The Most Important Lesson For This School Year?

In a world consumed with constant distractions and multitasking, it seems like we’re becoming more like bumblebees—paying short visits to one flower after another. We’ve never faced “incoming” like this before, and it’s affecting our attention spans, stress levels, and ultimately, our productivity.

So, how can we help our children navigate this noisy world where they’re being pulled in so many directions?

In my years of evaluating leaders, I’ve come to appreciate what virtually all of them have in common:

  1. Vision: an overarching idea of where they want to go. The person they want to become. The impact they would like to have in this world. The life they want to live.
  2. Intentionality: a commitment to setting goals and plans to turn their vision into a reality. Goals that are challenging but realistic, specific, and measurable.
  3. Relentless Effort: they are self motivated and focused like laser beams to achieve their goals and implement their plans. They don’t just work hard—they work smart. They have high standards and manage their time effectively and efficiently. And, they regularly review whether they’re on track and make midcourse corrections along the way.
  4. Resilience: an ability to overcome and learn from their mistakes, shortcomings, and failures. They don’t let disappointments defeat them; rather, they face their challenges head on and persevere.

With a new school year upon us, this is a great opportunity to teach your children and students how to apply these concepts in their lives. Arguably, this could be their most important learning lesson of the year!

So, whether you’re a parent, teacher, mentor, or coach, have the children under your influence set new goals and strategies for the coming year. Encourage them to develop at least one goal in each of the following categories, and to create action steps (with deadlines!) for achieving them:

  • Career: surveying career matches, attending job fairs, creating a resume, sharpening interview skills, meeting people in careers of interest, etc.
  • Education: improving a GPA, taking valuable courses, reading specific books, watching/listening to media-based programs/trainings, etc.
  • Character: developing strengths, addressing weaknesses, modeling qualities/soft skills of admired people, etc.
  • Relationships: improving existing relationships, building new ones (peer, network), etc.
  • Skill: learning a new skill for personal growth, fun, creativity, etc.
  • Service: volunteering time and talent to support your community
  • Experience: checking off a “bucket list” item or two

The more we can instill the value of setting goals, plans, and strategies for life in our children at an early age, the better positioned they will be to achieve success, fulfillment, joy, and impact. Otherwise, especially in this day and age, they’ll be destined for distraction and random (at best) outcomes. It may be a mindshift for them, but they and their dreams are worth it! And, trust me, one day they’ll thank you for it!

Crisis Decision Making 101

It used to be that when I was upset, I either made a rash decision or said something I would later regret. I remember having to go back and clean up my messes or apologize for saying something out-of-line. Being impulsive in the heat of the moment never worked in my favor.

I may have learned it the hard way, but eventually I figured it out. The fact is, we don’t think as clearly when we’re in a highly emotional state (whether we are feeling angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, etc.). There’s too much distraction and we don’t think objectively. Today, if I’m upset and need to make a decision, I make a tentative one, but (where possible) wait until the following morning to confirm it. Generally, it proves to be a better decision because my thinking is clearer and more objective the next day. Often, with the perspective from time and reflection, I change my decision for the better.

Why do we tend to make poor choices when we’re under stress? It’s because of our physiology—that’s right, it’s how we’re wired. But we can learn to compensate.

Being in a stressful situation messes with our brain—and can impair our decision-making capabilities.  A new study shows that in a crisis (or even what feels like a crisis), the brain tends to focus on reward, and ignore the possible negative consequences of a decision. That’s why “feel good” decisions like eating what we shouldn’t, blowing off steam by losing our temper, giving in to peer pressure, or making a rash purchase we can’t afford are more likely to happen when we’re stressed-out.

Even worse, not only does stress make us focus on the ‘feel good” aspect of a risky decision or behavior, it impairs our ability to think about the negative consequences. (Frankly, I’d say that’s a pretty good recipe for potential stupidity, don’t you?)

When you’re in this situation, hold off until the following morning if you can, or at least defer it until you’ve settled down and can think clearly. Ask for more time if you need it. Learn to recognize and release your stress.  Here are 3 quick tips to help unwind and cool you down:

  1. Reach out to your support system. You don’t have to go through hard moments alone. Their wise counsel and perspectives can help immensely.
  2. The endorphin rush you get from exercise will up your mood and help chase away the blues.
  3. Practice conscious breathing and relaxation techniques. Meditate, pray, do yoga, or all of the above. Connect your mind, body, and spirit for a holistic de-stressing.

