Cultivating Happiness

imagesWG4G2NKYIf I just had more ________, I’d be able to do more ________, which would finally allow me to be ________.   

Before you continue reading, I invite you to fill in the blanks.  Don’t worry, you won’t be graded.  Any answer is acceptable. 

Below is an example, which may be applicable for many of you. 

If I just had more money, I’d be able to do more of the things I want to do, which would allow me to be happy. 

If it were a math equation, the above sentence would look like this: HAVE + DO = BE 

Sounds logical, right?    

Unfortunately, this is the way many people operate their lives.  They look for something out there that will ultimately create happiness.  What ensues is a never-ending search for a new source of happiness.  It’s kind of like a cat chasing its own tail.   

It turns out that this equation is actually backwards.  According to positive psychologist Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness, our being actually belongs at the beginning of the equation, not the end.  In other words, instead of focusing on what we must have (success, money, health), we should instead shift our focus to who we need to be (happy, confident, peaceful).    

Having said this, I invite you make this shift inward and begin the process of cultivating, not searching for, more happiness in your life.  Here are three simple strategies for being happy.   

Take a gratitude walk.  Most people think of exercise as strictly physical in nature.  Therefore, it’s quite common to listen to music or read a magazine as a means of distracting the mind.  A few years ago, I stopped using my headphones during runs or walks and made a conscious effort to be present to my surroundings.  Several times a week, I take walks with my oldest daughter and intentionally choose to be grateful for everything and everyone I pass.  Whether it’s a tree, the green grass (or brown, depending on the time of year), or a fellow walker, I’ve tried to condition my mind to observe the beauty in everything.  In the past, I would only feel happy following my workout, but now I notice heightened levels of happiness throughout. 

Wake up each morning this week and send a note of thanks, via email, to a friend, family member, or co-worker.  For most people, the first time they open their email in the morning can be a daunting task.  Just when you think you have your inbox at a reasonable number prior to calling it a night, you might wake up to an onslaught of messages the next morning, many of which require your immediate attention.  Before you even begin to open your messages, take 2-3 minutes to craft a meaningful note to someone, expressing your gratitude for them.  Try to be as specific as possible. 

Carve out 15 minutes a day to tap into your natural gifts.  Unfortunately, it’s easy to bury our natural gifts in order to keep up with the time demands of our jobs or other obligations.  The truth is that many people trade the majority of their time at work, in return for a paycheck, yet sadly they aren’t fulfilled by the work they do.  The end result is burnout and stress.  The antidote to these feelings is the ability to express our God-given gifts.  You will find that the more you tap into your natural gifts, the more happiness you will feel.    

If you’d like to learn more about how to share this principle with your pre-teen or teenager, I dedicated an entire chapter of my book, Seriously, Dad?, to empowering young people to play a more proactive role in cultivating their own happiness.    

Let the happiness begin, NOW!  BE + DO = HAVE 

I believe in you.

Quote With A Call

1381539_570474613006702_188837385_nGreetings, everyone!

As you know, I normally post new blogs each Tuesday, which I will continue to do. 

Considering the fact that you are receiving this on a Monday, it must be a bonus blog.    

Every week, on my KaleidoEye Facebook page, I tape a two-minute video segment titled Quote With A Call.  My intention is to provide the viewer with a powerful quote, followed by a call to action in hopes of bringing the words to life.  It’s easy to read a quote and be moved by the content, but in the absence of action steps, quotes eventually lose their power.

I invite you to watch this week’s video (click here), which contains a quote from yours truly.  If my message speaks to you in any way, I would be grateful if you would share it with your Facebook friends. 

All my best,

Mike

Why are we racing?

photoWhen I began my business journey in 2008, my BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) was to transform the system of education by making emotional intelligence a part of every child’s education.  Having just left the classroom and armed with a firm understanding of the system of education, I set out to create massive change.  Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for my delusions of grandeur to come crashing down.  After reaching out to countless schools to share my program, I realized that there were two enormous barriers in my way; time and money. 

Like any good business owner would do, I re-calibrated my goal and sought to reach a broader audience of youth; an audience that wasn’t confined to the four walls of a classroom.  Recently, I’ve focused my efforts on working with young athletes on The Game Within The Game, helping them to master the mental side of sport.  While there are many exciting opportunities in store, it dawned on me the other day that there is a striking similarity between the current state of education and sports. 

