Category Archives for "growth"

How I Plan To Hit My Targets This Year


I have big plans for 2016.

I have a lot on my list of things to do, and it seems like my schedule is packed.

How will I get it all done?

I had the privilege of meeting with a coach last week, and we talked about the challenge of trying to fit it all into the time I have this year.

We all have the same amount of time.  We have 24 hours in a day.  We have 168 hours in a week.  We have 52 weeks in a year.  And this is the same for everyone.  President Obama has this amount of time.  Bill Gates has this amount of time.  You have this amount of time.  And I have this amount of time.

With this time we have choices to make.  How will we use the time?  What will stay in our schedules?  What will we remove from our schedules?

Reaching your targets for 2016 requires you to make choices.

And this is true for me.

As I said before, I have big plans for 2016, and this means I have some choices to make.

For most of last year, I posted here 5 days a week.  I felt like I needed to be consistent by posting every day Monday through Friday.  This was good, but I only have a limited amount of time to write (and to do other things).  Writing has become an important part of my life.  I have some specific goals related to my writing that I want to achieve this year, but I won’t be able to meet these targets without making some changes.

With this in mind, you may see some changes to my posting patterns over the next few months.  I will still post here regularly, but I will also be using some of my writing time to go after some other things (more on that to follow).

I’m learning that sometimes less is required for more.  And maybe this is what you need to come to terms with this year.

What changes do you need to make to your schedule and your current commitments in order to reach your goals this year?

5 Steps To Creating A Personal Success Plan That Works

success plan

If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!

Benjamin Franklin

Earlier this summer, I was elected to be president of my Toastmasters International club.  It was an honor to be selected for this position, but it also comes with a lot of work.  I have to kick-off and close our club’s bi-weekly meetings.  I have to plan and lead our club’s executive committee meetings.  And I have to interface with fellow officers, club members, and guests.

One of my responsibilities as the club president and member of the club executive committee is to create a Club Success Plan.  Essentially, this is a document to record the club’s current status, challenges, and goals for the coming term.  And the Club Success Plan provides a place to write down a plan for overcoming obstacles and achieving our goals.

This week spent time completing the Club Success Plan, and I’m excited for the results when we look back at the plan throughout the term and at the end of the term in June.

As I was working on the plan, I reflected on the importance of writing a success plan for other areas of our lives.

What do you want to accomplish this year?  What goals do you want to achieve?

Do you have a plan to get there?

Typically, we talk about goals at the beginning of the year.  Everyone gets hyped up on New Year’s Resolutions.  The enthusiasm lasts for a few weeks or even a few months before we settle back into our normal existence trying to survive the pushes and pulls of our busy lives.

By the time we get to this time of year, our resolutions and goals are long forgotten, and we are trying to make it to the next weekend.

As Benjamin Franklin said, many of us fail to achieve our goals because we fail to create a plan for getting where we want to go.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to fail.  I like to succeed.  I like to achieve.  I like to make progress towards my goals.

Writing a personal success plan doesn’t have to take forever.  You can write a success plan for yourself using these simple steps:

5 Steps To Creating A Personal Success Plan That Works

  1. Evaluate your current condition.  Self-assessment is critical to creating a personal success plan that works.  What is working well?  What isn’t working so well?  What changes do you need to make in your life?  Take time to evaluate you.  This may require time away from the things that normally distract you, and it may require feedback from those who know you best.
  2. Determine your goals.  Where do you want to be in one year?  What do you want to achieve?  There is no point in completing a success plan if you don’t take time to determine your goals.  If you don’t know where you want to go, you can be certain you will get there – no where that is.
  3. Recognize the obstacles and challenges in the way.  What is keeping you from achieving your goals?  Is it time?  Is it skill?  Is it lack of knowledge?  We all face challenges.  When creating your personal success plan, you have to know your weaknesses and challenges.  Being aware of these will help you make changes to get around, get over, or get through the obstacles in the way of achieving your goals.
  4. Write down a map for overcoming these obstacles and challenges and for achieving your goals.  Create a SMART roadmap to reaching your goals.  Be specific.  Have measurable check points along the way.  Make sure your goals are attainable and realistic.  Finally, determine the timetable for reaching your goals.  When you write down your road map, be as detailed as possible.  Who is responsible for reaching your goals?  What help do you need to meet your goals?  What specific steps will you take to make sure you succeed?  Write it down!
  5. Work your plan.  Finally, a plan does nothing without action.  Once you’ve created your plan for success, follow through.  Take the necessary steps to succeed.  Stop along the way to evaluate your progress.  Then keep going.  Don’t stop until you reach the end – SUCCESS!

