the World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012).

Alister E. McGrath, Mere Apologetics: How To Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2012), 41.

5 Esther Lightcap Meek, Longing To Know: The Philosophy of Knowledge for Ordinary People (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2003), 99.

6 I am indebted to Roslyn Harden Scott, Ph.D., for this insight.

Of course, a close reading of Joshua 2 and Numbers 20 reveals that Rahab’s act of deception (risking her life to harbor the spies) was precipitated by her faith in the God of the Israelites, whereas Moses’s display of anger grew out of his lack of trust in God. Hebrews 11:31 commends Rahab for her faith and James 2:25, for her works (faith in action).

8 Meek, 99, emphasis added.

9 Adam Chase, “On the Trail …Core Strength” (November 1, 2003), accessed on February 19, 2013 at http://www.runnersworld.com/trail-running-training/trail-core-strength.

10 See Psalm 119:32 and 37:3 (NASB).

11 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1960), 118-119, emphasis added.

12 1 John 3:20.

 

A Learned Craft | RZIM.

I love asking advice.  Sometimes great, encouraging and lifegiving… other times, harsh, painful and ends in soul searching.  Check out these gold nuggets in an article for FastCo by Grace Nasri, good stuff:

8 SUCCESSFUL ENTREPRENEURS GIVE THEIR YOUNGER SELVES LESSONS THEY WISH THEY’D KNOWN THEN

 

EXECS AND INVESTORS FROM PANDORA, IDEO, ANDREESSEN HOROWITZ, SOUNDCLOUD, AND KLEINER PERKINS, AMONG OTHER MASTERS OF DISRUPTION, SHARE THE WISDOM THEY’VE GATHERED ON THE WAY TO THE TOP.

Looking at the success trajectories of today’s disruptors–from Pandora cofounder Tim Westergren to Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales–it’s easy to think that they had everything figured out from a young age. But many of today’s success stories learned lessons later in life that they wished they had known as they were beginning their careers. The eight investors and entrepreneurs below share the advice they wish they had gotten in their early twenties.

Tim Westergren: Avoid the risk of not trying and the regret of wishing you had.
Tim Westergren, the founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Pandora, said if he could offer his younger self one piece of advice, it would be to realize from an early age that it’s far more haunting to live with the regret of having not followed your instincts–even when those instincts required a diversion from the beaten path–than to have followed your gut and failed. Luckily for Westergren, he was one of the few who did follow his passions and that pursuit led him to found a company with a market cap of $2.5 billion.

“Be sure to ‘notice’ ideas when you have them. Stop. Take the time to consider them seriously. And if your gut tells you they’re compelling, be fearless in their pursuit,” Westergren said. “For most people, the idea of chasing a personal passion or being entrepreneurial is simply something they don’t think of themselves doing. We’re so programmed to walk well-trodden paths. But, we live life only once. So, rather than avoiding the risk of trying, avoid the risk of not trying. Nothing is more haunting than thinking, ‘I wish I had…’.”

Jimmy Wales: Spend wisely early in life so you can achieve the financial independence to follow your dreams.
Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia–which according to its own Wikipedia page is a collaboratively edited online encyclopedia–said the advice he would share with the younger generation is to be strategic and thoughtful with expenses at an early age so that you can afford to pursue your passions.

“I think one of the things that most 21-year-old people should do is to recognize now that you can make life choices which control your expenses, and that controlling your expenses is one of the most crucial steps toward the kind of financial independence that you need in order to follow your dreams in the future. Whether it is a change of job, or an entrepreneurial dream, the less you NEED to spend each month, the easier it is to follow those dreams. There are several rules of thumb that can help with this, but one of my favorites is to never go into debt to finance any kind of luxurious consumption. Only go into debt if necessary for some kind of investment, like student loans, for example.”

Bill Ready: Surround yourself with great people and be fearless in pursuit of game-changing ideas.
Bill Ready, the CEO of Braintree–the mobile payments platform for online and mobile commerce that counts companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Fab as clients–shared two key pieces of advice that he wish he had known when he was younger.

