How Gratitude Can Change Your Life

adult-backlit-beach-320007Have you ever noticed how people experiencing the same thing can react so differently? Why is it that some who face a loss or disappointment maintain a surprisingly upbeat spirit, while others wallow in self-pity or anger? Some seemingly shrug it off while others are consumed by it. Some battle through it, sustained by their resilience, hope, and faith, while others suffer from feelings of entitlement or victimhood. Same situations; polar opposite reactions.

For most of us, it’s more natural to struggle when adversity strikes—at least initially. After all, we may feel hurt, disappointed, lonely, scared, or angry. That’s why people who are able to stay positive, even under life’s most difficult trials, really stand out.

Do these people have a special ingredient? I believe they do, and that ingredient is gratefulness. Regardless of their circumstances, grateful people find a way to call on their blessings and appreciate what they have. They choose to see the glass as half full. They are sustained by hope. They view adversity as a challenge and an opportunity for growth. And, despite living in a materialistic world, they don’t allow economic circumstances to dictate their happiness. (In my experience, this is the most common takeaway from students who go on mission trips.)

Those of us who are surrounded by parents, family members, teachers, mentors, and coaches who model this character trait are much more likely to be grateful than those who are not. Gratitude has a way of “rubbing off” on others because it is such an inspirational and admirable virtue. As you self reflect on your “gratitude quotient,” consider the following proven benefits:

  1. Gratitude improves your physical health. Studies have shown that grateful people have fewer aches and pains (yes, you read that right), and are more likely to take care of their physical health. They tend to practice healthy habits such as exercising and getting regular check-ups, which can contribute to increased longevity and life quality.
  2. Grateful people have better sleep. Here’s a tip: spend a few minutes jotting down what you’re thankful before bed every night, and you will likely have a longer and more restful sleep.
  3. Gratitude helps create better relationships. Of course, saying “thank you” is a practice of good manners, but a 2014 study in Emotion shows that it can also win you new friends! Saying “thank you” to an acquaintance makes them more likely to seek out further engagement. So, whether you’re thanking the local barista for your latte or a distant relative for graduation gift, acknowledging their efforts can open the door to new and better relationships.
  4. Gratitude can help improve your self-esteem. For years, research has shown that gratitude can help reduce stress. However, a 2014 study published in Journal of Applied Sport Psychology has shown that practicing thankfulness can actually play a major role in overcoming trauma and cultivating resilience. Recognizing all you’re grateful for—even in the hardest of times—can be life changing.
  5. Gratitude can reduce aggression (and increase empathy). Did you know that grateful people are more likely to act in a pro-social manner, even when the people around them are acting negatively? Grateful people are less resentful and retaliatory and demonstrate greater empathy and understanding (than those who do not engage in gratitude practices).

Of course, this looks different for everyone (some people write in a gratitude journal, some people silently acknowledge all that they are grateful for, others decide to pay it forward), but the point is that being thankful can completely transform your life. Here are some additional ideas to build your “gratitude quotient:”

  1. Actively seek out and surround yourself with grateful people. Ask them to share how they maintain a positive attitude while facing adversity and disappointment. Some of their strategies may work for you.
  2. Volunteer to help those less fortunate. This is especially beneficial to counter an entitlement mentality.
  3. Maintain your sense of hope in all circumstances. Consider when you overcame challenges and draw on them when new situations arise.

Developing gratitude is an especially beneficial life practice for teens and young adults, as they are constantly inundated with messages telling them they need to be better, look different, buy certain things, and generally just “keep up” with the people around them (not to mention the peer pressure they feel on a daily basis!). Gratitude is a powerful antidote to entitlement.

So, whether you’re a teen, college student, parent, or educator, know that we can all use some of these positive side effects in our lives! This holiday season, we encourage you to begin the daily habit of practicing gratitude. Meditate silently on your blessings, jot down a bullet-pointed list every night, or talk about what you’re thankful for around the dinner table. However you do it, pay close attention to how it transforms your inner world and the world around you for the better.

Let’s make Thanksgiving Day every day.

(For more way gratitude can change your life, check out this article published in Psychology Today.)

 

 

Student Anxiety: An Ounce of Prevention (Part Three)

During the past two weeks, we’ve shared the various ways that parents can help reverse the worrisome trends in adolescent anxiety. If you didn’t catch them, you can find them here and here.

