If It Seems Too Good to Be True, It Is

Keeping Sane & Productive in an Insane World, Principle # 6: If It Seems Too Good to Be True, It Is

Growth in skills, acquiring wealth, building relationships, and growing in character all take time, and there is no substitute. But we often want it all without the work, and there are many people who will promise rapid shortcuts.

A few years ago, we were looking for a car. My Dad found a Toyota CRV with low mileage and in great condition. They wanted only $2,000. The person, the ad claimed, was moving to another country to serve as a missionary and simply wanted to get rid of it. It seemed too good to be true, and it was. They wanted money up front without giving us the car. It was a scam.

Experiences like that have multiplied because of the internet and social media. For that, I developed a basic rule: “If something seems too good to be true, it is.”

One of the most common experiences on the internet is the romance scam. Thousands of people give thousands of dollars to criminal organizations that pretend to be a person who loves you and is attracted to you. If you are a 60 something person, don’t believe that a 30 something knock-out with a lot of money is randomly interested in you. If something seems too good to be true, it is.

We all want the quick fix. But most things in life do not happen like that. Most things that are valuable require a lot of work over a long period of time. That’s why it’s much better to get to work than to look for an easy way out. As Henry Wadsowrth Longfellow put it, “Art is long, and time is fleeting . . .”

Now, one thing that does seem too good to be true but is actually true is God’s offer of grace and forgiveness. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). This is something God offers us freely, and it does seem too good to be true. But it is true.

But many people make a mistake based on this. They think that because the Christian life is rooted in God’s grace that therefore it is free from effort. Not so. We read in the letter of James, “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience” (1:3). The Christian life involves much suffering designed to grow us in character.

The Christian life also involves effort. “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue . . .” says Saint Peter (2 Pet. 1:5). It takes a lot of diligence. Other versions say, “make every effort.” It’s work to develop character, even in the context of the grace of God. God can change us by a miracle, but most change involves a combination of God’s grace, challenging circumstances, and effort on our part.

When I was a teenager, I started to take a real interest in foreign languages. I was fascinated with communicating in other ways. From time to time, people would come up to me and ask, “What’s the secret to learning a foreign language?”

I would always answer the same, “Hard work.” It doesn’t matter what you do to learn, you just have to work at it . . . a lot.

And that’s how most things are. So, if it seems too good to be true, assume that it is. Give up on the quick fix. Embrace the long but extremely rewarding grind to sanity, growth, relationships, and productivity. It’s the long path and the sure path.


Photo by Mathieu Stern on Unsplash

Keeping Sane and Productive in an Insane World, Principle #1: Don’t say, “I can’t do that.” Say, “I can’t do that today.”

Principle #1: Don’t say, “I can’t do that.” Say, “I can’t do that today.”

It’s easy to look at hard things and say, “I can’t do that.” That’s only partly true. You can’t do that today. But there are many things that you can’t do today that you could do if you worked at them over a period of time.

Many of the things that we admire in others are things that they worked at for a long time. Obviously, certain people’s bodies are better built for professional football than others, but those who become pro football players have put in thousands of hours of work to get there.

Whether it’s playing an instrument, speaking a foreign language, delivering a speech, writing a book, or running a marathon, these skills take time to develop. You may not be able to run a marathon today, but you could run one if you worked on it over a long period of time.

What is true in the area of physical skills is also true in relationships. You may not feel like you are good at connecting with people. However, you can work at it. You relate better to people. For example, you may think that your relationship with your child is not good. Say instead: it’s not good today, but it can be better in the future, if I work at it. Continue reading “Keeping Sane and Productive in an Insane World, Principle #1: Don’t say, “I can’t do that.” Say, “I can’t do that today.”

What All Self-Help Books Have in Common

Summary: what all self-help books have in common is the view that we can change by taking control of our interactions with the world. In this article, I flesh out what this means and how to do it.