“There are two main things I wish I had known when I was 21,” Ready said. “Back in the late 1990s when I was a 19-year-old engineer at Netzee–much like other bright, young, ‘hot-shot’ engineers today–I had this sense that I knew everything, and I didn’t realize the importance of really listening to those who were more experienced. What I have realized since then, is that one of the most important things you can do is to surround yourself with great people, and to listen to them. The second piece of advice I would give is to be fearless. Don’t be afraid to pursue revolutionary ideas, and don’t hold back simply because you’re going up against seemingly unconquerable competitors in your market space. At Braintree, many of our competitors are huge, established companies in the market with market caps in the billions–but we’re not afraid of going after them.”

Alexander Ljung: Realize the power of simplicity.
Alexander Ljung, the cofounder and CEO of SoundCloud–the popular audio platform that has raised more than $63 million in venture funding, according to CrunchBase–shared the importance of learning the power of simplicity in today’s complex world.

“In recent years, T.S. Eliot’s reported quote–‘If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter’–has stuck with me when making numerous decisions specifically around leadership, design, and product. The advice I would offer my 21-year-old self is to remember that it takes more mental (and sometimes physical) bandwidth to create something simple or communicate something complicated in basic terms, but ultimately, that’s a lot nicer for the user experience,” Ljung said. “It’s not about building every feature or understanding everything the first time around. It’s about creating the best, tailored experience for your community and company. I’d remind myself of the importance to leverage design as a decisive advantage and to not be afraid to challenge people to break down their knowledge into easily digestible, clearer statements.”

Philippe Courtot: Focus on what makes you truly happy.
Philippe Courtot, the CEO and Chairman of Qualys–the enterprise cloud security firm that went public last year–emphasized the importance of doing what makes you happy; pursuing what actually makes you happy ensures that you’ll put the needed energy, time, and resources behind your work.

“If I had one piece of advice to give my younger self it would be to stop doing what makes you unhappy and focus on what makes you truly happy,” Courtot shared. “This philosophy, strongly advocated by the Dalai Lama, seems simplistic but its power lies in the fact that it forces you to reflect on what is really important to you and not be distracted by what other people think. If I could give myself one more advice it would be to not be afraid of trying. This builds on the first piece of advice, as we can only learn what makes us happy or unhappy through our own experiences.”

Bing Gordon: Work as hard as you can, and then work harder.
Bing Gordon, a General Partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers–who counts Twitter, Spotify, and Path in his portfolio of investments–was frank in his advice. Ultimately, hard work is what is going to make you successful. That, and the added benefit of having an influential mentor to help guide you on the path to success, is the combination that will get you to where you want to go.


“I’ve always regretted that I didn’t start working in business until I was 28 years old,” Gordon shared. “After decades of hiring college grads, I’ve learned that the people who get the most opportunities also start fast. They overachieve from the very beginning. They ask the best questions and always seem to have good ideas. As one Hollywood producer once said, ‘Work as hard as you can and then work harder.’ But the number one piece of advice I would share is to recruit a mentor. Find someone you admire who is at least one generation older, and has no direct authority over you. Lack of context and perspective can cost you months and years–with a bad career choice, an unwise relocation, short-term negotiating posture, and, generally speaking, sophomoric thinking. Jeff Brenzel, Dean of Admissions at Yale, has the best advice on how to recruit a mentor: ‘All professors desire acolytes; so carry their favorite book of theirs under your arm, and go introduce yourself with a question about their book.’”

Paul Bennett: Take the time to listen.
Paul Bennett, the Chief Creative Officer at IDEO–the highly creative global design consultancy that has done work for clients from Samsung to GE–said the one piece of advice he wished he had known in his early twenties, was to focus on listening rather than rushing to come up with a quick, yet uninformed, response.

“Listen more,” Bennett advised. “For most of my twenties I assumed that the world was more interested in me than I was in it, so I spent most of my time talking, usually in a quite uninformed way, about whatever I thought, rushing to be clever, thinking about what I was going to say to someone rather than listening to what they were saying to me. Slowing oneself down, engaging rather than endlessly debating and really taking the time to hear and learn is the greatest luxury of becoming older.”

