Better Yourself (and Your Holiday Season) by Expressing Yourself to Others

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“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

-Brene Brown

With Christmas just around the corner, most of us will be spending time with family in the coming days and weeks. Although family time is incredibly precious and shouldn’t be taken for granted, it can still be very difficult (strained, tense, emotional, etc.) for some. How does time with people we love end up being so tough sometimes? It’s hard to fully understand, but it’s a reality for a lot of us.

Perhaps it’s because it feels easier to put on our “everything is A-okay” face, and we don’t express ourselves honestly and openly. Deep down, we feel vulnerability, so we put up a wall that blocks anyone—even people close to us—from seeing how we really feel. We stuff our emotions, pretend everything is fine, and sweep conflicts and complaints under the carpet (until next year). Or, we find the path of least resistance is to keep a grudge and revert to passive aggressive behavior rather than reconcile with our family members (hmm, how well does that work?).

Many of us (especially us guys), have been led to believe that expressing our feelings is a sign of weakness. We think it makes us look like “less of a man,” overly-emotional, or out of control. However, 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 what “weakness” is, we pay a price if we don’t express our feelings. Being honest and authentic with others is a healthy practice, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

Brene Brown, a world-renowned psychological researcher says: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

“What’s so wrong with not talking about how I feel?” many may be asking. Well, for starters, plenty! First off, it deprives others of knowing how you really feel (How can they contribute their support or apologize 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 can cause explosive reactions when they’re eventually released. The balloon pops rather than gently losing its air. It’s not good for anyone.

This Christmas season, 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” and authentic with your emotions. Consider the following phrases and ask yourself how often you share them with others:

I love you

I am proud of you

I respect you

I made a mistake

I am scared right now

I am grateful for you

I am sorry

I am worried about…

Please forgive me

I’ve really had you on my mind.

I am grateful for you

This is how you made me feel…

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 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 the Christmas season, 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.

Happy holidays from all of us at LifeSmart, and may your holiday season be filled with open, communicative, and fun-filled time with your family and friends.

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

 

These Are a Few of Our Favorite Words (Part Two)

adult-beverage-breakfast-302810Well, we hope you didn’t experience any dog bites or bee stings last week, but if you did, we trust that our latest blog on some of our favorite words helped pull you through. Recall, we’re adapting the “My Favorite Things,” song to words that have special meaning to us this time of year. Our first six favorite words were: Peace, Reflection, Family, Joy, Beauty, and Self-Care. Did you accept our challenge and make your favorite word list? We hope so.

Here are this week’s low-cal word alternatives to crisp apple strudel:

Hope: Without a doubt, one of the most powerful ingredients to a happy and fulfilling life is hope. No matter what our current circumstances, hope helps us endure and gives us a head start in tackling each new day. Simply stated, without hope, we are consumed by the present as “our normal” and struggle to cast a positive vision for our future.

Dictionary.com defines hope as, “the feeling that what is wanted can be or that events will turn out for the best.” This perfectly captures why we honor the educators and mentors who pour themselves into the lives of children at risk. How often it is that their hope comes through relationships with caring adults and/or through faith in God. So, whether you’re a parent, educator, mentor, colleague, or friend, be on the lookout for opportunities to instill hope in others. This is the season of hope, right?

Compassion: Arguably, there is no time of year when the differences between the haves and have-nots are more apparent. Gifts may be plentiful and extravagant or nonexistent. Cupboards may be full in a well-heated home or nonexistent when one lives under a bridge. Some are soaring in their careers while others struggle to find work. Some live in families that exude love and affirmation, while others experience dysfunction, abuse, or neglect. Some are so healthy they take it for granted while others are challenged with chronic illnesses or just heard bad news from the lab.

And yet, each of these is the domain of a different kind of First Responder: the Compassionate. No matter how difficult the circumstances, they are called to bless the hurting. Yet, ask anyone who is so inclined and they’ll tell you they receive more in return. Whether it’s their job, a volunteer opportunity, or simply being available, they deserve our utmost admiration. We can also be that compassionate soul, too and financially support those organizations offering comfort to the world. We’re all in this together. #beablessing

Generosity: One of history’s most beloved stories (and films) is A Christmas Carol. Scrooge is a study of contrasts, abruptly transforming from a miserly crank to a giddy, child-like philanthropist making up for lost time. Honestly, I watch the movie every year, reflecting on opportunities where I could have been more generous.

Each of us has time, talent, treasure, and relationships to offer the world. How we go about this is a function of what we have to offer, where we can offer it, and deciding to offer it. Instead of requiring a catalytic, Scrooge-like experience, let’s all commit to generosity as a way of life. The opportunities are endless.

