The Magic Sword

magic sword

Growing up I read a lot of books, mostly in the fantasy genre. I read a lot, and from grades 7-10 I probably averaged a book a week. After a while I found that most fantasy books followed a standard formula:

  • Young boy of unknown parentage is being raised somewhere in the middle of nowhere
  • Young boy meets a mysterious stranger, who convinces him to embark on a quest for a magical talisman (with a party of battle savvy comrades of course)
  • In the process, young boy finds out he is the last survivor of an ancient (probably royal) lineage
  • Young boy masters the magical talisman and uses it to defeat the great evil that is threatening the land

I’ve probably read that story (or some slight variation on it) hundreds of times, and I have to admit that as long as it’s fairly well written it never gets old for me.

One of my favorite fantasy authors is Terry Brooks, and somewhere around grade seven I read his first book (The Sword of Shannarra); which follows the standard fantasy template pretty closely.

Young boy meets mysterious stranger? Check. Young boy embarks on quest for magical talisman? Check. Even back then, the book didn’t really present a lot of surprises. But I could always look forward to whatever twist would exist on the magical talisman. It turned out this one was a sword.

What was the magic of the sword going to be? Was it going to burst into flames? Would it shoot ninja stars? Maybe it would shoot flaming ninja stars!!! My excitement and anticipation mounted as I read the book. So what did this magic sword do? It’s power was…

(wait for it)…

It made people see the truth.

The truth? Really?

Let me tell you, when you are 12 or 13 years old, that’s a pretty freaking disappointing power for a sword to have. Flaming ninja stars would have been SOOOO much cooler.

As a child, the truth seems like a pretty stupid power. Over the years I’ve come to realize that the truth is actually VERY powerful. And it’s not always easy.

We All Lie

Truth is a difficult concept. But even accepting that there are different interpretations of “truth” I believe it is safe to say that as people, we commonly hide behind lies and partial truths.

If you are one of those people who claim you never lie, then I want to make clear that my personal definition of lying includes lies by omission, as well as semantic manipulation.

Some people are EXTREMELY careful in their wording of their responses so that they can say “hey, I didn’t lie! You just didn’t ask the right question”. Guess what, if someone is asking you a question with a specific intent, but you are finding loopholes to dance around that intent based on wording, you are still lying.

Sometimes people tell just enough of the truth to downplay the question at hand. Holding back truth is still lying in my book. It’s probably worse actually, because now in addition to lying you are engaging in manipulation.

So yeah, we all lie. Some do it more frequently than others, and some lie about larger things than others. But we all do it.

Why do we Lie?

If we can accept that people lie, the question becomes why. Why do people lie?

Here’s my take:

People lie to “protect themselves”. The most obvious reason is to avoid consequences. We have done something, and we know there are negative consequences associated with it. So we lie to protect ourselves from the consequences of our actions.

Not all consequences are tangible though. Often the consequences we are trying to avoid lie in the realm of feelings and emotion. Feelings such as fear, ridicule, guilt and disappointment are the strongest drivers behind lying.

People will generally acknowledge that lies and deceit are bad. Lies (when discovered) can destroy the foundations of relationships, altering them forever.

But even more damaging than the lies we tell others are the ones we tell ourselves.

The Responsibility Principle

A while back I wrote a post on accountability. In it I discuss the responsibility principle, which is an idea that our brain naturally goes through a series of steps in the process of becoming accountable.

First we try to deny things. If that doesn’t work, we see if there’s someone we can blame. We then try to rationalize things, saying “yeah, I did this. But it was because of X”.

Next we “accept” responsibility, but only because of a sense of shame or obligation.

The last step is taking true responsibility. Accepting we are accountable for something because we know we are (accountable), and because it is the right thing to do.

Incidentally those caught up in taking responsibility due to shame or obligation also tend to take on responsibility for things they aren’t actually responsible for – which isn’t healthy.

An important thing about these steps is they happen subconsciously. And they aren’t “all or nothing”. No one is responsible all the time, and even the people who blame and rationalize the most have moments where they take ownership.

Avoiding Responsibility

We ALL try to avoid responsibility. Not all the time maybe, and the frequency differs from person to person. And when we do the people around us usually bear the brunt of this.

As a kid, things happen and it’s the fault of our parents, or our siblings. Someone gets us mad and we lash out, so it’s their fault for getting us mad. After all, WE shouldn’t be expected to channel our emotions in a healthier way. And we wouldn’t have lashed out if THEY didn’t do something first.

(Incidentally, this is the excuse abusive partners give in their relationships. “I didn’t want to hit her, really. But she did X and made me mad”. If it’s not an excuse for physical abuse, then it shouldn’t be an excuse for emotional abuse either. As kids we are just learning to understand our emotions, so it’s *somewhat* excusable. As adults? Not so much.)

Maybe we’re having problems in school. Well, clearly it’s because we have a bad teacher. Having a hard time at work? It’s probably because of your boss, or the co-worker that doesn’t like you.

And then there is our partner…

If you are in a committed relationship, your partner is likely the person closest to you and the one you spend the most time around. So they are likely to bear the brunt of the blame. You aren’t happy? Well, they aren’t doing enough, or they don’t support you enough. Or maybe it’s just that it’s a bad relationship. Obviously you would be happier with another person.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes your siblings do get you mad. Sometimes parents don’t understand, and all too often communication in relationship could use improvement. But if you find that you are often the victim of bad luck and/or bad situations, the commonality is probably you.

I see a blaming, justifying and rationalizing as a form of lying. But it is lying where we aren’t lying to others, and instead we are lying to ourselves about our own role in our choices and decision.
A good example of this was my buddy Gandalf.

He was chronically unhappy, but he always had reasons for it. Maybe it was this, or maybe that. There was always *something* to explain why he was unhappy. But it was never his fault. As he changed things and remained unhappy, he eventually ran out of things to blame. The truth was, it was never the external items. His issue was within himself, and HE needed to make changes to his outlook on life in order to change.

We all do this in some capacity. We tell ourselves lies in order to feel better about ourselves. And eventually we convince ourselves that those lies ARE the truth, and they become our reality.

Scared to Try

It’s not only our actions and the decisions we make that we lie to ourselves about. We also lie to ourselves about the decisions we don’t make.

Fear, ridicule, guilt and disappointment. These are some of the main feelings that we lie to avoid.
Let’s say there’s something we want, but we are scared. Maybe we’re scared to try, and maybe we are scared of failing. So we tell ourselves we aren’t good enough, or smart enough, or pretty/handsome enough. We tell ourselves these things, and they become excuses for why we won’t even try.

Well if you tell yourself “I can’t” for long enough, eventually you start to believe it.


I Can’t

One of the worst things you can do is say “this is just who I am, or this just the way I am”.

It can be hard to believe in yourself at times, but not believing in yourself is one of the most damaging things you can possibly do.

If you find yourself focusing on what you “can’t” do, stop. And take a breath.

We all have limitations.

There are always things we can’t do.

But focusing on what we can’t do or what we don’t have makes us victims. It leaves us out of control of our own lives. Instead find out what you CAN do. Finding what you can do, and working towards solutions is much more important.

Making Choices

I recently read an awesome post (at a great blog) about dealing with an “unhappy marriage”.

