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The Upward Spiral

“One of the major problems that arises when people work to become more effective in life is that they don’t think broadly enough. They lose the sense of proportion, the balance, the natural ecology necessary to effective living.” — Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (all subsequent quotes are also Covey’s)

I’m not a marathon runner, but I’ve walked the length of a marathon for a fundraiser, and in walking you experience the same feeling around the 20 mile mark that a runner feels. You’ve hit a wall, you’re mentally and physically done, and you just want the whole thing to end already. This feeling of hitting a wall is similar to the feeling I get when my life is out of balance. Not enough vacation time, not enough exercise, not enough applied efforts towards a work goal… unbalanced.

When that happens, you feel like you enter a downward spiral. You lose your rhythm and things that came easily seem more difficult. You succumb to distractions like social media or binge-watching shows. You take shortcuts: one indicator for me that I’m out of sorts is when I start using K-cups instead of making coffee with the AeroPress. It may seem trivial, but the extra minute or two to make a better cup of coffee all seems too much in the moment.

It’s right about then that I begin to take corrective action. Vacation time, of course, helps a lot. Weekends of meaningful, deep restoration instead of tasks and catch-up work. Hiking and other exercise. Deep, distraction-free reading. Meditation, prayer… whatever draws you outside of yourself and into a more balanced place. When you’re in a downward spiral the first thing to do is arrest — a rest — your descent. Give yourself a break already!

“Renewal is the principle — and the process — that empowers us to move on an upward spiral of growth and change, of continuous improvement. To make meaningful and consistent progress along that spiral, we need to consider one other aspect of renewal as it applies to the unique human endowment that directs this upward movement — our conscience…. Conscience is the endowment that senses our congruence or disparity with correct principles and lifts us toward them.”

Reversing that downward spiral, that just survive to fight another day feeling, changes your mindset. Re-energized and restored, you might be so bold as to think about climbing again. To put yourself on an upward spiral towards a higher place in your life. To prioritize the things that bring you positive energy and push aside the bad habits accumulated on your downward spiral and refocus on the essential few things that matter most for you. Things that bring you energy and vitality. In short, remap your life and put yourself back on course.

“The law of the harvest governs; we will always reap what we sow — no more, no less. The law of justice is immutable, and the closer we align ourselves with correct principles, the better our judgement will be about how the world operates and the more accurate our paradigms — our maps of the territory — will be.”

“Moving along the upward spiral requires us to learn, commit, and do on increasingly higher planes. We deceive ourselves if we think any one of these is sufficient. To keep progressing, we must learn, commit, and do—learn, commit, and do—and learn, commit, and do again.”

To reach a higher plane demands a lifetime of consistent learning, commitment and action. But when the saw is dull you won’t make progress. That old expression, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”? There’s truth in that. Take a rest, evaluate your course and correct as necessary. And only then can you get back on that upward spiral.

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