Category Archives: Success

Rule #4: Set specific intentions

torah-scrollI have been exploring the individual rules listed in an article called “Ten Rules Fit People Live By,” evaluating each of them in the light of Biblical teaching. You can check out Rule #1, Rule #2, or Rule #3. Today, we get to examine rule #3: Set specific intentions. Here’s how the author explains this rule.

The more detailed your daily goals and plans, the better. In his book, Harper cites an English study on women enrolled in a weight loss program: The researchers asked about half of their subjects to write down their strategies for managing temptation (for example, When sugar cravings strike, I will make a cup of tea). After two months, those women had lost twice as much weight as women in a control group.

On the surface, this rule seems like a great idea. I’m a goal-oriented person. I set goals (or objectives or plans) for the day, the week, the month, and the year. For example, I have a goal for calorie intake for today. My goal is simple. I’m going to eat no more than 1,750 calories plus one half of the calories I burn through exercise. When I exercised this morning, I burned about 980 calories, so I will allow myself 490 extra calories to be eaten. At the end of the day, my calorie count should be less than 2,240. Good goal, right? It’s specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timed. It’s S.M.A.R.T.! Yesterday, I didn’t meet that goal, going a bit bananas as I watched recorded episodes of NCIS before heading to bed. Still, the goal was good and serves me almost every day.

Similarly, I never go out to run without a distance and/or a pace in mind. I don’t lift weights without knowing what exercises I’ll do at what weights and what reps. Goals are good, especially when they help us with things that could get lost in imprecision. For example, it’s a lot easier to say I’ll eat no more than 2,240 calories than to say, I’ll “eat right” or “cut back a bit.”

Goals are biblical. In Proverbs 21:5, we are admonished, ”The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty,” while Jesus shared the peculiar little parable about building  tower in Luke 14:28: “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?”

But goals can become an end in themselves. I think that’s why James 4:13-15 warns us about getting too involved in our goals and plans:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

I think the same basic message lies behind the parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12. We set goals. We try to achieve our goals. Sometimes we make it; sometimes we don’t, but trying is a good thing. When, however, those goals become our god, when our goals replace the goals God would establish for us, then we’re just as guilty of idolatry as those who bow down to Baal.

So in the end, rule #4 is a good one but one that can be misapplied. Remember that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Absent that, there are no wise goals.

Rule 3: Cultivate Grit

torah-scrollAfter sharing my observations on an article called “Ten Rules Fit People Live By,” I decided to see if I could do better than the original author by examining each of the rules in the light of Biblical teaching. You can check out Rule #1 here. And Rule #2 here.

In Rule #3, we are admonished to Cultivate Grit.

Grit is the resolve and passion required on a daily basis to pursue a long-term goal. To cultivate grit, you have to commit to consistency no matter what. A fit person wakes up every day knowing she will do whatever it takes to stay on track—whether that means getting up an hour earlier to make it to the gym before work or squeezing in a power walk at lunch. The secret is focusing on the thoughts that drive and inspire you. If it helps to remind yourself how good you’ll feel post workout, for example, do that. If it motivates you to daydream about your future toned tummy, do that. Concentrate on exactly what you want to achieve and make every day count.

I have mixed feelings about cultivating grit. Grit is good. Grit makes people get things done when they’d rather sit around and play Minecraft or binge watch Game of Thrones. But then you could say that it takes a certain amount of grit to get good at Minecraft or endure all those hours of Game of Thrones. If grit gives me nothing better than “how good you’ll feel post workout” or a “future toned tummy,” then I’m not sure it’s really worthwhile.

Why would I want to have grit? Grit allows us to put off something short-term for something better long-term. In fitness terms, it trades a cronut for the ability to walk up the Bright Angel Trail at the Grand Canyon.

The teachings of Jesus are chock full of calls to grit, but there’s nothing much grittier than what He said in Matthew 16:24-27 to the disciples about following Him.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

Grit basically means denial of self for a higher calling. I can get gritty about a lot of things: money, gardening, music, scholarship, power, or having a future toned tummy. Cultivating grit is not sufficient in itself. Our grit needs to be applied to a worthwhile piece of self denial, a piece of self denial worthy of the One we are called to follow.

Cultivate grit? Yes, but do it be taking up your cross and following Jesus daily. If that gives you a “toned tummy,” consider it a side benefit.

Another Call for Standing Up

How's that standing desk thing working out for you?

As you may have already realized, I have adapted to a standing desk at my place of employment. Home for the summer now, I find myself doing most of my computer work sitting down. In fact, that sitting is not even at a desk. I’m sitting in a recliner with my feet up. (It makes the convenience of the laptop better, I think.)

Jumping up from their desk chairs to join the standing-is-the-new-smoking bandwagon, researchers in England have recommended that standing for two hours a day at the workplace might be more realistic than convincing people to exercise more regularly.

“The evidence is clearly emerging that a first ‘behavioral’ step could be simply to get people standing and moving more frequently as part of their working day,” the study authors reported online June 1 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

As I read on, however, I noticed something remarkably candid and unusual for a typical piece of health-related journalism. Here’s the tidbit I have in mind:

The researchers acknowledged that the materials they reviewed don’t prove a direct cause-and-effect relationship between prolonged sitting and chronic illness.

What’s that? There’s no proof that standing will save you or that sitting will kill you? Then why have we been hearing all of this doom and gloom over the last couple of years? Should I, maybe, see if I can get the people at work to bring my desk and chair back in from wherever they took them?

