Why (And How) A Mormon Will Celebrate Lent in 2012

I’m about to begin an intense detox.

Starting Wednesday, my wonderful wife and I will be giving up television, movies, and video games for 40 days. We might also eliminate some other things.

This is the fourth year in a row I’ve given up my TV habit in celebration of Lent, a traditionally Catholic observance. I’m Mormon, not Catholic, and I’ll be the first to admit that my efforts don’t match what is traditionally required in the Catholic faith. But I respect that tradition, so I’ve adopted and adapted some aspects of it for my own life.

Here’s why I’m celebrating Lent:

Television has too strong a hold on my life, normally.

We’ve already given up cable, but I still really enjoy sitting down to watch a TV show or movie. Especially with our new baby, it’s been so easy to turn on Hulu or pop in a DVD to watch during a feeding.

And here’s the thing: I like having TV in my life. I don’t intend to give it up entirely, because it can be good, cheap entertainment. That’s why a relatively short-term restriction works so well for me, because I’m able to live a life without TV without worrying that I’ll never get it again.

I believe in fasting.

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I’m accustomed to the principle of fasting.

Traditionally, Mormons fast monthly by going without food or drink for 24 hours and donating to the needy. Fasting is an opportunity to strengthen one’s willpower, practice self-control, and reconnect with God.

Food isn’t the only thing we can fast from. I choose to fast from TV, movies, and video games because this represents a sacrifice for me, but it’s also not a permanent change.

You can do “anything” for 40 days.

Said another way: I believe in doing hard things for limited time frames.

One of our Really Awesome Things to Do in 2012 is to complete a series of 30-day challenges: things like blogging every day for a month or running 100 miles over 30 days.

Focusing on one challenge for a short time allows you to make real progress and do something meaningful, without permanently damaging the other aspects of your life.

I get to live a different life.

For 40 days, I’ll be in a world with more books, fewer distractions, more time to meditate, and less influence from pop culture. This is a good thing.

I’ll detox from the negative influences of the media, and when I start watching again, I’ll have a better sense of context and control over my viewing habits.

Celebrating Lent prepares me for Easter.

As a Christian, this is huge for me. Easter is a wonderful time to celebrate the life, mission, sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The buildup to Christmas gets me in the spirit and right frame of mind with plenty of time to spare, but, in the past, Easter has come and gone almost before I realized. Once I started celebrating my version of Lent, that changed. Every urge to watch TV becomes a reminder to look forward to Easter and think about what it means.

Want to try it?

I recommend trying this technique in your own life. This year, Lent starts on Wednesday, February 22nd, but you can apply this idea any time.

Simply pick a fast (something to give up), a timeframe (such as the 40 days before Easter), and (bonus:) a reason (such as preparing for Easter).

For choosing your fast, here are some principles that may be helpful to you:

  • Choose something that involves a sacrifice. It doesn’t have to be television and movies, but it should be something that you ordinarily enjoy.
  • Choose something that makes you better. You shouldn’t try to give up drinking water or paying rent, for example. Instead, focus on sacrifices that improve your schedule, health, well-being or spirituality.
  • Choose something that comes up frequently. Ideally, your sacrifice should be part of your daily (or at least weekly) life. The regular reminders make the effort meaningful.
  • Choose something do-able. While it should be a challenge, I wouldn’t recommend going overboard and changing every aspect of your life at once. Instead, pick one or two things to focus on, and don’t get overwhelmed.

This yearly effort has made my life better. I hope you consider trying something similar.

If you try it, let me know. I’m sure it will improve your life, too.

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197 Ways to Smile Every Single Day

I hope you started the new year off the right way: by smiling! And after you’ve gotten such a good start, it’d be a shame to waste it. So my wonderful wife Emily and I have come up with tons of things to do (at least one/day) to make sure you spend all your days smiling.

