Thanksgiving Lens

untitledLast year at this time, I wrote a blog about the power of our gratitude lens.  In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to share it again, but this time with a twist.

Imagine what the world would look like if we treated each day as a day of Thanksgiving?  While it’s easy to pause and reflect on a given Thursday each year, I invite you to consider giving thanks each and every day.

How can you do this, you might ask?  Try wearing your Thanksgiving Lens, just like Grateful Glenda.


A very famous man once said, “The lens through which you view the world will greatly affect the quality of your life.”

Okay, he wasn’t famous, nor does he aspire to be.  His goal is very simple.  It’s to be a spark that creates positive, sustainable change in the lives of others.

That man is me and these words will continue to serve as a foundation for everything I teach.

Simply put, life looks a lot different depending on the lens through which you view it.  You see, life is just out there lifing.  We all have similar circumstances.  The single most important factor in determining the quality of our lives is NOT our financial means, but rather the lenses through which we consistently view the world (and ourselves).

Sadly, the default lens for many is what I call the powerless lens.  Some refer to it as having a victim mentality.  Life through a powerless lens is accompanied by feelings of anger, fear, and jealousy, which are a direct result of the quality of our thinking.  While we may appear to have it all together on the outside, our powerless thoughts act as poison on the inside.

The Thanksgiving Lens, on the other hand, is perhaps the single most powerful lens we possess.  Instead of complaining and blaming, our Thanksgiving Lens allows us to be present to what we have, in any given moment.  Instead of giving our power away to a life event, we can choose to maintain our power in spite of what some would say is a bad circumstance.

Below is a poem which illustrates the difference between the two lenses.

Grateful Glenda awoke in the morn, eager to embrace the beauty of everything God has adorned. 

Grumpy Gordon, on the other hand, stumbled out of bed.  Thoughts of despair raced through his head.

During her morning commute, Glenda encountered a traffic jam which seemed to stretch for miles.  Just as a careless driver abruptly cut her off, she couldn’t help but notice the van next to her, where two children sat patiently, waving their tiny hands and beaming with smiles.

Gordon drove into the same traffic on his way to work.  However, he yelled obscenities at the careless driver, who was still jockeying for position.  What a jerk!

Glenda arrived at the office, ten minutes late for an important meeting.  Even though she was greeted with several unwelcome looks, she was grateful for the lone welcome greeting. 

When Gordon finally arrived at work, with a distraught look on his face, he proceeded to inform his cubicle mates about the crazy guy who had turned the traffic jam into a race.

Later in the day, Glenda sat down for lunch, anxious to eat her delicious leftovers from a family brunch.  As she grabbed her banana and began to peel, she thought of the wonderful friends who had prepared the meal. 

As for Gordon, he ate lunch at his desk.  His angry thoughts continued to fester as his mind remained firmly entrenched in the events of his morning mess.   

The end of the day had finally arrived and Glenda was pleased with all she had done.  Despite the difficult circumstances she had faced, she quietly celebrated her choice to be grateful.  She had won.

Gordon sat at his desk, papers stacked to the ceiling.  He thought to himself, “If only the man who cut me off knew how I was feeling.” 

Glenda lay her head down at night and quietly whispered this simple prayer, “God, thank you for giving me the freedom to choose my lens in any given circumstance.  Thank you for the many gifts you bear.” 

Gordon lay down at night, glad to see an end to his horrible day.  Just before he closed his eyes, this is what he said, “I wonder what terrible things will happen tomorrow?  Those cars better stay out of my way.”

As I said, it’s not the circumstances that define us.  It’s the lens through which we choose to see the circumstance.  Take it from Glenda, gratitude works.

I’d like to personally wish each of you a very Happy Thanksgiving!  I’m grateful for you.