Also, think about the things that make for good decisions and force yourself to follow them. You’ll be glad you did!

Have you noticed that your decision-making improves when you’re not in an emotional state? Which young people in your life can benefit from this lesson when facing stressful situations?

Making the Best Decision in the Heat of the Moment

Can you remember a time that you were scared, sad, angry, or hurt and made a rash decision based on emotion or said something you later regretted? We’ve all done it. And most likely, these situations never worked out very well.

As we grow older and wiser, we eventually learn that it’s never smart to make important decisions abruptly or in a highly emotional state. Simply put, there’s too much distraction and it’s nearly impossible to think objectively or clearly. Today, if I’m upset and need to make a decision, I make a tentative one, but wait until the following morning to confirm it. Generally, it proves to be a better decision because I’ve had more to consider the pros and cons and potential consequences by then. It’s amazing how often I change my mind!

Why do we tend to make poor choices when we’re under stress or filled with emotion? It’s because of our physiology—that’s right, it’s how we’re wired. But we can learn to compensate.

Stress messes with your brain—and can impair our decision-making capabilities. A new study shows that in a crisis (or even what feels like a crisis), the brain tends to focus on reward, and ignore the possible negative consequences of a decision. That’s why “feel good” decisions like eating what we shouldn’t, blowing off steam by losing our temper, giving in to peer pressure, or making a rash purchase we can’t afford are more likely to happen when we are stressed out.

Even worse, not only does stress make us focus on the ‘feel good” aspect of a risky decision or behavior, it impairs our ability to think about the negative consequences. (Frankly, I’d say that’s a pretty good recipe for potential stupidity and regret, don’t you?) As I consider my own decisions (and those of our elected officials!), I would argue that failure to consider adverse, unintended consequences, is one of our biggest mistakes. It’s all too common, especially with relationships.

When you’re in this situation, hold off until the following morning if you can. Think about the things that make for good decisions and force yourself to follow them. If you don’t have the time to physically go to sleep and make your decision the next day, here are some tips to help you clear your mind and avoid making a rash decision based on emotion:

  • Learn to recognize and release your stress
  • Consult with a trusted friend and ask for honest advice
  • Science proves that exercise actually can calm our nerves.
  • If you are religious, seek spiritual counsel
  • Go to a place you consider beautiful (a park, a beach, a walking trail) and spend some enjoying nature and breathing in the fresh air. It will be good for your body and soul, and will most likely calm you down.
  • Develop a pro/con list to ensure you’re looking at all sides of a decision
  • Be sure to consider your conscience and intuition. I’ve learned to never disregard my gut feeling about something. Pay attention to yours, too.

As we enter our teen and young adult years, our decisions often have life-altering consequences. So, it pays to evaluate each one as comprehensively and objectively as possible while we’re calm and our thinking is clear. Not only will these tips help you make better ones (especially under stress), but they’ll also help limit your life regrets. That’s huge.

Have you noticed that your decision-making improves when you’re not in an emotional state? How can this lesson be good for young people who may find themselves in stressful situations—do you see how they can be influenced to make potentially life-altering decisions when they’re in the wrong frame of mind? Share your thoughts by commenting below; we’d love to hear your perspective and experiences.

Stress Busting Tips for Parents and Teens: Part Three

With graduation just a month or two away, stress is nearing an all-time high for soon-to-be graduates and their parents. That’s why we created a three-part series on ways to bust stress for parents and teens! This week is our third (and last) installment of our series, and it just so happens to be a guest post by teacher, mother, and advocate Tammy Walsh. (In case you missed the first two parts, here is the first and the second.)
Our guest author, Tammy Walsh, is a mother of two, a high school math teacher, and a contributor to The Five Moms Blog on Stopmedicineabuse.org. She has a passion for addressing the issue of substance abuse openly and honestly with both parents and teens. Through her work with The Five Moms, she hopes to reach more parents on a national level, educating and empower them with the tools to make positive changes in their communities. We invite you to join the conversation by following Stop Medicine Abuse on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks Tammy, for sharing your advice on relieving stress with our audience!

