The Rule of Five

The Rule of Five

Jack Canfield Rule of FiveWhen Jack Canfield was trying to get Chicken Soup for the Soul off the ground, he asked a number of best-selling authors and publishing experts how he should go about it.

He received more advice than he could possibly act on, and soon found himself so overwhelmed him with options that he had no idea where to start.

Then a friend named Ron Scolastico said, “If you would go to a very large tree and take five swings at it with a very sharp ax, eventually, no matter how large the tree, it would have to come down.”

Out of this advice Canfield developed what he called The Rule of Five. Every day he would do 5 specific things that moved him toward the goal of getting Chicken Soup on the best seller list. It might be 5 radio interviews, or sending 5 books to reviewers, or calling 5 bookstores, and so on.

Eventually the ax felled the tree; two years after the book came out, it made the New York Times list, where it stayed for many months.

Where can you apply the Rule of Five in your life?

Can you make a 5 minute call of encouragement to one of your friends each day? Or send 5 Thank-You emails each morning? Or read 5 pages of a book? Or review 5 memory verses?

As you survey the areas of your life and ministry that present the greatest opportunities for growth, think about how Canfield’s Rule of Five can work in your favor. How can you take 5 strong swings at the tree day after day?

Solomon said, “He who works his land will have abundant food.” (Proverbs 12:11)

The Rule of Five is a great way to start working your land.

Today’s memo was updated from a previous post.

Attention to Detail

Attention to Detail

What does a Hall-of-Fame basketball coach teach his players about attention to detail?

John Wooden, legendary leader of the UCLA Bruins, won more championships than any other coach in history — 10 titles in 12 years. Which steps did he take to ensure his players’ top-level performance?

For one thing, he taught them how to put on their socks.

No kidding.

Each season Coach Wooden showed his players how to prevent sock-wrinkles around the little toe and the heel, and how to lace up their shoes with a double-knot. The idea was to prevent blisters, because in the closing minutes of a close game, the player without blisters performs better. This seemingly insignificant adjustment contributed, in a small way, to an impressive string of National Championships.

Attention to detail, Wooden would say, creates success in basketball, in business and in life. His focus on the fundamentals — running drills and executing plays — gave his team confidence on the court, and made them all but impossible to beat.

For this reason, Wooden never had to resort to pep talks or tirades. He just helped each player excel at the basics, because excelling at the basics wins ball games.


Paul said to the Corinthians, “Hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.” (1Corinthians 11:2) He prefaced this statement with “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”

The basics of spiritual growth are the same for all Christians: For new believers as well as old saints, for high profile ministers as well as those who serve in obscurity. Maintaining a dynamic spiritual life requires the same effort from all, regardless of nationality, or income, or influence, or education.

There are no tricks and no short-cuts to this process. The only way to excel in the Christian life is to do the basics: daily prayer, daily Bible study, daily worship, daily service, and daily fellowship.

These are the fundamentals of the faith, and we never outgrow our need for them.

Spending time alone in prayer, or memorizing a verse, or visiting a lonely person may sometimes seem as exciting as putting on your socks, but when you do it right it opens the door to greatness.

Jesus said, “You have been faithful in a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23)

The Lord is in the details. This week, remember the basics; God will reward you for your faithfulness.

Today’s memo was updated from a previous post.


Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Persistence: Charles GoodyearToday’s memo (a repeat from a few years back) is about a man with a decades-long history of failure.

His name was Charles. You really can’t say that his friends called him Charlie because he got to the point where he didn’t have any friends.

After failing in business, Charles borrowed some money from the bank to pursue a new idea. But the new idea failed.

He borrowed money from friends, and failed again.

And then he borrowed from relatives, but he continued to fail.

Pretty soon he owed money to everyone he knew, with no way to pay it back.

He believed he was on the verge of a major breakthrough, but found it difficult to focus on developing his ideas because he was constantly hounded by creditors.

Charles sought protection through the bankruptcy laws, but failed to keep his payment arrangements, ultimately landing him in jail. During this time, with fewer distractions, he was able to make progress, developing his idea almost to completion.

A few more years, a few more loans, a few more mistakes, and eventually he attained the success he had sought for so long.

Charles’ business invention had to do with a process for vulcanizing rubber. His last name, by the way, was Goodyear. His elusive idea helped you get to work today.

Early in life, Charles Goodyear made a decision never to quit — to try again, and then again, as many times as it takes. He wasn’t particularly good with managing money, and he often stretched himself too thin, but he never let failure — or his own faults — hold him back.

He refused to give up, long after everyone else had given up on him.  Finally, Charles Goodyear’s persistence paid off.

It’s a decision only the truly courageous can make: Allowing no fault or failure, personal or professional, to persuade you to quit, or prevent you from getting back up and reaching for the prize one more time.

This is where great lives are made. It’s where breakthroughs are achieved.

It’s where the rubber meets the road.

For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes. (Proverbs 24:16)

Today’s memo is from Steve’s book, It’s All in the Dailies.