Parenting young athletes

imagesSRYFQRG9This past weekend, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of parents at Amanda Borden’s Gold Medal Gymnastics in Gilbert, Arizona.  While I was quite confident in the material I shared, it donned on me as I left the building that my presentation lacked a clear, concise title designed to capture the essence of my message.  If my sixth-grade Language Arts teacher was in attendance, I may have received several red marks for this obvious deletion.  After all, a title sets the tone for the story, right?  My sincere apologies to Mrs. Swearingen. 

Well, consider this blog to be a form of redemption.  I’m assuming that many of you reading this are parents of young athletes, so I’d like to share these valuable insights with you as well.  The only difference is that I’m going to provide you with a profound title.  Are you ready?

The best way to parent a young athlete is to do so from the inside-out.

In our current youth sports landscape, a heavy emphasis is placed on what the late Stephen Covey refers to as secondary greatness. Essentially, secondary greatness refers to what we see on the outside of an athlete (i.e. medals, trophies, scores, wins and losses, etc…).  Primary greatness, on the other hand, refers to one’s character; or what’s inside of the athlete (i.e. sportsmanship, work ethic, mental toughness, etc…).

Given the extremely competitive nature of youth sports today, it’s easy for parents to focus all of their attention on the outside.  After all, who doesn’t want their child to be the best at what they do.  Unfortunately, there is a tremendous cost of this outside-in approach.  The cost I’m referring to is the likelihood of your child developing a fixed mindset with regard to athletics.  In other words, they learn to attribute their inherent value to the level of secondary greatness they’ve achieved.  Put simply, the more a parent emphasizes the wins and losses, trophies, scores, or any other form of secondary greatness, the more they fuel this fixed mindset.  In the mind of an athlete, it might sound like this, “I’ve got to receive a perfect score or I won’t be successful.” 

Inside-out parenting is quite the opposite.  Instead of fueling a fixed mindset via a relentless pursuit of secondary greatness, inside-out parents recognize the value of primary greatness, or a growth mindset.  In other words, they seek to empower their child with tools and strategies that are designed to influence character.  Unlike the fixed mindset, which is very narrow and rigid in nature, the growth mindset evokes opportunities for growth, both personal and athletically.  In the mind of an athlete, it might sound like this, “Even though I didn’t win, I’m so proud of my perseverance and positive attitude throughout the game.”

Below are three things you can do as a parent to promote this inside-out mindset in your child. 

Learn to praise the process, not just the result.  Rather than spending an inordinate amount talking about the win or the loss, seek opportunities to empower your child with examples of primary greatness.  Be as specific as possible with regard to the character values you point out.  Here are a few examples.

“I could tell by your body language that you maintained a positive attitude throughout the game, despite being down by four goals.”

“I’m so proud of your courage to come back in the game after your minor injury.”

“I was so impressed by your composure when you chose not to retaliate when an opposing playing provoked you with his words.  That is a great example of mental toughness.”

Be a good listener and encourager.  Every athlete is different in terms of how much they want to share following a game or practice.  Rather than assuming the role of coach and attempting to critique or correct, try being an encourager.  In fact, if you want to start out the conversation with a powerful statement that will almost certainly create a space of safe sharing, I encourage you to read the following article, titled What Makes A Nightmare Sports Parent — And What Makes A Great One

A lot of the insights I share in this blog are borrowed from the above article, which highlights the work of my friend Bruce Brown and his colleague Rob Miller of Proactive Coaching LLC.   

Model appropriate behavior.  Your child will always do more of what you do and less of what you say.  It’s the old adage of monkey see, monkey do.  When a parent projects poise, control, and confidence, the young athlete will likely do the same.  This is the essence of the powerful ripple effect that takes place in any parent/child relationship. 

P.S.  If you’d like to read more about Stanford professor Carolyn Dweck’s work with mindset, please click here. 

Every student leads.

untitledLeadership is not a position to obtain, nor is it a sense of power one must gain.  It’s not a designation given to only a select few, and it’s certainly not about only the things you can do.  Remember, you’re a human being, not a human doing. 

Leadership is, quite simply, your ability to influence others.  It’s the invisible ripple effect that you create as a result of your being.

