Why You Should Maintain A Solid Frame

“Life will throw an innumerable number of challenges at you. It will test you day in and day out and create obstacles and problems that you will have to solve. You will be challenged both mentally and physically to make it through while preserving your calm and your resiliency.”

Life will throw an innumerable number of challenges at you. It will test you day in and day out and create obstacles and problems that you will have to solve. You will be challenged both mentally and physically to make it through while preserving your calm and your resiliency. When you think of what ‘frame’ is in the psychological sense, think about what makes up your personality. Are you cool under pressure? Are you able to maintain your calm when things are unraveling or getting out of hand? Can you persevere when faced with both known and unknown problems?

If you answered ‘yes’ to those rhetorical questions, then your frame is solid and on a good foundation. Having a solid frame is not just about housing or for a building’s physical structure, but it can be extended to people and our emotional makeup. When your frame is solid, you will be able to meet challenges head on and even if you fail or fall short, you will have met the challenge with resiliency and perseverance. Having solid frame is primarily not what happens to you but how do you deal with what happens to you, especially when things are not going your way.

An example of a person with a solid frame does not get discouraged easily, does not overreact, and keeps their emotions under control even when internally, they may be struggling or dealing with the multiple emotions bubbling under the surface. That does not mean to not show emotion at all but to hold it in control and be able to hold them in check to not let your emotions get to you and cause you to crumble under pressure. In an emergency or a life-threatening situation, that is where having a solid frame will come most in handy and could mean the difference between life or death.

For example, when you are on a flooded road in pitch black darkness and there’s no one around and your car isn’t starting, what do you do? Do you shake the wheel in anger, punch it in frustration because the car won’t start, and let the waters consume you while you lash out? Or do you take advantage of the minute or less available to unhook your seatbelt, crack the window wide open, and create enough physical space so you can get your body out fast before you are unable to get out with the water filling up to your head leaving you vulnerable to drowning?

Being able to maintain your emotional state even under intense pressure will set you apart from others and help solidify that frame so that when the time comes and something terrible happens, you will be able to handle it without losing emotional control when you need it the most. You never think about your emotional state until it is being engaged by outside pressures and when it’s being challenged by internal or external factors, sometimes both at once. Think about those jobs where your frame needs to be solid almost 100% of the time whether you are a firefighter, police officer, soldier, paramedic, etc. Having a solid frame is key to making it through the day without an error or issue that could be fatal if serious enough.

Now, even if your day job or school life is not as engaging to your emotional state, you still need to be able to handle tasks under pressure or stress whether you are driving in ‘rush hour’ traffic or attempting to make your way out of a rambunctious crowd at the end of a rowdy concert with thousands of people fumbling to the exit together. Your solid frame needs to be engaged as much as possible even when you don’t think you’ll need to use it. A disaster or an emergency or a problem can sprout up when you least expect it so it is important to be consistently practicing how to strengthen your frame of mind when it will be tested.

Having a solid frame also extends to your friendships and relationships so that you will be able to handle any potential issues or conflicts that will need to be worked out. This is especially the case when there’s years of past relations or friendship at stake. You must be able to not let your emotions get the best of you when it comes to how you feel about the person(s) but rather to handle the issue rationally as much as possible with your best interest in mind. It is important to not lose your temper or get distraught because of the issue when you’ve been through a lot together with that person over the years, but you should treat the problem you’re having with them as separate from how you feel about them to deal with it logically.

Being able to process and control your emotions in a healthy manner is the main part of having a solid frame. Being primarily concerned with the problem or issue rationally and how to figure it out logically without the issue becoming too emotional will save you a lot of grief, heartache, and even your life. I do recommend trying to plot out how you feel about stressful situations in retrospect and if you were able to maintain a solid frame or not. Think about if you were able to keep your emotions in check or did you lash out which caused the situation to spiral negatively?

If you are in a pattern of personal behavior when your consistent responses to stressful or anxious or tense situations leave you emotionally drained, and you were not able to solve the problem(s) effectively as a result, you will need to work on solidifying your frame and working on your overall emotional state. Sometimes, changing your emotional state involves writing out how you would react to hypothetical situations. You may also need to act out such situations with a trusted friend or family member or even a psychologist.

Any of these examples would be able to see where you went wrong or how the stressful situation could have been handled better. Above all else, a solid frame involves thinking before you act, deep breathing, and evaluating as quickly as possible a course of action rather than lamenting or despairing on why you are in the situation to begin with. Without establishing a solid frame, you may not be able to handle what is thrown at you in life. Your emotions may continue to get the better of you when you do not have them under control to begin with leaving you vulnerable to a more stressful and chaotic life.

‘A Serious Man’ – Film Review and Analysis

“Above all else, it is a story of a ‘serious’ man who wants to be taken seriously and seems unable to be granted that not only from his teenage children but also from his estranged wife and it seems from religious leaders in his suburban Jewish community.”

Man can be tested again and again but how exactly he deals with life’s challenges and his overall resolve and mettle will be seen as the measure of his true character. If I had to sum up the excellent movie, ‘A Serious Man’, it is a dark comedy but also a human drama regarding fate, fortune, and whether the role of a higher being can ultimately affect our destiny. Above all else, it is a story of a ‘serious’ man who wants to be taken seriously and seems unable to be granted that not only from his teenage children but also from his estranged wife and it seems from religious leaders in his suburban Jewish community.

‘A Serious Man’ (2009) is an excellent modern-day film directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, who I would imagine have had a similar childhood to the lead character of Larry Gopnik (played by Michael Stuhlbarg), which is the inspiration for this adapted screenplay, which is brilliantly written and relatable even if you’re not of the Jewish faith. The Coen Brothers both were raised and grew up as Jews in 1960s – 1970s Minnesota near the Twin Cities. It is likely they had to deal with being religious minorities in a mostly goyim (non-Jewish state) as well as with the growing counterculture and changing attitudes towards parental authority, sex, style, personal responsibility, and other societal upheavals including regarding race, gender, and politics.

While the Coen Brothers have had successful movies before and have won Academy Awards for movies such as ‘No Country for Old Men’, this film, ‘A Serious Man’ is quite unique given that it combines both comedic and dramatic elements, usually in the same scene. Overall, it triumphs as a film in doing that and is also laugh-out-loud funny and additionally heart-wrenchingly sad and melancholic. This film was universally praised and as I re-watched the film again after many years, it stands as one of the best films of the 2000s. Not only is the screenplay and writing engaging and insightful but also the acting is top notch thanks to the hard work of Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, among others in the film.

