The Road to Resilience: Part Two

“A bend in the road is not the end of the road… Unless you fail to make the turn.”

~Helen Keller

Last week, we talked about the importance of resilience. Adversity is unavoidable and comes in many forms, so we so we shared five tips for developing resilience, (If you don’t want to read the entire blog from last week, here’s a summary of our five pointers: Keep a healthy perspective, know your worth, tap into your support system, take care of your health, and forgive.)

While we hope these five tips will help you build resilience and avoid self-pity or defeat, we thought it might be helpful to talk about what resilience doesn’t look like. This way, we can evaluate our tendencies when dealing with adversity. So, without further ado’, here are five examples of non-resilience when facing trials:

  1. Making excuses and blaming. This is a common response when adversity stems from our own mistakes or underperformance. And, why not? Isn’t it easier to try to justify ourselves than to admit we’ve blown it? However, making excuses will never propel us forward, and it’s a colossal turnoff to others. If you want to better yourself and your relationships, remember to choose to accept responsibility and learn from your mistakes. It’s one of the surest signs of maturity.
  2. Using drugs or alcohol to cope. These are false comforts that mask the negative emotions (anxiety, despair, sadness, loneliness, etc.) we often experience when living through adversity. In fact, drugs and alcohol actually make things worse. Not only do they prevent us from dealing with the situation at hand, they can cause us to make poor decisions that only make matters worse. So, if you’re going through tough times, please reconsider reaching for that bottle of wine (or drug of choice). You will not come out on the other side with clarity, joy, or a solution. Rather, try those tips we shared last week.
  3. Withdrawing. It can be tempting to lean on ourselves or deny the problem when the going gets rough. Social withdrawal can be especially damaging because our friends, family, and other relationships are incredibly useful (and willing!) resources to help us deal with adversity. Isolating ourselves from the world and refusing to accept our current reality will only make matters worse—it can lead to self-pity, bitterness, and depression. Resilience manifests itself as the opposite of withdrawal. It means facing your challenges head on and relying on the support and wisdom of others to help get you through. #dontgoitalone!
  4. Whining. Nope—just don’t do it. If you feel that you need to be vocal about the adversity you’re facing, try using humor. (Humor, can, in fact, cause you to think more creatively. It’s great for problem solving and definitely more constructive than whining!) Whining will only damage your credibility—it won’t do anything to fix your problem. And, it’s BORING!
  5. Withering. In the last few years, we’ve witnessed a popular trend on campuses of seeking protection from anything that we either disagree with or might bother us. Such students are demonstrating an unprecedented level of fragility and hypersensitivity that is worrisome. Further, it reinforces the entitlement mentality that is permeating the younger generation. It’s time for administrators to step up. This is not preparing them for life after college.

 

Although it would be nice if there were a magic antidote to our adversity, we all know it doesn’t exist. It’s why developing resilience is paramount.

So, how do you approach adversity when it strikes? Do you have other examples of what resilience doesn’t look like to share with us? We’d love to hear!

The Road to Resilience

As much as we all wish that life was an easy, straight shot road to success and happiness, we know that isn’t the case. Even when we practice diligence, discipline, commitment, respect, honesty, and integrity as we work toward our goals, there’s simply no way to avoid pitfalls and obstacles in life.  We’ve talked about handling adversity before, but this week we’d like to specifically address developing the character quality of resilience.

Resilience is defined by Merriam Webster as: “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” Take a moment to reflect on how you usually respond to difficult situations in life. Do you bounce back quickly, or do you let life’s trials negatively affect your mood, outlook, relationships, motivation, and work/school performance?

Resilience is not a character trait we are born with. Sure, maybe some are naturally “tougher” than others, but it’s important to remember that resilience is a value we must develop within ourselves. Being resilient means making a conscious choice to not let adversity drag you into defeat or despair. It means choosing to look for a deeper meaning and potential life lesson in each bump in the road and forging ahead to the other side of the valley.

