Even in difficult times we can become better people

If you prefer pessimism, it’s easier than ever to find reasons for it. If you go seeking (or if an algorithm decides to bring it to you), you can find sadness and plenty of divisive issues. As if that’s not enough, it compounds when you find a difficult issue and also learn that some friends and family fall on the other side of it from you. So now along with agony you have a side of anger.

The more iniquity, the more despair. It’s easy to see what Joel meant when he warned of “a day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains.”

Like many of you I prefer to find the good as much as I can. I like to hear of and participate in kindness and improvement. I believe that the capacity for kindness in each of us can not be overstated. We can all do so much for each other and for ourselves.

I like to understand new research that will motivate me to be better. Perhaps some of you do as well?

To combat all the negative that is available, I’d like to list a few things I’ve recently read. I hope that it will help some of you like it did me.

Despite what you see on TV, many dads are parenting better than ever

After a national study of 2,194 fathers of children ages 2 through 18, the results show that a majority of fathers today are relatively involved in their children’s lives. This is great news. When dad joins mom in emotional support and spending time with children, that’s a recipe for happiness.

The study also shares how we can be better fathers with tips on balancing “masculinity” and tenderness. These scientific tips include:

  • It’s OK to show and feel your feelings. Doing so will help you be a better, more involved and engaged father.
  • Be an example. Children learn by example and demonstrating beliefs and attitudes that are supportive not only benefit the father-child relationship, but they also teach children positive behaviors.
  • There are many ways to be a man — being a “tough guy” is associated with poor parenting, which can negatively affect children.
  • Fathers should not be afraid of being nurturing, caring and hands-on. Children and families all benefit when they do.

I couldn’t agree with all of these suggestions more. Being a good father (and partner to my wife) is, by far, my greatest joy. If I’m not careful, I’ll let the stresses of the day undeservedly distract me from my highest priorities.

Social media allows for negative feedback, learn from it

Those who ask for feedback are much more likely to succeed. However, when you ask, you should be prepared for the negative feedback. A recent article I read suggest the following:

  • Don’t rush to react on the feedback but give it time to settle in a bit
  • Get more data from other trusted sources to tell you if it’s accurate
  • Find a way that will broadcast real change and desire to help
  • Share what you are learning with others so you don’t struggle alone

I’ve learned that holding a grudge can be among life’s heaviest burdens. Understand what you can learn from the situation and move on.

There are so many ways to improve

The Scientific American put together a strong list of things we don’t know about ourselves. Much of this resonates with me (though some of it does not…and that’s ok too.) Some highlights and short comments:

“We are frequently blind to the effect we have on others because we simply do not see our own facial expressions, gestures and body language.”

This is true and very interesting to me. I sit in front of large groups often and I have no idea how I come across at those times. It’s difficult to read your own body language but so easy to see it in others.

We too often think we are better at something than we are.

It’s known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Speaking of children, they are a great antidote for this poisonous pride.

People who tear themselves down experience setbacks more frequently.

In our effort to show kindness, building people up is among the best work that we can do.


Life can be difficult. If we’re not careful, we can make it even harder (and a whole lot less fun) if we dwell on the negative. I know I have much more I can do in showing kindness and becoming a better person.  I do believe that difficult times like these can speed up that process. As James Allen wrote:

“Circumstance does not make the man, it reveals him unto himself.”



Investing without great intelligence

Each year, Warren Buffett (the third richest man in the world) writes a letter to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway. Usually, it is a recap of the preceding year for the company, an invitation to the yearly stockholder meeting, and some insight into the mind of the world’s greatest investor. I always look forward to reading his advice.

The letter (PDF), which is always released late Friday evening or Saturday morning so as to not influence irrational trading on the market, was released today. The whole thing is worth reading if you’re interested in long-term investing. (That’s the investing I prefer as well.) Below are some of my favorite parts of the 2017 letter:

Each year, Mr. Buffett gives the numbers up front, plain and clear but this year is a little different:

The format of that opening paragraph has been standard for 30 years. But 2017 was far from standard: A large portion of our gain did not come from anything we accomplished at Berkshire.