Here’s 197 things to do (at least one/day) to make sure you spend all your days smiling:

  1. Dream.
  2. Kiss someone you like.
  3. Play with a kitten.
  4. Hold a baby.
  5. Say “I love you” (and mean it).
  6. Play fetch with a dog.
  7. Go for a walk.
  8. Take a bike ride.
  9. Watch a sunset.
  10. Watch a sunrise.
  11. Have sex (with your spouse :)).
  12. Decorate a Christmas tree.
  13. Write a letter.
  14. Visit a nursing home.
  15. Call an old friend.
  16. Go out of your way to help someone.
  17. Give someone flowers.
  18. Send a thank-you card.
  19. Make a list of your favorite people (and why).
  20. Tell your favorite people why they’re your favorite.
  21. Visit a friend.
  22. Read scripture.
  23. Sing in the shower.
  24. Sing off key on purpose.
  25. Make funny noises.
  26. Have a funny face contest.
  27. Go for a walk near water.
  28. Go for a hike.
  29. Stop and smell the roses—literally.
  30. Pet an animal.
  31. Learn a new hobby.
  32. Do someone else’s dishes.
  33. Ask someone about their favorite memory.
  34. Sit quietly and think about something (or someone) that makes you happy.
  35. Bake cookies.
  36. Take homemade cookies somewhere.
  37. Say hello to a stranger.
  38. Plant something.
  39. Take a picture of a sunset.
  40. Enjoy your favorite flavor of ice cream.
  41. Make art.
  42. Eat a fresh fruit or vegetable.
  43. Read a good book.
  44. Write a poem.
  45. Publish a blog.
  46. Turn up the music.
  47. Turn off the news.
  48. Close all the door and windows and dance (in just your socks).
  49. Make 2012 your best year yet.
  50. Sing along to a musical.
  51. Watch a penguin walk.
  52. Listen to a kid tell a story.
  53. Go to the playground.
  54. Run (or walk) a 5K.
  55. Give something to your local homeless person.
  56. Take a long, hot bath.
  57. Set a big goal.
  58. Picture yourself accomplishing a big goal.
  59. Accomplish a big goal.
  60. Play a card game.
  61. Cheat to help someone else win.
  62. Wish someone a good day.
  63. Wish a stranger “Merry Christmas!”
  64. Say something silly on purpose.
  65. Practice a tongue twister.
  66. Learn how to say “thank you” in a different language.
  67. Take a picture.
  68. Look through an old photo album.
  69. Draw something you remember.
  70. Finish a project.
  71. Get the house clean.
  72. Go outside for five minutes just for the sake of being outside.
  73. Feel the sunshine on your shoulders.
  74. Go to a party.
  75. Throw a party.
  76. Compliment someone’s eyes.
  77. Compliment someone’s clothes.
  78. Compliment someone’s shoes.
  79. Compliment someone’s attitude.
  80. Compliment someone’s personality.
  81. Eat a cookie.
  82. Ride a horse.
  83. Climb something.
  84. Swim.
  85. Go on an adventure.
  86. Visit a waterfall.
  87. Smell a bunch of flowers.
  88. Tell someone you’re proud of them.
  89. Go out for a night on the town.
  90. See a live performance.
  91. Put on a live performance.
  92. Watch a fire.
  93. Eat a brownie.
  94. Eat ice cream (or frozen yogurt).
  95. Smile just for the heck of it.
  96. Watch someone you love.
  97. Breathe deeply at least three times in a row.
  98. Say “easy peasy.”
  99. Jump. Multiple times, if you have to.
  100. Compliment a stranger.