When you consider the main themes of ‘A Serious Man’, you think of several of them that deal with human nature such as upholding your morality under stress, taking care of those closest to you, dealing with adversity and unforeseen hurdles, and how to deal with questions of faith when you feel that you have been abandoned. As I mentioned earlier on, Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) wants to be taken seriously given the way he has lived his life and he has strived to do so with his academic and professional accomplishments. Sadly though, he is not only not able to get as much success with his professional pursuits, but he also struggles to hold his personal life together.

Despite how ‘serious’ of a man Larry thinks he is, those in his life can’t help but not take him seriously or choose not to. Instead of reassessing his actions and trying to make some behavioral changes or work on any personal defects he may has in addressing his challenges, Larry instead challenges his faith in God and wonders if the Rabbis of his synagogue will have the answers to the questions God has challenged Larry with.

As the film starts out, Larry appears to be relatively successful as a Physics professor waiting to be tenured. He teaches his classes, does research (albeit has not published anything), and enjoys the work he does. Larry is married with two teenage children and a modest house in the suburbs. Him and his family want for nothing, and it looks like he has everything you could want out of life on the surface.

As appearances can be deceiving, the film breaks down how one man’s life can be turned upside down and inferring what events beyond Larry’s control could have tipped his fortune to be negative, as in a curse, years or centuries ago. It is a series of events that tend to turn Larry’s life upside down even when he has not done anything wrong. A Korean student in his Physics class tries to bribe Larry to get a better grade and leaves before Larry can return the money and punish him for the illegal act.

Larry also comes home to his wife, Judith, who asks him for a divorce and for a ‘gett’ or permission to do so she can remarry within the faith to Sy Abelman (Fred Melamed) who everyone takes seriously as a ‘Serious Man’ except for Larry. Larry is envious of Sy to some degree and feels like he has everything given to him whereas Larry has had to work hard for his success. Suddenly, ‘the domino effect’ of one negative event after another happens including Larry losing his home, access to his bank accounts, his marriage, and even his relationship to his teenage children become estranged.

This string of unfortunate events has Larry looking to cast judgment on God and questioning his faith in Judaism. Larry goes to three different rabbis whose advice and counsel does not help him any further. He cannot relate to what they tell them especially as the eldest, he considers to be too unavailable or unwilling and the youngest rabbi being too inexperienced or immature, who end up wasting his time. The 2nd and wisest rabbi give him the advice through an allegory, that while fictional, has a good message to it ends up helping Larry the most that God can only provide the questions, but you must find your own answers. The best way the 2nd rabbi implies to Larry is that he must “help himself by helping others.”

Essentially, Larry Gopnik must look beyond his own pain and selfish wants and look to control what he can and do what he can to get his life back on track. Larry can also do ‘mitzvahs’ especially regarding his own family. Larry’s younger brother, Arthur, is homeless and not mentally sound so Larry tries to get him on his feet but struggles to find the money or the resources to help his brother with his many troubles. He still attempts to maintain better relations with his kids, his soon to be ex-wife, and with his work colleagues. Without spoiling the rest of the movie, Larry understands that he must look to help others rather than looking to God to intervene. While ‘The Boss’ is present to give questions, the answers must come from within.

How Larry stands up to challenges and adversity is like the Torah’s stories about men like Job and Jonah who had their lives thrown into upheaval but were able to get over the anguish by holding true to their faith in God but looking inwards in their own strength, knowledge, and belief in morality and good will to make it through on the other side better than before. Life throws challenges at us every day and how we react to them and try to get through it with our God-given wisdom, kindness, compassion, patience, and reasoning will decide how far we can proceed in life to get back to being successful. Fortune is not everlasting, and faith will not provide good fortune. What can provide good fortune is to do your best, help yourself and others around you, and look to your own inner beliefs and values to guide you through the tough times.

‘A Serious Man’ is about a man who considers himself to be serious but has to struggle for others to call him ‘serious.’ In an effort to be taken seriously, Larry does end up struggling to fulfill the other important parts of his life that require his attention. He can forget to be loving and caring to his wife, attentive and helpful to his children, and more involved within the Jewish community including at his son’s Hebrew school. Larry is not a bad man but the cracks in his life cause some bad events to happen including events for which there is no logical explanation. Larry does his best to be a good man and although he is flawed, bad things happen out of nowhere to him.

The test throughout this excellent film is how do you claw back from adversity and try to give yourself the best shot at having good things happen in your life. Even if your family may appear to be cursed or have a string of bad fortune dating back to the shtetls of Eastern Europe, how do you turn it around so your son or your daughter don’t deal with the same tragedies and setbacks? There are no easy answers in ‘A Serious Man’ but the Coen Brothers make it clear that it is not wise to look to God to solve the problems for you or provide the answers.

The central message of this film is not just for Jews but for all people. God may have provided life’s questions for you to answer but it’s up to you alone to answer them throughout your life. While you may lose faith in hose providing counsel or advice or in the religion itself, the film makes clear that you have to believe in yourself, to help yourself pull through the pain and sorrow, and to help other people, especially the family and friends closest to you, who are going through tough times as well, whose aid and assistance you can provide may be able to help you get to the right direction in life again and to lead you to a better place than you were before.

Anatomy of a Scene – The Climb

My love for The Dark Knight trilogy by Christopher Nolan is based on how realism blends with the superhero themes that make it a compelling series of movies. Not only is the acting, cinematography, and directions of these films brilliant but you enjoy the deeper themes and meaning behind the storylines. Some of these scenes including the one I am highlighting from ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ have not only great symbolism but larger lessons for our own lives on how we react to adversity and the challenges that life throws at us. Even when you are not Batman, a superhero with genius level intellect and almost superhuman physical strength, we can relate to Batman because he is fallible, and he has his weaknesses like we all do.

The brilliance of this particular scene from ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is it shows Batman or Bruce Wayne at one of his lowest lows. He is an older man, not as physically imposing or as intimidating as he used to be, and he has lost almost everyone who meant to something to him. This scene comes in the 2nd half of the film and is located in a pit which has a double meaning to it. From the depths of this pit, we wonder if Batman will be able to rise and become who he is meant to be in order to face his adversaries head on.