They are both in the midst of a Race To The Top, which in many cases is hindering the development of our youth. 

In the education world, a certain level of competition has always existed, but the proverbial race was heightened in 2009, when President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced a $4.35 billion dollar contest to spur innovation and reforms in state and local district K-12 education.  Essentially, states are awarded points for satisfying certain educational policies, such as performance based standards for teachers and principals, and complying with Common Core standards.  In the end, those who achieve the highest score receive a greater allotment of the funds. 

In the sports world, a similar race is taking place.  It’s a race that is often fueled by parents and coaches of young athletes.  Just as states are racing to achieve points, many parents, coaches, and athletes are in their own race to achieve wins.  Winning that isn’t just confined to a team’s record.  It also includes winning things like college scholarships, Most Valuable Player trophies, or even winning the admiration of followers on social media.  In an era when club sports have taken over the landscape of youth athletics, the emphasis on winning is greater than ever. 

While there are obvious supporters of these races, there are also critics who are vehemently opposed to the notion of racing for achievement, including myself.  Two of the most notable are Vicki Abeles, whose award-winning documentary Race to Nowhere chronicles the nationwide problem of America’s pressure-cooker culture, and John O’Sullivan, founder of the Changing The Game project, who wrote a groundbreaking article on The Race to Nowhere in Youth Sports.  Both maintain that the respective races in sports and academics are actually hurting our youth more than they are helping. 

I couldn’t agree more. 

I’ve always believed that the greatest teachers and coaches aren’t those who possess all of the answers, but rather those who are able to pose the most meaningful, thought provoking questions.  While I certainly don’t claim to have all of the answers to our current educational and sports challenges, I invite you to consider the following three questions.

Why are we racing? 

We’ve all heard the phrase – Life is a marathon, not a sprint.  It seems to me that when you introduce a race of any kind, it’s implied that you must sprint to the finish.  Unfortunately, in the process of sprinting, we overlook the most critical component of education and sports, which is student or player development.  With an eyes on the prize focus, it’s easy to look past the means (development) and focus entirely on the end (winning).  While the adults (legislators, coaches, parents) may win as a result of the race, the kids are obviously losing.

What are the costs of reaching the top?

A critical 21st Century Skill is collaboration, yet our emphasis on the top is clearly promoting the opposite of collaboration, which is competition.  You don’t have to look very far to see the costs of competition in sports and education.  In sports, it’s not uncommon for players on the same team to compete against each other in an effort to fill up the stat sheet or to gain more exposure to potential college recruiters.  In education, this race to the top often entices schools to cut corners in an effort to achieve points.  There have been several documented cases of cheating in schools and districts in order to increase test scores.  Would this cheating take place if we took the emphasis off of the top and focused solely on student development, not just achievement?   

Are the kids themselves benefitting from the race?

I would argue that the answer is a resounding no.  As I previously mentioned, in our effort to create the path for our youth, we are failing to allow them to explore their own path.  There is no room for failure in a race to the top, yet countless articles have been written about the enormous benefits of allowing kids to fail (click here to read one).  The culture we are creating portrays failure as weakness, not strength.

If you were an employer interviewing young candidates for a job, which of the following questions would have a greater influence on your hiring decision?

What were your grades in school and how many times did you win in your sports career?

What were your failures and how did you respond to them?  Are you coachable?

In the end, it comes down to one vital question that every parent, teacher and coach should frequently ask – Am I doing what’s best for the young people I work with?

I’d love to know your thoughts on this article.  What do you think about the race culture we live in? 

Dear 21 year-old Mike,

untitledMarty McFly:  Mom.  That you?

Lorrain Baines:  There, there, now.  Just relax.

[pats a damp cloth on Marty’s forehead]

Lorraine Baines:  You’ve been asleep for almost nine hours now.

Marty McFly:  I had a horrible nightmare.  I dreamed that I went… back in time.  It was terrible.

Lorraine Baines:  Well, you’re safe and sound now, back in good old 1955.

Marty McFly:  [opens his eyes wide] 1955?

Who can forget the classic film, Back To The Future?  Marty McFly, a typical American teenager of the 80’s, is accidentally sent back in time in a plutonium-powered Delorean time machine invented by the slightly mad scientist, Dr. Emmett Brown.  Marty’s often hysterical, always eventful trip back in time is one for the ages.   