Creativity: Unlike any other month, December offers more ways to use our creative juices and marvel at the talents of others on display. Whether it’s music, theater, decorations, or homemade gifts, we’re surrounded by human originality and performance this time of year. And, it’s truly awesome.

In a world that seems preoccupied with programs for the analytically inclined, we believe the “creatives” are undervalued and underappreciated. So, this season, and throughout the year, seek out opportunities to invest in the arts and to increase your creativity quotient. It enriches our lives and our world in immeasurable ways.

Simplify: Okay, you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, right… he picks the craziest time of year to tell us to simplify when I can barely keep my tank full!” To that, we say, “Well, yeah!” My world and your world are getting more complex and distracted by the day, so this is a great reminder to push back from time to time. Our mental health and productivity are at stake if we don’t.

Here are some ways to simplify: 1) each year, check your wardrobe for items you haven’t worn in a year and donate them to the local clothing bank, 2) consciously schedule yourself downtime in your calendar, 3) reduce by half the amount of free time you spend on your technology (at a minimum, don’t check it so often!); this will free up time for family and “me time,” and 4) do a detailed “time budget” for a week to analyze how you’re spending your time; reduce/eliminate low value activities.

Cheer:  I once attended an Andy Williams Christmas show and correctly predicted his opening song: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” In it, he encourages us to be of “good cheer.” Well, if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for us. When we’re cheerful, we’re glad, and that’s a good thing any time of the year.

Let’s face it, we are drawn to people who are positive and cheerful rather than negative and dour. Cheerfulness rubs off on others (unless overdone to the point of being unnatural) and is key to making a good first impression, winning new friends, and influencing people. And, the more cheerful we are, the more cheerful we are. (No, that’s not a typo.)

So, there you have it… twelve of our favorite words for this holiday season and throughout the year. We hope it spurred you to consider your favorite words, and it’s a great assignment for your children and students, too.

 

These Are a Few of Our Favorite Words (Part One)…

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Happy holidays! ‘Tis the season where hustle and bustle meets merriment and jolly (and, yes, sometimes melancholy, but we won’t go there now). We are all faced with the desire to do everything and see everyone at this magical time of year, but if we’re honest, we usually look back and wish we took a little more time to just relax and enjoy the beauty and meaning of the season.

So, for the next two weeks, we’re going to slow down and simplify things. We decided to do “The 12 Days of Christmas,” but LifeSmart style, and focus on 12 impactful words that have an important meaning for each one of us during this season. Instead of worrying about the ways you can be more, do more, and buy more this holiday season, let’s all take a deep breath and reflect on the things that really matter.

Without further ado, here are a few of our favorite words:

Peace. This is a word that is we see everywhere during the holiday season, and it has become almost a cliché that we don’t even think about. What does peace really mean for you and me? “Peace on Earth” can feel downright impossible when you’re burdened by financial unknowns or difficult family members. But the truth is, true inner peace is not affected by our circumstances.

We are able to experience peace when we can persevere through circumstances we cannot change and make the most of what we can control. Simply put, there are a lot of things out of our control, and the only thing we truly can control is our attitude, behavior, contentment, and way we treat others. This year, consider saying “no” to one more holiday expectation, focusing on how you can live generously, enjoy time with others, and do the things you are most passionate about. Surround yourself with positive people and opportunities. Peace will come!

Reflection: Reflective practices make us healthier mentally, emotionally, and even physically. However, when our holiday pace is frenetic, taking time to sit and be quiet is usually the first thing to go! This season, make it a priority to truly relax and reflect. What are you grateful for and to whom? Where have you seen personal growth in your life over the last year?  What goals do you have for the upcoming year? How can you be more present in the lives of the people you love?

Studies have shown that people who sit down in the evening to reflect on their blessings and set goals for the future are more resilient, report a higher happiness quotient, and have deeper, more meaningful relationships. Could you ask for a better Christmas gift?

Family: It’s easy to fall into the trap of needing to buy the latest gadget or fashion item. Heck, we all experience it to some degree! However, it’s important to never forget how priceless the gift of family is. Even if you live far away from family or have no living family, those who aren’t related by blood can be a part of your family. These are the people who stick by your side, support you through ups and downs, make you laugh, and remind you that you’re never alone in the world.

So, next time you feel the pressure to buy, buy, buy, remember that people—not things—are what matter most. Pick up the phone and tell someone you care about them. And, seek out opportunities to be family to someone who needs it. Who could use a little more of you?.

