Door Number Twenty: Clean Living

wall-e-and-cleaning-robot

“Better keep yourself clean and bright; you are the window through which you must see the world.”
~George Benard Shaw

From an early age most of us are taught the importance of cleaning up ourselves. Whether it be the countless pleas to clean our rooms as children or the simple hygienic act of brushing one’s teeth cleanliness is a virtue emphasized by our society. Unfortunately, as we get older and find ourselves in a position where accountability falls solely on our shoulders, it is easy to allow many elements of our life to become messy and disorganized. However its important we don’t allow the dirt in our lives to devolve to a point where our surrounding begin to resemble the trash compactor on the Death Star. And if that imagery isnot convincing there are a many other benefits to maintain a clean life style.

A clean environment helps promote clarity of mind. When one’s external surroundings are messy and out-of-order it leads to a cluttered mind. Take any modern office place. They are kept clean and well-organized to promote clear thinking. In addition one has to think legendary victories like that of the Races of Man and Elves over the forces of Mordor were helped in part due to their flawless superiority in this area. And if the champions of Middle Earth think it’s a good idea, it’s probably worth investing some time into.

Cleanliness promotes self-confidence. Good hygiene is paramount to maintaining one’s self-esteem. When you look and smell better, you feel better. Furthermore, when one’s living and workplaces are maintained and kept at an optimal level of order its easier to justify hosting social events. which in turn increases your standing among others. Another notable boost to one’s confidence. Besides, would James Bond have been as nearly as effective of a 00 agent had he not maintained an immaculate image? Of course not, that award-winning confidence would have been replaced with an awkwardness more akin to James Joyce than James Bond.

Being clean is good for your health. Probably not the most revolutionary benefit of keeping clean, but arguably one of the most important. Take food preparation. Food prepared in unclean environment can lead to a number of food-borne illnesses. Furthermore, when one operates in a cluttered environment merely walking from one place to another can be hazardous to one’s well-being. Don’t believe me, just ask Lord Blackwood. So while sometimes cleaning seems like a chore, your life could depend on it.

The values of cleanliness in one’s life not only keeps the mind clear, but also promotes self-confidence and good health. While most of us probably maintain a base level of organization in our lives, by placing more focus on it, we should be able to enjoy the full extent of these benefits. In addition, by practicing this door in our individual lives we contribute to a brighter, more appealing society. Leading us away from the dystopian future of Wall-E and towards the more ideal future chronicled in the inspirational speeches of Barack Obama and the Star Trek universe.

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Door Number Nineteen: Reflection

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” ~Confucius

Our lives are a flurry of non-stop activity. Even in our most inactive states our minds tend to run to and fro. Always looking to the future and what may be waiting around the next corner. Like a young Skywalker we look towards the horizon rarely taking the time to gain a fuller perspective. Affording us little time and focus to analyze past actions and thoughts. However, dedicating a bit of time to reflection provides a number of benefits to our lives.

By reflecting on past actions we are better equipped to deal with future problems.  Life is very similar to history in that it tends to repeat it self. Many of the challenges and conflicts we face are merely a retread of the past. We make the same mistakes, because we fail to analyze the reason these obstacles arise. It’s why the world continues to fight the same wars on different battlefields and why many of us are doomed to a cycle that leads us down the same path over and over again. However, by taking the time each day to reflect on our actions, thoughts and their consequences we can break the cycle.

We can only know where we are going if we understand where we have been. As I previously mentioned, a great deal of our energy is spent planning for the future. However, attempting to determine where we want to be tomorrow is quite difficult if we do not have a better handle on why we want to be there. A feat that is quite impossible if we fail to take the time and think about what we have done and continue to do. It’s why the greatest leaders throughout history have been informed by their past and why reflection on our actions is necessary. Once we have this perspective, only then can we effectively plan for tomorrow.

Good reflection leads to a greater peace of mind. With so many distractions, mental maladies, and other stressful weights pressing down upon us it is vital we find a way to calm our minds. Fortunately, one of the greatest benefits of reflection is it enables us to sort out much of the busyness in our life. Rather, than let the immense totality of it all overwhelm us, it allows one to break things down into smaller, more manageable pieces. This simplification of things contributes to an overall sense of calm otherwise found lacking.

