A Mother’s Day Salute

Moms, this week is for you! This is for the sleepless nights, the time spent sitting in the rain watching  sports games, the time spent helping with college apps and figuring out the FAFSA, the time spent encouraging, hoping, praying, dreaming, and the countless other ways you’ve invested in your children. This week we honor the immeasurable effort you’ve put into raising your children.

How we raise our kids now—even if there are years until launch time—will impact them for the rest of their life. After all, we aren’t just raising kids; we’re raising future adults. Putting in our due diligence to instill important values like resilience, respect, responsibility, integrity, honesty, work ethic, and determination, will impact the way our teens thrive in adulthood.

At LifeSmart, we are committed to equipping and educators and mentors with the tools they need to help their students thrive. Our aim is to help prepare the next generation with CRUCIAL LIFE SKILLS so they can excel in independent life, college, career, and beyond.

However, educators are not our only focus. Parents play an indispensable role in preparing the next generation.  What they do is not easy; in fact, it’s probably one of the hardest jobs in the world. Moms, today we’re looking at you.

Navigating the world of parenting teens can be tricky. They can be moody, unpredictable, and aloof. They can rely on you for too much, or distance themselves when they’re ready for independence. Sometimes they betray our trust or test the limits on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s difficult to know how or when to communicate with them and whether any of your words are sticking. And one of the hardest parts of all, is knowing that it will soon be time to let go and adapt to a new role as chief encourager and on-call advisor. Dropping off your recent high school graduate at the freshman dormitory is the beginning of a new chapter for both of you. And for moms especially, it’s fraught with mixed feelings.

Today, we at LifeSmart want to acknowledge all the different ways that parenting can pull your heart in a million different directions. We affirm your hard work, and appreciate your effort in raising up the next generation of leaders, teachers, thinkers, and artists, even when it gets difficult.  So moms, here are three encouraging tidbits of wisdom for you as we embark on Mother’s Day weekend:

  • In this season of “launch time,” find a community of parents who are in the same stage of life. How are they coping? What are they doing to ensure a successful launch? You will find you have a lot in common and much to talk about (and eventually, more time to “hang out!”). Surrounding yourself with other people who are also parenting older teens will make you feel understood, encouraged, and give you a shoulder to lean on. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO THIS ALONE.
  • Remember, moving from driver’s seat to passenger’s seat can be hard, but know you’re gaining a relationship with your new adult, not losing a child! Even though allowing your teen to begin making their own life choices can be a scary thought, they will always have you as an ally. You will forever be their biggest cheerleader and friend.
  • It’s okay to focus on you. Self-care is one of the most important steps in a being a good parent, spouse, and friend. As the dynamic of your life begins to change as your kids get older, you may realize you have more time to do things YOU want to do. Use this as an opportunity to rediscover old passions (or develop new ones), learn a new skill, and remember what makes you YOU, aside from your role as mom. You deserve it!

Happy Mother’s Day from all of us at LifeSmart. Where would we be without you?

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.

4 Tips to Help Your New Year’s Goals Really Stick

Wow, the holiday season really flew by, didn’t it? There is so much anticipation leading up to Christmas, and in one wonderful, joy-filled day with family, it’s over. The lights come down, the Christmas music goes away, and life returns to normal. Couldn’t it last just a little longer?

I know I’m not the only one who experiences a post-holiday funk from time to time. But, I’ve found the best antidote is having new things to look forward to. When I take a fresh start to the new year with a sense of purpose and adventure, it makes all the difference in the world. It involves setting new goals to better myself and exploring new ways to contribute to things I’m passionate about! There’s a LOT to look forward to when we take a strategic approach.

So, in this season of new hopes and resolutions, here are a few tips to make your 2015 goals really stick and take your life to a whole new level:

  1. Set tangible goals, not generic For example, saying “I want to become more philanthropic and outward-focused in the coming year,” doesn’t give you something tangible to work towards. Instead, make a more specific resolution, such as “I would like to start volunteering at the soup kitchen once a month and donating 5% of my income to my favorite charity/mission.” See the difference? Measurability improves accountability!
  2. Be realistic. Don’t tell yourself you’d like to buy a new Mercedes if you can’t afford it, or hope you’ll lose 50 pounds if you don’t have time to go to the gym or plan to drastically change your diet. Instead, resolve to buy a safer vehicle with less than thirty thousand miles on it, or to exercising daily and eat healthier. Success with small steps builds momentum!
  3. Involve a friend. If you’re hoping for big change in your life but you’re in it alone, it’ll be much more difficult. With the buddy system, you’ll have accountability and someone to keep you on track (and you can do the same for them). Encouragement builds hope and confidence! Plus, it’s a lot more fun!
  4. Give yourself grace. Above all else, be kind to yourself. No one is perfect, and even a small upward movement is better than no movement at all. If you made a mistake and did something you swore you wouldn’t do last year, IT’S OKAY. Tomorrow is a new day, with new opportunities for growth and impact. More often than not, achieving our goals is a “two steps forward, one step back” reality. So, don’t get discouraged when you regress a little. Shake it off, resolve to get back on track today, and remember, you’ve got this!