In the spirit of Marty McFly, I’d like to embark on my own journey back in time.  My year of choice is 1994, the year I graduated from college.  Unlike Marty McFly, whose primary mission was to make certain his teenage parents-to-be meet and fall in love, my mission is to impart some wisdom into a younger, more confused version of myself. 

So, let’s power up the Delorean and go back in time. 

Dear 21 year-old Mike, 

Congratulations on your recent graduation.  I’m so proud of your accomplishment.   

As you’ve heard countless times, the “real world” is about to begin.  The knowledge you’ve gained during your four years of college is certainly valuable, but in no way has it prepared you for life.  You see, regardless of the profession you choose, there are going to be peaks and valleys on the proverbial road of life.   

As you embark on this journey, unsure of what you really want to do, I want you to consider three important pieces of wisdom, which will ultimately shape who you become.   

Every minute you spend worrying is 60 seconds of potential happiness lost.  

I know that you are a self-described worry wart, so this may seem quite confronting to you.  Please know that worrying is like paying interest on a debt that hasn’t come true.  In other words, all of your worries are about things that haven’t happened yet.  These worrisome thoughts take up a tremendous amount of space in your mind, which leaves much less room for positivity and optimism.   

I know you are worried about the next steps in your life.  Where am I going to live?  What is my profession going to be?  How much money will I make?  While these thoughts are very real, they can also be a source of great hope.  Have faith that God will ultimately answer these questions.  Trust in the process and embrace every moment.      

Rejoice in your failures and use them as a source of emotional resilience. 

I know what you are thinking, “How am I supposed to celebrate my failures?”  

Unfortunately, you just spent four years in a system of higher education where failure was simply not an option.  You were conditioned to believe that the most successful students are those who achieve the highest grades.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  You see, there is no such thing as failure.  There are only results.  Whether you finished with straight A’s or straight C’s, it’s your emotional intelligence that will serve as a key ingredient to your success.   

Take, for example, your math class that you struggled mightily with.  While some may show pity and feel sorry for your challenges, I want you to embrace it.  Although you didn’t get an A in the class, you did get life skills such as grit and emotional resilience.  You won’t receive a grade for grit on your report card, but let me assure you that it will prove to be more important than any of the letter grades that show up on your college transcript.     

Stay true to your passion, not your paycheck. 

I know that the pressures of landing the perfect job as a college graduate are immense.  I also know that your heart says you should follow your passion, which is empowering kids, yet your head says you should find the highest paying job possible.  Believe me, this is a very common battle for college graduates.   

Unfortunately, it’s easy to follow the herd and race into the corporate world, eager to buy your first house and drive a fancy car, both of which are status symbols that supposedly convey to others that you have “made it.”  I implore you to look beyond the instant gratification of cars and houses, and ask yourself this question, “What can I do to fuel my passion?”  I promise you that when you choose to fuel your passion, the extrinsic status symbols won’t matter.  Why?  Because you will be intrinsically rewarded beyond measure.  Feelings like happiness, joy, fulfillment, and contribution will replace the material things and the quality of your life will drastically improve.     

I believe in you, 

42 year-old Mike 

P.S.  With regard to your worries about a future spouse.  God has the perfect person for you.  Make sure you buy lots of sunscreen, because you’ll have to move to Arizona to meet her.      

Top 8 Blogs of 2014

photoWith the New Year almost upon us, I figured it was only appropriate that I add my version of a Top 5 (or 10, 15, 20, etc…) list to the millions of others that seem to occupy space on the internet just prior to January 1. 

For me, the New Year is more about deep reflection than it is making resolutions.  In fact, I recently challenged my Facebook friends to create what I call a New Year’s Declaration.  If you’re interested in accepting this challenge, click here to watch my video.

I am filled with a tremendous amount of gratitude when I think about the opportunity this blog affords me to share my thoughts in a public forum.  My sincere hope is that each piece I write serves as a spark for positive, sustainable change. 

Without further ado, I present to you my Top 8 blogs for 2014.  If you have read them before, I encourage you to read them again.  As I often tell my students, “Each time you read something again, you often gain a fresh, new perspective that will serve you well.”

Blog #1 – Dear Girls

If you’re interested in empowering your child to stay true to who they are, click here to read an open letter I wrote to my girls about the importance of authenticity. 

Blog #2 – Two Wolves

If you’d like to know why your child should perhaps be watching less television, click here to read about how the media often feeds the bad wolf.

