Column: Improvement via ONE Thing:One Day

Open-minded and successful people often have to “discipline” the amount of tasks they set as goals. This can be difficult, especially when there are SO many things are on our minds to do.

I favorited this image on Flickr. The featured image is here.

Life bombards you with stuff. At any given moment the average person has a barrage of tasks and events hanging over ones head. It is true with teaching and certainly true in leading a family. I have had days at work where I’ve been so overwhelmed by my schedule that I had to sit and collect my dizzy thoughts. Not many mind you, but I have had them. Most of the time I seem perched on the edge of these moments. It would seem that most people in our world are struggling with too much stuff.

With so many forces vying for our attention, what should we focus on?

This is a personal question that each person must answer for her/himself. I have found that when times are really “thick” with tasks, events, and demands that bleed your wit and candor, and it’s best to try to focus on JUST ONE THING each day. Think about it, no matter how beaten down you may be by stress, fatigue or even sickness you can usually handle doing ONE THING a day. I think a lot of people would say to this: “One thing? I WISH! Are you crazy? I’d get fired!” I would respond to that objection by stating that one thing is better than nothing, and when you are overwhelmed, nothing is usually the one thing that you do get done. I would rather have ONE thing done well a day than get ten done in a shoddy way.

Damien Riley is a blogger, film reviewer, & podcaster who writes a column at once a week. He has an MA in English from California State University, Fullerton. He married a high-desert princess (now his queen). They have 3 children.


The reality is that limiting yourself to just the one goal will take a lot of stress off you and make you mentally stronger. At the same time, you know while you are going through your “low” that you are getting at least one quality thing done every day, and that’s a lot more than most people can say who THINK they are being productive. It shouldn’t last though because your pride in that daily goal you achieve will feed your personality and make you mentally stronger. Don’t let anyone criticize you for having simple, achievable goals. They often leads to much bigger feats.

You will start to desire more challenges.

Eventually you will have more motivation than time in the day. I am of course speaking in metaphor when I write “one thing.” The point is this: When the heat turns up in the kitchen, scale down the meal. Your time to cook the feast will come, but only if you care for the chef! Now, the red light is about to turn green … schedule/do your one thing and let it happen.

Your Turn:

How do YOU deal with feelings of being overwhelmed? Do you use any strategies to simplify your life? This is a very interesting topic to me, what’s your take on it?

Column: ‘Listen to Thy Younger Self’ – See What She/He Has to Say

As a blogger, I have 100,000 words or more I can call up anytime and be pleased or repulsed by. Twitter also allows its users to download their past tweets. Home movies, appearances on television shows, even news features exist for many people as remnants of the past and opportunities to learn from.

damien_riley_raybans_bw200Damien Riley is a blogger and podcaster who writes a column at once a week. He has an MA in English  from California State University, Fullerton, he married a princess (now his queen) and together they have 3 children.

How cool would it be to sit and have coffee with your younger self? Imagine it is you 10, 20, or 30 years ago. I just tweeted how I was watching Looper with Bruce Willis and it was the part where he was talking with Joshua Gordon Leavitt, his younger self, in a diner. That’s a trippy scene! What was weirder was that I had just been looking over some tweets from 2007 out by the pool and some of the stuff I tweeted them was just fascinating. I don’t mean I was witty or profound, but rather ignorant about so many things that have happened in the 10 years since I tweeted those. Twitter offers you the ability to download your Tweet archive. If you’ve been on Twitter awhile, you might want to check it out, the link gives you clear instructions how. There is even a string of Tweets when I give narration as I’m waiting for my youngest daughter to be born. I showed them to her but she just wanted me to make her a morning cafe mocha. Kids. She’s now 9.

