Behind the mask

59f941878b45f3888343dfe68bc1225dIf you’re like me, one of the highlights of Halloween is to witness the wide array of costumes, worn by young and old, either in person or via Facebook.  In my opinion, the most intriguing part of any costume is the mask.  Unlike other costume accessories, a mask often leaves people asking, “Who is that?”  Without the ability to see behind the mask, we’re left wondering who the real person is.

Now that Halloween is over, it would be safe to assume that all of the masks are safely tucked away for a future occasion, right?  Unfortunately, for countless pre-teens and teens, this isn’t the case.  While they certainly won’t be wearing the kind of mask we’re all familiar with, many of our youth will revert back to a different kind of mask; a mask that’s unseen by the human eye, but can always be detected by the human heart.  The mask I’m referring to is what I call the mask of inauthenticity.

You see, pre-teens and teens live in a world dominated by technology, more specifically social media.  Unfortunately, the name of the game with regard to social media is not necessarily to connect, but rather to portray a distorted sense of self.  In other words, instead of choosing authenticity and vulnerability, which manifest in the expression of emotions, many youth move in a direction of inauthenticity and isolation, which manifest in the repression of emotions.

For parents, the most difficult challenge with regard to detecting this mask of inauthenticity is the fact that pre-teens and teens have become experts at luring us into believing that everything is okay.  If you look at a typical teenager’s social media page, you would likely see a combination of smiling selfies and happy emoticons.  On the surface, this would convey a happy, contented individual.  In many cases, however, this is simply a component of the mask.  You see, underneath the smiles are various emotions (anger, jealousy, and shame) that are begging for attention.        

In the past year, a high school located just a half mile from where I live, has experienced two student deaths by suicide.  In both cases, the young men were extremely well-liked, athletic, and appeared to have the world at their fingertips.  However, following their deaths, it was clear that plenty of emotional turmoil was brewing underneath the mask.  This is often the case following a suicide.       

My mission in life is to empower all youth with the critical skills of social and emotional intelligence.  In doing so, I also seek to empower parents to reinforce these skills.  My sincere hope is that together we can slowly assist youth in removing their own masks, ultimately helping them to discover the inherent beauty of their lives and the many gifts they bring to the world. 

Below are three talking points that I encourage all parents to read, understand, and apply.              

Assure your child that emotions are part of being human.  Anger, sadness, and jealousy are not bad emotions; they are simply energy in motion.  We must empower them to use the energy in a meaningful way.  Just as we use an electrical outlet as an energy source to power our devices, we can use our emotions as an energy source to power our lives.    

Acknowledge and validate whatever your child may be feeling.  As parents, it’s easy to dismiss what our kids say and perhaps label it as unnecessary whining or complaining.  However, the deepest need of the human heart, regardless of age, is to be understood.  When you acknowledge their emotions, you are seeking to understand.  If you want to create a safe space for communication, I urge you to validate their emotions.  Validating doesn’t mean that you agree or disagree with them, it just means that you acknowledge the space they’re in.  This goes a long way in establishing trust.      

Tell your child you love them.  I know this sounds cliched, but it’s easy to overlook these powerful words.  Don’t just say it once out of obligation, say it all of the time out of commitment. 

To read a very powerful poem about the notion of a mask, titled Please Hear What I’m Not Saying, click here.     

Facebook and your mood

photoIt’s 5:00 p.m. and you’ve just returned from a wonderful day at work.  You remove your shoes, grab your favorite beverage and fall comfortably into your recliner.  After a quick scan of the television menu, you reach for your cell phone and as is customary for this time of day, you begin to peruse your Facebook newsfeed.  After a few short minutes, you put your phone away and the following internal dialogue ensues, “Why do I even bother looking at this?  It’s so full of negativity and my mood is rarely heightened as a result of looking at it.”

Can you relate?

I’ve always maintained that Facebook, and the internet as a whole, is both a blessing and a curse.  The blessing is that one can literally say whatever they want.  The curse is that one can literally say whatever they want.  The biggest challenge when it comes to other people freely voicing their views and opinions is the fact that each of us possess certain emotional triggers, which often result in less than desirable moods.  Whether you realize it or not, your mood (or energy) can be greatly affected by simply viewing a series of posts on Facebook.