The $65 billion gain is nonetheless real – rest assured of that. But only $36 billion came from Berkshire’s operations. The remaining $29 billion was delivered to us in December when Congress rewrote the U.S. Tax Code.

He also talks about a new accounting rule that will affect how reports are done in the future. One of the best tips I can give parents, church leaders, bosses or coaches is to give experienced foresight to those who learn from you. It not only allows the learners to prepare but also increases their trust in you:

I must first tell you about a new accounting rule – a generally accepted accounting principle (GAAP) – that in future quarterly and annual reports will severely distort Berkshire’s net income figures and very often mislead commentators and investors.

It reminds me of a talk I recently heard of a father who would talk to his son each year and tell him things that he might expect in his life for that year. After a warning, he’d encourage that “when these things happen—or anything else that troubles you—I want you to come and talk to me, and I’ll help you get through them. And then I’ll tell you what comes next.”

Before reporting on the acquisitions from last year, Warren explained the simple approach to adding value to the company:

There are four building blocks that add value to Berkshire: (1) sizable stand-alone acquisitions; (2) bolt-on acquisitions that fit with businesses we already own; (3) internal sales growth and margin improvement at our many and varied businesses; and (4) investment earnings from our huge portfolio of stocks and bonds.

And in 2017, there were not many acquisitions made by Berkshire. He explained what they look for in purchasing a company:

In our search for new stand-alone businesses, the key qualities we seek are durable competitive strengths; able and high-grade management; good returns on the net tangible assets required to operate the business; opportunities for internal growth at attractive returns; and, finally, a sensible purchase price.

I love that when the rest of the world is buying, he’s staying true to the founding rules:

That last requirement proved a barrier to virtually all deals we reviewed in 2017, as prices for decent, but far from spectacular, businesses hit an all-time high. Indeed, price seemed almost irrelevant to an army of optimistic purchasers.

Why are the prices so high? Money is cheap and this:

Once a CEO hungers for a deal, he or she will never lack for forecasts that justify the purchase.

Even though Berkshire stayed mostly on the sidelines, the multi-billion dollar train moves on just fine:

Our aversion to leverage has dampened our returns over the years. But Charlie and I sleep well. Both of us believe it is insane to risk what you have and need in order to obtain what you don’t need.


The less the prudence with which others conduct their affairs, the greater the prudence with which we must conduct our own.

That doesn’t mean they won’t buy when the time is right:

…we will need to make one or more huge acquisitions. We certainly have the resources to do so. At yearend Berkshire held $116.0 billion in cash and U.S. Treasury Bills (whose average maturity was 88 days), up from $86.4 billion at yearend 2016. This extraordinary liquidity earns only a pittance and is far beyond the level Charlie and I wish Berkshire to have. Our smiles will broaden when we have redeployed Berkshire’s excess funds into more productive assets.

He also gives another overview of his victorious ten-year bet on index funds. And assures the rest of us that it’s still the right approach, especially to avoid fees:

Performance comes, performance goes. Fees never falter.

And when others hesitate, you move:

Though markets are generally rational, they occasionally do crazy things. Seizing the opportunities then offered does not require great intelligence, a degree in economics or a familiarity with Wall Street jargon such as alpha and beta.


And – as has been the case since 1776 – whatever its problems of the minute, the American economy was going to move forward.

I highly recommend the whole letter as it’s full of financial and other advice.


Come, Listen to a Prophet’s Voice


President Russell M. Nelson, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, came to Las Vegas and spoke to members of the church. The majority of these members are single adults, age 18-30, and are still setting so many patterns and making decisions in their lives. This is an ideal time to hear from a Prophet of God. President and Sister Nelson gave great advice.

I was invited to come and sit on the stand for the devotional.

