Systematic Repentance: a structured approach to change

Repentance can be such a daunting word. As a 20-year-old missionary trying to help people come closer to Jesus Christ, I thought I understood repentance. Yet I felt discouraged and frustrated as I found myself frequently trying to repent of the same things over and over again. Then I heard the president of an Elders Quorum say something that was both relieving and infuriating. He was discussing his own experiences with repentance and that there were some small but persistently obnoxious things he had been trying to repent of for the last two decades. I was relieved to hear I wasn't the only person asking for forgiveness for the exact same thing week after week as I took the sacrament. On the other hand, I was 20. This good man who was a little more than twice my age said he'd been trying to get rid of the same habits for the entire time I had been alive. I wanted to flip a table and lodge an ax in it. I very much resemble the remark by Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, "Too often we pray to have patience, but we want it right now!" (October 2011 General Conference). I still feel that way, which often leads to frustration and discouragement. But I have found tools that help. Since that experience, I have learned there are ways to approach repentance where we can change and progress more quickly, though it takes more intentional effort.


In a recent General Conference talk, President Russell M. Nelson talked about what the word "repent" means. He said:

The word for repentance in the Greek New Testament is metanoeo. The prefix meta- means “change.” The suffix -noeo is related to Greek words that mean 'mind,' 'knowledge,' 'spirit,' and 'breath.'


Thus, when Jesus asks you and me to 'repent,' He is inviting us to change our mind, our knowledge, our spirit—even the way we breathe. He is asking us to change the way we love, think, serve, spend our time, treat our wives, teach our children, and even care for our bodies. -April 2019,Priesthood Session


Repentance is a complete change.  Making those kinds of deep changes are difficult. I've discovered that how we approach repentance makes a big difference. When I add structure and daily accountability to my repentance process, I feel like I am progressing faster because I can begin to measure how I am improving. This kind of approach is one way to act on President Nelson's charge to repent daily.


I want to share one way of implementing systematic change. This is the system taught in nearly all of the programs offered by Life ChangingServices. Even if you don't care for this particular system, the principles of goal setting, daily action, and accountability will be very helpful in taking a more intentional approach to repentance. For another example of how to add structure to repentance, read or watch "Becoming like Him" by Elder Scott Whiting of the Quorum of the Seventy from the October 2020 General Conference.  The system he discusses is different in many ways from what we are about to explore together, but he recommends many of the same principles and describes how helpful it is to approach repentance and change this way.  As you read what Elder Whiting says, pay attention to the ways he encourages you to practice accountability with yourself and notice the different words he uses to describe the kinds of effort needed to see progress and self-improvement.


This system is known as PoWeR goals. It is a set of 6 goals you work on every single day to help yourself improve. The objective is to get more than 28 days in a row where you accomplish all 6 goals every single day. If you miss even one goal you have to start over at Day 0.  If you can successfully reach 28 days and beyond where you complete all 6 goals, then each of those goals should be well on its way to becoming a deeply ingrained habit.  These new healthier habits are evidence of your progress and repentance.  We use the acronyms MAN PWR and GRL PWR to guide the goal-setting process.

There are a few tricks to setting excellent PoWeR goals. The first is about balance. If you are anything like me you want to progress quickly so you might set 4 difficult goals that will stretch you and 2 simple goals that support you. Then after trying for a week or two but never getting more than 3 complete PoWeR days in a row you give up and think the system is stupid and doesn't work. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. It's important to remember you are trying to do 6 goals. Even doing 6 very simple goals each day is difficult. Because of that, I recommend that you only have 1, maybe 2, goals that stretch you and the other 4 or 5 support you.  These supporting goals should be so simple that you could almost do them by accident.  You should still be intentional about them, but if they are not this simple at the beginning, then it is really hard to get the momentum needed to make lasting change.


That leads to the second trick for succeeding with PoWeR goals, start where you are. That sounds cliche but it's also how you design goals that work. Take what you are already doing and stretch it just a little bit. Let's use scripture reading as an example. Many people and programs encourage you to spend at least 30 minutes a day studying the word of God. I think that is an excellent goal if you are already consistently reading for extended periods of time. But if I'm working with somebody who has that as their goal even though they rarely read in the last month, warning flags go up and odds are very high they will not accomplish this goal. If someone usually doesn't even open the scriptures, then stretching them just a little means getting them to open the book daily. In that situation we often set a goal like, "read at least 5 verses every day." Sometimes it's even more rudimentary than that. The key is to honestly identify what you are already doing, then figure out how to stretch it just a little bit.


Another helpful trick is to set very detailed goals. The more defined they are, the easier it is to accomplish the goals. You can apply the whole SMART goal acronym if you're familiar with it. If you're not, the idea is to clarify what counts and what doesn't. In other words, how will you know when you have, without question, completed this goal? An example may help. Many people set a goal to serve others daily. But that is so broad that smiling at a stranger in the grocery store would count. While that is a good thing to do, you are capable of much more. When you specify something like "pick up and throw away 5 pieces of litter on my morning walk" you don't have to think back on the day and try to remember if you served, you can know with confidence whether or not you got all 5 pieces of trash and disposed of them.