This week, we’d like to close our series by addressing the pivotal role our educators can play in reducing student anxiety. Of course, we know that schools and universities are, by definition, bastions of anxiety! After all, students are measured every which way from Sunday and are surrounded by a contagion of similarly anxious peers! That said, there are any number of strategies school leaders can employ that would return student anxiety to more normal, healthy levels. Here are our top five recommendations:

  1. Promote a positive and empowering school culture. The school environment plays a major role in the health and well being of students. How would you describe your school’s brand and core values? What three words best describe the character and learning environment for your students? If your school hasn’t adopted a set of values that administrators, teachers, and students abide by, consider this an urgent priority. Qualities like kindness, compassion, and integrity are foremost on our minds at LifeSmart, and we always encourage schools to take what we call, “the Integrity Challenge.” (This is where students are empowered to only say neutral to positive things about others who are not present.) Another suggestion is to have each class create a brand and core values statement and commit to holding each other accountable. Let’s do this! #positiveculture
  2. Expand leadership/life skills offerings. Evidence is pervasive that high school graduates are not adequately prepared for their next steps. Arguably, one reason is that schools are so focused on their immediate step that insufficient time is devoted to the transition to the next (e.g., high school to college/workforce). We urge administrators to expand leadership and life skills-oriented courses that holistically prepare students for independent living and their next stage. These would include leadership, soft skills, college/career readiness, personal finance, and home management. Such courses build essential skills, instill self-confidence, and help students cope with the pressures of their present and future situations. The better prepared they are, the less anxious they will be. #lifesmart
  3. End the “college for all” messaging. Based on deteriorating college graduation trends and high student demand for mental health services in college, it is clear that many are not college ready and would be better off pursuing other paths. Whether overt or subliminal, messages promoting the college path are commonplace. How does this affect anxiety? Droves of unprepared and dispirited students drop out of college and into uncertainty. Others struggle mightily in college when another path (e.g., trade school, workforce) was a more compatible choice. Still other high schoolers feel inadequate if they don’t pursue the broadly recommended college path. How is your messaging? #whateverisbest
  4. Review homework levels. Given how early students rise before school and require above-average levels of sleep, homework should be reasonable. Yet, we’ve often heard of schools assigning up to four hours of homework on weeknights, creating a workday that is more demanding than their parents! This, together with a lack of coordination among teachers in terms of exams and major projects, is an obvious source of student anxiety. How reasonable is their workload? #theyneedalife
  5. Career selection pressure.  Many high schools are ramping up their career readiness programs, and we applaud that. However, some are taking this to a degree that students are feeling pressure to know what career (and potentially, college major) they should be pursuing. We think that’s taking things too far. In the high school years, students are still discovering themselves and aren’t in a position to weigh all the career alternatives, fully assess their skills and interests, possess all the necessary knowledge to make an informed judgment, and speak with/job shadow practitioners in those fields. We strongly support efforts to build career awareness, but when students feel pressure (as many do!) to know exactly which field they should enter, that’s an overreach. And, remember, many college students change their majors multiple times, and a large measure of college graduates regret the major they chose! Focus on the process, but not the selection in the high school years. Finally, let’s not push STEM as their only ticket to success. It’s not.

Whether you’re a parent, educator, or other interested party, we hope you found value in our series on preventing and reducing student anxiety. We all have a stake in improving these trends, and we wish you the best in your efforts with the adolescents under your guidance.

Student Anxiety: An Ounce of Prevention (Part Two)

angry-annoyed-cafe-52608In last week’s newsletter (which you can access here) we shared four preventive parenting strategies to help prevent and reduce teen anxiety. Welcome back for part two, where we will share five more strategies to address this troubling problem. Parents, thank you for your care, diligence, and desire to do better.