Honestly, I don’t care whether standing helps to reduce the chance of heart disease or obesity or diabetes or any of those metabolic syndrome bogeymen. I’m pretty sure that standing won’t hurt me, and here’s what I have observed over the past six months.

  • I burn enough extra calories from standing to eat a couple of pieces of fruit. In other words, I earn extra food.
  • Without thinking about it, I give my legs and core a low-intensity but long workout by standing. When your muscles are engaged, they get strengthened.
  • I feel better at the end of the day. My back and neck don’t hurt from bad posture in that chair. Isn’t that the ultimate victory?

There’s not some big spiritual message here. Sometimes the benefits of doing the right thing are mostly found in the flesh. But living better in the flesh ultimately honors God. So maybe there is a spiritual message.


Rule #2: Maximize Inner Motivation

torah-scrollRecently, I shared my observations on an article called “Ten Rules Fit People Live By.” Since I was rather critical of the author of that piece, I’ve decided to see if I could do better by examining each of the rules in the light of Biblical teaching. You can check out Rule #1 here. 

The second rule, shared, like all of them, by a personal trainer named Joel Harper, is Maximize Inner Motivation. Here’s how the author explains that.

To do this you need to be absolutely clear about why you want to get fit. “Figure out what’s really important to you,” Harper urges. “Do you want to lower your blood pressure? Fit into a size two? Or do you just want to feel better?” Motivation that lasts can’t come from an outside source—like your doctor or a loved one who wants you to slim down. It has to come from a personal, deep-rooted desire for change.

Rule #2 is a sort of common-place of self-help literature. According to those writers, you can’t get motivation externally. You have to want something yourself in order to achieve it. This theory is related to the widespread lie, “You can do anything if you want it badly enough.”

I have to admit that I somewhat agree with Rule #2. It wasn’t social pressure or Penny or any other outside force that had me at the gym this morning lifting weights or out on the streets in Independence putting in 6 miles. That was all me.

On the other hand, if inner motivation were really the ultimate force in the universe, then why does the military employ butt-kicking drill instructors? Why do we need police to keep people from driving like maniacs? Couldn’t we save a lot of money and effort by just teaching everyone to self-motivate? Those motivational posters aren’t all that expensive!

There are limits to inner motivation. From a spiritual perspective, those limits seem to live in the space between our redeemed souls and our sin-afflicted bodies. Paul understood this limit well as he explains in Romans 7:21-25:

 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

When I ran that 6 miles this morning, my intention was to maintain a 9-minute pace along the way. What I found was that I couldn’t do it. But that’s a lie. What I found was that I didn’t want to do it badly enough to endure the complaints of my heart and lungs. I don’t believe that I actually sinned by falling off of that pace, but the descent into sin, the fall from intention to execution, is similar to what Paul describes here.

I’m at peace with my slightly disappointing run this morning, but there are other places in my life when inner motivation utterly fails, places where I need to imagine Christ watching me, where I need exterior motivation. In 1 Kings 8, during his prayer of dedication for the temple, Solomon prays that people, aware of their sins, will spread “out their hands toward this temple.” He doesn’t urge the people to look inward but to look at the temple, an external, physical symbol of God’s presence and power.

Rule #2 isn’t utter foolishness, but it is a limited thing. For the truly important things in life, exterior motivation is often a necessity.

Rule #1: Shut Out the Noise

torah-scrollLast Saturday, I shared some observations on a fluffy article called “Ten Rules Fit People Live By.” My main point was that these rules were basically platitudes without nearly enough meat on their bones to be terribly helpful. After leveling that criticism, it occurred to me that perhaps I should examine each of the rules in turn, subjecting it to the light of Biblical teaching.

The first rule, shared by a personal trainer named Joel Harper, is Shut out the noise. Here’s how the author explains that.

By “noise,” Harper means the constant stream of negative thoughts that runs through most people’s minds. That mental static is your biggest obstacle, he says; learning to filter it by focusing on positive thinking is essential to your success.

Why am I hearing Michael Sutherland in Kelly’s Heroes here? “Always with the negative waves, Moriarty!”

So what does the Bible say about negative waves? According to my research, it doesn’t say a great deal about what we need to eliminate. Instead, it says more about what we should think.

Although I am taking the following parable out of context, it seems relevant here. Look at what Jesus says in Luke 11:24-26 about what happens when a demon is cast out:

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”

It’s not enough to simply get the bad stuff–demons or “negative waves”–out of our lives. Instead, we need to replace that bad stuff with something good. Nature abhors a vacuum.

Paul, in Philippians 4:6-9, seems to be arguing that we should not just eliminate the negative waves but replace them with positive waves.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Rule #1 is reasonable as far as it goes. If you’re telling yourself something negative–“I can’t lose weight” or “I can’t make it up this hill” or “I’ll never be able to stop eating these cupcakes”–then bad things will probably flow from that thought. But it’s unrealistic to think that you can just magically banish the negative thoughts from your mind. What happens, when you’re trying to cut down on eating, if you say, “I won’t think about food.” You think about nothing but food, right?

So how do you stop thinking about food? You don’t just banish food thought from your consciousness. Instead, you need to replace food thought with something else. You’ve undoubtedly noticed that when you keep busy you don’t seem to get hungry as quickly, right?

Shutting out the noise is a good step, but replacing the noise with a positive, God-focused signal is an even better step.