Are You Like a Smart Phone?

My first job out of college was a sales job with the 3M Co. in St. Paul, Minnesota. During my initial training at their world headquarters, one of the instructors made a comment that I have never forgotten. He was talking about human behavior and said that once people reach adulthood they don’t change much the rest of their lives. He then smiled and said, “A person 21 years of age or older will continue to do in the future as they have done in the past unless they have a spiritual experience or brain surgery!” Everyone in the room laughed and then we continued the training. Over the years, however, I have come to the conclusion that the 3M trainer wasn’t too far off in his assessment. The reason we have smart phones is because researchers learned lessons and continue to improve them over time. Are you like a smart phone where each year you become better and better? Unfortunately, it appears that many of us don’t change all that much over time.

A few years ago I was working on a new book and decided to go back and read some of my previous journal entries. I was looking for valuable experiences that I could share in the book. It had been years since I had read any of my past entries. During this search I discovered two entries, written 15 years apart, that taught me a valuable lesson.

January 21, 1982
“Last Monday, Wendy and I finished listening to a cassette tape called Eliminating Self-defeating Behaviors  by Johnathan Chamberlain. I also purchased a book on the subject. The idea is to choose a behavior to work on that you feel is holding you back in your progression. Dr. Chamberlain and other researchers have spent years developing techniques to help people overcome these behaviors. It is a powerful program. I chose procrastination as the self-defeating behavior that I would most like to eliminate in my life. As part of the program, I had to write when and how I did this behavior. It was hard to admit how often I procrastinated and the clever rationalizations I came up with to justify my behavior. Since finishing the tape and book, I have become very aware of the problem and have a desire to eliminate it from my life. I feel good that I have accomplished a great deal since beginning the program this week.”

Several journal entries after that told of the great progress I was making in overcoming my problem with procrastination. Over the course of the next few weeks, the entries relating to this subject trailed off and eventually stopped. The subject was not mentioned again until I discovered the following entry.

October 27, 1997
“Lately I have been reading a book called Eliminating Self-Defeating Behaviors by Jonathan Chamberlain. It has been sitting in my bookcase untouched for years. I remember working on some self-defeating behaviors long ago, but I can’t remember what they were.  Something told me that I should go through the process again and try to eliminate a behavior that seems to be holding me back. The biggest problem I have right now in my life is that I am a huge procrastinator. I put off everything you can think of. I was very aware today of my problem and how much it is holding me back. I don’t procrastinate nearly as much at work as I do at home.  I should be getting much more done at home and during my free time than what I do.  I think I use the excuse that I try to work hard during the day so I need to relax when I get home. I am going to face this problem again, but it will not be easy, and I know it. I have hung onto it for so long that it is going to be very hard to overcome. I did get a lot done today, however, and I hope tomorrow to face my problem even more. If I could just stay aware, I believe I could lessen the behavior in my life.”
Reading these two entries, I felt very disappointed with myself. I could hardly believe that I identified the exact same problem to work on 15 years after my original attempt. Obviously, little progress had been made during that time, and I had even forgotten about working on procrastination before. Our weaknesses do not magically disappear even over time. It takes awareness, a strong desire and hard work to change and become better. Engineers have made amazing progress improving smart phones over the past few years. Have we made as much progress as individuals?



Live Life in Crescendo

        At the end of one semester when I was teaching at Brigham Young University, I was recording final test scores and averaging final grades. Occasionally a test would be placed in the wrong pile, so I didn't think much about it when at first I couldn’t find Paul’s final exam score.  However, after searching everywhere, I began to suspect that I had lost it, or that he had never taken the test. Since he had an A average in the class, I was fairly certain that the problem was mine and not his. Without the final, his semester grade would drop from an A to a D minus.  I had to be sure it was not my mistake. I searched the student directory but found no phone number for him.  I called the campus operator but there was no listing in his name.  After making a series of calls to other class members, I finally got what I hoped was his phone number. When the person at the other end of the phone answered, I asked for Paul. 

        “This is Paul.”

        I asked him if he was enrolled in my class, and he said that he was. I was relieved, yet embarrassed to inform him that I must have lost his final, since I had no record that he had taken it. 

        “No, I never got around to taking it.” 

        I was taken aback by the casual tone of his voice. However, being in the Christmas spirit, I told him that I was going to be in my office for the next six hours. If he would just come over and take the test, I would overlook the fact that he hadn't taken it when he was supposed to. 

        “I'll think about it.” 

        I waited for him to show up and mentally prepared a little lecture about gratitude and taking advantage of opportunities at BYU.  Thousands of students who would love to attend the university are turned away every year. My little lecture was never given because he never showed up to take the test. I waited until the last minute when the grades had to be turned in, and had no choice but to give him a D minus. During the holidays, I thought a lot about Paul and how he had blown a whole semester grade because he had not endured to the end. Simply because he did not show up for one day, the twenty-eight days when he was in class counted for nothing in terms of his grade.

        Often in life individuals do very well for awhile, then just give up for whatever reason. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the task itself has become easier, but that our ability to perform it has improved.” Being consistent simply makes life easier.  It is not enough to do well for a time. It is not enough to realize that you have a mission, and then make a tentative stab at it, or to stop before the finish line.

        A lifetime of effort can be lost by giving up at the end. Heber J. Grant counseled, “All who are laboring in the improvement cause should be true to themselves, and when they resolve to accomplish something, they should labor cheerfully and with a determination until the promise to themselves has become a reality.”  You are not on Earth to start with a blaze of glory and then put up your feet.
Gordon B. Hinckley told a story of looking at the night sky with his brother. He was fascinated with the North Star because it was consistent. No matter what the Earth’s rotation was, the North Star never moved. He said, “I recognized it as a constant in the midst of change. It was something that could always be counted on, something that was dependable, an anchor in what otherwise appeared to be a moving and unstable firmament.” In many ways we should be like the North Star.  We should not burn out nor even dim; in fact we should pick up the pace as we grow older.

        Years ago I took an Organizational Behavior class from Stephen R. Covey. It was a life changing experience for me. I loved his outlook on life. His life motto was, “Live Life in Crescendo.” Living life in crescendo means that your most important work is always ahead of you and never behind.


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