A final trick, keep a record of your progress and success. I call this a calendar and I explain how powerful it is in another article (you can find it here). All I will say here is that this kind of calendar-keeping is like a brazen serpent of self-mastery. You remember the story from the Old Testament where the children of Israel are plagued with venomous snakes as they are wandering in the wilderness. The solution God gave them was to have Moses sculpt a serpent out of bronze and mount it on a tall pole. Anyone who was bitten by a snake only had to look upon the sculpture to be healed. Many thought it was too simple a task and died because they would not look. Many people do not mark their calendars because they do not see how it could help them improve. These people don't practice the daily accountability of calendar-keeping and they almost always take much longer to figure out how to make meaningful progress than those who faithfully mark their calendar daily.


The systems of MAN PWR and GRL PWR help add structure by identifying 6 themes that you can set goals within. What I will share here is only one version of these acronyms, but I think it is the simplest place to start.  As you gain momentum and experience you can explore other versions of these acronyms that are also very helpful


M stands for "minister" and G is for "give." These are both about discerning and meeting the needs of others.  Many teenagers ask their parents what they would like done, then they choose something off of the list they made to work on each day.  Others I know choose to index names for Family Search for a set amount of time.  I knew one young man who made lunch for his younger sister every single day (she ate a lot of PB&J).  The idea is to find a need and meet it.  As was said previously, this goal should be specific enough that it is very clear whether or not you completed it at the end of the day.


A stands for "action" and this R is for "run." These are all about using your body in productive ways, which often includes exercise or Flagpole drills (you can read an article about Flagpoles here), but can be other things. Because doing something physically strenuous that raises your heart rate is one of the quickest ways to kill temptation, I often recommend that this goal focuses on Flagpoles and similar activities. But if you are already doing those things as part of your Border Patrol and don't feel the added accountability of making it a PoWeR goal would be helpful, you can choose something else. For many people, practicing their preferred sport, art, or instrument make meaningful and beneficial goals.


N stands for "no" and L is for "limit." Both of these focus on controlling our "natural man" (Mosiah 3:19) behaviors. This is something that you want to change or remove from yourself. The other 5 goals focus on adding improved behaviors. This goal is about removing and replacing behaviors that hold you back or are undesired. Some of the people I work with struggle with addiction, and so this goal is all about practicing sobriety. Others focus on removing bad habits or behavior patterns they are displeased with. Here are a few examples: no technology in private places (bathroom, bedroom, etc); stop biting my nails; I will not lose my temper with my child and use "unnecessary roughness" to complete the task (diaper change, bath, brushing teeth, etc); I will limit my use of social media and video games until after daily tasks (homework, chores, errands, etc) are done.


For both MAN PWR and GRL PWR the PWR goals are the same.

P stands for "prayer." This is one of the goals where we really want to take what you're already doing and stretch it a little bit. For example, many of the people I work with only have one routine prayer a day, so they set their goal to include a second routine prayer each day.


W stands for "write." This is much more than note-taking or journalling. This kind of writing is meant to be deep, thoughtful, and intentional.  It is supposed to be a meaningful form of accountability.  It should facilitate pondering, meditation, and revelation. I have written articles about the most common types of writing where you can learn more about how they work and how they will benefit you (Letter to God, Letter to Future Spouse, the Discernment Journal is described in the second-to-last paragraph of this article).


R stands for “read.”  By that I mean, read inspired literature such as the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, the Liahona and Strength of Youth magazines, General Conference talks, etc.  This is another goal where we want to take what you're already doing and stretch it a little bit.  For many of the people I work with, that means choosing a specific amount to read, whether that is measured in the number of minutes, pages, or verses.


It is important to keep in mind that these are goals that must be done every single day. That includes Sundays. You must take into consideration what you will and won't be comfortable doing on the Sabbath. For example, if your Minister/Give goal is focused on serving those at school or work then you will need to build in an alternative for the weekends. An even more common example is that people will set an Action/Run goal that is an exercise routine or workout they are not comfortable doing on the Sabbath. So they build in an alternative. One alternative that I often recommend is practicing your instrument or art. For example, I had an exercise-focused Action goal that I did Monday through Saturday then I would practice my ukulele on Sunday. I worked with a guy who had a similar Action goal for 6 days of the week, but on Sunday he practiced developing his photography skills.


As you set and pursue your PoWeR goals it is important to understand that your goals will change. There is a fine-tuning process to get your goals where they need to be so that they can really help you improve. Remember, that is their purpose, to help you make progress on your quest for self-mastery and repentance. So if you have 14 days in a row of completing all 6 goals and discover that they aren't meeting your needs, then change them. You won't lose your 14 days and have to start over when though your goals change. I know someone who reached over 720 days in a row of completing his MAN PWR, and his goals shifted throughout that time. You only reset to day 0 if you miss and don't complete one of your goals. That being said, you shouldn't change your goals just because you don't feel like putting in the effort to get them done that day. Make adjustments to your goals in wisdom and when you are at a Level 0 on the Chemical Scale. If you're up against a wall and realize you won't complete your goals that day, but reasonably could have if you'd been wiser with your time, it is more helpful in the long run to take the loss and learn from it.