  1. Lacking affirmation of worth and value. If there is one generality we observe in today’s teens and young adults, it’s that they feel undervalued for WHO they are. When parents don’t take the time to affirm their children’s uniqueness and value or share their belief in them and their future, kids become dispirited, disillusioned, insecure, and anxious. And, who can blame them? Parents, we need to step up our game in this department. Call out what you appreciate and admire about them on a regular basis… especially their character traits. Tell them how much they matter. It’ll add security and a spring to their step. #valuethewho
  2. Social drama and unhealthy relationships. Although the anxiety-laden social lives of teens probably date back to the days of Fred Flintstone, the advent of social media takes it to an entirely new level. Much has been written on the subject, so we simply want to emphasize a few things. One is for your teen to be self aware of the impact social media has on his/her life in terms of stressors, privacy, and relationships. Two is for them to be highly selective in making friends with people who share their interests and values. Three is for them to avoid social drama and gossip like the plague. Four is for them to only surround themselves with positive influences. Finally, if they’re experiencing pain or anxiety from a breakup or no invitation to/acceptance for prom, reassure them that only 2 percent of marriages originate from being high school sweethearts! Now, that’s perspective! #choosewisely
  3. Too much tech, too little relational engagement. With the addictive nature of our smartphones and screens, teens, parents, and entire families are losing something besides their attention spans: relational intimacy and engagement. Initially, it affected teens most, but increasingly it has become an issue for parents as well. Parents, this is where tough love and good modeling will pay dividends. Value face-to-face time over tech time and be sure your teens don’t take their phones to bed at night! #facetofaceisbest
  4. Family dysfunction and inadequate support systems. From a child’s standpoint, one of the greatest sources of emotional stability and security is being part of a loving, well-functioning family. However, one of the greatest societal changes over the last several decades has been the deterioration in this system. For example, today, just 69% of children are living in two-parent families, due in large part, to births from unmarried parents and to divorce. While every situation is unique, and many, many healthy children are growing up in loving single-parent families, we must be sensitive to the impact our family situations are having on our children, and take steps to ensure that they have other caring men and women actively involved in their lives. We owe it to them. #caringadults
  5. Insufficient preparation for independence. We have a systemic problem in that parents and educators often assume the other is building the leadership and life skills students need to succeed. So, predictably, many important skills are falling through the cracks. In addition to practical skills like cooking and budgeting, important “soft skills” like dependability, work ethic, resilience, decision-making, and integrity are often deemphasized in favor of traditional subjects. This, along with parenting styles like helicoptering, is creating a lack of preparedness in handling the responsibilities and stresses of adulthood. Parents, we must take the leadership role and not assume “they’re learning it in school.” Often, they’re not. #adulting

Parents, there are a couple of other tips we’d like to share that will reduce your child’s anxiety. First, always keep your cool no matter how volatile the topic and to remember that you were a teen once, too. It’s so easy to apply our current wisdom as adults to their age and stage! That’s neither fair nor realistic. Second, be careful not to “over share” the various challenges and situations you are facing. After all, you’re their parent, not their BFF. Finally, always remember the importance of having fun. Sometimes, in our quest to see our children succeed, we can lose sight of that. #enjoytheseyears

Next week, we’ll share some ideas for educators in our quest to reverse the direction in teen anxiety. Catch you then.

Student Anxiety: An Ounce of Prevention (Part One)

adult-alone-anxious-568027Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting with a Principal from a small town in Wisconsin, not far from where I grew up. During our wide-ranging conversation, he shared about the high levels of anxiety his high school students are exhibiting. You’d have to see their tranquil location to fully appreciate just how out of character this is. But, then again, research is abounding that today’s students, whether in college or high school, are showing unprecedented levels of anxiety. Something, lots of things, must be done and done quickly.

Let’s be honest. This is a direct consequence of how our children are being trained, and it’s up to us as parents, educators, youth leaders, and other caring adults to accept responsibility and reverse this course. Their very futures and socio-emotional health are at stake.

For the next few weeks, we will be weighing in with our thoughts and recommendations, focusing initially on parents and then following with educators. Our hope is that this will not only “add to the conversation,” but more importantly, encourage us to self reflect and take the necessary corrective measures. We owe it to them.