Scott Weiss: Surround yourself with leaders in your field.
Scott Weiss, a Partner at Andreessen Horowitz–who counts Platfora, Quirky, and Skout in his portfolio–emphasized the importance of learning in the workplace, and pointed out that smaller companies are great places to learn and grow.

 


“Whatever vocation you decide on, track down the best people in the world at doing it and surround yourself with them. Aim high and be ridiculously persistent. Your happiness is at the intersection of your passions and learning from great people. Working at a big company sucks–avoid it. Smaller companies are 10 times better for learning. Be generous with your time and money–it has an amazingly fast payback. Be in the moment with everyone you love–and this frequently means tuning out work completely. And drive slow in parking lots.”

Grace Nasri received her MA in international relations from New York University. After graduating, she moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked as an assistant editor at an international Iranian newspaper and later moved back to NYC, where she worked as the managing editor of FindTheBest.com. Grace currently lives in San Francisco, where she works as a Senior Associate at the Bateman Group, is a member of Women 2.0, freelance writes for Digital Trends and contributes to Fast Company.

8 Successful Entrepreneurs Give Their Younger Selves Lessons They Wish Theyd Known Then | Fast Company | Business + Innovation.

Check out this article on how people read Job Ads.  Definitely something to consider when structuring content on your website.  Great article by Lauren Weber in the WSJ: 

 

We spend most of our waking hours at work, so when it comes time to find a new job, you’d think we would take our time, carefully reviewing job descriptions and thoughtfully weighing whether a position might be a good fit.

But it turns out we’re not as methodical as we’d like to think.

A survey released Thursday by job-search firm TheLadders found that 44% of job-seekers claim they spend one to five minutes reading job descriptions before deciding whether to pursue them or not. Another 19% said they invest up to 10 minutes reading a posting on the first pass.

Yet when those same job-seekers were tracked using technology that records where and for how long their eyes landed on a page, it turned out they spent an average of 49.7 seconds before dismissing a position as a poor fit, and 76.7 seconds with job ads that appeared to match their interests and skills.

The eye-tracking study, conducted by researchers at TheLadders, found that job-seekers look first at the job title, then company information, and then at the details, such as salary and recruiter information.

The company asked 15 job-seekers to read five job descriptions, and tracked each subject’s pupils as they moved across the page. (A second group of 15 participants read a different set of job descriptions that had been formatted using the firm’s competitive-analysis product. The results contained in this blog post are based on the participants who read the traditionally-formatted job ads.)

Even when subjects determined that an opening was appropriate for them, reviewing the actual requirements for the job appeared to be a low priority—results showed they spent only 14.6 seconds, on average, in that section. Applicants spent the most time reading the job description (25.9 seconds) and the company description (23 seconds). In addition, participants’ eyes tended to skim the job description rather than read it closely, and often skipped the bottom section of the description entirely.

While candidates likely ponder the qualifications required for a position more closely after they decide for certain to apply for a given position, the speed and sloppiness with which potential candidates read job ads helps explain an endless frustration of recruiters: receiving dozens, if not hundreds, of resumes from unqualified candidates, said Selena Hadzibabic, director of product and user experience at TheLadders.

Rather than chide job-seekers for their inattention, recruiters and managers should recognize that they shoulder some of the blame, she adds. Employers “write job descriptions in ways that aren’t very easy to scan or understand. So the job-seekers get lost in run-on paragraphs” and big blocks of text, said Hadzibabic.

Job titles, the first thing potential applicants look at, are also sometimes written to confuse rather than clarify. Tech startups may think it’s cool to call their software team “ninjas,” but they shouldn’t use that term in the job title.

“If you’re looking to hire a Java developer, that’s what the job title should be even though they’re going to join your team of ninjas,” she said.

Finally, she said, open the black box of the salary field. Most job descriptions fail to include any information about compensation, since employers fear that transparency on the topic may constrain their bargaining power. If that information is missing, says Hadzibabic, potential hires “move on and you’ve lost their attention.” Even a broad range is useful for engaging potential candidates, and can help weed out those who don’t measure up.