What do you want to succeed in the next year?  What is your plan to succeed?

What measures have you taken to achieve your success goals?

Growth Doesn’t Happen By Accident


Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.

Napoleon Hill

I made a decision to shrink my garden this year.  I am just way too busy in this season of my life to keep up with my normally ambitious garden.  This year my garden will be about one-third the size of last year.  I will be using the square-foot gardening method to make the most of the space which now consists of four four-by-eight foot garden beds.  One of the beds is dedicated to asparagus, and a quarter of another bed is dedicated to horseradish.  This means I have approximately eighty square feet of garden space to plant.

Last night, Leanne and I planted two kinds of lettuce, spinach, swiss chard, and kale.  I’ll do another planting in 10 to 14 days.  Around Mother’s Day, I will plant tomatoes, peppers, beans, and a few other vegetables that require warmer temperatures.

I like the work that goes into a productive garden.  And I like the produce that eventually comes as the temperatures get warmer (as long as I keep the deer and groundhogs out of the garden).  Produce will not happen unless I put the effort in to plant the seeds.   A productive garden does not happen by accident.

This is true for many things in life.

My kids will not automatically turn out respectful and well-adjusted unless my wife and I put the work into them planting seeds that point them in the right direction.

My career will not just move in a desired direction unless I put the effort into it and take time to learn the skills and embrace the experience required to take me there.

My faith will not grow unless I take time to feed my soul with God’s Word and unless I plug into other believers who will spur me on to greater heights.

In all areas of our life, growth does not happen without hard work, without planting the right things into our lives, and without stretching ourselves.

How have you experienced growth in your life recently?  What do you attribute to this growth?

Where do you need to grow right now?  What’s stopping you from growing?

Goals – Reflect and Revision


What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.

Henry David Thoreau

This is one of my favorite times of the year.

Besides taking several days off between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, I get to spend more time with my family.  We’ll be traveling out to Western PA to celebrate with my wife’s family.  I also like this time, because it gives me time to reflect on the past year and to look forward to the year ahead.

I’m a big goal setting person.  It helps me to stay on task with stretching towards things that keep me growing and learning.

For example, my 2014 goal list included exercising 250 days, running 1500 miles, and writing a book about track and field.  Today, I will hit my 250th day of exercise.  I am just 10 miles shy of my mileage goal, so I should surpass that later this week.  And I wrote and self-published my first book, On Track: Life Lessons from the Track & Field in April.

There were a few goals I didn’t reach, and I’m okay with this.

I’ll be reviewing my list, and making new ones in the next week and a half.

I think it’s good to have goals, but it’s also good to frame them from the right mindset.

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.  Proverbs 16:9

I want my goals to be in-line with bringing glory to God.  I think he wants us to stretch and grow personally, and I think he wants to draw us closer to Him.

As we approach the year ahead, this is a great time to sit down, reflect, and revision the year ahead.

Be intentional about the year ahead.  Live your life on purpose.  Set goals, and go after them!

Are you planning to set goals for 2015?  What is one of your goals for the year ahead?  How did you do on your goals for 2014?

7 Keys To Getting Rid Of Distraction So You Can Accomplish Great Things

I think when things linger, that’s when they become a distraction. I don’t want any distractions.

Derek Jeter

We all have hopes and dreams.  We all want to accomplish great things in our lifetime.  We all have important things to attend to on a daily basis.

And we all get distracted.

Distractions sidetrack us from achieving our hopes and dreams.  Distractions derail us from the things in life that really need our attention.

The world is full of distraction, and I am guilty of falling into the traps of distraction.  This is not my intention, but it is the predicament I find myself in more often than I care to admit.

What can I do to get rid of distractions in my life?