  101. Sincerely thank customer service.
  102. Leave an extra-generous tip.
  103. Withdraw $20 in ones, and give yourself permission to do whatever you want with it.
  104. Drink a tall glass of water.
  105. Exercise.
  106. Call your mom.
  107. Walk barefoot through the grass or sand.
  108. Change a light bulb, then turn on the new one and watch it work.
  109. Make an old family recipe.
  110. Do a project with an elderly relative.
  111. Decorate Easter eggs.
  112. Finger paint.
  113. Tickle someone.
  114. Get tickled.
  115. Threaten to tickle someone.
  116. Tell a really corny joke.
  117. Tell a really good joke.
  118. Wear your nicest clothes.
  119. Serenade your steering wheel.
  120. Bounce a ball.
  121. Sing falsetto.
  122. Play catch.
  123. Fly a kite.
  124. Roll down a hill.
  125. Visit a museum.
  126. Examine a painting.
  127. Send a letter, by mail, to yourself.
  128. Sing along to the radio.
  129. Attend a wedding.
  130. Give a birthday gift.
  131. Give a gift for no reason.
  132. Play “hide and seek.”
  133. Play tag.
  134. Drum.
  135. Beatbox.
  136. Take a bubble bath.
  137. Rub your tummy and pat your head simultaneously.
  138. Give a massage.
  139. Get a massage (which is easier after you’ve given one).
  140. Put on warm, fuzzy socks.
  141. Build something with Legos.
  142. Make (and wear) a newspaper hat.
  143. Dedicate a song to someone.
  144. Watch old people dance.
  145. Go to church.
  146. Reorganize your living room.
  147. Pay off a debt.
  148. Do someone a favor.
  149. Buy something you’ve saved up for.
  150. Vitameatavegamin.
  151. Light a good-smelling candle.
  152. Spend an evening with a good book.
  153. Snuggle.
  154. Read the funny pages.
  155. Bake a cake.
  156. Frame something important.
  157. Listen to “Who’s on First?”
  158. Go someplace new and exciting.
  159. Climb a mountain.
  160. Make time.
  161. Get a fresh haircut.
  162. Consider the mayfly.
  163. Touch noses with someone special.
  164. Smile at someone.
  165. Read a Dr. Suess book—as fast as you can, out loud.
  166. Play with someone’s hair.
  167. Tickle your own feet.
  168. Play a board game.
  169. Make a list of things that make you smile.
  170. Wrap up in a blanket fresh out of the dryer.
  171. Drink hot chocolate.
  172. Appreciate something beautiful.
  173. Appreciate someone beautiful.
  174. Draw a picture of something/someone beautiful.
  175. Pray.
  176. Try out a new recipe.
  177. Sit close together by the fire.
  178. Listen to your favorite song.
  179. Sing “If I were a rich man” (aloud).
  180. Do something selfless.
  181. Smell good.
  182. Skip.
  183. Hold hands.
  184. Watch a Disney movie.
  185. Sit down as a family and eat dinner.
  186. Spend time with nine-year-olds.
  187. Listen to children sing.
  188. Clean a room, then sit and enjoy the view.
  189. Take a trip.
  190. Go to the zoo.
  191. Paint your toenails.
  192. Say a tongue twister. A lot of times. Fast.
  193. Do something embarrassing.
  194. Write a long list of things you’re thankful for.
  195. Try to make someone else smile.
  196. Post a comment on this post telling your favorite ways to get smiling.
  197. If you liked this list, click here to share this on Facebook and get your friends smiling.

