Friday, January 30, 2009


For years, I have defined self discipline as "doing what's right regardless of what you want to do," and felt very frustrated because I had no emotional or psychological way to do that. But I have come up with a new and improved definition!

Self-discipline is doing, thinking, saying, and being what you truly want to do and be, without regard to what you happen to feel like doing at the moment.

This sprung from the insight I gained from James Allen's As a Man Thinketh and David Burn's Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, that our feelings are determined entirely by our thoughts and actions, and our actions are determined entirely by our thoughts. Therefore, it is illogical to base our thoughts and actions on how we feel. If we feel sad, we ought to do something that makes us feel happy. The thought "what do I feel like doing" does not result in happiness.

Rest and pleasure have their time and place. But basing our lives and actions off of what we feel like doing is illogical. So, here is what I have done. Whenever I catch myself thinking "do I feel like doing _____" or checking to see what I feel like doing, I replace that thought with, "do I truly want to do _____? What will the consequences be? How will this activity make me feel?" This change in mindset has helped me make an immediate and noticeable improvement in my productivity. Needs, wants, and "feel likes" are three separate things. The last is, so far as I can tell, totally useless and irrelevant.

Of course, I may be wrong about that. :) But I was definitely focusing on what I feel like doing far, far too much. This principle has helped me.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Constant Need of the Atonement

I've discovered in myself a tendency to say, "I need the Atonement to get to this spiritual point, and then I will be content." The problem with that is that it doesn't work. The moment I let myself be content and stop feeling the need for the Atonement, I quickly regress.

Repentance is an act, but it is also a lifestyle. I do not have the intelligence to be completely pure and good instantly, and if I did, I would be under enormous condemnation for not living up to that intelligence. Therefore, I constantly need the Atonement so that I can continue to grow. There are stepping stones for each of us--starting with temple worthiness, and moving forward through individual weaknesses and gaining specific gifts until we are perfect. But stepping stones are always taken one at a time.

I think the most accusatory way to describe perfectionism is a form of pride--a desire to be rid of the Atonement as soon as possible. Even the best of us need the Atonement to keep moving forward.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Do the Works of Abraham

So far as I know, two peoples in the world claim the ancestry of Abraham and the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant: the Jewish people and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Mormons claim the blessings of that ancestry, mostly through Ephraim and Joseph, but occasionally through others of the twelve tribes, as told to them by a Patriarch of the Church. The scriptures promise great blessings to "Ephraim and his fellows," including the Priesthood and the power to gather the nations unto Christ. The Abrahamic covenant is also a major part of the basis for the Jewish state of Israel. Now, Christ told the Jews to do the works of Abraham. What does that mean?

For Latter-day Saints, it means to ask and recieve knowledge from God. The LDS Book of Abraham is a great blessing, and it says that Abraham received many revelations. We can inherit this blessing. We can receive all of the blessings of the Priesthood through temple ordinances and covenants that are necessary for us in this life to lead to exaltation and eternal families.

For the Jewish people, it means to do their best to make peace with their neighbors. In the book of Genesis, Abraham made sacrifices in order to guarantee peace with those around him, even when they were the offenders. In Genesis chapter 13, Abraham gives part of the land promised to him to his nephew Lot when both of them became too prosperous to share the same herding and grazing grounds. He shared his blessing generously. He had every right to ask Abraham to leave, but he did not. Isaac did the works of Abraham his father in Genesis 26, when he kept digging wells until there were enough that everyone was happy.

I hope that all the people of the world will do the works of Abraham and receive the promised blessing. It is a tremendous blessing indeed. No greater promises are made in the scriptures to those who are faithful.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


So, as we watch the economy go up and down, the worst thing we can possibly do is get into unnecessary or excessive debt. Why? Because if we lose our jobs, we may be unable to pay back the debts. Then we can lose our cars, our homes, and so forth.

I remember watching The Grapes of Wrath in high school. The story is about some farmers who are unable to pay their debts and lose their farms--something that happened to many, many farmers at the beginning of the Great Depression. I'm not saying that all their debts were excessive, only that no person who has any debt is truly financially self-sufficient. The moment they can't pay, they are at the mercy of their creditors.