I’m giving a couple examples of looking at the past because I think we can really benefit by doing so. As bloggers, artists, podcasters, people in relationships trying to be better, and so many other walks of life. As I said, I cringed at how ignorant I seemed in some of my ten-year old tweets. Plus, I watched in Looper how frustrated Bruce Willis’ character became with Joshua Gordon Leavitt’s character (in truth they are the same character just different ages). I can imagine, based on the tweets and the older blog posts of mine that I read now, that I would be extremely frustrated with my old self. I wonder if my old self would listen? Leavitt’s character certainly doesn’t and he nearly kills his older self. Strange. It’s just a movie but I try to look for the parallels to life in movies and this one has a huge application.

There is one thing I now for sure after reading my old words: Most of them are going to look stupid after some time has passed. If I could just know the cool factors of tomorrow I could write words that stood up over time. Looking back at my blog archives I can tell you in all humility that most of my grand-stated columns I’ve written since 2005 are crap lol. Out of 3,000 I think no more than 30 would be worth re-blogging aka repurposing. One of the benefits to being brave and looking at my own words of the past is that I can decide what types of things are going to be timeless. The human journey is worth tying in to any published work. I find the stuff I wrote with that theme still stands up.

Old fashioned values are also worth mentioning. I’m not saying you can’t say fuck once in a while, that’s human for sure and I just said the common human journey stuff is solid gold. I’m talking about referencing other people when you talk, being kid in your speech at a very core level. Having an argument should never drive you crazy in print. Rather, it should show your knowledge of the opposing side and, if you will, respect thereof. So what would you tell your younger self? What is the good advice? Could you give her/him “the goods” to avoid some of the trouble you’ve encountered in life? Having kids is kind of like that. My son is enrolled in his first semester of full-time college (I can’t believe I’m old enough for that to be true) and he took less that full-time. It wasn’t his intention, he just ended up 1 unit short of a full load. Since I recall how important it is to carry a full load for financial aid and healthcare etc. I urged him to take another class. Now Why should I care? I have a busy professional job and I’m not going to benefit. I suppose I see him as that younger self and I want to help him forward.

That brings up my final point. Should we care about our younger self? I think so. After all, logically the self that started writing this post in a Starbucks is now my “younger self.” If I see he wrote something out of sorts or that could be improved upon, should I neglect to proof him? That would be lazy (I am so guilty of that on a daily basis but I try). I think the hard thing is not improving our younger self’s words but rather the hard thing is simply finding the courage to rate and correct ourselves. We want to be cool then, now, and in the future but that rarely happens for anybody. Ok, it happens for Anthony Hopkins but no one else (tongue in cheek). There is always room for improvement. I hope I am always willing to look at my stuff with an editor’s eye. When people who I love and can’t live without tell me constructive criticisms, I need to avoid the urge to be defensive and thank them for helping me become a better husband, dad, friend, writer, blogger, podcaster, teacher, etc. That’s a tough thing to swallow but if I can be “ok” doing it, the product coming out of me will be better and more universal in scope thereby making more people “into” it (in theory). Beyond the product, looking at myself with an objective eye makes me a better member of the human race and tat should be something we all hope for. Success is a “perspective thing.” I heard Rob Schneider say he was successful but not as successful as Jerry Seinfeld. That’s a question of perspective. If you’re proud of what you do and people want to read it etc., I think that’s a high level of success, from my perspective.

Remember that scene in Looper, check out your Twitter archive, or Facebook even. Look at yourself constructively, I think the positive results will astound you. Be patient as you look at yourself though, the improved product may not always be instant. I guarantee you it will be though.

I’m linking to WordPress’ Daily Post word of the day for schmoozing.


How to Make Acronyms for Personal Development

This post is about self help / personal development. Or, specifically, how to make acronyms and use them for self-improvement. The process of making them can be challenging, but using them is easy and rewarding. At New Year’s cusp, people always think about resolutions but shouldn’t we be thinking about them all year long? Trying to reinvent ones self once every year can have some value but ongoing changes throughout the year yields greater results. I usually make my resolutions around August because that is where my teaching work year renews itself. Continuous improvement is what I strive for and I use self-invented acronyms to make it happen.

These funny little words really work!

