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Changing your mind

How do you change the way you think and feel and behave?

I’m not talking about the “oops!” kind of mind alteration–y’know, the revelatory, slap-your-forehead, “Oh! Of course! How could I have been so stupid!?!” mental shift.

I’m talking about knowing what you need to do–or, even, having a sneaking suspicion that you need to change your way of thinking, but not being able to turn on the light bulb in your brain–i.e., a mind-shift that requires real work. How do you make purposeful, premeditated alterations in your habits of mind, how you view the world, how you think, how you behave?

Legacy planning and estate planning, at its very root, I think, requires this kind of mental change. I mean, if you’re going to do a really good job at writing a plan, it takes more than a couple of hours of casual thinking to work out what you desire to achieve with your wealth; if you have young children: where you want them to go, who you want to take care of them, how you want them to be cared for, etc.; how you want to be cared for if, God forbid, you find yourself incapacitated and requiring long-term care or–forget you finding yourself incapacitated– . . . Suppose your relatives find you incapacitated and incapable of speech or communication: How shall they care for you?

These kinds of questions require some deep and serious thought. And even the most patient attorneys or other professionals–even if you could afford their fees–cannot draw your finessed thoughts out of you in a 2- or even 8-hour interview. And, I dare say, even a week-long retreat dedicated to these matters won’t quite do whatever-it-is you require to come to peace about your true thoughts and beliefs in these matters.

Hey. I’ve been working on my legacy plan–not full-time, but dedicating a few hours a week, on average–for close to three years, now. And, I am embarrassed to admit, my wife and I still haven’t gotten down to business on one of the most important pieces of the plan: the documentation (that would be so helpful to our executors) of where all our key papers are, the list of all our professional advisors, where our safe deposit boxes are and how to gain access, where all of our accounts are–and user names and passwords to gain access, etc., etc.

But this morning I realized there are other items I haven’t attended to as well–things I keep telling myself I really ought to do but simply haven’t gotten around to doing. For example–this is what I was reading about this morning–preparing for disasters, large or small.

I was reading a fantastic book I just purchased called The Ultimate Suburban Survivalist Guide by Sean Brodrick of Weiss Research. I’m bummed by his subtitle (“The Smartest Money Moves to Prepare for Any Crisis”). That is only a very small part of what the book is about and I knew that going in, based partially on what the advertising blurb I received told me about the book, but also based on some of the reviews I saw on Amazon.

The one that really caught my eye was this:

Over the years, I’ve lived through a large, disruptive earthquake in California, being snowed in for 3 days in Indiana, and now a 4-day power outage (complete with huge fallen trees in my yard) due to last week’s record snowfall in Dallas. [NOTE: This review was written on February 17, 2010. --JAH.] Each time, I patted myself on the back for my level of preparedness, but each time, I saw that there was room for improvement.

The irony of finding this book is that I didn’t find it until AFTER the power came back on!

All I can say is, I’ve doubled my knowledge, which I thought was pretty extensive. Most of my neighbors turned to me for help getting through this recent event. Most of them thought of it as a disaster; I thought of it as an inconvenience. After reading this book, I’m beginning to think of it as a minor inconvenience.

This is not some fringe, camo-wearing, wacko-survivalist author. . . . The book doesn’t preach doom and gloom. It makes you laugh and think about being ready for burps in the daily grind.

I haven’t gotten to any laughing parts, yet, but I agree that it is primarily about being prepared to meet everything from the two- and three-day disruptions in power about which we read with relative regularity, to some of the longer and larger-scale disasters both natural and human-made. And it is exceptionally practical, down-to-earth, and eminently do-able with great counsel not only for actions but also for attitudes (really practical advice, even–or, should I say, especially–for parents of young children). [How can you help keep your sanity if and when you take other people into your home during a disaster?]

Good stuff!

But I got thinking: “I’ve done some of this kind of preparation in the past. Some. But I need to do more.”

And that is when I got thinking about the subject of this post.

My extended family has talked about preparing for hard times, preparing for disasters, preparing, really, even, for minor disruptions in our lives. (My rheumatoid arthritis, diagnosed last June, has created several disruptions in my wife’s and my eating habits. We have become much more aware of the food we ingest. And not just the food itself, but the manner in which it is produced and processed before it gets to our table.)

But preparing for change is a long-term, ongoing, ever-refining experience. One grows into an understanding. One doesn’t suddenly master everything there is to know and do.

I was reminded of a truth I have stated many times with respect to our family’s company. In order to make certain changes, one must work with the new idea very much like a potter works with clay. When first handling the idea, it is as hard, unyielding, and difficult to manipulate as a brand-new hunk of clay. Only as a potter works the clay, rubbing the corners, mashing it, warming it up in her hands, rolling it around and around, stretching it a bit here and there . . . –only after a long period of such work does the clay become malleable enough to form into a useful pot, plate, bowl, or other object.

Similarly, I’ve found, with unfamiliar ideas and practices.

We created a holding company for our family’s business in the fall of 2003. The holding company was meant to help us multiply brands and opportunities.

It took well over two years before we held our first meeting (and we held meetings well over once a month!) in which, when we spoke of “the company,” we knew we were speaking of the holding company–the “big” company, the company that held all the other companies–rather than the large (but yet smaller than the holding company!) firm from which everything else had sprung.

It took over two years of monthly–and more frequent–”practice” to begin thinking in the “new” way.

I believe it is the same here.

If we are to master the issues we want to address in legacy planning; if we want to feel comfortable with our estate plans; if we want to be prepared for the disasters, big and small, in life; we have to practice. We have to begin the process. And as we practice, as we keep attempting to think and talk and write down our ideas about these matters, as we keep reading books and articles about these matters–these issues about which we desire to change our minds–we will . . . slowly . . . slowly . . . over a number of weeks and months and years . . . –We will, slowly, gain mastery. Our minds will change. And so will our actions. Just by “working the clay.”

Keep fighting. You will gain mastery.

As a certain prophet once said, you need to keep asking and keep seeking and keep knocking on the door of opportunity . . . and eventually your questions will be answered, you will find that which you are searching, and the door will be opened to you!

PS: I just found a great website about preparadeness. Really practical: and its blog. Good stuff!

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