In it the author says you have three choices. You work to fix it, you accept it as it is, or you leave. Those are your choices. That’s it.

People often look at those choices and they don’t like any of them. They think – Fixing it requires communication and effort, but I don’t want to accept it, and I’m scared to leave. So they go for a fourth option. They “stay”, putting in no effort, and instead have an affair to have their happiness on the side. They blame their partner for their unhappiness, and justify the affair to themselves by saying “hey, I wasn’t happy. Everyone deserves happiness”.

They are looking for shortcuts, and instant gratification. They are looking for a solution without effort, and life without consequences.

In all aspects of life I think those same three choices apply. Fix it, accept it, or leave it. But to face that, you have to face the truth. And the truth is life requires effort, and things don’t just get better on their own.

Life isn’t always fair. Sometimes really good people get dealt really bad situations. And I am not going to pretend that people can “make things better” if they just believe, or if they try hard enough. There are a lot of things that are out of your control. But there is also a lot that you can control.

Your choices.

Your decisions.

Other people may influence you, but you own them.

Sometimes decisions have big consequences, so it’s so much easier to deny, blame, and rationalize. But the “cost” of doing this is very high. It cost us our happiness and our belief in our self.

In The Sword of Shannarra, the main character was able to vanquish evil with truth. But very few people could handle the truth, and often it comes with great cost.

A journey into the mirror is not always easy. But sometimes we have to face truths that are unpleasant in order to grow and improve.

Are you a Dreamer or a Realist?

Night Dreamer Girl
In my last post I talked about “the triple constraint” (the idea that everything we do is bound my limitations on the amount of time, money and energy we have). When you truly understand this, I believe you can have and do virtually anything. You just can’t have everything.

That got me thinking of dreams.

We all have dreams. We all have goals, and things we want out of life. So what’s the difference between someone who has dreams, and a dreamer?

I frequently hear about dreamers and realists, as if these are two contradictory concepts or opposite sides of the coin. But I don’t believe that’s right. I think you can be both. Actually I think being both is a very positive thing.

Sometimes when I hear people talk about being a dreamer, it seems people are actually using the label of “dreamer” to rationalize a lack of responsibility for their behavior. Likewise the term realist often seems used to rationalize being negative.

That’s not what they are about.

To me a dreamer is someone who is sets goals and then is willing to strive for them, no matter how realistic or unrealistic they may seem to others. Often people are ruled by fear. They are scared to try things, and scared to fail. As a result they sell themselves short, telling themselves they can’t do something. A dreamer is someone who isn’t afraid to take a chance on that dream.

But being a dreamer doesn’t mean you will do something blindly. It doesn’t mean moving forward without a plan, and it doesn’t mean you don’t understand or care about the consequences of your actions.

Being a realist doesn’t mean you see the flaws in everything. It doesn’t mean you look for reasons not to do something, or reasons why you can’t do something. That’s just negativity. Negative people talk about why things can’t be done. Realists may see those things, but they don’t use them as excuses for not doing something. They are simply things to be aware of when doing something. Instead of saying they can’t do something, a realist says “these are potential problems, and this is what we can do about them”.

So being a dreamer is not contradictory with being a realist. They are complementary.

You can do anything you want with your life. Think big, set goals for yourself, and believe in yourself. Don’t let others doubts bring you down. But ground your dreams in reality. Understand that you have limits on time, money, and energy. Understand the implications of your actions and how they affect others. Acting blindly without considering others is irresponsible. But having a plan doesn’t mean you aren’t following your dreams.

Be a dreamer, but temper it with reality.

You Can Have Anything (Just Not Everything)


I’ve mentioned before that I spend my days in the world of business and that I see parallels between what it takes to succeed in business and in relationships. One of the business concepts that I always have in the back of my head is something known as the triple constraint.

The Triple Constraint

The triple constraint is based on the idea that we are restricted in what we do by three different things; time, resources and scope. Each of these are interrelated, meaning you can’t change one without impacting the others. In the center of the triangle you see quality, indicating that the quality of what we are doing is dependent on finding a balance between these three things.


To illustrate this concept, let’s look at building a fence.

Scope is the extent or area that something deals with. You can also think of it as the range, breadth, span or reach of something. Basically it’s “what” something is. If you want to build a fence, your scope involves a lot of things. What is the fence around? Is it your whole yard? Only once side? How many feet of fence do you need to build? How tall does it need to be? What materials do you want to use? All of these details about what you are trying to accomplish are the scope of the fence.

Time is the duration of building a fence. This isn’t the time in terms of effort, but is the amount of time from start to finish. Do you want to build it in a day? A week?

Lastly you have resources. This is what you put into building the fence in terms of both money and personal effort (your time invested).

To see how these different sides of the triple constraint are related, picture a specific fence (a fixed scope). If you want to build it yourself, your resources will be the cost of materials and your effort in building it. How fast you can build it will depend on the time you have available. If you are on holidays maybe you can build it in a few days. If you are working and have other responsibilities it will take a lot longer to complete.

If you want it built faster, you can always get friends to help or hire someone – but that means it will increase your costs. If you don’t want to increase your costs (maybe you can’t afford it) you may change the design of the fence somewhat (the scope), to reduce your costs. Likewise if you want a fancier fence, or something using different materials it will impact the costs.

At some level, we have all seen this principle at play. There is a sense of “value” behind items. For example, we understand that a burger from a fast food restaurant generally costs less than a burger at a sit down restaurant. Inherent in that cost there is a sense that a higher price indicates a better burger. Maybe it’s larger, or has better ingredients, or the restaurant has better service. Similarly we expect “fast food” to be ready in a few minutes, while at a sit down restaurant we expect to have to wait a while.


Competing Priorities

In life, it’s possible to have or do almost anything if you put in enough time and effort. We’ll do better at some things than others, but you can still do anything.

However everything we do is constrained by limits on money, energy and the number of hours in a day. We only have so much of each of them. So while it IS possible to do almost anything, we can’t have everything. Working towards one thing sometimes means we can’t work towards another thing at the same time. We have to pick what is really important to us, and focus our energies on that.

Remember, the triple constraint says the quality of something is dependent on finding a balance between scope, time and resources. When we try doing too many things at once, we lose that balance. We end up burning ourselves out and the quality of ALL the things we are trying to do will suffer.

Prioritizing Love

The triple constraint is easy to see when looking at things like building a fence, but it also applies to our relationships.

In the early days of building a relationship, you are often putting considerable time and resources (both energy and money) into the other person. You may be figuring out what the “scope” of the relationship is (are we just going out once in a while? Are we exclusive? Are we a couple?), but because of the investment of time and effort you are building a level of quality into the relationship.

So where do we go wrong with long term relationships? One of the main reasons long term relationships become stagnant is because we stop prioritizing them. We stop putting in the time and effort needed to both maintain and grow our relationships.

After a while we start to feel “safe”, and believe our partner will always be there. In many ways this is a good thing. The problem is, due to this belief that our partner will always be there, when life starts to get in the way it’s our relationship that we let slide.

We have jobs, and friendships to maintain. We have hobbies, and we want to take care of ourselves both physically and mentally. Kids come, and they become the primary focus for a long time (I’ll admit kids have to be the focus, and they take a tremendous amount of energy.