Joy: Did you know joy and happiness are actually quite different? Happiness is circumstantial. We are happy at parties or on vacation or when our boss tells us we can leave a couple hours early. However, true joy sustains through all life situations, even when the going gets rough. Joy means choosing to look on the bright side, even when you’ve ruined the Christmas ham. Joy means generously giving to those around you, knowing that this is the true spirit of the holidays. Joy means forgiving those who have wounded you, and choosing not to complain about the ways you may feel overworked and underappreciated. (We aren’t saying to be a martyr, but to remember that inner joy is cultivated on the inside and not found in positive circumstances.) Could your life use a little more joy? Our best advice is to use your unique gifts and talents to bless people you are passionate about. Joy will come.

Beauty: This season is a feast for the senses. If we take the time to look for it, it’s everywhere. Nature contributes its blanket of snow. People adorn their homes, offices, and streets with festive trimmings. The creatives are given opportunities like no other time of year to showcase their musical, theatrical, and artistic talents. And, generous people share their inner beauty by brightening up the lives of others, instilling hope, and providing sustenance. Beauty is everywhere for us to create and enjoy. What beauty do you most appreciate this season?

Self-care: Guess what? It’s okay to say, “No.” Let’s say it again. IT’S OKAY TO SAY “NO.” It is okay to say no to more expectations, parties you simply don’t have the margin, interest, or resources to attend, or to spending time with negative or toxic people who suck the life out of you.

If you are not well-cared for, and if you let your tank run all the way to empty, you simply cannot give your best to your spouse, children, students, friends, and self. Self-care means doing whatever it takes to fill up your tank with health and balance, allowing you to savor every beautiful thing the season has to offer.

If you’d like, consider writing these six words down and meditating on them throughout the week. How can you integrate them more deeply into the fibers of your life? How can you put these words into practice? What words would you, your students, and family choose, if you had to list your favorite words?

Stay tuned for next week when we will share six more of our favorite words!

Change the World by Giving of Yourself

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That’s what I consider true generosity: You give your all and yet you always feel as if it costs you nothing. ~Simone de Beauvoir

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

The holiday shopping frenzy has begun! I am willing to bet that almost all of us have walked out to our mailbox only to find multiple Christmas catalogs and “coupon books,” alerting us of all the newest gadgets and clothes we need to buy this season. Everywhere we go, we are inundated with messages that tell us we need to buy more, more, more. If you ask me, this materialistic mindset takes the joy out of the holidays!

To me, the greatest joy comes from the giving of ourselves—not in the STUFF.

People who live generously—not just with their money, but with their whole person (time, talents, friendship)—deserve special admiration. They’re not motivated by fame, fortune, or scoring the newest iPhone on launch day, 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 during Thanksgiving and Christmas, 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. Accumulate. Indulge. However, there is a whole world out there that desperately needs what we (yes, you) 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 putting others first. 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. We don’t take those things with us when our time is up.

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. As you reflect on how you can live generously this Thanksgiving week, consider these three questions:

  • 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 and “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 and empathetic 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?
  • 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 a topic on 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 the holiday season!

 

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.)

 

 

Want to Change the World? You Don’t Have to Wait.

 

I don’t know about you, but the times in my life when I experience pure joy are when I do something that has a lasting impact on others. I mean, is there anything better than knowing you’ve made a positive difference in the world! Deep down, we all dream about being earth shakers.

Unfortunately, many people wait until their later years (if at all) to serve others and truly impact their community. History is filled with hermits who leave large nest eggs after they die, never having taken the time to give back while they were living. What a colossal waste! Similarly, there are many people who spend their lives focusing on themselves and their present wants, and completely ignoring the possibility of using their resources to help others.

You can avoid that mistake by committing to making your life a living legacy. In fact, there is no better time than now. This new year, make it your resolution to live your life with an outward focus. In this way, you’ll see your impact firsthand while inspiring others in the process. And, you’ll be changed for the better, too!

Not long ago, I spent a day with high school students at a prestigious prep school. It was technically a “day off” on the school calendar, but over 150 courageous students showed up for this special program focused on tackling difficult life issues. The stories in my group ran the gamut, but they mostly involved a lack of parental love or excessive pressure to perform (by parents) and to be popular (with peers). Seeing their lack of self worth was gut wrenching to me.

What struck me about this experience was: 1) the willingness and transparency of the students to admit their needs and be open to the wisdom of the adult mentors, and 2) the humility and commitment of the adult volunteers to also be transparent and real, and to invest their time and energy in our younger generation.

This was but one small opportunity in a field of millions, and I felt honored to serve. All around us there are people of all ages and causes that would benefit from our time, our energy, our input, our investment. Are you paying attention to the ones who would benefit from you?

