A Simple, Yet Profound Idea for Building Resilience

four-men-sitting-on-platform-923657For years, grit and resilience have been cited by leadership experts and psychologists as key ingredients to success. Given the following synonyms, antonyms, and definition of resilience, it’s easy to see why:

  • Synonyms: adaptable, buoyant, strong, hardy, rebounding
  • Antonyms: fragile, delicate, weak, vulnerable, defeatist
  • Definition: ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, etc.

 

Who wouldn’t want our children to be able to rebound from adversity and challenges with renewed purpose, confidence, and personal growth?

 

And, yet, as we talk with employers, observe the contemporary college scene, and visit with college students, we’re struck by how often resilience seems lacking in today’s young adults. What gives?

 

Could it be that our culture’s growing emphasis on empathy is creating some unintended consequences? In many cases, we believe the answer is, “Yes.” Although empathy, in the right proportion, is certainly an admirable quality, it can easily morph into sympathyif it’s overdone and misinterpreted as such by the affected party. It can, and often does, lead to an entitlement and victim mentality if we’re not careful.

 

Arguably, this occurs most when parents overly coddle when their children face adversity or discomfort. Out of compassion and fairness, parents often react by overprotecting, expressing sympathy, intruding on their child’s behalf, and even defending poor behavior/performance to authority figures (a common complaint from teachers and coaches). Not surprisingly, the downstream consequences in children can include low self-confidence, emotional fragility, defeatism, lacking perseverance, and disrespect. Unfortunately, it’s even happening on college campuses, courtesy of administrators employing overprotection strategies.

 

To that end, I came across a magnificent letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journalon November 4 by Carla Albers of Colorado Springs. She was responding to a previous editorial on the topic of Bias Response Teams at universities. Here is an abbreviated version of her letter:

 

“Your editorial brings back memories of my daughter at age 6 or 7. She came into the house crying and crawled onto my lap. Two neighbor children said something that made her feel bad. After drying her tears, I asked her if she wanted other children to control how she felt, and told her she could choose to not let what someone else said make her feel bad: ‘Who do you want to be the boss of how you feel? You or someone else?’ She perked up and said, ‘I want to be the boss of me!’ Out the door she ran.

 

Years later, my very successful adult daughter told me that was the best piece of advice I’d ever given her. Perhaps campuses could replace their Campus Climate Support teams with ‘I’m the Boss of Me’ teams.”

 

We believe Ms. Albers hit the nail on the head. In a world that has become increasingly polarized and politicized, and where bullying has taken on new forms, our children are being increasingly tested by the words and actions of others. As we consider the synonyms and antonyms of “resilience” mentioned earlier, we’re witnessing growing signs of the latter—whether in how we respond to others or to the adversity that we face in everyday life. This should be concerning to all of us influencing the next generation.

 

The challenge for parents and educational leaders is whether to consider their children’s difficult situations as teachable moments to build resilience, or simply to offer empathy. In our view, the best answer is a healthy balance of both.

 

Your Compliment May Mean More Than You Think

hian-oliveira-n_L_ppO4QtY-unsplashThe other day, a friend of mine posted this request on Facebook: “Share the most meaningful compliment you’ve ever received.” What a great idea! It was fun to read the responses and ponder my own.

After thinking long and hard, I made my choice. But, first, a little background…

Back in 8thgrade, I was the one of the shortest guys in my class. As you can imagine, I was occasionally self-conscious about it—especially while slow dancing! I don’t ever recall sharing my sensitivity with anyone, but, somehow, a special someone must have gleaned it.

It was the end of the school year and everyone was signing each other’s yearbook. One of my “must haves” was my revered science teacher, who we affectionately referred to as Mr. Ed. He was voted by students as Teacher of the Year that year, and deservedly so. I was eager to read his comments, and this is what he wrote…

“Denny, there’s a saying that good things come in small packages. I think you prove that saying.”

Wow.

To state the obvious, I never forgot that. And, I never forgot him. He made me feel like I was 6’2 and a million bucks!

What made Mr. Ed’s compliment stand above the others? A big part of it was WHO he was—a man so deeply admired. Second, his words were simple, profound, and focused on WHO I was. And, third, this encouragement had lasting inspirational power—a challenge, if you will, to live up to his sentiments about me.