It’s time we make a change.  It’s time we deal with the distractions that derail us from doing great things.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

7 Keys To Getting Rid Of Distraction So You Can Accomplish Great Things

  1. Step away from the phone.  Let’s be honest.  The latest smartphones are pretty amazing.  They send and receive e-mails.  They send and receive text messages.  They give you access to the internet.  They let keep you busy with stupid games (I just have to get to the next level of this game!).  And oh yes, they even take phone calls.  They are great, but smartphones are a major distraction.  In order to get a handle on this, we must learn to put boundaries on our phone time.  Maybe this simply starts by having a “No Phone At The Table” rule during mealtimes.  But maybe you need more phone related boundaries, so you can concentrate on what needs to be accomplished next.
  2. Turn off the television.  It’s easy to get sucked into the next show or series.  And perhaps a little TV isn’t a bad thing.  But what happens when you HAVE to get home on time to watch this show, or you put off something with great importance because you are glued to the television?  I don’t know the statistics, but I know the average American watches way too much television.  Imagine if what we could accomplish if we used those hours more productively.
  3. Make a to-do list.  I’m a huge list guy.  Lists help me keep track of what I need to accomplish, and it also shows me what I’ve completed so far.  When we have so many things to accomplish, we sometimes don’t know where to start.  We suffer from a type of paralysis, because we can’t clearing define what needs to be done.  Taking time to write down the things you need to do is a great way to clarify what really needs your attention.
  4. Learn to prioritize.  You’ve made your to-do list.  Now you need to prioritize.  What things need your attention first?  What is urgent and important?  This is probably where you should start.  What is important but not urgent?  This should probably be next.  What is urgent but not important?  Maybe this shouldn’t even be on your list.  What is not important and not urgent?  This would definitely be something to consider removing from you list.  Dealing effectively with distractions improves dramatically when you learn to prioritize.
  5. Focus on one thing at a time.  Sometimes we have to multitask.  I get it.  Moms are especially good at multitasking.  The reality though is we aren’t as effective when we are focusing on more than one thing at a time.  Taking time to focus on one thing produces a better product, and it helps to alleviate the distractions that come from focusing on too many things at the same time.
  6. Ask for help.  Get someone to hold you accountable to staying focused.  The power of accountability is underrated.  If you are easily distracted, tell someone about it.  Tell them what you are trying to accomplish.  Ask them to hold your feet to the fire as you work towards this goal.
  7. Pray.  Prayer is often overlooked as a solution to anything.  I believe there is tremendous power in prayer.  If you are struggling with distractions in your life, start by praying about it.  God cares for you, and I’m confident He can help you deal with your distractions.  In the book of Matthew, Jesus tells His followers to ask and they would receive:  “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Matthew 7:7-8

What distracts you?  How do you deal with distractions in your life?  What is one thing you can do today to eliminate distraction from your life?

Book Review: Next Up – 8 Shifts Great Young Leaders Make

At some point, the leaders in your company, church, or organization will step down.  They will retire.  They will leave the organization.  And they will leave a vacancy in leadership.

Who will step up and fill the leadership void?

Maybe it’s you!

I’m excited to announce the release of a new book by Jonathan Pearson.  Next Up: 8 Shifts Great Young Leaders Make provides insight and advice for those who will fill the leadership gaps left by those who have gone before us.

I read Next Up with a keen interest.  The book was an encouragement for me as I consider my own future opportunities to move further up the leadership ranks in my own endeavors.  And it was also an encouragement as I consider how to encourage the future leaders of my organization.

In Next Up, Pearson provides 8 key shifts that every person must make to advance in their leadership mindsets.  For example, he talks about the importance of shifting from unreliable to consistent and from passive to passionate.

If you are a leader or you want to be a leader, you need to pick up a copy of Next Up.  It’s a powerful, quick read.  You can pick it up, by clicking here.

What are you doing to prepare for the next step in your life and in your leadership?

(Please note:  I received a copy of Next Up for free as part of a giveaway during the launch of this book.  I was not required to provide a favorable review.  I truly believe this book can be a helpful reminder to any reader in helping them to take steps to become better leaders – at work, in the community, at church, and at home.

Also to note:  There are affiliate links in this post.  Should you purchase Next Up by clicking one of these links, I receive a small percentage of the purchase.  These funds are used to support The Stretched Blog and to extend ministry and missions to Guatemala.  Thank you!)

Be Aware of Bad Yeast – 4 Ways to Help You Find the Good Yeast

Yesterday for our Easter celebration brunch, I decided to make cinnamon rolls.  My Mom is the queen of cinnamon rolls, and I figured it was time I give it a try for my family.  I have such great memories of smelling and tasting Mom’s famous cinnamon rolls when I was growing up.  Living so far away now, it has been a long time since I indulged in this delicacy.