Repenting, changing, is an essential part of our personal improvement. When viewed as just trying to stop something bad or start doing something good it can feel overwhelming and be incredibly difficult to do. When we take a structured approach to repentance we can make our process of improving a little simpler, a little more manageable, and a little faster. Some PoWeR goals still take months to accomplish. Some goals might take longer and can be "practice goals" that we try to achieve but allow ourselves more grace knowing this one will take more time, more maturing, and more growth than our other goals. But with a system to support our change, repentance can happen and it can be a delight.


To meet with or hire me or another mentor who has been thoroughly trained by Life Changing Services to help others set and achieve PoWeR goals, visit

Whispered Warnings

Something I have begun to notice more is what the Holy Ghost is doing when we are sliding down the Chemical Scale. For years I have trained to notice how Satan messes with me to
drag me down the Scale, but over the last several months I have noticed more how the Spirit is also working to persuade me to climb back up the Scale.

He is more noticeable during the Level 4 -Irrational Conversation where he is often actively trying to persuade you to live in alignment with your values. But I have also begun to notice the warnings of the Holy Ghost between Level 2 and Level 3 on the Chemical Scale. In fact, I frequently receive a warning almost immediately before the Level 3 - "Dude!" Moment. This seems to be part of what Elder Boyd K. Packer meant when he said, "It is not expected that you go through life without making mistakes, but you will not make a major mistake without first being warned by the promptings of the Spirit. This promise applies to all members of the Church" (Counsel to Youth, October 2011 General Conference).

I have found that this nudge, prompting, or reminder is usually a turning point in the battle. When I honor the prompting, I move closer to Level 0 and almost always win. When I fail to honor the prompting I drift into an Irrational Conversation and almost always lose.

The simplest way (though not necessarily the easiest way) to honor the reminder is to follow through and act on the reminder. If that's to read you scriptures, you start immediately. If that's to text the family you've been called to minister, you pull out your phone and start typing. If it's to not watch that YouTube video, you close the window and do something productive.

Sometimes it's not wise or appropriate to act on the reminder when it comes. For example, perhaps you remember while you are in math class that you committed that morning to clean the kitchen before it becomes time to begin cooking dinner. In the middle of math class is the wrong time to begin washing dishes.  Or maybe you are driving in the car when you recall that you have not yet read scriptures today.  It is definitely not wise or appropriate to begin reading scriptures while driving.  But if you simply tell yourself that you will do it later, or that you will remember to do it later, you have not acted on the prompting and will slide further down the Chemical Scale.  So how can you still act on or honor the nudge or prompting?

One way to honor the prompting is to make appropriate modifications to the action that needs to be done.  For example, if you are driving alone in the car and get the reminder that you have not yet read from the scriptures you could ask your smartphone to read your scriptures to you.  Other times that just isn’t possible.  Unless you have a robotic butler, you probably can’t use technology to wash the dishes for you while you are in math class.  In situations like this, you will need to use a reminder system.  By activating a reminder you are honoring the reminder even though you cannot yet complete the task. That might mean writing down a reminder. Perhaps if you are driving and receive a reminder, you can ask the virtual assistant on your phone to set a reminder. If you are in a situation where you cannot create or activate a reminder system, you can pray and ask God to remind you again. It is helpful to suggest a specific time or location that you would like to receive the reminder. In this way, you are honoring the nudge you received and drawing closer to Level 0 and victory.

As you begin to recognize these nudges, promptings, and reminders you will become more aware of where you are on the Chemical Scale. Acting on these reminders will bring you closer to Level 0 and make it much easier to win that battle.

How's Your Soil? - your soul is a garden

When my parents moved into a new house it had a large patch of bare dirt in the back yard that was intended to be a garden. Because they bought the house in Autumn, nothing was done with it. The next Spring it was thoroughly weeded, but little else was done because my brother and new sister-in-law needed a place to keep their horse until they could afford to board it themselves. The few things that grew in the garden were eaten or trampled, then the garden became the horse's corral for the winter. Horses doing what horses do, the garden patch was soon covered in manure. The horse was eventually moved to better-suited boarding, but it took a long time to remove the make-shift corral and deep blanket of "fertilizer" that it left behind.


Another winter came and went.  When Spring came that little garden was full of life, full to the brim and completely choked by weeds.  My family tried to pull the weeds by hand, but there were so many that very little progress was made.  Drastic action was needed to be able to find the soil underneath, so my parents bought a flame thrower.  The tool was designed for annihilating weeds, and it was an exhilarating and terrifying thing to use.  I walked back and forth over the weed patch spraying fire at the plant life.  We quickly discovered that dead weeds from the previous summer quickly went up in smoke, but everything that was alive, and green was incredibly resistant to the flames.  My parents bought some weed killer and sprayed the garden.  Then they torched it again with the flame thrower.  They sprayed again, and torched again, and finally clear.


In many ways, the story of this little garden represents our lives.  Your mind, heart, and life are much like a garden.  All of our gardens are in need of refinement.  The gardens of our hearts, minds, and souls can become filled and choked by weeds.  Poor choices, unwanted habits, harmful patterns of behavior, or addictions are “cumbering the ground of our vineyards,” to misquote the Allegory of the Olive Tree from Jacob chapter 5 of the Book of Mormon.