If the first thing you try doesn’t work, pick something else from the list – I guarantee there’s an idea here that can make you smile.

P.S. – You can subscribe by email to make sure you don’t miss any of my posts.

How to Make 2012 Your Best Year Yet

This could easily have been the year I did absolutely nothing.

I’m a natural homebody and—I’ll be honest—it’s easy for me to get to Friday night and want to say, “I think I’ll just kick my feet up all weekend.” Unfortunately, that makes it all-too-easy to get to the end of a year and realize I didn’t end up doing much of anything.

That didn’t happen this year, though.

Forgive me if I brag for a moment: we had an awesome year in 2011.

In the past year we’ve attended plays and musicals (including Wicked! and the Utah Shakespeare Festival), visited family in Texas (multiple times), chartered a (tiny) boat, visited waterfalls and toured my mission area in Washington/Oregon, walked the Golden Gate bridge, went to Comic Con San Diego, spent more than a month without television, moved into a larger apartment, rocked the GMAT, explored local hot spots, and acquired a few key possessions that we’ll love for years. Oh—and our first child will be born any day now (probably before the end of the year).

Almost none of this would have happened if we hadn’t taken specific steps to make it a priority.

I’ll be honest: I’m a bit lazy. Thankfully, I realized that could be a problem if it kept my wife and I from reaching our potential. So we developed a powerful system we used to make our dreams come to life.

I wouldn’t have had such an awesome year without my wonderful wife and what we came up with.

What’s our secret? Our list of “Really Awesome Things to Do in 2011.”

This morning my wonderful wife Emily and I took similar steps to make sure we have the best 2012 imaginable. How do I know it will work? Because it sure worked for 2011.

Would you like to make 2012 your best year yet?

If so, I recommend you make your own list of “Really Awesome Things to Do in 2012.”

Here’s a step-by-step guide to the process we used:

Step #1: Imagine/Brainstorm.

We’ve spent the last couple of weeks dreaming up possibilities for the coming year. Every once in a while, we’d spend a little time discussing our ideas over dinner. Emily kept a list on her phone, and I made occasional notes. This was a largely unstructured process. You still have time to do this before the new year.

Step #2: Organize/Record.

This is where you add structure to your previously vague hopes. This morning we got out dry-erase markers and made a large heading on the mirror in our bedroom: “Really Awesome Things to Do in 2012“. We then spent an hour or two discussing our goals, hopes and wishes. As we formed our ideas into specific goals or events, we added them to the list on our mirror. We also added secondary lists of “Cool Things To Buy in 2012″ and “Wonderful Things to Consider Doing in 2012/2013.”

Step #3: Prioritize/Memorize.

We’ll leave our list of “Really Awesome Things to Do in 2012″ up in front of us for a while. By the time we cleaned 2011′s list off, it had been right in front of us daily for months, we’d accomplished several items, and we’d both more-or-less memorized the rest of it. This is important because:

  • It reminds you to make plans to accomplish your dreams.
  • It helps you recognize key opportunities when they arrive.

When Southwest had a huge, one-day sale on flights, we knew it was time to act on a couple of our travel goals. When Groupon had a deal for a local restaurant on our list, there was no need for hesitation.

Step #4: Say “Yes”/Say “No”.

Throughout the year, take steps to make your list happen. Every few weeks, do something from your list while simultaneously laying the groundwork for something else. Doing more of the things that are important to you means giving up some of the things you don’t care about as much. We sacrificed in 2011, but it was all worth it.

Here are a few more insights from the past year:

  • The key to success and a large part of why this has been so beneficial is because we’re both on the same page. The process allowed us to discuss our dreams and vision for the year. Because of our discussions, I was able to prioritize things that Emily cared about (and vice versa).
  • Knowing what the other was thinking about, we were each able to work on the things we’d outlined, already knowing we both wanted to make them happen.
  • As an additional benefit, I believe this strengthened our marriage through shared experiences, support for each other’s dreams, and mutual goals.
  • Our Awesome Things are uniquely ours, fitted to our budget and desires. Your Awesome Things will be uniquely yours.
  • These things take time and money, but we did them without debt or overwhelm because we gave up things like cable and carefully budgeted.

If you’d like to try this, grab a marker, talk out your dreams for the coming year, and write your own list of “Really Awesome Things to Do in 2012.” Let’s make this our best year yet!

If you think this is a good idea, click here to share this on Facebook…

“America the Beautiful” (played on a hand saw) – Happy Independence Day!

I continue to believe in the greatness of The United States of America.

I continue to feel an immeasurable sense of gratitude, respect and debt to those risked so much for my freedom.

I continue to thank God for the good this country has done.

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness—-That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed…”

Also, at our church congregation’s Fourth of July pancake breakfast, my friend Brian played “America the Beautiful” on a hand saw:

Happy Independence Day, everyone!

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Have I done any good? (Please help in Haiti)

“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” – James 1:22 (KJV)

Last weekend I sang in a choir for a church conference. The song (and theme of the conference) was “Have I done any good in the world today?”