In What I Wish I Knew at 18, I encourage my readers to take some time to evaluate what “causes” inspire them and provide some guidelines for discovering what those are. In the same vein, this free resource also gives students (and parents and educators) the opportunity to take inventory of their most prioritized values.

Which opportunities will you take today to invest in others and help make life a little (or a lot!) better for someone else? Whether you’re a student or an adult, strike while the iron is hot (and before it’s too late to set New Year’s goals!) and build a living legacy. Someone out there needs exactly you!

Don’t wait to change the world!

What are some examples in your life where you experienced pure joy and fulfillment? Or, where you had a significant impact on something or someone?

 

 

The Best Gift I’ve Ever Given. . .

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received? How about the best gift you’ve ever given? Can you come up with your top three? What’s the common denominator between them all? What makes the gifts so special?

More often than not, when I ask people these questions, they usually respond with gifts that:

  • were not expected
  • were ones they (or the other person) really needed
  • showed how much one person knew or understood the other
  • were not necessarily things, but experiences
  • were sacrificial on the part of the giver

That’s how I would describe the favorite gift I have ever given. And today, I’d like to tell you about it. Grab a nice cold glass of egg nog and enjoy . . .

It would be my first Christmas away from home. Four months earlier, I trekked from Wisconsin to my new home in Seattle to seek my MBA degree. Having left all of my family and friends behind, I knew Christmas of 1979 would be tough.

After experiencing (and not enjoying) my first solo Thanksgiving, I decided to see if my meager bank account could support a surprise trip home. Although a flight to Green Bay was out of my price range, I could pull this off if I flew to Chicago and had someone drive me the remaining four hours north. Bless his heart, my friend Bruce offered to be my chauffeur to and from O’Hare.

Once my top secret trip was scheduled, I made a point of sounding extra lonesome on my weekly calls home. (Yes, a little nasty but in the end they wouldn’t mind!) My parents were having mixed emotions about this Christmas, too.

After our long, snowy ride, we arrived at my brother Rick’s house late on the 23rd and reviewed our plans. Rick had acquired a large empty cardboard box, big enough to fit yours truly. It would be addressed to my parents from the North Pole, and the grand unveiling would be set for 9:00 a.m. Christmas eve on their upstairs apartment doorstep.

As Rick drove me to my parents’ place, the suspense became almost unbearable. When we arrived just outside their door, I placed the box over my head and crouched down, sitting on top of the bottom flaps to hold it in place. After giving the “all clear” signal to Rick, he rang the doorbell and rushed down the stairs out of sight.

Let’s pause so you can fully imagine this. You are an unexpected Christmas gift on your parents’ doorstep and are about to shock the living daylights out of them! My heart was about to explode.

My mom, in her mid-Sixties, answered the door and shouted, “Oh my, Lil, what’s this?” (Lil was a similarly aged neighbor visiting.) Her presence only added to the raucous. Next was “My, this is heaaavvvvyy! What could be in here?” Lil added, “I don’t know, but let’s try lifting it.” Listening in on their speculation, I almost lost it!

Well, to make a long story short, these ladies tried their best to lift it (while I, inside, was desperately holding down the flaps!). When one of my boots stuck out, I knew it was time. I counted to three and in one move jumped out of the box and cried, “Merry Christmas!” Just try to imagine their shock. It was truly priceless. And, within five minutes, it was all around the entire complex.

A Christmas present no one would ever forget.

This season, we focus on what I personally consider to be history’s greatest gift—a savior, named Jesus. He was and is an unexpected gift that came to mean everything to this world, and He came from a Giver who knew exactly what we needed.

Over the next week as you spend time with those you love, think about the reasons behind your gifting. Is this the year for your greatest gift?

Merry Christmas from the LifeSmart family.

Holiday Traditions to Start with Your Kids and Teens

We’ve arrived the holiday season and the hustle and bustle abounds. There’s a holiday activity to attend at every turn—tree lightings, festivals, family parties, cookie exchanges, Christmas pageants, church services, and much, much more. For a family with kids—especially ones in early teen to older teen age range—it can be hard to find activities that “fit” their current interests.

It’s not too uncommon for teenagers sense the independence in their future and pull away slightly from parents and family (we wrote a bit more about this phenomenon here). In fact, I recently had a conversation with a friend who was trying to enjoy holiday traditions with her teen son, but she described him as disinterested and sullen. This mom was frustrated and nearly at her wit’s end—she said these things were so much easier when he was younger.

