Keeping the Peace During the Holidays

Now that Thanksgiving and the holiday season are upon us, there are a few things we can be certain of: good food (and too much of it!), sweet treats, festive activities, shopping until we drop, and time with extended family.

Unfortunately,, for some of us, time with extended family can be strained. And when tensions are high, people are much more likely to take offense. This week, I’d like to talk about HOW you communicate with others and how you can avoid conflict as you interact with family, friends, and others over the next month.

Miscommunication and spats happen to all of us, probably more often than we’d care to admit. There are, however, some simple things you can do to minimize them, especially by remembering how others receive our messages:.

 

  1. Word choice – This factor is huge, especially when we discuss sensitive topics or relationships (here’s a hint: No talking politics over turkey dinner!). In these situations, our emotions can interfere with our thinking, and we often use more provocative language that we later regret. In the “heat of battle,” we can be so focused on proving our point that we forget to show tact, empathy, and understanding to the other party. The end result is that things spiral out of control, and frustration and anger take over..

 

  1. Delivery – Sometimes it’s our manner of delivery that gets in the way, even if our word choice is fine. Examples include speaking with a harsh or condescending tone of voice or displaying arrogant facial expressions or body language (e.g.,, eye rolling). No matter what words we use, if the “packaging” is incongruent, our message will lack credibility and rub people the wrong way. No one is convincing when they show disrespect to their audience.

 

  1. Form – Ever wanted to jet off a nasty email when you’re upset or irritated? Don’t be so quick on the draw. The advantage of verbal communication is that the audience hears you speak, allowing your tone to help convey your ideas. In contrast, written communications (e.g., emailing, texting, social media comments and messages) have a major disadvantage because the audience imposes their own interpretation of your tone. Aunt Sue’s perception may be light years away from what you intended. If so, you have a big problem on your hands.

 

  1. Filter – Depending on whether your audience likes or distrusts you, whether they’re in a good or bad mood, or focused or distracted by other thoughts, your message may not get through in the way you intended..Unfortunately, you can’t control their filter.

 

There are two other irritating tendencies that are becoming more common and sabotaging our times together. One is when people use every opportunity to politicize, even during get-togethers that are supposed to be festive and harmonious. The second is when people emphatically express opinions as though they are facts. This is a predictable consequence of the media bias we are seeing. Please be mindful of these tendencies and respectfully suggest a change of subject if you’re on the receiving end.

This holiday season, I hope you never find yourself having to say “I didn’t mean it like that!” to an uncle, aunt, parent, sibling, or cousin. By remembering these influences before you speak, you’ll do your part in spreading peace and harmony to others.

Do you pay close attention to how you communicate and how your words are being received? What are some ways you’ve learned to be a more effective communicator?

 Happy Holidays from all of us at LifeSmart!

The Gift of a Giver

During this time of year, we are inundated with suggestions of ways we can help others. Whether it’s the Salvation Army volunteers wearing Santa hats and ringing bells outside your local grocery store (I do that!), organizations making it possible for you to “adopt” a family less fortunate than yours, or packing up shoeboxes full of goodies to send to children in third world countries—there are countless ways you can make a difference. To be honest, I think it is a welcome change from the messages we most often hear all the other months of the year.

“Follow your passion. Do what makes YOU happy. You’re awesome. Find yourself.” These phrases should sound familiar, because they seem to be everywhere these days. Young people all across the globe are being encouraged to discover themselves and follow their hearts. These messages aren’t necessarily bad by any means—we all need to follow our passions—however, life really isn’t all about us. When taken to the extreme, this mindset contributes to self centeredness and an entitlement mentality and can send our children the wrong message. So, this holiday season, and for the other months of the year, I encourage you to direct your life toward others.

As the holidays approach swiftly, what if we all went from being self-focused to other-centered? Think of what a difference we could make in the world! After all, I think most successful people would say that their biggest life accomplishments have more to do with what they’ve done for others, rather than what they’ve done for themselves. Giving can be a greater gift to the giver than to the receiver.