Sadly, when I visit classrooms, I often encounter a large number of students who aren’t ready to own the fact that they influence.  They are quick to list countless reasons why their peers are leaders, but when it comes to owning their own intrinsic leadership, the conditioning of their minds just won’t allow it in.

Below is an excerpt from my book, Seriously, Dad?, which I invite you to read with your child, regardless of his/her age.  The book is written as a conversation between a father and daughter, so you can even take turns reading the parts.  Keep in mind that the content is not gender specific. 

My sincere hope is that the following dialogue will serve as a foundation for your child’s journey toward owning the fact that their ripple really does matter.       

Dad:  You are a leader despite what others may tell you.

Daughter:  “Okay, I already have a respectful dispute.  How can I be a leader when I’ve never actually been in a leadership position?” 

This is precisely why I chose to start our conversation with this common untruth.  In fact, if you are not able to embrace your own leader within, none of what I’m about to share with you will make an ounce of difference. 

Even though no one has labeled you as a follower, it’s natural for youth to shy away from the role of leader.  The biggest reason for this is that a large majority of young people view leadership as a position of authority, which requires a certain level of power.  You might identify your mom and I as leaders because we are “in charge” of the family and assume a certain amount of authority in that role.  You might also view your teachers as leaders because they are “in charge” of the class and responsible for student learning.  Do you notice a common theme in each of these examples?  They are each examples of authority. 

“So, if I don’t have to be in charge of other people to lead, what makes me a leader?”

It’s not the fact you may or may not be in charge of others that matters most.  What matters most is the undisputable fact that you will always be in charge of yourself, and that alone makes you a leader.  Leading yourself first is much more important than trying to lead others.  This idea will serve as a foundation for everything else I share with you.  Rather than trying to change you through manipulation or persuasion, which are examples of outside-in change, I’m interested in providing you with the tools to change yourself, which is called inside-out change.    

“Wait a minute.  How can you say I’m in charge of myself when you and mom and are always asking me to do things at home that I don’t want to do?  Doesn’t that mean that you are in charge of me?”   

That’s a great question.  Mom and I care deeply about your success in life and therefore our primary responsibility is to empower you, or give you tools that will help you along the way.  Although it may seem like we are “in charge” of you when we ask you to clean up your room or finish your homework, the fact remains that you still have the power to choose your response in any of these situations.  Therefore, while we may be in charge of the circumstances, we will never claim to be in charge of you.  We’ll talk about that later. For now, let’s focus on helping you to embrace your inner leader. 

“Okay, I guess I am in charge of myself.  It’s just so easy to think of the words leadership and in charge as synonymous.  Is there another way you could describe leadership?”

Yes, in fact I have the perfect metaphor that will provide you with a much different perspective.  Think about the last time you dropped a coin in a water fountain, or threw a rock in the river.  What happened when the coin or rock landed?  The impact of the object created a ripple that extended far beyond its original insertion point.  Well, you and I are no different than the coin or rock.  Every time we “say” or “do” something, we create an invisible ripple around us.  I would argue that our ripples are strongest when we focus on our actions, not necessarily our words.  Simply put, wherever you go your ripple follows.    

“I understand the ripple effect.  That makes sense.  But your influence is so much greater than mine because you are around tons of people all of the time.  I am only around my friends at school.”

Remember what I just said?  Your ripple follows you everywhere you go and it extends well beyond the individual(s) you might have influenced.  So, while you might think that your choices only affect a small number of people, the difference you might make for one person could translate into positive change for the people in their lives as well.  Let me give you an example.  Imagine that you show up to class on a Monday morning with a giant smile on your face.  Meanwhile, the majority of your class is battling the Monday morning blues and already thinking about the end of the day.  Your smile happens to capture the attention of one of the students and he/she begins to smile as well.  Did you know that neuroscientists have actually proven that smiles really are contagious?  Well, your smile could very well be the start of a thousand other smiles. 

“But what if everyone else in my class stays grumpy and my smile doesn’t make a difference?”