But these things become reasons to neglect the relationship. It may not happen intentionally, but it happens all the same. We may “say” that our relationship is a priority to us, but when you look at how we prioritize our time our actions often don’t back up our words.

The triple constraint says there is a relationship between time (duration), energy (resources) and scope. For committed relationships we hope to spend a lifetime together, so the duration we are looking for is pretty large –it’s the rest of our life. If our duration is fixed, then that leaves scope and resources.

When we stop focusing on our relationship by spending less time with our partners and putting less energy into the relationship, the only outcome is to impact the scope and/or the quality of the relationship. Instead of having a close loving relationship, we end up as roommates.

One day we realize that, and instead of looking at WHY, we mourn the loss of the relationship.
Some people accept this reduced scope, and largely live separate lives. Others are roommates who have sex sometimes and maybe go on the occasional trip together. And others walk away because “the relationship has failed”.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

What we get out of something is dependent on what we put into it. What is it that you put into a relationship? Think of the resources side of the triple constraint – what you put in is time and energy (effort). Well, money too I suppose. But buying your partner things as a sign of affection without putting time and effort into the relationship is meaningless.

So ask yourself, what exactly are we doing when we let our relationship slide because life has become “too busy”? When we stop making time focused on being a couple?

When we do this we are taking our relationship and our partner for granted. We may say they are important, and they probably truly are. But actions speak louder than words. If we aren’t finding a way to prioritize our partner in our life, then we aren’t showing they matter to us.

This is when resentment and apathy starts to creep in, and relationships start to break down. Usually people know they are letting their relationship slide. They realize it, but with all the other things going on in life they can’t find a balance and they can’t find a way to make time.

Think of the triple constraint. If you can’t find a balance between time, scope and resources the quality of things suffers. Maybe you are taking on too much. Maybe as much as you want to do everything, you have to let something go.

Maybe you actually need to do everything that you are currently doing. If so, maybe you can get help from your partner to reduce the load and free up more time for each other.

People often say “I can’t find the time”. When you look at the damage done to a relationship by not finding the time, I think it’s more accurate to say you can’t afford not to.

Depending on what is happening in life (and especially if there are kids) I don’t think anyone is really expecting the amount of time and effort spent on the relationship that there was in the early days. That’s likely not realistic. But it’s important to recognize that your level of closeness in the relationship is like your scope. So when you have less time and effort to put into the relationship, your closeness will be impacted. That doesn’t mean you are falling out of love – it’s simply the triple constraint at work.

So think about what is truly important to you, and then look at how your time is spent. Do the two things line up?


Sometimes it is hard to make time for your relationship, and I think both partners understand this. But the effort has to always be there. With the triple constraint quality is in the middle. You can’t control the number of hours in the day and you can’t control the amount of money you have.

But you CAN take advantage of the moments you do have to focus on each other. In the process, you may find that you are building quality and closeness back in.

Embracing the Journey


Back when I was in high school, I was part of a test run where the school introduced a series of “advanced placement” classes. School had always come easy for me, but even still I remember feeling proud that I had been selected for a program for “smart kids” (what can I say, we all have egos).

In most of the cases I didn’t really notice a difference between the regular classes and the advanced placement ones. With one exception – math.

Math had always been one of my stronger subjects, but for some reason I started to struggle. We were dealing with concepts that I was having a hard time with, and before long I was feeling that I was in over my head. As someone who had always been able to just show up in class and do well, this was a new (and unpleasant experience). A few months (and tests) in, my math marks were suffering, and I started to worry about my grade.

Somewhere along the way though, things started to click. I finally started to understand what we were doing, and my marks improved. Even still, I worried about how my earlier struggles would impact my final grade. One day I mentioned that to the instructor, and he told me not to worry. To him, the early struggles didn’t matter. He told me that the concepts built upon each other, and even though it took me a while I had shown I had learned the concepts. Because of that he was willing to throw away the earlier marks. Normally the first half of a course is weighted for roughly half the final grade, and I had done poorly the first few months so I was ecstatic about this. Based on what he said, what I “heard” was that as long as I did well on the final, I could still finish with a good grade. To me, it was that final grade that mattered.

But I missed the point. It was never about the grade. The grade was a goal, or a destination. These goals are important as they give us something to strive towards. In many ways though that grade was just an empty number. What really mattered was the process, the journey of learning and gaining understanding.

As people, we do this all the time. We get caught up in focusing on the destination. We focus on what we want to have, or who we hope to be. And in the process we don’t appreciate the moment. We are focusing on what we feel we are missing or what we don’t have instead of focusing on what we do have, and who we are right now.

Your Highlights

Imagine a photo album of your life. What would that look like?

Chances are your albums are full of your “highlights”, or your best times. Maybe it has baby pictures, and pictures from events such as graduations, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries (all of these are both yours and those of people in your life). Each of these moments is simply a snapshot – a window into a point in time in our life. These may be some of the things we remember most, but these images don’t do a very good job of representing who we are or the life we have. They show what we want to show.

Not all of our moments are highlights. We make mistakes, do stupid things, and hurt the people we love. And the same things happen to us. People come and go from our lives. People we care about hurt us and disappoint us. Tragedy happens. Those moments are just as much a part of us as the ones that make it into our photo albums. We are the sum of our experiences, and all of these moments are part of the journey of who we are.

In fact I think it is often these harder moments, and how we deal with them that has the greatest impact on who we are. When we are going through difficult times, I have to admit, it kind of sucks. But these harder moments are important. They shape us and they are how we grow. For good or bad, we wouldn’t be who we are without them.

Who Do You Want to be

I write mostly about relationships, and the struggles that are common to long term relationships. Couples often hit a point where they are struggling, and they aren’t sure if it’s worth it anymore. Sometimes the passion is gone, or they just aren’t happy anymore (with themself, their partner, or in the relationships). They look around at other people, other couples, and think “is this it”? If you are at that point, have you communicated it to you partner? If so, what was their response?

Something to remember is that each moment is simply a snapshot, a point in time. Where you are today as an individual or in a relationships doesn’t define you. It’s simply a view of where you are or how you feel right now. Another thing to remember is that when you look at other people, you aren’t truly seeing them. You are only seeing a snapshot of their life. And chances are, you are only seeing the parts they want you to see.

Everyone has hard times, everyone has moments where they struggle. But that’s part of the journey.


I think that “trying” is the most important thing of all. Having a vision of what you want is a positive as it gives you a goal to strive towards. But the goal is simply a snapshot of a future state. The important part is your process for getting there. And that process is based on effort. With effort, anything is possible.

Making Changes


I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big fan of basketball. Well I’ll let you in on a little secret – I can’t shoot. I’ve had days that I will hit 10 in a row, but those are rare, and tend to be followed by stretches where I won’t hit at all. If you meet me on a day that I happen to be hitting you may think I’m a good shooter. However if you play with me for long enough, it becomes apparent that I can’t.

Shooting is only part of the game and I would like to think I can get by with some of the other things that I do well (or at least better). But still, it would help my team if I was able to hit shots more consistently.

I have never been coached. As an uncoordinated youth, I started playing late and learned basketball largely through observation, then by trying to recreate what I saw. In the process I came up with a shooting mechanic that “worked for me”. Through the years I’ve recognized that my shot is a weakness in my game, so I try to listen to other people and get pointers when I can. I’ve made some adjustments over the years, but the only consistent thing about my shot is its inconsistency.

