Habits that Move You

I love starting things and it’s exhilarating to close out a project, but the middle ground can be a drag and it is your habits in the middle that will either move you across the “great divide” to complete your project or risk shifting into neutral and allowing projects to slowly fade and die. 

I know the feeling of being in neutral all too well. It’s the feeling of being stuck, of lost passion, of not moving ahead. I hate that feeling and because I am naturally results driven, I absolutely cannot stand not moving ahead — in anything! But making a decision and being decisively committed to that decision are not always the same thing.  You need to develop habits to bridge the gap in the "between", for being decisive even when those around you are unsure and uncommitted so that you can maintain your focus and push through the drudgery of the middle ground.

Start with why

The key to making a decision worth fighting for is wrestling the strong “why” to the ground before you start the project. The stronger the “why”, the more sustainable the project can be because it becomes your driver for when you naturally hit the drudgery of the middle ground. 

Overcome fear of failure

One of my favourite sayings in this regard is “It’s easier to steer a moving car than a parked one.” That makes it clear to me and to those around me, that we had better get moving and avoid stalling out and that we can easily make course corrections once we are moving ahead. The key is to see the greater danger in being indecisive as a leader, as opposed to the danger of making a mistake.

[bctt tweet="As a leader your greatest danger is being indecisive. Not of making a mistake." username="kellystickel"]

And while not all opportunities are the right opportunities, we often never know unless we seize them.

Having a clear “why” and not being afraid to make a mistake helps you analyze the cost of seizing an opportunity. I have learned to decide which opportunities are right for me and for the organization based on how strong the why is for the opportunity. If there is not a strong “why”, then we say goodbye. If we have a strong why, then the next step is to overcome the fear of it not being the right decision or of it not working out. With a strong why we know that when we hit the inevitable obstacle, we will have enough determination to make it work regardless. Without a strong why,  we won’t and therefore it’s not even worth starting.

[bctt tweet="Take a flying leap and develop wings on the way down @JohnCMaxwell" username="kellystickel"]

I love how John Maxwell advocates saying yes to opportunities and then figuring out how to make it work when you’re already committed. I did this in just becoming a pastor. I was asked to become the lead pastor of our church in Canmore when I was just a 22 year old worship leader. I didn’t have the foggiest clue what I was getting into or even what a pastor did all day, but I said yes and then have been developing my wings all the way down since then!

Prepare before the opportunity

The key is to prepare yourself before the opportunity arises. Many people miss opportunities because they fail to prepare themselves for it. Here’s what preparation is not: Knowing all the answers before you start. The key is to recognize when you know enough to start down a road. Otherwise, you’ll be plagued with the paralysis of analysis.

You might not be able to prepare yourself for all of the little details and the “hows” a new position or opportunity will give you, but you can prepare yourself as a leader. You also can prepare your emotional quotient and mental toughness that new opportunities demand. You have to challenge yourself and lead yourself first, before you can lead from a new position - and that takes discipline. I know that’s a four letter word to most of us, but it’s true none-the-less. Discipline is the ability to lead yourself.

[bctt tweet="Discipline is the ability to lead yourself." username="kellystickel"]

I find that each project or opportunity looks different and requires a different approach, but what is constant is me. If I keep growing myself then I know that the projects I am involved with will not stall out either. So, regardless of how busy I am, I have weekly personal growth times marked out on my calendar.

[bctt tweet="“When opportunity comes, it’s too late to prepare.” ~John Wooden" username="kellystickel"]

Establish invaluable habits

The biggest danger to completing a project is to be distracted by another one.  So, in the attempt to avoid being distracted I have learned to use the app Evernote to write down my ideas and to categorize them. Then I block my week in categories of responsibilities and/or projects I am working on. I put that block right into my calendar. That way I can focus for a blocked period of time on my current projects and my mind knows that I will get to the new ideas in another block, so it relaxes me and I’m able to stay focused — well, mostly focused.

Priorities change with every step of the race and you need to prioritize an agenda that keeps you moving forward without backtracking or overanalyzing past decisions. I learned a couple of invaluable habits to prioritizing a forward moving agenda from John Maxwell in his book “Thinking for a Change.” The habit of planning and the the habit of reflective thinking. I have learned to take time to think and to plan. I actually take a week or most of a week, once a year for nothing but planning and thinking ahead for the year. It’s during this week that I pray through and think through my priorities and what is most important to me and the church for this next year. Then I go to work making it happen with our team.

The second habit I use is the habit of reflective thinking. This is taking time to think and reflect on the day or the past week and review what I did. I review my habits and determine if I am on track with my priorities and then make any necessary adjustments. This helps me in the middle to identify what needs to change. It is important to practice reflective thinking individually, but I also believe it is important for a team to practice reflective thinking. There needs to be regularly scheduled update meetings to review how things are progressing and to make any mid-course adjustments that might be necessary. And remember, if you are working on a project that involves others, any mid-course adjustments requires excellent communication. You start communicating by simply asking yourself, “who does this affect? Who else? Who else?”