‘The Climb’ scene from ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is the best scene in the The Dark Knight trilogy in my opinion. Between Hans Zimmer’s music to the dialogue to the feeling of suspense to the ultimate payoff, it is an incredibly powerful scene that will stick with you even years later when you have forgotten other parts of the movie. I would like to breakdown the scene’s setting and what is happening along with giving some background as to what is significant about the events of the scene.

The beginning of the scene begins with the Bruce training physically in order to be strong enough to leave the pit where he is a prisoner like other similarly forsaken men. He is confident in his abilities even after having fractured a few of his back vertebrae after getting ‘broken’ by Bane, a masked villain who seems to be immune from Batman’s stealth and fighting tactics. After being sent to ‘the worst hell on Earth’ according to Bane, Batman slowly recovers from his injuries with help from the prison doctor and the blind seer who give him the history of the prison. It is Bane’s prison and he has sent many men there to die as no one has ever escaped except for Bane, which is only a rumor at this point. Bruce tells the prison doctor that he is not ‘meant to die in here’ even though to the doctor, it makes little difference where Bruce dies since no one has ever made the leap to freedom to survive and leave.

Even with Bruce’s back healing and seeing the urgency of Gotham City being under lockdown by being threatened with a nuclear weapon and his armed henchmen, Bruce has to spend a few months doing pushups, pull-ups, sit-ups and any other activity in order to physically be ready to escape. “Survival is the spirit” says the blind seer who used to care for Bane when he was in the prison. Bruce is ready physically according to him and he says his soul is ready, but he fails a few different times and re-injures himself while trying to make this leap to freedom.

It is more than just your body being ready to jump but it is also about the spirit, which revolves around mental toughness. The blind seer reminds Bruce that he cannot make the leap if he does not fear death. Bruce is not afraid of death in general but is afraid of dying in a pit prison for which there is no escape while his home city burns and suffers. Bruce is angry at Bane and wants vengeance but before he is able to leave, he must conquer the ultimate fear of death by facing it head on.

The blind seer tells him again that he has to “Make the climb…” Bruce asks incredulously, “How?” having tried multiple times with a rope attached to him to prevent him from falling to death from the top area of the pit. The blind seer reminds him that he must jump “without the rope” which acts as a safety harness, “Then fear will find you again…” In order to conquer the fear of death and dying in the pit, Bruce must leap to freedom with nothing holding him back, not a rope nor his fears such as of bats.

Bruce only brings with him ‘supplies’ for his journey back to Gotham remaining ever hopeful he will survive this leap to freedom with no rope to hold him back or keep him from suffering the deadly consequences. Bane’s prisoners start chanting from their cells ‘Deshi Bashara’ over and over again and louder as Bruce gets ready to climb out of the pit. Bruce asks the Doctor, “what does it mean?” and the Doctor replies, “Rise.” Bruce’s father, before his death, asked his son, “Why do we fall?” and after all this time as Batman and the trials and tribulations he has experienced as a caped crusader, he finally knows the only answer in his life is to “Rise.”

Looking on and as the blind seer hears the ‘Deshi Bashara’ chants get louder and louder, Bruce begins his climb out of the pit without the rope. As Bruce gets towards the final jump out from the top ledge of the pit to climb out, the music starts to crescendo and the bats that he has feared all of his life since his parents’ death fly out of the top edge of the pit and surround him as he gets ready to jump.

Realizing he no longer has the constant fear of them, he realizes he is Batman risen again and can make the full jump with confidence that he will make it. Seeing daylight above him and having faith in his ability to rise up to save his city, Bruce holds on to the other ledge successfully making about a 3-meter jump to avoid death and live to fight another day. Having seen daylight and the sun fully for the first time in months, Bruce is aghast that he made it but his determination to save Gotham steadies himself for the long journey ahead.

Because Bruce Wayne is Batman, he remembers to save Bane’s prisoners, most likely innocent men captured in the fight asked the supervillain and throws them down the long ropes so that they too can climb out to freedom with his help. It’s the small details like that which make Nolan’s Batman trilogy the best of all Batman films. Bruce’s Batman persona does not forget the men who helped him heal his back, train himself physically, and offer the wisdom to face death head on in order to face Bane again and save the city. This very pit that Bruce rises from is directly inspired by the comic books themselves as it is similar to the ‘Lazarus Pit’ where men can be regenerated and made immortal again by the pit’s healing powers.

There is also references made to Ra’s Al-Ghul who appears to Bruce in a vision speaking about the ‘many forms of immortality’ that exist and how he may still be around through Bane’s control of the League of Shadows or otherwise. “There is a prison in a more ancient part of the world, a pit where men are thrown to suffer and die, but sometimes a man rises from the darkness. Sometimes, the pit sends something back.”

Bruce was able to get back because he rose from the darkness of his own despair from being broken in terms of mind and body but was able to risk it all in order to save his city. He faced his fears head on and was able to have enough confidence in his abilities to leap to freedom and be ‘sent back’ to Gotham to avenge those suffered under Bane’s tyranny. Bruce is a hero as well because he is selfless and thinks about others before himself such as those men in the pit he freed and giving them real hope rather than just a glimmer of sunlight by handing them down the rope so they could be free too from Bane’s cruelties.

This brilliant scene can have a deeper meaning for us all because during our lives, we will all be down in the metaphorical pit being unable to escape our own fears, doubts, and phobias. However, we must always face our fears and rise out of the pit of despair to give ourselves the best chance to succeed. Whether its feeding your family, learning a new skill to be employed, or winning a championship in an intensive physically or mentally challenging activity, we must face our fear head on and realize it is better to have thrust ourselves into these challenges head on than staying down in the pit of our own worries.

During our lives, we must cut the proverbial rope of convenience, comfort, and easy living to truly develop ourselves and our abilities. Life is not without risk including sickness and death, but we must continue to fight on and continue to escape the self-made pits that lie within each and every one of us. Motivating yourself to fight against these problems and letting go of your fears will make you a stronger person. Whenever life gets you down, remember to fight on and use this movie scene as a motivation for you to continue on. You will be down in the pit as Bruce was during this film, but it does not mean that you are doomed to stay there. With taking on your fears, living life how you want it to be lived, and overcoming challenges and obstacles, you too will make the leap to freedom in mind, body, and soul.