Greatness Within Reach

Greatness Within Reach

A quote from Martin Luther King to remind us what greatness really is.

“Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love…”

His words echo the words of Christ…

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” (Mark 10:43)

Today, and every day, we each have the capacity for greatness, for one simple reason: We each have the capacity to serve.

Success may be ever elusive, but greatness never is. It’s as simple as doing something for someone other than yourself, as often as you can: your family, your co-workers, customers, and clients, and even those you may never personally know — greatness exists in your willingness to serve.

Today’s post was adapted from a sermon at Preaching Library.

The Roll Call of Responsibility

You remember the story of Nehemiah, the slave to the Babylonian king who went on to rebuild the crumbling wall surrounding the city of Jerusalem.

Nehemiah’s story is a lesson in leadership, as he recruited the help of the whole city, asking all to to do their part.

Chapter 3 is a summary of those who finished each section they were assigned: Eliashib and his fellow priests rebuilt the Sheep Gate. The sons of Hassenaah rebuilt the Fish Gate. Joiada repaired the Old Gate. And so on.

You could say that if Hebrews 11 is the roll call of faith, Nehemiah 3 is the roll call of responsibility.

However, one verse in this chapter sticks out:

The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors. (Nehemiah 3:5)

I can imagine that the nobles were the type that didn’t mind helping supervise the project, but they weren’t inclined to, as Nehemiah says, “put their shoulders to the work.”

I guess we all have experience with someone like that — someone who could pinpoint the problem, but was of no real use in bringing about a solution. Someone who saw themselves as being just a little above the hands-on effort required to complete the task.

British General Alan Brooke said, “It is child’s play deciding what should be done as compared with getting it done.”

This is what many leaders look for more than anything else when hiring an employee or placing someone in a position of leadership: the ability to get things done.

It’s also a characteristic effective parents want to see instilled in their children.

And it’s a quality we should all try to build in ourselves.

The best leaders do more than diagnose the problem. They take the steps necessary to make the problem go away.

Where To Begin

Someone once offered this advice for those seeking to accomplish good in this life:

“Start by doing what’s necessary, then do what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

(I say ‘someone’ said it, because it’s attributed to almost everyone. Whoever deserves the credit, it’s a good quote.)

I imagine we all have a few projects on our to-do list that could be classified as impossible. Or maybe they just feel that way — requiring more energy and more resources than we can currently muster.

No matter how beyond-your-grasp the task may seem, the solution is the same: Do what must be done, then do what can be done.

Eventually, looking back, you’ll see that you’ve accomplished what “they” said (and you thought) couldn’t be done.

The process always begins with facing the most necessary task of the day.

A quote from Andy Stanley comes to mind: “We don’t drift in good directions. We discipline and prioritize ourselves there.”

David said this about priorities:

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

He’s not talking about counting our days, as it’s been said, but making our days count.

How do we do it?

“Start by doing what’s necessary, then do what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

New Year

Are You Disappointed Yet?

Each New Year often begins with a wave of optimism: out with old, in with the new … this time around it will be different because this time we’ve made a list … and then it’s only a matter of days before life gets in the way and reality sets in.

It will certainly happen, and maybe soon: At some point we’ll see it’s easier to abandon resolutions than to keep them.

The experts say this typically happens somewhere toward the end of January (New Year’s Resolution D-Day, they call it), but it can happen as early as yesterday.

Suddenly we realize there’s more work involved. The habit didn’t automatically go away, the relationship wasn’t magically transformed, the problem didn’t immediately disappear just because the calendar changed.

What do we do then?

We re-affirm the most essential resolution of them all — one that isn’t limited to a New Year’s list. This one can be made at any time, on any day of the year. It’s the resolution to try again, even when the effort isn’t as effortless as we want it to be.

Solomon reminds us (Proverbs 24:16) that though a righteous person falls seven times, they will get back up.

Creating lasting change in your life is never as easy as it looks in the movies. It requires a commitment to set aside our momentary feelings of discouragement, turn our backs on the temptation to call it quits, and try one more time.

Therefore… let’s rid ourselves of every obstacle and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

There’s no doubt that this year can be your year … if you’re ready to resolve to try again.

When the Director Yells ‘Action’

Imagine you’re on a movie set.

The director yells “action.” The actor delivers the line. The director yells “Cut.” The angle wasn’t quite right. Adjustments are made and they try again.

The director yells “action.” The actor delivers the line. This time he fumbles a phrase. The director yells “cut” and they try again.

The director yells “action.” The actor delivers the line. Again, the director yells “cut.” We’re getting a shadow. Let’s try again.

The director yells “action.” The actor delivers the line. “Cut, cut, cut.” The words were right, but there’s something missing. We need to feel it more. Let’s try again.

The director yells “action.” The actor delivers the line. The director yells “cut.” Not bad, this time. I think we can use this one, but let’s do a few more, just in case.

It can be exhausting, saying the same words again and again, expressing the same emotion again and again, striving for the same result again and again.

