Keeping the Peace During the Holidays

Now that Thanksgiving and the holiday season are upon us, there are a few things we can be certain of: good food (and too much of it!), sweet treats, festive activities, shopping until we drop, and time with extended family.

Unfortunately,, for some of us, time with extended family can be strained. And when tensions are high, people are much more likely to take offense. This week, I’d like to talk about HOW you communicate with others and how you can avoid conflict as you interact with family, friends, and others over the next month.

Miscommunication and spats happen to all of us, probably more often than we’d care to admit. There are, however, some simple things you can do to minimize them, especially by remembering how others receive our messages:.

 

  1. Word choice – This factor is huge, especially when we discuss sensitive topics or relationships (here’s a hint: No talking politics over turkey dinner!). In these situations, our emotions can interfere with our thinking, and we often use more provocative language that we later regret. In the “heat of battle,” we can be so focused on proving our point that we forget to show tact, empathy, and understanding to the other party. The end result is that things spiral out of control, and frustration and anger take over..

 

  1. Delivery – Sometimes it’s our manner of delivery that gets in the way, even if our word choice is fine. Examples include speaking with a harsh or condescending tone of voice or displaying arrogant facial expressions or body language (e.g.,, eye rolling). No matter what words we use, if the “packaging” is incongruent, our message will lack credibility and rub people the wrong way. No one is convincing when they show disrespect to their audience.

 

  1. Form – Ever wanted to jet off a nasty email when you’re upset or irritated? Don’t be so quick on the draw. The advantage of verbal communication is that the audience hears you speak, allowing your tone to help convey your ideas. In contrast, written communications (e.g., emailing, texting, social media comments and messages) have a major disadvantage because the audience imposes their own interpretation of your tone. Aunt Sue’s perception may be light years away from what you intended. If so, you have a big problem on your hands.

 

  1. Filter – Depending on whether your audience likes or distrusts you, whether they’re in a good or bad mood, or focused or distracted by other thoughts, your message may not get through in the way you intended..Unfortunately, you can’t control their filter.

 

There are two other irritating tendencies that are becoming more common and sabotaging our times together. One is when people use every opportunity to politicize, even during get-togethers that are supposed to be festive and harmonious. The second is when people emphatically express opinions as though they are facts. This is a predictable consequence of the media bias we are seeing. Please be mindful of these tendencies and respectfully suggest a change of subject if you’re on the receiving end.

This holiday season, I hope you never find yourself having to say “I didn’t mean it like that!” to an uncle, aunt, parent, sibling, or cousin. By remembering these influences before you speak, you’ll do your part in spreading peace and harmony to others.

Do you pay close attention to how you communicate and how your words are being received? What are some ways you’ve learned to be a more effective communicator?

 Happy Holidays from all of us at LifeSmart!

The Gift of a Giver

During this time of year, we are inundated with suggestions of ways we can help others. Whether it’s the Salvation Army volunteers wearing Santa hats and ringing bells outside your local grocery store (I do that!), organizations making it possible for you to “adopt” a family less fortunate than yours, or packing up shoeboxes full of goodies to send to children in third world countries—there are countless ways you can make a difference. To be honest, I think it is a welcome change from the messages we most often hear all the other months of the year.

“Follow your passion. Do what makes YOU happy. You’re awesome. Find yourself.” These phrases should sound familiar, because they seem to be everywhere these days. Young people all across the globe are being encouraged to discover themselves and follow their hearts. These messages aren’t necessarily bad by any means—we all need to follow our passions—however, life really isn’t all about us. When taken to the extreme, this mindset contributes to self centeredness and an entitlement mentality and can send our children the wrong message. So, this holiday season, and for the other months of the year, I encourage you to direct your life toward others.

As the holidays approach swiftly, what if we all went from being self-focused to other-centered? Think of what a difference we could make in the world! After all, I think most successful people would say that their biggest life accomplishments have more to do with what they’ve done for others, rather than what they’ve done for themselves. Giving can be a greater gift to the giver than to the receiver.