Personally, I’m very clear on what my main trigger is.  There are times when a Facebook friend will share a message with the sole intent of ostracizing a certain group of people (i.e. Republican or Democrat, black or white, etc…).  To add fuel to the fire (or my trigger), these types of posts are often accompanied with an article that supports why their belief is the absolute truth.  I find myself rushing to judgement and thinking things like, “Does this person even know what empathy is?”  The result is often intense feelings of frustration, or even anger at times. 

Go back to the fictional scene at the beginning of this blog. 

You’re just returned from a wonderful day of work. 

A wonderful day is typically accompanied by great energy and a sense of personal power.  Unfortunately, this energy or power can vanish in mere minutes, simply by reading a Facebook post.  It seems silly, but I’d wager to bet that it’s happened to all of us.

If you’re interested in continuing to read your Facebook posts, yet would like to possess a few mental toughness techniques that will ensure your mood stays the same regardless of what you’re reading, I can help you.

Technique #1 – Know your triggers.

I’m guessing that a large majority of your time on Facebook is passive in nature.  In other words, you’re not fully present to what you’re reading.  It’s kind of like watching the television, but not really knowing what you’re watching.  Well, because our triggers are subconscious, they will pop up when we least expect them.  There are even certain words that may trigger various emotions. 

Knowing your triggers essentially means that you spend some time identifying what kinds of posts lead you to your ugly place.  I mentioned mine above.  Armed with this awareness, you’ll be less likely to allow your mood to drift as the awareness alone will provide you with an opportunity to manage the emotion.

Technique #2 – Know that Facebook posts don’t have the power to “rent space in your mind.”

Think about it.  A Facebook post is nothing more than a series of words or images that appear on your computer screen.  The words and images themselves have no power.  It’s the meaning we add to them that gives them power.  Think of your mind as a beautiful 5-star resort.  It’s the most precious real estate you own.  As the owner, you decide who (or what) is going to take up space in your resort.  Are you going to allow someone’s negativity rent space in your mind?  As my wife often says, “Don’t give crazy the keys.”

Who you are is more important than what you do

imagese3x0297gTwo weeks ago, I had the great fortune of providing emotional intelligence training for a group of volunteers with Experience Corps, a nonprofit organization that engages adults 50 and older as literacy tutors for struggling students in public schools.  Click here to learn more about this wonderful organization.   

I began my discussion with a question I invite all of you to consider.

In your interactions with young people, what is the most important thing you bring with you? 

If you’re a tutor, a logical answer might be, “I bring my tutoring materials (i.e. books, workbooks, etc…).

If you’re a teacher, a logical answer might be, “I bring my lesson plans for the day.”

If you’re a coach, a logical answer might be, “I bring my list of core skills that I need to teach my athletes.”

While each of the above answers are certainly reasonable, I would argue that the single most important thing that a tutor, mentor, teacher, or coach brings to the proverbial table is their energy.  In other words, it’s not what you bring, but rather an awareness of who you’re being.

Ralph Waldo Emerson captured this notion perfectly when he said, “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.”   

Below are four powerful examples of who you can be in your interactions with young people.

You can be an example who models the behavior you expect to see in others.

As you know, kids are very adept at recognizing our every move.  While they may not acknowledge moments where they witness a disconnect between what we’re saying and what we’re doing, they will almost certainly begin to formulate various beliefs, such as, “If they don’t do it, why should I?”

Am I inferring that we must be perfect?  Absolutely not.  However, if we can begin to own the fact that everything we do or say creates an invisible ripple for the people in our midst, we may just pay more attention to who we’re being.

You can be an empathic listener who seeks to understand the social and emotional needs of the young person you’re working with.

I’ve heard it said that the deepest need of the human heart is to be understood.  I couldn’t agree more.  Unfortunately, as adults we often feel the need to advise or correct, in an effort to fix certain behaviors.  Meanwhile, what the child wants most is to know that we understand their current emotional state.  The moment we begin to give advice, despite the fact that our intentions are well meaning, the child will often say to himself, “They just don’t understand me.” 

So, rather than putting on our problem solving cap each time there is conflict, I invite you to just sit back and listen.  As they speak, I encourage you to validate them by simply saying, “I can understand that.”

You can approach each interaction with a servant’s heart, all the while recognizing the enormity of your gifts. 