This is why Randall Wallace, screenwriter of Braveheart, said that the most exciting day of your life is your first day on a movie set, and the most boring day of your life is your second day on a movie set. Making movies is tedious work.

Is it worth it? Any actor would say, “Yes!”

Our lives are made up of one take after another, one attempt after another to do our job and meet our obligations and fulfill our purpose with excellence.

How many takes does it take to get it right?

It takes as many as it takes.

Sometimes it all comes together on the first try. And sometimes you have try again and again and again.

Others see only the end result. But we know what was left on the cutting room floor. We know it’s not always as easy as it looks.

Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Every day is a new day. A new take. A new chance to get it right, to deliver the performance of our lives. This day deserves the best you have to give.

Are you ready?


And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. (2 Thessalonians 3:13)

Hebrews 10:36

Which Will It Be?

In a boxing match, when a fighter is too beat up to continue, what does he do?

Instead of getting back into the ring when the bell signals the next round, he tosses in his towel. The towel admits defeat. It says, “I quit. I lose. I’m done.”

But there’s another phrase from the world of boxing to consider.

In the good old days, it used to be that spectators at a boxing match would be invited to come out of the stands and have a go at one of the pros.

In the noisy, smoke-filled arena, some courageous man would make it official by throwing his hat into the ring. The only way to get it back was to step onto the canvas and take on the champ.

In other words, to throw your hat into the ring was to accept a challenge from which you could not back down.

I think you know where I’m going with this.

Each day, in every area of your life that matters, you hold in one hand your hat, in the other hand a towel.

Each day, by your actions and your attitudes, you throw one or the other into the ring.

It’s either your towel or hat.

Which will it be today?

Make it your hat.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10:36)

Settling in for the Long Haul

When John Grisham got the idea to write his first novel, he was a practicing attorney with a heavy caseload and the full-time obligations of family life.

He had a story that he wanted to tell, but there was no easy way to get it done. He knew he couldn’t crank out a novel in a few short weeks, like Stephen King and James Patterson seem to do.

So he decided to do what he could: he would go to the office an hour early each day and write one page.

One page a day. This way, he could finish his first draft in about a year.

And that’s how it played out.

The book was called A Time to Kill. It found its way to a publisher, became a best-seller, and then a popular movie, and it launched an impressive writing career.

This happened because John Grisham made the intentional choice to settle in for the long haul, focused on doing today what needs to be done.

This means that on the days he didn’t feel like writing, he wrote anyway.

And when he wasn’t sure what should happen next in the story, he kept on writing.

When countless agents and publishers said “No thanks” to his first round of queries, he continued to write.

He settled in for the long haul.

There’s a verse in Proverbs that speaks to this.

Steady plodding brings prosperity; hasty speculation brings poverty. (Proverbs 21:5)

It may not seem all that exciting, but if you have any hope of accomplishing what you hope to accomplish, or any hope of becoming the person you hope to become, today just might be mainly about plodding along.

Attention to Detail

Practice Days

In his book Today Matters, John Maxwell talks about asking legendary basketball coach John Wooden, who had won 10 NCAA championships while at UCLA, what he missed most about coaching.

Wooden’s response?


He missed practice the most.

He said, “What you do in practice determines your level of success. I used to tell my players, ‘You have to give 100% everyday. Whatever you don’t give, you can’t make up for tomorrow. If you give only 75% today, you can’t give 125% tomorrow to make up for it.'”

Much of what we’ll do today could be labeled ‘practice,’ though we’re more likely to call it preparation: preparing for the next meeting, the next message, the next service.

It’s amazing how much life consists of getting ready. Wooden’s words remind us that we don’t have the luxury of coasting through these “non-game days.”

Even our practice days deserve 100%.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. (Colossians 3:23)

Gratitude-Inspired Excellence

In 2015 Duke University head basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski implemented a powerful strategy that would give his players an extra motivational push as they prepared for March Madness.

He designated a special team ball, and asked everyone — coaches and players — to sign the ball with the names of those who had helped them get to where they are in life. They wrote the names of coaches and teachers and pastors and parents and friends and family members, until dozens of people were represented.

And then they took it with them everywhere: team meals, airplane trips, in the classroom, in the locker room.

Significantly, the ball’s existence wasn’t public knowledge. It wasn’t intended to attract outside attention. It was intended to challenge the team to perform with gratitude-inspired excellence throughout the remainder of the season.

It worked.

After the Blue Devils had won yet another national championship, everyone whose name had been written on the ball received a special note: “Thanks! You were with us every step of the way!” [You can read more about Krzyzewski’s gratitude strategy here.]


There are, without a doubt, at least a few people in your life for whom you could say, “I thank God every time I think of you.”

What if you were to make a memento — a whiteboard, a blank page in the back of your Bible, or even a porcelain coffee mug — and cover it with the names of those who have helped you become the person you are?

What if you made it a point to live each day in pursuit of gratitude-inspired excellence?

Can you imagine the kind of championship you might win?