Where are you directing your life right now—toward yourself or toward others?  Spend some moments thinking about how you spend most of your time, energy, and resources. Talk with your family about the ways you can shift your focus toward others. Whether it’s by yourself, with a friend, or as a family unit, brainstorm some ways you can impact your community during the holidays and beyond.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Donate a Thanksgiving meal to a local family who can’t afford one this year
  • Serve meals or collect clothing for your local mission or shelter
  • Adopt a family (or child). Some organizations you can do this through are: Doing Good Together, Soldier’s Angels, World Vision, and the YWCA. Also look for local organizations or programs near you.
  • Visit those who are lonely (bedridden, in a nursing home, etc.). Call local senior centers or nursing facilities to find out how you can help. Dust off those rusty caroling skills! Or, take someone out to lunch who is missing a loved one.
  • Donate to Toys for Tots or similar programs
  • Make a difference in the lives of foster children. Look into ways you can help during the holiday season with organizations like Together We Rise or Children’s Action Network.
  • Encourage paying it forward. Even if it’s just buying a Pumpkin Spice Latte for the car in line behind you at Starbucks, it will bring joy to someone’s day! One of my favorite stories is about someone who pays for the groceries of others.

 

I promise, you’ll receive far more in return than you give. Your life will have more balance, your spirit will soar, you’ll make new friends, and you’ll maximize the impact of your life. Oh, and you’ll also make the world a better place in the meantime! What’s not to love about that? Happy holidays!

 

Friendsgiving and the Four Stages of Friendship

The holidays are already just around the corner (how did that happen?), and so many of us are already filling up our calendars with festive events, dinner parties, school functions, and traditional gift exchanges. It’s a season to focus on family and friends. How many of you are having a Friendsgiving celebration this year? I know that I am, so I definitely have the topic of friendship on my mind.

With so much focus on spending time with those we love, I’m reminded of what real friendship looks like. “Friend” is one of those words that has taken on a new meaning in today’s social media-inundated world. Now, the word “friend” can easily refer to a life-long confidante, or simply someone you just connected with on Facebook or started following on Instagram! BIG difference, don’t you think?

Generally speaking, healthy long-term relationships progress through four stages and—no offense to Facebook—“friend” isn’t the first stage. Ideally, each relationship stage should build on the other and at the proper pace. What advances a relationship to new stages or levels, IF it is meant to advance at all, are: mutual trust, compatibility, a shared interest in cultivating a deeper friendship, and the tests of time.

The stages go like this (imagine a pyramid, starting at the base):

  1. Acquaintance
  2. Prospect (a potential friend)
  3. Friend
  4. V.I.P. (Very Important Person)

Every person who becomes more than an acquaintance will start in the first stage.  Most stay there forever while others may progress into the next stages. Only a very few will make it to the VIP stage—and that’s the way it should be. Most of us usually have 4-5 VIPs, the crème de la crème of people in our lives.

Unfortunately, many people—particularly young people—can rush the stages, prematurely moving from one to the next in a quest for intimacy, new friends, popularity, or a full social calendar. When the stages are rushed, people exhibit behaviors in one stage that should be reserved for a deeper one. Inevitably, these relationships disintegrate due to a breakdown in trust, a loss of interest, or a pace that is uncomfortable for one or both of the parties. Note this applies to both friendships and romantic relationships.

If you want healthy, lasting relationships, don’t rush to stage four (like they do in the movies!). When you do, you risk making an emotional investment without really knowing the person—a mistake that can take a major toll when the relationship ends. It’s better to go slow through the stages and reserve the VIP level for people who really prove their friendship, commitment, and compatibility over time.  Don’t forget that good friendship and true love take time and good timing, and that’s okay.

Take some time to think about your current relationships. Can you recognize which stage each one is in? This holiday season, make a conscious effort to invest your deepest relationships and those poised to move up to the next stage. Those are the friendships that will build you up and last a lifetime!

