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. 

Gold Medal Mindset

gold medalThe year was 1983.  I left the boys locker room and walked cautiously toward the small gym at Memorial Middle School, my mind flooded with thoughts of doubt and uncertainty.  My worst nightmare was about to become a reality.  Mrs. Fallis’ sixth grade gymnastics unit would culminate in a series of ability tests on various apparatus.  Staring me in the face as I entered the gym was the dreaded vault.  Equipped with a heavy dose of pessimism, I tried to collect my breath.  What followed were four words that had recently become a fixture in my internal dialogue – “I can’t do it.”  Not surprisingly, I failed miserably and my downward spiral of self-confidence quickly gained momentum.

Fast forward thirty two years and I find myself standing in front of a room full of gymnastics coaches, speaking to them about the importance of mental toughness in athletics.  The sixth grade boy who had cringed at the very thought of failure was now empowering coaches to be strong in the face of adversity.  To call it a full circle moment would be an understatement.

Just prior to my presentation, I listened to the owner of the gym, Olympic Gold Medalist Amanda Borden-Cochran, speak passionately about the importance of teaching life through gymnastics.  It was crystal clear that she was aware of the stark reality that only a small fraction of gymnasts would ever achieve gold medal status in the Olympics.  With this notion in mind, she articulated her mission to prepare her gymnasts for life beyond gymnastics.  A life that will drastically improve with the possession of a much different kind of gold medal; a Gold Medal Mindset

Below are five Gold Medal Mindset skills you can begin practicing today.

Don’t wait for your mood to change, create it. 

It’s easy to blame our mood on various circumstances (e.g. I’m upset because of him/her).  The fact is that our mood is influenced more by the quality of our thinking than it is our circumstances.  Think of each of your moods as energy.  Anger, jealousy, and disappointment are all forms of mental energy.  You have the power to change the energy by simply changing your thinking.  If you find yourself in a bad mood, try replacing your disempowering thoughts with thoughts of gratitude.  You can’t be angry and grateful at the same time. 

Always be better than you were the day before. 

Let’s face it.  The social mirror would have us believe that in order to be successful we must climb to a certain status on the proverbial totem pole.  We must have better scores, better looks, or better possessions in order to achieve success.  This is what we’re conditioned to believe.  It’s all a big lie.  The only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday.  You see, God gave each of us a unique obstacle course, designed to prepare us for our own journey.  What good does it do to look at someone else’s obstacle course?

Practice relentless optimism.

Contrary to what some may say, optimism is not simply adopting a Pollyanna approach to life.  Rather, it’s a relentless pursuit to find the most empowering thought in any given situation, all the while accepting what is.  We can’t just look at the weed in the yard and imagine it’s not there.  We must own the fact that the weed exists and work at removing the root of the problem, which in most cases is our ineffective thinking. 

Expect to win, but embrace your losses.

Believe it or not, there is a tremendous source of power in failure.  A Gold Medal Mindset expects success, but is also equipped to be strong in the face of adversity.  Failure is not final, it’s simply a result.  Look at the failure head on and seek to find the hidden lessons that are present in every failure.  There is no such thing as an overnight success.  Every road to success is paved with failure. 

Always maintain a growth mindset.

I mentioned before that the words “I can’t do it,” became a fixture in my internal dialogue.  What I failed to realize is that my fixed mindset was essentially stopping me dead in my tracks with regard to taking any future risks.  A growth mindset simply means that your success is not predicated on ingrained intellectual or academic abilities, but rather your ability to practice life skills such as resilience and grit.  When you catch yourself saying the words “I can’t,” I invite you to add one word to this statement – the word yet.  “I can’t” is permanent and implies finality.  “Yet” is temporary and implies possibility.      

A Gold Medal Mindset is within your reach.  I look forward to seeing you stand on the podium of success.  By the way, don’t worry about having to perform on the vault.  It’s not a prerequisite for a Gold Medal Mindset.  Thank goodness!

Why do I have to do this?

untitledIf you’re a parent reading this, it’s likely you’ll need a calculator to add up the number of times your child has asked the following question.

“Why do I have to do this?”

It’s also likely that you’ve responded to this question, perhaps more than you want to admit, by saying, “Because I said so.”

Unfortunately, through the eyes of a child, this answer often conveys a sense of authority or control.  What follows is a quest on the part of the child to push the very boundary you just created.  Ultimately, their goal is to push so hard that you’ll eventually relent and give up pushing back.

