The Best Time to Plant a Tree…

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.

The botanical basis of this proverb is clear enough. Because it takes a long time to grow a tree, to have a nice-sized tree today, one should have planted it 20 years ago. But the second part of the proverb makes it clear that there is no sense in putting off planting a tree into the future because they take so long to grow. In fact, because they take so long to grow, the sooner they are planted the better, and planting a tree today is preferable to planting one next week.

I’ve always liked this proverb and find it applies to many common dilemmas. The best time to resolve a disagreement with a family member or friend was probably the day after the disagreement. The next best time is today.  The best time to see a doctor about a worrisome symptom was probably the day after you noticed the symptom. The next best time is today. The best time to start a large project at work or a term paper at school was shortly after the task was assigned. The next best time is today.

In many of these cases, the fact that one missed the “best” time may make it more difficult to do the task today. If it’s been a long time since you’ve spoken to a friend or family member, you may feel the need to explain the delay, or to explain why you chose now to contact them now. Someone afraid to see a doctor about a nagging symptom when it was first noticed, may feel that much more trepidation addressing it now, fearing that the condition may have worsened in the interim. And procrastinating on a project tends to make the project loom larger in the imagination the longer it’s been put off.

But the proverb says today is the second best day to plant the tree. Today is not a bad day for planting; today is not too late.  In fact, today is the second best of all possible days, the Silver Medal of days. And so much better than never.

The friend will not become easier to contact by letting more time go by. The symptom may not go away on its own and may get worse if not attended to. The project will become more difficult if the deadline looms.  If you already missed your chance for the Gold Medal of days, be glad today you still have the chance to take the Silver.

One final example – the best time to re-start a lapsed blog was the week after a missed post. The next best time was today. So that’s what I did.

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Mid-week Share: Eleanor Roosevelt Quote

Eleanor Roosevelt“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”

Eleanor Roosevelt


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“It Doesn’t Get Any Easier, You Just Get Faster”

“It doesn’t get any easier, you just get faster” said Greg LeMond, the first American to win the Tour de France.   In the context of cycling, his meaning is clear enough.  A novice cyclist rides hard in training, and this makes him or her a faster rider.  Further training, which is still hard work, is needed to become even faster.  LeMond tells us this process does not stop, even at the elite level of the Tour de France rider.

Though LeMond may not have meant anything more profound when he said it, to me this is an important observation about life in general.  Many of us hope or even expect our lives will become easy after we complete a particular goal or pass over some specific hurdle in our path.  We hope our finances will improve after our next promotion, that our relationship will improve after we are married, or that we will be able to eat what we want once we achieve our weight-loss goal.

Once we are over the hurdle, we are disappointed to find that our life is still hard; we find we have new challenges to face.  Our new job requires us to work more hours, or to interact with a difficult new boss.  We move in with our romantic partner and discover quirks and idiosyncrasies we hadn’t been exposed to earlier.  We find we still need to watch what we eat and exercise, even after we reach our target weight.  Weight-loss folk hero Jared Fogle (Jared the Subway guy), who lost 245 pounds on his diet of Subway sandwiches, thinks a failure to understand this point is main reason why so many people are able to lose weight but then fail to keep it off.

I posit there are two ways we can change the way we look at this pattern, and by doing so increase our satisfaction with our lives.

First, it’s all too easy to focus on the “hey, it didn’t get any easier” part of these changes in our lives and not even see the “I got faster” part.  OK, your new boss is difficult.  But are you more satisfied with what you can accomplish in your new position than the old one?  Are you enjoying the raise that came with the position?  OK, there are new challenges in living together, but has your relationship become closer?  Don’t you get to spend more time with the person you love?  OK, you still need to watch what you eat even at your target weight, but don’t you enjoy how you look and feel at your new weight?

Of course “not easier” does not always equate to “faster”.   In cycling, it is possible to train hard and yet still not improve in performance.  In this case, we would immediately recognize there was something wrong with the rider’s current training program, and alter it.  For example, perhaps the rider is overtraining and needs more rest between workouts.

Similarly, in our lives, if something is difficult but does not have consummate benefits, perhaps we need to alter our plan.  But in our lives, this may not be as easy to recognize or to accept as in the case of the cyclist.  If your new job is more stressful, but no more satisfying or rewarding, perhaps it is time to look for a different one.  If a relationship becomes more difficult as you become closer, perhaps you are not with the right person.  If your diet is too difficult to sustain over a long time, maybe it’s time for a different weight-loss approach.

And of course there are some situations, such as regaining our health after an injury, when our life may actually become easier after clearing a particular hurdle.  But I think these are actually few and far between.