It’s always important to remember that even though certain aspects in our family lives are slowing down, our teens still have a lot going on. This can be a tense time of year, particularly for high school seniors who will have many important decisions to make in the next six to eight months. During this time period, it can be challenging for teens to effectively manage the stress that results from attempting to balance wrapping up high school and preparing for college with extracurricular activities and a social life, but we, as parents, must help them find the calm in the midst of what may seem like a storm. This transition is tough, but we can help make it as smooth as possible for our teen, and in turn, alleviate stress for the whole family.
Here are some tips for smooth transitioning:

Get plenty of rest. This is especially important for our teens as they need to be energized and able to perform at their peak – whether they are working on end of semester projects, studying for midterm exams or writing college applications. As parents, we also need restful sleep as it provides us with the energy to engage with our teens. Create a sleep ritual that will help you fall asleep on time and encourage your teen to do the same. Make your family go screen-less at least an hour before bed. This means no phone, no laptop, no TV. Instead, unwind with music or a book.

Unplug and decompress. Along the same lines as above, set time for the family to disconnect from phones and computers. We often get so caught up in our online lives that hours can pass before we even realize we haven’t had any physical activity or interaction. Emails, text messages and social app notifications can make us feel like we always have to be plugged-in, but at some point we may need a break from the constant phone-check. Encourage your family to meditate, reflect, have meaningful conversations or go outside and get some fresh air.

Don’t neglect hobbies. To avoid an abrupt transition for your teen, encourage him or her to keep up with his or her hobbies and favorite activities. There will be many changes for your teen in the future. However, through all the changes he or she may experience, setting aside time for hobbies can provide a sense of stability and a means of creative expression.

Maintain perspective. Celebrate milestones, but don’t exaggerate mistakes or failures. Blowing problems out of proportion can cloud the lesson that your teen may have otherwise learned from the situation. If your teen has broken a rule or received a bad grade, it’s important for both of you to take a step back and assess the situation rationally to reach the most beneficial solution. Also, it may help to think of the transition ahead as a new adventure of triumphs and challenges for the family to embark on together.
Give each other space. Sometimes, as hard as it can be for us parents to admit, our teens don’t need our constant advice, but rather space to process this new experience. The benefits of giving our teens this “alone time” extend to the entire family and will allow parents and siblings to handle the transition by themselves as well.

Changes, challenges and choices are standard stepping stones along the journey of life. During the teen years, it’s important that these moments are not marked by stress, tension or worry, but rather by confidence and a bit of curiosity. What other tips or tools have you used to guide your teen and family through a major transition, such as the transition from high school to college?

Stress Busting Tips for Parents and Teens: Part Two

In the second part of our series on stress (check out part one here), we’ll focus on how we, as parents, can help control stress in our own lives as well as in the lives of our children. Of course, we want to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem!

As parents, we play the leadership role in nurturing our children to be healthy, self -confident, and well-prepared future adults. That includes fostering healthy stress levels for all parties. With growing evidence that high adult stress is being passed on to our children, we’ve got a lot of work to do on ourselves!

Much can be gained by understanding our children’s stressors and how we may be contributing to the situation. Is our behavior or the way we are communicating with them stressing them out even more? To that end, here are some powerful parenting strategies to help reduce their pressure:

  1. Examine our influence. Are we tuned in to our children’s stress and whether we’re adding fuel to the fire? Do our children see us as part of the solution or part of the problem? Do we need some constructive change in our parenting?
  2. Value the child more than their performance. Several teen stressors can be attributed to overzealous, performance-focused parents with control issues. Is doing their best good enough? It should be. Our children need to know they are loved unconditionally for who they are, not what they do or how well they do.
  3. Avoid overcommitment. During the teen years, the desire for credentials can cause chronic overscheduling at the expense of sleep, exercise, and down time. Do our children have the capacity to apply their stress reducers?
  4. Alleviate decision-making pressure. Reassure them that their future will not depend on getting into a specific college or choosing a specific career. We need to let them live their dream without forcing the issue.

At the same time, we parents have our own share of stress to manage! Launching a teen into adulthood is a defining moment. It’s fraught with mixed emotions, important decisions, and, often relationship strains as they exert their independence. We marvel at how it happened so fast, inevitably with some regrets.