I rarely, if ever, saw him after, but Mr. Ed’s words in a yearbook now 51-years old and faded had a huge impact on my life. And, I’ll bet that many of you who consider this question will find that yours, too, came from a teacher. God bless our teachers!

Which brings me to a question and a challenge. Do you intentionally look for opportunities to bless someone with a meaningful compliment about WHO they are? (It’s one thing to compliment someone about an accomplishment, but when it involves the PERSON they are, it has even greater impact.)

Might you be the Mr. Ed to someone today?

What’s the most meaningful compliment you’ve ever received?

And, in case you’re wondering, I eventually peaked out at 5’9,” which wasn’t too shabby.

A Guide for Gen Z: What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 3

family-3817047_1920Recent high school graduates: 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 life after high school is 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 and Marketing manager for LifeSmart Publishing. I am eager to help you and your student(s) navigate this season of change. You can view the previous weeks’ posts hereand here.

Without further ado, 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. 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 in my freshman year. My mom flew down to help get me 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, seemed to have 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.

This is what I’d like to impart to you, ten 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 somewhere 2,000 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. 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 if they need it, but also tell them you’re always there to help, guide, or offer support. Remember to be their chief encourager during this time 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 the back-to-school season is approaching. 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!

 

A Guide for Gen Z: What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 2

laptop-3087585_1920Hi, it’s Heather Sipes, LifeSmart Communications Director and “upper millennial,” back for round two! I hope you’re enjoying this series focusing on the things I wish I knew before I started university. Hopefully this is a great resource for those of you who are teens, and also for those of you parents, teachers, mentors, and coaches who are 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 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 a good 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 premises 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. It is not going to happen to everyone else except you—no one is immune! When you don’t have class, 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!).

Ten years from now, you may be enjoying your local fitness club membership, but it won’t be  because of the weight you gained in your freshman year of college!

  • 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, and take a wide variety of classes your freshman year (especially your first semester or quarter). You never know what may spark an interest you didn’t even know you had! Also, don’t be surprised if your anticipated major loses its appeal when you begin taking upper courses. It happens all the time.    

I hope the above information is helpful as 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 do differently?

Are There Shortcuts to Success? You Might Be Surprised.

cheerful-colleague-desk-1169953One of my favorite things to do during talks and workshops is to ask provocative questions and see how the audience responds. A recent example during some educator workshops was, “How many of you believe there are shortcuts to success?” More often than not, only a small minority will raise their hands. Whether it’s because that’s what they truly believe or because they think that’s what the speaker wants to hear, few audiences believe in shortcuts. Then again, most of the time when we talk about shortcuts, there is a negative connotation, isn’t there?

Well, you might be surprised by my answer. Based on my personal experience and my decades of evaluating successful leaders, I believe the unequivocal answer is, “YES!” And, I also believe that if these tips are shared with the young people in your lives, you will give them a big head start in fulfilling their potential!

In this blog, I’ll share three foolproof strategies that, when implemented, will “fast track” a person’s success and help him or her stand out from the crowd. And, the best news: it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to successfully apply them and reap the rewards.

Strategy One: Gain from the wisdom that surrounds you. It’s so unfortunate that few teens and young adults actively seek wisdom from the adults in their lives. Whether it’s because of overconfidence that’s common in the teen years or because they believe adults are too busy to spend time with them, the end result is forgoing a free gift that’s right in their midst.

There is so much to be gained by spending time with admirable adults who can share wisdom that comes with experience. What led to their success? What were their biggest mistakes and regrets that they would do over if they could? What advice would they give you at this pivotal time of life? What qualities do they most respect in people? What were the biggest decisions they made and how did they make them? How do they define success and what brings them joy? Would they, one day, be willing to serve as a reference?

Priceless conversations. Timeless wisdom. All there, just for the asking.

Strategy Two: Solicit and embrace feedback.  Who doesn’t love receiving a compliment—especially an unsolicited one?!? Chances are, it means that whatever we’re doing, we should keep doing it! However, especially in the early years of our careers when we’re inexperienced and a little naïve, some of the most beneficial feedback is in areas in which we can improve. We’ll call them “growth opportunities.”

