Main Religion

On Patricia Holland’s Passing

We were sad to hear of Sister Holland’s passing on Thursday.

I was really impressed by Sheri Dew’s tribute to Sister Holland, including this:

Few women have influenced me for as long or with as much impact as did Sister Patricia Terry Holland.

Her influence began decades ago. During the 1980s, when she served both as a counselor in the Young Women general presidency and as first lady of BYU, she spoke frequently. Often this was in BYU’s Marriott Center in what became known, affectionately, as the “Jeff and Pat Show,” when she and her husband, BYU President Jeffrey R. Holland, shared the pulpit at BYU devotionals. I quickly learned to pay attention to anything and everything she had to say. She seemed so young but was so wise. Pat Holland had a way of looking at life, as well as teaching the gospel, that spoke to me. I found myself hanging on her every word.

I’ve heard several talks from Sister Holland, but I’m sure not all of them. This made me want to go back and listen to them.

So, I created a podcast feed of all of Sister Holland’s talks from BYU, from 1980 to 1989, plus one in 2022. The podcast starts today, publishing 1 talk per day for 19 days, each loaded directly from BYU Speeches. There are 9 talks with Elder Holland, and 10 on her own.

To subscribe, paste the following URL into your podcast app:

If you haven’t done this before, do a search online for “Add podcast by URL in [your podcast app, e.g. Apple Podcasts]”. For example, in Apple Podcasts, go to Library then “Follow a Show by URL”. In the Overcast app, click “+” at the top right, then “Add URL”.

Sister Holland has of course spoken many more times, including recorded talks not included in this feed, such as 3 talks at BYU-Idaho, RootsTech 2021, and at a faith- and hope-filled devotional for young adults just 6 months ago. But I’m excited to review her 19 BYU speeches.


RootsTech 2023

This is a big week for us: RootsTech week! RootsTech is the biggest family history conference in the world, held here in Salt Lake City. I’ll have a booth there for Goldie May, my genealogy research app. If you’re in town, come visit us in the expo hall (it’s free) at booth 215.

For everyone outside of Utah, you can watch RootsTech online for free. Speakers include Sean Astin (Goonies, Rudy, LOTR), Jordin Sparks (American Idol season 6), and a variety of family history speakers.

If you’re attending classes in person, I’m speaking Saturday at 8am with Joe Price and Cameron Briggs about community projects. These are projects to improve the FamilySearch Tree for your community or a community you care about.

Gratitude Main Principles

Gratitude is in Seeing and Remembering

Happy Thanksgiving!

Your gratitude depends on seeing and remembering — what you see in life’s events and what you choose to remember.

Here’s a great quote from Henry J. Eyring, president of BYU-Idaho:

“I know of no better way…than by keeping personal records, especially written ones. It’s easier and more rewarding than you might think. You don’t need formal training in writing. And you don’t have to write every day or capture all of any one day’s events. I’ve found it useful to focus on just a few notable events and feelings…

“Moreover, you don’t have to be strictly true to reality. In fact, one of the blessings of journal keeping is the opportunity to think critically about what really has happened during your day. By habit, I try to be slightly more optimistic and generous than an unbiased observer would be. In particular, I’m predisposed to give others the benefit of the doubt. It helps to see their good intentions, and to congratulate them on their efforts, even if the outcomes aren’t extraordinary. You can recognize the opposition they face, and portray them in glowing, even heroic terms.

“I would encourage you to do the same for yourself. Take credit for what you have learned as you acted, not necessarily the way things turned out. See the would-be hero in yourself. Give yourself credit for acts of kindness and moments of courage. And look for the subtle charms of daily events. Make the weather a little milder and the scenery a bit prettier.

“As Sister Eyring and our children will attest, that is the way I write my journal. Life is an epic journey, like those undertaken in Middle Earth or Narnia, by seemingly ordinary characters who are in fact heroes-in-the-making, destined to rise above all opposition. To avoid cynicism from your children, you can make the excuse I do. The subtitle of my journal is ‘Based on a True Story.'”

Rising Above Opposition

Getting Things Done Main

Two Ways to Think about Self-Improvement

Photo by Kevin Miller
Photo by Kevin Miller

A few months ago I realized I don’t like setting goals. However, I admire people who work this way. “I’m preparing for a triathlon next summer.” For some people, a triathlon next summer is the best way to run on the treadmill today.

If you like to set goals, you are outcome-focused. The outcomes are explicit; the actions are implicit.

The alternative (and my preference) is to focus directly on daily, weekly, and monthly actions and habits. “Read a good book every day.” “Visit the gym three times per week.”

If you like to focus on habits and routines, you are action-focused. The actions are explicit; the outcomes are implicit.

But without a goal, how do you know your gym time will make you ready for a triathlon? I don’t know. But that approach doesn’t work for me. Incidentally, I don’t signup for triathlons. (But it sounds like a fun mindset if you have it.)

