Praise the process

untitledI’ve heard it said that parenting is a lot like surfing.  One moment we can be in the midst of serene, calm waters, peacefully floating in the sea of harmony; the next we are immersed in an enormous riptide, trying desperately to keep our heads above water.  I’ve actually never been surfing, but this sounds about right.  If you are a parent reading this, you know all too well the ebb and flow of the parenting journey.

While there are many facets to parenting, one of my goals is to empower parents with regard to their child’s education.  As you know, so much has changed from the time we were students.  Whether it’s the presence of alternative schooling options (charter, private, online) or the advent of the internet, the landscape of education is vastly different. 

Perhaps the biggest change has been the intense focus on standardized testing and the almighty letter grade.  While there are certainly benefits of these tests, I can’t help but think of one particular cost that is plaguing students nationwide.  In our quest to “Race To The Top”, we are focusing more on the result than we are the process. 

Several weeks ago my six-year-old daughter brought home her first ever spelling test.  Throughout the week leading up to the test, my wife and I each spent time helping her to prepare.  Whether it was spelling the words out loud or writing them on a whiteboard we have in the office, our goal was to teach her the core values of practice, persistence, and effort.  When I opened her folder on Friday afternoon, the first thing I saw was her spelling test.  In big blue numbers at the top of the page, I saw her score, a perfect 10/10.  Of course I was filled with pride, but I had to catch myself as the first thing I wanted to say was, “You’re so smart.” 

Herein lies the single most important piece of advice I could give to parents with regard to their child’s education – praise the process, not the result.  Let me explain by sharing two different parent responses to the same circumstance, a perfect score on a test.   

Response #1 – Praising the result.

“Wow, Emerson!  You are so smart.  You got 100%”

Remember earlier when I said our goal was to teach her the core values of practice, persistence, and effort?  What we often fail to recognize as parents is that our children are “meaning making machines”, just like we are.  In other words, they interpret everything we say according to a specific lens. 

In this case, it would be normal for Emerson to interpret my statement as – Daddy is proud of me because of my grade. 

As she continues to take tests, her obvious goal is to achieve a good grade, which would support the notion that she is smart.  Keeping with this interpretation, if she were to someday receive a score of 5/10, she would automatically assume that she isn’t smart.  As this pattern progresses, she may avoid taking academic risks in the future for fear of failure.       

Response #2 – Praising the process.

“Wow, Emerson!  I’m so proud of the hard work and persistence you showed this week.”

Notice how I didn’t say anything about the grade.  Why?  Because I don’t want her to associate the word smart with a number or letter grade.  I want her to celebrate the process (or journey) that led to her success. 

Now her interpretation might be – Daddy is proud of me because of my hard work.      

Let’s imagine that she scored a 5/10 on the very next test.  Instead of highlighting the result and belaboring the fact that she had failed, I could focus on the process, which is how she studied during the week.  Believe it or not, there is tremendous power in allowing your child to fail.  I’m not just talking about an “F” on a report card; I’m also referring to general mistakes.  The key, however, is not to highlight the failure, but to point out the various core values that can be used moving forward. 

I invite you to read a powerful article by Salmon Kahn, founder of the wildly popular Kahn Academy, which describes the reasoning behind his vow to NEVER tell his child that he is smart (click here).    

Your gratitude lens

imagesD7CXK5L0Several weeks ago I was talking with a student about the power of gratitude.  My intent was to help him change his lens with regard to a difficult circumstance he was experiencing.  After briefly outlining the countless benefits of his gratitude lens, he gave me a puzzled look and asked, “How can I be grateful for something that I didn’t want to happen to me?”

Here is the conversation that followed:

“I’m not saying you have to be grateful for the circumstance, I’m trying to help you choose gratitude in the midst of this circumstance.”

He was clearly confused as evidenced by the blank stare on his face.  “What does that mean?” he asked. 

“I understand your confusion.  It’s a difficult concept, but I can promise you it will be extremely helpful.  The first thing I’d like you to do is own the fact that the circumstance occurred.”  We had discussed the owner lens in a previous lesson, so I knew he would grasp the concept.

“Oh yeah, I remember you telling me that I can’t go back and change circumstances.  They are in the past.”

“That’s right.  Only when you’re able to own something can you free yourself to choose a new lens.  You see, when you allow the circumstance to dictate your emotions, you’re essentially giving all of your power to the past.” 