How We Really Read Job Ads – At Work – WSJ.

Check out this sweet blog from @wisebread about kickstarting frugality.  Tomorrow always seems like a good time to save a few bucks.  Here are a few ways to start today, article follows:

One great thing about being frugal is that once you start doing it, it kind of snowballs.

I’ve been frugal my whole life, partly because I believe that saving money is just as good as making it, and I don’t like overpaying for something. But what really kick-started my frugal lifestyle was being laid off in 2008 from the newspaper industry. Without a fulltime job, I no longer had benefits and the same income I had before, so some frugality was called for. (See also: New Year, New Spending Habits)

Here are 16 tips I’ve learned, either on my own or by talking to people cited below, to kick-start frugality, and make it an everyday part of life. Some are small tips to save a few dollars a week, and a few are big that can add up to hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars, so be sure to start with the easy ones before jumping to the big ones.

1. Start Saving With Direct Deposit

Whether it’s a payroll savings plan to save for retirement or simply moving $100 each month from a checking account to a savings account, putting money aside before you get a chance to notice it and spend it is a great first step to being frugal.

2. Track Spending for a Week

Keep track of every penny you spend for a week, and you’ll likely see a pattern. Fidelity Investments, of which I’m a customer, has a barrelful of tips for saving money, and it recommends keeping track of every dollar. It has a graphic that shows how far saving a dollar for retirement can go at different ages. Obviously, the younger you start saving, the more money you’ll have as it compounds. By tracking spending for a week — either by the dollar or penny — you’ll see your weak spots (too many trips to the vending machine at work or coffee house) and can adjust and have the extra money automatically transferred to a savings account.

3. Skip Treats and Luxuries for a Week

Stop buying anything you eat, drink or smoke that would be considered an “extra,” and instead drink boring water or make it yourself or bring something cheaper with you. Bring an orange instead of buying chips at the vending machine.

Financial counselor and editor Adrianna Domingos-Lupher told me that she broke a coffee house addiction two years ago by investing in an espresso maker and having lattes at home. Her family has cut their coffee house expenses by nearly 75%, dropping from $30 a week on coffee to less than $10 now. “Granted the learning curve to froth the milk and find the right grind of coffee was a challenge, but I’m glad to report that I visit a certain celestial coffee house a lot less than I used to,” she says. “It’s more of a treat on weekends than an everyday affair.”

4. Spend Only Cash

Try this for a week — it’s not as easy as it sounds. Like tracking your spending online, using only cash will show you where your money goes and will limit what you buy.

Author Alan Corey says he started being frugal by simply going to the ATM once a week for $100. Everything he bought had to be in cash. “It kept me on a budget without having to save receipts or planning too much ahead,” Corey says. “All I had to do was look in my wallet to see what I could spend, and then determine if I could get by on until my next ATM outing.” He later lowered it to $80 a week after $100 was working well, allowing him to save more money.

5. Don’t Buy Anything

This is a much more drastic step than what Corey does, and it probably shouldn’t be your first step to starting a frugal lifestyle. But if you want to make the big jump in the frugal pond, this will do it. The “no spend challenge,” as many bloggers have written about, starts with cutting all unnecessary spending cold turkey. Only spend money on the basics, such as rent or mortgage, utilities, and basic groceries. If anything will lead to a frugal snowball effect, this will.

Jen Smialek, a personal finance blogger in Boston, says a month-long no-spending vow helped her save $600 one month. Smialek says she only spent money on rent, utilities, and basic groceries, and that the habit has helped her stop unnecessary spending for the past four years.

6. Don’t Shop at the Grocery Store

I can do this for a week, no problem. In fact, my refrigerator is now almost empty and a trip to the grocery store is imminent. With a well-stocked pantry, visits to the farmer’s market, and buying $25 worth of groceries from an online organic grocer, Michelle Jackson, a personal finance blogger, says she went seven weeks without having to go to a grocery store. Jackson says her grocery bill dropped from about $75 per visit (two to three times a week) to $275 for the entire seven weeks.