So, have at it! As you put away your holiday gifts and decorations, start thinking about what you can do to make 2015 really count for you, your family, and your friends. Instead of feeling disappointed that the season is over, be filled with anticipation for what is to come. It’s never too late to make an effort to better yourself, and this is the perfect time to do it. Good luck!

The Two Stages of Life and What Really Matters

“What do you want for Christmas?” is probably the most asked question right before the holidays. You’ve probably been asked, and even asked it yourself, more times than you can count over the last couple weeks. Sure there was a time in my life that my list was a mile long, but things change. Now, my Christmas list is filled with hopes for others—especially the young people in our communities.

It’s said that the first half of one’s life is the “accumulation stage” and the second half is the “distribution stage.” During the accumulation stage, you’re in gathering mode, spending your efforts on life’s needs and wants.  You build a career, buy and furnish a house, start a family and buy the things necessary for your children, save for retirement, and buy lots of things along the way. Many of us could probably go in our closets or garages and pull out items we haven’t touched in years, or forgot we had! But is that all there is to life?

But then, one day, around the age of 50, it hits you. You have all the toys you need, your kids’ braces are paid for and they’re in college or beyond. You have a boat and a new deck and a comfortable car. You discover that the joy of giving is greater than the joy of receiving, and your perspective changes dramatically. I’m a typical case—it happened to me around 49! That’s when my life focus really shifted to helping children and young adults lay a solid leadership foundation for life. Pursuing my passion of equipping young people to succeed in the real world has been more fulfilling than anything I could have imagined.

Did you notice how the first half of life tends to be more skewed toward self and family, and the second half is more focused on others? Had I known this earlier, I would have sought more balance in my accumulation stage and started my distribution stage sooner. The joy and satisfaction that comes from giving our time, talent, and treasure so far outweighs the fun of accumulating that I regret not starting this process earlier.

With Christmas just a few days away, opportunities for giving and sharing abound. This is the easiest time of year to find ways to positively impact others and give of our excess. But hopefully, directing our lives toward others will not be a once-a-year event. By starting earlier and making it last the whole year long, we receive far more in return than we will give. So, where is your heart and passion leading you today?

Do you want your life to have more balance, your spirit to soar, your heart to be filled with joy, and your life impact to be maximized—all while making the world a better place? Embrace the gift of giving yourself this holiday season and see where it takes you. Then, make it the gift that keeps on giving, into January, the New Year, and beyond.  Next time you hear “what do you want for Christmas,” do a self-check. Let’s all make the resolution to begin our distribution stage earlier and put an end to accumulating stuff we’ll rarely use and may even forget about!

Take a few seconds to reflect: Where are you centering your life? How are you modeling this principle to the young people in your life? Have you begun the distribution stage? Share your insights and ideas with us; we’d love to hear from you!

Practical Ways Your Family Can Serve Others This Christmas

“I will honor Christmas in my heart,
and try to keep it all the year.”

~Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol

One of my annual highlights is watching the film classic, A Christmas Carol. I love watching the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge when the self-centered miser develops a servant’s heart. Granted, it takes a dramatic, catalytic experience late in life to get him there, but he becomes a changed man all the same. Every time I watch this film, I reflect on what more I could have done in the past year to help others. It’s a time of accountability, complete with a promise to do better in the year ahead.

I have special admiration for people who commit their lives to serving others.They’re not motivated by fame or fortune, but rather by joyful service.

I’m convinced our daughter Lauren was born with a servant’s heart. I first noticed this when she was four during a visit to a McDonald’s playground. She befriended a devastated little girl who had been deliberately abandoned by her big sister (Ronald would not have been happy!). The girl’s tears were soon replaced with joy for those ten brief minutes. While this example may seem ordinary, it is illustrative of the many times that Lauren has nurtured people who were socially excluded. Her empathetic heart has often been a blessing to others. Not surprisingly, she is considering a career in child psychology and counseling. I think she’ll be a natural.

The holiday season is a time when our thoughts often turn to practical ways we can serve those less fortunate. At a time when we are counting our own blessings, what are the ways we can include, encourage, or assist people in need?

This is not an exhaustive list, but here are some of our family’s ideas:
–       take a shift ringing a bell for the Salvation Army (we just did this last week; it’s a hoot, you meet great people, and it’s such a worthy cause)
–       volunteer at a local food bank
–       gather a group to sing carols at a retirement home
–       go out of your way to compliment those who are in service positions (including the Military)
–       send a note to a teacher expressing your gratitude
–       donate money to a local ministry that pays electric bills for the needy
–       adopt a family for gift giving
–       send a personal note to someone who lost a loved one in the past year

What do you and your family do to serve and bless others during the holiday season? Please share your ideas and stories with us; we’d love to hear your experiences!

10 Tips to Help You Master Your Time

Wow, where has the time gone? It seems like just yesterday when we toasted the new millennium, but here we are, about to ring in 2015. Sure, it’s a cliché phrase, but time really does fly by.

Time’s a funny thing, isn’t it? When we’re having a blast, it feels like someone is pushing the “fast forward” button. In contrast, if we have a two-point lead with three minutes left in the game, it feels like an eternity. When we’re suffering through a valley, we can’t wait for time to pass by.