I started out by following the recipe in one of our cookbooks.  I combined flour and yeast.  Then I added warm milk, sugar, and butter.  I mixed the dough for a few minutes before adding more flour.  I then proceeded to knead the dough for several more minutes.  I was started to dream of the smell and flavor of the cinnamon rolls.

Then my plans started to unravel.

I set the dough aside for an hour to let the yeast do its work.  According to the recipe, the dough should have doubled in the hour.  When I came back to check on the roll dough, I was disappointed to discover that the dough did not rise.

The yeast was bad.

In the book of Matthew, Jesus warns his disciples to be aware of bad yeast.

“Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”  Matthew 16:6

It’s a great reminder.  We need to be careful about how we fill our minds and hearts.  Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

4 Ways to Help You Find the Good Yeast

  1. Use God’s Word as the standard.  It all starts here.  Be careful not to take God’s Word out of context.  The Pharisees and Sadducees were known for taking parts of the Law from the Old Testament and forgetting other parts.  In their focus, they missed out on the coming of the Messiah.
  2. Surround yourself with people who will help you grow.  It’s important to find people who will build you up and point you in the right direction.  The wrong people will drag you down and point you towards the wrong way.  Who do you have in your life who helps you grow?
  3. Get rid of the bad yeast.  When you discover a bad influence, you need to do some pruning.  What is the bad yeast that you need to remove from you life?
  4. Be intentional about seeking out the good yeast.  In Philippians 4, Paul charges believers to think about things that are just, noble, trustworthy, and praiseworthy.  This doesn’t happen by accident.  It takes focus.  It requires us to be intentional.  How are you being intentional about finding the good yeast?

I ended up making the cinnamon rolls anyway.  They actually tasted pretty good, but they just weren’t the same as the ones my Mom makes.  Time to throw away the bad yeast in our refrigerator, and time to get new yeast – good yeast!

OnTrack3dCover04132014Tomorrow is the big day!

On Track – Life Lessons from the Track & Field officially launches tomorrow on Amazon.


I’m Turning Into My Dad


Miscellaneous JMS Photos 185

Over the weekend, we had the opportunity to visit with some college friends.  We have all experienced changes since graduating from college.  We are older.  We have kids.  We have new jobs, responsibilities, and interests.  Our kids came with us, so they had the opportunity to meet our college friends and to hang out with their kids.

It’s fun to listen to the life updates and stories everyone has to share, and I enjoy jumping into the fray with my own stories.

Saying goodbye always takes some time which isn’t the greatest thing for impatient kids.  I was sharing a story with a couple of our friends right before we left which delayed our departure.  When we finally got in the car, my son began to mock me by repeating my story almost word for word.  I don’t remember is words exactly, but he said something about me droning on and on and on about something few people cared to hear.

It’s funny how the tables turn.  I seem to remember having the same response when my own father would drone on and on and on about this or that.  My friends actually started calling my dad Cliff Claven, the postman from the popular sitcom, Cheers.  Cliff was known for sharing a lot of details about a lot of trivial things. My dad seems to know a lot of things about a lot of things.

I smile as I think about a video my high school friends all refer to where my dad was briefly caught on video walking past a door.  As he walked by the door, he could be heard saying, “Do you remember the All In The Family episode?”  My dad has always been able to relate some sort of pop culture tidbit with a conversation or experience.

My dad is one of the smartest people I know.  Seriously, he knows so much.  His reading over the years and his ability to keep up with popular culture have helped to fill his mind with information.  When you meet my dad, you will eventually be blessed with a story or information taken from the huge database of his brain.  This trait used to drive me crazy as a teenager, but it has come to be something I greatly admire and respect.

As our family drove away from our college friend get together, I listened to my son, and I smiled.  Maybe, I am turning into my dad.  But maybe this isn’t a bad thing.  I wonder if he’ll have the same thoughts in 25 years when his kids give him a hard time about his stories.

How are you like your parents?  What is one characteristic of your mom or dad you’d like to have?

5 Things To Remember When We Say Or Do Something Stupid

This post is stupid.


What I mean, this post is all about how to respond when our words or actions are stupid.

We all do stupid things.

We do things we regret – things we’d like to take back.

We have all said something dumb.  Once we say it, we want to catch our words and stuff them back into our mouths.

We’ve even done something really ugly.  We’d like to go back in time and delete a scene from our life reel.  But it’s not that easy.