One of the most common criticisms we hear about younger employees is their disdain for constructive feedback. Today’s managers feel like they are walking on eggshells if they have to correct or even gently criticize them. While they’ll gladly receive praise for the positives, they disdain negative feedback. And, by doing so, they are missing out on one of the most powerful success shortcuts of all.

During my career, I actively sought constructive feedback. Sure, I wanted to hear my strengths, but more importantly, I wanted to know the ways I could improve my performance, professionalism, and impact. So, rather than wait to hear my “weaknesses,” I proactively sought it from my supervisor and other leaders in the company. It was pivotal to my success and “took the sting” out of listening to my shortfalls.

Sometimes correcting our weaknesses has more impact than growing our strengths. But, because both are needed to be successful, young people can really stand out by taking this strategy to heart. (Oh, and this also works in our relationships, but that’s for another time.) Sure it takes courage, but it’s so valuable to our growth.

Strategy Three: Go above and beyond to maximize your impact. It’s interesting to observe the MVPs of a workforce versus the average performers. In a nutshell, they bring an entirely different mindset to the job. The MVPs are always looking for new ways to add value to their job, department, and organization, while average performers tend to stay focused on their day-to-day job responsibilities and not much beyond that.

In the workplace, superstars will find a way to: 1) increase sales and customer loyalty, 2) improve efficiencies to reduce costs, 3) innovate new products/services and methods, and 4) assume a leadership role on projects, teams, etc. Now, depending on one’s job specifications, not all of these will be possible at any particular point in time. BUT, regardless of one’s job, this pivotal question always remains, “What can I do to maximize my impact and add value to my employer?” Resourceful people always seem to find a way… in part because it’s wired into their very being. And, by sharing examples with the young people in your life, you can help stimulate this kind of motivation, creativity, and passion in them, too.

We believe these three strategies can have an amazing impact on the young people under your guidance. Let us know how they respond. Yes, they are shortcuts to success, but good ones indeed.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take Time to Reflect on the Things that Really Matter…

Even though it’s summertime, our lives are still inundated with the call to be busy ALL. THE. TIME. Summer camps. Special trainings. Sports events. Tutoring sessions. Swimming Lessons. Vacations. Barbecues. Road trips.

Of course, all of these things individually add value to your life in various ways. However, when they are compounded on top of each other, and life feels hectic, they can have a counterproductive, draining effect. The oft-quoted saying, “I need a vacation from my vacation” comes to mind. With all of this busy-ness and filling our schedules to the brim, we are losing the time we need to reflect. And, when forget to reflect, we miss out on the things that really matter. That’s what happens when we sacrifice depth for breadth.

The thing is, although the fun things mentioned above really matter, our relationships matter even more. When we’re consumed with busyness, there are two formidable competitors pulling us in opposite directions. On one end, are the key people in our lives with whom we have relationships (parents, spouses, children, etc.). They want and deserve our time and attention and to enjoy great times together. On the other end is a formidable opponent—our status—which includes our career, our sense of success, and our packed and loaded schedule. These things can easily consume our time and divert us from our top priorities if we don’t take time to reflect.

During the past few decades, we’ve witnessed a cultural shift emphasizingperformance, rather than pursuing in-depth relationships. As adults, it’s apparent in the way we manage our own lives and schedules, as well as the way we parent our children. We’ve also noticed a trend that seems to say, “The more packed your schedule, the more you’ve accomplished” All of these phenomena are pulling us away from the things that matter most. Is it any wonder why anxiety levels are soaring?

But, something even more fundamental happens when we don’t allow margin and reflection in our lives. We sacrifice opportunities to appreciate, ponder, relax, and revitalize. To give thanks and be grateful for our blessings. To fully absorb life’s richness and experiences and commit them to our long-term memories. To humbly consider our shortfalls and how we can do better the next time around. To take to heart the joys of the day. To renew our spirit and face tomorrow with promise, energy, focus, patience, and a positive attitude. To be our best.