Every interaction we have with a child is an opportunity to share our gifts.  What are my gifts, you might ask?  How about starting with the gift of your energy.  Simply showing up with a smile on your face is a gift that may seem inconsequential, but it’s not.  We’ve all experienced moments when someone else’s smile changed the trajectory of our day.  Another often overlooked gift is the gift of gratitude.  When you express gratitude for young people, you are not only filling their emotional bucket, but more importantly you are giving them permission to do the same for others.  When people do or say kind things, we naturally want to pay it forward. 

Remember, who you are in your interactions with youth is more important than what you teach them. 

As the great Maya Angelou once said, “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

I believe in you!

A life lesson from an internet technician

Hammer-and-NailLife lessons are all around us.  In fact, they often come at the most unexpected times, in the most unexpected ways. 

Little did I know that one of my life lessons would come in the form of a Cox Communications technician.

Most of you are familiar with the unwelcome circumstance of losing access to the internet for an extended period of time.  Not only does it interfere with our ability to use a personal computer, it also limits the use of other devices we rely on (i.e. Kindle or cell phone).  This circumstance was a reality for our family last week.    

After exhausting all of the obvious troubleshooting options on my own (i.e. resetting the modem), I hesitantly dialed the number for Cox customer service.  Based on past experience, I was prepared for a brief trial and error process, which typically included all of the strategies I’d tried unsuccessfully, followed by the dreaded words, “It looks like we’ll need to send a technician out to your house.” 

Now on day three of no internet service, I patiently waited for the technician to arrive within the designated 3-hour window.  By the way, wouldn’t it be nice if we could give people a 3-hour window for our arrival?  I digress. 

Thankfully, after an hour or so of checking various cables and connections, the technician was able to resolve the issue.  While I was certainly grateful for his technical support, there was something he said to me that I’m equally grateful for.

When I explained to him the customer service protocol I received over the phone, he quickly chuckled and said, “Unfortunately, they just operate from a script.  We try to troubleshoot in order to find a solution.”  It immediately occurred to me that this is precisely the approach we should take with regard to our life challenges.

Just as a customer service rep may operate from a script, so too do we operate in life.  Have you ever tried to solve a problem in the exact same manner you tried before, only to fail miserably?  The crazy part is that we often continue to use the same approach.  Even though we know that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result, we still do it.  Why is this?

Abraham Maslow once said, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”  The fact is that the majority of the choices we make each day are based on a script that resides in our subconscious mind.  Therefore, whenever a challenge occurs, our default response is to simply rely on the script to solve a problem.  In many cases, the script is faulty or inaccurate.  In other words, we’re using the wrong tool.

Let me give you an example.

Jerry is a successful businessman.  Although he’s proud of what he’s accomplished, he admittedly struggles at times with listening to the needs of his employees.  Whenever one of his workers expresses a concern about a workplace issue, his script (or habit) is to immediately dismiss the concern and attribute it to whining and complaining. 

Realizing that his approach is clearly not working, he decides to troubleshoot the problem.  Instead of using the same tool (ignoring the problem), he chooses to practice empathy with his employees.  Each time they walk into his office, he intentionally sets aside his script and puts himself in the shoes of the person speaking.  While he may not always agree with what they are saying, he notices a much more comfortable energy in the room.  Before, the employees would often leave feeling misunderstood.  Now, as a result of Jerry’s troubleshooting and a commitment to using a new tool, they leave feeling understood. 

It was a simple shift with tremendous results. 

I invite you to look at areas where you find yourself frustrated at the lack of results.  Rather than looking for someone to blame or seeking to formulate a masterful excuse as a means of justifying why things are the way they are, try becoming a technician.  Let go of the script and take control of the steering wheel of your life. 

I believe in you!

My open letter to students

photoFor students, summer often signifies a time of freedom.  Freedom from the early morning, sleepy-eyed commute to school.  Freedom from the narrow confines of a standard issue student desk.  Freedom from the often tedious nature of nightly homework.  Perhaps the most notable of these freedoms, however, is the freedom from countless unspoken, hidden pressures, which are a byproduct of the high stakes nature of our current education landscape.

In the next few weeks (at least in the state of Arizona), students will embark on a familiar journey; the transition from summer to school.  While most are intellectually prepared for a new set of academic challenges, I can’t help but wonder about their mental and emotional preparation.  Just as summer signifies freedom in a student’s mind, the beginning of a school year is often ripe with another “f” word – fear.  Fear of what others may think about them.  Fear of being good enough.  Fear of fitting in.