I’m glad you brought that up.  One way to address this would be to “tell” everyone to smile, which will more than likely be greeted with feelings of defensiveness.  This is an example of the “outside-in” change I was referring to earlier.  Needless to say, it’s not an effective approach.  The other way to address this situation would be to continue smiling, knowing full well that someone is going to be influenced, regardless of whether they actually smile back or not.  This is the true essence of “inside-out” change.  If you think about some of the greatest leaders in history (Martin Luther King Jr., Ghandi), they weren’t concerned with changing others through force or control, they placed all of their energies on changing themselves, knowing that their influence would ultimately create positive change in others.

If you’d like to order a signed copy of my book for a loved one, please email me at  For the month of November only, I’m offering a special rate of $7.99 (plus shipping and handling).      

Character Card

untitledAlright, it’s time for a Pop Quiz.  Please get out your #2 pencils.  Are you ready?  Don’t worry, I won’t grade it.

When you hear the words report card, what do you think of?

a.  Letter grades

b.  Grade Point Average

c.  Percentages

d.  All of the above

Depending on the age of your child, some of these answers may be more applicable than others.  Suffice it to say that each of the above words are often synonymous with report card.

During my ten years as a classroom teacher, I estimate completing over 1,000 report cards for my students.  Depending on the student, quarterly grade reports were either received with open arms of anticipation and excitement, or closed fists of devastation and dread.  What I remember most, however, was the sharing that immediately took place amongst students as they removed their reports from the standard manila envelopes.  It was akin to the annual Halloween candy comparison as they hastily peered at each other’s grades and asked an identical question – “What did you get?”

Although I knew it was normal to compare, it wasn’t actually the comparisons that made me cringe as a teacher.  You see, there was a section of the report card, usually tucked away in the corner of the page, which contained a tremendous amount of meaning.  It was a section that in my eyes was a better indicator of life success than the actual letter grades.  Unfortunately, none of the students ever talked about it because they were conditioned to believe that a report card is all about a grade or percentage. 

The section I’m referring to is what I call the Character Report.  While the letter grades serve as a gauge for what a student was able to accomplish academically, the character report is a gauge for who they were in the classroom.

This past week, my oldest daughter brought home her first report card of the year for second grade.  The first thing I did was to direct her attention to the Character Report.  Before we even looked at her academic development (grades), I celebrated her character accomplishments.  I wanted her to understand that school isn’t just about what she’s able to accomplish in reading, writing, and math.  Equally important to her academics is who she is for her classmates.   

This is precisely what I would do as a teacher during parent/teacher conferences.  Parents would often arrive with a series of questions, most of which were academic related, but it was the Character Report where we’d spend the first ten minutes of the conference.  Not surprisingly, many of the academic questions were answered as we talked about specific character traits (i.e. responsibility). 

It’s not your grades that influence your character; it’s the other way around.  While a letter grade is an end product, one’s character is more of a process.  Unfortunately, in the world of education, we continue to place an emphasis on the product, not the process. 

If you’re a parent, I encourage you to spend some time talking about this section of the report card with your child.  Explain to them that their success in life is not predicated on what they accomplish on a test, but rather who they are as a person.  While content can be taught, character must be nurtured.  Both are critical to success. 

Thinking Errors

One of the central messages of my teachings is that our thoughts influence our feelings, and our feelings influence our actions.  For example, if we’re feeling excessively bad, chances are we’re thinking badly – or, at least, in an unhelpful way.  Although we don’t often intend to think in unhelpful ways, the majority of our thoughts are subconscious, or habitual, and therefore occur outside of our awareness.

Having said this, our emotions can be a tremendous source of information with regard to capturing these unhelpful ways of thinking, or thinking errors.

I’d like to introduce you to a common thinking error which often coincides with feelings of fear, anxiety, or even panic.  It’s called catastrophizing and it occurs when we take a relatively minor negative event and begin to imagine a multitude of disasters. 

Below are a few examples.