7. Don’t Eat Out

For 30 days in 2006, blogger Carrie Rocha and her husband did a no eating out challenge. It included no stops at the coffee shop, no soda at a gas station, no rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, no concessions at a ballpark, and never a meal in a restaurant. They were successful that month and saved hundreds of dollars, but the real benefit was realizing their lack of self-control. Before, they took joy in a midday treat, and learned that because they couldn’t afford to indulge, they had to find healthier ways to get through the temptations. They bought healthier on-the-go snacks and have saved thousands of dollars in the seven years they’ve been living within their means.

8. No Big Group Meals Out

If eating out once a week with your spouse is too difficult to cut from your lifestyle, try to at least cut out group meals with friends and co-workers.

Mitchell Fox, co-founder of a tax monitoring website, says the best the best thing his wife and he did to start saving money was to skip on big group dinners in San Francisco, which is an expensive city at any income. The dinner bill always seemed to come out to at least $50 per person, sometimes much more with drinks added to the bill. “What we have started to do instead is suggest house parties — either inviting people to our place or suggesting they host — or meeting up for happy hour drinks instead of dinner,” Fox says. They used to eat out at least once a week with friends, but this step has cut their monthly spending by at least $500, he says.

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9. Get Your Teenager to Wait a Year Before Driving

This kick-start method can help teach you and your teen how to save money through delayed gratification, although convincing a teen of this may be difficult. If you can get around the hassle of driving your teen around for another year when they turn 17, you (and the teenager) will save money by not buying a car or paying for maintenance or extra gas. You also won’t have to pay the 20% to 80% surcharge from some insurers for teenage drivers, according to AutoInsuranceCenter.com.

10. Pay Yourself to Meet Your Goals

Putting a few dollars in an envelope or some spare change in a jar whenever you meet a frugal goal is a way to reward yourself for being frugal. Lisa Boesen was successful in her “Lenten Challenge” to use up everything in her pantry and freezer during Lent, so she put $5 in a jar every time she and her husband followed their frugal guidelines. They ended with $100 in the jar last year, Boesen says, and are continuing to add to their own tip jar whenever they meet a frugal goal they’ve set.

11. Don’t Buy a Book for a Month

I’ve done this for a few years (except on trips) when I realized I was spending about $50 a month on new books for my Kindle. I sometimes buy used books and save 50%, but I mostly go to the library and check them out for free. Getting new releases can be tough, although I’ve found that if I get on the waiting list early enough, the book is available within a month or so. You can also save money on DVDs, music, and other media at libraries. Getting a library card is too easy, so there’s no excuse to try it for a month or so.

12. Cut Back on Haircuts

After spending $200 a month for 25 years so she could have her hair straightened, life style strategist Melisa Alaba eliminated that expense by chopping her relaxed hair and wearing her hair in its natural style. She puts the savings in an education fund for her daughters, and since starting this three years ago, she has learned to do her own hair, and as she puts it, has learned to “embrace my natural beauty.”

13. Walk, Bike, or Ride to Work

Moving close to work so you can walk is a big step, but worth thinking about the next time you change jobs. I’ve made it a life-long habit to live near where I work, and have always lived within a few miles of my job. While I’ve often needed a car at work, I’ve been able to walk and bike to work, and live in an area where I can walk to stores for quick errands. I’ve saved on auto insurance by driving fewer miles, which has also cut maintenance and gas expenses.

14. Get Rid of Your Car

Obviously, this is a big step. I’ve always wanted to try this, but haven’t because I think it would be difficult without having the public transportation of a big city. Comedian Jim Dailakis of New York has, taking public transportation whenever he can or renting cars. Dailakis accumulates points as a gold member with Hertz, allowing him to sometimes rent a car for free.

15. Dump Cable TV for a Month

As I’ve written before, this step has much more than financial benefits. The biggest has been not wasting time watching TV. I read more, have more free time, and watch programs that I really want to watch. After the initial equipment costs to make the switch away from cable TV and buying monthly services such as Netflix and Hulu, we’ve saved at least $30 a month.