This summer, let’s try to remember how truly important we are to others, and how important they are to us. And, let’s make room for the pause that refreshes. In order to do this, it’s crucial to take a step back, clear some time in your schedule, and reflect. Here’s how you can make reflection a part of your daily (or weekly) routine:

  • Start a gratitude journal. Research shows that thankful people are not only happier, but also healthier.
  • Prioritize reflection and “me time” in your schedule. Consider the time of day and the location(s) that will help you make the most of this time.
  • Start each day with a “Top Three Priorities List.” Ensure that if nothing else happens that day, those three things do. As an added bonus, maybe take a moment to ask yourself whythose things are so important.
  • Put your phone away when you walk in the door from school/work/etc.
  • If you are working, consider taking a day off or weekend day and plan to spend it only with your loved ones, investing in your relationship with them. Remind yourself that those relationships are more important than tasks. You can neverget back the time you didn’t spend with them.
  • Remember it’s okay (in fact, it’s healthy!) to say ‘no.’ A packed schedule is not necessarily a good schedule.

May this summer be a time of renewed commitment to the things that really matter.
 
How are you spending the bulk of your time and energy? Are you focusing enough on building stronger relationships with family and friends? Or, are you allowing other things to dominate your priorities and fill your schedule to the brim? Are you formally scheduling down time in your life? Have you noticed the value when you do?

Reversing the Pattern of Entitlement in Young People

adults-black-and-white-casual-1374542

As I was enjoying a much needed relaxing weekend, I was reflecting on how the employment world has become so competitive. It struck me how we have to raise the bar in order just to stay even.

The question is: are we even staying even?

Two groups of people immediately came to mind when considering who could best answer this question: employers of young people and school counselors. After all, they’re the respective “consumers” of the nation’s schools and key leaders in guiding our students.

I talked to a manager of a coffee shop the other day who also teaches high school “tech-ed” courses. He vented about the lacking social skills, work ethic, and dependability of his employees and students, lamenting how they act like they’re owed something. He faces an uphill battle because he sees how their parents are routinely feeding these attitudes, enabling their child’s sense of entitlement.

This insightful insider commented that when parents do things like make last-minute absentee calls on behalf of their teen, give teachers flak when their students aren’t doing well in a class, or make nasty phone calls to employers when their child doesn’t get the promotion, raise, or extra hours he/she “deserved,” they’re doing their children a huge disservice in the long run.

Another person I spoke with, a veteran school counselor, shared how already in the first week of school they faced numerous issues with student disrespect and parental entitlement. Regrettably, this is consistent with a survey of school counselors I conducted a few months ago. Student apathy, “entitlement mentality,” and lack of parental support were among the top five issues they cited. 

Now, juxtapose this with a conversation I had with a determined Indonesian high school student after my talk, “Developing the Great Leaders of Tomorrow” during my book tour stop in Bali.

“Mr. Dennis,” he said, “I’m not as smart at academics as I’d like to be. But, can I still become a great leader?” he asked with great concern.

This kid gets it. No, success is not just about “book smarts—far from it.” It’s about being smart about life, without an attitude of entitlement. It’s about having the willingness to work hard and deliver excellence in all you do. For a host of reasons, too many students aren’t getting this message today.

All of us—parents, teachers, school and college administrators, and media/culture drivers, have a stake in reversing this trend of entitlement. This means honoring and modeling hard work, personal responsibility, strong ethics, perseverance, and preparing young people for a world that won’t revolve around them. It means teaching that failure is part of life and self-esteem is something best earned.

It means that as parents, our value isn’t defined by a perfect performance from our children, but whether they are people of excellence who strive to do their best. And, yes, it means assigning responsibilities to the privileges our young people naturally desire. That means adopting a “work comes before play” approach in the home, placing healthy limits on technology and entertainment, and building a helping, team-oriented attitude with chores so the household runs smoothly. It means remembering you’re in a position of authority, not a co-equal friend. It means choosing not to defend your child’s misbehavior or poor attitude to authority figures. Finally, it means providing our children opportunities to volunteer to help the less fortunate.

And, for our schools and universities, it means reversing the course of grade inflation that is causing students to feel a sense of entitlement that everyone deserves (and is receiving) good grades. It means that administrators, coaches, and teachers reemphasize the importance of respect to students, parents, and staff. Although well intended in many respects, the self esteem movement has contributed to serious unintended consequences—with entitlement, disrespect, overconfidence, and emotional fragility among the most obvious ones. A little tough love can, and will, go a long way to reversing these trends.