There are many quality online personal development courses that attest to the power of acronyms. The reason I use acronyms is because they are easy to remember. Usually all goals can be narrowed down to three words. That’s the perfect length for an acronym. The word you create becomes your personal thing and you carry it with you while traveling toward your goals. This past new year’s eve I read about a great worksheet and used it to develop some of my goal words for the year. Check it out here.

The first three goals are your creation!

At the beginning of the process, write down three words you want to focus on. You might write many and narrow them down to the three best. For example, a horse trainer might list:

patience, people, volume

Each word has a lot of idiosyncratic meaning to the horse trainer. You can imagine what these three words might mean in a horse trainer’s life in contrast to that of say, a lawyer.

Next in the process come up with a three letter word you will use as your acronym. It doesn’t matter if it’s related to the three words you just chose or not, but you should find the imagery of the word pleasing. You may find this list of three letter words intended for Scrabble players useful. This is in a way the game of your life.

To illustrate these first 2 steps, let’s say the horse trainer chooses the goals listed above and then chooses the word “ACT” as his acronym.

That leads to the most fun and rewarding step in my opinion. It’s also the step that takes the most time. The step is to come up with three words that start with the letters A,C, and T. Each word should represent one of the word-meanings you came up with when you started the process ie; patience, people, volume.

This can take a lot of trial and error until you get it right but once you are done you “own” the acronym. Take this as a possibility:

Allow (patience)
Culture (people)
Tons (volume)

The words you assign to the acronym don’t have to be exactly the same meaning as your goals but they should have enough to do with the original goal for you to remember the goal when you recall the acronym.

Now the horse trainer can go to work thinking about his meaningful acronym “ACT.” He has given his job and life a more precise focus.

I chose nouns for this example, but you can choose action verbs as well.  A resource you might find useful is this list of action verbs by letter. You can even make up a sentence like “I will Always be patient,” where Always is the A part of the acronym. This is helpful when you just can’t think of a word to match the goal.

When it comes to personal development and self-improvement, I swear by my acronyms to improve memory and other stuff. I think once you give it a try, you will too. If you are a trainer or a mentor, acronyms can assist you greatly with your time management training program. On a last note, you should check out this make an acronym engine, it is helpful.

So What do You Want on Your Tombstone?

tombstoneNo this isn’t a pizza commercial. It’s a blogger way to refocus ones goals. The idea is that by imagining the end we can do better NOW. I write movie reviews here and thus I see a lot of lives on the screen. Watching the characters move toward their goals is what makes movies interesting to me. I invite you to try this as a personal growth exercise. What to you want on your tombstone? Here are two questions to ask before you decide your own epitaph:

1) What would you like to be said about you at your funeral?

2) Think of a deceased loved one – what is the one thing you’ll remember the most about him/her?

As for #1, this is an interesting question. I think it morbid to fantasize about my own death, so I’m going to try and not do that. Instead, I will imagine what I would want my kids to remember about me and then translate that into a snippet on my tombstone:

Loving dad, disciplined artist, and student of life.

(make your own tombstone)

As for #2, this one is easy. My maternal grandfather died at 85. I will remember many things about him, he had a dramatic impact on my golf game and the formation of my personality. If I had to say one thing I will remember most about him it will be this statement (You have to be a golfer to understand it’s life application):

Keep your head down, take a big back-swing, and follow through.

That’s how I try to teach, play, love, and live . . . thanks to Gramps for those early mornings at Cherry Hills. I’ll never forget that crisp cold air and the lessons I learned in his shadow all those days.

This isn’t an editorial piece but rather something to keep you thinking. When you have passed from this life, what will you leave behind? It’s psychology we all could use because it helps us define ourselves. I think George Bernard Shaw said it well when he said:

Life isn’t about finding ourselves, it’s about defining ourselves.

One final time: What do you want on your tombstone? If you have a blog, make a post on this topic. If you don’t, feel free to answer the questions in the comments.