Parents, here are four of nine key trouble spots that are aggravating teen anxiety where we should take ownership:

  1. Parenting style. In our desire to see our children succeed and be happy, we often adopt parenting methods that run counter to our objectives. Among the most common are performance parenting and helicoptering. Performance-driven parents are so focused on their children’s achievements that their kids feel undervalued for WHO they are. These children are under intense pressure to perform, in part because of demanding parents who place their own identity in the hands of their children and who often succumb to their own peer pressure—from other parents! In contrast, helicoptering creates insecurity when parents interfere, control, overprotect, and coddle, stunting their children’s ability to make decisions, cope, and mature. Both styles add to the already-high stress levels during the teen years. Is your parenting style unintentionally creating anxiety? It’s worth a look. #equipnotcontrol
  2. Frenetic pace. Sometimes our lives are so busy that it seems we’re on a treadmill set at warp speed. Parents, we are putting our children on that treadmill, and it’s depriving them of balance and the time they need to enjoy nature, reflect, chill, pray, play, nap, read a book, or just hang out without the overhang of homework and endless activities. For introverts, and kids who operate at a slower pace, this is draining or worse. How is your pace? Are you consciously building margin into their schedules to maintain balance and keep their tanks full? You’d better be. #breathe
  3. Resume building obsession/perfectionist tendencies. Lexus’s tagline is the “relentless pursuit of perfection” and how well this describes many teens today! Whether the pressure is coming from parents or schools or is self-inflicted, teens are stressing out over their assumed need for the perfect resume to succeed and access their dream college. An urgent priority is to disabuse them of this notion. Nowadays, pressure previously felt in the adult years are robbing many teens of a childhood. Whether it’s all AP courses, GPA fixation, or participation (better yet, leadership) in clubs or organizations, resume building now dominates the high school years. Encouraging them to do their best and valuing their person will pay longer-lasting dividends. What “success messages” are you sending? #noperfectionrequired
  4. Deficient self-awareness and self-care. Compared with yesteryear, today’s teens face greater pressures and a more competitive world. For example, with “college for all” messaging and growing pressures to know what careers they should pursue or which college to attend, high schoolers are naturally anxious. At a time when students are still discovering WHO they are, this is placing the cart before the horse. Parents can do their teens a great service by promoting self-awareness of their children’s skills, talents, interests, nature, and passions. This also includes helping their teen understand, prevent, and manage their stressors. Related, parents can support the self care of their children by fostering healthy living (e.g., diet, physical activity, and adequate rest) and demonstrating unconditional love. How well do your children know themselves and their stressors? These are vitally important conversations. #knowthyself

So, parents, how are you doing in the above areas? How would your children respond? Are there areas for you to grow in as a parent? Stay tuned next week for part two., where we will share more of these nine trouble areas and how you can help make a difference. #youcandothis!

 

What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 3

adult-architecture-backpack-1251861High schoolers and new college students:Do you ever feel unsure of what’s to come? Are you anxious about your future, whether it’s over your relationships, choice of major, or career goals? Do you wonder if adulthood is REALLY all that it’s cracked-up to be? 
Parents: Do you worry about the day when your teen will move out and enter the real world? Are you worried they aren’t fully equipped? If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, here is some encouragement and insight in this third installment of my “What I Wish I Knew Before College” series.

In case you missed the first two posts on this topic, I’m Heather Sipes, the Communications Director for LifeSmart Publishing. I am a millennial myself, and eager to help you and your student(s) navigate this season of change. You can view the previous weeks’ posts here and here.

Let’s get started. I’d like to close this series with the one final thing I wish I knew the summer after I graduated high school (or even during the first couple months of college!). If I knew then what I know now, I feel that I could have better positioned myself for this big change.

You might have mixed feelings about your parents. I’ll never forget the week I moved into the dorm my freshman year. My mom flew down to help me get moved in, and she was more than helpful. She stayed in the dorms with me the first couple nights, and I could tell she was excited for this new season in my life. She wanted to be engaged and involved with all that she could—probably because deep down, she was experiencing the mixed emotions of “letting go” and wouldn’t see me for a couple months. I, however, had unexpectedly different feelings.

I wanted to meet new friends and flap my newly independent wings. I wanted to hang out late in the dorm rooms with my new hall mates—not my mom! I’d been waiting for my whole life for this stage, yet my mom was lingering around, taking in these final moments before heading home. Looking back, I feel deep remorse about the way I treated her that week, and wish I could have a do-over. (Note: we’re all good!)

This is what I’d like to impart to you, nearly 12 years later. Now that I’m a parent myself, I can imagine how my mom must have felt that week: scared to let go, sad to say goodbye, and nostalgic about memories with her once little (now big!) oldest daughter. It’s totally relatable. I can’t even bear to think about one of my little girls growing up and moving a couple thousand miles away!