If you are a college basketball fan, you may have heard about the stupid words and actions of a Texas Tech fan and an Oklahoma State basketball star.  If you missed it, Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State pushed a Texas Tech fan after words were exchanged between the two in the stands at a recent game.

I’m pretty sure, they would both like to take back there words and actions.

I don’t know all the details, but from what I’ve seen both Smart and the fan have responded pretty well since the initial incident of stupidity.

So what can we learn from the Marcus Smart incident?

5 Things To Remember When We Say Or Do Something Stupid

  1. Stupid happens.  We all do and say dumb things.  We let our emotions get the best of us.  Stupid will happen to you again at some point.
  2. An apology is the best place to start.  When you do or say something stupid, be an adult.  An adult apologizes.  If you offended someone, you need to apologize.  Here’s the deal with apologies – your apology should be real, and it shouldn’t be full of excuses.  One of the things I like about Marcus Smart’s apology speech is that he did not make excuses.  He could have said, “I apologize, but he called me a ________.”  Everything before the “but” is garbage.  When you apologize, focus on your side of the mistake, and don’t focus on how you were offended.
  3. Take your punishment like a man.  Before the punishment was even determined, Marcus Smart indicated he would accept whatever punishment the NCAA and Oklahoma State gave him.  As it turns out, he was suspended for three games for his role in this incident.  Your stupid action may not get the attention of the NCAA, but it probably has some consequences.  Don’t complain about the consequences.  Deal with it.
  4. Learn to laugh at yourself.  Sometimes you just have to shake your head and chuckle at yourself for your stupid words and actions.  Taking yourself a little less serious is a great way to get through your personal stupidity.
  5. Learn from your stupidity.  If you said something or did something stupid, try not to do it again.  You should have learned your lesson the first time.  Only time will tell if Marcus Smart and the Texas Tech fan learned their lesson.  Hopefully, they did!

How do you respond to your own stupidity?  What additional tips to you have for others who have said or done something stupid?

Junk In The Trunk

We all have junk in the trunk.

We all have baggage from our past.  This baggage weighs us down.  It influences our decisions and interactions moving forward.

Over the weekend, Leanne and I visited the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia, PA.  Right now, they are featuring Other Desert Cities, a play written by Jon Robin Baitz.  The play tells the story of the Wyeth family (a daughter, a son, a mom, a dad, and an aunt) as they deal with junk in their trunk.

I really did not have any expectations as I went to the play.  Other Desert Cities was simply the third show in the five show season we are currently enjoying as subscribers to the Walnut Street Theater, and I was looking forward to a night out with my wife.

The play left me thinking quite a bit.  The daughter in the play (Brooke Wyeth) comes home to Palm Springs, CA to spend Christmas with her family.  She brings a couple of copies of the manuscript for a book she is getting ready to publish about her family.  The manuscript reveals some dark details about her brother and his death.  It exposes some deep, dark secrets her politically connected parents would rather keep quiet.  The play which takes place in the living room of the Wyeth home is the dialogue which happens around Brooke’s manuscript.  The parents don’t want it published.  And we find out there is more to this story than initially meets the eye.  Many aspects of this play hit a little too close to home.

Other Desert Cities reminded me there is more to the story than meets the eye.  We are all coming at life from a slightly different angle.  We have baggage.  We have experienced things differently than those around us.  We react differently because of different life experiences.  Before we jump to conclusions, it’s important to listen to the stories of others.

Sharing our junk with other people takes courage, wisdom, and trust.  We need courage to expose ourselves.  We need wisdom to know how much to share and with whom to share it.  And we need to trust those who hear about our junk will respond appropriately.

There is power in sharing our junk to help others.  The play reminded me how common my junk is.  When people share their junk, they give others a sense of belonging, and they provide a sense of hope.  By sharing your junk, you have the opportunity to give someone hope and a new perspective.

There is freedom which comes from sharing our junk.  When we share our junk, we are no longer carrying it by ourselves.  There are others to help us along the way.  This can provide tremendous freedom.  One word of advice here…not all junk should be shared openly.  Confidential counseling is a great place to release some of your junk.  A few years ago when I was going through a tough time, I sought out the confidence of a paid, professional counselor.  This was really helpful in helping me process what I was experiencing.

I’m not sure what junk is in your trunk.  But I would encourage you to share it with someone.

How have you dealt with the junk in your trunk?  How has it helped you and others to share your junk?