Blog #3 – Free Fish

If you (or your child) struggle with a bully, click here to learn how to be a free fish and to maintain your power.

Blog #4 – Five truths that EVERY child needs to hear EVERY day

If you find that your child is often overwhelmed with an influx of Common Core content, click here to learn about 5 Truths that address the core of the child. 

Blog #5 – The Burning Match

If you struggle with letting go of emotions like anger or worry, click here to read about how one man was able to let go despite a torturous experience at the hands of another individual. 

Blog #6 – You’re closer than you think

If you find yourself losing hope about whether or not you will be able to accomplish something, click here for a reminder that you really are closer than you think.

Blog #7 – Praise the process

Click here to read about why you should never tell your child that he/she is smart. 

Blog #8 – Do we really need the trophies?

If you have a child involved in youth sports and struggle with the extrinsic nature of motivation, click here to read about how to nurture the intrinsic motivators. 

If you feel so moved, I would be grateful if you would share these blogs with friends or loved ones.  I am on a mission to be a spark of positive change for ALL individuals, so your help is greatly appreciated. 

Here’s to a prosperous 2015 for each and every one of you.

All my best,

Mike

Rudolph the red nosed happiness expert

imagesLong before the Declaration of Independence documented our God given right to the pursuit of happiness, ancient philosophers such as Socrates and Plato wrestled with the question of whether or not happiness was something that every human could obtain.  Nonetheless, the conversations about happiness remained purely philosophical for hundreds of years. 

Fast forward to today when people like Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, are committed to creating a network of neuroscience researchers who can provide empirical data to support the actual science of happiness. 

Forgotten in this this long lineage of happiness experts, however, is none other than Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.  After studying for years under the tutelage of perhaps the happiest man alive, Santa, Rudolph is rarely recognized for his contributions to the happiness movement.  While most would assume that he struggled mightily with negative emotions as a result of his awkward nose, Rudolph was quite well adjusted.   

After several years of guiding Santa’s sleigh and observing his countless happiness habits, Rudolph began to hold empowerment workshops for the other reindeer.  While there isn’t any hard data to prove it, Rudolph’s impact on the reindeers’ performance was remarkable.  Following these workshops, Santa noted much less complaining amongst the crew.  In addition, he applauded the reindeer for their collective effort to practice daily gratitude and random acts of kindness.  A central theme in Rudolph’s teachings was the fundamental belief that everyone had access to happiness.  He taught that it wasn’t somewhere out there, but rather it was inside each of us.  It was simply a matter of choice. 

Below is a special song that Rudolph wrote himself, in hopes of inspiring future reindeer (or people).  

You know Aristotle and Epicurus and Socrates and Plato,

You know Ben-Shahar and Rubin and Seligman and Achor.

But do you recall, the most famous happiness expert of all. 

Rudolph the self-smart reindeer, had a very high EQ.

He knew how to manage his emotions, and was the self-proclaimed happiness guru. 

All of the other reindeer, wondered why he was filled with glee.

They knew they had more than Rudolph, but couldn’t seem to find the happiness key. 

Then one sunny Monday morn, Rudolph came to say, “Fellow reindeer, I have a gift for you, I’d like to teach you the secret to a higher EQ.” 

All of the other reindeer, gathered round to hear the news.

Rudolph simply gave them one word, he told them that it was theirs to choose. 

Merry Christmas everyone!  May you experience tremendous happiness and joy on this beautiful day. 

The game within the game

photoAccording to a 2013 article from ESPN The Magazine, approximately 21.5 million kids between the ages of 6 and 17 will participate in a team sport each year.  As a former youth football and baseball coach and current father of two girls between the ages of 2 and 7, this number couldn’t be high enough.  The enormous benefits of competitive sports are too long to list, but suffice it to say that every child walks away from this experience armed with a set of skills that will serve them well in future sports, and more importantly, in life. 

A few years ago, my daughter participated in her first competitive sports opportunity, a local YMCA soccer team.  Each week as I watched her practice and play in games, I quietly celebrated the physical and mental maturation that I was witnessing.  Although she was often confused as to where she should be on the field or when she should kick the ball, it warmed my heart to know that she was simply playing the game. 

Today, as my daughter nears the age where the high stakes nature of competitive sports is ever-present, I can’t help but think of a new game she will be playing, which often goes unnoticed by parents and coaches.  No, I’m not talking about a particular sport.  I’m referring to what I call The Game Within The Game.   Let me explain by sharing a personal story.