My second point, and perhaps the more important one, is to question – why would we hope for our lives to be easy?  Would we really be happy then?  For example, many of us aspire to clear our “to do” lists down to zero.  We imagine if we only had a few days off to “catch up” we could do so, and that our lives would then be easier and less stressful.  When a holiday weekend comes up, yet we are still unable to clear out our “to do” list, we are frustrated and dissatisfied.  But this is based on a misunderstanding of the purpose of a “to do” list, and in my opinion, a less-than-ideal approach to life.

Our “to do” list should never reach empty.  What would that mean if it did? What will happen to an employee or business that has no plans to make further improvements?  What happens to a relationship that is neglected?  What will result if we achieve a health goal, then make no further effort to improve, or even maintain, our health?  An empty “to do” list would mean we would have no more goals, no more improvements to make, no more challenges to overcome, and no more accomplishments planned.  It would mean the beginning of the slow death of our business, our relationships, and even of our very life itself.

No, just as we should not hope to have our “to do” list ever completely clear, we should neither hope for nor expect an easy life in this sense.  As we accomplish a goal, we should be ready to begin another, perhaps more challenging one.  As we clear a hurdle, we should pick up speed for the next one.  In short, we should accept that life “doesn’t get any easier, but we just get faster” and enjoy the ride.

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Mid-week Share: Leonard Pitts Jr. on Our Perceptions of Race

My favorite columnist, Leonard Pitts Jr., comments this week on the Jeremy Lin phenomena in his piece “‘Lin-sanity’ offers lessons for young African Americans”:

Read his column before my comment…







“…the most admirable thing about him is neither his scoring nor his assists, but, rather, the fact that he refused to allow other people to define him. He knew he was capable of things they’d never expect or believe. And guess what?

So are you.”

His column and these words were directed to “young African-Americans”, and I understand why, but really, aren’t these words and his ideas in this column applicable to us all?

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Mid-week Share: Joke

I heard this joke from real-estate and financial author Robert Allen:

A farmer is standing next to a thriving field.

A preacher walks up and says “That’s a mighty fine farm you and God have here together”.

The farmer replies “You should have seen it when God had it all by himself”. believes God helps those who helps themselves.

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Set a Goal, Take an Action

How do one’s dreams turn into reality?  Through the actions one takes toward achieving them.  Self-help guru Tony Robbins likes to say “never leave the site of making a goal without taking an action toward this goal”, or as I’ve reworded it, making it a mantra easy to repeat to yourself, “Set a goal, take an action”.  This is a powerful way to overcome procrastination and to start making your dreams real.

This simple mantra helps to get you over the hump from “planning to do something” to “doing something”.  This threshold is psychologically huge, as it changes you from “planner” to “doer”, but the step one takes to crossover needn’t be.  For example, you have a goal to start an exercise program.  You’ve been thinking about doing so for weeks, months, or maybe even years.  “Set a goal, take an action”.  If you want to start an exercise program, step away from this computer, go outside and walk away from your house for 10 minutes, then return.  I’ll wait.




Did you do it?  If so, you have just changed your identity, from “couch potato” to “walker” or “novice runner”, in just 20 minutes.

And the action one takes need not be difficult or time consuming.  The idea is to take any concrete action to make any amount of progress, and thus change your identity and mindset.  To continue with the exercise example, rather that a 20 minutes walk, first action steps could have been:  calling a gym to inquire about membership fees, putting your bicycle in the back of your car to bring it to the bike repair shop, or calling a friend to set a date to go exercise together.  “Set a goal, take an action”.  A student wanting to improve in class by reading their textbook might get out their book and read for just 15 minutes; one wanting to improve by joining a study group might call or text classmates to see who was interested.  “Set a goal, take an action”.  First action steps can be a simple as researching something related to your goal online, going to a bookstore and buying a book on the topic, or scheduling a specific time for something on your calendar.

The benefits of “Set a goal, take an action” are at least three-fold.  Most obviously, but perhaps least importantly, you will have accomplished this actual step.  You have done 20 minutes of light exercise, read your text for 15 minutes, or bought the book.

Secondly, and more importantly, by taking this action, you get a feeling of accomplishment.  This feels good and increases your self-esteem and self-efficacy.  This provides mental energy and builds momentum toward your next step.

Thirdly, and most subtly but perhaps most importantly, you change your identity.  Because you have seen yourself take this step, you change your self-image.  This is may be subconscious, and that’s fine, though it may also be conscious.  You can’t quite view yourself as a 100% couch potato when you’ve just returned from a walk.  You see yourself and just slightly less of a slacker and slightly more studious after that 15 minutes of textbook time.   And this change in self-image will also make it easier to take your next step.