Where are you directing your life right now—toward yourself or toward others?  Spend some moments thinking about how you spend most of your time, energy, and resources. Talk with your family about the ways you can shift your focus toward others. Whether it’s by yourself, with a friend, or as a family unit, brainstorm some ways you can impact your community during the holidays and beyond.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Donate a Thanksgiving meal to a local family who can’t afford one this year
  • Serve meals or collect clothing for your local mission or shelter
  • Adopt a family (or child). Some organizations you can do this through are: Doing Good Together, Soldier’s Angels, World Vision, and the YWCA. Also look for local organizations or programs near you.
  • Visit those who are lonely (bedridden, in a nursing home, etc.). Call local senior centers or nursing facilities to find out how you can help. Dust off those rusty caroling skills! Or, take someone out to lunch who is missing a loved one.
  • Donate to Toys for Tots or similar programs
  • Make a difference in the lives of foster children. Look into ways you can help during the holiday season with organizations like Together We Rise or Children’s Action Network.
  • Encourage paying it forward. Even if it’s just buying a Pumpkin Spice Latte for the car in line behind you at Starbucks, it will bring joy to someone’s day! One of my favorite stories is about someone who pays for the groceries of others.

 

I promise, you’ll receive far more in return than you give. Your life will have more balance, your spirit will soar, you’ll make new friends, and you’ll maximize the impact of your life. Oh, and you’ll also make the world a better place in the meantime! What’s not to love about that? Happy holidays!

 

Friendsgiving and the Four Stages of Friendship

The holidays are already just around the corner (how did that happen?), and so many of us are already filling up our calendars with festive events, dinner parties, school functions, and traditional gift exchanges. It’s a season to focus on family and friends. How many of you are having a Friendsgiving celebration this year? I know that I am, so I definitely have the topic of friendship on my mind.

With so much focus on spending time with those we love, I’m reminded of what real friendship looks like. “Friend” is one of those words that has taken on a new meaning in today’s social media-inundated world. Now, the word “friend” can easily refer to a life-long confidante, or simply someone you just connected with on Facebook or started following on Instagram! BIG difference, don’t you think?

Generally speaking, healthy long-term relationships progress through four stages and—no offense to Facebook—“friend” isn’t the first stage. Ideally, each relationship stage should build on the other and at the proper pace. What advances a relationship to new stages or levels, IF it is meant to advance at all, are: mutual trust, compatibility, a shared interest in cultivating a deeper friendship, and the tests of time.

The stages go like this (imagine a pyramid, starting at the base):

  1. Acquaintance
  2. Prospect (a potential friend)
  3. Friend
  4. V.I.P. (Very Important Person)

Every person who becomes more than an acquaintance will start in the first stage.  Most stay there forever while others may progress into the next stages. Only a very few will make it to the VIP stage—and that’s the way it should be. Most of us usually have 4-5 VIPs, the crème de la crème of people in our lives.

Unfortunately, many people—particularly young people—can rush the stages, prematurely moving from one to the next in a quest for intimacy, new friends, popularity, or a full social calendar. When the stages are rushed, people exhibit behaviors in one stage that should be reserved for a deeper one. Inevitably, these relationships disintegrate due to a breakdown in trust, a loss of interest, or a pace that is uncomfortable for one or both of the parties. Note this applies to both friendships and romantic relationships.

If you want healthy, lasting relationships, don’t rush to stage four (like they do in the movies!). When you do, you risk making an emotional investment without really knowing the person—a mistake that can take a major toll when the relationship ends. It’s better to go slow through the stages and reserve the VIP level for people who really prove their friendship, commitment, and compatibility over time.  Don’t forget that good friendship and true love take time and good timing, and that’s okay.

Take some time to think about your current relationships. Can you recognize which stage each one is in? This holiday season, make a conscious effort to invest your deepest relationships and those poised to move up to the next stage. Those are the friendships that will build you up and last a lifetime!