You’re waiting for your teenage son to arrive home after a night out with friends. The clock strikes 10:00 pm and there is no sign of his arrival.  By 10:05, you start imagining that he’s accepted a ride from another friend who happens to drive recklessly.  At 10:15, you’re convinced that he’s been in a traffic accident.  By 10:20, you’re weeping uncontrollably. 

You’re at a party and you accidentally trip on the carpet as you’re making your way to the hors d’oeuvres.  You decide to leave the party, convinced that everyone who witnessed your mishap is still laughing at you.

You send a text to a friend about a personal matter, and when she doesn’t respond immediately, you become convinced that she’s shown the text to several of her friends asking for their opinion. 

It’s important to note that in each of the above examples, it wasn’t the circumstance that caused the individual to feel a certain way, but rather the way in which they interpreted the circumstance.  Each of the above events was interpreted through a catastrophic lens, so it’s not surprising that the resulting emotions were fear and anxiety. 

The best way to nip catastrophic thinking in the bud is to recognize it for what it is – just thoughts.  When you find yourself thinking of the “doom and gloom” scenarios, try one of the following strategies. 

Choose curious thoughts.  What other reasons might there be for my son being late?  I wonder if the movie ran late or they lost track of time while chatting after the movie.  Being late for curfew is common for adolescents, so perhaps we should have a conversation about communication when he gets home. 

Consider the evidence.  If you were in a courtroom, would any evidence exist that your friend is showing your text to others?  The majority of the time, our evidence is based solely on FEAR (False Evidence Appearing Real).

Try an alternative perspective.  Chances are that people are far less interested in your embarrassing moments than you think.  Don’t take yourself too seriously.  We all have our moments.   

Could this be happening “for” you?

images“Why are all these bad things happening to me?”

Has this question every surfaced for you? 

Just as each calendar year has its seasons, which consist of various types of weather, so too do the seasons of life.  Regardless of economic or social status, each of us is guaranteed to have a season (or seasons) of struggle and hardship.  A season that may seem unfair or unjust, forcing us to ask the question I posed above.

If you’re in the middle of one of these seasons, I invite you to change the way you’re seeing your circumstances.  In the midst of hardship and struggle, our default response is often to give our power away.  In other words, we act as if we have absolutely no control in the situation.  This is only partially true.  While we certainly can’t control the circumstance, we will always possess the power to control our thoughts (or perception) about the circumstance.  This is the power of a lens change, or mindset change. 

Let’s go back to the question I posed above.  Can you see that it’s powerless in that all of the power is placed in the circumstances, or bad things?

What would happen if we changed this question to one of curiosity?  It might sound like this – “Could these things be happening for me?”  Now, instead of waving the white flag and surrendering to the power of the circumstances, we step firmly into the mental battlefield and take our power back.

Let me give you an example of someone who exemplifies this principle. 

Perhaps you’ve heard the name Anthony Robles.  One of the most decorated wrestlers in Arizona State history, Robles was born with only one leg.  One might say that he was born into a season of struggle and hardship. 

His wrestling journey began at a young age, often characterized by setbacks in the form of losses on the mat.  Over time, he came to realize that his disability could actually serve as a tremendous source of unique abilities.  For example, because of his low center of gravity, it was much easier for him to defend against an attack from an opposing wrestler.  He was also able to harness his incredible upper body strength to create several unique offensive moves, one of which had never been seen before in the world of wrestling. 

Now that his wrestling career is over, he continues to use his circumstance to empower others.  When you hear him speak, it’s clear that he doesn’t give an ounce of power to the fact that he only has one leg.  Instead, he speaks from a space of complete confidence that his physical condition didn’t happen to him, it happened for him.  In fact, had he surrendered to the powerless nature of the question I posed at the beginning of this article, we perhaps wouldn’t even know who Anthony Robles is.

Simply put, his journey began with an “anything is possible” mindset and it continues to fuel him today. 

