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How to Confront the Three "R"s They Didn't Teach in School

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When you see the phrase” the three Rs”, you may have a couple of things that come to mind.  Back in the day it was an educational phrase that referred to the “reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic” we learned in school.  More recently it’s been used to describe how we can help our environment when we “reduce, reuse, and recycle.”  Lately, I’ve been using it differently in some of the talks I’ve given.  If you’ve seen any of my stuff, you know I often write and talk about our tendency to become so comfortable in life, that it might hold us back from really living.  As a general rule, we don’t like to be uncomfortable.  In fact, we spend a lot of time, effort, and money trying to figure out how to not be uncomfortable.  It feels so much better in our gut when things are comfortable.   It’s when things become too comfortable that we start to coast through life and drive ourselves into a rut we didn’t even know was there.

For my purposes, the three Rs can be side effects of a life that uses comfort as a crutch:  things become too routine, too ritualized, and too repetitive.  Just like the word comfort, these three Rs don’t have to be bad words.  Routine, ritual, and repetition give structure to our lives and help things run more smoothly.  But when we start going through the motions out of sheer habit, and no longer recognize the substance of what we’re doing or saying, then we start to get “stuck” in life.  This can apply to every part of our lives:  relationships, careers, faith…you name it.  Think about how easy it is for the comfort of these three Rs to take control.  The demands of modern day life make scheduling an extremely important part of handling things.  Most people get up and go to work and come home at approximately the same time every day.  We have calendars, use Outlook, phones, etc. to make sure we schedule all our activities (personal and professional) so they don’t overlap each other.  Many of these things can be very repetitive and occur on the same day and time each week.  How many times have you asked someone “How’s it going?” and they replied “Same s**t, different day.”  I’m not devaluing scheduling or organization; I’m simply highlighting how easy it is to become trapped by the three Rs.

The question then is, “how do we keep from getting in that rut?”  Unfortunately for me, it took a health crisis in my family to push me.  It shaped us in ways we didn’t necessarily see coming:  the prod to leave the confines of comfortable; a deeper, more meaningful faith; a new perspective about life and why we’re here on this planet; and a genuine call to action by working to impact the world and others in a more positive way.  All too often it seems like it takes something tragic or difficult to give us that big dose of perspective we need to reexamine our lives.  Here’s a real novel idea:   don’t wait for something to push you.  Let’s start addressing all the ways that normal, everyday life can weigh us down and keep us from doing things we really want to do - and meeting the needs of others.

You say “I’d love to do that, but I just don’t have the time.”  I tell you now that you have to make time.  One of my favorite Stephen Covey quotes is “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” You have to get rid of some of the things on your plate that aren’t meaningful in your life.  We all need more of what I call “soul-feeding” stuff in our lives.  It may be something you’ve always wanted to do, but never had the nerve.  It may be serving others in a profound way.  It may be finding time just for you. 

Help keep the three Rs  from eating away at your valuable time by doing these three things when you feel like you’re falling into a rut:  1. Take a step back.  2. Reflect.  3. Refocus.  The next time you’re at work and you notice a few hours have passed and you can’t recall exactly what you did productively – take a step back, reflect and refocus.  The next time you’re in church reciting some prayer you do every week and realize you don’t even know what you said or why – take a step back, reflect and refocus.  The next time you’re doing anything you do repeatedly, and have gaps in time because you’re coasting – you know what to do.  These are not meant to be permanent fixes, but recognition of such situations is a first step in preventing your life from being on auto pilot.     


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