Sometimes the process of repairing a poor choice is like pulling a small weed.  You grip near the base, gently tug, and the whole thing comes out.  You can toss the offending plant in the waste pile and move on.  Often times, it is more difficult than that.  Sometimes a soul is choked by addiction and drastic measures need to be taken.  You must dig around the plant and rip it out by the roots.  The weeds need to be sprayed and burned, repeatedly, to expose the soil underneath.  But whether or not we have an addiction, annihilating the weeds is not enough.


Soil rarely remains empty for very long.  Once the offending plant has been removed, it must be replaced. If you leave a hole in your soil and don't fill it with a plant of your choosing, the garden will fill it with a plant of its choosing.  You cannot simply remove undesirable behaviors, bad habits, or addictions, they must be entirely replaced.  This is where improved Border Patrol activities become essential.  These will be better patterns of behavior, wiser choices, new habits, PWR goals, and Passion Projects.


These new patterns, PWR goals, and Passion Projects are the plants you have chosen to replace the weeds. They will fill the holes and empty soil of your garden.  And because you will care for and fertilize them, the new plants will receive even more nourishment than the originals.


At first, caring for these new plants will take intentional effort. Frequent watering, weeding, and nourishing will be necessary to help them develop healthy roots. Over time your garden will require less intense effort and will only need routine maintenance. There will be seasons that require more effort (like planting new habits or schedules in the Spring and harvesting their fruits in the Fall) and seasons that need less (like early summer or the winter). Doing the appropriate work in the appropriate season will help your garden continue to improve. But if you ever stop caring for your garden then weeds will begin to pop up. Left neglected long enough, or exposed to the wrong kinds of seeds, your garden will go wild again.

Converting Passion into Miracles


"Use boldness, but not
overbearance; and also see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love; see that ye refrain from idleness" (Alma 38:12). How can you bridle your passions? Bridling isn't killing, shutting off, or crushing. Bridling is directing. Unbridled, passions are like river water flowing into a delta before reaching the sea. It goes a myriad of directions. It loses speed and force. If that same water is focused into a single stream by river banks, it gains power. The closer the banks, the more force the water will have. This is how we can use a tight stream of water with a little sand to cut thick slabs of granite. When you bridle your passions, you unleash power! Passion Projects are one way to unleash and channel that power into something good.

Passion Projects are not goals. They are not hobbies. They are a way to team up with God to minister to His children. The best Passion Projects unite your whole soul - spirit, body, head, and heart - to an inspired cause.

The book Like Dragons Did They Fight, which was written by the man who coined the term Passion Projects, describes them this way. Passion Projects….

  • Bring energy and enthusiasm back into your life.

  • Reinforce your new identity - connecting to your future and not your past.

  • Require Divine assistance to complete.

  • You must learn to set miraculous level goals..goals that cannot be achieved without an alliance with God.

  • Involve your unique set of "Super Powers" otherwise known as Spiritual Gifts.

  • Teamwork...requires you to align your strengths (superpowers/gifts of the spirit) with those of others.

  • Provide you with positive momentum to keep you from slipping backward.

  • Improve the lives of person at a time or in groups of thousands.

  • Align your frontal lobe, with your spirit, and your more primal energies into a well-tuned harmony.

  • Create momentum in your life; keep you moving forward.

One purpose for Passion Projects is to replace unwanted patterns and behaviors in your life.  This can include bad habits, addictions, or even personality traits you aren’t pleased with.  For this to make sense it may be helpful to use a metaphor you may already be familiar with.  Your mind, heart, and life are much like a garden.  All of our gardens are in need of refinement.  Unwanted habits, patterns, or addictions are like weeds or undesirable plant-life that is “cumbering the ground of our vineyards,” to misquote the Allegory of the Olive Tree from Jacob chapter 5 of the Book of Mormon. These unwanted plants must be forcibly removed from the garden. Spraying them with a weed-killer is not enough, you must dig around the plant and rip it out by the roots. But once the offending plant has been removed, it must be replaced. If you leave a hole in your soil and don't fill it with a plant of your choosing, the garden will fill it with a plant of its choosing. This is where Passion Projects become essential. Your Passion Project is the plant you have chosen to replace the weed. It will fill the hole in the soil and because you will care for and fertilize it, the new plant will receive even more nourishment than the original.

Pattern 1: Glowing Stones

There tend to be two main categories that Passion Projects fall into.  They usually are a Glowing Stone experience or a Building the Ship experience.

When the Brother of Jared was preparing to cross the ocean to the Promised Land he wanted a source of light for the dark barges he and his people had built. God had solved the issues of fresh air and steering for him but left the Brother of Jared to find his own solution for a light source. When Moroni abridged this part of the story he made it sound really easy, "and [he] did molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass" (Ether 3:1).

I thought it would be fun to melt a stone into clear rocks so I did some research. What I learned blew my mind and reshaped how I think about this story. This is not something the Brother of Jared did because he was bored. This is not something he randomly figured out. He almost certainly had done this many times before, perhaps as part of his profession before God confounded the languages of the people near the Tower of Babel.

Melting stone is no easy feat. You need to achieve temperatures over at least 2000° F. Today we often bake bread at 400° F. Your normal campfire might be able to reach 900° F under the right conditions.  Whether the Brother of Jared constructed a type of furnace, foundry, or a monster bonfire, he had to be intentional about it. He didn't just toss a rock into the cooking fire.