Hiking in Florianopolis

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Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Florianopolis, Santa Catarina, Brazil 

‘Everything In Its Right Place’ (A Video Retrospective)

It’s hard to really love most music videos today which tend to be shallow and lacking in any original thought. During past decades leading up to the 2000’s, it seems like actual effort and work was put into music videos of songs in order to get on MTV but also to highlight the themes of the song as well as the entire album. There are a number of my favorite artists who produce great music videos including Radiohead, The Smashing Pumpkins, U2, Oasis, Dave Matthews Band, etc.

However, MTV and official music videos are not what they used to be. In an age of instant gratification and live concerts being streamed of the songs you love, it’s hard to appreciate music videos as being part of an increasingly crowded creative marketplace. While official music videos may be dying, creative videos and covers of songs from our favorite artists seem to be on the rise. Considering that music videos are usually for hit singles of certain songs and not for entire albums, there has started to be a movement towards producing independent music videos for songs that never received the official ‘music video’ song treatment.

The rise of YouTube and other video platforms has allowed creative people who are fans of good music to produce their own music videos. While they started out as being kind of cliché or very amateur, they are now becoming very professional and also very related to the lyrics of the song in question. I saw a particular music video of a favorite song of mine featured on YouTube a couple of weeks ago. The song is ‘Everything in Its Right Place’ by Radiohead and it is an excellent song by my favorite band but the one thing that this song never had was its own brilliant music video to go with it.

Because of YouTube, the creative skills of a fan named ‘Capitao Ahab’, which is a pretty fun name in its own right, although I believe the original video creator’s name is Joschka Laukeninks who created it and titled it ‘BACKSTORY.’ It is a now an unofficial music video on the popular video platform that is really well done and professionally shot that has received almost two million views. A video like this would not have existed ten years ago but luckily it does. Part of the reason why this music video is so impactful is that it works so well with the content of this particular Radiohead song.

‘Everything in Its Right Place’ like many of Radiohead’s songs are open to interpretation but it is soothing with its use of synthesizers, digitally manipulated voices, and haunting electronic sounds that sound comforting when you have your headphones on at full blast. The lyric itself of ‘Everything in Its Right Place’ focuses on how to maintain your composure and your levelheadedness as you go through life. The fan music video’s storyline of a baby becoming a boy, a man, and then an elderly man highlights the ups and downs of life and how there are ‘two colors in my head.’

The ‘two colors’ could be interpreted as the good and the bad that you will go through as you go through life’s uncertain and mysterious waters. In particular, the song begins with the oft-repeated lyric of ‘Kid A’, the title of Radiohead’s 2000 album and expresses the experiences of a ‘boy’ as he is born, grows up, matures, and eventually dies. “Yesterday, I woke up sucking on a lemon.” Is also a lyric up to the fan’s interpretation but it implies that life can be sour as well as sweet and that you will have to taste and swallow the bitterness of life if you want to enjoy the sweet part of the fruit.

The music video begins on a hopeful note as a baby boy gains his first steps as he walks through his parents’ house. The sweetness of his childhood is referenced with meeting animals for the first time, having his 6th birthday, going to the beach, and experiencing pure joy at that age. Childhood innocence does not last forever so the boy ends up experiencing his first pains in life including the accidental burning down of his house, fights between his mother and his father, the divorce and exit of his mother from his life, pressures from his father to succeed as he ages into being a teenager.

Learning in school, riding his bicycle, summer days at the swimming pool are some of the joys of teenage life including his first experiences with girls as well with drugs and late nights with friends. Still though, the joys of discovery and youth are balanced out by his struggles with partying too much, getting into rights, being angry at the world and dealing with bad breakups. In one part of the video, the teenager emerges from the pool as a young man ready to take on the world in his 20’s. He thinks his partying days and life as a Bachelor will last forever until he stares at the woman of his dreams on New Year’s Eve and she stares back signaling a new relationship that will change his life.

They date, travel, live together, and the young man eventually proposes to the woman of his dreams. As the video speeds up, so does the aging and life of the man as he gets married, celebrates the birth of his child, and gets ready for middle-aged challenges and prospects. Moving into a house as newlyweds, getting a better job, moving up the corporate ladder, using his new car, traveling for work, going to important meetings, and shuffling along while growing a beard signifies how fast life speeds up the older you become. Sometimes, you’re running so fast that you can’t keep track of who or what you are. In the video, the man still remembers the little blissful moments of carrying his child with his beloved wife, family dinners, and trying to balance work and family until tragedy suddenly strikes.

The hardest part of life is unforeseen tragedies and we hope and pray to never experience any to happen, but this man has the tragic occurrence of seeing his wife and child running towards him across the street only to be hit by a bus and to be taken off life support. The song’s crescendo builds up as the man struggles through grief, longing, and how to move on when he knows he can’t but has to anyway. After the tragedy, what once was promising is now dull and at once he was fast to move through the world, he staggers slowly through it wondering what it is all worth and why keep going? How can one fill the void in their own heart when it was taken out of them and cannot be put back?

We see the man continue with his work, entertaining clients, meeting a new woman and getting married again but there is the lingering sense that it is not what he envisioned his life to be. He can have a child with her, but it won’t be the same as his first true love or bring back his first child. Trying to fill the void with an extramarital affair, fighting with his new wife, jogging and running to keep moving forward to futilely escape from one’s own pre-destined aging are all ways of coping both unhealthily and healthily as you go through middle age to becoming elderly in your later life.

Maybe if he stops running or walking or jogging, he will have to face his own eventual demise and departure from this world or face his memories of losing loved ones or losing his mother. The aged man with gray hairs continues to work, to exercise, to keep up his health by going to the doctor and trying to save his marriage. Some of these battles he will win, and some he will lose although we will never know from such a short video. Eventually, the man is elderly and looking back on his life from his bed and looks to be alone in the world.

However, he does not remember the tragedies that befell him as we all must endure in life sometimes. Instead, he remembers the first time he went to dance at a club, the way he looked at his firstborn child, hugging his beloved first wife, and how she stared at him lovingly on New Year’s Eve and how she stared at him at their wedding and when she gave birth to their child. He remembers the tragedy too but remembers those special moments that made his life truly worth living. You are left wondering after watching this four-minute video of a complicated, yet powerful life filled with tragedy and joy whether it was all worth it for the man. Would he do it again if he knew what was to happen in the future?