Plan to Go Big

Vegas is a great place for thinkers and visionaries to go. It goes “at the speed of life” to every extent of the phrase. I was in Vegas the last 4 days and the same subject to write on was underlined everywhere I went. While in the casinos, I noticed the new ones had gigantic, multi-level parking garages. They of course aren’t filled yet but I am sure they will be soon and the new casinos will be ready. We stayed in one on the older end of the strip our first night and were barely able to find a spot. Let me remind any of you who have been on vacation with a family how much bad parking situations suck.

The newer resorts we stayed in had mega parking. They are thinking ahead. We stayed in a total of 3 resorts and in the third one, everything seemed geared on going big in the near future. The folks at the Red Rock Resort in Summerline (about 10 miles off the strip) have created a “wide-open” atmosphere. Of all the places we stayed, it allowed me to relax and open my mind to new ideas. That is exactly what I need when I go to Vegas or anywhere else for a vacation.

I got the message to “plan to go big” for my teaching, blogging, and leading my family. What good is a temporary place when you can plan to be now in the vision you have for tomorrow. Maybe the founding fathers didn’t plan big enough and now we have all this “occupy Wall Street” bullshit going on. Or, maybe they just didn’t have enough information and now we have to rewrite the constitution. Either way, They planned and here we are.

Be rad, be quality, burn baby burn … in the end we are all just melting snowflakes so plan to go big. You already know what to do if you don’t go big but what if you do? Be ready.

On my tombstone, I would have it say 2 of 3 things:

1) Here lies Damien, he planned to go big but never did.
2) Here lies Damien, he went big and planned for it.
3) Here lies Damien, he went big but didn’t plan for it.

Plan big, because epitaph 1 is better than 3.

Strength in the face of adversity . . .

Columbia, SC: Kershaw Co. man cuts off own arm

I read this story and was so inspired. Not because I’d like to cut my arm off, but it shows the capacity we have as humans to do what we have to do, however horrific, to survive. This article is truly an example of a possibility thinker in action.

KERSHAW COUNTY, SC (WIS) – A Kershaw County man is sharing his story of survival. He faced a life or death decision when his hand got stuck in a piece of farm equipment, and then a fire broke out around him. What he did next might shock you, and we have to warn you that some of the details might be disturbing.

Save Today's Sun for Tomorrow's Rain

When I’m in raw nature, I get inspired and feel peaceful. I think about the beauty around me as I swim, hike, relax, and make bonfires. I don’t miss a thing. One thing I fail to consider sometimes is that I am recording memories that I will summon throughout my life. I can use these as an escape from any stressful situation. Continue reading “Save Today's Sun for Tomorrow's Rain”

Stay Curious My Friends

imageI’ve always wanted to see Ireland. One day, I hope to. Other friends in my vicinity have more exotic wanderlusts, like China or Borneo for example. For me, those places are a little scary, not to mention quite costly. Still, I want to go “farther out” with my curiosity. Everything seems odd when it hasn’t been experienced. Conversely, when you are familiar wit the “other,” it can become a favorite of yours, a close companion, even a place where you belong. With all the hue and cry over illegal immigration lately, I find myself encountering more and more xenophobia all around me. Facebook messages show poor people being shipped back on trucks to Central America and the caption reads “Go Home!” I find this sickening. I don’t think you should be allowed to voice an opinion until you have seen the conditions in the country they are fleeing. To them it isn’t a preference or a wanderlust, they are fleeing for their very lives. It’s really a spoiled attitude some Americans have and I wish it would stop. But back to topic.

I remember tasting sushi for the first time, I loved it! Most people I know who haven’t tried the “raw fish” say it’s disgusting. I remember trying Kun Pao Chicken in the early 90’s and loving the flavor. Back then, a lot of people told me I was odd for liking Chinese food. Little by little, customs and food come into our country from “afar” and it is a wonderful thing. I think we are at a point in American culture where it is time to embrace as much of the world’s ideas as possible. Some of ours are fading and actually failing in many ways. The more we replace the fear of the unknown with curiosity, the better chance we have as a country to survive. Xenophobia is alive and well and ain’t that a shame. I’ll open the comments to you with this question but feel free to “wander:” What favorite foods or customs have you admired from other countries? What do you think of the quote? Did it have an entirely different meaning to you than what I wrote about? If you’re a blogger, You might write about it and pingback here so others can read it.