In our book, Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World, we offer strategies to help parents cover the bases, build an enduring relationship, and position our teens (and ourselves!) for a successful transition. Here are some stress-busting tips we share:

  1. Remember, you are not responsible for their life. You’ve offered love, security, wisdom, and guidance, but you’re not in the driver’s seat forever. You’ve moved over to the passenger seat and soon will be in the back seat. They’ll make mistakes just like you did, and that’s okay! Relax a little, release your control grip, and extend yourself some grace!
  2. Focus on building relationship capital. This is a critical time to invest in your relationship, even if you don’t see immediate payoffs. The keys are showing unconditional love, mutual trust, and understanding, and affirming their worth and potential. Do more “sharing with” than “talking to.” And, have fun!
  3. Recruit positive third party voices. Parenting really is a team sport. Actively seek out great adult role models who will reinforce your messages and develop relationships with your children. It’s a total win win!
  4. Remember, your identity reaches beyond your role as parent. For many parents (especially empty nesters), the launch of a child unleashes an epic identity crisis, causing them to hold on for dear life. This is a self-confidence destroyer for our children. Yes, life will change, but it can still be great!

Sure, the teen years offer unusual challenges and stress. But, handled constructively, they will position your teen to soar and your relationship to grow in new and wonderful ways. There’s nothing like it in the world.

Parents, how do you rate when it comes to your own personal stress level? How’s your relationship with your teen during this especially high-pressure season for them? Do you have any tips to share with other parents? We’d love to hear from you!

Stress Busting Tips for Parents and Teens: Part One

I recently had an enlightening conversation with a college sophomore who is destined for a great future. She has a delightful personality and is blessed with a rare blend of analytical and interpersonal skills. Her resume of accomplishments is a mile long. So, can you imagine my surprise when she confided to being totally stressed out about her future? Will she find a job? Would she be accepted into a decent grad school? She doubted whether her 3.97 GPA was good enough.

Meanwhile, as an author and speaker, I meet with a wide variety of audiences, including teens, parents, educators, mentors, counselors, and business leaders. Which is the most needy, anxious, and stressed out? The hands down winner: parents of teens!

Although a little stress can be a good thing, too much can be unhealthy and counterproductive. Unfortunately, when it comes to the teen years, it appears that things are getting out of control for all parties.

What to do?

Let’s start with teens. For them, it’s a time of unprecedented growth, transition, and decisions about their future. Part child and part adult, they’re discovering their identity, building their credentials, and planning their next step. Soon, life will never be the same, and it can be overwhelming. They’re stressed about:

  • School—homework, grades, activities—doing well enough to punch the ticket
  • Social life—friendships, popularity, drama, peer pressure
  • Future—decisions about college, career, service, and building their resume
  • Busyness—overcommitment, time management, lack of sleep/down time
  • Family—relationship strains and living up to their parents’ expectations

That’s a lot!

With that, here are some helpful stress-busting strategies for teens:

  1. Keep a healthy perspective. Everyone has stress—the question is how we deal with it. Do we take charge and channel it into a productive plan or do we let it consume us? Do we focus on what we can control and make the best of situations where we can’t?
  2. Be self aware. Identify the chief sources of your stress and ways they may be prevented or limited. Call out any underlying fears and explore ways to alleviate them. Understand and tap into your most helpful stress busters (e.g., exercise, quiet time, prayer, music/movies, humor, sharing with friends and family, serving others). And, be sure to get your rest, eat well, and confide in your loved ones.
  3. Focus more on process than outcome. Stress levels rise when we emphasize specific outcomes rather than simply doing our best. Examples include GPAs, admission to specific colleges, dating, making the team, and selecting our career/major. There is no single pathway to success, including which college you attend. And, for most high schoolers, it’s premature to know which major/career is the best fit. Finally, today’s “friend count” will seem silly in hindsight as you preserve a smaller core of loyal friends who matter most.
  4. Keep balanced and develop good time management skills. Today, busyness, distraction, and overcommitment are interfering with our balance and productivity. Now is the time to sharpen your prioritization skills and to view your time as a precious asset. Manage your pace. And, when deciding which activities to pursue (technology included!), always consider their value and time requirements and your available

During this incredibly stressful time, teens are feeling a lot of pressure and are pulled in many different directions. As their parents, teachers, and mentors, we need to rally around them and help them apply the above principles to keep that stress under control. If you have a teen in your life who is worried about their future, we’d love for you to share this post with them! And remember, stay tuned for the next portion of this series: stress-busting tips for parents!