Reflection improves our lives by better equipping us for the future, helping us understand the past and creating a greater peace of mind. While the benefits of realizing this door in our lives may seem like common sense finding the time and focus to dedicate to reflection is less simple. One must consciously and deliberately make time each day to think back on the events and thoughts of the day taking extra care to recognize the trends and patterns inherent in one’s life. Only then will the reasons for reflection fully reveal themselves.

Door Number Eighteen: Celebrate

“And, yes, no doubt to others, our ways seem quaint, but, today of all days, it is bought home: It is no bad thing to celebrate the simple life.” ~ Bilbo Baggins

We all take part in celebrations of some kind throughout our lives. Whether it be a birthday, an anniversary, or a holiday it is important we celebrate. It’s easy to forget the importance of celebration amidst a life often focused on buckling down and getting to work. We get so caught up preparing and planning for the future we forget to recognize and appreciate those moments in life when we need to stop working for a while and instead enjoy the leisure and excitement that comes with celebrating. While at first glance it may not seem as important as many of the other doors we travel through, upon further inspection its become clear there are many reasons to incorporate this door into the hall of our lives.

Celebration gives us a much-needed break. Life is busy. No matter what you choose to do there never seems to be enough time to accomplish everything that needs to be done. Even on the weekends, when we are supposed to be able to take a break from the rigors of our professional lives it seems like the time slips away faster than we can come with ideas on how to enjoy it. That is why celebrating events like birthdays and holidays is so important. They offer us an excuse to forget about all the things we need to do and focus on the enjoyment of the current moment. Even if the reason for that celebration involves successfully watching all three Lord of the Rings Extended Editions in one sitting.

Celebration is an easy way to let the people in your life know how much you care about them. One of the most notable forms of celebration (as made apparent by my multiple mentions of it) is the birthday. It is the one day of the year when it is okay to be the center of attention. However, as you get older this day become less and less exciting. It is no longer the cake and present-filled affair it once was. Which is why it is even more important to celebrate the birthdays of the loved ones in your life. It lets them know, that no matter how old they get, or how much things in life change, they deserve a day where they are celebrated. Besides, any excuse for ice cream cake should be exploited at all costs.

Without celebration, life would be an anti-climatic march towards nothing. Hard work is a staple to a fulfilling life. However, if we simply work hard towards our goals and then just move on to the next task without acknowledging our accomplishment it is difficult to appreciate the sacrifice. When the Empire was taken down at the end of Return of the Jedi did the rebellion immediately begin the hard process of building a transitional government for the galaxy? No. They celebrated, because not only would that have required a multitude of boring follow-up movies no one would have watched, in order to truly appreciate the gravity of a moment, you have to celebrate it.

Celebration is an important door because it offers us a break, allows us to let our loved ones know how much we care about them, and makes life worth the struggle. We have a finite amount of time in this life and we should take every opportunity we can to enjoy it. Even if we don’t have the resources to throw a huge party every time there is an event worth celebrating, it is important we utilize the resources we do have to recognize and enjoy the excitement. For those having trouble coming up with things to celebrate about, fortunately there’s an election in a little over a week which, with any luck, will give you plenty to celebrate about.

Door Number Seventeen: Pushing Your Limits

“If you always put limit on everything you do, physical or anything else. It will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.” ~Bruce Lee

Be it Lance Armstrong winning seven consecutive Tour de Frances after a comeback from cancer or Adrian Peterson coming back from a torn ACL in record time there are plenty of examples of people in our society pushing themselves to the limit. It’s easy to go through life always playing it safe. Avoiding pushing one’s self too hard out due to a fear of failure or causing unneeded, self-imposed harm. However, it is important we are not too afraid to attempt to transcend these perceived limitations. By taking the opportunity to test ourselves and opening this door we improve the quality of our lives in a number of important ways.

Every successful attempt at pushing ourselves beyond our limits expands our potential. Anyone who has run a race knows the key is to push towards finishing at all costs. While you may start at a low distance like a 5K, over time stamina and confidence increases and before you know it you may be running a 10K, half-marathon, or even the fabled full marathon. The problem with holding back and staying in one’s comfort zone is it creates an insurmountable ceiling. When we take the risk and succeed, any perceived barrier is pushed back. We realize the bar is not as low as we set it giving us the opportunity to strive higher than ever thought possible.

Failing at reaching beyond our limits makes us more resilient. The obvious reality of pushing ourselves to the edge of the possible is there is a great potential for failure. This lack of success does not have to be a bad thing. Every time we attempt the impossible and fall short we become better at accepting failure. An acceptance that encourages us to continue forward even when it seems unlikely we will succeed. After all, it took losing an arm for Luke Skywalker to achieve the heights of Jedi mastery needed to defeat the Empire.