“Okay, I get that.  But how can I be grateful for it?”

“Remember, I’m not asking you to be grateful for it, I’m asking that you choose to be grateful in it.  It would be silly for me to ask you to express thanks for a circumstance that you aren’t happy with.  However, if you can find something you’re grateful for in this circumstance, you gain your power back.  Knowing full well that we can’t go back and change it, can you think of something you’re grateful for with regard to this circumstance?”

“Ummm…I’m grateful that I have a gratitude lens.”

“That’s perfect.  What you’re saying is that you are thankful for the power to choose your thoughts.”

“Yeah, but it still seems hard.  I keep going back to my negative thoughts.”

“That’s okay, it’s a process.  You just mentioned that you were grateful for your gratitude lens.  The good news is that it’ll always be available to you.  The more you use it, the more it uses you.”

“What do you mean it uses me?”

“It’s similar to your habits.  You have a lot of habits that you’ve created that essentially act on their own.  The same is true for our gratitude lens.  When you create a habit of using this lens, it’ll happen automatically.”

“Okay, I’ll try it.”

“That’s all I can ask.  Let’s talk in a couple of weeks and we’ll assess your level of gratitude at that time.”

This happened to be a teenager that I was coaching, but the message applies to all of us.  Everyone is going to experience unwelcome circumstances; however, the lens we choose in the midst of these circumstances will ultimately shape our feelings. 

P.S.  If this blog (or any of my other blogs) speaks to you, I invite you to share the following link with friends and family members who might enjoy reading these articles –  All they need to do is enter their email address in the top corner of the screen and future blogs will go directly to their email.  Thank you. 

The Dead Tree

photo (2)Several years ago, we landscaped our back yard and planted two trees in an effort to provide some much needed shade.  To make a long story short, I neglected to water one of the trees enough (it’s still a sore subject in our household) and it eventually died.  Although my wife didn’t fully agree with me, I tried to justify the death of the tree by saying that it was a “bad” one.  The other tree; however, is still flourishing, largely due to the fact that I learned my lesson and paid much closer attention to it. 

I realized the other day as I was reading the following story to a group of fourth and fifth grade students, that the method we use to change our habits should be similar to my approach with the trees. 

Below is a powerful story which provides a great metaphor for the power of our habits.

A wise teacher was taking a stroll through the forest with a young pupil and stopped before a tiny tree.

“Pull that sapling,” the teacher instructed the pupil, pointing to a sprout just coming up from the earth.  The youngster pulled it easily with his fingers.

“Now pull up that one,” said the teacher, indicating a more established sapling that had grown to about knee high to the boy.  With little effort, the lad yanked and the tree came up, roots and all.  “And now, this one,” said the teacher, nodding toward a more well-developed evergreen that was as tall as the young pupil.  With great effort, throwing all his weight and strength into the task, using sticks and stone he found to pry up the stubborn roots, the boy finally got the tree loose.

“Now,” the wise man said, “I’d like you to pull this one up.”  The young boy followed the teacher’s gaze, which fell upon a mighty oak so tall the boy could scarcely see the top.  Knowing the great struggle he’d just had pulling up the much smaller tree, he simply told his teacher, “I am sorry, but I can’t.”

“My son, you just demonstrated the power that habits will have over your life!” the teacher exclaimed.  “The older they are, the bigger they get, the deeper the roots grow, and the harder they are to uproot.  Some get so big, with roots so deep, you might hesitate to even try.”

Let’s go back to my justification that the “bad” tree needed to die.  Imagine that this tree was like a bad habit, which had grown deep roots.  By not watering the tree, I was essentially neglecting to contribute to the roots growing even deeper.  The less I watered it, the less likely the tree was to survive.  The same is true for our bad habits.  Simply put, we water our bad habits by continuing to do them.     

Now let’s imagine that the surviving tree was a good habit.  By choosing to water it and nurture it back to health, I was contributing to the growth of the root system.  With regard to our habits, we want to water those habits that help us to be productive.    

The moral?  Instead of trying to “break” a habit, try replacing it with a new one that is more productive.  That which you resist, persists.  That which you feed, grows. 