Also, the Brother of Jared couldn't grab just any rock off the beach to melt. Some stones melt easier than others. Many stones don't become white and clear when they melt. The easiest way to make glass is by melting sand with high silica content. Doing it from a rock is harder.

Then, unless you are okay with your finished product shattering or cracking, it needs to cool very slowly. Glassblowers usually let their finished pieces sit in a kiln at about 500° F overnight. To get his 16 clear stones, the Brother of Jared probably had to do something similar.

As I learned all of this it became very clear to me that this almost certainly was not the first time the Brother of Jared had done this. That's where this ties in with Passion Projects. Perhaps you already know almost all of the steps of what you need to do. Perhaps you've done it before. All you need this time is for God to put His finger on your work and make it glow.

Pattern 2: Building a Ship

The other main pattern that Passion Projects tend to follow is like Nephi's experience building a ship.

Nephi grew up near landlocked Jerusalem. Odds are that he never saw a ship before the Lord led his family down by the Red Sea. Though we don't know if they traded or interacted with other people, my guess would be that there was never a cause to set foot on a ship and look around. To receive this commandment from the Lord would be a vast undertaking. Nephi probably didn't really know how he was going to do it, just that God would make it possible. So he started with the most basic and very first step, "I need tools, where can I find ore to make tools?" The process continued from there, he did what he knew how to do and "returned oft" to learn how to do those things that were new. "Where do I find the right timber? How do I shape the logs? Where do we get material to make sails?"

He did what he knew how to do, or what he'd been instructed to do until he received "further commandment" (1 Nephi 19:4) from the Lord. This was a pattern he had practiced before while trying to get the brass plates from Laban. 1 Nephi 4:6 "And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do."

He had an end vision. He knew he needed to get the plates. He knew some of the reasons why; he didn't know how. He worked with what he had until he received further instruction. The same was true for the ship. He knew he was supposed to build one and some of the reasons why, but he didn't know how. He worked with the knowledge and materials he had until God gave him more.

Timelines and Chess

When first introduced to the idea of Passion Projects, it is normal to think of them as long term plans. They definitely can be, but they don't have to be. A friend of mine completed one in a weekend. He and his wife were preparing for a weekend with extended family and they wanted to introduce their nieces and nephews to chess, but giant-sized. They were ministering to their nieces and nephews, but they didn't know how to pull it off. All 32 game pieces and the chessboard needed to fit in the back of their car. The pieces also needed to be light enough that small kids could move them. That eliminated the more obvious choices like wood or plastic. 

They considered using the corrugated plastic material people use for signs on their front lawn, but that was too expensive. They needed to go to the dollar store to get Sharpies, so they chose to come back to the pieces’ dilemma and pursued what they knew how to do. At the store, they found a foam material like is used for tri-folds at the science fair. They discovered they could use that to make a silhouette of the chess piece and notch the bottom for another piece of foam which made it stand up. They used a white tarp with black squares painted on it for their game board. The tarp folds up and the pieces come apart and everything can be stacked inside of a laundry basket.

Many Passion Projects are long-term, but they don't have to be. You can accomplish yours in a weekend.

To hire me as your life coach where we can create a plan to put the above principles into practice for you, follow this link.  Fighting Like a Dragon - Life Coaching

The Voices in Your Head

Within the realm of thought, there are three voices that everyone hears and experiences. Two of these voices urge and entice towards certain behaviors and the third voice considers the information and makes the final decision on what action will be taken.

The first voice we hear comes from God. This is the voice that invites us to do good and be better. It promotes morality and prosocial behavior. Prosocial behavior is acting in a way that benefits others. This is basically the “science-y” term used to summarize the Beatitudes. Doing acts of service, giving charitably, praying for others, sharing people’s burdens, obeying the rules and laws of society that make it a safer place for everyone, etc. This is the voice that prompts you to ask someone who looks like they have been crying if they are alright, or urges you to help the person whose car is stuck in the snow. This is the voice that points out your moral weaknesses and invites you to improve through feelings of Edifying-Guilt. You can find a more detailed article about this here. The short version is that healthy guilt sticks around until we commit to do better and outline a plan, then it vanishes.

God's voice also offers healing and comfort. This is one of the specific roles of the Holy Ghost. 

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid (John 14:26-27).

The second voice that we hear is our own voice. We will often hear the other voices as we ponder choices, but it is our own voice that makes the final decision. The other voices can entice and persuade, but they cannot make decisions for us. Our voice makes decisions based on input from our bodies, our past experiences, the voices of God and Satan, and other sources.

The third voice comes from the Adversary. This is the voice of temptation, discouragement, shame, and unrighteous judgment of others. He promotes selfish behavior and feelings of superiority and enmity towards ourselves or others. He encourages you to justify your behavior so you don't have to improve. When you want to become better he inspires corrosive or unedifying guilt, also known as shame. You can read more about that here. Satan has a seductive voice that carefully lures us to do the “fun” things that lead to painful consequences and moral depravity. Usually, these things don't look that menacing, they seem innocent and entertaining. They may often begin as simply choosing to do something fun instead of something that needs to be done. These things are advertised as "freeing" while God's recommended course is labeled as constricting.

As we listen to either God or Satan, we will be able to hear their voice more and the other voice will be heard less. However, neither voice is ever truly gone. Even if someone dedicates their life to following the depraved suggestions of Satan, God will still speak to them from time to time inviting them to do better.