Outcome focus is top-down. This is Stephen Covey’s approach in Seven Habits where he describes “beginning with the end in mind”.

Once you have that sense of mission, you have the essence of your own proactivity. You have the vision and the values which direct your life. You have the basic direction from which you set your long- and short-term goals. You have the power of a written constitution based on correct principles, against which every decision concerning the most effective use of your time, your talents, and your energies can be effectively measured. (pp. 108-109)

Action focus is bottom-up. This is David Allen’s approach in Getting Things Done:

I have discovered over the years the practical value of working on personal productivity improvement from the bottom up, starting with the most mundane, ground-floor level of current activity and commitments. Intellectually, the most appropriate way ought to be to work from the top down…. The trouble is, however, that most people are so embroiled in commitments on a day-to-day level that their ability to focus successfully on the larger horizon is seriously impaired. Consequently, a bottom-up approach is usually more effective. (pp. 19-20)

By the way, does the action focus cause more discouragement? What if I want to read a good book everyday, but I didn’t read yesterday? I prefer to think of goals, of any type, as prospective not retrospective. Goals drive your future behavior. They’re not a stick to beat yourself with.

Both approaches lead to what you are becoming. “I want to be an avid reader.” “I want to be a patient person.” No matter what approach you take, it seems important to focus on what you are becoming.

Thanks to Kevin Miller, James Miller, and Brian Henderson for conversations that led to this post.

Character Main

Independently Strong

Three years ago I read a weight training book that was more influential on me than I expected.


According to the book, called “Training for Mass” by Gordon La Velle, weight training is best done at high intensity. You might think all weight training is high-intensity. High-intensity training (HIT) is a particular flavor of weight training that advocates deliberate, intense action, in a short workout, to stimulate muscle growth. While some people who lift weights may spend hours at the gym, several times per week, with multiple sets per exercise, Training for Mass says this is overkill. It’s unnecessary at best, and may cause burnout or injury at worst. What’s needed is just one “work set” per muscle group, once per week. But it must be very intense.

“The higher intensity, the greater the growth stimulation. Within the realm of weight training, where muscular growth itself is the objective, the ability to generate a high level of intensity is the most critical factor under your control.” (p. 33)

Source: Flickr user mjzitek
Source: Flickr user mjzitek

Contrast the objective of muscular growth with the objective of appearing strong. If my goal is only to appear strong, there are certainly ways to fake it:

  • Assisted repetitions — An assisted repetition is when your friend helps you lift the bar. “If someone is helping you lift the weights, it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in physics to deduce that the weight you’re lifting is equal to the mass of the weight minus the force being applied by the helper….” (p. 111)
  • Cheating — Cheating is to use bouncing, or momentum, or a change in your body position to lift more weight than normal. Not good. “[There] should be no bouncing, swinging, or using any other deliberate technique meant to increase the momentum of the lift. Any momentum present in the lift should come only from the simple linear movement of the weight.” (p. 107)

(Technical note: There is a place for assisted reps and cheating — on the very last repetition. Because it’s harder to raise weight than to lower weight, our muscles burn out on the raising part of a repetition (“concentric contraction”) before they burn out on the lowering part (“eccentric contraction”). When you can no longer lift on your own, assistance or cheating, if it can be done safely, can be used to raise the weight one more time, and then you should lower the weight entirely on your own.)

If your goal is muscular growth and you’ve been using assists or cheats (for more than the last rep), it’s better to reduce the weight, and the *appearance* of strength, and use a weight you can actually lift on your own.

“Why don’t these lifters just go lighter and lift the weight themselves, at least before reaching failure? This seems like it would make a whole lot more sense. Inflated egos might be the culprit here, since the lifters may want to appear to be lifting heavier weights.” (p. 111)

Source: Flickr user Pete Bellis
Source: Flickr user Pete Bellis


Suppose we think of our character as a muscle. How could the above principles change our mindset about the development of character?

One of my favorite quotes of all time is from D. Todd Christofferson:

“[God] is endeavoring to make us independently strong — more able to act for ourselves than perhaps those of any prior generation.”

To me, “independently strong” is different from “appearing to be strong” or “strong when assisted.” I don’t know that we can expect to have character that’s chiseled and solid without actually lifting heavy weight. When the weight is heavy and it feels like there’s no Trainer assisting, maybe that’s on purpose.

A friend recently told me that 2013 has been the hardest year of his life. If we had been leaving the gym, and he had said this was the hardest *workout* of his life, I would have congratulated him. Maybe hard days and hard years are cause for congratulations. If you’re having the hardest year of your life, maybe you’re becoming the strongest you’ve ever been.

UPDATE on May 17, 2014: Elder David A. Bednar has an excellent talk on burdens: Bear Up Their Burdens with Ease