Decision making doesn’t end at the starting line. Decision making in the middle requires better resources, different relationships and updated points of reference.

I am a rabid football fan and I was watching a program on the NFL Network (yes, I have an entire channel on my tv dedicated to 24/7 football — it’s glorious!) about the 2017 Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons. This wasn't just any game, it made history in so many ways and is a great example of how a habitual winning mindset can led to victory. The program was called “sound of the game” and they mic’d up a number of the players in the Super Bowl so you could see what they were saying during the game. What fascinated me was what two of the players and leaders on the Patriots, Tom Brady and Julian Edelman were saying in the middle of the game when they were down 21-3 and didn’t seem to have a prayer to win the game. Edelman kept saying “this is going to make one great story.” Right after, Atlanta scored to go up 28-3 late in the third quarter. Instead of giving up Edelman said again, “now this is going to make an even better story.” I love that! What a mindset. His thinking in those moments is what made it possible for them to make the historical comeback, and he was right. It was one amazing story!  

So learn to enjoy the journey as much as the destination. I enjoy learning new things, so I embrace that, whether I learned those new things from doing something right or from doing something wrong. This is really all about embracing an attitude of gratitude. Being thankful for the little things and enjoying each stage along the way is vital — not easy — but vital.

T. S. Elliot said this:  “If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?”   Soren Kierkegaard said this:  To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily.  Not to dare, is to lose oneself”.  World changers have different habits. 

My top 5 habits might be…

  1. Reading the Bible daily - to see what God says about me and to be inspired by some of the greatest comeback stories in all of history.
  2. Praying - this is the part where I remember God is still in control even if it seems everything around me is not. He’s on the throne — I am not.
  3. Confessing my “I am” statements - like I preached the Saturday night at Fire conference 2017, I regularly make confessions about who God says I am and who I feel called to be. Confessing these daily reminds me of my why and of my destiny.
  4. Practice reflective thinking - I call this my hot-tub time, because I often do this in my hot-tub, but I like to reflect on the day or on my week and make regular course adjustments if necessary.
  5. Recreation time - I have talked about this often, but I use my off time on purpose, to not just rest but to recreate. Part of my recreation time is used to read books, and I have often gotten unstuck because I read something that gave me the answer I was looking for to keep moving.

“If you want to live a life that matters, don’t start when you get good; start now so you become good. Your habits matter. 

So how do you avoid shifting into neutral in the middle ground?

  1. Establish your why.
  2. Overcome your fear of failure.
  3. Analyze the costs.
  4. Be prepared.
  5. Establish invaluable habits.

Being prepared with a strong why and invaluable habits developed before you even begin the project will propel you forward, maintain your focus and guide you through the drudgery in the middle of a project.

So, start today by developing the habit of preparation and work on your personal growth plan. 

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4 Common Mistakes That Will Limit Your Future

In Psalms 78, King David, arguably Israel's greatest king ever, began to recount the historical journey his ancestors made from slavery in Egypt to the settling of their "promised land." He boasted of their miraculous escape from Pharaoh and how God supernaturally supplied for their needs in the Wilderness. But when it came time in the story for the Israelites to cross the Jordan River and take possession of Canaan, King David made an alarming statement as to why they failed. He said in verse 41, that they "limited God." no-limits

Is it possible for a human being to limit the limitless God? If the Israelites were able to limit God, then that would suggest that we, too, are capable of limiting Him.

The facts are: God promised them they would inhabit and establish a nation in the land of Canaan. Yet, the group that had received this promise died in the Wilderness on the border of their dream. It was God's will for them to settle in Canaan, so it wasn't God who limited them, they limited God. But how? And if they were capable of limiting God, how can we avoid limiting Him in our lives?

I think the Israelites made 4 mistakes that caused them to miss God's will for their life:

1. They asked the wrong questions.

18 See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. 19 What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? 20 How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not? Numbers 13:18-20 (NIV)

Moses asked the wrong questions. In fact, I think his questions set the spies up for failure. What report would have come back if Moses had asked them to report on their enemies weaknesses instead of asking "are they strong or are they weak?" The spies came back with the report that they were strong. This put fear into the people's hearts. What if Moses would have asked the spies to report on the vulnerabilities of their cities instead of asking if they were "unwalled or fortified?" The spies answered the questions Moses asked honestly.

What questions are you asking yourself? I believe one of the reasons we talk ourselves out of our potential is we are asking ourselves the wrong questions. If you ask the right questions, you will get the right answers. So, one way to remove the limits we place on ourselves and on God is to ask ourselves better questions.

