Looking back

History tell us that our New Year’s celebration finds its roots in the Roman god Janus, he of beginnings and endings, transitions and time. He is thereby the god of doors and doorways, gates and places which allow us to change the direction of our life.  Most often he is depicted as having two heads facing opposite directions. One of his heads looks back at last year while the other looks forward to the new year. If we choose to make New Year’s Day the pivotal point in our life then we should honor the resolution we ask of ourselves.

For some of us this is a lot to ask of ourselves and so how do we succeed? Perhaps your resolution for New Year’s is something as simple as joining the gym.  Some people have lost a member of a unit, a family member, a friend, or all of these things. Some of us have hurt others as well. What to do then? Moving forward is a very hard thing to do when tackling big problems. A military buddy of mine just lost a few friends in the last six months. Assessing life is something we have to do from time to time. Perhaps the first week of the New Year is a good time to reflect and adjust our sails.

The words from the song “Auld Lang Syne” by Robert Burns comes to mind. Many of us have spent a drunken moment or more singing that song when New Year’s came after the clock struck 12. The song, many of us know so well, asks a rhetorical question as to whether its okay for us to forget the old times. It is a time then to look on our past and yet it is also our call to remember our long-standing friendships.

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On Old long syne.

New Years Day: We wake from our torpor, hopefully pull ourselves out of bed rather than just lay there like a tired hound-dog, and we begin to enact our plan. But it doesn’t go as we planned it. We lack vigor, we’re hungry, we have other things to do, and after weeks of following the plan we give up on it. I don’t know about you but this is how I would enact my plan:

A Plan Hatching

 

A few months before New Year’s Day I head out to the ocean. I drive along the coast and inhale the view, head out to a pier, take a walk along the beach and find a serene place where I can get my head clear and not be distracted by the hustle and bustle of city life. I begin to ask myself questions about my failures and successes and I am brutally honest with myself. I get into the dirt and wrestle through the uncomfortable parts. Why did I fail, why did I succeed, who helped me, who did I fail?

You recall how God told Job: “Brace yourself and stand like a man, I will question you, and you will answer me.” Job 38:3. 

I know when it comes to making plans, that if I’m not brutally honest with myself that little will get accomplished. I dig deep and say “Hey, I REALLY suck at this and I need to be able to handle what the reality is”. At a pub or tavern I grab a single beer and begin to write down on a napkin all of the things that I want to accomplish. After that rough psychological beat-down I begin a process of elimination and refine my goals. I begin to scratch out certain goals from the napkin so my plan is not too unwieldy. I focus on what I can accomplish within the year and cut out some of the superfluous stuff. I begin to let the plan take shape: Accomplish X pushups, Climb Y Hill in a PR, Shoot Z targets in a PR, learn to make a knife, make contact with family, be a better husband, whatever you want to do, put it down. This article may be motivation for some readers while others don’t need to make resolutions. I hope it helps you think about goal setting. Here are some tips:

  1. Have a Plan
  2. Make your plan specific enough so you it becomes manageable
  3. Write out your plan in a calendar/notebook or use a phone app to keep track of your goals.
  4. Set short-term goals for long-term results. Losing or adding weight can be broken down into months (2-4 lbs a month is roughly 40 lbs of fat a year or 20 lbs of muscle). Do this in small blocks of time to get to the larger goal. Maybe run a marathon? Do a PR in Crossfit?
  5. Schedule time for your resolution. A schedule can keep you on track (ex. M, W, Friday 5 am-630 am)
  6. Visualize success. I do this when I go to bed and its the first thing I do when I wake up. I see myself destroying a workout.
  7. Change your environment. If the gym you’re at isn’t invigorating you try doing your workouts outside. Also, think about frequenting certain places less and finding more positive environments to be around.
  8. Employ the buddy system. This is your strongest resource. As iron sharpens iron, so a wise friend sharpens another. Encircle yourself with doers and not talkers. Find friends that keep you accountable.
  9. Stick with It. Stay with your goal for a few weeks until it becomes habit. Go back to Step 1 and look at your reasons for having this resolution. Are you honoring a fallen friend? Did you make a promise to someone who is no longer here? Why are you even bothering to have your goal? What is your root motivation?

Find your line of reasoning

viktor-franklNearly 20 years ago I read a book called Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl and it forever changed the way I think. The Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist wrote of his time imprisoned in different hellish Nazi concentration camps. He stated that the best had not returned, rather the good ones had perished within the camps, and all that remained were the survivors. His words struck me harshly and I think about many people that we need to honor today. This is where much of my motivation comes from. Frankl wrote:

“We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road running through the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor’s arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his hand behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: “If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don’t know what is happening to us.”

That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another on and upward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look then was more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth–that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world may still know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when a man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way–an honorable way–in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life, I was able to understand the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.”

In front of me a man stumbled and those following him fell on top of him. The guard rushed over and used his whip on them all. Thus my thoughts were interrupted for a few minutes. But soon my soul found its way back from the prisoners existence to another world, and I resumed talk with my loved one: I asked her questions, and she answered; she questioned me in return, and I answered…

My mind still clung to the image of my wife. A thought crossed my mind: I didn’t even know if she were still alive, and I had no means of finding out (during all my prison life there was no outgoing or incoming mail); but at that moment it ceased to matter. There was no need to know; nothing could touch the strength of my love, and the thoughts of my beloved. Had I known then that my wife was dead, I think that I still would have given myself, undisturbed by that knowledge, to the contemplation of that image, and that my mental conversation with her would have been just as vivid and just as satisfying. “Set me like a seal upon thy heart, love is as strong as death.”

Believe in yourself. Believe in what you build. Believe in the goals you set. It could be joining the military or hiking a difficult trail. It’s going to get hard sometimes but listen to that small voice until it becomes a loud roaring deep within your chest driving you to surge forward and achieve your goals. That’s called HEART. You are not alone. “Don’t lose faith. Promise yourself that you will be a success story, and I promise you that all the forces of the universe will unite to come to your aid; you might not feel today or for a while, but the longer you wait the bigger the prize.” George Bernard Shaw.

Quest for Fire

Perhaps this article is too deep, too touchy-feely for some people, but pondering ideas in order to get into my feelings never will be for me. I believe the key to any of my successes are rooted in knowing what it is that I believe. Once I figured this out everything else became simpler for me. All of what I am, what I want to be, what I want to do is lain stone upon stone on the foundation of that belief. In the New Year I resolve to do many things and I am helped by the thoughtful words and actions of many good men who have made the way easier for me. Nothing I have even been through will compare to the experiences of amazing men like Frankl, or many warfighters who come home battered and bruised. I cannot comprehend it. All I can do is live a good life. We certainly cannot choose our circumstances in life, this I believe, but surely we can choose our attitude towards it. Frankl wrote:

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Make a Way or Find One

Throughout history in various cultures, mountains have symbolized many things: conquering, overcoming, obstacles, seclusion, progress, permanence and immovability, willpower, hard work, climbing, the battle over love, the battle over defeat and ascension. Mountains seems to bring us closer to God. Sitting on the peak of a hill or a mountain allows us to see what is before us, and what it is that we have left behind. Do we teeter on the symbolic edge of a peak and fall back into old habits and our past or do we press on and reach higher?

Good reading! Aut Invenium Viam Aut Facium. Spotter Up!

Khandahar, Arghandab Valley.

 

 

 

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About The Author

Mike credits his early military training as the one thing that kept him disciplined through the many years. He currently provides his expertise as an adviser for the DoD. Michael Kurcina subscribes to the Spotter Up way of life. “I will either find a way or I will make one”.

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