When the prophet arrives, it’s customary to stand out of respect as he finds his seat on the stand. It was great to watch the room full of hundreds as they stood in silence. He came in and greeted everyone with a smile. He arrived ten minutes early to assure sufficient time to prepare hearts and minds for the meeting. As he sat, he turned around to us on the stand (31 Stake Presidents and 8 YSA Bishops) and mouthed “Thank you.”

After the devotional, he needed to leave the building before the rest of us were dismissed. He again faced us and with his hands outreached he said with a smile, “Virtual handshakes, virtual handshakes.”

President and Sister Nelson spoke with such humor and power and kindness. You can see the recap on the Church Newsroom (there is also video highlights) , but my favorite quotes from the night:

“One attribute that all prophets have in common is they understand the importance of divine law….Divine law cannot be denied or disputed.”

“Serve others with love. Doing so will open your mind to personal revelation and inner peace.”

There was so much more to the evening. Yesterday was a solid journal entry day.



No conflict between science and religion

Scientists recently used LiDAR to scan the jungles of Guatemala. Using this technology, “scholars digitally removed the tree canopy from aerial images of the now-unpopulated landscape, revealing the ruins of a sprawling pre-Columbian civilization that was far more complex and interconnected than most Maya specialists had supposed.”

The results are very interesting:

In addition to hundreds of previously unknown structures, the LiDAR images show raised highways connecting urban centers and quarries. Complex irrigation and terracing systems supported intensive agriculture capable of feeding masses of workers who dramatically reshaped the landscape.

If you’re interested, you should read all about the Maya Megalopolis Below the Guatemalan Jungle. (I also highly recommend this book.)

The images and results of this exploration are very interesting but of course they are not new to those who study The Book of Mormon. The book teaches of large cities and populations among the “ancient inhabitants of the Americas.”

Testimonies should be based on “the Spirit of truth” because “he will guide you into all truth.” We shouldn’t base our testimony (or lack thereof) on science.  Regardless, it’s interesting when science and religion cross an intersection of truth to meet each other.

A true believer of the Gospel of Jesus Christ should always welcome scientific findings.

Henry Eyring, a renowned scientist and the father of Henry B Eyring taught:

“Since the Gospel embraces all truth, there can never be any genuine contradictions between true science and true religion…. I am obliged, as a Latter-day Saint, to believe whatever is true, regardless of the source.”

President Russell M. Nelson, the current President of the LDS church and a renowned heart surgeon, has taught a similar teaching:

“There is no conflict between science and religion..Conflict only arises from an incomplete knowledge of either science or religion, or both. … Whether truth comes from a scientific laboratory or by revelation from the Lord, it is compatible.”

Recently, the Mormon Channel released a video about Discovering Truth in a story told by Elder Uchtdorf:

I believe that honest seekers of truth can find it. Often it will take time and effort but it’s a worthwhile process.



Do not touch fire

Recently I was with a group of Cub Scouts that was learning safety guidelines. They were told “do not touch fire.”

When they turn twelve and go on their first scout camp they’ll be told again.

When they take home economics in 7th grade they’ll be told again.

When they take Chemistry in 10th grade they’ll be told again.

Wouldn’t it be silly if these same boys turn 18 and decide, “Well now I’m an adult so I can touch fire legally. May as well try it.”

After so many warnings, I’d hope that they would prefer to avoid the pain.

Dr Suess put it in a way that only he could:

“With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.”

I woke this morning to news that Thomas S Monson, the 16the President of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had passed away. I regard him as a prophet and appreciated his observation skills and the way he relayed his stories. I will miss him.

For over fifty years he shared wisdom from pulpits and pens. My personal quote book is filled with insight from him. One of my favorite quotes was shared with me in a small group by a visiting authority and I’ve remembered it again and again

This brother mentioned that in a recent council with the First Presidency, President Monson had shared his prepared training and remarks and then in a lamenting fashion admitted:

“I don’t understand why men and women don’t do what the Lord asks them to do.” – President Monson

When a watchman sees a fire in the distance, it must be heart breaking to watch people walk toward it despite warnings. President Monson taught this often:

Obedience is a hallmark of prophets; it has provided strength and knowledge to them throughout the ages. It is essential for us to realize that we, as well, are entitled to this source of strength and knowledge. It is readily available to each of us today as we obey God’s commandments.