Pushing our limits not only improves the quality of our own lives but can serve as inspiration to those around us.  As is illustrated in the previous points, win or lose there is a great deal of personal gain from challenging our limits. What may be forgotten as we attempt to better ourselves is we have the potential to inspire others to similar success. From Luke Skywalker to Rudy, people have been drawn to stories of underdogs becoming more than their meager backgrounds would suggest. When others see us succeed at something once thought beyond our capabilities a sense anything is possible arises. By shooting for the moon, we empower others to do the same.

We must push ourselves to the limit not only to increase our potential through our successes, but to learn the resiliency gained from failure. In addition, by opening this door we have the potential to inspire others to do the same. While it is quite possible we will come up short or become too overwhelmed, its vital we try. And while we should accept our limitations, it is even more important we continue to believe we can overcome them. So while the wisdom of Yoda would dictate we must always do or do not , and that trying is just another word for failure, in this case we should ignore the wise little green muppet and continue our efforts at striving towards the impossible.

 

Door Number Sixteen: Doing Nothing

 

     “How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then rest afterward” ~Spanish Proverb

We live in a fast-paced society that promotes constant activity. We work long hours and spend our weekends cramming in all the activities and projects we don’t have time during the week to accomplish. Most of us are so busy when we do find ourselves with some downtime we feel guilty. Now while one of the doors to a successful existence includes having fun hobbies, one should also dedicate some of their life to doing absolutely nothing. This may seem to fly in the face of all conventional wisdom about the value of staying busy and engaging in hard work, but there are a number of reasons why one should consciously make time for inactivity.

Doing nothing allows us to process our thoughts. The problem with being busy is many times we fail to fully register every experience we have. For example, if you ask the average person to tell you what they want out of life you will probably get a myriad of answers ranging anywhere from a successful career to a happy marriage. Many times once those same people achieve those goals they will experience a sense something is still missing. A feeling that may come from the mind not having the time to figure out why it wants the things it does or if it even wants them in the first place. Something easily avoided if we just allow ourselves bit of rest from constant activity.

Doing nothing allows our body and mind a chance to rest.  Being active is great for our mental and physical health. It keeps us sharp and helps us lead a better quality of life. However, if we don’t take a time out every so often, we run the risk of burn out. Be it a physical injury in the case of exercising our body, or a minor mental breakdown in the case of constant mental engagement, too much activity without rest can be counter productive. Just don’t get too carried away and fall asleep in a mountain valley for twenty years.

Doing nothing helps us realize our true priorities. Keeping ourselves busy all of the time without stopping can cause us to lose sight of our priorities. We begin to jump from one activity to the next not because we want to, but because it has become part of the routine and we do not have the energy to break it. By finding a moment each day to reflect and let the mind relax we give ourselves time to think about what we would actually like to be doing. Like a pause button for life, it allows to consider whether we really enjoy what we are doing throughout our day or whether we should shift gears and try something different.

Opening the door of nothingness is important because it allows us to process our thoughts, gives us the rest we need, and makes clear our true priorities. Does this mean we should dedicate our lives to eliminating the things that make us busy? Probably not. Rather, it is important we take brief breaks from life. Even if there seems to be no time available to spend doing nothing, the short-term sacrifice of productivity is well worth the long-term gain. As with most things in life a fair amount of balance is the key when incorporating inactivity into your life. Unless of course you are looking to destroy Fantasia, then feel free to let The Nothing consume you.

Door Number Fifteen: A Healthy Sense of Competition

“Live daringly, boldly, fearlessly. Taste the relish to be found in competition – in having put forth the best within you.” ~Henry J. Kaiser

Competition permeates all levels of our society. From the day we are born we are put in situations that put us in direct opposition to others. When we’re young we battle for the best toy. As we go through the rigors of the education system we strive to get the best grades to get us into the best schools. The job hunt puts us in direct conflict with others who we must beat out for the job. We even spend our free time and money engaged in activities centered around the clash of opposing forces. While there are plenty of dangers inherent with being overly competitive (just talk to any Minnesota Vikings fan), there are a number of reasons maintaining a health dose of competitive fervor in one’s life is a door that should be opened.

