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Category: Reflections

Like Rings in a tree

Like Rings in a tree

Future historians will use the date+timed comments in youtube videos (and other social media) like rings in a tree. There’s clearly a ‘Covid-19’ ring being formed on social media right now.

Procrastination is about managing emotions, not time

Procrastination is about managing emotions, not time

I, along with my fellow procrastinators, have a time management problem. By this view, I haven’t fully appreciated how long my assignment is going to take and I’m not paying enough attention to how much time I’m currently wasting on ‘cyberloafing’. With better scheduling and a better grip on time, so the logic goes, I will stop procrastinating and get on with my work.

This has long been the accepted view on procrastination. It leads to the idea that procrastination is simply a matter of planning and willpower – that one simply needs to buckle down and do it. This often leads to people taking extreme behaviors of forcing themselves to study/work in unhealthy and unhelpful ways – then beating ourselves up with guilt, fear, anxiety, depression, and unhealthy coping mechanisms when we fail to stay on task.

Instead, what if procrastination was more of an emotional regulation problem? Studies are showing that often if a task makes us feel bad – perhaps it’s boring, too difficult, or we’re worried about failing – we make ourselves feel better in the moment by doing something else. While somewhat intuitive, this view is getting some confirmation by empirical studies. If true, it means procrastination is not so much a question of poor willpower as much as it’s a question of poor emotional regulation skills.

This leads to some very interesting treatment techniques that have been developed by cognitive behavior therapy for emotional intelligence and emotional regulation. What are some of those methods?

Just get start

ACT/Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (a part of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is a treatment method that helps patients to tolerate uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, staying in the present moment in spite of them, and prioritize choices and actions that help them get closer to what they most value in life.

Tim Pychyl of Carleton University says, ” When someone finally recognizes that procrastination isn’t a time management problem but is instead an emotion regulation problem, then they are ready to embrace my favorite tip: The next time you’re tempted to procrastinate, “make your focus as simple as ‘What’s the next action – a simple next step – I would take on this task if I were to get started on it now?’” Doing this, he says, takes your mind off your feelings and onto easily achievable action. “Our research and lived experience show very clearly that once we get started, we’re typically able to keep going. Getting started is everything.”

This takes your mind off the feelings and into an easily achievable action. Research shows that once you get started, we’re typically able to keep going. Getting started is everything.

Read the article from BBC here.

Other resources from the article:

…and it made all the difference.

…and it made all the difference.

I am grateful to my family for giving me the gift of faith. After graduating from college, I served the Church full time for 11 years. But gradually, in the quiet intimacy of adoring Jesus in the most blessed sacrament, he revealed the difference between doing God’s work – and fulfilling his will.

The Lord was inviting me to be exclusively his own, he was inviting me to embrace a contemplative vocation at [the] monastery.

Sister John-Mark Maria of the Poor Clares in Tonopah, AZ

This is a profound realization – one that many in ministry work should heed. There is a difference between doing the corporal and good works we are called to do (feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, educating the ignorant, defending widows, orphans, and the outcast, etc) and doing God’s will.

I think almost all issues and divisions arise in our church and faith lives because we’re more interested in doing the good works we believe should be done, and not to truly abandoning ourselves to do God’s will. If we all truly believe we’re aligning ourselves to the same, one, true God – then there should not be division.

Often this is done from ignorance. We want to go good, but we do not know what ‘good’ is. The road to hell is often paved with good intentions. Even worse are the sins of vainglory and pride – when the person is doing the good works simply because they like being respected and seen as an upright/good person by others – not because of their love of God. My experience is that this is most pronounced in many self-styled advocate leaders and academics that are more focused on an intellectual/political agenda than the will of God. The surest way to know if a leader falls in this category is to see how they react to having their pride pricked, authority questioned or intellectually confronted. Do they refer to their credentials and authority, list of accolades – or do they respond as a humble servant simply following the will of God with compassion and love?