In an effort to prepare students mentally and emotionally for some of the most common hidden pressures that may be lurking in their minds, I’ve written an open letter to anyone who’s willing to read.  I invite you to share it with any student(s) you know.

Dear spectacular student,

As you prepare for another school year, I want to share with you a few mental tools that you may find helpful.  Even though school is designed to help you grow and learn, I’m well aware of certain pressures you may feel throughout the year that can sometimes cause stress or anxiety.

You may feel pressure to be perfect and that mistakes are not acceptable. 

Guess what?  You’re going to make mistakes.  You’re human.  The fact is that no one is perfect.  While I’m not encouraging you to intentionally make mistakes, I want you to recognize the fact that mistakes are a part of the learning process.  The key to being a successful student is not about avoiding mistakes, but rather your ability to own them and learn from each mistake you make.  From now on, I want you to think of your mistakes as missed-takes.  Actors get multiple “takes” when they’re shooting a scene for a movie.  The mistakes you make in school are just a part of a bigger movie (or story).  It’s called the story of your life.  I’m much older than you and I can’t begin to tell you how many missed-takes I’ve had.  However, I’m still excited about continuing to write my story, because the mistakes are in the past and don’t define me.

You may feel pressure to be better than someone else.

Competition was designed for sports, not school.  Unfortunately, school has become a competitive environment.  In fact, you might feel that other students are constantly competing to be better than you.  Go ahead and let them compete because the only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday.  I know from experience that when you compare your success with that of others, you’re almost certainly going to take a ride on the emotional roller coaster.  In other words, when your emotions are always tied to the outcome (i.e. better grades), your level of happiness becomes more about what you do (your accomplishments), and less about who you are (your character).  When you learn to step off of the roller coaster and set your sights on being a better you, true happiness will be follow.

You may feel pressure to know all of the answers and that confusion is a bad thing.

Imagine that the learning process is like hiking up a mountain.  With regard to school, it’s often a mental mountain that you’re climbing.  Below are the four stages of each hike.  I invite you to move through each stage, even if you feel it’s impossible to do so.

Stage 1 – You’re introduced to a new concept, which serves as the beginning of your hike.  Unfortunately, some students choose to check out at this point, even without taking a single step up the mountain.  They say things like “I don’t get it” or “Why do we even have to learn this?”  Not surprisingly, the majority of these excuses are used as a means of avoiding confusion, as if something’s wrong with it.  Keep hiking.

Stage 2 – You reach a certain level of confusion.  Usually this occurs about halfway up the mountain.  This is the most critical stage of your journey as you are forced with a choice of whether or not to work through the confusion.  Those who believe confusion is a bad thing will often descend to the base of the mountain and use confusion as a way of justifying their actions.  They might say things like “This is just too hard.”  However, those who’ve learned to embrace confusion simply reach into their hiker’s toolkit and pull out the three most powerful tools in their arsenal; patience, curiosity, and creativity.  Armed with these tools, they seek to find a solution, rather than highlighting the difficulty of the problem(s).

Stage 3 You eventually reach the peak of the mountain and often experience that aha moment when you fully grasp a concept.  This stage serves as a huge confidence builder and helps immensely with future learning opportunities.  The reward you get from reaching the peak is the satisfaction of knowing that you persevered and conquered what used to be confusion, but is now clarity.

Stage 4 When presented with similar learning challenges in the future, you’ll see confusion as a part of the journey, not the destination.  Due to an increased level of confidence, you’ll realize that the peak of the mountain is always closer than you think.

Here’s to a fabulous school year.  I believe in you and your greatness.

Sincerely,

Coach Mike

A heart modification plan

IMG_6543As a former classroom teacher, I had my fair share of challenging students.  Whether it was the child who was constantly searching for new ways to draw attention to himself, or the occasional student who suffered from a severe case of “rightitis” (always needing to be right) and consequently argued until she was blue in the face, the common denominator was always a series of behaviors that disrupted the entire classroom culture. 