16. Live in a Tent

This is the biggest, most life-changing way to kick-start frugality, and you might want to make this the last frugal choice you make. But if you’re really committed, as Richard and Laura Pawlowski were, then this could be the first kick-start to a life of frugality.

The Pawlowskis are in their 70s and wrote about living in a tent for two years after being pushed from their home of 35 years. They traveled to more than 50 campgrounds in 10 states, saved money, and rebalanced their debt. They no longer paid $1,200 in monthly rent, using some of the money for gas and food.

It’s a heck of a kick-start to frugality and makes skipping a daily latte look simple.

How did you kick-start your frugal habits?

16 Ways to Kick-Start Frugality | Wise Bread.

“We first make our habits, then our habits make us.” -Poet John Dryden

I heard a story about a man named Eugene Pauly – E.P. Because of permanent brain damage, E.P. has no short-term memory. He doesn’t know where his own kitchen is. When you ask him, he just shrugs. But twenty minutes later, he gets off the couch and gets a drink from the refrigerator. He can’t explain it. E.P. takes a daily walk around the neighborhood – and when asked which house is his, he doesn’t know. However, when he gets to his driveway, he always finds the right house and goes inside.

Why?

According to research from Duke University, more than 40% of our actions are unconscious habits. (The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg) E.P. finds his house because there are pathways in our brain telling us what to do, based on engrained routine. We all have these routines. Habits. Things we just do – without thinking about it:

The first thing we do when we wake.
What we eat for lunch.
How we dress.
Exercise.
Relate.
Pray.

*Photo by Łukasz Hejnak, Creative Commons
Habits drive a ton of my decisions. It’s normal for me to slip into the routine. Wake up. Grab coffee. Run out the door. Work. Get home. Play with my girls. Kiss my wife. Go to sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat. It’s easy for me to go through life without thoughtful intention.

We’re still in the wee-early morning hours of 2013. It’s an opportunity for reflection. For change. As I think of the past year and look to the next, I wonder:

“Who am I becoming? What needs to change?”

But when I see everything I want to change – I’m overwhelmed. I set too many goals – run in ten directions at once, and change nothing. For the past ten years, my New Years Resolutions have looked something like this:

1. Make a totally AWESOME plan.
2. Be awesome for two days.
3. Stop being awesome.
4. Get depressed.
5. Eat Ben and Jerry’s.

If my original resolution was eat to more Ben and Jerry’s, I would be #epicwinning.

For some reason, I believe when the big glass ball falls in Manhattan – everything will change. This is the myth. But the good news is this:

I don’t have to change all of my habits at once.

According to Duhigg, research shows we all have few trigger habits, keystone habits. Singular habits – when we do them, transform other areas of our lives. Keystone habits set off a chain of internal events, giving us willpower and momentum to do other things. Over time, these keystone habits form other habits, and we become completely different people. These habits can be positive or negative, like the Road-Side Ditch Guy.

Craig Groeschel’s keystone habit is flossing.
A friend of mine makes his bed every morning.
My keystone habit is waking up early at a set time.

When I wake up early at a set time, I have more willpower to workout, write, eat well. For some reason, the small decision makes me feel like I’m gaining ground. At the risk of sounding like Dr. Leo Marvin, the small decision is a baby step, but it’s a step. It creates movement. Velocity. We can’t magically order ourselves to change. But if we find our keystone habit – we can find momentum, setting off a slow avalanche of change.

One small win makes a huge difference. The one win also feels more attainable, setting out to do one thing. One small thing. It doesn’t feel anymore like I’m looking up at the Kilimanjaro. I’m just putting on the shoes.

For 2013, I don’t have a huge plan. I’d like to be more spiritually consistent, do a triathlon, write a book, track Kodiak bears, get my black belt and be a better friend. And I do plan to map it out on MySubplot. But my road to these things starts with one keystone win. So I bought a new alarm clock.

Cheers!

This is a post by John Sowers, one of the Storyline Contributors. Learn more about John’s story by visiting his website or by following along on Twitter (@johnsowers).