Last summer my son was at a basketball camp and there was a “shot doctor” who came in and taught the kids the proper mechanics of shooting. I’ve read books, watched videos etc, but this was the first time I had ever had someone really break down the mechanics of a shot into their components. As he taught the kids, I listened intently.

After the camp, when I came home from work I tried to put what I had learned into practice.

My “old” shot had been internalized. It was reactive, meaning I didn’t have to think about it. And that made it really hard to change. Here’s the thing, when you have YEARS of “bad habits” built up, it becomes really hard to change them.

To make changes you need to really slow down, think about what you are doing, and go back to the basics. It took me a while to get the feel for the “new” shot mechanic, but once I did it was amazing. I was hitting shots at a much higher rate, and more importantly with greater consistency over time.


This improvement had me looking forward to the start of my mens league season, and I believed that this year I would have more confidence in my shooting.

The season started, and guess what – the speed of an actual game is quite a bit different from shooting on your driveway with no defender. I didn’t have time to think about the shot mechanics, and in the pressure of the moment I found myself reverting to my “old” (you can also read that as bad) form.

You see, its one thing to understand what you have to do to change. It’s something entirely different to put it into practice on a regular basis and in a “real life” situation.

Putting in Effort

For me basketball is just a pastime. I love it, but it’s really not that important to my life. So I haven’t put in the hours needed to really internalize the improved mechanics so I can use them in a “real life” situation. I realize that true change takes effort, and that applies to any changes in life.

In a recent post my buddy Gandalf talked about changing his life. As he said:

One item needed for this is dedication. Without that, I wouldn’t have been able to see this through and continuously try to improve every week. I needed to put lots of effort into getting better, which is where hitting rock bottom helped. I knew the problem was me, and only I could make myself better.

Learning to Cope

Over our lifetime we develop coping mechanisms for getting by in life. Similar to how I learned to shoot in basketball, we find something that “works for us”, no matter how broken or ineffective these coping mechanisms may be. As long as we are able to get by, that’s good enough for us.

When times are good it’s not a problem. But life isn’t always easy, and times aren’t always good.

How do you react when life gets tough? My buddy’s approach was to run away. Well, not literally. But his avoidance was such that his way of dealing with things was to not deal with them at all. He would withdraw, not make decisions, and retreat into his comfort zone. And it worked for him – kind of. Unfortunately he wasn’t happy. In fact, he was miserable, and he hated himself. For years he blamed his unhappiness on external things. The reality was, his coping mechanisms were broken and they were causing him to spiral further and further down into unhappiness.

Even though his coping mechanisms were at the root of his problems, they were still safe, and they were what he knew.

It’s unfortunate that people seem to need to hit rock bottom before they can get better. But I guess until they do, their coping mechanisms are still “working” for them, no matter how much damage they are doing. It’s only when they fail completely that someone is forced to face themselves, and see the need for change.

It’s only then that someone will WANT change badly enough to make it happen.

The Need For Change

I think maybe rock bottom is needed because until then, people don’t NEED change. They may want it, and they may realize at an intellectual level that it would benefit them. But change is scary.

Until someone has hit rock bottom, they don’t want change badly enough to dedicate themselves to it. So they say they are trying, but their attempts are half-hearted. Because the effort isn’t truly there, the change doesn’t work or is ineffective, so they revert back to their old ways.

Then they can tell themselves “hey, I tried”. But in reality all they ever did was set themselves up for failure.

When you look around, it’s amazing how much effort people actually seem to put into avoiding change. I think it’s due to fear. People fear change, and so even when they know change is needed, they will half-heartedly attempt it. Then when it doesn’t work, they retreat back to the old ways. But giving up on change causes it to fail before it even has a chance. And this failure becomes proof that they didn’t really need to change after all, allowing someone to slip back into the comfort of their broken coping mechanisms.

It’s kind of like when I tried adapting my new basketball shooting mechanic in a game situation. I hadn’t put enough effort in to make the change sustainable, and the stress of a real game caused me to retreat back to my old form.

Baby Steps

My buddy Gandalf had a lot of changes he needed to make. And looking at all those changes was daunting. So to move forward, he had to do it gradually.

With his doctor, he identified different levels of change, and he started with the easy changes and steadily progressed forward. There was a vision of where they wanted to be at the end, and they made a plan to get there.

Big changes are always made up of a number of smaller steps. But even for small changes, the desire and the effort has to be there. There has to be momentum. You have to WANT it, and you have to be willing to work at it.


Take a look at your coping mechanisms and ask yourself, are they really working? Or are you just “getting by”? If you tell yourself “that’s just the way I am”, guess what – you’re just like my buddy Gandalf used to be. That’s what he told himself. He expected other people to conform to him, after all, *he* couldn’t change.

As a result, he hit what for him was rock bottom. There’s a problem with rock bottom though. Depending on how far you have to fall, sometimes the climb back up is really hard. And sometimes you need to find a new path, because you’ve destroyed your old one in the process.

So ask yourself, are your coping mechanisms actually working? Or are you just getting by?

Change is hard, and it can be scary. But sometimes it’s needed for a happier future.

You Only Live Once


When we are young we tend to think of ourselves as invincible. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say we have no concept of mortality. Eventually however, this changes.

There can be any number of triggers. Midlife (and the realization that we are statistically closer to death than birth), serious injury or illness, or perhaps the death of a loved one. Anything can happen to make you realize that your time on this earth is limited.


One of the relatively recent catch phrases/acronyms (whatever you want to call it) is YOLO, or “you only live once”. This has become a mantra for a whole generation, and it carries with it the following connotations:

  • Do what you want
  • Do whatever makes you happy
  • Live for today
  • Don’t worry about the future
  • Don’t care what others think about you, live the way you want

Do you notice a trend in those? Kind of like my post What’s in it for Me?, it’s all about you. It’s all about your own pleasure, happiness, and instant gratification.

Often when you hear people use the term YOLO it’s in response to behavior that most would consider immature. Calling in sick for work because you were out drinking with buddies during the week? YOLO. Cheating on your partner because a “better opportunity came along”? YOLO. Going into debt to live a lifestyle you can’t afford? YOLO.

In fact Urban Dictionary refers to YOLO as “The dumbass’s excuse for something stupid that they did”. That description seems a bit harsh, but when you see the way YOLO is used it’s actually a fairly accurate definition. The way many people use YOLO, it has become an excuse for a lack of personal responsibility.

What is Freedom?

In the YOLO mindset, freedom is the unstated goal. The freedom to do what you want, when you want, with who you want and how you want. “Responsibility” is treated as a bad thing, because it is viewed as the antithesis of “freedom”.

I struggle to understand how responsibility is a bad thing. Yeah, I’ll admit that it would be nice to not have to worry about a mortgage and bills. But guess what, that’s part of life. Unless you are living as a gypsy and living off the land, you kind of need some form of income.

When you’re 20 it’s fine to live at home with mom and dad. Maybe even when you’re 30 (depending on the situation). But when you’re much older than that, it’s probably a good thing if you are able to handle responsibility and support yourself. I don’t know about you, but I fail to see how living paycheck to paycheck while living with mom and dad, or just living day to day with no plans or direction for the future is a sign of “freedom”.