It is difficult to generalize on resilience because adversity comes in many forms, such as:

  • Personal underperformance—bombing the exam, being cut by the team, throwing a costly interception, forgetting lines in the play, getting laid off from the job, losing an election, etc.
  • Group underperformance—losing a winnable game, bombing a group project, losing a major contract to a competitor, etc.
  • Consequences of unhealthy/unwise/damaging decisions
  • Social/relationship struggles—challenges with making friends in new environments, maintaining friendships, break ups, family battles, etc.
  • Family dysfunction
  • Physical or emotional abuse
  • Death or illness of a loved one
  • Financial crises
  • Bad luck—life’s lemons that just happen…to us all.

As you can see, some adversity is from our own doing, but much of it is not. We don’t always have control of our situations, but we DO have control over how we approach our battles and challenges. And, that’s where resilience comes in.

With all that in mind, here are five tips to help you develop resilience in your own life:

  1. Keep a healthy perspective. Remember that everyone faces challenges and adversity, and some of the richest aspects of our life journey come from battling through our toughest times. We grow as a person and, in time, can use these experiences to come alongside others who are facing similar challenges. So keep the faith and work through the problem to the best of your ability, realizing that (in many cases), good can come from it. Today’s valley is NOT your new normal.
  2. Know yourself and your worth. When you have a strong sense of self, you are less likely to let insecurity and uncertainty drag you down. When you are self-assured, you can confidently handle life’s curve balls and know that mistakes or other negative circumstances are not a direct reflection of who you are as a person. And, you will be less likely to blame yourself for situations outside of your control. #Icandothis!
  3. Tap your support system. Whether you rely on your siblings, parents, friends, neighbors, mentors, or faith community (if applicable), it’s important to have a safe network of people who you can talk to and lean on during hard times. Make sure you have people in your life whom you trust to give you helpful, truthful, and constructive advice. It’s nearly impossible to be resilient when you’re going through life on your own. Surround yourself with positive influences through thick and thin. And, don’t hesitate to seek professional help if needed.
  4. Take care of your health. We’ve all realized at some point in our lives that our mental and physiological health are very closely connected. High levels of stress and other damaging emotions can lead to a greater increase of sickness, pain, and exhaustion. In order to handle adversity with resilience, make sure you are sleeping well, eating healthy, and getting in some physical activity. It matters much more than you may think!
  5. Forgive. Depending on the source of your adversity, it may involve forgiving yourself or others. It’s not always easy, but it’s difficult to truly recover without it.

 

When life hands you a lemon, your resilience, courage, determination, and positive support system will help you through. Being able to look beyond your current circumstances and knowing that your life is not going to crumble because of them is key. More often than not, our best life lessons and personal growth come from the hard times.  So, when you build resilience, every sphere of your life will benefit. You are a special and unique person—have confidence that you can always find a way to persevere, overcome, and make a comeback. #Yesidid!

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!

The 3 P’s for Success

Doesn’t it feel like summer just started? Well, as much as we all hate to admit it, school will be starting before we know it. And for many young people, that means their first year of college is on the horizon. It’s why this week, we want to focus on studying—specifically, studying for optimum success in college/university!

It’s crucial to keep in mind that college academics are harder—much harder—than in high school. Papers are longer, expectations are higher, competition is greater, professors aren’t as accommodating, classes are bigger, and distractions are like never before. Without committed and disciplined study habits, success in college will be hard to come by. Even if straight A’s came easily to you in high school, it’s likely that university will be more challenging—even for the most accomplished honor student.

People who excel at what they do—whether it’s academics, sports, art, music, business, a trade—generally have these things in common: they’re intensely focused and overcome challenges with PLANNING, PRACTICE, and PERSERVERANCE.  For college students, this might look like reserving weekends for studying, rather than partying, or making sure certain priorities are taken care of before agreeing to social outings. First things first!

I can’t think of a better illustration of “the three P’s” than the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. The team of collegiate athletes was gathered randomly from around the nation under the leadership of Coach Herb Brooks, who developed a brutal training regimen and a strategy to win.

The prospects didn’t look good. They were dominated by the Soviet team in an exhibition game by a score of 10-3. But, that didn’t deter them. They tied Sweden, upset perennially strong Czechoslovakia, and proceeded to defeat Norway, Romania, and West Germany. There was just one problem. The next stop was another crack at the Soviet team, and the players were haunted by their previous humiliation. Nonetheless, Coach Brooks was relentless, challenging the team to do their best when it counted.