Like most teachers, when these behaviors escalated to a level of serious disruption, I sought the help of other school staff (i.e. administration, psychologists, etc…) in hopes that we could somehow curtail these behaviors.  The end result was typically the development of something called a behavior intervention plan.  Consisting of various behavior modifications (i.e. desk location, task chart, etc…), the ultimate goal of the plan was to create an environment that would assist the child in making appropriate choices.  Unfortunately, at least in my experience, the results were often short term and in many cases the behavior plan was simply another game for the student to manipulate, or take advantage of.  Even though the data may have suggested improvement, I knew that there was still something missing.  If a child’s behavior was a puzzle, I was determined to find the missing piece. 

Today, several years removed from the classroom, I believe with all of my heart that I’ve found that missing piece.  Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with a behavior modification plan and everything to do with a heart modification plan.  You see, everything we do (our behavior) is fueled by how we feel (our emotions).  Furthermore, everything we feel is influenced by the way we think.  While I spent years as a classroom teacher trying to modify behaviors, I realize now that while these strategies were well intentioned, my efforts were akin to whacking a weed in my backyard.  If the weed symbolizes unacceptable behaviors in our students, it’s the root of the weed that represents the thoughts and emotions underneath it.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog about the invisible backpack that all students bring to school each day.  This emotional backpack, which often takes a backseat to traditional curriculum and academic rigor, contains invisible thoughts and emotions that play a tremendous role in a child’s behavior.  As teachers and parents, we may think we know what’s in that backpack, but in many cases we have no idea. 

Unlike a traditional backpack, which is emptied each morning and filled again at the end of the school day, I believe that it’s absolutely crucial that we begin to address the power of the emotional backpack.  Thankfully, with the relatively new field of emotional intelligence, it’s now possible to provide all students with tools and strategies that will help them manage their thoughts and emotions in an effective way.  These tools and strategies will serve as the heart modifications I referred to earlier in this piece. 

I invite you to watch a video I created, which explains emotional intelligence in a bit more detail.  Please join me in making emotional intelligence a part of EVERY child’s education.       

Are you afraid of success?

imagesWhat are your deepest fears? 

If you’re like most, your list might include one of the following – death, rejection, public speaking, or failure. 

I’m guessing that none of you had fear of success on your list.  After all, why would we fear success when it’s something that we all strive for?

Before I attempt to answer that question, I invite you to read a powerful quote by Marianne Williamson.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Now back to my original question – Why would anyone fear success?  I believe the answer is rooted in the lies that we tell ourselves (and believe).   You see, from the time we first started to use and understand language (when we were still in diapers), our minds have worked feverishly to make meaning of the world around us.  Put another way, the human mind is a meaning making machine.

In order to attach meaning to something, there must be a set of underlying beliefs which serve as a filter, if you will.  Here’s where the lies come in.  Many of the beliefs that fuel our meaning making machine are a result of past experiences, not current reality.  Let me give you a fictitious example.

Joey grew up in a family that constantly worried about everything.  Whenever he would have the slightest illness, his parents would worry that it was something more serious and promptly call the doctor.  Even though each small illness would eventually resolve, the worry never seemed to subside.  It was as if one worry snowballed into another.  After years and years of exposure to these health related worries, despite the fact that nothing was ever seriously wrong, Joey began to develop a belief that “Something is wrong with me.”    

Even though reality continued to reveal that nothing was wrong, his mind operated under the belief that there was in fact something wrong, so he naturally looked for evidence to support this belief.  Can you see that Joey was believing a lie? 

When Joey became an adult, he unconsciously used this belief to sabotage his own success.  The operative word here is unconscious.  He didn’t even know he was doing it because the belief was so deeply rooted that it acted on its own, outside of his awareness.    

Finally, after several visits with a therapist, Joey was able to uncover this belief and finally bring it to a place of awareness.  Unfortunately, just being aware of it didn’t seem to change much.  It still controlled him.  Until one day, when his therapist asked him, “What are you gaining by holding on to this false belief?”  Eventually, he realized that he was using the belief as a form of sabotage.  More specifically, a means of sabotaging his own success.  You see, by maintaining this belief, he was able to stay in his comfort zone and never really take any risk.  Simply put, he feared success more than he did any health concern. 

Can you relate to Joey’s story?  Are you sabotaging your own success with a deeply held belief that simply isn’t true?  If so, I invite you to find a coach or therapist who can help you do the work to uncover these limiting beliefs.  You’ll be glad you did.      

You won’t find your identity in the world.

untitledA few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to speak to the high school student ministry at Arizona Community Church.  As I typically work with elementary and middle school aged students, I jumped at the chance to share with the “big” kids. 