Customer Service and its Conundrums

I grew up in retail. My first job was at a grocery store then I spent over 10 years working for Pizza Hut. After that, I became a teacher where I have needed to handle customer satisfaction issues with students and parents from time to time. The first lesson of customer service is: never lose your cool. They are there for a reason and you need to take their complaints/needs 100% seriously. Without them there is no system. The measure of an argument’s success with customers is how well you kept your cool and how well you satisfied their complaint. This is simple logic that anyone in teaching or retail needs to remember. If we don’t remember this, no one is happy and that can lead to a breakdown of any company or system.

So what about when the customer is wrong? It’s been said, “The customer is always right.” That’s an illogical statement. What you can say, if you are using absolute statements like “always,” is that the customer is always “the customer.” Sometimes the customer is right and sometimes they are wrong. Being kind as you are realistic about what you can do for the customer should be second nature to anyone dealing with the public. We should never get so set in our ways that we let “gut reactions” cause us to be rude or even yell at them. Let the payoff be that you can celebrate when you’ve kept your cool. It is very gratifying also when you can get to a win/win with the customer, you feeling good because you solved the problem and them feeling good as well. If you ever get a direct complaint from a customer, return their call right away because if they want to talk, they are still open to resolving it with you. It’s not always true but sometimes when they go above your head they aren’t interested in resolution, they want blood (metaphorically). Good luck as you navigate customer service and its conundrums.

Counter Culture Mindset

I was watching “Doomsday Preppers” on the History Channel the other day and it never occurred to me before but did at that moment that I have something in common with them. They are outside of culture and I strive to be, at least mentally anyway, outside as well. My remote-ness is different in kind but “apart is apart” I hope to be different from the propogandish life protrayed on television and elsewhere in modern culture. I should call that life a lie because it really is. Some channels are deeper lies than others. In “my book,” counter culture is cool because it sustains a purity, at least in theory. A primal urge to meet ones needs and live with as much excess as possible is the goal. Recently I noticed there were two new movies coming out about the Beats (AKA the “Beatniks,” “Beat Generation.”) This is exciting for me! To see Jack Kerouac, William Buuroughs, and Allen Ginsberg on screen would be a treat. They have been like mythical creatures for me most of my life. The Beats represented counter culture and apparently movie makers want to spread that message today.

We live in a time that is for all intents and purposes: “The Matrix.” All we lack are the plugs for the backs of our heads. I don’t find much contentment in the “Doomsday Preppers” since they say the world is going to be taken out. They may be right, but I don’t want to focus on that. I’d rather focus on the now and what I can get from it. It is really all we have. A life that works toward that is my brand of counter culture. To learn is to conquer and I want that in excess. To be made aware of ones shortcomings and suffering is along the path. To obey ones instincts and find happiness in a new and untrodden way is my life’s ambition. This is rarely touched on in modern media. If you don’t measure up to what they tell you, then you can never be happy. I’m out to destroy that cultural myth. Success is the best revenge. I hope I remain counter culture until my dying day. When we dare to break out of our societal constraints, we can see with CLARITY what we need to do for ourselves.

One way to gain clarity on the issues of ones life is via meditation. There are many great books and websites that have been published on the topic. My brand of counter culture seeks calm and clarity through meditation. It isn’t just trendy yoga either. The mere act of a sigh can trigger the relaxation response. When you pay attention to your own body and relax it, your body will take better care of you. While in those relaxing time, I often have realizations about what my life needs. I try to follow through on that. Notice that though I praise the Beats I do not require drugs in my brand of counter culture. I don’t think they required it either but they do carry that stigma so I’m providing a disclaimer. Counter culture is cool, in my opinion. I think the more counter culture movements that arise the better. Obviously the debt and unrest in this country is an indicator that the status quo life we are fed in the media isn’t working for the majority.