If we all knew what was to happen in the future until the end of our days, would we all do it again from the beginning? Would it be worth it even if there is pain, tragedy, and death? Would it be worth the love, joy, and pleasure that we experience as human beings as well? It really is out of our control, but this music video does an excellent job of pondering life’s deepest questions in only four minutes and only with the wistful yet dreamy lyrics of Thom Yorke from Radiohead creating a powerful combination of a great song and a great video. It may not be an original music video from Radiohead but whoever created it did a great job of getting a powerful message across to this 2-million strong audience on life, love, and loss.

If you would like to watch the music video on ‘Everything In Its Right Place’, you can find it here on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnfPaaMR6Qc

‘BACKSTORY’ Full Video on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/245687147

The Rule of Diminishing Marginal Return

There is a well-known law in economics called the ‘Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility’, which states that as consumption of a good or service increases per unit, the satisfaction derived from consuming an additional unit or more will lead to a subsequent decline in its overall utility. In other words, the more you consume, the less satisfied you will be with each additional product or service you purchase. The first thing you buy, use, or consume will be the most satisfying but the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th unit of the same item you utilize will not be as useful and could even not satisfy you at all.

This fundamental law in basic economics is one that is worth memorizing because it makes total sense. The first chocolate bar you consume will be delicious and fulfilling. You may not be satisfied with just one chocolate bar so you may end up eating another one since the first one was so tasty. However, anyone will tell you that the 2nd chocolate bar will not be as tasty or satisfying as the 1st one and you may even end up with a stomachache from eating too much chocolate if you are not careful.

The ‘Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility’ does not just apply to economic principles but goes far beyond that in terms of being applied to human psychology. The act of consumption, I would argue, is not just an economic one but also applies to the psychology of choice and how we live our lives. Everybody is a consumer in one way or another whether it’s the air we breathe, the water we drink, or the food we eat each day. Without any consumption, we would not survive but it is our choices that define our consumption habits and how we behave not just as economic actors but as human beings.

In a psychological context, instead of calling it the ‘Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility’, I would refer to it as the ‘Rule of Diminishing Marginal Return’, which is similar but discussing more how it’s a rule of life that the more we buy of something, the less return on that investment we will get out of it. The first of something whether that’s the purchase of a new car, a first trip to a new country, or the first time you try a new cuisine. These experiences will captivate you and do its job of putting your happiness level to a 9 or 10, but it’s a rule of life that it won’t stay there. While the memory of that experience will provide you with satisfaction and joy in its remembrance, your psychological state will revert to the norm of being level in terms of happiness or satisfaction with life. You may try to buy or consume more of something to recapture that feeling of happiness but that would actually be counterproductive in the long run and actually create false expectations compared to the first time you purchased or consumed that activity, experience, food, or drink.

How do you avoid the marginal returns of consuming, buying, or eating too much? Well, that is not easy to do but that is part of being a mature and responsible adult. You must have enough willpower and be able to reason with yourself that one more plate of food, one more drink, or one more car will not do the trick in giving you happiness. You must realize that your base level of happiness as a person won’t change as a result of consuming more and it may end up backfiring by causing your satisfaction to be lower because you consumed too much in the first place.
Being able to limit your consumption and controlling your vices will make you better off. If you can master your desires or your urges, then you can focus on bettering yourself or making you happier through more sustainable means. If you are working on personal projects, devoting yourself to a volunteer cause, or working on improving yourself mentally and/or physically, that kind of satisfaction will have a higher return on investment than just mindless consumption.

Consumption of goods and services may spike your happiness and satisfaction levels in the short run, but that kind of joy is short-lived and can often feel isolating if you are not sharing in that joy with others. That is why a meal with friends or family is often much better than eating by yourself. It’s why travelling with a close friend will generate more memories than a trip by yourself. It is not wrong to sometimes treat yourself to a nice meal, a nice trip, or a new gadget but shared experiences will make you happier and create more memories than those times that you were on your own in consuming.

One should carefully watch what they consume and monitor how much per day, per week, per month, and even per month they are consuming whether that’s food, drink, goods, etc. Everything in moderation is a good way to be as an adult and if you want to abstain entirely from consuming something, then that is an admirable thing to do as well. The worst thing you would want to do is to become overindulgent or overly reliant on a consumable good to make you happy or give you long-term satisfaction in life. You know better than anyone else the limits of your consumption and that true happiness is derived through shared experiences in life and of challenging yourself to be a better and more developed person.

In the long-term, I believe you get increased rather than diminished return through producing instead of consuming, by challenging yourself mentally and physically, and sharing yourself with others whether that’s through a good meal, a volunteer experience, or a worthwhile group project. All the chocolate and ice cream in the world won’t add to your happiness but would rather detract from it. A bowl of ice cream or a chocolate bar will satisfy you for a few hours, but you eventually will be back to that same level of happiness homeostasis that you had previously.

Instead of looking to keep yourself content or happy all of the time, know that happiness is not everything in life and that you benefit more from the hard work and the struggle that you put yourself on a daily basis than of just sitting on the couch and eating ice cream until the end of time.

When you get to that 2nd or 3rd bowl of ice cream, you should realize that you’re starting to get a stomachache and that you should stop yourself before you get sick. The diminishing marginal return of trying to seek out happiness through ice cream should be counteracted by getting off the couch and into the gym to start working out those extra calories you just gained.

By embracing the struggle of a gym workout and burning off all that ice cream, you’ll be sacrificing that short-term happiness for that long-term struggle but eventual satisfaction of improving yourself physically as a person and making yourself happier and healthier in the long-run as a direct result of your choices and decision-making. You should not be afraid to indulge a little bit every now and then but remember that life is better experienced in moderation and you should always watch what choices you are making as you go through your life as both a consumer and a producer.

English Corner – Embrace Your Errors

It’s natural to make mistakes. As famous English poet Alexander Pope once wrote, “To err is human.” To err or to make a mistake is unavoidable and the earlier you accept the fact, the faster you will be able to move on. If you can’t acknowledge your mistake, you won’t be able to fix it which will help you to become a better English learner. The 1st step in the process of improving your proficiency is realizing you are going to make mistakes and to be ready to correct them so that it does not happen again.