Amazingly, the U.S. scored what is considered the greatest sporting upset in history,, defeating the Soviets 4-3 in a win dramatically captured in the 2004 film Miracle. They went on to win the gold medal game over Finland, and rallied our country like no other sporting team in history.

When it comes to achieving your goals and succeeding in college/university and your career, remember that you, too, can overcome great odds by applying the same 3 P’s the 1980 U.S. hockey team did. What good would it have done for the 1980 U.S. Olympic team to skate out onto the ice without the practice and grit to compete?

So, how do we apply the 3 P’s to our studying? By:

  • Planning: organizing our schedules to allocate the needed time to complete our studies. And, making a habit of setting weekly and daily goals and schedules.
  • Practicing: implementing our daily schedules by focusing first on our academic priorities and then studying in environments conducive to concentration and distraction avoidance.
  • Persevering: facing our disappointments head on by analyzing why we underperformed and taking corrective steps to improve. Successful people fight through and grow from their challenges with determination.

Unfortunately, many people struggle with at least one of the “3 P’s”—and never reach their full potential. (Practically, this can look like receiving poor grades, dropping out of school, getting fired for mediocre performance, never moving up, etc.) Many people mistakenly believe they “deserve” success. They show up to university expecting to rest on their laurels from high school. Or, they arrive to their first day of a new job expecting the corner office. They face a brutal awakening.

Don’t let this attitude mark you. When you set your mind to something—whether it’s academic studies, a job (or something else), I encourage you to do it with intentionality and excellence. When school begins again in the coming months, remember this adage: “Plan, practice, and persevere to succeed.” Doing this will give you the best chance to succeed and will build great character along the way.

What are your tried and true recipes for success? If you were talking to your teen or students about success after high school, what tips would you give? Feel free to share what you would add to our list!

Cultivating Productivity in Our Teens

career fairLast week we talked about senioritis, and how giving in to the temptation to slack off near the end of the school year can come back to bite us. That’s why it’s so important that we as parents and teachers do our best to cultivate productivity in our teens.

Over the years, I’ve noticed an interesting trend in my chance encounters with people. It goes something like this:
Me: “It’s great to see you! How’ve you been?”

Them: “Busy!” Or,

Them: “Crazy busy!” Or,

Them: “Out of control!” Or,

Them: “Overwhelmed!”

Is this good?

No, it’s not. We’re experiencing a crisis of over-commitment and information overload like never before. It’s not supposed to be this way. After all, technology is supposed to make us more efficient, isn’t it?  Not more stressed! At the risk of sounding like Fred Flintstone, faster isn’t always better—especially if it reduces our quality of life and productivity.

These days, everyone is consumed with “busyness.” You see it everywhere. Our attention spans are shorter, our responsiveness has markedly deteriorated, our cell phones have become appendages (where almost nonstop beeps and vibrations are creating a false sense of urgency), we’re having a harder time focusing, and relational depth is increasingly being replaced by superficial breadth. Our children are bombarded with information and opportunities like never before and it’s showing up in anxiety levels.

It is crucial that we arm them with a strong productivity foundation to handle this brave new world.

Let’s start with time management. Whether they go on to college or the workplace, they will be in charge of how they spend their time. Successful people are extremely disciplined with their time, viewing it as a priceless asset they cannot get back. That’s the attitude we want to cultivate in our teens. They will need to develop prioritized daily “to-do lists” arranged by importance and urgency, and plan their time accordingly. Top priorities come first and before the fun.

Another key productivity driver is their ability to set goals and plan for their achievement. Encourage your children to set goals regarding their career, family, education, personal growth, finances, service, experiences, recreation/leisure, and daily responsibilities. The more specific, realistic, and measurable they are, the better. Consider setting some time aside with your student and making a list together of their measurable goals— immediate, short term, and long term. Then, train them to develop strategies and plans to achieve them. Without a planning mindset, success is, at best, a random proposition.

Finally, our kids need to become great decision makers. In What I Wish I Knew at 18, I describe an effective six-step decision-making process. The steps are: 1) determine your key decision criteria, 2) get the facts, 3) identify all the alternatives, 4) conduct an objective pro/con analysis for each option, 5) engage wise counsel, and 6) listen to your “gut instinct” or intuition. By working the process, their best option will usually reveal itself. It’s a GREAT discipline for selecting among several college alternatives!