As a parent with two adult children, I’ve been through this stage myself. I can understand the pull between wanting to enjoy the holiday season with your kids, and also wanting to respect their changing interests. In order to help, all of us at LifeSmart have put together a list of ideas for things to do with the teens or young adults in your life during the month of December. Without further ado’, here it is:

  • Go to an outdoor ice skating rink. These are becoming increasingly popular and are popping up in shopping centers or city centers all over.
  • Watch a Christmas movie, their choice. Don’t try and push “White Christmas” or “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Let your teen pick the flick . . . and the snacks.
  • If you celebrate Hanukkah, let your teen pick the theme of each night. As they get older, they may not be as interested in the little gifts. Choosing a theme allows your family to branch out and participate in activities that engage even the older kids.
  • Donate to a charity or complete a service project of their choice. Is there a kid at their school who may need help with Christmas gifts or food this year? A cause your teen is passionate about? Make your holiday giving about something that’s important to them.
  • Have them invite their friends over to do some holiday baking. Teens are often more likely to enjoy a family activity if one or two of their friends get to join as well.
  • Let your teen lead the Hanukkah rituals and activities—and allow them to invite their friends to participate as well.
  • If you’re up for helping to host, let your teen host a Christmas party. Planning it can be their job. It can be a great chance for them to learn administrative and organizational skills! And, if the Christmas party idea isn’t a hit, perhaps a get together to watch the NCAA football conference championship games.
  • Paint Christmas ornaments at a local pottery painting studio.
  • Go skiing, snowboarding, or sledding as a family.
  • Check out an area play or concert, including local high school performances
  • Ring the Salvation Army bells as a family or as a group with their friends.

Creating new winter holiday traditions as your children grow and change their interests can be hard to navigate as a parent. The important part is communicating that you care, and are willing to adjust your own expectations in order to spend time with them. It’s a great opportunity to let them take the lead on ideas and event planning. And, most of all, to share in their world a little bit more.

May this season bring you love, joy, friendship, and endless fun with family.

Happy holidays from LifeSmart!

Keeping the Peace During the Holidays: Part Two

In last week’s post, I shared four things to help avoid communication breakdowns, especially during the holiday season when we’re surrounded by so many family and friends. One consideration for promoting peace and harmony (and not just for the holidays!) is the form of delivery our communication takes, especially when dealing with a highly charged topic.

Writing letters, emails, or texts is certainly easier than speaking about sensitive subjects in person, especially if you’re the type to avoid confrontation. The distance provided by written forms can theoretically offer a protective shield. However, if the receiver doesn’t accurately perceive your intended tone, it can be an unmitigated disaster. Interestingly, this is becoming a big issue with the younger generation that prefers to communicate via technology than face to face.  BIG problem.

Whenever you’re dealing with sensitive, controversial, or emotionally charged subjects or feelings, it’s generally much better to talk it out rather than write it out. Here’s why …

A friend of mine once sensed a growing distance with a family member and was feeling improperly judged. Rather than talk about it personally, my friend decided to write a letter. After reading the carefully crafted draft, I implored my friend not to send it, for fear it would be misconstrued. Unfortunately, my advice was ignored, and in the aftermath, their relationship was severely damaged. My friend made the mistake of assuming the receiver would insert the intended tone when reading the letter. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way. Their relationship has never been the same.

This is a classic example of what can happen when you use written communication in a situation where face to face (or at least over the phone, if that’s not possible) would be better. When speaking, you’re in control of your tone of voice and body language, and there’s less chance of misinterpretation. At least if happens, you’re there to correct the situation through give and take. In contrast, written correspondence leaves far too much to chance and takes much longer to rectify if your words are misunderstood. It’s a risk to avoid if you can.

Another problem with written communication—especially in this digital age—is that you have no guarantee it will stay with the intended recipient. When you send a text or email, you have no control over where it goes. With the ability screenshot everything, who knows where it could end up! (It also means we should think twice before hitting “send” on basically everything.)

I can’t stress enough why it’s so important to try and have our sensitive conversations in person. It may be easier to jet off an email or post a rant on Facebook, but in the long term, that’s probably not going to be your best bet.

If you have a strained relationship with a friend or family that you are looking to reconcile before the holidays, I urge you to reach out to that person and ask them out to coffee (or some other comfortable setting). Although the thought of confrontation may be uncomfortable, the outcome will likely be much better than if you sent a text.

May your holidays be filed with good conversation, reconnection, reconciliation, peace, and unity for you and your families.

How do you handle the communication of sensitive or emotional topics? Have you ever written out your feelings in a letter, email, or social media posting and later regretted it? Or, been on the receiving end of someone else’s?

 

Happy Holidays from the LifeSmart team!

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!