The ability to make yourself vulnerable is key when it comes to learning a new language. The vulnerability to put yourself out there and making yourself susceptible to making mistakes will do more for your English language learning than anything else. If you do not try at all or if you refuse to participate, you will definitely not improve at all. It is okay to be nervous, shy, and even worried about these mistakes but you should know that there are countless others who have come before you, made the same mistakes but they learned from them, and they were able to use these mistakes to fuel their improvements and use them as motivation to become better listeners, readers, speakers, and writers.

When you make an error, stop yourself and ask: ‘why is this an error?’ Also, realize ‘how could it be fixed?’ and then lastly inquire to yourself about ‘what can I do to avoid this mistake in the future?’. If you stop, answer, and process these three questions, you will be well on your way to avoiding further errors and helping also to allay your fears of making them in the first place.

An English teacher can only do so much for each student especially if they have 30 to 40 of them in the classroom. The individual student must take it upon themselves to face their fear head on, make the inevitable mistakes, and to learn from them through perseverance and practice. A teacher can only do so much to motivate his or her students but it is up to the student themselves how far they want to take their language learning. The classroom is a place of equal standing among language students but it is outside of the classroom where those who put in the most effort, who will likely make the most mistakes, but who spend the most time fixing those mistakes who will have the most lasting success.

Learning a language is hard work but it can be among the most gratifying things worth accomplishing during our lives. It can be messy, uncomfortable, and challenging process but that goes for life itself as well. There will be setbacks and obstacles laid in your way but you must not be afraid of making mistakes. Being able to make mistakes and to bounce back from them shows a spirit of character and determination that is not easily quenched. If the fire of learning is in you, you won’t be dismayed when you use the singular noun instead of the plural noun or you put the verb at the beginning of the sentence instead of in the middle.

Hopefully, you will have caring teachers to light your path forward along with friends and family at your side when you stumble and make those mistakes. Embracing your errors is not an easy process by any means but it’s a necessary part of the learning process. Looking back on your past mistakes, you will be grateful that you made them because they taught you a lesson and they made you a better learner. Without the chance to make mistakes, there is no true mastery. I hope that all of you English language learners reading this article to know that when you fail, simply brush it off, try again, and push forward until you succeed.

Book Recommendations – Volume IX

What better way to enjoy the Winter season than by enjoying a few good books by the fireplace or in a coffeeshop. Whether its’ fiction or non-fiction, being able to sit down and read for an hour each day is one of the best activities one can do during those cold, winter months. The three books I have recommended cover very different themes and topics but each of them is worthwhile reads especially if you are into non-fiction. From Candice Millard’s vivid storytelling of President Theodore Roosevelt’s perilous journey to the Amazon, James Clear’s atomic habits to build a better life, and author Chris Hedges’ look into the dark underbelly of American society, each book is one that I thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend to anyone depending upon what kind of non-fiction they are looking to dive into.

1.) The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard

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In our current era where past Presidents settle into retirement by creating foundations, writing memoirs, and going on paid speaking tour circuits, it can be difficult to recall that there was a time when the American president would not stay still but rather seek out new adventures. President Theodore Roosevelt was just such a former President when he embarked on a perilous and physically strenuous journey down the Rio Duvida (River of Doubt) in the heart of the Amazon. In the aftermath of his election defeat in 1912, the former President did not stand idly by and settle into a quiet retirement from politics. Instead, he did what he did best and ended up taking upon himself an adventure that no other modern President would think of doing nowadays.

Still in the early days of the 20th century, it was still the age of exploration as explorers from the Western world would go to the lesser known parts of the world to make their mark on mapping areas and landmarks that had not been discovered yet. From Antarctica to the Himalayas to the Amazon, men like President Roosevelt were drawn to both the adventure and the notoriety but also to discover the flora, fauna, and newly discovered animal species, which had never encountered humanity before. This expedition’s success relied upon the men whom Roosevelt and his Brazilian counterpart, Colonel Candido Rondon, would bring on to make sure it was successful in its mission of mapping the extent of the mysterious Rio Duvida. Because of the courage, hard work, and perseverance that men including the former President’s son, Kermit, displayed, they were able to get through a series of trials and tribulations that would have broken lesser men.

Over the six-month period of 1913-1914 when the 19 Brazilian and American men descended the River of Doubt, they were faced with multiple challenges including diseases like malaria, perilous weather conditions, intense rapids, and murder among their ranks. President Roosevelt dealt with near misses to his life including a close encounter with a venomous snake as well as a ghastly injury suffered when trying to retrieve a loose canoe that caused a serious gash injury to his leg. The President flirted with thoughts of suicide after his injury and infection leading his son and counterparts to decide whether they should honor his wishes or to carry him the rest of the way’s journey. Because of their pledge to not leave any man behind including the President of the United States, Kermit and others pushed through the physical obstacles ahead of them to arrive at the successful end to their journey through perseverance and the belief in their mission to map the entire river.

Brilliantly told and remarkably intense in its description as a fast-paced tale of adventure, Millard’s ‘River of Doubt’ is an excellent book that details a harrowing journey of the 26th President, his son, the Brazilian colonel Rondon, and his courageous men. It is hard to believe that there was a time when an American president would go on a journey like this one well into his 50’s but that was the kind of man Theodore Roosevelt was. Because of his courage and his perseverance, the Rio Duvida was renamed Rio Roosevelt in his honor. This story reminds us of what it takes to push past our mental and physical limits and why we remember these tales to understand what true bravery looks like and how Presidents should act in the face of a great challenge.

2.) Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

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‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear is an excellent book on how to re-think our habits and our reliance on them based on our awareness of how they come to be, how they are implemented, and how to change or remove them based on their overall utility. As Mr. Clear explains, “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.” We can only develop ourselves based on the habits we have on a daily basis. In order to change them effectively, small changes that lead to incremental improvements are what we should be aiming for. It’s not advantageous to change our systems of living overnight but rather to slightly shift our habits each day and start to see progress over a longer period of time.