This is not easy – because it requires the abandonment of ourselves and our perception of way things should be done. It requires us to abandon the idea we know the best way. It requires humility under the ultimate authority of a divine master. Sound ridiculous in our modern era of valuing self promotion and self empowerment?

Consider Jesus during his last days. He had arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover feast. He was greeted by the crowds with palm branches and shouts of acclimation. The crowds were ready to crown him king and let him lead them to victory over the occupying Romans. With his own disciples, he had just instituted the Eucharist at the last supper. He knew well he was about to be betrayed and handed over. It would have been nothing at all for him to have avoided arrest, he could have performed miracles to astound the chief priests and Pontius Pilate and easily become a leader or king of Israel. Yet he did not.

36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.” 39 He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.”
40 When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep. He said to Peter, “So you could not keep watch with me for one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test.* The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
42 Withdrawing a second time, he prayed again, “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!”

Matthew 26

As sister Maria mentions, the only real way to learn God’s specific will for you is to spend time in quiet prayer. I’ve often found that the easiest way to tell if someone is really representing God is to observe how dedicated the person is to their prayer life. Daily prayer that consists of extended periods (30-60 min) prayer – preferably in front of the blessed sacrament. Prayer that is not just reading a book, full of distraction, but is a quiet opening of yourself to listening TO god instead of speaking AT him.

This is critical because I believe almost all divisions and arguments between believers are caused by people that are doing more of their own will vs abandoning and trusting in God to direct each person to their chosen path. This is critical for each of us, because Jesus himself told us:

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23

We simply do not write this way anymore

We simply do not write this way anymore

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days – perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure – and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine 0 God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing – perfectly willing – to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows – when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children – is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death — and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.

I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles have often advocated before the people and “the name of honor that I love more than I fear death” have called upon me, and I have obeyed.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me – perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar — that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night — amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours – always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.

As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father’s love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God’s blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.

-Sullivan

Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte

Near the end of his life, while exiled on the rock of St. Helena, Napoleon called Count Montholon to his side and asked him, “Can you tell me who Jesus Christ was?” Upon the Count declining to respond Napoleon countered,

I know men, and I tell you Jesus Christ was not a man.

Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist.

There is between Christianity and other religions the distance of infinity.

Alexander, Cæsar, Charlemagne and myself founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon sheer force. Jesus Christ alone founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men will die for Him. In every other existence but that of Christ how many imperfections!

From the first day to the last He is the same; majestic and simple; infinitely firm and infinitely gentle. He proposes to our faith a series of mysteries and commands with authority that we should believe them, giving no other reason than those tremendous words, ‘I am God.’

The Bible contains a complete series of acts and of historical men to explain time and eternity, such as no other religion has to offer.

If it is not the true religion, one is very excusable in being deceived; for everything in it is grand and worthy of God.

The more I consider the Gospel, the more I am assured that there is nothing there which is not beyond the march of events and above the human mind. Even the impious themselves have never dared to deny the sublimity of the Gospel, which inspires them with a sort of compulsory veneration.

What happiness that Book procures for those who believe it!

  • https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Napoleon_I_of_France
First Pope to speak at the UN and how to create true peace

First Pope to speak at the UN and how to create true peace

Excerpts from Pope Paul VI to the fledgling UN in 1965 that is just as relevant today as then.

As you know very well, peace is not built merely by means of politics and a balance of power and interests. It is built with the mind, with ideas, with the works of peace.

The edifice you are building does not rest on purely material and terrestrial foundations, for in that case it would be a house built on sand. It rests most of all upon consciences. Yes, the time has come for “conversion,” for personal transformation, for interior renewal.

The appeal to the moral conscience of man has never before been as necessary as it is today, in an age marked by such great human progress. For the danger comes neither from progress nor from science; if these are used well they can, on the contrary, help to solve a great number of the serious problems besetting mankind. The real danger comes from man, who has at his disposal ever more powerful instruments that are as well fitted to bring about ruin as they are to achieve lofty conquests.