I would think real freedom comes from having some sort of control over your own life. You may not be able to do things on a whim, but if you set priorities and make plans you are often able to accomplish almost anything. How is that a bad thing? I see that as empowering, not restricting.

Living In The Moment

Another problem with YOLO is that it focuses on instant gratification. All that matters is the here and now. You only worry about the future when it comes. But that sort of short term thinking often means you don’t have a future. Or it means your future is much more limited than the one you hoped for. Impulsive decisions tend to have consequences, and some of those consequences aren’t pleasant.

Oh, I’m pregnant!!! Hey look, an STD!!! Oh snap, I killed someone while driving drunk. Ah well, it’s no big deal, I was living in the moment!!!


Balancing the Future and Present

Short term thinking can cause all sorts of issues for people.

From a financial standpoint, it can lead people to spend their money on things they want (not necessarily need), or spend more than they have and go into debt. Credit cards and loans may seem a great way to get something, but they are less appealing when you are struggling to make payments.

It can also damage your future emotionally. This doesn’t always apply, but often affairs happen because someone is looking for something missing in their relationship, and the affair is easier than putting in the work to address the problems in the relationship. Often the thing people are looking for is something they could have had in their relationships, and they are just as guilty as their partner for the breakdown of whatever they feel is missing.

Some people go the opposite route and focus too much on the future at the expense of the present. I’ve been guilty of that, and I recognize it. I’m now making it a point to do enjoy today a bit more, and not worry as much about the future. Neither approach is healthy. You need to balance today with tomorrow.

I get that it’s easy to focus on today. What you need or want now seems immediate, and it is hard to make sacrifices today for a future that may seem out of reach; especially when there are no guarantees of the future. But although the future isn’t guaranteed you still need to prepare for it.

For me, setting goals for the future is something that gives me hope, and gives me something to strive towards. It gives meaning to the grind of the routines of day to day life.

Setting Priorities

Where YOLO does get things right is that it is true that you only get one life. Even if you believe in an afterlife, the life we have and know is finite – once its gone, its gone. But that doesn’t mean you should focus on yourself. I don’t think that’s what life is really about.

A family member was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, and it’s been a reminder of my own mortality. My response has not been to go out and spend all my money on “wants”, or to feel that I need to accomplish all my goals “today”. I haven’t spent my days in a drug and alcohol induced haze and gone off seeking pleasure wherever I can find it.

Rather, I have re-examined my own life and looked at my own priorities and what is important to me. The most important things to me are my wife and my children. My family. The people who matter to me. They are infinitely more important than the car I drive, the house I live in, or what I did last night.

Sure I have goals and dreams. I have things that I want to accomplish in my life. For example, I love travelling. I love seeing new places, trying new foods and experiencing new cultures. There are a number of places in the world that I hope to see during my life. But to me, the experience means more when I share it with someone I love. What is the point of doing any of that if I lose the things that matter to me in the process?


When I look at YOLO, I have a different approach. To me it means:

  • Do something that matters
  • Live how you want to be remembered
  • Make the most of it

I’m just one person and I have limited influence. But I still hope to leave the world a better place than I found it. The thing I can influence the most is my children, and hopefully raise them to live their lives with integrity. I try to involve myself somewhat in my community. Nothing major, but enough that I feel I have made some sort of mark.

Even this blog. I don’t know who reads it or if my words resonate with anyone. But if I can make one person actually think or give them some sort of hope, then I have accomplished something (though I will likely never know it).

That’s what YOLO is about to me. Its not about doing what I want when I want. Its not about avoiding responsibility. I only have one life, and I want to live it in a way that I can be proud of.


Your Last Day

What if today was your last day? What would matter to you?

If today was my last day, I wouldn’t spend it getting drunk, getting high, or looking for a quick thrill.

I would want to spend it surrounded by the people I love, and the people who matter to me. I would want to play with my children, read to them and draw pictures with them.

I would want to spend the day outdoors with my family. I would take the time to enjoy the feel of the grass under my feet, and the warmth of the sun on my skin (well, not if it’s winter. I hate winter. I can’t say I enjoy the feel of my skin freezing).

Maybe I would have a dinner party with my closest friends and family, where we could enjoy a good meal, tell stories and just enjoy good company.

After I would put my kids to bed, and tell them I love them. Then I would spend my last hours with my wife, reminiscing about all the good we have had in our life, and trying to laugh about the times that weren’t so good. I would hold her, tell her that I love her, and we would make love one last time before drifting off to sleep in each other’s arms.

In retrospect that would probably be pretty traumatic for her to wake up with me dead, but hey, I’m assuming it’s my last day not hers. But that’s what my last day would look like.

You only live once. So make the most of it.

Putting in Effort


One of the myths I frequently see about relationships is that they shouldn’t require effort. There’s a line of thinking out there that if the relationship is mean to be then things will just work out. And if things don’t work out? Well then it was never true love.

It doesn’t seem to matter that absolutely every psychologist/counselor/relationship expert has debunked that myth; the line of thinking still seems to persist.

For anyone who already has the mindset that love should not require effort, I realize that I won’t sway you. But for anyone who knows at least on some level that relationships require effort, hopefully this will be a gentle reminder.

Talent vs. Effort

In all aspects of life, everyone has some degree of talent. But we also have within us the capacity to learn. No matter what your level of talent is, you can develop it and improve on it. We all know this.

Did we come into the world walking, and talking? No, those are clearly normal parts of cognitive development.

What about more complex things, like math? In math there’s a reason that we start with addition and subtraction and them move onto more complex concepts. They are foundational concepts.

In our school years, we all have certain subjects that come more naturally to us than others. These are subjects that we have some sort of aptitude, or talent for. But we can still learn the others, and the key to developing any skill is effort.

The Genetic Lottery

I don’t think anyone will disagree that effort is important, but there is a belief that effort will only get you so far. This is something that becomes clearly apparent in the world of sports. If you look at professional or Olympic athletes, these are largely people that won the genetic lottery. Depending on the sport, athletes have some combination of size, speed and agility that can be breathtaking. Often when you look at athletes, it seems clear that they have a natural talent for their chosen sport. And that’s true.

One thing that is less readily apparent is just how much effort they have expended to get to the level they are at. At the top levels, EVERYONE has natural talent. Even at that level, the key differentiator between the good and the great is still effort.

There are countless cautionary tales in sports of people who have all the talent in the world, but they don’t work hard, or they have a bad attitude and a sense of entitlement. When players believe that talent is enough, they generally don’t last long. The truly great athletes are the ones who combine a natural aptitude with incredible work ethic. Effort is the key.

Effort without talent is a depressing situation. But talent without effort is a tragedy.
Mike Ditka

Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Some developmental psychologists believe that talent is actually somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Having an aptitude for something causes us to enjoy it more (everyone likes seeing success). That enjoyment in turn causes us to put in more effort, developing the “talent” even further.

On the converse, a lack of immediate success can result in frustration and a reduction in effort. And this reduction in effort reinforces the lack of success.

The real key is effort, and a belief in the ability to improve. That’s not to say anyone can do anything. Even if I started at a young age, I likely would never have been an Olympic athlete. But no matter what I choose to try, if I put in consistent effort I will be better at it tomorrow then I am today.