Caring for ourselves is one of our highest priorities. What you are is what you offer to the world. What you are is what you have to live with. What you are is what will enable you to accomplish anything and enjoy anything. Because of this, there are millions of books on the subject of caring for yourself. That is a good thing. We have the most direct responsibility for ourselves, and what we make of ourselves is one of the most important gifts we give to the world.

I have read many of these books through the years from Aristotle to Cicero to Seneca to Carnegie to Covey to Ramsey to Ferriss. Each has its own angle, but there is one thing that they have in common. There is one thing that they all agree will help us be the best we can be and do the most we can do.

What is it? Take control of how we interact with the world. Taking control of how we interact with the world is the one thing that we can do for ourselves that no one can do for us. In our relationship systems, we can’t make others take control of their reactions and interactions, but we can work on taking control of our own.

Most of us do not take control of many things that we could take control of. We assume that our emotions are what they are. We assume that money and time will go where they go. We assume that the things that hurt have to hurt. We assume that relationship interactions just are the way they are. The self-help books counter this narrative and offer an alternative path. They suggest that things can be different and have been different. People can take control of the way they interact with the world.

Let me suggest five areas where we can take control of our interaction with the world. Then, I will explain the model they use for taking control of these interactions.

Five Interactions to Control
1. Our emotional reactions to the world. Our emotions are loud and feel like they are completely natural. But they are not. They are based to a significant degree on the stories we tell ourselves and the way we think about the world. Emotions are often based on false stories and impressions. We should not assume that what we are mad about is really an injustice, that what we fear is a real threat, that what we are sad about is a real loss, or that what we are happy about is really good. It may be, but it may not be. We should analyze it. Aristotle explained how fear could be a virtue or a vice, “The man who fears what, nor when, nor as he ought is foolhardy; the man who fears what he ought not, and on the wrong occasions, and in the wrong manner is cowardly” (Eudemian Ethics,2.3). Analyze your fears and your other emotions to see if you are feeling them in accord with reality and in the time and in the way that you should.

2. Our reaction to hurt and disappointment. This is really not that different from #1, but it is important because the hurts and disappointments of the past can easily debilitate us in the present and keep us from productive work in the future. Hurts hurt, but they can be put to productive uses. The things we suffer can build in us a passion for the good. The Bible says that these tests produce character, so we can actually look at suffering with a sort of joy, even while suffering. “We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope . . .” (Romans 5:3–4). We can work through our sufferings in such a way that they actually bring us hope. That is a powerful motivation to rethink our reactions to hurt and disappointment.

3. Our reactions to other people. Our reactions to other people are deeply ingrained and powerful. So, they are difficult to change. In addition, part of the equation is what other people do. We have little power to change that. Fortunately, we are also part of the relationship equation. We can change that. We can learn how we interact and begin to interact differently. Consider one simple example from Dale Carnegie: smile. It makes a huge difference. Greet people warmly, like a dog, he said. This is the most surface of examples to a complex and deep problem. However, it illustrates that we can control our interactions with people.

4. Our interaction with time and money. Retired people find that they are just as busy as when they were not retired. The reason is that time has a way of filling up. Money is the same way. Without a plan, money will flow out the door. However, if you take control of your time and money, you can use them effectively. This is especially true of your non-work time. It’s easy to just putter it away. You’ve got to take control it, if you really want it to be effective for what you want to accomplish. Dave Ramsey’s Money Makeover is an example. What he is saying is that you don’t just handle your money randomly. You take control of it, and you decide what you will do with it. He has one specific plan, but it is just one of many.

5. Our interaction with the future. What are our goals? We want to move beyond just managing our lives day to day. In addition, what we do today will be based on a vision for the future. What is that vision? What are we trying to be and accomplish? In many ways, this is the key to all of the above. This is the idea behind Jordan Peterson’s program Self-Authoring. He encourages people to gain motivation by getting a vision for how things could go really well in the future and how they could really go badly. His plan is about thinking about the future and taking control of how we interact with it.

These are five areas where we can take control of our interactions with the world. We don’t have control of everything, but we have control of how we interact with the world. All of these authors indicate that we don’t have to think and interact in the way we have done so in the past. We can think differently now and in the future. So, how do we do it?