Teens, remember this: Please, please, please try not to take your parents for granted. Know that all of their “hovering” and all of their “hanging around,” is because they love you (granted, some parents do go overboard, often out of fear). They’re proud of you and actually enjoy spending time with you. They love being with the adult you’ve become. They don’t want to put a damper on your next chapter, they simply want to soak up every minute with you they can. Cherish and embrace this and don’t hold back from exploring what a new adult-to-adult relationship can look like with them (rather than parent-child). You may not even realize there is a special, unique friendship with your parents just waiting to be kindled.

Parents: Know that things might get a bit awkward during this time when you want to be present, but they’re feeling pulled to practice independence. Let your teen know that you’ll give them space, but also tell them you’re always there to help, guide, or offer support. Remember to be their chief encourager  as you move from the driver’s seat to the passenger’s seat. Being on the sidelines isn’t a bad thing—you’ll get to root for and encourage one of your favorite people in the whole world. Be their biggest fan—they’ll need it in the years to come!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series as we are all getting settled into our new routines and roles. Please feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments—I’m happy to provide any help that I can. Thanks for stopping by!

What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 2

backpacks-college-college-students-1454360.jpg

Welcome back to part two of this series, “What I Wish I Knew Before College.” I hope you’re enjoying this opportunity to focus on your goals during this time in your life, and to consider how to make the most out of your college experience. Hopefully this is a great resource for teens, college freshmen or seniors, and also for those who are the parents, teachers, mentors, and coaches guiding them. In case you missed last week’s post, you can read it here.

This week, I’d like to focus on some other aspects of post-high school education that aren’t usually talked about beforehand, but will give you a broader understanding of what’s to come.

If you’re religious, you might come to question aspects of your faith.
 My spiritual beliefs were a big part of my life when I started university. I went to a Christian liberal arts college, and I half-expected some of my classes to feel a bit like Sunday school. Boy, was I wrong! College completely rocked my entire faith system and forced me to question WHY I believe what I believe. One of the greatest takeaways from my college experience was that I built a strong foundation for my personal spiritual values, and learned to not just believe in them because my parents told me they were true. (You’ll soon learn—“because my parents said”—is not necessarily a sufficient reason to believe anything! Sorry, parents! We still love you!)

Even if you aren’t religious, you’ll learn that asking WHY in regards to your long-held suppositions will benefit you greatly in life. By digging deeper into your beliefs and worldview (as well as sharing with fellow students of different views), you will build a stronger  foundation of knowledge, confidence, and truth to sustain you in life.

This is the only time in your life that you’ll live footsteps away from a gym and your membership will be free. The “freshman 15” is not a myth, and no one is immune! When you don’t have class or studying to do, make physical health a priority and utilize the resource of your school’s free student athletic center. Or, look into joining an intramural sports team (what a great way to make new friends!). When you’re 30, you’ll thank your younger self for staying active.

Don’t carve your major and minor choices in stone before you start school. If you told me in high school that I wouldn’t end up majoring in what I was convinced I was going to major in, I never would have believed you. Guess what? I changed my major twice, and that’s the norm!  It may sound cliché, but keep an open mind. If you’re in college already as a freshman, hopefully you are taking a wide variety of classes to really nail down what piques your interest (and your talent). Also, don’t be surprised if your anticipated major loses its appeal when you begin taking upper level courses and, especially, speak with people who are in the field you’re considering. It happens all the time.
I hope these insights help you, or the teens under your influence, navigate this special time in life. Stay tuned for next week when I will share the final installment in this three-part series.


What do you wish you knew before you started college or career? If you knew then what you know now, what would you have done differently?

What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 1

bar-blur-blurred-801863Now that college students are well into the school year and adjusting to their new schedule, managing their course load, and making new friends, we thought it would be a good time to bring back this series that our Communications Director, Heather Sipes, wrote for us several years ago. She shares her first-hand experience of life in college (including assimilating, adjusting, homesickness, tough choices, and other things) in hopes that other new college students and parents of freshmen will be able to apply it to their own journeys. Take it away, Heather!