As I remember President Monson today and all the prophets throughout history, I’m grateful for clear guidelines that teach me how I should act before God. I hope to do better in following the warnings and receiving the promised safety.


Using Technology with Intent

I recently spoke at a conference geared toward families, productive time and eternal values. Part of my message was that technology can be a very useful tool when used properly, but can quickly become idle time.

As a tool, I’ve heard of a cell phone being likened to a shovel. When we need a shovel: we get it,  we use it, we put it down. Then we go back to life.

We don’t take the shovel and hold it in one hand while we’re watching tv and eating dinner. We don’t bring it on every walk, run and outing “just in case we need it.” We don’t take it to bed and set it on the pillow next to us all night or hold it up in the air until we fall asleep and drop it on our head.

Phones and social media are very useful tools. Like many of you, I use  InstagramTwitter, and Facebook  to keep up with family, do business and other things.  However, we should use our phones as intended then set them down and get back to life. Instead we let every ping and pong pull our attention away from real life and back to the screen. Social media, games and other websites are designed to gain and keep your attention as long as possible.

It’s not just the risk of making a bad decision online. The much more common issue is that it leads us to make no decisions at all. All idle, no progress.

A few years ago, Youtube was still relying on recommendations on social media, links sent in emails and a home page of “popular” videos to get people to keep watching videos. They realized that it could be much more specific and created something called “Brain” that would use algorithms to recommend videos specific to used.

“Integrating Brain has had an immense impact: more than 70 percent of the time people spend watching videos on the site is now driven by YouTube’s algorithmic recommendations. Each day, YouTube recommends 200 million different videos to users, in 76 languages. And the aggregate time people spend watching videos on YouTube’s home page has grown 20 times larger than what it was three years ago.”

In many ways, we think we are in control when in fact ads, likes, and alerts “cheateth” our time “and leadeth (us) carefully down” the attention tube.

As a followup to my message, here are a few things that can be done with a phone to decrease the likeliness of idle use. While the bigger change comes from a commitment to finding and developing talents and principles, these small steps can be a start.

Manage your Notifications

Take some time to manage which notifications you get on your phone. When in doubt: disable.

On an iPhone these options can be found in Settings -> Notifications. Here are a few recommendations:

  • At a minimum, disable all games and news apps. Your day will go fine without a notification that tells you the traffic level at the Japan fish market.
  • Turn off all notifications for Facebook, Instagram and Twitter except direct messages as those are usually more personal. Also disable the little red notification circles. (As an extra step, take all those social apps and stick them in a folder so they’re not a default tap when you turn on your phone.)
  • Email can be important…sometimes. Turn off the sound notifications for email. I’ve been in conversation with a family member when we hear a ding and like Pavlov’s dog, the phone comes out and now we all know about a 10% coupon to Pottery Barn.

Enable Do Not Disturb

On an iPhone, you can schedule “Do Not Disturb” to turn on every night. Do it. When this is enabled, everything still happens on the phone but you don’t actively see or hear it. For some people, this can be a big step. They’re afraid of emergencies happenings in the middle of the night.

Emergencies may happen but on the other 364 days of the year you’re just hearing random sounds and alerts. Also, you can setup for “Favorite” contacts to ring through and also anyone that calls twice in a 3 minute span. This should cover most emergencies. In the mean time, you get a much better chance at sleeping through the night.

(On a related note: There is almost no good reason that kids or teenagers should need a phone in their room overnight. Buy an alarm clock if you need to. Put all chargers in the parents room where phones can be checked in. It’s not just bad choices this can avoid, but also much better sleep and a safety from the world always being able to connect to them.)

Find a good ad blocker

Phones will allow you to block ads on all websites. You just need to download an app and then enable it in settings. (On an iPhone it’s Settings -> Safari -> Content Blockers.)