The tricky thing is, all three voices “sound” the same when they are in the realm of thought. It is very difficult to distinguish which thought came from which voice, but with practice, it becomes easier. The prophet Mormon gave us a "pH test" to determine which voice is which. Moroni 7:12-13, 16-17 says-

Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.

But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, everything which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.

For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for everything which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.

But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.

When it's hard to recognize which voice you are hearing, consider whether or not the voice is inviting you to do good for other people.

Once you know about the three voices we each hear it is important to practice recognizing the differences between them. One way to do this is with what I call a Discernment Journal. I didn't create this form of writing, but I do think it is powerful and helpful. You begin by reflecting on some of the thoughts you had throughout the day. Write down at least 3 of them in as much detail as you can recall. Then practice discerning which voice the thought came from. If you do this every day then you will soon be able to recognize which voice you are hearing as you hear it.

As you learn to recognize the three voices we each hear, it will become easier for you to act in alignment with your values. You will more readily recognize the promptings and revelations that come from God. You will be able to quickly identify the interference of the Adversary and will know how to cast him out. You will progress much more quickly towards becoming the man or woman you would like to be.

To hire me as your life coach where we can create a plan to put the above principles into practice for you, follow this link.  Fighting Like a Dragon - Life Coaching

Living on a Tightrope: maintaining balance in life

The more I learn about living the kind of life God intends for us to live, the more crucial balance seems to be. Balance is hard, but it is fundamental to progression.  It’s important to balance the different varieties of food that we eat and how much of each.  It is important to read scripture and learn from them, but if we don’t put them down and practice what we are learning then we’re out of balance and not living the way God intends. To avoid being burned out we must balance the right kinds of self-care with ministering to others.

I grew up as one of six children.  I am the third of five sons with my one sister being the youngest.  Being surrounded by only boys for the first eleven years of my life, we had a lot of rough and tumble play.  One of our favorite games was for each of us to find a stick, pretend it was a sword, and then fight each other.  Being the competitive boys that we were, we needed to implement a few rules so that we could determine who won.  As I remember it, there were really only three rules. First, if I touch your neck, chest, back, or abdomen with my sword you are dead.  Second, if my sword touches your arm or leg then you lose that limb.  Third, the last man standing wins.

With these rules as the only guidance for five competitive boys, you can imagine how often we ended up with scenes like when King Arthur meets the Black Knight in the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”  If you’re not familiar with the movie, the Black Knight refuses to allow King Arthur to pass and a sword fight ensues.  King Arthur cuts the knight’s arm off and declares himself the victor.  The Black Knight ignores the dismembered limb with his famous quote, “It’s just a flesh wound.”  The fight continues with King Arthur lopping off the Black Knight’s other arm.  The armless knight is still convinced he can defeat King Arthur and continues to attack.  Eventually, the knight loses both of his legs as well.  As King Arthur rides away the Black Knight calls him names, challenges him to come back, and threatens to bite his legs off.  This ridiculous scenario is somewhat similar to how the sword fights with my brothers often happened.

These experiences taught me about balance.  As you can imagine, five boys sword fighting with sticks led to a lot of injuries.  Most of these injuries were smarting knuckles and sore arms from where we’d been hit.  Looking back, what I find interesting is that most injuries didn’t come as a result of competitiveness or anger.  Those feelings actually came from getting hurt.  And most of those times that we got hurt was when our opponent was out of balance.

One of the things we learned as we frequently fought each other is that it is often hard to strike an opponent’s chest for a one-hit-kill, but it is usually easy to “chop off” their leg or foot.  Then your opponent must begin hopping about on one foot as they continue trying to defeat you.  Trying to chase, dodge, and lunge on one foot is very difficult, and you are almost constantly out of balance.  And even if you are balanced before you swing your sword at your opponent, you won’t be when your stick connects with theirs.  An involuntary consequence is that you swing harder than you normally would.  Your body and brain automatically put more power into the strike to help you try and stay vertical while your equilibrium is off.  Even when we discovered this and tried to control it, we swung and hit harder than we normally would.  We discovered you could exacerbate this effect if you “cut off” your opponent’s other arm above the elbow.  They would have to tuck that arm tightly behind their back which meant they couldn’t use it as a counter-balance as they hopped around on one foot.

When you are out of balance, every single one of your swings is harder than necessary.  Every strike you make has more force than it needs to do the job.  If you are trying to connect with your spouse while you are out of balance, your “swings” or attempts to communicate will have too much energy behind them and can accidentally hurt.  You’ll “swing” harder at work, but harder isn’t better.  The harder you swing, the less control you have.  Your accuracy plummets and misunderstandings and miscommunications sky-rocket.  When you connect, you do it too forcefully.  You may be trying to give your co-worker an appropriate “tap” in the right direction but may end up nearly welting them instead.

When you are out of balance, every strike is harder than needed.  In other words, you are expending more energy than you intend.  You are wearing yourself out faster than you would if you were properly balanced.  If the analogy of sword fighting doesn’t make sense for you here, think of car tires, shoes, ball bearings, or something else where even wear is important.  When I served a mission for my church I had several companions whose stride was uneven.  The outside edge of their shoes wore down much faster than the inside edge.  Their shoes wore out and became unwearable much faster than my companions who walked with an even gait.  The longer they walked out of balance, the more their shoes wore out incorrectly.  The more messed up their shoes were, the harder it became to try and walk evenly.  When you are out of balance you tire yourself out sooner than you normally would.  And the longer you are out of balance the harder it is to get back into balance.