To put it in a word, the edifice of modern civilization has to be built on spiritual principles, for they are the only ones capable not only of supporting it, but of shedding light on it and inspiring it. And we are convinced, as you know, that these indispensable principles of higher wisdom cannot rest on anything but faith in God.

It’s a reminder that efforts that reduce problems to just power, politics, money, etc are missing the root of issue and just playing whack-a-mole. Temporal tools like laws, money, and power dynamics are useful in guiding our courses – but unless hearts are changed – these efforts are at best a never ending practice of building sandcastles that are washed down with the next tide.

If you feel that politics can’t find the answer, if laws aren’t the answer, if controlling money or power doesn’t seem to bring peace – then you are right. It is the human heart where peace is made and to be found. Let each human heart seek to be reformed, and the rest will fall into place.

What am I doing this advent to reform my heart – especially with the work of peace?

The wise person

The wise person

The greater our knowledge increases,
the greater our ignorance unfolds.
-John F Kennedy

So, by this measure, the greatest and most dangerous fool is the one that posits they are intelligent. Even worse, when they do not have the wisdom to admit they are probably ignorant on the subject or could be wrong. In other words, just about 99% of all conversations on social media.

So lets all do each other a favor. Let us agree that spending 30-60 minutes a day reading articles on a topic from your favorite biased news sources does not make you ‘an expert’ or even ‘well informed’. Let us also take a step back from so self-assuredly believing and asserting everything we think.

Better yet, how about we love and respect each other – discussing our differences while respecting the person. Maybe, while we’re at it, we’ll all learn how not to be controlled by our outrage driven social agenda pushers.

 

 

Lenten ashes to Easter fire

Lenten ashes to Easter fire

“The ashes we wear on Ash Wednesday are like the coals in a campfire at dawn. Perhaps the fire in our hearts has burned down or even appears to have gone out. Yet, as any seasoned camper will tell you, the blackest coals are often more than hot enough to restart a blaze.

Lent is a special time to take stock of the campfire of our heart and we start with the ashes. Maybe its grown cold and we need to tend it: removing things that are smothering it or adding more fuel to feed it. Maybe it’s burning but needs tending, or maybe it’s ready for larger blocks of fuel. When we start doing the physical tending of our heart via fasting and works of charity, the Holy Spirit will be gently blowing on our work, coaxing a fire to kindle from our work.

Wherever the fire is in your heart, Christ stands ready with forgiveness and healing in Lent. Calling us each back – no matter where we have fallen or become lost. Let us avail ourselves of the graces so our inner fires may be a blaze at Easter – joining the Easter fire lit on Easter vigil and spread by the faithful to light the darkness of our world.”

 

Why you can tell what comes next in any hollywood movie by checking your watch

Why you can tell what comes next in any hollywood movie by checking your watch

Have you had a sense that Hollywood movies have felt a little too ‘cookie-cutter’ lately? Or that they feel somewhat unoriginal or a little too sugary?

John Williamson is a long time lecturer and publisher of games. He gave a great talk at PAX Prime 2016 on why you can tell exactly what is going to happen next in a Hollywood movie by looking at your watch. It’s narrative structure that has been picked up by writers and is now used in almost all our media from graphic novels to Hollywood productions. Just about every modern movie in the last 10 years uses it – it’s called The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet. The structure was outlined in his book called “Save the Cat!

Recently, this structure has been catching some flack for making our movies too cookie cutter or even deceptive. One very valid argument (in my opinion) is that lazy writers can rely on the well-understood emotional reaction the structure creates to communicate themes and messages as true without having to argue them or give any evidence they actually are true. In other words, instead of relying on substance of the story, it relies on the simple fact that the ‘Save the Cat!’ emotional ride guarantees a positive emotional reception for what you want.

Some say it lets writers be so lazy they need not even be concerned about the actual content of the story, but to just rely on the structure of the emotional ride to guarantee a positive response from the audience. Just change the actors, theme, or conflict and you have a brand new movie without changing much else.