So, now that the school year is over, let’s get to work…on this!

 

Cultivate a Winning Attitude

winning attitudeIf you ask teenagers what is the most important ingredient for success, you’ll likely hear answers like intelligence, money, the number of friends, or even appearance. But, ask most employers and leadership experts with the benefit of wisdom and experience, and you’ll hear a glaringly different perspective. To most, they’ll give the nod to attitude.

In our work on employability, we regularly cite qualities such as integrity, commitment to excellence, dependability, work ethic, positivity, enthusiasm, and resilience as keys to success. Note that each is a choicegrounded in our attitudes. In my travels, some of the most endearing, positive, and productive people are among the most economically and academically deprived folks I’ve known. It’s such an important lesson to share with young people.

Dictionary.com defines “attitude” as follows: “manner, disposition, feeling, position, etc., with regard to a person or thing; tendency or orientation, especially of the mind.” We like to think of it as the perspective we take into our daily lives: our thoughts, words, actions, decisions, and interactions. For example, here are some areas significantly affected by our attitude:

  • Outlook on life
  • Mood, demeanor, and nature
  • Personal health and appearance
  • Relationships and communication
  • Handling challenges, disappointments, and unexpected change
  • Productivity, effort, and initiative
  • Personal responsibility
  • Vision, purpose, and goal orientation
  • Integrity
  • Approach to decision-making
  • Personal brand, values, and professionalism

No wonder our attitude is so important! And, why all of us need to be self aware of the attitude we bring into each life arena, each day.  Yes, students, this especially applies to you when you’re harboring a strong case of Spring Fever! And, teachers, this assessment might make for a great school-wide project to improve performance and culture.

To help you and the young people under your guidance, we developed an attitude self-assessment tool that you can access here. We encourage you to share it with the students and family members in your life and to be as honest in your self-evaluation as possible. We all can benefit from an attitude adjustment from time to time and in certain areas of our lives (e.g., work, school, family). Improving our attitude can be one of the most beneficial things we can do for our personal growth, and we hope this assessment identifies a few opportunities for you.

To inspire and encourage you in cultivating a winning attitude, we thought we’d conclude with some of our favorite quotes on the topic. Enjoy!

Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.

~John C. Maxwell

Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.

~Zig Ziglar

Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.

~John Wooden

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.

~Maya Angelou

I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.

~Stephen Covey

Whatever happens, take responsibility.

~Tony Robbins

… Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

~John F. Kennedy

Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

~Colin Powell

Six Tips to Help Teens Build Self-Awareness

adult-beautiful-face-774866“It takes courage…to endure the sharp pains of self discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives.” –Marianne Williamson

Regardless of your family or career role, you probably know some teenagers you’d like to see thrive. And what is one key character trait that generally leads to a happy, healthy, and successful adult life? Unfortunately, one that often takes a back seat as we navigate the busyness of life. . .

Self-awareness.

As consumed as teens are with schoolwork and activities, home responsibilities, jobs, college prep, family, social life, their online presence, and more, self-reflection is probably the last thing on their minds. However, being self-aware and cultivating healthy self-esteem will help them in life more than they can fully realize. So, whether we’re a parent, guardian, or mentor, we’ll have to help them make this a priority. Here a few suggestions to consider:

  1. Journaling. Does your teen journal? If not, encourage them to take a couple moments a day to quietly reflect. Have them write down what they’re passionate about, what they value, who they aspire to be. Suggest they write about their emotions, too. They’ll be surprised at how beneficial it can be!
  2. Set them up with a mentor. We all need mentors! Mentor relationships provide great learning opportunities for people both young and old. They allow us to model our life after someone we admire and aspire to be like, and learn practical life wisdom from the pros. Your teen’s mentor could be a relative, friend, youth leader, or someone in a desired career field.
  3. Be open about your own life experiences. A huge part of being self-aware is the ability to identify key people and events that played a role in creating our worldview and life perspective. Talk to your teen about the people who played essential roles in your own life (i.e. your parents, grandparents, a favorite college professor, an author, etc.). One of the greatest gifts we can give the young people in our lives is encouragement and wisdom from our own life experience (the good and the bad!).
  4. Don’t always gloss over mistakes and disappointments. When your teen messes up in a relationship or in school, it’s easy for us to overlook the shortfall and boost their self-esteem because we want to see them happy again. However, it is important for our teens to know their strengths AS WELL as their weaknesses, and to consider them as growth opportunities. Knowing areas of needed improvement will help your teen improve his or her character and mature. Reflective conversations after the fact cement those valuable life lessons.
  5. Have them develop a “Personal Balance Sheet” of their assets (special qualities they have to offer) and their constraints (things holding them back). This exercise is both revealing and inspirational as teens reflect on themselves and receive invaluable input from others. The assignment is found here.
  6. Create capacity in their schedules for down time and reflection. To help foster self-awareness in our kids, we need to consider it a priority in their schedules. It’s easy for other activities to “crowd out” this valuable time if we’re not careful. Quality self-awareness demands quality time.