How to Do It
1. Work on it. We start by recognizing that we can work on our relationships, emotions, time management, etc. We don’t have to do it the way we have done it before. We can ask, how have we done it? How could we do it differently? What would be a better way to think about it? What would be a better way to approach things?

2. Implement it. When we know the better way to interact with the world, we can implement it. For example, when we see our bank account dwindling, we may have one way of reacting. We can start to think differently about losing savings. This gets harder the more emotional intensity is in the mix. We are not going to change things overnight.

3. Evaluate it. We should ask ourselves, especially in difficult circumstances, how did we do interacting with the world? Did we follow our time management plan? Did we interact well with our children? How was our emotional response? What went wrong and when? How could we have done it differently? We can evaluate what we have done and practice mentally doing it differently.

4. Repeat it. We keep doing it. We keep thinking about it. We keep growing. We gain new insight. We keep implementing it. We keep working on our interactions with the world.

All of these self-help books also give us hope. These things can make a difference. Humans don’t have to stay the way they are. They can change. It’s not easy, but it can happen. As American essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “To me, however, the question of the times resolved itself into a practical question of the conduct of life. How shall I live? We are incompetent to solve the times” (The Conduct of Life, cited in Essays and Lectures [Library of America], 943 ). We can’t change a lot of things about our world, but we can change how we live. That’s what all self-help books, ancient and modern, agree on.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope that it was helpful to you. If you liked it, please consider sharing it on social media or subscribing below. I hope to see you here again!


Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

The Benefit of Not Talking in Bulldoze Mode

Sometimes I talk in bulldoze mode. It’s not something I want to do. It’s something I can do without thinking. It’s something I want to change.

What is bulldoze mode? It’s a way of trying to force your opinion through. You get in a mode of talking where you make it clear to people that if they contradict you or even try to nuance what you are saying, they are going to have a fight on their hands. You may start interrupting. You may speak more loudly. You may just say something in a way that warns people against any challenge.

Bulldoze mode is connected with anxiety. You may feel anxiety that something you feel is important won’t be heard. You may feel like you are no longer safe to share your opinion or that you are not respected. When anxiety goes up, people can either become completely silent, withdraw, talk to someone else, try to fix it, act helpless, or seek to bulldoze an opinion through.

The advantage of going into bulldoze mode is that it does release some anxiety. When you prepare yourself to fight, you feel like you are doing something productive. There is a payback of some sort, or no one would do it.

The problem is that people may not feel safe talking to you. They may not want to be with you or work with you. They may feel more comfortable talking behind your back. Continue reading “The Benefit of Not Talking in Bulldoze Mode”

How to Grow — Working on What Matters

The Preacher asked, “For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow?” (Ecclesiastes 6:12).

It is a question that we should ask ourselves again and again. What is good, and what is to be done? What will make the most impact? In terms of growth, what should we concentrate on? There are so many things that could take our attention. What really matters?

In my first post on growth, I suggested that God created us to do primarily four things: live in relationship with Him and other human beings; do significant things that bless ourselves and others and bring glory to Him; and to enjoy His glory as reflected in creation.

These are four priorities that give us a framework for thinking about how to work on what matters most, the things that will be most beneficial for our growth, for our joy and peace, and for impact on the world. I will explain what each of the four things are and then propose ideas for implementing them in your life.

Relationship with God
Our relationship with God consists first and foremost in learning to receive the love that He wants to give us. I discussed this at length in my last post, so I won’t dwell on it here except to say this: our relationship with God, like any other relationship, takes time to develop. We have to be deliberate in setting aside time for it, or our relationship with God will not deepen.

The more we receive from God, the more we will learn to love Him in return. This is the greatest commandment, and the ability to love flows out of faith.

In addition to faith and love, we need to learn obedience. Even though we enjoy a relationship with God, it is not a relationship of equals. He is the Lord. We are His servants. We need to deliberately be asking what the Lord would have us to do and how we are to apply His commands and then do what He says! This is how our relationship with our Lord grows and we learn to trust Him.