Here are some questions to consider as you prepare for launch time and “train for productivity:”:

  • Are they effective goal setters, planners, time managers, and decision-makers?
  • Do they control technology, rather than allow technology to control them?
  • In their daily planning, do they focus first on what matters most?
  • Do they consider their time as a precious asset?

Let’s do our best to cultivate a foundation of productivity in our teens, as it will the foundation of success for the rest of their lives. Also, don’t forget to lead by example. Ask the above questions about your own life, too. There’s room to improve for all of us!

Growing Signs of College Unreadiness

university-graduatesHave you experienced something like the following? You’re invited to a high school graduation party brimming with pride and promise. In a few short months, he/she will be heading off to college to fulfill his/her dreams, so it’s a festive occasion. Then, after a semester, a year, or maybe two, we hear the disheartening news: in an unexpected turn of events, our friend/relative/son/daughter just dropped out. That upbeat graduation party seemed like only yesterday, didn’t it? Now what?

By all accounts, stories like this are becoming more common. Here are a few telltale signs:

  • The US college completion ranking among 28 nations has fallen from first in 1995 to 19th in 2012, according to OECD. That’s a substantial shift in a mere 17 years.
  • Many colleges are reporting significant increases in student demand for mental health counseling services. Nearly 10 percent of students are receiving such treatment. (Note: some of this increase may be due to efforts to destigmatize mental health issues and seeing a counselor. This is a positive)

Clearly, though, these are worrisome trends. Why are so many students struggling? Are they unready?

Peeling the Onion

According to the 2013 Association of College Counseling Center Directors Survey1 of 380 colleges, here are the top 10 reasons cited for student visits with counselors over the 2012-2013 period: Anxiety (46%), Depression (39%), Relationship Issues (35%), Psychotropic Medication (25%), Suicidal Thoughts/Behaviors (18%), Extensive Treatment History (14%), Alcohol Abuse (11%), Self Injury (10%), ADHD (8%), and Drug Abuse (8%). All of these are concerning, but number five is downright alarming.

That anxiety ranks number one shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, the college years are inherently stressful, with students facing new environments, responsibilities, competition, and career decisions. That’s a lot to absorb, as many of us may remember all too well!  Among the most commonly cited student stressors are: relationships and loneliness, competitive academic and social pressure, time management/workload/balance, career/major choice, finances, poor eating/sleeping habits, roommate incompatibility, and handling newfound freedom responsibly. Whew!

Contributors

Obviously, each individual situation is unique, and preparing students for success in this major transition is no easy feat. That said, we believe the following are some of the main causes of college unreadiness and student struggles:

  1. Helicoptering and performance parenting: many of today’s parenting methods, often well intended, are producing students who are ill equipped for adulthood and the performance pressures imposed by their parents.
  2. “College for all” mentality: in recent decades, college has been loudly messaged as the ticket to success. Many students would have been better served choosing a different path.
  3. Inadequate commitment to independent living preparation and soft skill development in high schools: schools vary widely in course offerings involving independent living, college/career preparation, leadership, and soft skills (e.g., resilience). In most cases, these valuable courses, if offered at all, are considered electives. Further, there isn’t formal accountability for success after
  4. Insufficient college onboarding programs: arriving on a college campus can be a “deer in the headlights” experience! First year students could benefit from stronger student transition management programs, including how to handle the most common challenges and “derailers.”
  5. Extended period of adolescence: research is showing that the adolescent stage is lasting longer than before. This suggests that today’s college entrant, on average, may be less mature than in year’s past.
  6. Susceptible age: the years from 18-22 often reveal genetic predispositions to mental health issues. Further, at this time of major decisions and transitioning, the adolescent brain is still undergoing significant development. This is a massive amount of change to endure in a short period.

 

We all have a stake in improving this situation. Next week, I’ll share some parenting strategies to help prepare your teens for a successful college experience.