Although I’m a retired teenager, I remember vividly what it was like to be one.  It seems as though I spent most of my high school years on a daily adventure of navigating the emotional roller coaster.  Whether it was the highs of athletic accomplishments or the lows of relationships gone bad, normalcy didn’t seem to be a common theme. 

So, as I prepared to speak to this group of teens, knowing full well that many of them were currently riding the same emotional roller coaster, I landed on a single word that would serve as a foundation for our discussion – identity.

The dictionary defines identity as the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.  Ironically, this definition magnifies the core of a teen’s struggles – they often don’t know who they are.  I know I certainly didn’t, which explains why I was always comparing myself to everyone else.

Below is an open letter I wrote to any pre-teen or teen who is on a quest of figuring out who they are. 

Dear teen,

Who are you?

No, you didn’t read that wrong.  I just asked what appears to be one of the simplest questions ever.  Well, if you answered it by saying your first and last name, then in fact it was quite simple.  Consider for a moment that your name doesn’t even begin to describe who you are.

For many of you reading this, you probably haven’t spent a whole lot of time considering your identity, or who you are.  I have to admit that I didn’t spend much time thinking about it either.  As a result, I always felt like I was drifting, or becoming who other people thought I should be.  Put another way, I spent more time moving in the direction of who I wasn’t.  Can you relate?

The Bible says in Romans 12:2 – “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

You see, of all the stages you’ll go through in life, your high school years will present the biggest challenge in terms of staying true to yourself and not conforming to the world.  Peer pressure is all around you and I know it’s tempting to just give in to the constant pressures that surround you.

If you truly want to renew your mind, then it’s essential that you arm yourself with the knowledge of these world patterns. 

Below are three things to consider on your journey to discovering your identify.  Each of them represents a roadblock, if you will, that can deter you from honoring your true path.   

You are NOT your past experiences. 

While your past may include several difficult, embarrassing, or downright horrific moments, they will never possess the power to define who you are.   

There’s a story of a man named W Mitchell, who survived two potential life threatening accidents.  After suffering burns over 60% of his body following a motorcycle accident, just two years later, he was involved in an airplane crash that left him paralyzed from the waist down.  Mitchell could’ve easily developed an identity of “I don’t matter anymore.”  Instead, he immediately began to focus on all the things he could still do, such as speak.  Now he travels around the world and speaks to audiences about the power of perseverance.  His identity is one of power and faith, not weakness and fear.

I invite you to look back on one of your most difficult life experiences and ask the following question, “How can I use this as a source of strength?” 

You are NOT who other people say you are.

Let’s face it.  OPO’s (Other People’s Opinions) are part of your everyday existence.  Everywhere you go, someone will always be interested in sharing their opinion with you.  Often, this opinion involves their thoughts about you. 

Here’s what you need to remember.  An opinion is not the same thing as a fact.  Unfortunately, it’s easy to confuse the two, especially when others words are hurtful or critical in nature.  Imagine that your mind is like a beautiful 5-star resort, the most precious real estate that you own.  When someone else shares their unwelcome opinion with you, it’s not necessary for you to give them a key to a room in your resort (mind).  You can reserve those rooms for people who want to lift you up or inspire you. 

Everything you see or hear will ultimately shape the way you think about yourself.

You don’t need to look very far to find examples of the incredible power of the media on our identities.  Think about it this way.  Whenever you watch a television show, listen to music, or look at your social media news feed, each of these forms of media have an invisible ripple effect on your mind.  In other words, they influence the way you think about yourself (positively or negatively). 

Let’s take social media for example.  Imagine sitting down to look at your Instagram and you happen to notice that one of your close friends has posted a picture with several other friends at a local music concert.  You immediately start to wonder why you weren’t invited.  Did I do something wrong?  Did I say something to her that bothered her?  No one will ever hang out with me now.  Before you know it, the snowball of negativity begins.  Can you see how a simple picture can shape the way we think?    

Now that you’ve carefully considered a few of the patterns of this world, I invite you to spend some time reflecting on the question I asked you earlier – Who are you? 

Remember, you won’t find the answer to this question by looking out there in the world.  You must look within and determine who God made you to be.  It’s a journey you won’t ever regret.     