One example is going to the gym for the first time. You may not stay for very long but if you are there for five to ten minutes and get through the initial hurdle of showing up, you can feel better about the progress you have made. Over time, you should start to feel more comfortable and attuned to going to the gym as well as staying longer once you get used to the new routine. I found James’s four-step process to breaking a bad habit or creating a good habit to be very persuasive in its argument. The ‘cue, craving, response, reward’ system is laid out in greater detail in his book but I believe that it’s an effective tool for developing better habits and eliminating bad ones.

Also, keeping track of both your bad habits and good habits will help you measure if you are making progress with either by understanding what habits you have on a daily or weekly basis. In order to better change our habits, we firstly have to be aware of them and classify them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ based on their utility to our lives. For example, if you don’t floss your teeth, perhaps you have to make it attractive by highlighting the benefits associated with the action, putting the floss in a visible place on your bathroom counter so it’s visible, and then make it easy by not using mouth wash without flossing first to develop the system.

Mr. Clear’s book is easy to read, the system he advocates for is immensely appealing, and the four-step process is clear in its methodology. You cannot change your habits without doing it yourself but ‘Atomic Habits’ successfully gives its readers a vision of how you can do so while not making it overly complicated. The system is easy to follow and he incorporates outside materials like the ‘habit tracker’ to make it easy to start changing them while reading his book.

3.) America: The Farewell Tour by Chris Hedges

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Beyond the stock market, the unemployment rate, and even the gross domestic product, notable author and journalist Chris Hedges writes eloquently and profoundly about the state of America in 2019. He does this through excellent on-the-ground reporting from Anderson, Indiana to Atlantic City, New Jersey in an effort to understand how while Americans at the top of wealth and power are doing well, the rest of us are struggling to get by in this new gilded age of income inequality. Hedges pulls no punches regarding the societal ills that have been wrought due to political dysfunction and record income inequality in America by describing in great detail the effects of the opioid crisis, the recent rise of hate groups, increased reliance on gambling, pornography, and sadism to escape reality.

Our ability to combat these negative societal trends is nullified when communities are weak and the bonds that religion, union membership, and rotary groups provided have been cast to the side. In an age of increased atomization and loneliness, Hedges argues that the average person will not be able to build a better future for themselves or their families if they have no ways of accessing economic opportunities or through having deeper social connections.

This book is a true warning sign that time is running out and that we must start paying attention to the swirling negative political and economic trends going on because it is likely that the next generation in America will be worse off if serious changes are not made. By failing to combat income inequality, climate change, gun violence, the opioid crisis, and failing infrastructure, faith in both the economic and political system will continue to decline. When power is concentrated in the hands of the few, that prosperity is not going to spread around or ‘trickle down.’

While it may be a dark and disturbing book to some, Mr. Hedges is a student of history and is eloquent in describing what are the warning signs or symptoms when a society is on the verge of decline or overall collapse. From the Roman Empire to the Soviet Union, the warning signs were there in the forms of inept political leadership and an unholy concentration of wealth. Mr. Hedges warns that we are on the same path to potential ruin and that the societal hollowing out relating to increased suicides, the fall in overall life expectancy, and the epidemic of gun violence are the sad consequences of how we are failing the average American citizen in 2019.

What I enjoyed most about this book is the sheer effort that went into meeting with people across the country to get a sense of how difficult things are and what challenges they are facing. Mr. Hedges should be commended with focusing on the real issues that confront us as Americans and being a truth-teller when it is not always popular to do so. My hope after reading this dire book is that we are able to make the necessary changes and confront these systemic challenges before it’s too late.

Crave Discomfort

The mountain looks intimidating. You’re chilled to the bone as you make the final ascent. You didn’t think you were prepared for this moment but you wanted to push yourself to the physical limit. You made this hike not because it was easy but because it was hard. In order to understand your mentality and physicality better, you had to put yourself to the test.

There’s no other way to know what you are capable of than to test yourself and to do it often. It does not matter if you are cold, you are tired, you are hungry, you are sweaty, or you are sleepy, there are times in life when you must simply crave discomfort because you know deep down that you will be more fulfilled from pushing yourself than from having played it safe.

Imagine being on the side of that same mountain and you are rock climbing to get your way to the top. Each move that you make must be analyzed quickly so you don’t make a mistake. It’s likely that you will have a harness or some kind of restraint to catch you if you fall but that’s not always the case. You’re under a large amount of emotional stress and personal discomfort but you feel invigorated when you successfully climb or hike your way to the top. You’ll never regret those times when you put yourself out of your comfort zone especially when you are able to push yourself past those previously held limits that you thought you had.

There is no such thing as a challenge-free life. Putting yourself out there is going to be uncomfortable and you are going to be vulnerable. However, you may find that you will be the most fulfilled emotionally and physically when you challenge yourself. Discomfort as a concept may seem unappealing but it is in those moments or those times of discomfort where we advance the most.

Having the means of comfort may give short-term happiness but it is definitely unlikely to lead to long-term fulfillment. The only way to achieve satisfaction or fulfillment is to acclimate yourself to dealing with discomfort and being able to overcome it again and again. Being able to handle uncertainty will set you apart from other people and give you a level of maturity that will make you a stronger and more resilient person.

Discomfort does not only show up in the form of physical challenges but also in the realm of mental obstacles. Keeping your mind active by putting it to the test will improve you in numerous ways. Whether it’s reading a 400-page book, writing a research paper, or studying a foreign language, these mental challenges will definitely cause some discomfort and that’s a good thing. These personal projects will be very uncomfortable at first, but you will notice results when you stick with them, little bit by bit, and you’ll realize that the discomfort was worth it because of how far you have advanced with your mental development.

Living a life of ease and pleasure is not going to lead you to be the best person that you can become. Only by overcoming obstacles and meeting challenges will you be able to develop yourself fully. It’s good to kick back every now and then to relax and enjoy life yet that kind of pleasure is temporary. True personal growth lies in craving discomfort in whatever form it may yield the highest rewards for you. Whether it’s running a marathon or climbing a mountain to reach new physical capabilities or to writing a thesis paper for your doctorate or solving a complex physics equation, both our body and our mind need these challenges.

If you are ever feeling lethargic or lost, you should evaluate whether or not you are challenging yourself enough. Giving yourself personal goals to work towards will make you uncomfortable but you will also be able to greater fulfillment and longer lasting happiness. Being able to put yourself out there, use your physical and/or mental abilities, and logically think through and solve problems will get you out of your self-imposed funk.