Effort in Relationships

If we can accept that effort can result in improvements, then I have to ask why we would believe that relationships should be any different? Doesn’t it stand to reason that as good or bad as a relationship is, it can always improve? And that improvement is dependent on effort?

Think back to the early days of your relationship. Maybe one person was the primary pursuer, but a relationship requires both people to put in effort. That effort likely involved making time for each other, and spending it together. And during that time as the relationship developed, probably both people did “the little things” to show the other that they cared, and were interested in continuing to grow the relationship. All of those “little things” are effort. They are showing interest in both the relationship and the other person.

Long term relationships are hard. That early level of effort isn’t sustainable. And unfortunately, all too often “life” takes over people start putting in a minimal amount of effort on the relationship.

I think part of this is human nature. When things get difficult, it can seem like it’s “not worth the effort”. But the irony is, in relationships it is likely the lack of effort that was a major contributor to things getting hard in the first place.

Practice Makes Perfect

Not all relationships are meant to be, and sometimes it definitely is better for people to go their separate ways. But for anyone who believes that if it falls apart then it “wasn’t meant to be”, I ask you to go back to the Mike Ditka quote from above.

“Effort without talent is a depressing situation. But talent without effort is a tragedy.” Your “talent” as a couple is whatever brought you together in the first place. You have at least some degree of talent, or you wouldn’t be together. The question is, what sort of effort do you put in to continue to nurture that talent?


Effort needs to be sustained, and continuous. It’s not something you do once in a while, or just when you feel like it. When people say “it just wasn’t meant to be”, they may be right. But I think that line is often simply a rationalization for a lack of effort.

One mistake people make when they hear “effort” is they think “work”. Work has a negative connotation to it. In some ways they are the same thing, and the main differentiator is your mental approach to it. If you see potential value, it’s effort. If you don’t, it’s work.

Anything of value in life is worth fighting for. Personally, I would rather make some mistakes fighting for something I believe in than lose something of value due to simple apathy.

In relationships, effort should be the most important thing. No matter how things are going, effort shows that someone cares. So if you want to see growth in your relationship focus on effort and not just results. As long as the effort is there, results will come in time.

Accountability Part 2 – Taking Ownership


What is the one and only thing you have control over in your life? Your job? Nope. Your friends? Nope. Your kids? Uh, definitely nope.

The only thing you have control over is you. You control your actions and your decisions. You have the ability to “influence” other things and other people. But just as you make your choices, they make theirs. And trying to control anything else is a bad idea anyhow .

Likewise there are things that influence you and your decisions. Some things have greater influences than others. But ultimately you choose which influences you will allow to impact you, and you make the choices that lead to your decisions.

In part 1 I went over the Responsibility Process. It talked about consciously choosing to be responsible, and the mental process that happens as we move through various states from denial to consciously choosing responsibility. Choosing responsibility is only part of accountability however.

Accountability is about owning your life, your decisions and your actions. The only person who controls those is you.

For some people this idea is liberating, while for others it’s terrifying. It’s not always easy to make a decision, because what if you make the wrong choice? When you make a choice, you are responsible for the outcomes or consequences of that choice. That’s fine when things go well, but what about when they don’t? Having to “own” bad choices can be a very scary thing to face.

Because of this it’s easier to try and deflect the decision making on to someone else. Denial, Blame and Justification are all examples of deflecting decision making away from yourself. Another approach is to simply not make a decision. However NOT making a decision IS a decision. It is essentially the same as denial. The following quote sums this up beautifully:


It’s important to understand that no one acts from a position of accountability all the time. All of us have moments that we try to deny, blame, justify, or act due to shame or a sense of obligation.

Periodically that is fine, but some people rarely hold themselves accountable. Instead their default mode of operating is denial, blame, justification, shame and obligation.

It seems obvious that these are negative modes of operation, so would anyone want to operate from these modes? I don’t believe anyone really “wants” to operate from any of these modes. Rather, these modes are primal responses to issues, and it is easy for your mind to accept them as acceptable responses.

Learned Helplessness

Have you ever heard of Learned Helplessness? There’s a lot of valuable literature on it, but in summary Learned Helplessness is when someone has lost the belief that they are able to change their situation. They actually CAN impact their situation, but due to a belief that they can’t, they don’t even try. This creates a self fulfilling prophecy, where the lack of belief leads to an inability to attempt change (or in some cases a half hearted attempt). But this inability to attempt change is the actual driver behind the lack of change.

Learned Helplessness often goes hand in hand with Victim Mentality. This is a learned trait where someone tends to:

  • Blame others for a situation that they have either created or contributed to. They don’t take responsibility for their own role in the situation
  • Assume the worst, incorrectly attributing negative intentions to other people
  • Compare themselves to others, believing that other people are happier than they are

Impacts on Mental Health?

Learned Helplessness and Victims Mentality can have serious consequences. People who exhibit these characteristics generally don’t hold themselves accountable for their actions and decisions. They also tend to have low levels of happiness. More alarming, there is a strong correlation between these and things like clinical depression and mental illness.

Thankfully, because these are learned mindsets they can be corrected. For many psychologists and counselors significant effort is spent trying to correct these negative mindsets and replace them with healthier ones.

Unfortunately studies show that these mindsets and the issues related to them are on the rise. I’ve seen numbers showing anywhere from a tenfold to a thirty-five fold increase in the last two generations.

Here is an interesting quote I found about this (in this case specifically on depression):

There is 10 times more major depression in people born after 1945 than in those born before. This clearly shows that the root cause of most depression is not a chemical imbalance. Human genes do not change that fast.

Let’s re-examine a few of these points:

  • There are significant increases in major/clinical depression and other mental illnesses or disorders. The speed of the increases suggests some sort of cultural or social cause
  • These conditions show a high correlation to characteristics like Learned Helplessness and Victims Mentality. Both of these are learned behaviors, characterized by low levels of happiness and personal accountability

Looking at this makes me wonder about the relationship between personal accountability and issues such as depression. Is it possible that not learning personal accountability predisposes you to future issues? If so, what are some of the societal changes that have led to this shift?

Culture Shift

One possible contributor is that we seem to have become a culture of blame and entitlement. We see this in the legal world, where frivolous lawsuits have become the norm. But we also see it in other aspects of life.

What’s that, little Suzie didn’t do well in school? Well it must be because she has a poor teacher. You aren’t getting the playing time for your sports team? It’s because the coach doesn’t like you. You don’t have a good job? It’s because of the economy. Your relationship fell apart? Well that’s because you and the other person just weren’t compatible.

Where is the sense of ownership? Where is the sense of pride in immersing yourself in something and knowing that your success or failure is largely under your own control?


Accepting Failure

One possible contributor to this shift is an unreasonable focus on results, or success. There is considerable pressure to “be the best”. One slogan I remember going around (at the Olympics no less) was:

Second place is just the first loser.

I’m all for improving yourself and trying to be the best that you can be, but there is just so much that is wrong with that slogan. It’s always good to have other people to measure yourself against, but what’s more important is how you are improving and growing personally.

One problem with this focus on success and being the best is that is has created a fear of failure. Failure may be disappointing, but it’s a good thing. Failure is the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. It is our reaction to failure that matters. Failure is how we learn.