Once you have taken that first step at the time you set the goal, each day try to take one more step toward the goal.  Self-help author Brian Tracy emphasizes the value of daily progress.  Again, on any given day, it can be a small step.  The idea is to make forward progress and to accumulate momentum as well as accomplishment.  If all goes well, you will develop a “virtuous cycle” of action-accomplishment-improved self-image-further action-further accomplishment-further improved self-image.

But it starts with taking that first action.  And the best time for that, is at the very moment you declare your goal.  “Set a goal, take an action”.

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Mid-week Share: First Follower: Lessons from Dancing Guy by Derek Sivers

Derek says an unrecognized kind of leadership is to be a “first follower” and explains using a very amusing video.

I also like his blog at

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Mid-week Share: “The First Grader”

Trailer for the movie “The First Grader”:

Imdb’s summary: “The true story of an 84 year-old Kenyan villager and ex Mau Mau freedom fighter who fights for his right to go to school for the first time to get the education he could never afford.”

If an 84 year old is willing to go to grade school to reach his goals (learning to read), what are you willing to do to reach yours?

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Twin brothers work on King Neptune at the annual sand sculpture contest at Revere Beach.  Photo credit courtesy of boston_camera from

Last week I mentioned a future post will discuss nature/nurture and intelligence.  Much of the evidence used in this type of discussions is based on studies of twins.  I thought it would be worthwhile to first discuss the nature of twins.

Normally, a woman releases one mature egg ready to be fertilized by a sperm each monthly cycle.  Normally the egg’s outer layers only allow one sperm to combine with the egg.  The sperm and the egg each carry 23 chromosomes of DNA, so most human cells have 46 chromosomes, and for most genes the contribution from the two parents is equal.

In preparing to release one mature egg, a woman actually starts to prepare a handful of pre-eggs (technical name: primary oocytes).  Sometimes, by accident, two of these may be allowed to mature to the stage where they are ready for a sperm.  If two eggs are matured and released at once, and if both are fertilized by their own sperm, fraternal, or non-identical twins are formed.  This may also occur if both ovaries mature one egg during the same cycle.  Normally the two ovaries alternate months, cycle by cycle.

Note that each member of a fraternal twin pair was formed from a separate egg and sperm combination, just like siblings are normally formed from separate egg and sperm combinations.  So genetically, fraternal twins are no different than other sibling pairs.  They may or may not be of the same gender, and they will share an average of 50% of their genes in common, just like any other pair of siblings.  They are only different from other sibling pairs in that they were both in utero (in the uterus or womb) at the same time.

Identical twins are formed very differently. The formation of identical twins begins with a single egg fertilized by a single sperm, making a single embryo.  At this point, the process is no different than the normal development of a single, non-twin child.  But sometime during the first days of this single embryo’s development, it splits in two.  It is not known why or precisely how this happens.  If this happens early enough, then each separate piece of embryo can develop on its own into a complete, normal human.  Thus identical twins are born.  As they literally were once a single embryo, identical twins are truly 100% genetically identical.

Interestingly this is also related to the origin of one type of conjoined twins (the preferred term for “Siamese twins”).  Conjoined twins can be formed if this splitting process occurs incompletely.  The divided part of them embryo develops as if it were forming identical twins, while the undivided part develops as if it were forming a single individual.

The basic logic of using twins in nature/nurture studies goes like this:  Identical twins are 100% genetically identical, and are born at the same time and (usually) raised in the same family.  Fraternal twins are on average 50% genetically identical, and are born at the same time and (usually) raised in the same family.  If identical twins pairs are alike in a trait, say intelligence or being an alcoholic, more often than fraternal twin pairs, it suggests genetics plays some role in that trait.  If identical twin pairs are alike at the same rate as fraternal twins, then genetics likely plays no role in that trait.

Also there are cases of identical twins separated at birth, e.g. by adoption.  They can be compared to non-related pairs of people of the same age, or better to fraternal twins separated at birth.  Again, if the identical twin pairs are more like than the comparison pairs, this suggests a role of genetics in the trait.

As the human embryo retains the ability to form any and all cell types through its first several divisions, it is possible to have identical triplets, or more, although these are much rarer than identical twins.  There is even a case of surviving identical quintuplets, the Dionne sisters born in 1935 and shown in this 1947 photo (photo credit: wikipedia commons):

On a personal note, my father and my uncle are identical twins.  Fortunately, there are just the two of them, though.

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Mid-week Share: California High School Student Devises Cancer Cure

Starting today, each week I will share a link, video or quote.

This week, a story from CBS News: California High School Student Devises Possible Cancer Cure.  Enjoy.

I’m inclined to wonder – if two years ago she told her parents or teachers what she planned, what would their reaction have been?  And how many others may there be who could have been like her, but were discouraged when they shared their dreams?

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