The list of things that get us out of balance is nearly endless.  Fortunately, the list of ways to regain balance is much shorter.

Balance it's something that you must constantly manage and work on. You'll start to have most everything figured out when a curveball is thrown your way. A new semester starts, your baby starts to crawl, your vehicle dies and you have to get a loan to buy new transportation so you can do the things you need to, your oldest child goes away to college, you are asked to take on new responsibilities at church or in the PTA, etc. You'll spend some time tossing and juggling things as you discover your new balance. Spend a little more time here, a little less attention there, etc. How quickly you adapt has to do with how well balanced you were before, how often you've experienced changes like this one, your personality, and a few other things.

Obtaining a balance is a bit of a trial-and-error process. You have to find what works for you. Think of those older balancing scales that have a bowl suspended on either end of a pole. As you pursue a healthy balance you'll find that you have a little too much on one side. You'll need to take a little off that side or add a little more to the other. This can be done by adding more or less to your to-do list in that area. It can be done by re-evaluating what your priorities are and which ones really matter to you. Perhaps the surest way to obtain balance is through a process described by President Ezra Taft Benson, "When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities" (April 1988 General Conference, 'The Great Commandment').

There are many ways to put God first. A lot of those ways are spiritual, but not all are.

There are very few things I can think of where it is best to seek the extreme side of things; almost always, balance is needed.  Satan loves to play the extreme ends of things. First, he’ll try to stoke feelings of enmity towards other people, then he’ll point out how prideful you are and that you need humility.  As you seek to be more humble he’ll swing to the opposite extreme and try to stoke feelings of enmity towards yourself.  Remember what Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles says about what humility really is, “We don’t discover humility by thinking less of ourselves; we discover humility by thinking less about ourselves” (October 2010 General Conference).

Another example is how we serve.  If he can, Satan will persuade you that you should spend all of your time on yourself.  He’ll whisper that others don’t need, don’t want, or don’t deserve your time and service.  Perhaps he’ll tell you that you need all of your time in order to maintain your own health or sanity.  If he can’t keep you from serving then he will often try to get you to serve way too much, to give so much that you are too exhausted to keep giving in meaningful ways.  You can’t give what you don’t have, so it is important to balance time on yourself with time spent on others.  “Self-care” has become a kind of buzz-word recently in our culture, but what most people think of as self-care I think could be more accurately described as “selfish-care.”  When you are really caring for yourself you practice “selfless-care” which puts you in a position where you are better prepared to minister to others than you were before.  Selfless-care often looks like doing the things that need to be done, many of which may not be fun.  Selfish-care is doing what is fun, often at the expense of what needs to be done.

There are times when it is appropriate to be intentionally out of balance, but only for a season.  Doing so for short periods of time allows you to make faster progress in specific areas or on specific tasks than you normally would if you were maintaining balance.  A real-life example may help.  I was preparing to apply to graduate school while trying to balance my bachelor’s degree studies, having a healthy relationship with my wife, as well as work.  No one had explained to me the process of applying to graduate school, so I was figuring it out on my own which isn’t the best idea for something as demanding as a Master’s degree program.  I learned that I had to take the GRE, which is basically like the ACT or SAT exam to get into a graduate program.  As I was looking at the timing of how soon I would need to take the exam to meet the application deadlines for my chosen programs of study, as well as when and where I could take it, I realized the only opportunity I had to take this high-stakes exam was one week away.  For that week it became necessary to be intentionally out of balance.  I went to my classes, but only did the simplest homework assignments.  I went to work when I had to, but put off anything I could for an extra week.  My wife barely saw me that week as I spent nearly all of my free time studying the things I would need to do well on my exam. After spending a week out of balance, on purpose, I took the exam and returned to a more balanced approach to my responsibilities.

When you are balanced it is much easier to reach and stay at Level Zero on the Chemical Scale. I've talked about what it is like to be Zeroed Out and what it can be like to Live at Level Zero. Being balanced won't automatically bring you to Level Zero, but it will make it much easier; especially if your Border Patrol is balanced. Don't overprotect one or two of your walls at the expense of the others.

Balance is something that must be sought after and maintained every day. If we are out of balance it is harder for us to Live at Level Zero, we exhaust ourselves faster, and we are more likely to hurt those around us.  When we maintain balance our work and relationships improve, we become more useful instruments in the hands of God as He ministers to His children, and we more quickly progress towards becoming the kind of person we want to be.

To hire me as your life coach where we can create a plan to put the above principles into practice for you, follow this link.  Fighting Like a Dragon - Life Coaching

Living at Level Zero

In previous articles, I have described the Satanic Spin and how that gets you onto the Chemical Scale.  Once you begin paying attention to your own chemicals, unedifying emotions, thoughts, internal conversations, decisions, and actions, you recognize just how hard it is to stay close to Level Zero.  Satan messes with us constantly.  He never sleeps and never takes holidays.  He will try to make you spin every day.  He will try to drag you down the scale to poor decisions, several times a day.  It takes a lot of training to get to the point where you can maintain Level Zero for the majority of a day.  But when you get there, that day will be like no other day you’ve had before.