The lines struck me:

Have I done any good in the world today?
Have I helped anyone in need?
Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad?
If not, I have failed indeed.
Has anyone’s burden been lighter today
Because I was willing to share?
Have the sick and the weary been helped on their way?
When they needed my help was I there?
Then wake up and do something more

There are many ways to apply those verses to your life. Right now, I’d like to discuss just one.

By now you’ve heard of the suffering in Haiti. You’ve watch the accounts of millions of lives affected by a devastating earthquake. If you’re religious, you’ve probably prayed for them. Maybe you’ve passed along a message calling for donations–even given something yourself.

Now I’m asking you to do something more. This is not just a feel-good “awareness” campaign. There is something you can do to change things.  I quote the LDS Church’s First Presidency:

We are keenly aware that many in America are dealing with economic challenges caused by the recession. However, we are appealing to members to donate to Church Humanitarian Services as their means allow in order to help our Haitian brothers and sisters.

Despite the funds already raised, more money is still needed, and we’ve been asked by a prophet to give. While I mention religion because it informs my understanding, this is a human issue.

As your means allow, please donate to Humanitarian Services and/or other organizations to support the relief efforts. When we’ve done all we can do there, other locations will still need our support.

I know that your life will improve as a result of your donation (I’ve seen it and studies prove it), as will the lives of those suffering in Haiti. Please take one more step and share this on Facebook or post your own message encouraging donations. The more reminders we send, the more good we can do.

THANK YOU! (Tomorrow we’ll return to our regularly-scheduled communications-oriented programming).

Creative Commons photo by Agência Brasil.

How to leverage the power of video–for free

Don’t get me wrong: I strongly advocate learning how to do high-quality video, and we’ll talk some in future posts about how to achieve the best possible video on a reasonable budget.

But my focus here is on creating video even if you don’t have any budget.

Just get started and get going. As you prove the value with cheap video, the budget for nicer video will come along. Good luck!

(photo courtesy of Canon USA)

I just got to give away $1,000 on behalf of The Frugality Game

And it felt great.

The winner, Brenda from North Carolina, is a grandma who can really use the money, so she’s quite thankful. What a great way to spend part of my day.

As some of you may remember, I ran a giveaway here on this blog last year. I ended up sending new, 2009 AP Stylebooks to two of my readers.

Prizes are a great way to get people’s attention. They’re a good way to motivate people to action (whether it’s posting comments on this blog or becoming fans of The Frugality Game). They’re also wonderful because it feels great to give.

With that in mind, I think I might run another contest here soon. Make sure you subscribe and return so you don’t miss it. Oh–and we’re also still going to give away an addtional $50,000 and a new car in The Frugality Game. That’ll be an exciting day!

What have you awarded or won? If you ran a contest, what would it be? (Why not give it a try?)

Just ask

Sometimes it seems that we get so caught up making plans and so worried about results that we forget to act and ask.

If we never ask, we’ll never hear “no”. We’ll also never hear “yes” or even “maybe”.

  • If you never ask for the interview, you’ll never get the job.
  • If you never ask for the sale, you’ll never get the commission.
  • If you never ask for the date, you’ll never get the girl/guy.
  • If you never ask for the recommendation, you’ll never get it.

Be thankful

I spent some time today with someone who–through his actions, the choices of others, and just circumstances–is going through a difficult time. It was a reminder of many of the blessings that I enjoy.

You may be going through a difficult time (or, you might currently be on top of the world). Whatever your situation, try to remember something that you appreciate. It may be as simple as having access to the Internet (you’re reading this, aren’t you?). I know the holidays are technically over, but thanks giving never goes out of style.

Here’s a challenge: offer gratitude this week. Me? I’ll be writing a personal list and trying to remember to thank God and those around me for so many great things in my life. I hope you do the same.

Using Facebook ads for market research

The big secret benefit of Facebook ads? Market research. Don’t know which audience will like your idea or which idea they’ll like better? Pick some target audiences, write a couple versions, and run ads. When you find something that works, try different variants until you find something that works even better. Rinse and repeat. Find out who your audience really is and what they want.

Photo by PlaxcoLab

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