1”Top Reasons Students Seek College Counseling Centers,” Matters of the Mind, http://www.themillennialminds.com

From Dreamer to Achiever: Making Your 2017 Vision a Reality

So, what grade would you give yourself regarding your 2016 resolutions? If you’re like most of us, you succeeded with a few, but fell short on more. Sometimes our goals get lost in the shuffle. Sometimes we fail because we didn’t turn our goals into specific plans and actions (i.e., we stayed in dream land). And, sometimes we weren’t that serious about them in the first place.

In last week’s blog, we encouraged you to develop an aspirational vision for 2017, and we hope you’re off to a great start. Your next and greatest challenge is turning your vision into a reality. Depending on how you’re wired, this may come naturally or not. Regardless, one surefire method is to adopt the Plan, Do, and Review approach that is common in the business world. Yes, it works just as well for us as individuals and families and hopefully for you, too!

Planning

Your first step is to prioritize your vision and aspirations. If your list of desires is a mile long, you’ll become disillusioned and lose interest within months. A better approach is to limit your focus areas to no more than three to five (depending on how involved they are). With such busy lives, there’s only so much we can realistically accomplish. If you achieve yours ahead of schedule, by all means go back to your list and add some more!

How should you narrow your list to a manageable number? First, prioritize them in order of potential value and impact. Some will be a bigger deal than others. Also consider the time required for each goal to the best of your ability, and build in the necessary margin. Finally, pay attention to urgency. Some goals may need to be addressed immediately while others can wait. Be especially mindful of goals with set deadlines (e.g., college applications) and plan with a buffer, in case you fall behind.

Once you’ve settled on your top vision areas, develop specific plans and goals to achieve them. Your goals should include target completion dates and specific, measurable outcomes to help assess your progress. And, be sure they’re realistic and achievable. If they’re not, you will lose interest. Been there, done that!

Doing

Now, it’s do time. You’ve set your course, and it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Each of your diverse goals will require different action steps and time frames for completion. Daily and weekly to do lists will help keep you on track and build momentum as you progress. These are especially important for larger goals that require lots of steps. If you’re like me, you love crossing off to do list items! Oh, and remember that whatever you do, do it with excellence and, ideally, on time.

Reviewing

Your final step is reviewing your performance. Ideally, you will have shared your goals with the appropriate party (e.g., your supervisor, parents, spouse/partner, friend, or mentor) and set dates to review your progress. Trust me, accountability works just as effectively in our personal lives as it does in a job review! It adds incentive and motivation and helps keep us on track. If you’re falling behind on any of your goals, these conversations can help you make any mid-course corrections. If you’ve achieved them, be sure to celebrate! You deserve it.

Application for Families and Educators

Goal setting and implementation are essential leadership skills to build in our children, and it’s never too soon to begin. Spend time early in the year as a family to set both individual and family goals (e.g., more harmony, less technology distractions, a community service project). Have each family member select a character quality he/she would like to improve, with other members providing encouragement and accountability. Then, perhaps quarterly, enjoy a family night to review your progress and celebrate with your favorite game or activity.

Educators can also have students develop and record their goals at the beginning of the semester, draft a mid-term progress report, and write a concluding paper at the end of the semester summarizing their performance. It’s a great exercise to build vision and intentionality in our young leaders. Based on my many conversations with young adults, there’s a lot of dreaming out there, but nowhere near enough planning and doing. Together, we can turn this around.

 

 

Connect! (Part 2): Harnessing the 4 Motivations that Drive Human Behavior

I (Arlyn) recently spoke with an alternative education teacher who told me how her school can predict when a new student will have negative outburst. She told me, “Three weeks, pretty much to the day, is when they’ll act out. They’ll be defiant, or steal something, or throw something … or display some other behavior designed to provoke a response.”

Why? For a couple of reasons, she told me. These students are generally testing two things: 1) to see if the boundaries are really there and will be enforced, and 2), to see if the caring that has been demonstrated will prove real, or if the student will be rejected for his/her behavior.

Her school’s policy is to respond to this scenario by applying empathetic reactions to the student as a person, while extending appropriate consequences for the behavior. This has led to an affirming, relational climate that contributes significantly to the students’ ability to feel secure, connect with teachers and others students, and begin to learn.

As we pointed out in last week’s blog, “Connect! (The Best Way to Help Students Succeed),” emotions are the fast lane to the brain. When positive, affirming social/emotional connections are made, powerful hormones are released in the brain (like dopamine and oxytocin) that diminish cortisol levels and UNLOCK the brain’s learning centers.