The year was 1987 and I had just received the news that I was the only Sophomore to make the Varsity Football team.  As I walked into the house following practice, I shared the news with my two biggest fans, my parents.  As you might expect, they were both elated and quickly asked, “How do you feel?”  Expecting me to mirror their joy, the answer they got was far from joyful.

“I don’t know if I want to be on the Varsity team.  I don’t think I’m good enough.”  The tears that followed were a symptom of a much bigger game, which I was clearly losing.  Sure I was good enough to excel at the game of football.  What I was lacking, however, was the ability to master the game within the game; the mental game.  While my athletic ability warranted the potential to win on the field, my lack of self-confidence was causing me to lose in my mind.

Aside from my parents, I often kept these thoughts and emotions to myself.  After all, a macho high school quarterback isn’t allowed to be vulnerable.  I was supposed to be the leader that had it all together.  The many masks I wore in an effort to uphold the confident quarterback image were successful in the short-term.  However, in the long-term, I continued to battle with the mental game.

Having said all of this, I’d like to share two critical skills that ALL athletes must possess in order to be successful, on and off the field.  Athletic ability alone is not enough. 

#1 – They must possess the skill of self-awareness.

I remember my parents asking me why I didn’t believe in myself and my answer was always, “I don’t know.”  You see, I just assumed that my brain was wired to think like this.  It was the classic, “That’s just the way I am” response. 

The skill of self-awareness allows you to practice metacognition.  Simply put, it’s your ability to think about your thinking.  Every athlete possesses negative thoughts, which can hinder their performance.  As coaches, however, it’s easy to look past the power of an athlete’s thoughts and expect them to simply perform.  Unfortunately, young people are conditioned to mask their thoughts and feelings for fear of being perceived as weak. 

If we simply expect them to show up and perform, without teaching them the skill of self-awareness, we are overlooking the game within the game. 

#2 – They must possess the skill of emotional management.  

If I sat down with a group of high school athletes and informed them that we were going to talk about their emotions, I’m guessing that their collective groan would be loud enough to wake a bear in hibernation.   If you have a teen, or work with teens, then you know that talking about emotions is extremely low on the cool meter. 

So, rather than beginning a presentation by telling them we’re going to talk about emotions, I make a simple request.  “Please raise your hand if you ever experience emotions such as anger or worry.”  Other than those who are in denial, the majority of the hands go up.  While this simple request may not make conversations about emotions more appealing on the cool meter, it does begin to break down a huge barrier.  Let’s face it, there is nothing you do can to escape the fact that you are an emotional being.  We ALL have emotions and we are ALL influenced by them.  As an athlete, you have two choices: let the emotions control you or learn to control your emotions.  When you learn to do the latter, your game on the field will drastically improve.    

If we simply expect them to show up and perform, without teaching them the skill of emotional management, we are overlooking the game within the game. 

If you’d like to learn more about how I empower athletes (and parents) to cultivate these skills, please email me at mike@kaleidoeye.com. 

 

Teens and social media

imagesI can still remember the moment my parents purchased their first cell phone.  Complete with a beautiful leather briefcase, this brick…err, I mean phone, quickly became the talk of the family.  We finally had something else to do in the station wagon besides listening to cassette tapes of Neil Diamond’s greatest hits. 

Oh, how things have changed.  Now my two year-old daughter can navigate my iPhone like a seasoned veteran.  Mobile technology is no longer confined to a handheld device that required an extra seat in your car for storage.  We can literally communicate with anyone, anywhere, at any time from the palm of our hand.  No briefcase required.  This is a good thing, right?

If you are a parent of a teenager, then suffice it to say that you may have differing opinions regarding the use of cell phones.  While I marvel at my daughter’s ability to create a harmless Elf Yourself video on her own, I know full well that it’s just a matter of time before I’m faced with some major concerns regarding her use of mobile technology.  At the core of these concerns is the ever evolving world of social media.

Regardless of what apps she will use, many of which don’t even exist today, my emphasis will always be on how she is using them. 

Here is an open letter I wrote to my daughter, which contains three critical ideas I’d like her to consider when using social media.

Dear Ivy,

Let me start by saying that I am not writing this as the social media police.  I recognize that social media is a critical part of your culture and in many ways keeps you connected to those closest to you.  My goal is NOT to stop you from using services like Instagram or Twitter, but rather to empower you to use them effectively. 