What Christmas Traditions Can Do for Your Teen

cookies“Aaaaw, do we really have to do        __this year?” (eyes roll)

Got teens?  If so, it may be easy for you to fill in the blank. Many times, these are the years parents get the most pushback from their kids when it comes to family traditions.  (Think Audrey in Christmas Vacation, if you’re a fan.)

But while some Christmas traditions may well need to be put on the shelf as children get older (e.g., a 16-year old on Santa’s lap at the mall to get that annual photo may seem a little over the top to some and downright humiliating to others), many traditions can serve to reinforce the bonds we share as a family.

As our (Arlyn’s) five children were growing up, we went out each year on the weekend after Thanksgiving to cut the family tree (more visions of Christmas Vacation, the slightly-edited-for-language version).  Early on, in an attempt to settle the inevitable squabbles that would arise as we searched for the “perfect tree,” we settled on the practice of having a “girls’ year” and a “boys’ year” to pick the tree. Did this eliminate conflict?  Not always, although it certainly minimized it. What it did do was cement a tradition that to this day continues to forge an impression in our kids’ minds of who we are as a family: we do things together. We communicate. We negotiate. We take turns.  These are important aspects of our family brand—all year long.

The “kids” now range from 19 to 30. And we still go out to cut a Christmas tree together each year … adding sons and daughters-in-law and a few grandkids to the mix, and still alternating girls’ years and boys’ years!

The traditions your family establishes and maintains—like going to church together on Christmas Eve, taking cookies to your neighbors, wearing matching jammies on Christmas morning, or whatever—can accomplish far more than just fun memories. They can be a significant part of creating a strong sense of security, identity, and values in your children. These are the kinds of qualities that can ground them and give them the internal strength they need to navigate the world with confidence.

Trust me, there were a lot of eye rolls and even a few spats over the years on our annual Christmas tree expeditions. (I remember an apple fight that turned ugly one year; the boys found rotting apples in a nearby orchard and decided to pelt the girls with them!). But bottom line, the tradition became something that contributed much more to our family brand than we ever anticipated: our traditions helped to cement our relationships.

What traditions does your family practice at Christmas?  Have you ever thought about what qualities they contribute to your family brand? Please share your ideas and memories with us; we’d love to hear!

Because We’re Thankful For You

As we enter Thanksgiving week, we’re grateful for your tireless investment in the next generation. Whether you’re a parent, guardian, educator, or mentor, we’re celebrating YOU with our annual holiday sale, now through year-end!

You’ll receive substantial savings—(20% off!)—on all of our products:


What I Wish I Knew at 18:  wiwik18-cover

  • 109 leadership strategies for a successful life, messaged to your teen
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  • Comprehensive parenting guide to navigate the teen years
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5 Benefits of Gratefulness That Will Surprise You

Thanksgiving is here! It’s one of my favorite holidays, not just because I enjoy the delicious turkey, stuffing (seriously, mine is the best!), pumpkin pie, and spending time with loved ones, but because of something deeper. Thanksgiving gives me the chance to slow down and do a self-check—an opportunity to look in my heart and ask myself, Am I grateful?  Do I practice an “others first” way of life? Would others, especially my kids, even notice?

Most of us would like to think of ourselves as grateful people…but how often are we, really? It’s easy to let the business of life and the pressing desire for MORE STUFF get in the way.

Gratitude is the simple attitude (and act) of showing appreciation and thankfulness. It doesn’t take a lot of our time or effort to be thankful, but it holds incredible benefits for both the one expressing it and the person (or people) receiving it. In fact, there are many benefits of a grateful heart. Some of them may surprise you!