A key to creating this kind of positive learning environment in a school (or in a home or business, for that matter) is to be sensitive to the four motivations that influence human behavior.  Good teachers (or parents or business leaders) keep them in mind at all times. These include:

  • Acceptance (feeling understood)
  • Appreciation (feeling valued)
  • Affection (feeling loved)
  • Attention (feeling recognized and important)

These are the motivations that most drive people’s decisions, actions, and reactions. They also have a profound impact on the way we receive and process information.

Sadly, research tells us that a majority of students do not perceive these qualities in their schools. According to a survey of 150,000 6th-12th grade students conducted by the Search Institute, a whopping 71% said they don’t believe that school is a caring environment. What a colossal shame, since every teacher I’ve met starts out with a desire to make a positive difference in the lives of his or her students!

With that goal in mind, here are some ideas for creating an affirming environment in a school, classroom, or home:

  • Manners, courtesy, and respect (teachers/parents to kids and vice versa
  • Smiles and laughter (don’t be afraid to show your teeth!)
  • Personal conversations (“How are you?” “How was your weekend?” “What are you looking forward to this summer?” Share from your own life, as well.)
  • Positive affirmation based on the person, not the performance (or lack thereof)
  • Appreciation/recognition for contributions and work completed
  • Eye contact, appropriate physical touch

Whether we’re educators, mentors, parents, or in some other form of leadership with young people, it’s important that we spend time getting to know our kids, understanding who they are, and utilizing our relational platform to connect with them and increase their learning potential. This is truly one of the best ways we can set them up for success, not just in the here and now, but for life in the “real world!”

Check out LifeSmart’s What I Wish I Knew at 18 resources for developing life skills, college and workplace readiness, and a strong personal leadership foundation in high school and middle school students. Conversationally written, and designed to impart life wisdom and practical skills in a relational context, our resources will help you make Social Emotional Learning a vital part of your classroom or home environment.

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.

Smile–It Means More than You Think

ID-10092716“Let us make one point, that we meet each other with a smile, even when it is difficult to smile. Smile at each other, make time for each other in your family….for smiling is the beginning of love.”
― Mother Teresa

Have you ever thought about what your smile—and your countenance in general, really—say about you? When I first meet someone, I look at their eyes (are they kind?) and their mouth (are they joyful?). I am sure that judging a first impression based of eyes and smile might sound crazy to some, but actually, these cues are often spot on. They are great indicators of a person’s level of engagement with those around them. If the eyes and mouth don’t make a great first impression, it’s likely the rest of the person won’t either.

What impression do you give other people when they meet you for the first time? Your countenance matters, probably much more than you realize! After all, the person you just met could become a new friend, future spouse, future in-law, potential employment reference, employer, manager, industry contact, mentor, or client. The fact is, life is a series of chance moments with others, and you never know what might become of the people you meet and the role they could play in your life.

There’s a wise saying: “You never get a second chance to make a good impression.” In fact, most employment recruiters will say that the first 30 seconds of an interview will make or break your chances! Yes, that’s 30 seconds! For some, it only takes five!

In order to master the art of relationship building, it’s essential to make a great first impression with everyone you meet. Here’s all it takes:

  • Demonstrate through your countenance, words, andbody language that you’re happy to meet them (key: smile!)
  • Give a firm, confident handshake and look them in the eye
  • Be positive and enthusiastic
  • Be inquisitive. Show an interest in them and in what they say. Focus more on listening to them than talking about yourself.
  • Remain engaged in the conversation and avoid distractions like calls and texts
  • Use good manners and be gracious

Surprisingly, many people just don’t get it. They allow negative thoughts, cynicism, suspicion, self-focus, insecurity, and indifference to cloud their countenance. They may not realize it, but it shows—and in job interviews and in life, it doesn’t end well.. They may say all the right things, do all the right things, yet wonder why others aren’t warming up. Many times, it all comes down to countenance. Your smile can make all the difference!

Do you make sure to always wear a smile, especially when meeting new people? What are your tips for making a lasting first impression when you meet others? When you meet someone new, what are the first things you notice about them?

Photo: Freedigitalphotos.net, by stockimages