Each time you share something on any of your social media sites, I want you to consider the following…

#1 – Your posts have a ripple effect.

We’ve talked in the past about the ripple effect and the fact that everything you say or do influences the people around you.  Well, social media is no different.  Each time you share something, whether it’s a picture, a comment, or a quote, every person it reaches is influenced.  So, if you have 1,000 people that are viewing your posts, then you have the potential to influence 1,000 lives in a positive way.  Actually, it’s a much larger number than that because when you influence one person, you indirectly influence the people in their network as well.  Needless to say, your potential ripple effect with social media is far reaching.

#2 – The number of likes, comments, or re-tweets you receive does NOT equal real happiness.

It’s easy to become a victim of the social media ‘numbers game’.  Instead of considering the content of your posts, the urge is to compare your numbers with others and consequently design a plan of attack to reach their status.  This often results in you posting comments or pictures simply to gain the recognition of others.  Sadly, if your happiness is based on social media numbers, you are in for a long ride on the emotional roller coaster.

Here’s the great news.  You CAN find happiness on social media.  Neuroscientists (the people who study the brain) have proven that one’s happiness levels are increased greatly when gratitude or acts of kindness are a part of their daily routine.  Social media is a perfect platform for doing just that.  Instead of posting a random selfie that you took during your fifth period Science class, why not post a picture of a friend and take a moment to express your gratitude for her in a single sentence.  This act of gratitude just might influence thousands of people in a positive way.

I know what you are probably thinking, “But, it’s not cool to do these types of things.”  To this, I would respond – Is it not cool to be happy?  Try it and see what happens.

#3 – Everything you post will forever shape your reputation.

Please keep in mind that your peers are not the only ones who will see the content you post.  Believe it or not, when you finish school and eventually apply for a job, your employer will likely look at your social media activity.  You can say all of the right things to wow them in an interview, but your social media content over the course of several years will serve as a more consistent portrayal of your values.  Fair or not, what you share online will forever be a part of your reputation.

Remember, you have the potential to positively influence more people than you could ever imagine, using social media.  Let the ripple-ing being. 

With love and encouragement,

Dad

NOTE:  If you are a parent of a teen, a teacher who works with teens, or know of teens who use social media, PLEASE share my ‘21-day Social Media Challenge’ with them.  Watch the video below and share away.    

Be more like a duck

imagesEvery now and then, after dropping Emerson off at school, my youngest daughter and I will walk across the street to pay a visit to our friends, a family of ducks that make their residence in the lake which sits directly across from the school.  Overcome with an abundance of curiosity and joy, Ivy often watches in awe as the ducks jockey for position, clearly hoping we are there to feed them.  In the midst of this rugby-like scrum, it’s common for one of the ducks to submerge, only to appear moments later.  Each time this happens, Ivy looks at me with wonder and asks, “How does he do that Daddy?”

On the surface, the answer may seem quite obvious.  However, the deeper meaning is one that we can all benefit from.  Believe it or not, one of the most powerful mental toughness strategies I teach is to be more like a duck. 

Before I elaborate, I need to make it very clear that I’m not encouraging you to be more like an Oregon Duck.  As a proud Oregon State graduate, I would always suggest that you err on the side of being more like a Beaver.  However, for the sake of this blog, I’ll pay homage to the ducks.  :-)

It’s a little known fact that ducks possess a special gland called the ‘Preen Gland’, which is near the tail area.  This tiny gland produces an oil which the duck uses to coat its feathers.  After picking up the oil with its head and beak, the duck proceeds to smear it all over its body to make the outer feathers waterproof.  Without this protective barrier, a ducks feathers would become waterlogged.  Put another way, it allows the duck to be resilient in the face of water. 

While humans certainly don’t have a ‘Preen Gland’, we do possess something far more powerful, which is our ability to manage our thoughts and emotions.   While the ducks use their oil to become waterproof, we have the ability to use our minds to become bullyproof, negativeproof, pessimismproof, fearproof, and the list goes on. 

A duck spends most of its day surrounded by water, which makes waterproofing absolutely necessary.  As humans, however, we spend the majority of our day surrounded by people, some of whom contain a tremendous amount of negative energy.  Whether it’s at school, the workplace, or even at home, we are influenced by other people’s energy.  The negative boss who continues to point out all that you are doing wrong.  The pessimistic parent who models doubt and fear for his/her children.  The rude co-worker who talks behind your back.  Unfortunately, these things are commonplace.

