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.

9 Decision-Making Mistakes Your Teen Can Avoid

christian-erfurt-sxQz2VfoFBE-unsplashTruth be told, I hate making mistakes. Yes, I know they can be beneficial IF we learn from them, but I prefer my learning to come in other ways!

Given our human condition and imperfections, mistakes come in many forms, especially during the adolescent years when our brains, bodies, emotions, and lives are changing at breakneck pace. And, at a time when kids are making more of their own decisions, it follows that their mistakes will increasingly stem from flaws in their decision-making methods.

No one will ever bat 1.000, but one way we can all improve our batting average is to understand the origins of common decision-related mistakes. Through both personal experience and our professional work with parents, educators, mentors, and students, we’ve identified nine typical inhibitors to sound decision-making. Our hope is that with training, reflection, and self-awareness, the adolescents under your guidance can reduce their decision-related mistakes. Who says learning has to be done the hard way!

So, are you ready to help yours become great decision makers? Here are some common pitfalls they’ll want to avoid. . .

  1. Not considering all realistic options: Sometimes there is only one right answer, but often there are many good alternatives. Case in point: college and career selection. Rather than exploring several options with the benefit of assessments/surveys, etc., many focus like a laser beam on one choice and later regret it. By assuming there is only one best fit from the start, we often commit errors of omission, missing out on great options. Alternatively, by starting broadly and then narrowing our choices through research and analysis, we’ll usually make a better decision.

  2. Not doing the research: Good decision-making means doing our homework and thoroughly vetting the options. Unfortunately, some make decisions impulsively, usually out of haste, by overvaluing their intuition, or from rejecting alternative viewpoints. By doing the proper research and conducting comprehensive pro/con analyses of potential options, their decisions will be on firmer ground.

  3. Favoring peer input over wise counsel: When making decisions, it pays to seek out wisdom and perspective from legitimate sources. However, during the adolescent years, people often feel pressure to do/choose what their friends tell them to. These sources can prove detrimental if they lack wisdom, are biased, or have ulterior motives. When receiving input from others, be choosy and value experience.

  4. Letting emotions interfere with objectivity: In the heat of the moment, especially when we’re upset, our objectivity is compromised. Decisions made under those circumstances are generally regrettable because we’re not thinking clearly. It’s amazing how a good night’s sleep does wonders and often leads to a different and better conclusion. To make good decisions, especially when relationships are involved, our mind must be right and our feet on the ground.

  5. Focusing only on the now: While some decisions have a short-term life, many have long-term, life-altering consequences. Common examples include marriage, college selection, major/career/job selection, living location, and key financial decisions. In these circumstances, it’s important to consider both the near- and longer-term impacts of our choices. Clearly, the longer lasting the impact, the more thorough our research needs to be.

  6. Disregarding core values and personal fit: One critical ingredient to sound decision-making is self-awareness—being able to answer, “Who am I?” It encapsulates such fundamental areas such as our core values, personality, spirituality, skills, experiences, credentials, interests, and passions. So, when we’re faced with decisions about relationships, career pursuits, employment, community service, and our social lives, they’ll need to be aligned accordingly. Some of our biggest regrets are when we disregard or compromise our values with the decisions we make. “Does this fit with who I am?” is an invaluable question to consider before making a final choice.  

  7. Seeking perfection or settling: Let’s face it, some decisions are hard, especially when there is a high level of uncertainty involved! Some people struggle to decide because they are looking for the perfect answer (or person!) that may not exist. Indecision, fear of failure, and risk aversion rule the day. On the opposite end of the spectrum, others are willing to settle or compromise out of fear, despair, hopelessness, and lacking self-confidence. Here, they’re willing to make the call, but take a leap of faith they later regret. There isa happy medium.   

  8. Neglecting intuition: Sometimes we make a preliminary or final decision even though we’re unsettled about it. Here, our intuition or “gut feeling” sends a caution signal that we ignore or minimize at our peril. This is especially true when a decision doesn’t fit who we are. No one knows you like you, so please be cautious about making a decision you’re not at peace with. Rather, do more analysis, pray if inclined, and consult with trusted loved ones to help you reach a conclusion that feels right. 

  9. Disregarding the “how:” There are dreamers and there are achievers. Often, the reason dreamers stay in dreamland is they make a decision that sounds good, but has little or no chance of being realized. In order for a decision to have value, it has to be realistic and achievable by the person making the decision. That means understanding the “what” and the “how” before making the call. Otherwise, it’ll likely end up on a pile of unfulfilled dreams.

 So, here’s an assignment for your families and classrooms. Have the children contemplate their decision-related mistakes or regrets and see how many fall into the categories above. There may be other reasons than the nine above and that’s fine too. Challenge them to see if there are patterns to their mistakes. If so, it might suggest a decision-making flaw and a meaningful growth opportunity! Sure, it takes courage, honesty, and humility, but this can be a valuable exercise to sharpen their skills and live a happier life! And, what’s not to like about that?