I use Purify app though there are a number of good options out there. Firefox offers a free browser that includes a content blocker that can be enabled for the built-in Safari app. In addition to keeping your online time more focused, this will also save on your battery life. Two birds, one blocker.

Filter incoming calls

There are some great tools for filtering out telemarketer and other fraud phone calls. A popular one is Nomorobo which has a low monthly cost. However, if you are an AT&T customer, you have a free option with “Call Protect.” Once installed, these apps will flag potential fraud calls and send them straight to leave a message.

Remember, it’s not just about avoiding the phone call. It also helps you to avoid pulling out the phone at all. So often we’ll see a number we don’t recognize, not answer, but still check all the messages and notifications that we would have otherwise ignored.


These are four very basic and easy steps that you can do on your phone in about 15 minutes. (And these are not just for kids. I highly recommend these four steps for parents too.)

Even though it’s quick to implement, it could save quite a bit of idle time in the future. As usual, I’m happy to give you some pointers if needed. Just send me a message and I’ll get back to you…in time.

Update: The LDS church recently rolled out smartphones to a number of their missionaries around the world. Along with the new phones, they provided a booklet titled, “Safeguards for using technology.” It’s a very useful reference for parents as well.


What did you learn at home this week?

The church has announced an updated schedule of general conference sessions. “Beginning in April 2018, the general women’s session will no longer be held on the Saturday preceding the other sessions of general conference. Rather, the general priesthood and general women’s sessions will each be held annually, with the general priesthood session being in April and the general women’s session being in October.”

I love that the reason cited is “the spirit of reducing and simplifying the work of the Church and the demands made upon leaders and members.” In my stewardship opportunities, I’ve aimed for the same goal.

Now more than ever it falls to families and parents to be sure the Gospel is taught in the home. The church handbook teaches the following:

God has revealed a pattern of spiritual progress for individuals and families through ordinances, teaching, programs, and activities that are home centered and Church supported. Church organizations and programs exist to bless individuals and families and are not ends in themselves. Priesthood and auxiliary leaders and teachers seek to assist parents, not to supersede or replace them. (italics added)
This organization requires both parents and church leaders to know their roles. “Let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence.”

In a meeting I attended with Elder Holland, he taught that if we are participating in the Gospel the right way, we’ll stop asking “what did you learn at church today?” over the family dinner and instead, primary teachers will start their Sunday class with “What did you learn at home this week?” and then support those teachings.

I’ll miss the extra priesthood session each year. It’s always uplifting and informative. I’m happy to have the women’s session in the heart of conference weekend. It can be the start of some beautiful new traditions. But mostly this is a reminder of what I already believe: “Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.” (The Family: A proclamation to the world)



Informed Delivery: A sneak peek at incoming USPS mail

A little while ago I read a tweet that talked about USPS mail and it’s ratio of usefulness. It read:

Snail mail is the worst.

99% is spam. A waste of paper, delivery gas, and attention.


While I’m not sure on the percentages, it did make me laugh.

Did you know you can sign up for a free service from USPS called Informed Delivery and it will scan each of your incoming mail pieces and will email it to you the night before delivery. That way, you know which pieces of mail will be arriving and how quickly you need to head to the mailbox.

If you don’t like emails, there is also an app specifically built for the service. 

To receive the emails, it’s a simple signup on the USPS site. Within a couple days, you’ll start receiving emails. If there are any pieces of email that can’t be scanned, the message will notify you of that as well.

Speaking of “go to prison” letters, did you notice that the screenshot in this post includes a jury summons for Candace? It came the first day we opted-in for the service. It was a slow walk to the mailbox the next day.


Being 100 Percent Responsible

Lynn G Robbins, who was a co-founder of Franklin Covey and now spends his full time in ecclesiastical service, recently gave a speech about being “100 percent responsible” for all parts of your life. He uses examples from scripture and also from his professional career to teach that being responsible “is to recognize ourselves as being the cause for the effects or results of our choices—good or bad.”

In the talk, he provides a list of nineteen things that people say or do when they are trying to avoid responsibility. (He also gives examples of each one.)