I invite you to watch the following video, which will give you a much more intimate look into Anthony’s life.  Click here to watch.

P.S.  If you’re in the Phoenix area and would like to hear Anthony share his powerful story, I have a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you.  He will be speaking on Monday, October 5 at 7:30 in Ahwatukee.  Please email me at if you’re interested in registering. 

Which wolf are you feeding?

imagesPerhaps you’ve heard of the phrase monkey mind?  Just as monkeys swing from branch to branch, our mind has a tendency to do the same thing, if we allow it to.  For example, a small worrisome thought may swing from branch to branch, eventually gaining enough momentum to become anxiety or panic. 

The antidote to monkey mind is something called mental management.  It’s an often overlooked skill that allows us to tame the monkeys in our mind, if you will.

One of my favorite stories, which is aptly titled Two Wolves, serves as a simple reminder of the power we all possess to manage our thoughts.

A Cherokee elder was teaching the children about life.  He said to them, “A terrible fight is going on inside me.  It is a fight between two wolves.  One is the wolf of joy, love, hope, kindness and compassion.  The other is the wolf of fear, anger, cynicism, indifference and greed.  The same fight is going on inside of you and every other person too.”  The children thought about it for a moment, and then one child asked, “Which wolf will win?”  The elder replied, “Whichever one you feed.”

You see, the way in which we feed the wolves is by the quality of our thinking.  Fear and anger don’t just appear out of nowhere.  They are influenced by the thoughts that precede them.  Simply put, if I’m consumed with fearful thoughts, I’m naturally going to feel a heightened sense of fear.  My thoughts are essentially feeding the fear.  Conversely, if I choose to focus on thoughts of gratitude, then it’s gratitude I will feed.

I know what you’re saying.  “I wish it were that easy.”

For what it’s worth, I spent a large part of my life feeding the negative wolf.  Over time, it simply became habitual and negative thinking ultimately became my default response.  I would often obsess over worst case scenario outcomes, which of course always fueled other worries.  Let’s just say that monkey mind was a fairly common experience for me.

Over the last several years, as I’ve made a commitment to teach mental management strategies to others, I’ve come to realize that it’s ultimately a choice.  No one is hardwired at birth to feed the negative wolf, but rather we are conditioned to do so over time.  Simply put, the more time we spend feeding the negative wolf (consciously or subconsciously), the more it will win.

I invite you to spend some time thinking about your thinking over the next few weeks.  I can almost guarantee you that you’ll find some habitual thoughts that you’ve had for years, which clearly aren’t feeding the positive wolf.  Once you’ve recognized the negative thought, practice replacing it with a new one.  It may seem difficult at first, but remember that sustainable change doesn’t happen overnight.  You’ve spent years thinking in certain ways, so the only way to accomplish change is to take the necessary baby steps.  This is the essence of mental management.

I believe in you.     

Are you ready for a mental cleanse?

untitledWhat do you think of when you hear the word cleanse?  

I’m guessing that your thoughts gravitate toward something nutrition related. 

A simple Google search for this word provides you with over 50 million links.  Sure enough, as I browsed through the first few pages, I found that each of the links either outlined a specific bodily cleanse program or provided information about the importance of detoxifying a certain part of our system (i.e. liver). 

I want to introduce you to a different kind of cleanse.  One that doesn’t get as much attention, but can have a profound impact on your well-being.  It’s called a mental cleanse.  You see, our minds are inundated with thousands and thousands of pieces of information (and images) every day.  Whether it’s emails, television shows, or Facebook posts, our brain often works overtime to absorb the enormity of information we’re exposed to.  Just as a food source may release various toxins in our body, the same is true for the mental sources mentioned above.  You don’t need to look very far to find potentially toxic information.  Whether it’s the inappropriate email a friend sends you or an angry rant you see on Facebook, mental toxins are everywhere.

This past week, I made a commitment to remove myself from Facebook for seven days.  I referred to it as The Seven Day Cleanse.  Pretty creative, huh? 