 

 

A Guide for Gen Z: What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 1

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For the next few weeks, we’re delighted to have Heather Sipes, Communications Director at LifeSmart, offer her insights to our audience. Take it away, Heather!
My first year of college was 12 years ago. I was bright-eyed and my heart was bursting with idealistic dreams for my future. It was hard to not romanticize this next step in my life, and I was convinced I was about to embark on the most fun, life-changing, and insightful season. I mean, these are the best years of our lives, right?
Indeed, my college experience was pretty amazing, but there are several things I wish someone told me before I started—preferably someone from my generation, who had recently completed their college work. Someone with fresh, practical advice to help prepare me for the next season. That’s what I’ll be doing for you and your students in these next few emails.

 

So, from older millennial to the next generation—here are some things I wish someone told me the summer before my freshman year of college.

 

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

 

College is also an opportunity for a do-over. Maybe you didn’t like your identity or reputation in high school. Maybe you didn’t study enough or you partied or skipped too much. See college as an opportunity to start fresh, explore new opportunities, and find yourself a niche. Or, maybe you don’t find a niche, but you sample a wide range of things you’ve never done before. Even if nothing sticks long-term, your world will become bigger and you will become well-rounded.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

I am so happy to be a part of this series and share my insight. Remember to enter your college years with an open mind and be ready to embrace whatever life throws your way. Stay tuned for next week when I’ll introduce part two to this Millennial’s Guide to college life. Thanks for stopping by!

 

~Heather

Reversing the Pattern of Entitlement in Young People

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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!

 

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 

3 R’s for the New Year: Reflection, Resolution and (no) Regrets

resolutions-scrabble-3237This past year was pretty crazy for a lot of us. Big moves, big transitions, successes at work, new relationships, but also losses, hardships, and obstacles. When you look back on 2018, 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 (and a great thing to journal about!).

For many people (myself included), personal reflection time is the area we sacrifice when our lives get busy. Unfortunately, when this happens, we can get out of balance, grow impatient, and often burn out. We’re not at our best, because we aren’t taking any time for ourselves to reflect on what really matters. That’s why it’s so important—at New Year’s and all the year through—to take time to unwind and meditate. 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. 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 by the time the next new year rolls around (hey, it’s only 365 days away!). 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 or doing less? 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. Wouldn’t it be great to reach the end of 2019—and even to the end of life—and be able to say, “NO REGRETS?”

 

 

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!

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.)

 

 

What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

How to Build a Growth Mindset in Your Students and teens

dirt-gardening-grow-1214405Looking back, our high school days were great, okay, or disappointing (or worse!) depending on the year. So, we should expect that our kids will be starting this new school year with excitement, ambivalence, and maybe even dread, often depending on the previous year. Regardless of where your children/students are attitudinally, here’s one thing they can all benefit from as they make their grand entrance—taking the Growth Challenge.

What’s the Growth Challenge, you might ask? Here’s a quick synopsis: Have your students/children take note of where they are now in key aspects of their life. Then, have them identify some focus areas for growth/improvement. Next, encourage them to develop plans to meet their growth goals. Finally, have them assess their progress quarterly (and make adjustments to their plan as needed). In the business world, we call this the “plan, do, and review” cycle, and it works for people too!

As parents, teachers, and mentors, we play a big role in the success of the next generation. Of course, the responsibility for their choices does not fall on us, but it is our job to equip, encourage, and empower them. One powerful way is to help facilitate the Growth Challenge. Here are a few steps to get you going.

  1. Begin with a holistic self assessment. Have your child/students record how satisfied they are in terms of: 1) academics (grades, specific subjects, study habits, etc.), 2) relationships (friendships,, family, network), 3) physical health and well being (fitness, health, nutrition), 4) emotional and spiritual health (self worth, confidence, contentment, faith, gratitude, temperament), 5) leadership/soft skills (integrity, dependability, work ethic, team mindedness, time management, professionalism), and 6) interests/extracurricular activities. 

Then, based on their self evaluations, have them identify their greatest growth priorities for the coming year for each category. Which could have the biggest impact in the near future? In the long-term? Give them some time to think about this, and encourage them to record their thoughts in a journal or device.

  1. Have them develop their top overall priorities based on their conclusions from each category. Parents, teachers, and mentors, you can help them prioritize by sharing your own knowledge or experience, but don’t make up their minds for them. (For example, if a student is hoping to enter the military after high school, physical training might fall higher on the priority list than a student who plans to intern at an art gallery.)

Encourage them to record their three to five top priorities for growth. Don’t let them go overboard making a laundry list. Next, have them set specific, achievable goals for each of their top priorities. What would constitute success to them? What are some measurable ways that they can track their progress? Then, have them develop action steps to help their goals become a reality.

  1. Finally, suggest a quarterly review (with a mentor, counselor, parent, or teacher) to assess their progress, and make any midcourse suggestions or corrections necessary to achieve their goals.

Not only will this “growth challenge” help them progress this year, but it is a discipline that will serve them for a lifetime.

Let’s start building a growth mindset in our children, teens, and students. The future belongs to them, but it starts with us.

If you want to see a sample “Growth Challenge” mock-up for reference, you can find it here.