Having a deeper purpose in life that is fulfilling and meaningful is necessary for everyone to pursue. Everybody will struggle at first to find out what exactly they were meant to do. Instead of doing nothing about it, I think it is best to try out different things that are uncomfortable to find out which challenges make you feel the most engaged and willing to overcome. Doing a bunch of different things to keep yourself active is better than to do nothing at all. Time is limited so it’s best to challenge yourself in a variety of ways first before you settle on the one or two major challenges in life that you want to succeed at.

Craving that discomfort is a necessary part of this part of self-development. Failure is possible and you may not ultimately succeed. However, if you fail, you will learn from having tried your hand at it and you will be the better person for it. Once you try at something, even without ultimate success, you know that you have the ability to take on challenges and eventually you’ll meet them without unease and with greater confidence. It is far better to have failed one hundred times and to have succeeded on your 101st try, then to have failed only once and then give up entirely without trying again.

Many people today shy away from being uncomfortable at all, even for a minute, but this is much to their detriment. Being in discomfort and going through painful times is part of being human. Without experiencing that pain and that discomfort, you won’t be able to become a stronger person. The person who has been through several trials by fire is the person you want around in times of discomfort and distress. You don’t want to be around a person who only indulges in pleasures and shies away from any pain.

Having physical toughness and mental fortitude to meet challenges head on are traits that you should want to make part of yourself for the rest of your life. Putting your fear and your doubts aside to climb that mountain, write that book, learn that language, or solve that Math problem will give you an advantage over others who deny themselves discomfort. You have to want to engage in the discomforts in life because in today’s day and age, it is easier than ever to avoid discomfort. Those who pursue discomfort will be rewarded long after the challenge(s) you set for yourself have been overcome.

Daily Discipline

“Discipline is the hardest yet most important personal trait for an adult to develop.”

Discipline is the hardest yet most important personal trait for an adult to develop. In previous articles such as A Wealth of Knowledge and A Lifetime of Learning, I covered the importance of learning new things and making them apart of your skills and abilities. I want to continue on a similar note for this article on the topic of ‘daily discipline.’ We often think of having discipline in terms of avoiding that delicious piece of chocolate cake or making sure you don’t procrastinate when you’re studying for a test. However, discipline is so much more than that as a concept. The best definitions for discipline in my opinion focus on controlling one’s behavior and honing it towards a certain goal you have in mind.

Another definition that discipline is often associated with focuses on training yourself mentally or physically in order to do an activity or go through an experience. Discipline can be one of these definitions or both depending upon the context of its’ usage. It’s not difficult to obtain basic discipline when it comes to controlling your food habits or in participating in an activity that can happen on a weekly or monthly basis. However, the real test of discipline is making something a daily habit or being able to do something positive for yourself on a daily basis that takes some effort.

The first kind of daily discipline is committing to do something every day that will benefit you either mentally or physically. The key to improving or reaching your goal is to do it every day. If you want to see rapid gains in your abilities, you have to commit to it each day for as long as you can. For every person, this is a little bit different depending upon what goal you’re trying to reach and what activity you want to focus on.

The activity could be lifting weights to get stronger by committing yourself to do it every day or at least every other day. Even if you’re not lifting weights, you could be doing push ups, sit-ups or squats. More generally, you want to be doing some kind of exercise every day for an hour and you should see results if you’re disciplined about it. The ‘daily’ part of the discipline factors in because you won’t see much improvement if you’re only exercising once a week. The same goes for playing sports or doing martial arts. You won’t improve much in soccer if you only play or practice once per week. You won’t become a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu if you only train once a week.

When it comes to mental discipline on a daily basis, there are a variety of ways in order to accomplish this. Being able to sit down and read from a book each day for thirty minutes or an hour straight without stopping is a good example. Concentrating on learning a new language every day consistently whether it’s focusing on grammar, vocabulary, speaking, and/or writing it is key in order to make progress. If you want to develop a new academic skill like getting proficient at coding or statistics, you need to be able to sit down and work on those skills consistently for at least an hour a day. When it comes to these mental tasks, one day per week is simply not going to cut it. Similar to physical activities, in order to become proficient at mental activities, you really need more than just monthly or weekly discipline; you need daily discipline. Daily discipline takes a serious amount of effort and hard work which means that it’s not for everyone. However, if you’re able to prepare yourself both mentally and physically, you’ll be able to make progress and reach your goals.

The second kind of daily discipline is not just doing the activity but doing it well. What I mean by that is that you have to be concentrating solely on that activity. You should not be checking your social media, texting your friends, or watching Netflix at the same time. This kind of discipline takes narrow and complete focus. It’s simply a fact from my own experience among other people I’ve read about is that you have to be working on the one mental and/or physical activity at a time in order to achieve the most gains. This is the hardest part when it comes to having discipline because there are so many distractions in today’s world so that it can be difficult to focus only on one task at a time.

However, I’m telling you that it is completely possible and you need to have a strong sense of self-control in order to be able to do it. Daily discipline is not for everybody and it’s going to take sacrifices. If you really want to achieve something great, you really have to dedicate a lot of time and effort to it. Unless you are a natural-born genius who excels in all areas of life, you won’t be able to achieve your goals unless you’re dedicated to it 100%. If you want to do something badly enough, then you need to put the time and effort necessary into it in order to become great at it.

To use myself as a personal example, I’ve written over one hundred thousand words on my blog at this point. I would say that I’m a good writer but I have a long way to go. I’m humble about my abilities because I’ve read some truly excellent writers who have a lot more dedication to the craft than I do at the moment. I’m hoping to change that in the future but to be a great writer; it takes serious discipline, focus, and a canny ability to make observations about the world in a succinct way. I still have a goal to become a great and renowned writer but it’s going to take a lot more time and effort on my part. I have to be committed to it and to keep practicing which is what this website is for.

As I mentioned in the previous article, The Passage of Time, time is precious and it is fleeting. You have to choose what you devote your time to. That being said, if you have a serious goal that you want to accomplish or a physical / mental activity that you want to excel at, you need daily discipline. An hour a day every day of the week will put you on the right track more so than just an hour per week total. If you would rather binge watch Netflix or play games on your smart phone, then that’s the choice you make, but if you want to really excel at more things in your life, you’re going to need serious discipline and it’s going to have to be daily discipline. Good luck.

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