The experiences that come are hard to describe.  I cannot do it well without examples, and I cannot describe someone else’s experiences adequately.  Please forgive the extensive use of personal examples in this article, I hope they will help you understand what Living at Level Zero can be like for you.

Some days are better than others.  Many days are rough.  The days I will be describing here are normal, almost mundane days, but I experienced them in a totally different way because I was choosing and working to Live at Level Zero.

I wake up most mornings at a Level One or a Level Two on the Chemical Scale.  My mouth tastes funny, my back is usually stiff and sore.  I have a hard time concentrating on any particular thing.  Nobody else is awake yet.  I say a brief prayer that often could be described as “cookie cutter.” The order of the words is probably different, but the ideas are the same.  I try to make it meaningful, but that is often hard for me to do in the mornings.  I put on my exercise clothes, get a cold drink of water, and drive to the gym.  I keep the radio off and pray out loud most of the way there.  These prayers are much more conversational.  The topics are often the same, but there is meaning in these prayers because these topics are things that mean a lot to me.  I finish the prayer as I lock my car and walk into the gym.  I choose my workout for the day and put my headphones in.  I press play on the next episode of the Eternal Warrior Podcast and listen as I exercise for the next thirty minutes.  I finish my exercise and return to the car feeling much more awake and focused than the first time I got in it.  I continue listening to the episode as I drive home.  I’ll sit in my living room until the episode is done.  By this point, I’m usually Zeroed Out, but on the best days, I’ve got Warrior Chemistry in my veins.

I shower with purpose and intensity.  It is an odd experience to describe.  I enjoy long, hot showers like most people.  But on the days where I am Living at Level Zero, I have more important things to do.  My mind is focused on upcoming activities planning steps to take, as I get clean and get out.  These showers aren’t rushed, they are focused.  It is hard to describe.  They are done with purpose and a gentle but persistent intensity.

I make a simple breakfast.  Normally my mind is still pondering upcoming Passion Projects, or important activities as I’m cooking or pouring a bowl of cereal.  As I eat, I read from the Book of Mormon, following my study pattern which includes noticing and highlighting every time emotion and feeling words are used.  I focus on empathizing with at least one of those emotional experiences.  What would I be experiencing if I were in the same situation?  What things would have to happen so that I could be feeling the same way as this person?

I finish breakfast and reading and either write or work on a Passion Project until my 18-month old son wakes up.  Usually, I will try to read, work, or distract myself on my phone after I get him up.  On days when I Live at Level Zero, I give him all of my attention.  There is, again, a gentle but persistent intensity as I play with my son.  This is the most important thing I can be doing at that time.  He gets all of my focus as I change his diaper, fix him breakfast, read him books, and play with him until my wife is ready to wake up.

This gentle and persistent intensity of focus follows most of my activities throughout the day; school, work, cooking, etc.  Have you ever played with someone’s hair with intensity and focus?  Your fingers are gentle but your mind is sharp and present.  In those moments I recognize that giving my wife my affection and attention are the most important things I can be doing.  I don’t allow myself to daydream as my fingers move half-heartedly.  I don’t allow myself to think about what I’d rather be doing.  In those moments, it’s not about me.  It’s about being there for my wife.  The by-product is that I continue to Live at Level Zero.

Eventually, as I near bedtime, I am filled with a huge sense of fulfillment and excitement about what was accomplished that day. My day was full. I was busy by choice. I didn't rush from one activity to another, I moved from one to the next with deliberate focus. For someone who is as distractible as I normally am, having this kind of intense focus on one activity is uncommon. To have it for most of a day is a miracle that only seems to come when I am Living at Level Zero.

To Live at Level Zero requires consistent maintenance. You must keep doing things that help you Zero Out and doing your other activities with intention and purpose. There was a recent day where I did fairly well at maintaining a Level Zero until early evening. I felt I had some spare time on my hands and chose to spend time on my phone. It only took 30 minutes of combined time on Facebook and news to throw off the rest of my night. In only 30 minutes I was at a high Level 2 and proceeded to do several things against my value system that night.

It's odd, Living at Level Zero should be exhausting. It takes so much maintenance to stay Zeroed Out. Paradoxically, the things you do to stay at Level Zero are rejuvenating. Living at Level Zero gives you the energy you need to continue being Zeroed Out and doing things with a gentle intensity and focus. When I slip down the Chemical Scale and am no longer doing those things that rejuvenate me is when I have a "crash" like coming down from a sugar rush.

Living at Level Zero is not a daily occurrence for me yet. It is something I work towards and struggle to achieve. But when I do get to Live at Level Zero, the things that I get done that day are amazing. It's not so much the number of things that I accomplish, but how I do them. Each thing is done with purpose, mindfulness, and intent. It doesn't take years of training to Live at Level Zero for a day, but it does take practice and awareness of where you are at on the Chemical Scale.

To hire me as your life coach where we can create a plan to put the above principles into practice for you, follow this link.  Fighting Like a Dragon - Life Coaching

Systematic Repentance: a structured approach to change

Repentance can be such a daunting word. As a 20-year-old missionary trying to help people come closer to Jesus Christ, I thought I understoo...