2. They didn't think in steps.

31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” Numbers 13:31 (NIV)

They made a crucial mistake that we are all prone to make. They looked at the project in it's entirety and didn't break it down in steps. When they looked the people who inhabited the land as a whole group, they saw strength. But, history tells us that there were at least 5 different people groups that occupied the land of Canaan and these people groups were continually at odds with one another.

29 The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.” Numbers 13:29 (NIV)

God wanted them to think in steps. The fact was, years later when Joshua did conquer the land of Canaan they discovered that when they attacked one people group, none of the others came to their rescue. They hated each other. It was a simple divide and conquer. Individually these groups were small and weak and could be conquered one at a time.

It's the same with you and me. I often look at a project as a whole and get overwhelmed by the magnitude of it. But when we learn to think in steps we can conquer virtually anything. I believe there are 2 reasons people don’t reach their full potential: 1.) They don’t think big enough; and 2.) They don’t start small enough. Dream Big. Start Small. Think in steps.

3. They didn't see the opportunities in their problems.

32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. Numbers 13:32 (NIV)

Historians say that at this time in history there was a great plague sweeping the land. Many died. This is why they said "the land devours those living in it." This was a crisis. Often, the opportunity of a lifetime comes through a crisis. The plague made the people weak and vulnerable, yet the Israelites chose to look at it with fear.

The word crisis in the Chinese language is made up of two characters that mean: 1.) Problem; 2.) Opportunity. In every problem there is an opportunity if we choose to look at it that way. You can live fear minded or you can live favor minded. What problems are you facing right now? Search for an opportunity in the problem and you will find it.

4. They empowered their fear through their focus and confessions.

All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” Numbers 13:33 (NIV)

What you focus on you give power to. If you focus on your giants, they will get bigger and bigger in your mind until they are unconquerable. The spies actually reported that ALL of the people were of great size. If that was true, how did they spy out the land and come home undetected? Wouldn’t they have stood out if they were the smallest? All of the people weren't giants! In fact, verse 22 in Numbers 13 names only 3 giants! Do not magnify your giants!! They exaggerated the giants so much in their own mind that they confessed that they "seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes." Isn't that the truth? The more we focus on how big the problem is, the smaller and smaller we feel. That's why the Apostle Paul told us in Philippians 4:8-9 to think on the positive things. The truth is, if you change your view of you, then the world will, too!

Question: Which one of these 4 mistakes do you struggle with the most? How do you plan to address that limitation?

The Power of Preparation

I am currently on my annual prayer and prep week. Each August I travel to a remote location and spend the week alone praying through the upcoming church season, from September to September. I seek God for direction as to where He would like to take our church in the next year and as I get a sense of direction and focus, I begin to chart a preaching plan. I start by breaking down the year into 12-15 series of 2-6 weeks each. I theme each series and then begin to pray into each theme, looking for direction as to what to teach.

I have done this each year for the last 4 years and here is why:

I have discovered that one of our biggest problems as the Church is that we generally communicate hundreds of messages on any given weekend. This hinders our ability to connect with our audience and be relevant in our communities. One of the reasons we fail to connect is we fail to prepare. I have found that the more prepared I am the more focused I can become.

Focus is important because:

  1. The more you focus each environment, the greater the relevance.

 Pastor Reggie Joiner of Northpoint Church said, “The truth is that church by its nature is a very general concept. And most people are not looking for a church; otherwise, churches would be full of visitors every week. What people are looking for is something that is relevant to their marriage, their family, their personal lives. What they are looking for is something that works for them as individuals. And that is something specific, not general.” Reggie Joiner
  2. The more you focus each environment, the better the connection.

 You can’t be creative with a few days notice. Creativity helps people remember and helps people connect with you and your message.
 When I used to plan my messages a week in advance I found some of the best illustrations and creative ideas after I delivered the message. By then, it was too late and I missed a golden opportunity to make it stick in the hearts and minds of the people.
  3. The more you focus each environment, the higher the quality. Gilbert Amelio, president and CEO of National Semiconductor Corporation said, "Developing excellent communication skills is absolutely essential to effective leadership. The leader must be able to share knowledge and ideas to transmit a sense of urgency and enthusiasm to others. If a leader can't get a message across clearly and motivate others to act on it, then having a message doesn't even matter."
  4. The more you focus each environment, the stronger the impact.

 When I plan a year in advance, it allows my team to prepare along with me on the specific topic. This enables us to create impactful environments around the theme. Our children's ministry can teach the same theme. Our youth ministry can teach the same theme. Our worship team can prepare songs based on the theme. Our media and creative arts teams have time to create, write and produce high quality creative elements to add to the message. This allows us to create wholesale environments around the message we are trying to communicate. Pastor Reggie Joiner said, “When your priority is creating environments instead of marketing your church, you will make a greater impact on what your community thinks about your church.”

Question: How much more creativity could you add to your communication if you had more time to prepare? I'd appreciate your comments and ideas :)