P.S.  Even though Ruth approved of this blog, she does not approve of my justification for the tree dying.  You win some, you lose some.  :-)

The Line Game

untitledIf you’ve seen the highly acclaimed film Freedom Writers, you may remember a specific scene in the movie where Hillary Swank (who plays the role of Erin Gruwell) asks each of her students to stand in two single-file lines, facing each other (see clip below).  She then proceeds to share several statements, some of which are quite personal, and asks the students to stand on the line if the statements are true for them.  The primary purpose of the activity, which is known as “The Line Game”, is to create a sense of community by breaking down perceived barriers. 

This activity happens to be the very first thing I do with any group of students I work with, young or old.  It also happens to be something they enjoy doing more than any other activity.  Considering the fact that I’m asking them to be vulnerable (i.e. Stand on the line if you lack self-confidence), this might surprise you.  Why is it that so many students, regardless of age, are so eager to share what would otherwise be considered un-cool things to talk about?  Why is it that a large majority of the thousands of students I’ve worked with are willing to admit that they often make decisions just to fit in?  Why is it that an even larger majority have no problem admitting that they lack self-confidence?  Because it provides them with a safe opportunity to remove the many masks they tend to wear. 

Below is an excerpt from a poem written by Charles Winn in 1966, which beautifully captures the power of the mask.

                 Don’t be fooled by me.  Don’t be fooled by the mask I wear.  For I wear a mask, I wear a thousand masks, masks that I’m afraid to take off, and none of them is me.  Pretending is an art that is second nature with me, but don’t be fooled.

                … I give the impression that I’m secure, that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without; that confidence is my name and coolness is my game; that the waters are calm and that I’m in command and I need no one.  But don’t believe it; please don’t.

                I idly chatter with you in suave tone of surface talk.  I tell you everything that’s really nothing, nothing of what’s crying within me.  So when I’m going through my routine, don’t be fooled by what I’m saying.  Please listen carefully and try to hear what I’m not saying; what I’d like to be able to say; what, for survival, I need to say but I can’t say.  I dislike hiding.  Honestly I do.  I dislike the superficial phony games I’m playing.

                I’d really like to be genuine, spontaneous, and me; but you have to help me.  You have to help me by holding out your hand, even when that’s the last thing I seem to want or need.  Each time you are kind and gentle and encouraging, each time you try to understand because you really care, my heart begins to grow wings.  Very small wings.  Very feeble wings.  But wings.  With your sensitivity and sympathy and your power of understanding, I can make it.  You can breathe life into me.  It will not be easy for you.  A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls.  But love is stronger than strong walls, and therein lies my hope.  Please try to beat down those walls with firm hands, but with gentle hands, for a child is very sensitive, and I am a child.

                Who am I, you may wonder.  For I am every man, every woman, every child…every human you meet.  

If you are a teacher, or work with groups of young people in any capacity, I encourage you to play this game with your students.  Contact me by leaving a message below and I will send you the list of statements I use with various age groups. 


I just want tools!

imagesWhen I sit down with a pre-teen or teen for the first time, as part of my leadership coaching service, I’m often greeted with body language that portrays a message of – Who is this guy and what is he going to tell me to do?  It’s common for young people to see me as a counselor or therapist, both of which can have negative connotations.  Having said this, the first fifteen minutes of our initial meeting is absolutely critical as I attempt to create a safe, nurturing atmosphere. 

Several weeks ago, during an initial meeting with one of my coaching clients, I stopped briefly to ask him what he was thinking.  I knew he had been through several traditional counseling sessions and had grown increasingly frustrated with the process, so I was prepared for a variety of answers.  His response blew me away.  He simply said, “I just want tools.”  He wasn’t interested in talking through things, rather he was asking me to equip him with tools and strategies that would help him to be resilient in difficult situations.  

Whether they are able to express it or not, I can’t help but think that this is what ALL kids want.  They don’t want theory, they want tools.  They don’t want to be talked to, they want to be talked with.  They don’t want to be told what NOT to do, they want to be empowered to do what’s right. 

Below is an excerpt from my upcoming book, which will be available for purchase in the next few months.  It outlines one of the tools I share with all of my students (and parents) that I work with.  I invite you to read it with your child.

Daughter:  Okay, so what’s Tool 2?

Father:  Your circumstances don’t define you.

I think my brain still hurts from the last tool we discussed.  What do you mean by that?  I don’t even know what circumstances are.

If your brain is hurting, that’s a good thing.  It means that you’re getting a good mental fitness workout! 