So, my personal ideal is to have a moderate-sized house bought and paid for after, say, ten years of marriage. We'll see if that's feasible with my family size and my career, but that's my goal for now. Let's all follow the modern prophets' counsel and get out of debt.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sharing Love and Testimony

When we truly feel the love of God and have a sure knowledge that God lives, we want to share that with others.

Understanding of God's love comes in stages. First, we understand it theoretically. Then, we understand that God loves us, values us, and wishes us well--we understand that we need God. We understand His love as a child understands a parent's love. Finally, we begin to understand that love means sacrifice. As we slowly begin to understand Christ's infinite Atonement, the unbounded sacrifice He made for us and the daily sacrifices He still makes in serving us, we simultaneously begin to serve and bless those around us as well. (The reverse is just as true--the more we serve, the more we can understand Christ.) The love of service and sacrifice has potentially infinite power.

Testimony works similarly. At first, we believe because others tell us it is true, and it seems to make sense. Later, we receive our own spiritual experiences that confirm it. Finally, we may receive the grand spiritual gift of a burning knowledge and desire to share the gospel. Before my mission, I had a strong testimony, but it did not begin to burn within me until I specifically asked for that blessing. I find that it slowly wanes unless I continue to thank the Lord for it and ask for it to continue.

Ask, and ye shall receive. This is specifically applied both to charity (Moroni 7:48) and to testimony (Moroni 10:3-5) in the Book of Mormon.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Love Can Last Forever

When I was in AP Psychology, I was taught that being "in love" lasts only for about a year, or two at the most. To my delight, a team of scientists recently found out otherwise.

"Using brain scans, researchers at Stony Brook University in New York have discovered a small number of couples respond with as much passion after 20 years together as most people only do during the early throes of romance, Britain's Sunday Times newspaper reported." This was based on brain scans of courting couples and more mature couples.

Anyway, it made me happy. I speculate that keeping romance alive depends on two things: first, a solid foundation of friendship, honesty, and trust, and second, keeping romance alive by flirting, dating, and enjoying being affectionate. Learn to express love in a way that your spouse understands.

Good, Better, Best

One of the major emotional problems of the world is perfectionism. So many people are excessively worried and stressed about their own weaknesses. According to the psychological book I've been reading (Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by Dr. David D. Burns, one of the leading psychologists in cognitive psychology, which is my favorite school of psychological thought), perfectionism is mostly caused by two types of illogical thoughts: all-or-nothing thinking and should statements.

One day, on my mission, I was having a really rough day. I felt angry at myself for not being perfect in certain areas, angry at the Lord for not making me perfect, and generally frustrated and discouraged. With a prayer in my heart for help, I pulled out the most recent General Conference Ensign. There I read Elder Oaks' talk, "Good, Better, Best" (Ensign, Nov 2007, 104–8). As I read, I suddenly realized that goodness is not an all-or-nothing thing. It comes by degrees! I wasn't a perfect missionary, but I was a good missionary, and I was sincerely striving to be better. Perfection does not--indeed, it cannot--come all at once. Sometimes we think that we are either perfect or the scum of the earth. Obviously, there's a lot of room for growth in between.

We use the word "should" all the time. We all have our own ideas about how the world "should" be. However, it is helpful to think carefully about exactly what we mean. One strategy is to use the word "if." For example, if I just say, "I should be doing better than this," I feel guilty, discouraged, and angry at myself. On the other hand, if I say, "if I work a little harder to serve, then I will be happier and have the Spirit more," then I will likely feel encouraged and want to try. It works the same way when you use the word on others--when you think, "He shouldn't have cut in front of me," you usually feel angry. So instead, think, "It would be nice if he hadn't cut in front of me." I've found by experience that talking back to your own illogical thoughts can be very helpful.

The credit for these ideas goes to Dr. David Burns from his book, and, more importantly, the credit belongs to that God who helped me understand these ideas and whose Spirit of truth taught them to Dr. Burns in the first place.