As for me, I am a spark that ignites positive, sustainable change in the lives of others. 

Sincerely,

Mike Sissel

P.S.  I care about you!

Success is failure turned inside out

untitledA few weeks ago I wrote about the importance of setting our sails.

As a follow up to that blog, I’d like to share a powerful poem that will hopefully provide you with a new perspective on the winds of life.

“When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,

When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,

When the funds are low and the debts are high,

And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,

When care is pressing you down a bit,

Rest, if you must, but don’t you quit.

 

Life is queer with its twists and turns,

As every one of us sometimes learns,

And many a failure turns about,

When he might have won had he stuck it out;

Don’t give up though the pace seems slow—

You may succeed with another blow.

 

Often the goal is nearer than

It seems to a faint and faltering man,

Often the struggler has given up,

When he might have captured the victor’s cup,

And he learned too late when the night slipped down,

How close he was to the golden crown.

 

Success is failure turned inside out—

The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,

And you never can tell how close you are,

It may be near when it seems so far,

So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit—

It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.”

-Unknown

Set your sails

quote-Jim-Rohn-it-is-the-set-of-the-sails-166996“It is the set of the sails, not the direction of the wind that determines which way we will go.”

-Jim Rohn

It’s safe to say that everyone reading this has experienced some kind of inclement weather in their life.  Whether it’s the loss of a job or a family illness, the wind seems to rear its ugly head at the most inopportune times. 

Alright, enough about the wind.  As Mr. Rohn clearly illustrates, we don’t have to be victims to our circumstances.  Rather than giving our power to the wind, we can learn to set our sails in any kind of weather.

So, what does he mean when he refers to the set of our sails?  Some would say that he’s talking about our behavior.  In other words, if we want to learn to set our sails in any given set of circumstances, we need to practice new behaviors.  For example, instead of complaining about a job loss, we should pound the pavement and start looking for a new job.  It only makes sense that if we change our behavior, we’ll begin to see positive results, right?

Unfortunately, one of the fundamental flaws of any behavior modification is to overlook the fuel that drives each of our behaviors; our thoughts.  You see, every choice we make is rooted in the way we think.  In other words, our thinking precedes our doing.  Having said this, it makes perfect sense that in order to set our sails we must first focus on the sailor, or the one who’s doing the thinking.

Unfortunately, when the wind is blowing in our lives, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of what psychologists refer to as cognitive distortion.  This essentially means that our thoughts interpret reality in an inaccurate way.

Below are two fairly common examples of cognitive distortions, followed by a more effective way of thinking.

Catastrophizing – Turning the molehill into a mountain

Have you ever taken a relatively minor negative event (i.e. someone didn’t respond to your text) and imagined all sorts of disasters resulting from the event (i.e. they don’t care about me anymore)?  This is the essence of catastrophizing.  Some refer to it as worst case scenario thinking.

I’ve heard it said before that an active imagination is both a blessing and a curse.  The blessing can lead to all sorts of innovative ways of thinking, whereas the curse can lead to worst case scenario thinking. 

How do you nip catastrophic thinking in the bud?  The first step is to recognize that your thoughts are NOT reality.  When you have a catastrophic thought, instead of buying it, try being with it.  It might sound like this, “My imagination is at it again.  I’ll let him join the party, but I’m not going to entertain him.” 

Emotional Reasoning – If I’m feeling a certain way, it must be real

Have you ever felt a sense of anxiety and immediately made a connection in your mind that if you’re feeling anxiety, something must be wrong.  After all, your feelings don’t lie right?  Wrong.

As a rule of thumb, it pays to be rather skeptical with regard to the validity of your feelings.  Your feelings can often be misleading.  Fear is a perfect example.  Think of how many times you’ve feared something, only to realize that your fear was completely irrational.  If we used emotional reasoning with our fears, it would be rather easy to sit on the couch and do absolutely nothing. 

How do you nip emotional reasoning in the bud?  First of all, it helps to recognize that your feelings are NOT hard evidence for the way things are.  As is the case with catastrophic thinking, it’s important to practice being with your emotions.  It might sound like this, “I’m having a feeling of anxiety, but feelings come and go, so I’ll just let it run its course.”   

Mr. Rohn reminds us that it’s our thoughts, not our circumstances, which determine our direction in life.  I invite you to put on your sailor cap and practice navigating the seas in a new, more empowering way.