  1. Just 15 minutes a day of focusing on the things you are grateful for will boost your body’s antibodies and contribute to a strengthened immune system. This means that a more thankful, appreciative heart and mind will make for a healthier body!
  2. Thankful people are more focused mentally, and therefore measurably less vulnerable to clinical depression. To reap this benefit, consider keeping a daily thankfulness journal and jot down the things you are appreciative of that day.
  3. Gratitude induces a physiological state of mind called “resonance,” often associated with healthier blood pressure and heart rate. In fact, recent studies have shown that people who participate in “gratitude practices” go to the doctor less often. Now, that’s a win!
  4. Thankfulness can help you relax both physically and mentally. Focus on what you are grateful for to help minimize the stressors in your life!
  5. Gratitude benefits your relationships. For example, being grateful creates more positive interactions with your spouse, partner, children, friends, and colleagues. When positive interactions (compliments, expressions of gratitude, encouragement, etc.) greatly outweigh the negative ones (sarcasm, disagreements, criticism), a relationship becomes stronger and more fulfilling. And, memo to all of you in supervisory roles: appreciation and recognition are the most powerful motivators of a workforce! Money isn’t even close.

Thankful people make the people around them happier, too, and ultimately attract more friends and opportunities as a result. This Thanksgiving season, let’s commit to taking on some “gratitude practices.” Watch how it positively affects you and others!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Better Yourself (and Others) by Expressing Your Emotions

With Easter very quickly approaching (hey, wasn’t it just Christmas?), most of us will be spending time with family in the coming weekend. Although family time is incredibly precious and shouldn’t be taken for granted, it can still be very difficult for some. How does time with people we love end up being so tough sometimes?

Well, for one, it’s because we often put on our “everything is A-okay” masks and don’t express ourselves honestly or openly. Deep down, we fear vulnerability, so we put up a wall that blocks anyone from seeing how we really feel. We stuff our emotions, pretend everything is okay, and sweep any conflict or complaints under the carpet (‘til next year). Or, we find the path of least resistance is to keep a grudge and revert to passive aggressive behavior rather than reconcile. (Hmm…how’s that working for you?)

Many (especially us guys) have been led to believe that expressing our feelings is a sign of weakness. That’s not the case at all—it’s actually a sign of emotional maturity! But whether it’s from our upbringing or a distorted perception of “weakness,” we pay a price if we don’t express our feelings. Being honest and authentic with others is a healthy practice. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

“What’s so wrong with not sharing how I feel?” many may be asking. Plenty!  First off, it deprives others of knowing how you really feel (How can they contribute their support if they don’t know what’s wrong in the first place?). Second, suppressed feelings can cause stress and, if severe, illness and depression.  Third, deep-rooted offenses and resentment they can cause explosive reactions when they’re eventually released. The balloon pops rather than gently losing its air. Not good—for anyone!

I encourage you to learn how to freely and appropriately express your feelings to the people in your life. Here’s a short test to help you judge how easy (or not) it is for you to be “real.” Consider the following phrases and ask yourself how often you share them with others:

I love you                   I’m proud of you                   I respect you

I appreciate you        I made a mistake                   I admire you

I was wrong               I care about you                    Please forgive me

I’m sorry                    I’m grateful for you              I’m worried about…

 

Some of these are naturally easier to express than others, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Expressing your feelings and communicating openly and honestly are life skills that CAN be learned and refined.  With that, here are three simple tips to help you open up:

  1. Be sincere. Speak the truth, and speak it from your heart.
  2. Be mindful of your body language and tone of voice. Certain body language (arms crossed, hands on hips, standing above the other person, etc.) or voice tones may counteract your words. Sincerity is key to any apology. .
  3. Avoid finger pointing and accusations. Instead, talk about how certain situations made you feel and strive for understanding.

As we enter into this spring holiday, I hope you enjoy your times of togetherness. Use them to practice expressing the “real you” and maybe to repair a strained relationship. Remember, successful people express themselves not only for their own benefit, but also for the benefit of others.

 

How would you rate when it comes to expressing yourself? Are there phrases on the above list that you have difficulty saying? Why?

3 R’s for the New Year: Reflections, Resolutions, and (No) Regrets

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Looking back on 2015, do you have any regrets? Are there things you did and wish you hadn’t—or things you didn’t do and wish you had? Any relationships that are strained? Opportunities missed?

We all have regrets from time to time. However, you can minimize big ones (or avoid them altogether) if you periodically ask yourself the regret question and then actually do something about it. The new year is a great time to start, but reflecting on our regrets and resolutions is a great practice to adopt all year long.