Whether time flies or moves at glacial speed, we still have 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week, and no choice in the matter. We use it or lose it. And, because time is one of our most prized possessions, we need to use it wisely.

How can you become a good manager your of time?

Simply practice these tips:

  • Treat your time as a precious asset with limited capacity (this mindset is huge!)
  • Organize a to-do list by urgency (deadline) and priority (importance). Take both into account when deciding what to focus on each day.
  •  “Block” your time (i.e., group it in 30-60 minute intervals without interruption) in order to complete your highest priority assignments. Avoid interspersing lower priority tasks within your high priority assignment intervals. Take control!
  • Don’t hesitate to politely tell someone that it’s an inconvenient time for you. Interruptions can destroy your productivity if you allow it. Always saying “yes” is not necessarily a good thing!
  • Learn to multi-task your lower priority responsibilities. For example, I rarely watch television without doing something else like reading the newspaper or responding to emails.
  • Keep your cell phone somewhere else when you need focused time. The temptation to answer calls and texts is a major distraction. Smart phones can be our worst enemy if we aren’t careful.
  • Find your best venue for focused work. Is it your home office? A coffee shop? Your patio?
  • Take periodic breaks. Studies show we’re less productive when we work over an hour straight without a five-minute break. Breaks help our mind recharge.
  • Respect and honor the time of others by being punctual. You’d want them to respect your time, too.
  • Always remember that you can’t recover the time you waste!

The older we get, the quicker time flies by. Regardless of our stage in life, it’s never too late to improve your time management skills and resources. Becoming a wise time manager is an admirable New Year’s Resolution. Is it yours?

How productive are you with your time? Do you view it as a precious asset and focus on your most important priorities? What are some ways you have learned to become a more effective time manager?

Celebrate the Season! Annual LifeSmart Book Sale!

It’s been a great year at LifeSmart! We are filled with gratitude as What I Wish I Knew at 18 continues to impact the lives of young adults globally, and our newest book, Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World, receives rave reviews for encouraging and equipping parents (click here for more information).

We think it’s time to CELEBRATE!
Our 4th annual Cybersale is offering Parenting for the Launch and ourWhat I Wish I Knew at 18 book and guides at substantial savings, just in time for holiday gift-giving and classroom orders for the New Year:
What I Wish I Knew at 18 BOOK – $14.99
What I Wish I Knew at 18 STANDARD STUDENT GUIDE – $14.99
What I Wish I Knew at 18 CHRISTIAN STUDENT GUIDE – $14.99
Parenting for the Launch – $14.99
(further bulk discounts available!)
now through Christmas
Order at AtlasBooks.com or 1-800-BOOKLOG
and use the Promo Code: CHEER
Parenting for the Launch serves as a wonderful gift for parents while What I Wish I Knew at 18 is a special keepsake gift or stocking stuffer for:
·teens and young adults
·parents and caregivers
·mentors and coaches
·teachers and faith leaders
·clients who are raising families
It’s our way of saying “Thanks!” for your support—and to wish you a joy-filled holiday season!
Blessings,
The LifeSmart Team.

Live to Give


“I will honor Christmas in my heart,
and try to keep it all the year.”

~Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol

 
One of my annual highlights is watching the film classic, A Christmas Carol. I love watching the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge when the self-centered miser develops a servant’s heart. Granted, it takes a dramatic, catalytic experience late in life to get him there, but he becomes a changed man all the same. Every time I watch this film, I reflect on what more I could have done in the past year to help others. It’s a time of accountability, complete with a promise to do better in the year ahead.
 
I have special admiration for people who commit their lives to serving others.They’re not motivated by fame or fortune, but rather by joyful service.
 
I’m convinced our daughter Lauren was born with a servant’s heart. I first noticed this when she was four during a visit to a McDonald’s playground. She befriended a devastated little girl who had been deliberately abandoned by her big sister (Ronald would not have been happy!). The girl’s tears were soon replaced with joy for those ten brief minutes. While this example may seem ordinary, it is illustrative of the many times that Lauren has nurtured people who were socially excluded. Her empathetic heart has often been a blessing to others. Not surprisingly, she is considering a career in child psychology and counseling. I think she’ll be a natural.
 
The holiday season is a time when our thoughts often turn to practical ways we can serve those less fortunate. At a time when we are counting our own blessings, what are the ways we can include, encourage, or assist people in need?
 
This is not an exhaustive list, but here are some of our family’s ideas:
–       take a shift ringing a bell for the Salvation Army (we just did this last week; it’s a hoot, you meet great people, and it’s such a worthy cause)
–       volunteer at a local food bank
–       gather a group to sing carols at a retirement home
–       go out of your way to compliment those who are in service positions (including the Military)
–       send a note to a teacher expressing your gratitude
–       donate money to a local ministry that pays electric bills for the needy
–       adopt a family for gift giving
–       send a personal note to someone who lost a loved one in the past year
 
What do you and your family do to serve and bless others during the holiday season? Please share your ideas and stories with us; we’d love to hear your experiences!