Quite honestly, I found myself forming a dangerous habit over the last several months of needing to read everyone’s posts throughout the entire day.  While there were many that were uplifting, there were an equal number that caused unwelcome emotions like frustration or disappointment.

Below are a few of my observations regarding my experience with this cleanse.

I’m more present with my family.

My wife sometimes refers to my cell phone as my pacemaker as it’s often attached to me in some manner.  During this cleanse, I’ve noticed that my phone has spent more time on the kitchen counter than it has in my hands.  I’ll still check my email occasionally, but the constant need to check Facebook is gone. 

I’m reading more from meaningful sources that are designed to enrich my mind.

When I made a commitment to remove myself from Facebook, I made another commitment to fill my mind with enriching content.  I’ve spent more time reading my Bible in the last week than I have in quite some time.  This wouldn’t of happened without the cleanse.

I’m not habitually reaching for my phone.

It seems like whenever there was a lull in the day, I’d reach for my phone and immediately check Facebook.  It had become kind of a knee-jerk reaction.  I’ve found that those quiet moments, void of any technology, are often the most meaningful and reflective.

So, what do you think?  Are you ready to take on a mental cleanse?  It doesn’t have to be Facebook.  You could make a commitment to turn off your television for five days, or stay off any other form of social media for an extended period of time.  Regardless of what you choose to do, take solace in the fact that your mind will thank you.

A mental cleanse.  It does a mind good. 

P.S.  Sorry for missing my blog last week.  I was in Oregon celebrating my Grandmother’s 95th birthday and ended up writing a personal blog to her (in the form of a card) for this wonderful occasion. 


It may be time to wash your windows.

photoAs many of you know, a central theme in my Lenses of Leadership program is the concept of a lens.  Unlike the lenses you may use to correct your eyesight (e.g. glasses or contacts), the lenses I’m referring to allow us to formulate thoughts and images through the use of a much different eye; our mind’s eye.  Simply put, your mind’s eye is not what you see, but rather how you see it.

In my book, Seriously, Dad?, I introduce the idea that your mind is like a machine.  In other words, your mind’s eye is constantly at work, making sense of the world around you.  Over time, the interpretations you assign to various events (e.g. rude people) become habitual, or part of the machinery.  Therefore, each time you encounter a rude person, you simply write them off as rude.  There isn’t a whole lot of thought involved in this process, because the mental machine has already been programmed to write them off.  Your lens is firmly entrenched.

It is my belief that the single most effective way to create positive change in your life is not by changing the people or things around you, but rather by changing the lens through which you see those things or people.  This process requires two critical steps: self-awareness and self-management. 

Self-awareness essentially means that you tune into the machine, or your inner dialogue.  Sadly, most people don’t spend much time thinking about the quality (and effectiveness) of their thinking.  Only when you are aware of the machinery, can you change it. 

Self-management is learning to change your lens in the event that your current perspective isn’t serving you.  I mentioned earlier that your mind is a machine.  Well, you happen to be the mechanic and therefore have the power to change the machinery.

Below is a story which outlines the importance of these two skills and the subsequent results if we don’t use them.

A young couple moves into a new neighborhood.  The next morning while they are eating breakfast, the young woman sees her neighbor hanging the wash outside.  “That laundry is not very clean; she doesn’t know how to wash correctly.  Perhaps she needs a better laundry soap.”  Her husband looks on, remaining silent.  Every time her neighbor hangs her wash to dry, the young woman makes the same comments.  A month later, the woman is surprised to see a nice clean wash on the line and says to her husband: “Look, she’s finally learned how to wash correctly.  I wonder who taught her this?”  The husband replies, “I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows.”  And so it is with life… What we see when watching others depends on the clarity of the window through which you look.

It’s clear that the woman in this story was making an assumption that the laundry was dirty.  There was no presence of self-awareness as she relied solely on her mental machinery, which is very good at making assumptions, by the way.  Only when her husband chose to clean the windows was she able to see the laundry in a new way.  This is precisely what happens when we choose to change our lens.