  1. Blame others
  2. Rationalize poor behavior
  3. Make excuses
  4. Minimize or Trivialize poor choices
  5. Hiding
  6. Covering up
  7. Flee from responsibility
  8. Abandon responsibility
  9. Deny or lie
  10. Rebel
  11. Complain or murmur
  12. Find fault and get angry
  13. Make demands and entitlements
  14. Doubt, lose hope and give up
  15. Indulge in Self pity
  16. Become indecisive
  17. Procrastinate
  18. Allow fear to rule
  19. Enable others to avoid responsibility

Once he has laid out some of the things to watch for in our life, he explains why it is we turn to this list of items:

If the anti-responsibility list is so dangerous, why do so many people frequently turn to it? Because the natural man is irresponsible by nature, he goes to the list as a defense mechanism to avoid shame and embarrassment, stress and anxiety, and the pain and negative consequences of mistakes and sin. Rather than repent to eliminate guilt, he sedates it with excuses.

I’ve seen some of these tendencies creep into my own life. I plan to do better.

He goes on to tell a story of his time as an executive at Franklin Covey. He mentions two men in charge of shipping items for seminars and how they had been mistake prone for some time in their work. Instead of firing them, he gave them an incentive plan on how they could earn monthly bonus money by being perfect in their shipments.

I enjoyed his management skill as he turns what could have been a poor experience into a real improvement for the lives of his employees. As he talked to them, and listened as they went through the excuses of the “Anti-Responsibility List,” he reminded them over and over again that they “are 100 percent responsible for that shipment’s success. Do you understand?”

The story ended well. After laying out all the ways that they improved, he concluded:

“What these two employees learned is that when they blamed someone else, they were surrendering control of the shipment’s success to ­others—such as the seminar division or the freight company. They learned that excuses keep you from taking control of your life. They learned that it is self-defeating to blame others, make excuses, or justify mistakes—even when you are right! The moment you do any of these self-defeating things, you lose control over the positive outcomes you are seeking in life.”

There is much more in this talk, including some application in his current assignment as a Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

If you’d like to find ways to improve responsibility in your own life, the talk is available free in text, audio and video form here.


A Template for a Simple Budget

How much do you spend a month?

Ok, now what’s the real answer?

Despite all the new technology and services that are available now, most people have no idea what they spend each month. In fact, recent studies show that sixty-one percent of US adults do not monitor their budget.

I think this comes down to lack of knowledge and probably just some fear of seeing what the number might be. There are a lot of finance apps that do a great job, though I think there is something even simpler just to be sure there is no delay.

A simple start to budgeting

I have a suggestion that can be done quick and free for most people.

If you have an iPhone, iPad or Mac than you have access to the spreadsheet app from Apple called Numbers.

Open up the app on any Apple device, scroll down and  and start a new document using the “Simple Budget” template.

When the template opens it will give you a place to put your income called “Money In” and a place for your expenses called “Money Out.”

As seen below, the spreadsheet will start with some default categories and numbers. Delete those numbers and put in your own.

Remember that if you pay a bill yearly (like car registration) to divide that number by twelve and enter it as a monthly expense.

The important step

One of the nice things about Numbers is that it’s easy to share a document with another person. You just need to tap the collaborate button. I think the sharing of this document is key, and something not easily done in apps.


If you are married, share it with your spouse and ask them to add any expenses and dollar amounts that they can remember. Once done, consider showing it to your kids for a teaching opportunity.

If you are single, consider sharing it with a friend or relative that you trust. They might be able to add categories that you’ve forgotten, or may even be able to recommend ways to save if they see high numbers.

If you have teenage kids, ask them to fill out the categories on what they think they’ll need in college or living on their own. It’s a great education tool.


I like this exercise because it’s simple and easy. You aren’t signing up for any services or wondering how your data will be sold. It’s just a real way to see where you are at financially, and offers some feedback from someone you trust.

And once you’ve seen the numbers, you might find that it influences your decisions day to day.