Self-awareness is a product of careful introspection. It helps us develop more accurate answers to the fundamental questions of who am I, what do I uniquely have to offer this world, and what are my opportunities. When teens focus on their own personal character, including their values, beliefs, heroes, goals, struggles, shortfalls, etc., they soon reap the benefits of being self-aware. People who are self-aware learn to act intentionally and deliberately with hope and vision instead of being reactionary, random, or impulsive. They are able to redirect negative thoughts, be true to who they are, and be a positive light to the people around them.

How would you rate your own level of self-awareness? What have you done to encourage the young people in your life to become self-aware?  Six 

20 Ways to a Happier New Year

beard-bonding-community-708440 (1)

With the dawn of a new year, we’re inundated with lists of the 10 best this or five best that. I don’t know about you, but the problem I have with many of their ideas is they’re often vague or difficult to sustain over the course of the year. Despite our best intentions, we try them out and then peter out.

Nonetheless, at the risk of “piling on,” we’d like to share our recipe for a happier new year, 2019 style, with some creative ideas that might just stick. After reflecting on what makes people happy and unhappy, here is our eclectic list of suggestions that you might try on for size. No, we can’t guarantee a happy year, but I’ll bet money they’ll at least make you happier!

  1. Forgive someone: We thought we’d get the toughest one out of the way first! Sure, it may be difficult and emotionally draining, but one of the surest ways to better emotional health (and spirits) is to forgive. There is freedom in “letting go of” someone or something that has been a proverbial thorn in your side. It takes courage and strength, but it is oh so powerful. Try it.
  1. Renew an old acquaintance: One of my greatest joys in the past few years has been reconnecting with long-lost friends, some I hadn’t seen in over 40 years. It has been an absolute blast to the point where we’re “regulars” once again. Who might be on your list?
  1. Reread your favorite book: Here’s a sure thing. Think of an all-time favorite book you read years ago and reread it. With the passage of time, you’ll gain new perspectives and probably discover some things you missed the first time around. It’ll feel like you’re wearing that favorite old sweater once again.
  1. Seek balance and time to reflect: Can I just say it? We’re all too busy juggling life’s this and that. And, some of us pour our entire lives into one thing (usually careers). Be sure you maintain a healthy balance and a varied life—one that also reserves quality time to reflect, pray, meditate, and breathe. Quiet time is a must, and yet it’s usually the first to go. Sleep is a close second.
  1. Watch/listen to/read less news: We are being manipulated by our news media. And, I’m not just talking about the political spin that permeates almost every article or segment. It’s the deliberate effort to cause alarm, agitation, and fear by focusing on negative news stories and sensationalizing them. This is based on a belief that people are more interested in negative, than positive, news. Don’t fall for it. Consider how news is affecting you.
  1. Unfriend obnoxious people: We all “pilot test” some of our “friends” on social media to some degree. The challenge is we don’t know ahead of time what they’ll post and can even feel guilty “unfriending” them. Many of our “friends” choose to post things that either bring us down or incite controversy and angst by sharing their always-learned opinions. It’s irritating, it stays with us, and it’s a lousy way to spend our time. Just do it.
  1. Mind what’s on your mind: At the risk of stating the obvious, when we’re not doing things, we’re usually thinking Some of what we think of most brings happiness while others bring us down or cause endless worry. Where does your mind usually travel? Is it to positive/constructive places or otherwise? Be attentive to what brings you joy and consciously increase those kind of thoughts.
  1. Count your blessings: Arguably, the most powerful ingredient to happiness and joy is gratitude. And, not just the Thanksgiving Day kind. The every day kind. One great idea is creating a gratitude jar of notes you/your family have written about something you’re thankful for and then reading them later on. Whatever works best for you, having an attitude of gratitude is a sure bet.