This is precisely where the mental toughness strategy of ‘being more like a duck’ comes in.  While we certainly can’t control other people’s energy, we can control whether or not we allow their energy to enter our minds.  Just as the duck uses the oil from the Preen Gland to create a waterproof barrier, we too can use our minds to create this same barrier.  A barrier for any kind of energy that we don’t want to occupy space in our minds. 

In a previous blog, I shared a simple strategy called ‘No Vacancy’, which will help you to practice being more like a duck.  Click here to read it. 

In closing, I have one piece of parting advice.  The next time you are around Negative Nelly or Pessimistic Paul, remember this – You really can let their energy roll off like water on a duck’s back.  

Do we really need the trophies?

Dear Mike,

We will be collecting $10 from each family in order to purchase a participation trophy for each child on the team.

Thanks,

Coach 

My daughter was 5 years old when I received the above email from her soccer coach.  I’d heard a myriad of stories from other parents about the trophy culture of youth athletics, but could never quite understand it until this moment. 

As we drove home following her last game, Emerson’s eyes remained fixated on the trophy.  While she quietly pondered where she would display it in our house, I found myself struggling with a tremendous amount of emotional discomfort.  At the time, I was completely unaware of the source of my uneasy feelings.  I remember thinking to myself, “Come on, it’s just a cute little trophy.  What harm could it cause?” 

It wasn’t until the other day, after a conversation with a well-respected youth golf instructor, that I realized the true root of my apprehension regarding participation trophies. 

While my daughter continued to celebrate her trophy, I longed for her to celebrate the numerous intrinsic gifts she received by simply playing the game. 

Over the next several months, the trophy would continue to touch her hands, but it’s the aforementioned gifts that would forever touch her heart.  I decided to leave the trophy on our shelf, but set out on a mission to make her aware of the unseen gifts she received from playing soccer.    

The gift of mental maturity.  While there are obvious physical benefits of participating in sports, the not so obvious amount of mental maturity that takes place is truly remarkable.  Scientists have provided extensive research on the effects of play on the brain.  Some of these benefits include increased problem solving skills, greater capacity for creativity, and actual strengthening of brain cells. 

I know what some of you are thinking, “This sounds great, but how am I supposed to convey this gift to my child?”

Here’s an example of what you might say.  “Did you know that playing soccer (or any other active sport), actually helps your brain grow stronger?  Isn’t it cool to know that you can play soccer and grow your brain at the same time?”

The gift of failure.  One of the biggest mistakes we make as parents, especially as parents of young athletes, is to expect perfection from our children.  I have worked with countless students who are deathly afraid of failing, not because of the failure itself, but rather the reprimand they will receive from their parents.  The fact is that failures (or mistakes) can serve as tremendous learning opportunities.  Within every failure is a powerful lesson to be learned.  Our job as parents (or coaches) is to help our children discern the lesson, not punish them for the mistake.  You show me a successful person and I’ll show you someone who has experienced countless failures.

Let’s imagine that you are riding home after a game and your child is clearly frustrated about a costly mistake they made during the game.  Here is an example of what you might say to them.  “Every mistake has a lesson to teach us.  So, rather than giving all of our power to the mistake, let’s spend some time talking about the lesson that can help you prepare for the next game.   What do you think this mistake is trying to teach us?”

The gift of communication.  In a day and age when kids as young as 7 or 8 are using cell phones as their default means of communication, face to face communication skills are absolutely vital.  While you can certainly sneak a phone into a classroom or a family dinner in order to avoid authentic communication, it’s kind of hard to take your phone with you on the playing field.  Quite frankly, sports are one of the most effective ways to foster communication skills.  In addition to verbal communication skills, young athletes also learn the importance of their non-verbal language.  In other words, they begin to understand that their body language and posture can greatly influence the entire team.  

Now let’s imagine that you are riding home from a game and your child seems frustrated about a lack of playing time.  Rather than using it as an opportunity to throw the coach under the bus, use it as a teachable moment to convey the gift of communication.  Here’s what you might say.  “I noticed that you were very encouraging of your teammates throughout the game.  You may not realize this, but your encouraging words likely made a tremendous difference in the outcome of the game.  You were a spark for your teammates.” 

If your child is currently participating in a sport, I invite you to share some of these gifts with them.

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