Is everything going to go your way in life? You think you’re on the Earth and everything you want to happen to you is going to happen to you positively? The measure of who we are is how we react to something that doesn’t go our way. – Greg Popovich

Over Parenting

One additional item that I believe contributes to a lack of accountability is us, and how we parent. The world has changed. Kids no longer get out and play the way they once did. I think back on some of the things I did as a child, and based on today’s approach it’s amazing I’m still alive (and I’m not THAT old). I played, I fell, and I got hurt. A lot. But my cuts and bruises healed, and I got up to play another day.

With two working parents, busy schedules and a perception of a more dangerous world, you don’t see kids out in parks and playgrounds the way they once were. Today many kids are largely in scheduled events. When they are there at the playground at all usually parents are a few feet away, watching to ensure that no one kidnaps them and that their every bump and bruise is attended to. I’m as guilty of this as anyone else. Why do we do this? We do it out of love, and concern for our children.

But in the process we are crippling them. We are removing choice, and removing the ability to fail. They need to fail, they need to learn. With the best of intentions we are stunting their growth.

As hard as it is to do, sometimes if you love someone the best thing to do is sit back and let them make their own mistakes. Let them fail. Pick your moments though (something like learning to swim is perhaps not the best time).
Ask yourself this, when we try to do everything for your children what are we really teaching them?

Taking Ownership

One of the most influential people in my life was my Grandmother. One thing that sticks with me from her was a story she would tell. She admired her father greatly, and would often seek his opinion on things. When she asked him about something he would respond “I know what I think, but what do you think?” This has always resonated with me. If someone asks your opinion and you give advice on what you would do, you are taking ownership of their issue. Maybe a better approach is to coach them, and help guide them to find their own solutions.


Catch yourself when you are in denial, blaming, justifying or acting out of shame or obligation. Take ownership of your own life. Accept that no matter what your situation and influences are, the only person who can control you is you. The right choice is not always the easy choice. But as a buddy of mine always says:

It’s never too late to make the right decision

Accountability Part 1 – Responsibility


When you think of someone who is “responsible”, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Often someone who is responsible is seen as someone who is stable, and has their stuff together. They have a decent job (that they have been able to hold), they have a plan, and they are dependable.

Sometimes being responsible is seen as the opposite of being a dreamer. Dreamers live for the moment, while responsible people live a few steps ahead, and are less likely to throw caution to the wind.
But is responsibility really just about stability, structure and planning? Can’t a dreamer also be responsible?

Responsibility Process

I recently came across an approach to looking at responsibility that makes a lot of sense to me. In it, responsibility is defined as a mental process, whereby you own your ability and power to create, choose, and attract.

The idea behind the responsibility process is that there are different stages of behaviors that can culminate in responsibility.

This process starts with Denial, and then moves to Blame, Justification, Shame, Obligation, and finally Responsibility. Each of these stages represents a mode of thinking, and I’m sure every single one of us has operated from each of these modes at one point in time or another (I know I have).

Life is easy when things are going well, and these behaviors usually arise in response to some form of problem or stresses.

The first three, denial, blame and justification are easy to explain. In these, rather than taking any sort of ownership we are deflecting the issue away from us. In denial there is no problem. In blame the problem is seen, but it’s not “my” problem, it’s someone else’s. And in justification I only partially accept that it’s my problem. I am saying that yes, it’s my problem – but there are a number of reasons as to “why” it happened (and these reasons somehow absolve me of any blame).

Arrow SIgns - Not My Fault Shifting Blame

Shame and obligation are where I think things get really interesting. According to the responsibility process, acting from a state of shame or obligation is almost worse than the previous three. This is because in the first three you are deflecting an issue away from yourself, while for these two you are taking partial ownership. With shame or obligation, you feel as though you are being compelled to do something by some external force. When this happens you are liable to build up resentment that you “have to” do something. Doing something from a state of shame or obligation is fine occasionally, but if it is a common state for you then are liable to give up or quit.

The responsibility process is explained as follows:

When something goes wrong large or small (for example, lost keys or a lost retirement account), The Responsibility Process kicks in. The mind offers Lay Blame as a reason. If you accept blame as a sufficient reason, then you will act on that blame. If you don’t accept it, then your mind offers you an excuse (Justify). And so on. Thus taking personal responsibility is a step-wise process of refusing to act on a series of irresponsible thoughts that your mind offers up.

The Responsibility Mindset

It’s easy to be responsible when things are going well, but this responsibility process is something that largely happens in times of stress, or when things have gone wrong. So how does one shift from operating from a state of shame or obligation to a state of responsibility? Basically it’s all about mindset.

In all aspects of life there are things we “have to do” even though we may not want to, and the attitude you bring into these things is very important. It’s very easy to approach these “have to” moments from a state of obligation, but as noted above doing so runs the risk of building up resentment.

The change in your mindset from obligation to responsibility is subtle, but it’s very important. In both cases you “have to do something”. But in obligation you have to do it because you are being forced to, or because you are trying to meet some sort of external expectations. With a mindset of responsibility these expectations have been internalized. It’s no longer because someone else expects you to do something, it’s because YOU expect yourself to do it. And you expect yourself to do it because you see it as required or believe it is the right thing to do at the time.

The early states of the responsibility process (denial, blame, justification, shame and obligation) are reactionary, almost primal responses. They are also very “me” focused; only seeing a situation in terms of how it affects you personally. Operating from responsibility is different in that it is a conscious decision. Operating from this state requires three things:

  1. Intention – Intending to respond from Responsibility when things go wrong.
  2. Awareness – Catching yourself in the mental states of Denial, Lay Blame, Justify, Shame, Obligation, and Quit.
  3. Confront – Facing yourself to see what is true that you can learn, correct, or improve

Being responsible is a conscious process. You “choose” to act and respond in a certain way. You may later find out that the decision you made wasn’t a good one, but owning that decision is an act of responsibility.


The “Have To’s”

To illustrate the responsibility process, let’s walk through it with a simple example. Imagine you are a parent, and your child has filled their diaper:

Denial. You can always pretend that the diaper hasn’t been filled (and hope that someone else notices and changes your child for you). But the other person may do that too, and eventually the wonderful aroma will become too much to bear. More importantly, your child will be uncomfortable and crying will probably start (it could be yours or thiers).

Blame and Justification. You can blame your child for filling their diaper, but that won’t change anything. And you may try justifying things (I shouldn’t have to change him/her, I did it last time!!!), but what does that really accomplish? The child will still be uncomfortable, and still need to be changed.

Shame and Obligation. Here you decide that yes, you will change the diaper. But you don’t “want” to do it. You’re only doing it because you have to. Are you going to get resentful with your child? Some parents actually do, and over time this can lead to things like child abuse. But those cases are fairly extreme, and hopefully rare.

Responsibility. This is the natural course of action for your mind to take. You still probably don’t “want” to change the diaper. But you recognize that the diaper has been filled, the child is uncomfortable and incapable of changing themselves. Plus you care about your child and recognize that the diaper simply needs to be changed, so you do it.

In this scenario I suspect that most of us would automatically operate from a position of responsibility. In times of high stress we may slip back into some of the other stages temporarily, but we change the diaper anyhow because it is the right thing to do. It’s an easy choice.

Many of life’s “have to’s” fall into this category. Going to work every day? You don’t always want to and you may have days you are resentful. You may even have a few “sick” days that are actually mental health days. But going to work is something that we have to do.