How do you personally deal with stress? If you have a teen who is stressed about college, how have you helped them deal with it? What has been the most stressful part of raising a “future adult” for you? We’d love to hear from you!

Decision-Making under Stress: Sleep on It!

It used to be that when I was upset, I either made a rash decision or said something I would later regret. I don’t know about you, but that never worked for me!
 
I may have learned it the hard way (a few times over), but I did learn. The fact is, we don’t think as clearly when we’re in a highly emotional state. There’s too much distraction and we don’t think objectively. Today, if I’m upset and need to make a decision, I make a tentative one, but wait until the following morning to confirm it. Generally, it proves to be a better decision because my thinking is clearer and more objective the next day.
 
Why do we tend to make poor choices when we’re under stress? It’s because of our physiology—that’s right, it’s how we’re wired. But we can learn to compensate.
 
Being in a stressful situation messes with your brain—and can impair your decision-making capabilities. Why? A new study shows that in a crisis (or even what feels like a crisis), the brain tends to focus on reward, and ignore the possible negative consequences of a decision. That’s why “feel good” decisions like eating what we shouldn’t, blowing off steam by losing our temper, giving in to peer pressure, or making a rash purchase we can’t afford are more likely to happen when we are stressed-out.
 
Even worse, not only does stress make us focus on the ‘feel good” aspect of a risky decision or behavior, it impairs our ability to think about the negative consequences. (Frankly, I’d say that’s a pretty good recipe for potential stupidity, don’t you?)
 
When you’re in this situation, hold off until the following morning if you can. Think about the things that make for good decisions and force yourself to follow them. Learn to recognize and release your stress. You’ll be glad you did!
 
Have you noticed your decision-making improves when you’re not in an emotional state? How can this lesson be good for young people who may find themselves in stressful situations—do you see how they can be influenced to make potentially life-altering decisions when they’re in the wrong frame of mind? Share your thoughts by commenting below; we’d love to hear your perspective and experiences.
 
 

Recognize and Release Stress


Did you know all stress is not created equal? There’s good stress and there’s bad stress. What’s good stress? Your first big job interview. A plane to catch on an exciting vacation. A first date for which you want to look your best. These kinds of stressors can keep us motivated, moving ahead, and putting our best foot forward.
 
            But then there’s the bad stress. That’s the ongoing pressure we face during hard times, like breaking up with a loved one or battling a difficult health issue.
 
            The fact is, when we go through our most painful times, we often don’t take very good care of ourselves. We may eat terribly (if at all), sleep miserably (if at all), and bottle up our pain and stress. Some people hibernate like bears, lacking the self-confidence to be in public, or become tempted to seek solace in false comforts like alcohol and drugs.
 
            There is a better way.
 
In order to deal with your stress and preserve your health, it pays to tap into your stress outlets and learn to release your pain. That’s right: you’ve got to learn to let it go.


            For starters, when going through a rough patch, it’s essential to sleep and eat well and get cardio exercise. My best physical stress outlet is running. Not only does it help relieve my tension, but it also gives me time to pray and think more clearly about my situation.  I’ve found my best thinking comes when I run and allow my mind to roam free.  That, together with the physical exertion of my exercise, really helps restore my peace of mind.
 
            I also recommend reaching out to your support system. Friends cheer us up, offer helpful perspective, and, even help us stay healthy. As mentioned in an earlier blog, people with good friends get sick less often and recover more quickly! 
 
            Sadly, people are often reluctant to ask for help, forgetting that it’s a blessing for loved ones to answer that kind of call and offer needed support. By forgoing this option, we deprive them of sharing their gifts of love and encouragement with us.
 
            You may have different stress outlets than mine—and that’s okay. The important thing is that you have them. Whatever they are, don’t forget to use them. Remember that you still need to take care of “number one” while you’re traveling through life’s inevitable, turbulent times.
 
How well do you take care of yourself—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—during times of trial? Are you open to receiving support from loved ones who would cheerfully help? Do you stay connected relationally when times are tough instead of isolating yourself? Share your thoughts and ideas with us by commenting below; we can learn from each other!