The person we’ve written off as rude is now seen as an individual who just wants someone to pay attention to him. 

The person who lashes out at you in anger is now seen as someone who is deeply hurt and doesn’t know how to express her emotions.

The bully at your child’s school is now seen as a boy or girl who simply needs a heavy dose of kindness.

I invite you to take an introspective look at your own life and ask a simple, yet powerful question…

Which areas of my life could benefit from a lens change, or a window washing?                 

Don’t think about the elephant!

clip-image0028Humor me for a minute as I set up the main idea of this blog.

Close your eyes for the next ten seconds and create an image in your mind of an enormous elephant wearing a pink tutu.  Don’t worry if you start laughing.  It’s liable to happen.

Okay, now that you have this image firmly ingrained in your mind’s eye, I want you to stop thinking about the elephant.  Just get it out of your head. 

Don’t you dare think of that elephant!  I want you to completely ignore it.

I’m guessing that by now you’re quite frustrated with the fact that the image of this silly elephant is still crystal clear in your mind.  What you just experienced is The Law of Resistance.  Simply put, the more you resist something, the more it persists.  You see, when I asked you not to think about the elephant, I was essentially inviting you to think about it even more. 

If you’re a parent, teacher, or coach, I’d like you to consider something.  Have you ever noticed that in an effort to squelch various behavior problems, you’ve relied on the quick fix nature of the words “Ignore it?” 

Your daughter complains about a sibling who is mistreating her and your response is, “Ignore it.”

One of your students is visibly upset about a mistake they made on a test and your response is, “Ignore it.”

As a former classroom teacher, I uttered these words on more occasions than I care to remember.  The most common occurrence was immediately following lunch recess.  It was quite customary for a handful of students to approach me with a laundry list of complaints about what others had said to them on the playground.  In order to expedite the process and calm the behaviors, I quickly squelched all of the complaining with a simple instruction – “Ignore it.”

Today, those words are not even a part of my vocabulary when I work with students, or with my own children.  The reason is quite simple.  Instructing another person to ignore something is akin to asking them to stop thinking about the elephant with a pink tutu. 

Put yourself in a child’s shoes for a moment.  Imagine that you’ve had a difficult day with a classmate and you’re overcome with sadness and despair.  As you explain the situation to your parent, coach, or teacher, their only advice is to ignore it.  So you do your best, but can’t help but notice that the sadness and despair are still present.  Over time, these emotions will obviously change, but the fact remains that you never really dealt with the problem.

I have an alternative approach I’d like to share with you.  Instead of encouraging a child to ignore it, ask them to explore it.  While ignoring something requires resistance, exploring something requires acceptance. 

Below is a scenario which will outline the difference between ignoring and exploring.

Jason is upset about the fact that he hasn’t achieved a perfect score on any of his spelling tests.  Conditioned to believe that he’s simply supposed to ignore his frustration, he seeks to find distractions that will keep his mind off of the spelling tests.  Much to his disappointment, he finds that nothing is able to rid his mind of the frustration.

After a few days, he courageously approaches his teacher and attempts to describe his feelings about the spelling test scores.  Surprisingly, his teacher acknowledges him for practicing self-awareness and says, “Let’s explore this.”  Not sure where he’s going with it, Jason nods his head in agreement and the exploration process begins. 

After a long discussion, Jason uncovers the realization that his own thinking is what’s preventing him from excelling on the tests.  He recognizes that after the first two tests, he made up his mind that something was wrong with him.  His own resistance, in the form of his thoughts, is precisely what caused his scores to stay the same.  As soon as he changes his inner dialogue, the scores improve. 

It is my sincere hope that this blog has given you a new perspective on the counterproductive nature of ignoring something.  I invite you to empower the young people in your life by helping them to explore the root of their problems.  The end result is a child who seeks to solve problems, not run away from them. 

P.S.  I apologize if you still have the image of the elephant in your mind.  Don’t ignore it, just explore it.