Think of your circumstances as the stuff that’s going on in your life.  Your grades in school right now are a circumstance.  When I ask you to clean up your room, that’s a circumstance.  From the moment we wake up in the morning until the moment we fall asleep at night, we are surrounded by circumstances.

Okay, so what do you mean when you say I’m not my circumstances?  They’re mine, aren’t they?

The easiest way to answer your question would be to use an example.  Do you remember last week when you came to me complaining about how your friend said something rude about you? 

Yes, that was really mean.

I can understand why something like that could be hurtful.  For the sake of this example, let’s label the rude comment as a circumstance.  The lens that you use to think about the circumstance is completely separate. 

Dad, you never said anything about a lens!

I didn’t?  Silly me.  Now’s as good a time as any, I guess!

We’ll explore the idea of lenses a little bit later, but for now I want you to think of a lens as the way you think about your circumstances.  The machine in your mind has a thought for every circumstance.  Having said this, I want you to consider the fact that the rude comment is not what caused your hurt feelings.  It was the way you thought about your friend’s words that hurt your feelings.   

But dad, it was rude!  How can you say that her comments weren’t hurtful?

Please understand that I am not trying to discount or diminish the fact that you were hurt.  In fact, I can still see the hurt in your eyes as you tell the story.  What I’m trying to do is to help you understand that circumstance and interpretations are two entirely different things.  The circumstance is what happened and your lens is how you interpret what happened. 

Despite all of your efforts, you can’t go back and change the circumstance—in this case the circumstance was her words.  What you can change, however, is the way you choose to see it.  Remember that the majority of our thoughts are subconscious?  Well, this is an example of your habitual thoughts taking over.  In fact, it’s common to respond the way you did.  The only way to change these habitual thoughts is to create a level of awareness that will allow you to catch them.  

Home Run

I wrote in the past about what I believe to be the single most important question you can ask a student – Who are you?  How many times have you met someone and the first question you asked was – What do you do?  Kids are often asked a similar question, yet in a different context – What do you want to do when you grow up?  

When was the last time you actually considered who you were?  No, I’m not talking about your name or your profession, those don’t define you.  If you’re not quite sure how to answer this question, let me give you a little exercise that I share with my students.  

Each of the questions below is designed to help you understand what makes you unique.  I invite you to answer them as a means of discovering who you really are.  

  1. Describe a time or situation in your life when you experienced the most joy or happiness.
  2. Who is one person in your life that you admire the most?
  3. If you had a chance to interview anyone who has ever lived (past or present), who would it be?
  4. If I asked your best friend to describe you using only three words, what would you want those words to be?
  5. If you were asked to teach something to a group of your peers, what would you teach?
  6. List your top five strengths or talents.
  7. If you were could change one thing about the world today, what would it be?  Why?

You may not have realized it, but by answering these questions, you were essentially uncovering who you really are.  Your unique answers are insights into your distinct nature.  Sadly, we often lose track of our uniqueness in search of trying to be someone we are not.  

Last week I did this exercise with a second grade boy that I mentor.  He is only seven years old, so when I asked him the question “Who are you?”– he looked at me like I had lost my mind; however, after spending some time discussing the answers to the above questions, he came up with a statement that so beautifully captures who he is (see picture below).

Imagine a school full of students who walked the hallways knowing full well who they were or who they were choosing to be?  The current culture of competing and comparing would be non-existent.  Students would seek to align their choices with who they are, not who their friends have told them to be.  

I invite you to sit down with your children and complete this exercise.  Once they have answered the questions, encourage them to come up with a one-sentence statement that can be used as a personal mission statement.    

This hangs on the wall in his bedroom.

This hangs on the wall in his bedroom.

The Gift

photoIn a recent blog, I talked about true freedom, which is the power to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.  As teachers prepare to return to their classrooms tomorrow (at least in Arizona), I couldn’t help but think of the ebb and flow of a typical school year.  To say that teaching is an emotional profession would be an understatement.   

Below is a poem I wrote, titled The Gift, which is designed to empower teachers in those moments when they may feel powerless.    


On Monday morning they will enter your room.

Most filled with excitement, some overcome with doom.

With their school supplies in tow, they will fill the empty spaces.

Your room will quickly transform into a community of fresh new faces. 

The rules will be read, their folders carefully organized.

Typical first day procedures will be flawless, just as you surmised. 