For many people (myself included), personal reflection time is the area we sacrifice when our lives get busier. Unfortunately, when this happens, we can get out of balance, grow impatient, and often burn out. We’re not at our best. That’s why it’s so important—at New Year’s and all the year through—to take time to unwind and reflect. Frankly, it’s the only way we can go deep with ourselves—to explore how we’re doing and consider where we’d like to go. Find a place that inspires you and quiets your soul, and let your mind ponder some new growth possibilities. (If you are a person of faith, it’s a great opportunity to include prayer for discernment and wisdom.) You’ll be surprised by your renewed spirit and by the new ideas and insights that can surface during quiet times like this.

I also find there is wisdom to be gained from older people who are in a naturally more reflective stage of life. When I’ve asked some of them about their life regrets, I’ve heard things like:

  1. I didn’t spend enough time with my loved ones.
  2. I didn’t tell my family and friends that I loved them often enough.
  3. I was too stubborn or proud to admit my mistakes and apologize.
  4. I chose bitterness over reconciliation.
  5. I allowed my life to be consumed by work.
  6. I was too hesitant to take risks, try new things, and believe in myself.
  7. I wasted too much time.
  8. I didn’t appreciate the little things in life.
  9. I valued things over relationships.
  10. I worried too much.

Do any of these apply to you? Be honest! Although regrets run the gamut, did you notice that most involve relationships and priorities? This is why it’s so important that our life be balanced and our priorities right. When we see something is out of order, let’s resolve to make a mid-course correction.

After some time for reflection, ask yourself what resolutions you’d like to make for the upcoming year, especially those that might minimize regrets next New Year’s Eve. The Oxford English Dictionary describes resolutions as “(decisions) to do or to refrain from doing a specified thing from that time onwards, or to attempt to achieve a particular goal, usually during the coming year.” What have you been doing that you’d like to stop doing? What have you not been doing that you want to begin? Are there new growth opportunities or experiences on your bucket list? Then don’t stop there. Turn your resolutions into goals and your goals into executable actions. That’s living with intentionality!

This discipline of regrets, reflection, and resolution is a good one for all ages. Consider sharing it with the young people in your life. It will help you—and them—make needed changes and “relationship repairs” along the way. Wouldn’t it be great, though, to reach the end of 2016—and even to the end of life—and be able to say, “NO (or few) REGRETS?”

Image credit: Brianna Showalter
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Out with the Old, In with the New!

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A fresh year always inspires fresh dreams. Most of us think, “What are the things I could improve in my life, if I had a fresh start?” For some reason, “January 1st” symbolizes new possibilities and a chance for a “do-over.”

In what area of your life would you like a fresh start? In your parenting or other relationships? Your performance at school or on the job? How about being more financially savvy or more organized? Or, maybe yours is like mine: to take control of busyness and reserve more time to reflect. All of these are admirable aspirations—but how can we make them a reality?

Most successful people accomplish their aspirations by staring with dreams and then establishing goals and plans to help make them come true. And, they know that the most effective goals are both specific and measurable (as opposed to vague and difficult to evaluate). As you start to identify your aspirations for 2016 and beyond, it’s important to develop short-, intermediate-, and long-range goals to help get you there.

Even if you’re not naturally a goal-setter, it’s not difficult to become one.  Start by imagining what you want your life to look like. What are the large-scale goals you hope to achieve? These are your long-term or lifetime goals.  It’s important to set these first because they will shape your overall perspective and help frame your smaller and shorter-term goals. Think about such areas as:

  • Education and learning
  • Career
  • Marriage and family
  • Finances
  • Community service
  • Relationships
  • Spiritual life
  • Physical goals (sports, etc.)
  • Talents and skills
  • Travel
  • Experiences
  • Retirement

Once you’ve established your long-term goals, you can set some medium-term goals (e.g., three to five years) that will help you achieve your long-term goals.  From there, you can set one-year, six-month, and one-month goals, all of which will ultimately contribute to the larger picture. Periodically check on your long-term goals to make sure they remain high on your list. Also, monitor your progress on your medium-range goals to make sure you’re on track.