Making Choices

The examples above are easy ones. But now consider something like your relationship.

What if your partner loves ballet while you don’t, and they periodically ask you to go with them? In a prior post I mentioned that it’s positive for your relationship if you can show some interest in their interests, as it’s a way for you to show interest and caring for them.

You may prefer that they find a friend with some interest in the ballet to go with, but there may be times that you “have to” go with them. What attitude do you bring into those times? If you attend the ballet out of a sense of obligation, you may go in expecting to hate it, and see it as wasted time where you could be doing something else that you enjoy more.

Perhaps a better (and more responsible) approach is to see it as an opportunity to share something with your partner that is special to them. In both cases you “had to” do something. But in one case you owned the decision to attend.

Choosing Responsibility

No one is always responsible. When faced with challenges and stresses the default is for us to respond with the lower level states – denial, blame, justification, shame and obligation. That’s normal, and common. And honestly, sometimes it’s a lot easier to stay in those states. But it’s also not healthy.

If you find that you are frequently angry or resentful, then think of this process. Think of something you are upset about, and ask yourself where you fall on this scale. Are you blaming? Justifying behavior that at least a part of you knows is wrong? Are you doing things due to shame or obligation? All of these things can lead to resentment, and anger. Which of course leads to hate, which leads to the dark side of the force (ummm, wrong movie)…

In seriousness though, resentment and anger are some of the most toxic emotions you can have. So being able to switch from a mindset of obligation to one of responsibility is very important to both your own health, and the health of your relationships.

I’m not suggesting that anyone should always have to do something. If you find that you are constantly doing things because you feel obligated to, ask yourself if you really “have to” do it. Can you simply say no? Don’t be afraid to set boundaries and say no sometimes. But if you truly “have to” do something then there’s a reason for it. Try approaching it from a framework of responsibility, and you will probably be happier and healthier for it in the long run.

Setting Goals


Have you ever seen the Pixar movie Up? It’s a great movie and in my opinion it was the last of the great Pixar films. Seriously, if you love movies look at the films Pixar released prior to that. Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille and WALL-E. These weren’t just “kids movies”. Sure they had cute colorful characters and funny moments; but they also dealt with serious topics and had a lot of heart.

Even from Pixar Up was unique. It was about an old man who is stubbornly holding on to his house, his last connection to a wife who died years ago. When he’s about to be evicted and sent to a seniors home he embarks on the adventure he had always dreamed of.

The opening sequence of the movie really stands out for me. In it you see two children meet due to a shared love of adventure. They fall in love, get married and start a life together with the dreams of the trip they will take. But “life” keeps getting in the way, and find that they are never able to achieve their dream together. I’ve seen Up a few times now, and that opening sequence still makes me cry like a baby. Laugh if you want, I don’t care. I’m secure in who I am. You can check out most of the opening sequence here. If that doesn’t move you in some way then sorry, you’re either a robot or an alien.

Part of the reason Up resonated with me is because of my own grandfather, and my memories of the last time I saw him. That night we sat in his kitchen talking about all sorts of things, and the topic of traveling came up. My grandfather was a very religious man, and he told me he had always dreamed of seeing Vatican City. I hadn’t known that, but honestly I didn’t know very much about him. It’s amazing how people can be part of our lives yet we can know so little about them. He was my grandfather and that was how I knew him. Sadly, I really didn’t know much about my grandfather the man.

At the time I didn’t know that would be the last day I ever saw him, but he passed away a few days later. That last conversation has stuck with me, and I can still picture how wistful he was that night for dreams never achieved and opportunities lost. There are always defining moments in your life that shape you, and that was one of mine.


The capacity to dream is one of the things that differentiates humanity from other animals. It allows us to have science, art and culture.

Everyone has dreams. We all have things that we want to see, do, and accomplish; and a bucket list is really just a list of things that we want to do in our lifetime.

In the early days of a relationship, sharing of bucket lists is often part of the process of getting to know the other person and finding out if the two of you are a good fit. It helps build connection, as there is intimacy in opening ourselves up to another person and letting them in to our hopes and dreams. And when those hopes and dreams seem to align, it makes it easy to imagine a future with the other person. After all, you want the same things and are on the same path. So why not do it together?

Dreams vs Goals

There is a difference between dreams and goals though, and sharing similar dreams does not mean you have similar goals.

A friends marriage broke down a few years back, and when I talked to her about what had happened one of her biggest disappointments was she felt her husband had no ambition. When they first met they shared their hopes and dreams, and she had visions of the future they would share. But as the years went by she felt it was all talk, as he didn’t actually do anything or take any action to achieve those dreams.

I knew the guy fairly well, and he did have dreams. But it’s easy to have dreams, and it’s easy to have a bucket list. What isn’t easy is prioritizing those dreams and making them happen. Goals are based on dreams. The difference is that they are something you are actively working towards, and you have planned out a way to make them happen.


One thing many people don’t seem to understand about goals is that they don’t just happen on their own. They involve planning and sacrifice. In order to achieve something you generally have to give something else up. It may be time, money, or other opportunities, but you can’t have everything.

As an individual it is important that you have goals, as they show you have initiative. When you go for a job interview one of the most common questions interviewers ask is where you see yourself in 2-5 years. Often they don’t really care *what* your answer is. They are simply looking for proof that you have a vision for yourself and where you want to go.

Planning Together

In a relationship one of the most rewarding things you can do is not only sharing dreams, but sharing goals and working towards them together.

It’s very easy to get caught up in the daily routines of life, so it is important to have both long and short term goals (like the 2 & 5 year plans that interviewers ask) as both an individual and a couple to look forward to.

Is there a big trip you want to do? A house? Renovations on the existing place? Courses you want to take? As I mentioned earlier, you can’t have everything. All of this stuff involves a commitment of both time and money. You need to prioritize which ones are most important to you (both individually and as a couple) and come up with a plan on how you will go about achieving these goals.

If there are individual goals for you or your partner that are a priority it’s important that you support each other in those goals, because it’s just as important for each of you to grow as individuals as it is to grow as a couple. You should have periodic checkpoints where you talk about these goals and see how you are doing, or if there is anything you want to change.

Knowing that you are working towards both your individual and common goals together shows commitment to the future. It also helps build and strengthen the connection you share. And accomplishing goals together builds experiences that you can never take away.

Be Flexible

One reminder about goals is that life is unpredictable. An unexpected pregnancy, a lost job, a broken relationship. Any number of things can happen to you that can completely derail your long and short term plans. Life throws curveballs at you, and you need to adjust accordingly.

In the movie Up the couple never was able to make their trip together, and not achieving that dream filled the main character with a sense of loss. They had a photo album that they planned on filling with the pictures and memories of the trip they never took. Near the end of the movie there is a beautiful moment where the husband looks in the photo album and realizes his wife has filled it with pictures of their life. They didn’t have the adventure they expected, but their life together was their adventure.

My grandfather never made it to Vatican City, he never achieved that dream. At the end he had regrets about it, but what would he have traded? I honestly don’t know, but I would like to think nothing. I like to think he gave that up because he prioritized other things, and he was happy with the decisions he made in his life.

So set goals. Dream together and plan together. And no matter what life throws at you, do it together.