The first few weeks will likely be fueled by adrenaline and zest.

The honeymoon period for the students will have them behaving their best. 

As the year progresses and the pressure to perform is heightened.

The energy in the room may not be as enlightened. 

The bright smiles your students possessed on that first day of class,

May very well be replaced with a look of anxiety or stress. 

You may even experience these exact same feelings,

As the amount of work on your desk begins to reach the ceiling. 

Each new mandate will consume your time.

You’re proverbial teacher plate will be unable to hold the weight of a dime. 

I’m well aware that academic expectations are higher than they’ve ever been.

The pressure to “Race To The Top” has encouraged a culture of “we need to win.” 

It’s easy to get swept away by the data that constantly surrounds you.

The list of students who are not meeting the standards may nightmarishly hound you. 

If you reach the point of burnout and experience feelings of overwhelm. 

I have a suggestion that will transform these emotions and put you back at the helm. 

You see, there is so much more than teaching to a test.

In my opinion, it’s more about teaching your students to be their very best. 

Sure the grades and test scores are things we should address.  

But their character and values are more accurate tools for measuring success.   

So, let me introduce you to a skill that is often overlooked.

It’s called emotional intelligence and it’s something you won’t find in your students textbooks. 

Unlike school-smarts, which relies heavily on one’s IQ.

Emotional intelligence is your self-smarts, or what you know about you. 

Despite the high-stress environment you experience each year,

You really do have the power to influence your emotions by learning to steer. 

The road conditions of life are out of your control.

The steering wheel; however, should be your primary goal. 

Take the time to learn to manage your mind.

When you do, it’s greater happiness that you will find. 

You are well aware of the power of teaching to learn.

So, commit to teaching your students about self-smarts while their desire still burns. 

They are eager to learn more about themselves.

It’s a gift you will give them; more powerful than any book on your shelves. 

At the end of the year when your students leave your room.

It won’t be their test scores that your mind will consume.  

Your focus will not be on the amount of information you imparted.

You will likely ask yourself, “Did they leave here a better person than when they started.” 

I believe in each of you and the remarkable difference you make for our youth.

The greatest gift you give to your students is YOU, please remember this truth. 

I invite you to share this with every teacher you know.  

Fuel your passion

imagesWhat is your passion? 

This may seem like an easy question to answer, but it’s actually more difficult than you think.  Why?  Because our minds have been conditioned over the years to believe that a passion is something that is found, not fueled.  

Merriam-Webster defines the word passion as a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something.  Simply put, it’s a feeling, NOT some mysterious destination that only a few people are able to achieve.  The truth is that each of us possesses inherent passions, yet we tend to bury them in favor of blending in to the status quo, hoping we will someday find our true passion.  I would argue that it’s already within you, waiting for the necessary fuel to bring it to life. 

Let me give you an example. 

Shortly after we had our first child (almost seven years ago), my wife (Ruth) quickly assumed the role of Super Mom.  As is often the case with a lot of first-time mothers, she willingly put aside many of her personal needs so that she could be present at all times with our daughter.  She knew that being a stay-at-home mom would be a short term sacrifice for a much bigger gain.

Fast forward a few years and Emerson was now in pre-school, which meant Ruth actually had some “me time” on her daily agenda.  I remember frequently asking her what she was going to do with this new chunk of time, and her answer was always the same, “I don’t know.  I guess I need to find something.”  After a while, she grew increasingly frustrated with this apparent void in her life.  So, she went on an elusive search of finding a new passion.  As her loving husband, I often encouraged her to try new things in an effort to help her find this passion.  In retrospect, it was one of my bigger mistakes as a husband.  I was a victim of the status quo I mentioned earlier.  All of my suggestions were things that other moms were doing.  Essentially, I was forcing her to fit in.  Meanwhile, her inherent passions were begging to be unleashed.     

Fast forward another two or three years and our family had grown with the addition of Ivy.  Super Mom was once again in full force.  This time; however, Ruth was determined to end the self-sabotaging patterns that were accompanied by thoughts of “What should I do?” and commit to fueling her true passions.  You see, Ruth had always had an affinity for both painting and poetry.  However, in her effort to be the best mom she could possibly be, it just seemed too daunting of a task to do either of these.  After all, where do you find the time?