Can you relate?

I want to share a parenting tool that will shift the focus away from your power and place it firmly in the hands of your child.  It’s called finding the point in the pointless

Below is an excerpt from my book, Seriously, Dad?, which describes how a parent might introduce this strategy to his child.

Dad:  So, how did last week go?  What circumstances triggered negative thoughts for you?

Daughter:  The biggest one was when Mrs. Jones gave us a Pop Quiz in History class.  It was full of questions that no one could answer.  If you ask me, it was pointless.

Perfect.  Let’s use that as our example of a circumstance.  Just like the previous example of your friend saying something rude, I want you to know that the quiz itself wasn’t pointless.

Dad, how can you say it wasn’t pointless?  What kind of teacher gives a quiz over material we didn’t even discuss in class?

Trust me, I understand your frustration.  I’m just trying to point out that regardless of whether or not the quiz was fair, it was out of your control.  Would you agree?

Well yeah, I don’t get to decide what’s on the tests.

Exactly.  What you do get to decide is the lens you use with regard to the test.

Uh oh, it’s that MORE strategy isn’t it?  I know what you’re going to tell me.  Had I been able to monitor my thinking, I would have had a chance to own it, then replace it and that would have empowered me.  But what thought could I possibly think that would have helped me feel better in this situation?

How about, “I’m going to find the point in the pointless.”

What?

Think about it.  If you would have looked for the point, you would not have given your power to the quiz or the teacher.  Maybe the point of the quiz was to teach you about overcoming challenges.  Clearly this was a challenge that you weren’t prepared for, so this experience will prepare you for a similar challenge in the future.

Dad, that sounds like that Positive Polly stuff again!

Let me ask you this, if I gave you a choice of feeling angry or curious right now, which would you choose?

Curious, for sure.  Being angry doesn’t feel very good.

Positive Polly or not, a lens of curiosity is much more effective.  There are always going to be circumstances that will push your buttons or be triggers for you.  I just want you to realize that you have the power to choose whether or not this will happen.  You control the button.

Back To School Mental Toolkit

untitledThe carpets are cleaned, the desks are meticulously polished, the pencils are sharpened, and the lockers (cubbies) are vacant, waiting to be occupied by a backpack full of contents.

The next few weeks (at least in the state of Arizona) mark the beginning of another school year.  A time when teachers return with a sense of hope and rejuvenation, following a much needed break from the controlled chaos of the previous school year. For students, however, this time of year can often be characterized by feelings of dread, worry, or even anxiety.  As they drag themselves out of bed on that first day, memories of sleeping in or the rotating schedule of sleepovers remain fresh in their minds.   

Near the top of the list, in terms of preparing students for a new school year, is the all-important supply list.  Each school is different, but the bulk of this list has remained constant for years.  Pencils, paper, notebooks, and folders are an absolute necessity for any student.  As parents frantically race through the Back To School aisles of Target or Walmart, looking to check off that final item on the list, there’s another list that lurks in the background.  I refer to it as the mental toolkit.  It’s not something you’ll find at a store, nor will your school provide you with a comprehensive list of mental tools.  This makes it even more difficult to obtain.

You see, as students arrive at school on the first day, armed with backpacks full of supplies, they also bring another backpack with them, which will play a much more important role in their academic and personal success – their mental backpack

Below is a list of three important tools that I encourage you share with your child prior to his first day of school. 

Tool 1 – Your mindset will determine the quality of your school year, NOT your classes, your teachers, or your peers. 

It’s almost certain that you will experience a series of difficult circumstances this school year.  Whether it’s a boring teacher whose monotone delivery lulls you into a nap-like state, or a demanding class that keeps you up into the wee hours of the morning, no student is immune to challenges.  If you’re looking for the easy route, you are more than welcome to complain about the challenge.  You can even blame the teacher for his/her boring delivery or make numerous excuses for your poor grade, but the fact remains that complaining, blaming, and excuses will never change anything.  Simply put, your circumstances don’t determine your levels of happiness.  The way you see your circumstances does.  I invite you to be curious about how these challenges can shape you for the future.  No one ever reached success without a series of struggles.  If you learn to embrace the struggle, the journey will be much more meaningful.

Tool 2 – Always be aware of your internal dialogue.  You can train your mind to be positive.