My first year of college was about 11 years ago. I was bright-eyed and my heart was bursting with idealistic dreams for my future. It was hard to not romanticize this next step in my life, and I was convinced I was about to embark on the most fun, life-changing, and insightful season. I mean, these are the best years of our lives, right?

Indeed, my college experience was pretty amazing, but there are several things I wish someone told me before I started—preferably someone from my generation, who had recently completed their college work. Someone with fresh, practical advice to help prepare me for the next season. That’s what I’ll be doing for you and your students in these next few emails.

As you continue your time in college, whether it’s your first year or last, keep these things in mind:

  • See college as an opportunity to expand your interests and activities.A lot of us were wrapped up in our identity as high schoolers. I was a cheerleader and an honor student. That was pretty much my entire sphere. I’m sure many people can identify with this same notion: you’re either a football player or a jazz band member or a debate champ or yearbook photographer. Your main activity feels like WHO YOU ARE. (Often, our parents can get wrapped up in this identity too, and they put pressure on us to continue our singular pursuits in college because it feels to them like our non-stop ticket to success.) But I want to encourage you to open yourself up to new interests and activities in college. Don’t feel guilty if you decide to ditch your high school sport or activity. You will be amazed at what you have inside that you never knew was there. Seriously! I fell in love with philosophy in college. I never knew I had it in me…and, now I can be philosophical when I blog!

College is also an opportunity for a do-over. Maybe you didn’t like your identity or reputation in high school. Maybe you didn’t study enough or you partied too hard. See college as an opportunity to take a start fresh, explore new opportunities, and find another niche. Even if nothing sticks long-term, your world will become bigger and you will become more well-rounded.

  • Your class attendance is directly correlated to your grades. I’ll never forget how excited I was at the prospect of showing up to class only when I felt like it. There was no mom in the dorms to wake me up for class and no pressure to attend when I could simply do the assigned reading that night. I was told that lectures weren’t really “that important” and that professors never took attendance. BUT I AM HERE TO TELL YOU TO GO TO CLASS! Get out of bed, show up on time (preferably in the front row), listen to the lecture, take notes, and participate in discussions. I don’t care what anyone says. Your presence in the classroom (or lecture hall or auditorium) will have a direct impact on your grades. Even if you’re able to look up lecture notes online, they will notserve you as well as your physical presence in the classroom. 

 

  • That party won’t be as fun as you think.  Many young people entering university have visions of weekends spent partying with peers. Weekends filled with booze and binges and loud music and bad decisions. It’s crucial for them to know that this avenue is notfulfilling, and it’s not as enjoyable as you imagine. I certainly never experienced a college party and thought to myself, “This is so uplifting. I am making so many life-long friends.” The magnetic allure of the partying lifestyle (including both alcohol and promiscuity) is superficial, dangerous, and a slippery slope that will add little value to your life. For many, it becomes their college de-railer.  

Take it from me, your best friends will likely be made in your dorm hall or a shared class or the intramural flag football team, rather than at a boozy party. Your serious college boyfriend or girlfriend will not be that random hook-up you hardly remember. Your best memories will be your sober ones. Hopefully you’ll learn this lesson early in the game.

I am so happy to be a part of this series and share what insight I have to offer. I hope any college students reading this have entered this year with an open mind and are ready to embrace whatever life throws their way. Please stay tuned for next week, when I will share part two of this series!

Making the Most of Your Internship

american-asian-blond-hair-1323588.jpgYou’ve all heard the saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Well, with all due respect to the originator of this exaggeration, it’s actually both! These days, it matters greatly whether you have an inside contact and advocate when you apply for a job. (A person dear to us just landed a phenomenal position that began with an internship!) But, if you don’t bring a good skill set, especially those valuable soft skills, you likely won’t land it… or keep it for very long if you manage to fool the recruiter.

