The great American president Abe Lincoln was once asked, "What would you do if you were given six hours to cut a tree?" After thinking for a moment, he replied, "I'd spend the first four hours sharpening the axe."
Of course Lincoln's point was that before embarking on a goal or a project, it is important to plan and prepare. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
Earlier on in this decade when I reflected on that Lincoln's point, I came to believe that my days would turn out better if I rose up early in the morning everyday to sharpen my mind by reading, writing, praying, singing, playing the piano or listening to inspirational stuff. So I resolved on numerous times to be springing out of bed before dawn to sharpen my mind in an effort to have a productive day ahead. And do you know what became of those resolutions?
Well, I'd psyche myself up to be getting out of bed before the crack of dawn and convince myself I could do it. But after a few days of rising early, I'd fizzle and start oversleeping. And I stayed in that cycle for several years.
However, towards the end of 2017, I succeeded in summoning a discipline of rising up early everyday for several months. Then come April or May of 2018, I felt sick in the head for a few days. That sickness forced me to stop rising early. After that, I lost momentum of getting out of bed before dawn consistently.
At the beginning of this year, as part of my New Year resolution, I resolved to be rising early everyday as I used to do in 2018 before I felt sick in the head. I succeeded in doing so for six days and then I fizzled out again. These days, I prefer sleeping till I feel I have had enough sleep, provided I have no pressing need to attend to.
Today when I reflected on personal effectiveness, I thought we probably don't have to be early-risers to be highly effective people. Some of us are just not morning persons, myself included. So as for me, I have decided to stop beating myself up over not waking up before the crack of dawn.
I am now of the opinion that perhaps the key to personal effectiveness lies not in rising early but in thinking happy, quality thoughts. Several prominent people in the past pointed out the importance of happy thoughts in their teachings and writings.
Like Marcus Antoninus, the great Roman politician, said that "the happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts."
Then Sir SIdney (whoever that was) wrote, "They are never alone who are accompanied by pleasant thoughts."
And then Bishop John Williams advised, "Garner up pleasant thoughts in your mind, for pleasant thoughts make pleasant lives."
But perhaps the pleasure of thinking was best expressed by the wise and much-quoted lawyer of another generation, John Foster, who wrote, "The pleasantest things in the world are pleasant thoughts, and the greatest art in life is to have as many of them as possible."
Now that I am of the opinion that they key to personal effectiveness lies in harbouring quality thoughts, I have made a covenant with myself to be nurturing my mind with great thoughts. I will be reading quality literature, be listening to inspiring music and be meditating on life in a stimulating way.
Also, I will be striving to think well of myself by thinking of my good qualities and to get rid of all resentment. And in an effort to enforce that self-disciplines, I will be pinching myself painfully if I happen to catch myself putting myself down or thinking of past hurts.
My dear reader, I also beseech you to join me in this journey of personal effectiveness. Let us entertain only positive thoughts in our beautiful minds. And let us guard our thinking against negative thoughts. Life is too short for bad vibes. Adieu!
RECOMMENDATION: If you've found this story of mine on personal effectiveness thought-provoking, you might also be provoked more by another one I wrote at the beginning of this year titled "My New Year Resolution". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.
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Dealing With Difficult People
A couple of weeks ago as I was taking my daily walk to my home-town of Kiserian, I suddenly heard a commotion on a road leading from the town. Several people were running towards a man who had disappeared behind a line of lorries parked by the roadside. Then I heard one policeman with a pistol shout to another in Swahili, "Shoot him!"
After a short while, I saw a man in handcuffs emerge behind the line of parked lorries. He was being escorted by a small crowd which included a policewoman carrying a gun. I didn't bother to hang around the interesting scene and inquire what was happening; I just continued with my walk while assuming the man in handcuffs was a gangster who had been caught by the long arm of the law.
When I remembered that incident today, I found myself thinking about this world and the difficult people who live in it. As in, the people who are unkind or steal things from us. Personally, I have had my own encounters with such difficult people in my life so far. Allow me to tell you about three. Only three.
Sometime in 2007 when I was at the university in JKUAT, I bought a phone with a salary I had been paid for teaching piano at Wynton House of Music in Nairobi. One night a few days later as I was sleeping, a thief stole the phone from the windowsill of my room. Oh, how I came to hate that thief!
Then when I matriculated at the University of Nairobi (UoN) around September 2010, I found myself dealing with another difficult person. This time it wasn't a thief but a lass called Ivy [not her real name] who was rude to me at every opportunity. I remember politely asking her a question one evening only for her to give me an arrogant reply. Another evening, I wrote on a piece of paper the address of a blog I used to run, and when I showed it to her while requesting her to visit the blog, she shot an angry glance at me and threw the paper at me, all the while talking to me in an arrogant manner.
Because I never did or say anything hurtful to Ivy, I don't know what prompted her to treat me with such arrogance from the very start after we met at UoN. All I recall was how I came to silently resent her for treating me unkindly.
The last difficult person I will tell you about today that I have had to deal with was an ice-cream vendor I met at Uhuru Park in Nairobi one Sunday in 2013. That Sunday as I was heading to church at All Saints' Cathedral which is next to Uhuru Park, I heard the vendor shout, "Ice cream 10 bob! Ice-cream 10 bob!"
Pleased to hear that I could buy an ice-cream that cheaply, I stopped by his cart and ordered one. Guess what! After he served me the ice-cream and after I had already began licking it, he told me it was worth 50 bob (not 10 bob!). I complained a little on why he was claiming the ice-cream was worth Ksh. 10 but being the peace-loving young man that I was, I gave him Ksh. 50 and continued with my walk to church.
Then when I was in church, I remembered buying a similar ice-cream at Ksh. 30 a few years back. It occurred to me that I could have been cheated. And after the church was over, I confirmed from a few other vendors at Uhuru Park that the ice-cream cost Ksh. 30. So that blood-sucker had not only misled me by purporting the ice-cream was 10 bob but also inflated its cost by Ksh. 20 after I ordered one. I felt very bitter at having been so easily tricked.
Yes, this world is full of difficult people. Even Marcus Aurelius, one of the wisest rulers of the Roman Empire, said so when he wrote in his diary:
I am going to meet people today who talk too much, people who are selfish, egotistical, ungrateful. But I won't be surprised or disturbed, for I couldn't imagine a world without such people.And because this world is full of difficult people, I have asked God today for two things. First is a spirit of discernment so that I can tell from people's faces which ones are hard to get along with. I believe possessing a spirit of discernment will save me from the trouble of being rudely spoken to.
Secondly, I have asked God for courage to stand up to difficult people. And why have I prayed for courage? Because I have discovered that if I don't speak out against bullying and intimidation, I will end up nursing hatred and resentment. That's all I am saying.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story of mine on dealing with difficult people, you might also enjoy another one I wrote sometimes back on "Getting Rid of Resentment". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.