Here’s a little known fact that most students don’t even consider – you talk to yourself all the time.  Your mind is like a thinking machine, designed to help you make sense of the world.  As is the case with every human being, a portion of these thoughts are going to be negative.  I invite you to practice being aware of your thinking and when you notice a negative thought, simply replace it with a positive one.  Imagine each of your thoughts as either feeding the negative dog or the positive dog.  The more you feed the positive dog, the more positive you’ll be.  By the way, don’t expect your thoughts to change overnight.  Change happens over time. 

Tool 3 – Your success in life will not be based solely on your grade point average (school smarts), so spend some time developing your self-smarts as well.     

Unfortunately, there are often expectations for students to be perfect.  You might feel direct pressure from a teacher to perform well on a test, or indirect pressure from hearing the student announcements, highlighting the academic prowess of a select group of students.  While I certainly encourage you to perform to the best of your abilities, take solace in the fact that when you apply for a job, the employer will unlikely ask you for your eighth grade Algebra score.  While academic content is important, your ability to manage the way you think and the way you feel (self-smarts) is equally important.  Start by waking up each morning and saying to yourself, “Just as I have the power to choose my outfit for school today, I also possess the power to choose my attitude.  I’m going to make it a great day.”

If you commit to practicing these three tools throughout the year, I promise you it will be your best year ever.  

Happy School Year!

 

Top 5 Surefire Ways to Pursue Unhapiness

happiness-quotes-choice-quotes-Happiness-like-unhappiness-is-a-proactive-choice“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Every morning, as part of our daily classroom routine, my entire fifth grade class would stand up, face the flag, and recite the above passage from the Declaration of Independence.  Unfortunately, by the end of September, the words were barely recognizable and the monotone chorus was enough to put a roomful of roosters to sleep.  

Today, as I look back on this moment, I cringe at the missed opportunity to empower my students with the tools to make these words a reality, not just a formality.  

Thankfully, I spend a lot of time today talking about the pursuit of happiness.  In fact, I’ve written several blogs on this topic.  Click here to read one.    

Often in our pursuit to achieve something, it’s important to understand where NOT to go or what NOT to do.  Just as certain road signs inform us where NOT to go (i.e. no left turn) or what NOT to do (i.e. speed limits), so too do the road signs of life.  Having said this, I’d like to share my TOP 5 Surefire Ways to Pursue Unhappiness.

Complain.  Let’s face it.  If you and I wanted to, we could take part in the world’s largest Complaint-Fest, complete with some of the all-time greatest whiners.  It’s an easy thing to do.  Unfortunately, any time you complain, you’re essentially giving your happiness away to someone or something else. 

Run away from your problems.  When adversity shows up at your front door, the easiest thing to do is close the door and run the other way.  While this might very well be a quick-fix, temporary solution, the fact remains – wherever you go, there you are.  When you run away from adversity, you run away from happiness.

Compare yourself with others.  Comparing is always done in an up or down fashion.  In other words, you’ll never measure up to certain people (compare up), but will always be better than others (compare down).  Unfortunately, neither of these leads to happiness.  Comparing up leads to feelings of inferiority, while comparing down leads to a false sense of pride.  Happiness occurs when you measure yourself with who you were the previous day.  Be better than that person.     

Worry about things that haven’t happened yet.  If you allow it to, your mind will quickly transform worry into anxiety or despair.  As is the case with complaining, each time you worry, you essentially give your happiness to the thing you’re worrying about.  By the way, as you’ve probably heard, the majority of the things you worry about will never happen.  Spend your time in gratitude and be thankful for all of the great things that have already happened. 

Try to change others.  Whether your intentions are good or not, you’ll never be able to change another human being.  When it comes to other people, change is often conditional.  In other words, you want someone else to change so that your happiness levels will increase.  Sadly, this often backfires as the recipient of the change becomes defensive and pushes away.  The best way to change someone else is to change yourself first.  If you want people around you to be happy, then you need to choose happiness for yourself. 

I invite you to complete a personal inventory with regard to the five unhappiness strategies above.  If you recognize that one or more of them is something you do often, I encourage you to own it and move in the direction of authentic happiness.  By the way, authentic happiness will only occur when you make a commitment to do the opposite of what’s listed above.     