  1. Enjoy more music, nature, art, and humor: When life is extremely busy, we can become so task oriented that we “squeeze out” the creative/ simpler things that bring joy, curiosity, and wonder. Whether you’re an observer or a “doer,” be sure you make room for these pleasures. They’re sure to brighten your day.
  1. Prefer in person to tech: Research is showing that, notwithstanding all of our social media “friends,” we’re becoming lonelier. Our screen time is often me time, and when we use tech as our primary means of communicating, we lose much. The solution is easy—more face-to-face time. Sure, it’s not as quick, but who cares! We all need this, and that includes you.
  1. Fix a regret: One of our greatest burdens is carrying a regret, whether from something we did or didn’t do. Depending on the nature and impact, it can consume us and sap us of our happiness. Do you have regrets? Are there steps you can take (conversations, apologizing, seeking forgiveness, doing) that would free you of this burden? Consider it a gift to yourself.
  1. Make someone’s day: Do you want to feel really great about yourself? Then, do something that will make someone say to you, “You just made my day!” or “You were an answer to prayer.” Seek out those opportunities where you can help, and be the solution to a problem. They’re everywhere waiting for you. (And, while you’re at it, consider mentoring a kid. They need you.)
  1. Seek out good news/stories: Good news is everywhere and so are great stories of human kindness. Sometimes we have to look a little harder to find them, but they’re there all right. Proactively explore sites, books, and articles that will uplift and inspire you and surround yourself with positivity. I even subscribed to an age-old magazine to do just that. It works!
  1. Remember, it’s okay to say, ‘No”: Some of us chronically overcommit to the point where we sacrificially run our tank on empty. We want to be helpful and please, but when we’re already consumed with busyness, we need to be more selective in what we agree to do. So, please don’t be afraid to say, “No” or “Not now.” Always save room for the people and things that matter most.

  2. Raise your irritation threshold: I used to let small things bother me until I realized that it was my choice. No more! In life, we’re constantly exposed to things or people that are irritating, but it doesn’t mean we have to let it drag us down. My mother always told me not to sweat the small stuff, and eventually, I took her words to heart. I should have sooner!
  1. Take more walks: One thing that reduces our happiness quotient is when we’re overly busy and our pace is frenetic. Not surprisingly, we also resort to fast-paced workouts (often indoors) in order to maximize results in a short time frame. To keep balance, stay active, and have some quality time to unwind and enjoy our surroundings, be sure to make room for walks, too. They’re a nice change of pace.
  1. Do something creative: So much of our time is task focused that we only use part of our brain. One way to counter this (and bring fun and joy into the equation) is to tap into your creative side. Whether that’s music, art, building, or otherwise, you’ll find it enjoyable and therapeutic. Also, be sure to check out the courses at your local community college if you’d like a little instruction. Is there a latent talent lurking inside?
  1. Initiate good cheer: Go out of your way to cheerfully greet the people you come across. It’s amazing how people will respond to you and how much it will lift your own spirits! Give it a try and you’ll see. Good cheer is a two-way street.
  1. Worry less: This is pretty self-explanatory. Worry robs us of joy and, frankly, does little good. Turn your worries into an action plan instead, and see how it builds hope and positive momentum. Tap into your support system, too.
  1. Start a Gourmet Club: “Huh?” you say. Here’s how it works. Find four people (or couples) and agree to meet quarterly on a rotational basis. The host is responsible for the setting, cuisine, and main entrée. The others bring dessert, beverages, side dishes, and appetizers in agreement with the cuisine. First, we mingle, then we eat, and then we follow with a game night and lots of fun conversation. We did this years ago with friends and are starting anew with our adult children. It’s a blast and it builds our cooking prowess, too!

So, there you have it. Let us know how it goes and which ones resonate most. Here’s to a Happier New Year to you and your family!