You can find a link to John Williamson’s great presentation here, or download a copy here. He covers a HUGE range of story telling techniques from ancient to new, eastern and western, but the relevant section on Hollywood plots, however, starts at slide 111.

Here’s the breakdown of the structure, by minute. (This assumes a movie of 110 minutes. Adjust the times based on your movie’s total time based on the ratio laid out here.)

  1. Opening Image – (minute: 1) – A visual that represents the struggle & tone of the story. A snapshot of the main character’s problem, before the adventure begins.
  2. Set-up – (minutes: 1-10) Expand on the “before” snapshot. Present the main character’s world as it is, and what is missing in their life.
  3. Theme Stated (happens during the Set-up) – (minute: 5) What your story is about; the message, the truth. Usually, it is spoken to the main character or in their presence, but they don’t understand the truth…not until they have some personal experience and context to support it.
  4. Catalyst – (minute: 12)The moment where life as it is changes. It is the telegram, the act of catching your loved-one cheating, allowing a monster onboard the ship, meeting the true love of your life, etc. The “before” world is no more, change is underway.
  5. Debate – (minutes: 12-25) – But change is scary and for a moment, or a brief number of moments, the main character doubts the journey they must take. Can I face this challenge? Do I have what it takes? Should I go at all? It is the last chance for the hero to chicken out.
  6. Break Into Two (Choosing Act Two) – (minute: 25) – The main character makes a choice and the journey begins. We leave the “Thesis” world and enter the upside-down, opposite world of Act Two.
  7. B Story – (minute: 30) – This is when there’s a discussion about the Theme – the nugget of truth. Usually, this discussion is between the main character and the love interest. So, the B Story is usually called the “love story”.
  8. Fun and Games/The Promise of the Premise – (minutes: 30-55) – This is when Craig Thompson’s relationship with Raina blooms, when Indiana Jones tries to beat the Nazis to the Lost Ark, when the detective finds the most clues and dodges the most bullets. This is when the main character explores the new world and the audience is entertained by the premise they have been promised.
  9. Midpoint – (minute: 55) – Dependent upon the story, this moment is when everything is “great” or everything is “awful”. The main character either gets everything they think they want (“great”) or doesn’t get what they think they want at all (“awful”). But not everything we think we want is what we actually need in the end.
  10. Bad Guys Close In – (minutes: 55-75) – Doubt, jealousy, fear, foes both physical and emotional regroup to defeat the main character’s goal, and the main character’s “great”/“awful” situation disintegrates.
  11. All is Lost – (minute: 75) – The opposite moment from the Midpoint: “awful”/“great”. The moment that the main character realizes they’ve lost everything they gained, or everything they now have has no meaning. The initial goal now looks even more impossible than before. And here, something or someone dies. It can be physical or emotional, but the death of something old makes way for something new to be born.
  12. Dark Night of the Soul – (minutes: 75-85) – The main character hits bottom, and wallows in hopelessness. The Why hast thou forsaken me, Lord? moment. Mourning the loss of what has “died” – the dream, the goal, the mentor character, the love of your life, etc. But, you must fall completely before you can pick yourself back up and try again.
  13. Break Into Three (Choosing Act Three) – (minute: 85) – Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last-minute Thematic advice from the B Story (usually the love interest), the main character chooses to try again.
  14. Finale – (minutes: 85-110) – This time around, the main character incorporates the Theme – the nugget of truth that now makes sense to them – into their fight for the goal because they have experience from the A Story and context from the B Story. Act Three is about Synthesis!
  15. Final Image – (minutes: 110) – opposite of Opening Image, proving, visually, that a change has occurred within the character.

His presentation then shows how this structure works from modern movies like ‘The Fault with our Stars’, to “Indiana Jones” to video games like Super Mario Bros and Ico.

Try it out on the next movie you watch and see how accurate it is.