 

Life lessons at the Diamondbacks game

photo (2)Last Friday night, I had the opportunity to take my oldest daughter to her first Major League baseball game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies.  Little did I know that in the midst of watching a baseball game, she would learn a valuable lesson about a much more important game – the game of life

Midway through the fifth inning, or six handfuls of popcorn into the team wearing the white jersey’s turn to bat, depending on whose perspective you’re taking, the umpire made a questionable call at second base.  Up until this point, Emerson’s interest in the game was lukewarm at best.  However, when the collective “boos” rang out from the home crowd, it suddenly piqued her interest.  She quickly sat up and asked me, “Daddy, why are they booing?”  

“Well, the umpire decided to call the Diamondback runner out at second base, but the fans don’t think it should be an out.”

Ten minutes later, after a thorough review of the play (via instant replay), the umpire chose to uphold his call.  The boos reached an entirely new level.  A level that caused Emerson to cover her ears, almost immediately.   

Although the fans jeering seemed to subside with each successive inning, there were a handful of people behind us who weren’t about to stop.  Clearly concerned about their well-being, Emerson turned to me and asked a question that served as a beautiful teachable moment – “Dad, why can’t they just let it go?  That guy already called him out.”

Here’s how our conversation ensued.

“Great question!  In fact, I want you to look at the Diamondback players on the field.  Do you think they’re spending any time thinking about the questionable call?”

“Probably not.”

“Exactly, they don’t want to carry a bunch of negative energy into the rest of the game.  It would probably affect how they play, right?”

“Yeah, I just don’t understand why these people behind us can’t just let it go.”

“Well, they’re spending all of their time and energy trying to be right.  Their boos are a sign of letting the umpire know that he was wrong.  How do you think those people are feeling right now?”

“Probably angry.”

“Exactly.  Is anger an emotion you want to hold onto?”

“No, I want to let it go.”

“Emerson, you just learned one of the most valuable lessons about life.  Just as the umpire made a questionable call and it didn’t go the way the players wanted it to, you will always have things in the game of life that don’t go the way you want them to.  You can either give all of your power to what happened (the bad call), or you can focus your energy on choosing the most effective response to what happened (letting it go).  Learning to let it go is an effective response that will allow you to maintain confidence and hope throughout the rest of the game.  Just look at the players.  The reason they’re still hitting the ball and making plays is because they chose not to give their power to the umpire’s call.”

At this point, she gave me one of those – Dad, why do your conversations always have to be so deep - looks, but I think she got the point. 

Some people say that success is about what you know, while others say it’s about who you know.  I say it’s about how quickly you “let go.”

You see, mental toughness is a skill that transcends the game of baseball.  I truly believe that successful people, regardless of their profession, remain committed to staying mentally strong in the face of adversity.

I invite you a read an article I recently found, which outlines 13 things mentally strong people don’t do.  How are you shaping up with regard to these 13 things?  If the answer is “not very well,” it’s time to get back in the game – the game of life, that is.   

Self-motivation

motivation-habitThe year was 1994.  I was six months removed from a college degree and somewhat devastated after lasting only three months at my first real-world job.  To say that I was lost would be an understatement.  While there were many things I needed at this stage of my life, perhaps what I needed most was motivation.  So I did what seemed to be the most logical thing to do and started reading motivational books and listening to motivational speakers.  If motivation was what I needed, then I’d surely find it in the pages of a book or the words of a dynamic speaker, right? 

The pinnacle of my motivational journey was the opportunity to attend a conference led by none other than the master motivator himself, Tony Robbins.  The room was abuzz with a certain level of positive energy that would be difficult to replicate in any other circumstance.  His words certainly resonated in my mind and my heart stirred with a newfound sense of motivation.  I was finally ready to put on my big boy pants and conquer the real world once and for all.

Fast forward two weeks and I was once again in a familiar place: the mental pit.  The motivation I once felt had quickly become a distant memory.  The books weren’t changing me.  Tony Robbins hadn’t changed me.  Something had to give. 

One day, it finally hit me.  I realized I’d spent the vast majority of my journey looking for motivation out there.   Despite what I read or who I listened to, the type of motivation I experienced was always short lived.  The one place I’d failed to look was in fact the place where true motivation resides: my own head and heart.  You see, I made the costly mistake of reading each book and listening to each speaker with a mindset of “I hope this motivates me.”  The fact is that Tony Robbins wasn’t responsible for motivating me, nor was any of the countless books I read.  My job was to own the tools and use them to self-motivate.  Unlike outside, extrinsic motivation, self-motivation is the only kind of motivation that is both long-term and sustainable. 

