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Sometimes we think we need a massive eureka moment to come to grips with who we want to be and what we want to do. We wait for the lighting strike that will completely redefine our lives and give us clear direction.
But the truth is, the greatest impact tends to come from hinge moments.
A hinge moment occurs when you are planning to do something standard and normal, something you’ve done many times before, like turn a key in the ignition. And then seemingly out of nowhere, something, a small detail usually, hinges you in a different direction. A chance encounter at the grocery store, a stranger’s random comment, one line in an article you read pushes you to a place you were not expecting to go. One such occurrence comes to mind from my own life.
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Mrs. Harris and My First Book
When people ask me when I knew I wanted to be a writer, this is the moment to which I most consistently point back. While living in Ipswich, Massachusetts, my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Harris, challenged me to write a book. I’m not sure why since the class was not writing books at the time. But regardless of the reason, she tasked me with writing a book and that’s exactly what I did. After school each afternoon, I wrote poetry on those brownish sheets of paper with the red and blue lines and mile-wide margins.
The poems weren’t great. I remember rhyming “fall” and “tall” an awful lot. We didn’t sell any copies. I didn’t walk away with a lightning-strike moment in those cold New England afternoons spent dulling my pencil. But it felt true. Even at that age, it felt like something I really liked doing and something I just assumed everyone else liked to do. (There’s a natural feeling to the things we’re called to that we often assume everyone else has.) Nothing dramatic happened with that book, except Mrs. Harris did a few things with it.
She laminated it. She bound it. She made me feel like I was a published author. That was monumental for me. She didn’t tell me I was an author. Those words never left her mouth. She didn’t write that on a note in the book. She simply put the book together and handed it to me.
Suddenly, I was an author. The lamination sealed it, literally and metaphorically. It meant the world to me and though I couldn’t tell you about anything I wrote for the next five years, that was a flare sent high up in the sky of my childhood. That was the very first hinge moment I can remember where I thought writing might be something I could do forever.
A Few Questions to Ask When Interviewing Hinge Moments
Looking back on it, the idea that a teacher would tell you she thought you were talented and actually use her free time to put together your first book is a stand-out moment. But not all hinges are that neon. Most of the time I think they’re a bit harder to recover. They’re buried sometimes and you have to unearth them. I think you can identify some of your hinge moments by knowing the right questions to ask.
1. What do I love enough to do for free?
That’s a cliché you sometimes hear in guidance counselors’ offices in high school, but it’s no less true. What would you do even if no one paid you for it? I blogged for about two years and didn’t make a dime. I didn’t need to. I wasn’t writing for money. I was writing because I am a writer and that’s what writers do.
2. What do I do that causes time to feel different?
When you really get engaged in your something, space and time seem to shift a little. You’ll sit down to do a little writing before dinner and the next time you look up it’s ten and you never ate. Time shifts when you’re doing what you love. Has that ever happened, and if so, what were you doing?
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3. What do I enjoy doing regardless of the opinions of other people?
Your dream can’t be powered by opinion or affirmation. It has to be bigger than the feedback of a peer or a coworker. What would you do even if no one ever told you they loved it?
4. If only your life changed, would that be enough?
If you killed yourself for years creating something and at the end of the experience, the only life that had changed was your own, would that be rewarding enough? If the experience was the lesson and the journey itself was the reward, would that be okay with you? Is there something that holds that sway for you?
5. Are there any patterns in the things you like doing?
If you’ve got a dream, chances are there’s not just one isolated hinge moment in your past. More than likely, you have a list of moments that are similar and related. What patterns can you see in the decisions you’ve made and the experiences you’ve loved?
Ask yourself those questions. Love yourself enough to actually write down your answers. And when you do, show them to someone you trust. Sometimes we’re so close to the painting we can’t tell what it is and we need someone else to point out the truth.
Excerpted from Quitter by Jon Acuff. Copyright 2011 Lampo Licensing, LLC. Published by The Lampo Press. Used with permission.