So, what’s the best way to cover both bases and set yourself up for career success while you’re still in high school or college? The answer is to pursue an internship. Yes, even those requesting your services for free! Hear me out…

The Value of Internships

There is tremendous value in obtaining, and excelling in, an internship. When you do, you’ll:

  1. Gain valuable experience. Even if the job isn’t in your dream career zone, you’ll develop skills and perspective on how the “real world” operates. Often, our academics focus more on theory than practice, so this helps fill the gap.
  2. Sharpen your soft skills. In addition to learning the tasks of the position, you’ll build key soft skills like organization, work ethic, dependability, positivity, integrity, and team mindedness.
  3. Build your network. If you take advantage of the opportunity to meet as many people as possible, you’ll expand your personal and professional “sales force!” They may prove invaluable as future references, too.
  4. Pilot test career possibilities. Whether or not the position is exactly what you would be looking for in a future career, it will give you a helpful firsthand assessment of the fit for you. Many discover that an internship will either confirm or reject their initial career leanings. The earlier you learn this the better.
  5. Get a feel for the organization, its culture, and the industry. Hands on experience with the employer will provide you an excellent sense of the culture and industry. This will help you assess whether you’d want to work for them full time.
  6. Gain an inside advantage. IF you do well AND it’s a company you’re interested in, you’ve just gained the inside track for a full-time position. That’s gold!
  7. Enhance your resume and credentials. Employers love to see work experience rather than just academic accomplishments. With your internship, you’ve just improved your competitive edge to land a great position.

Maximizing the Opportunity
 
So, now that you’ve landed an internship, how do you make the most out of it? Here are some strategies to maximize your experience:

  1. Remember, attitude is (almost) everything. It’s important to arrive with the right frame of mind. Take advantage of all the opportunities you can to meet people, contribute to the effort, and acquire as many skills as possible. A positive attitude and strong work ethic are vital. Internships generally involve more basic tasks and responsibilities rather than key decision-making and a corner office. So, keep your expectations under control and deliver excellent work no matter what they have you do.
  2. Exceed their expectations. Be sure you clearly understand the specs of the position and do high quality work that’s on time, every time. Then, seek opportunities to showcase your creativity and initiative by going above and beyond the job description. Think, “How can I add value?”
  3. Remember, you’re each testing the waters. They are observing whether you are full-time material, so rise to the occasion. But, also evaluate whether this is a fit for you. Be sure to consider whether: 1) the organization and culture appeals to you and 2) the position confirms or rejects your career interests. Internships offer a powerful way to sample what it would be like to work in that field and with that employer. They also provide excellent opportunities to meet people in the full-time position(s) you’d likely be seeking. Their insights and perspectives are invaluable. If you find it’s not a fit after all, you’ll still have time to change your plans. 
  4. Meet as many people as possible. Don’t stay planted in your cubicle. Use your internship as an opportunity to meet leaders and people in positions of interest. Have coffee with some of their most respected people and pick their brains. What success secrets and advice can they offer? It’s a great way to build your network and fast track your career by learning from the pros.

If your schedule allows, we strongly encourage you to seek out an internship. And, if it doesn’t, make the necessary adjustments because this a top priority. It’s a foolproof way of learning the ropes and landing your dream career.
 

Four Words for Our Time

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At LifeSmart, the topic of communication has been on our mind a lot. With students entering a new grade or environment, and summer vacations replaced with non-stop schedules, it’s easy to see how this can affect our communications—in a negative way. Add to that the news media hype (in their quest for ratings), a supercharged political climate, and promptings from our social media outlets, and we have a recipe for fireworks and communication breakdowns. It’s everywhere.

Effective communication is a two-way street. When we’re the initiator, miscommunication usually happens in the following ways:

  • We say things that were better left unsaid, like the common “self-control failure,” or comments that are simply unkind.
  • We choose the wrong words. Our rhetoric incites rather than shares.
  • We say it the wrong way. Our tone turns off and shuts down the conversation.
  • We use the wrong method (text or email versus verbal or in-person).
  • Or, worse yet, we use a combination of the above!

On the other hand, when we’re the receiver, we don’t always listen to understand. When we don’t see “eye to eye,” we can shut down or shout down instead of respectfully agreeing to disagree and letting it be. It’s next to impossible to compromise and reach solutions this way.

What to do? How can we increase the chances that our communications are productive, constructive, and worthy? One solution is to embed the following four words into our internal communication filter before we initiate or respond:

HOW              IS             THIS           HELPFUL?
 