Today, as I strive to teach emotional intelligence to kids throughout the world, I never claim to be a motivational speaker.  In fact, I often cringe when people refer to me as one.  While motivational speakers may very well motivate, motivational teachers are more interested in empowerment.  My message will almost certainly motivate kids, but that’s not enough.  I want them to learn the valuable skill of self-motivation; a skill that took me until my adult years to learn.  Self-motivation can only occur as a result of empowerment, not motivation. 

If you’re a parent, teacher, or coach, it’s likely you’ve felt pressure, directly or indirectly, to motivate the young people you work with.  Guess what?  That’s not your job.  Of course you want to serve as a source of motivation, but it’s absolutely critical that you empower young people to master the skill of self-motivation.  If their only source of motivation is you, what will happen when you’re not around? 

Below are three ways you can empower young people to self-motivate.

Help them understand that boredom is a choice. 

Simply put, everything we do (or don’t do) is influenced by the emotions we feel.  One of the most common complaints I hear from kids is that someone or something is boring.  Whether it’s a teacher who isn’t making learning fun or a coach who isn’t challenging enough, it’s easy for a child to extend a finger of blame as a means of justifying his boredom. 

The fact is that boredom, like any other emotion, is greatly influenced by the way we think.  So, if we use our powerless lens, the resulting thought might be, “This is so boring.”  However, if we use our curious/creative lens, the resulting thought might be, “How can I use my imagination to make this more interesting or challenging?”

Thoughts influence feelings and feelings influence actions.  Therefore, if we want to teach kids to transform boredom, we must begin by addressing the quality of their thinking.    

Praise the process, not just the result.

The more we emphasize the result (win/loss, grade, test score, etc.), the more we fuel extrinsic motivation.  The “dangling carrot” is certainly a great way to motivate, but if the carrot is the sole purpose of your motivation, then it becomes an extrinsic reward.  Conversely, if you place the carrot out there, yet celebrate the process (hard work, dedication, patience, etc.), you are fueling intrinsic motivation.

I invite you to read a blog I wrote, which explains this process in greater detail.  Click here to read it.

Encourage your child to own what they’ve learned.

You can’t just give your child a heavy dose of content and expect it to motivate her.  When I do leadership workshops, I always tell my students that each of us carries an invisible tool belt.  The more tools we have, the better equipped we are to tackle the challenges of life.  However, if the tools are unused, they essentially become useless.

At the end of each chapter in my book, Seriously, Dad?, there’s a Using The Tools section for this very reason.  Whether it’s my book, or any other book, I encourage you to use it as a source of empowerment, not motivation. 

The Golden Girls

photoA little over a year ago I wrote a blog titled Friday With Mimi, which described my profound experience with my grandma at her new senior living center, Brookdale Living in Albany, Oregon.  Last June was the first time I’d visited her at a residence other than the quaint, one bedroom apartment which had been her home for over thirty years.  I quickly realized, however, that it didn’t really matter where she rested her head at night, because a physical dwelling will never define her.  Her beautiful spirit and contagious smile will always transcend the confines of four walls.       

This past week, my entire family traveled to Oregon and I had the opportunity to visit my grandma on several occasions, many of which included my wife and daughters.  While each visit was meaningful, one in particular proved to be a tremendous learning experience for me.  In fact, it served as the inspiration for this blog.  Let’s just say I learned a thing or two from my KaleidoEye Golden Girls (see attached picture). 

I’ve always been fascinated by the elderly and often jump at the chance to glean from their infinite wisdom.  While their bodies may be quite frail and their non-verbal cues may at times convey a lack of interest, I’ve always maintained that we can learn a great deal from them if we’re willing to look beyond the surface and into their hearts.  Although the Golden Girls may not realize it, they taught me two very valuable lessons that we can all benefit from.

Lesson #1 – You can teach an old dog new tricks.

In my experience, it’s much easier to teach personal development (emotional intelligence) to younger kids as the layers of the proverbial onion are often non-existent.  As we age, it’s natural to mask our authentic selves (the core of the onion) with more and more layers in an effort to avoid the dreaded state of vulnerability.  In addition, it’s much easier to adopt a fixed mindset and find comfort in the words, “That’s just the way that I am.”  Therefore, one would think that elderly folks would possess the most layers and be entirely closed off to “new tricks.”  The Golden Girls taught me otherwise.