(Parents, you may want to make some parenting goals … check out our book, Parenting for the Launch, for some ideas to help you set goals and create a family mission statement.)

Finally, start making daily to-do lists, prioritized by importance and urgency. If you do, you’ll be contributing on a daily basis toward the things that will make your lifetime goals and dreams possible. Here are some guidelines as you do:

  • Phrase your goals in the positive, not the negative
  • Make them realistic goals—ones that are possible and achievable
  • Make them measurable and specific, such as “visit five continents” as opposed to “travel around the world”

What are your aspirations for 2016? Beyond that? This can be fun and lively discussion with family and friends over the holiday season. Make a plan to check back with each other next New Year’s and see who has gained the most ground in accomplishing their goals.

The Joy of Living Generously

The value of a man resides in what he gives
and not in what he is capable of receiving.
~Albert Einstein

Really, life’s greatest joys come not in the getting, but in the giving. Don’t you agree?

People who live generously—not just with their money, but with their whole person—deserve special admiration. They’re not motivated by fame or fortune, but rather by joyful service. Their qualities of generosity, empathy, compassion, and kindness make them inspiring treasures to us all. And although those values tend to get more press at Christmastime, they are values we should all aspire to live by all year long.

Generosity is a paradox. The culture around us screams materialism and commercialism – Buy, buy, buy. Accumulate. Indulge. On the other hand, there is a whole world out there that desperately needs what we have to offer. It invites us to give, serve, help, and empower. The paradox of generosity is this: the more we give, the more we get! It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s true. We find our life by losing it. We win by losing. We gain by giving away. And, our greatest memories are of the gifts we gave rather than the ones we received.

This kind of generosity requires sacrifice—not just financial, but personal. Yes, it can be stretching and uncomfortable. But slowly, we begin to realize there’s more to life than what we own and can hold onto.

Have you ever wanted to change the world? This is where it starts. In fact, how you eventually impact the world will be driven not merely by what you have to offer but what you choose to offer. It’s the ultimate generosity test, isn’t it?

What do you uniquely have to offer the world? There are many different avenues that can allow you to allocate your personal resources to serve others. To decide how best to give what you have to benefit others, there are three main questions to consider:

  • What talents, skills, and resources do I have to offer?
  • What groups or community segments (e.g., youth, elderly, homeless) do I feel most called to help
  • What organizations will allow me to use my time, talents, and treasure to help those I feel most passionately about?Could your answers to these questions be a New Year’s resolution in the making

What would happen in our communities if we all cultivated and demonstrated this heart of generosity, of “other-centeredness” as a way of life, embodying the qualities of generosity and compassion in our everyday dealings with people? I think the world would be a more welcoming place! With that in mind, here are some ideas for living generously this holiday season—and throughout the year:

  • Make a donation to an organization serving people and causes you are passionate about.
  • Look for ways to be creatively generous if you are on a limited budget. How can you give time? Attention? Acts of service? Material possessions? You could sell something you own and give away the proceeds.
  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter in your city.
  • Visit a nursing home or hospital. Listen to their stories, or tell some of your own. Just sit with them if that’s what brings comfort.
  • Allow yourself to be interrupted without being irritated—this is a mark of a generous spirit. (Or, put down your mobile device and give the people around you your undivided attention.)
  • Make yourself available to people or organizations, free of charge, for consulting on an area or topic in which you have expertise.

This short list of ideas just scratches the surface—you may even come up with better ones! The bottom line is this: Living generously will bring help and hope to others and immense joy to you in return. You’ll receive far more than what you give. Nothing compares with using all of you to serve and improve the world around you. This is the true spirit of Christmas!

Have you experienced the deep satisfaction that “giving yourself away” evokes? What have you done and how has it impacted you. Looking ahead, what new ways do you envision using your time, talent, and treasure to make the world a better place? Share your thoughts; we’d love to hear your stories and ideas!