5 Benefits of Gratefulness That Will Surprise You

Thanksgiving is here! It’s one of my favorite holidays, not just because I enjoy the delicious turkey, stuffing (seriously, mine is the best!), pumpkin pie, and spending time with loved ones, but because of something deeper. Thanksgiving gives me the chance to slow down and do a self-check—an opportunity to look in my heart and ask myself, Am I grateful?  Do I practice an “others first” way of life? Would others, especially my kids, even notice?

Most of us would like to think of ourselves as grateful people…but how often are we, really? It’s easy to let the business of life and the pressing desire for MORE STUFF get in the way.

Gratitude is the simple attitude (and act) of showing appreciation and thankfulness. It doesn’t take a lot of our time or effort to be thankful, but it holds incredible benefits for both the one expressing it and the person (or people) receiving it. In fact, there are many benefits of a grateful heart. Some of them may surprise you!

  1. Just 15 minutes a day of focusing on the things you are grateful for will boost your body’s antibodies and contribute to a strengthened immune system. This means that a more thankful, appreciative heart and mind will make for a healthier body!
  2. Thankful people are more focused mentally, and therefore measurably less vulnerable to clinical depression. To reap this benefit, consider keeping a daily thankfulness journal and jot down the things you are appreciative of that day.
  3. Gratitude induces a physiological state of mind called “resonance,” often associated with healthier blood pressure and heart rate. In fact, recent studies have shown that people who participate in “gratitude practices” go to the doctor less often. Now, that’s a win!
  4. Thankfulness can help you relax both physically and mentally. Focus on what you are grateful for to help minimize the stressors in your life!
  5. Gratitude benefits your relationships. For example, being grateful creates more positive interactions with your spouse, partner, children, friends, and colleagues. When positive interactions (compliments, expressions of gratitude, encouragement, etc.) greatly outweigh the negative ones (sarcasm, disagreements, criticism), a relationship becomes stronger and more fulfilling. And, memo to all of you in supervisory roles: appreciation and recognition are the most powerful motivators of a workforce! Money isn’t even close.

Thankful people make the people around them happier, too, and ultimately attract more friends and opportunities as a result. This Thanksgiving season, let’s commit to taking on some “gratitude practices.” Watch how it positively affects you and others!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Give Thanks, Give of Yourself

This week I am thankful—not for what I have for myself, but for what I have to give away. Really, life’s greatest joys come not in the getting, but in the giving. Don’t you agree?
 
            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. Their qualities of generosity, empathy, compassion, and kindness seem to come naturally to them, and they’re inspiring treasures to us all.

 
            How you eventually impact the world will be driven by what you have to offer and what you choose to offer. What do you uniquely have to offer the world?
 
            This is a profound question, and one that will evolve throughout your lifetime. At any point, though, your personal assets will generally fall into three categories: your time, talent, and treasure.
 
            There are many different avenues that allow you to allocate these resources to serve others. To decide how best to give what you have to benefit others, there are three main questions to consider:

  • What talents and skills do I have to offer?
  • What groups or community segments (e.g., youth, elderly, homeless) do I feel most called to help?
  • What organizations will allow me to use my talents to help those I feel most passionately about?

 
            I encourage you to develop a servant’s heart as a way of life, embodying the qualities of generosity and compassion in your everyday dealings with people. Learn to proactively and instinctively use all three of your “asset” categories when various situations arise to which you contribute—not just money, but also yourself.


            Living life with a servant’s heart will bring help and hope to others and immense joy to you in return. You’ll receive far more than what you give. Nothing compares with using your gifts and talents to improve the world around you. This is the true spirit of Thanksgiving!

 
Have you experienced the deep thankfulness that “giving yourself away” evokes? Looking ahead, what new ways do you envision using your time, talent, and treasure to make the world a better place? Share your responses by commenting below; we’d love to hear your stories and ideas!