As I sat at the lunch table and explained the nature of my work, it was very apparent that they were eager to learn more.  So, I treated it much like I would a workshop setting and started with a series of mental fitness challenges (i.e. brain teasers).  Although they didn’t know the answers, their eyes lit up as I explained the thought process of how to arrive at the answer.  It donned on me that the process of learning is much more important than the answer itself.

Lesson #2 – It’s easier to be present in the absence of technology.

When was the last time you had a conversation with someone who didn’t have their cell phone within arm’s reach, let alone in the palm of their hand?  While technology clearly has countless benefits in terms of communication, perhaps the greatest cost has been the lack of real, authentic conversation. 

When I shared with the Golden Girls, I felt a deep sense of understanding as they clearly made an effort to listen with their eyes, ears, and hearts.  Unlike the typical family dinner table, there were no distractions to divert their attention.  No cell phones, no iPads, no televisions; just pure authentic listening.  How do I know they were listening, you might ask?  As we left the lunch table, each one of them made a conscious effort to let me know how much they enjoyed my sharing.

The next time you are in the presence of an elderly person, I invite you to ask the question, “What wisdom can I gain from this experience?”  Don’t let the shape of their body or the look on their face stop you from engaging in conversation.  Look into their hearts and you will find a fountain of wisdom. 

P.S.  If you’d like to have lunch with the Golden Girls, I can probably arrange it.  :-)  

It may be time to fine tune your Meaning Making Machine.

untitledJoe received an email from his company, notifying all employees of an impending effort to downsize staff.  Unwilling to let go of his current joy, he carefully filed the email in his “can’t control it” folder and went about his day.

William received the same email and his emotions quickly snowballed into an all-out panic attack.

Have you ever wondered how two people can experience the same life event, yet their responses are entirely different?

Some would argue that each of us is born with a genetic predisposition to either optimism or pessimism and that Joe obviously received the optimism gene.  Others would argue that William’s response was solely based on the type of day he was having and that his response may be much different in the future.

I’m not a big fan of arguing, so I’d like to introduce you to a unique approach to mental fitness.  Conditioning for your mind, if you will.  It’s called fine tuning your Meaning Making Machine.  I can assure you that regardless of your personality type, this process will almost certainly lead to more optimistic thinking.

Think of your mind as a computer, or a machine.  You’re born with a hard drive already installed, which provides the basic functions, but what makes your computer unique are the various programs you’ve downloaded throughout the years.  Some of the programs are designed to help your machine run more effectively (positive thinking), while others clearly act as viruses and begin to corrupt the machine (negative thinking).      

One of the fundamental purposes of your mind is to assist in the process of attaching meaning to each of your life experiences.  Put another way, each time you experience something, your mind’s job is to answer the question, “What does this mean?”  The answer often derives from the millions of programs you’ve downloaded over the years.  After a while, these programs begin to act on autopilot, thus causing the meaning making process to happen automatically, and out of your awareness.  However, there’s no need to worry.  Whatever you’ve downloaded can be changed with a little bit of awareness. 

Here are two ways to fine tune your Meaning Making Machine. 

Turn the mountain back into a molehill. 

Have you ever noticed how a relatively minor event (molehill) can quickly turn into a catastrophe in your mind (mountain)?  I’ve always said that having a creative mind can be both a blessing and a curse.  The curse occurs when you use your imagination to think of all the disastrous things that COULD happen as a result of this event. 

The solution for this mountain (or catastrophic) thinking is to simply recognize it for what it is – your machinery.  It’s likely that you’ve downloaded a virus at some point in your lifetime and it’s simply doing its job.  When you focus on a solution, or various actions you might take, the mountain will quickly become a molehill again and the virus will lose its power. 

You will always feel the way you think.

Many of us have downloaded the virus that feelings are a result of things.  In other words, it’s rather simple to blame your feelings on certain life events (i.e. He/She made me angry).  The fact is that other people or things do NOT have the power to make you feel a certain way.  Rather it’s the meaning you attach to these other people or things that influences your feelings.

I invite you to download a program called feelings are a result of your thinking.  When you do this, you’ll notice that your feelings will carry much less power.  Only when you’re able to recognize the fact that you are actually creating the feeling, can you begin to change it.  When you change your thoughts, you change your feelings. 

If you’re like to learn more about how to fine tune the meaning making machine, I encourage you to order my book, Seriously, Dad? An empowering conversation that will change your lens on life.  In it, I dedicate an entire chapter to helping kids understand this process.