How might this look on a practical basis? The following table can serve as a guide:

More                                                  Less
Sharing                                             Shouting
Encouragement                              Criticism
Good will                                          Acrimony
Temperance                                     Rashness
Unity                                                  Division
Compassion                                      Judgment
Other-centeredness                        Self-centeredness
Humility                                            Arrogance
Open-mindedness                           Closed-mindedness
Confirming                                       Assuming
Respect                                              Dishonor
Responsibility                                  Blame
Kindness                                           Rudeness
Decency                                             Crudeness
Truth                                                  Manipulation
Integrity                                            Deceit
Solutions                                           Complaints
Positivity                                           Negativity

If we all committed to the above, it would change the world. We’d achieve more understanding, respect, harmony, joy, and kindness, and even make better decisions.

So, let’s try taking these four words to heart and mind, and see how this changes us and how we relate to others. It’s a great goal for a new school year.

 

Our Best Tips for Avoiding Miscommunication (and its aftermath!)

can-chat-chatting-362.jpgIn today’s technology-based world, much of our communication is online. Thanks to Facebook and Instagram (and all the other apps and platforms out there), we are less likely than ever to have a conversation in person! Not only does this apply to our personal relationships, but professional connections, too. Now, people have the ability to work remotely, which means much of their interaction with coworkers, bosses, and clients is carried out technologically (through e-mail, text, phone calls, and FaceTime/Skype calls). Needless to say, we can all use a brush-up on our in-person communication skills—because, sometimes a text message or DM just won’t cut it.

You see, it’s not uncommon for the messages we send to be received differently than we intend. How many times have you accidentally offended someone or taken offense to something because of a simple miscommunication? When it happens, it can be a disaster. That’s why crucial that we are aware of the way we say things and how we come across to others. This applies to making first impressions at job interviews, dating, relating to your employers and co-workers, making new friends, and more. It can’t all be done online! (Thank goodness!)

Miscommunication can happen to all of us.  Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to minimize it. Three things affect how others receive our messages… and any one of them can be the cause of major misunderstandings if we’re not careful. As you step out from behind your computer, look up from your smart phone, and engage with the people around you, keep these three things in mind:
 
1. Word choice – This factor is huge, especially when we discuss sensitive topics and issues we are passionate or emotional about (politics, anyone?). In these situations, our emotions can interfere with our thinking, and we often use more provocative or aggressive language that we later regret. As a result, the other person can become hurt and offended. Take a deep breath or two before you speak so your internal filter can soften your rhetoric.  

2. Delivery – Sometimes it’s our manner of delivery that gets in the way, even if our word choice is fine. Delivery is especially important when meeting people for the first time. Examples include speaking with a harsh (or bored, unenthusiastic, or condescending) tone of voice or displaying certain expressions and body language that are not received well by others (crossing arms, standing over someone, frowning, smirking, rolling eyes). No matter what words we use, if the “packaging” is incongruent, our message will lack credibility and rub people the wrong way. Always pay attention to the non-verbal cues your audience is sending!

Judging by the harsh rhetoric we are witnessing today, many are under the delusion that shouting down others will persuade them to change their views. But, when people resort to this, it is often a reflection of emotions, rather than objective thinking. By their actions, they’re not interested in having a conversation.

3. Filter – (No, I’m not referring to Instagram.) Depending on whether your audience likes or distrusts you, whether they’re in a good or bad mood, focused or distracted, your message may not get through in the way you intended. Unfortunately, this happens all the time, and you simply can’t control it.

In short, here are six ways to help you avoid miscommunication with others (and prevent needing to put your foot in your mouth or apologize down the road):

  1. Be sure your expressions (body language, countenance) are in sync with what you’re saying. 
  2. Think before you speak (remember the goal is accurate understanding).
  3.  Strive to be empathetic by putting yourself in the receiver’s position.
  4. Closely monitor the receiver’s body language to see whether he or she may be interpreting your words differently than you intend.
  5. Be quick to apologize for any misunderstandings.
  6. Avoid coming on too strong, especially with people who don’t know you well. It takes time to build the relationship capital needed for people to give you the benefit of the doubt.

Note to parents and teachers: This is an excellent lesson for role-playing in the home or classroom. Encourage your teen or students to act out different scenarios in which the verbal communication could be misinterpreted. You will find a great lesson in our What I Wish I Knew at 18 study guide on this subject.

How do your in-person communication skills rate? Do you have any other tips on avoiding miscommunication you’d like to share?