Relationship with People
We are made for relationships. It is not good for a person to be alone.

In the last post, I spoke of people as being a support for us. We need people like that. However, we are also created and made to be a blessing to other people. We are made to love, and, once the hindrances to love are removed (i.e., sinful ones, see post 3 on how to grow), love is completely natural. The second greatest command is to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Who should we love? Anyone God brings into our lives. So, who are the people that God has put in our lives? Consider extended family, neighbors, co-workers, those who are in recreational organizations with us, those who go to the same places we do, and those in our church or other civic organizations. If we think about it, there are more opportunities for us to love than we tend to think.

How should we love? In my view, most of our problems in relationships come from seeking to make people more than they are. They are just people. People are good, and love is good. However, it’s easy to become too dependent on that love or a particular person’s love or a particular pattern of receiving love.

So, here is my advice on how to love: give what you want to give, accept what others want to give you, and let others give what they want to give. See love as a gift. If you feel you should give that gift, do so. Let others decide what they want to give. If they do not give the love you want, you have an everlasting fountain of love in what God gives, so you do not need to get upset. If they do give you love, accept it as a gift and evidence of the love that God has for you.

There are many more things that could be said about this, but this has consistently been the most helpful thought to me.

Work involves two things: the development of ourselves so we can work better and the doing of the work itself.

Development includes general health such as exercise, right eating, and proper rest. Development also involves things that generally help us become well-rounded people such as developing a variety of relationships, a liberal arts education, and experience in doing a variety of activities. Finally, it involves the specific development of our gifts and the skills needed to accomplish particular things, e.g., an electrician, a lawyer, a preacher.

There are two realms of works: creation and redemption. The works of creation include family, building up civilization, government, and anything conducive to human prosperity and dominion. The works of redemption involve the restoration of man to fellowship with God and a life that is in accord with what He has made us to be. This includes service in the church, counseling, sharing with others outside the church, Bible study, etc.

In determining what work we should do, we should ask three things. What are God’s commands? What are our opportunities? What are our gifts? For example, God commands us to provide for our families, and most us of need an influx of money in order to sustain our lives. So, this limits us in some extent in the types of work we can do. Most of us need to do something that someone will pay us to do.

We should always seek to do what is good and be better stewards of what God has given us. At the same time, we should recognize that all labor is valuable to God. God told humans to develop the earth after the fall and the works of creation are everywhere praised and recommended by God. At the same time, we all should also in some ways seek to contribute to God’s work of redemption.

Enjoyment of Creation
Often, this is viewed as a restorative act rather than a duty. It is a restorative act, but it is also a duty.

It is important for us to emphasize this because our natural tendency is to focus on the bad and let the good slip by. We focus on getting things done and do not take time to celebrate. Our fast paced life moves us from one thing to another. Our focus on phones keeps us looking down and missing the beauty that is all around us.

The Apostle Paul says, “God created [foods] to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:3–5).

Thanksgiving is a duty. Thanksgiving involves seeing the good that is around us, taking it in, and giving God praise and thanks for all that He has made and all the good ways in which humans have used creation for good. Enjoying creation can include human works such as buildings, plays, or television shows.

It is important to note, though, that many of the good things that God has for us are the simple things that God has created–touching, feeling, seeing, and tasting the things He has made and enjoying the blessing of people in our lives.

Diagnostic Question
1. How do you take time to develop your relationship with God?
2. Do you ever ask of God, “What do you want me to do?” If you do, do you do it?
3. Who are some of the people in your life with whom you could connect with?
4. Are there people around you who could really use a contact from you?
5. Are there broken relationships that you need to work on?
6. What are your gifts?
7. What are the best opportunities you have to use your gifts?
8. What’s something you really enjoy that you haven’t done in a long time?
9. How are you doing at enjoying the good things around you? Do you take them in or mostly pass them by?
10. Do you take time to enjoy the people in your life?


This is part 6 of a 7 part series on how to grow. Read part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here, and part 5 here.