Competition is a motivating force. While in a perfect world we would all be inspired to do great things simply based on our ideals and values, sometimes we need a little push. Knowing there is someone else trying to do what we are doing either before or better than we do it creates a sense of urgency that pushes us to work harder and faster than we might otherwise. Take out the contest, and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is just about an aimless teen who dates a couple of girls and then goes back to being directionless. In fact, take out the sense of battle and most heroes (both fictional and real) would probably have settled for the safer path of mediocrity.

Competition teaches us how to work with a diverse amount of people: especially those we disagree with. The thing about opposing others is it puts us in situations where we are forced to deal with people we want to fail and often don’t agree with. The key to these situations is learning how to remain on positive terms with these individuals when the area of conflict is over. By learning to leave our feelings of rivalry in whatever arena it resides we are able to work with people we may otherwise have conflict with. Giving us the edge needed to survive in an increasingly dog-eat-dog world.

Competition teaches us how to deal with disappointment. Ideally, we would emerge victorious from every challenge that comes our way. Unfortunately, a great deal of the time we instead suffer at the hands of defeat. However, just like Luke Skywalker at the end of Empire Strikes Back, only by tasting the bitter medicine of a crushing loss do we learn how to cope with the inevitability of disappointment. Which is why we must seek out competition from time-to-time. By learning this coping mechanism we are able to bounce back and return to the game when it really matters.

Opening the door of competition is an important stop on our journey to finding our 50 doors because it serves as a motivating force, teaches us how to work with those we disagree with, and gives us the coping mechanisms necessary to deal with the disappointment found in life. While becoming obsessed with winning is not a good idea, its important to have the drive to succeed. We must go into every situation with the desire to come out on top. That way, even if we come up short there will be no doubt we gave it everything we had.

 

Door Number Thirteen: Finding Physical Fitness

 

“Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” ~John F. Kennedy

For many of us, finding the time and effort to exercise seems about as likely as a simple walk into Mordor. All Tolkien references aside, staying in shape is hard. Not only do we have to find the motivation to actually make our bodies suffer through a light jog or weight routine, we also have to set aside time out of an already busy day. Coupled with the ease of access to unhealthy foods, it is no wonder the United States leads the world in obesity. But, I digress. Despite these difficulties, it is vitally important we find a way to open the door to exercise in our lives for more reasons than one.

Physically fit people are happier. Numerous studies and scholarly research has shown those who are more active and physically fit tend to live happier lives. Endorphins are released when one exercises, leaving the individual happier and more relaxed. Furthermore, when one regularly works out their self-esteem increases exponentially. Furthermore, there is the sense of accomplishment one receives from completing a workout that is hard to compare to. The factors ( as well as many others) make the case for why striving for a state of constant physical fitness leads to a more satisfying outlook on the world.

Physically fit individuals live longer. Another common sense point, that I’m sure  is backed up by a number of studies. Besides, do you think the Highlander would have lasted as long he did without an intense training schedule? Me neither. While there are sure to be exceptions to this rule, as no amount of exercise can save us from getting hit by a bus or struck by lightning, the fact remains that taking care of one’s health greatly increases life expectancy. Until we find the legendary Fountain of Youth or manage to create the mythical Philosopher’s Stone it is the best method out there for prolonging the limited time we have in this life.

Pursuing physical fitness increases our focus. In a world constantly bombarded by distractions, one of the most difficult challenges we face is a lack of focus. While it might seem counter intuitive to add another obligation to our already busy schedules, doing so actually assists in improving our ability to direct attention to all the elements within our lives. The happiness and relaxed state we feel give us the ability to overcome the stress and distractions that would otherwise impede our focus on the goals set out before us. Furthermore, when our health is in a good state we are able to dedicate resources often times caught up in combating preventable ailments to other more lofty professional and personal aspirations. Like catching up on one’s favorite blog for example.

There are plenty of reasons why maintaining physical fitness in one’s life is important. Happiness, a long life, and finding a greater level of focus all increase the level of our contentment. While perhaps the most obvious of doors we should make an effort to open, it is most often times the one easiest to ignore. The key is starting slow. Finding an activity that promotes one’s health and is also enjoyable. For some, maybe it’s training for a marathon. While for others, it may be as simple as taking a walk around the neighborhood every night after work. Whatever it may be, the secret to success lies in persistence. Continually striving to engage in an action that better’s one’s health will lead to a world of possibilities once thought impossible. Besides, it is impossible to become a Jedi if one can’t even manage to run a mile.