I vividly remember the day she ceased looking for a new passion and began fueling those that had been with her for years.  A few weeks before Ivy’s first birthday, she decided to purchase a plain white canvas and dabble with some acrylic paints.  Her ultimate goal was to create a tree with branches so that each family member present at the party could stamp their thumbprint on a branch.  Each consecutive morning, I would wake up to her sitting at the kitchen table adding new, delicate details to the tree.  What I began to notice more than the painting itself was the energy she now possessed.  There was a vibrant, fulfilled nature to her that I hadn’t seen before.

Fast forward again to today and Ruth continues to fuel her passion for painting each morning before both of the girls wake up.  She has also fueled her passion for poetry and has written two children’s books, one of which is currently in the publishing process.  I share this not to brag about my wife, although I am a very proud husband, but rather to illustrate the power of fueling your inherent passions. 

I invite you to sit down and answer this question right now.  “What are you doing when you feel the most fulfilled or excited?”  Maybe it’s painting or poetry like Ruth.  Maybe it’s storytelling or creativity, which happen to be mine.  Maybe it’s working with numbers or coding new computer programs.  Society will always tell you what your passions should be, but only you can reveal what they really are.  

Once you have revealed your passions, start doing the things that fuel them.  It really is that simple. 

One of Ruth's recent paintings.

One of Ruth’s recent paintings.

True freedom

untitledA few days ago I had the great fortune of working with a fabulous group of 8 to 11 year olds in one of my Lenses of Leadership workshops.  As is often the case, many of the students showed up with a look of apprehension, wondering what exactly their parents had signed them up for.  I began as I always do by encouraging the students to choose a new lens with regard to the word leadership; a lens that would empower them to embrace their inner leaders.

As the workshop progressed, there were occasional light bulb moments on the students’ faces as we continued to add depth to our conversation.  As I scanned the room to assess for understanding, I noticed Jeremy (not his real name), who was sitting toward the back of the room, with his proverbial wall up and obviously unwilling to mentally accept what I was teaching.  Trying to be open to his apparent look of anger and frustration, I continued on, hoping that his light bulb moment was just around the corner. 

As we neared the end of our time together, I knew I had one final chance to reach Jeremy.  It was time to introduce the most powerful tool in my curriculum; the Head, Heart, Feet model.  Normally I would ask the students to choose their least favorite subjects in school and use them as their emotional triggers, or circumstances.  Then I would walk them through the process of choosing new lenses, which would in turn influence their emotions and actions.  Today I chose something different.  I was determined to break through Jeremy’s wall, so I decided to ask the students the following question. 

“What makes you angry?”

As they wrote down their responses, I couldn’t help but notice Jeremy writing feverishly on his paper.  Clearly, he was writing more than one of his emotional triggers.  Here is the conversation that ensued.

“Okay, who would like to share their trigger?  Jeremy, let’s start with you.”

“I have a few of them, but the one that angers me the most is when kids make fun of the way I look.”  He then explained to the class specific examples of the teasing.

“I can understand your frustration.  I too was teased when I was your age.  However, I want to share something with you—all of you—that just might change your lives.  It’s not the people teasing you who are making you angry.”  I paused at this point to let this thought resonate.  Jeremy was clearly frustrated. 

“How can you say that?”

“Look at your Head, Heart, Feet model (see diagram below).  Notice the clouds labeled “My Circumstances”.  Between the clouds and your thoughts is a space.  I like to call this space “freedom.”  You see, people are going to say mean things to other people.  These are circumstances.  True power, however, is recognizing that we will always have the freedom to think about our circumstances in any way we choose.  So, the next time someone teases you, I want you to pause for a minute and think about how you are going to respond.  Are you going to give your power to this person by getting angry, or are you going to keep your power by recognizing that his words do not define you?  Someone could walk into this room right now and tell me that I am the absolute worse teacher he’s ever met.  While it would certainly be natural for me to feel upset, I could also choose to keep my power by focusing on all of the people who believe in me.  You are a beautiful person Jeremy and NO ONE has the power to tell you otherwise.”

His wall was broken.  Jeremy’s anger was replaced with a look of confidence and hope.  It was if I had given him a gift and he had finally opened it. 

Victor Frankl’s quote is one of my absolute favorites.  As someone who used this emotional freedom to persevere through the atrocities of The Holocaust, he certainly provides hope that it is possible, regardless of your circumstances.

I invite you to identify your emotional triggers and consider the fact that you really do have the freedom to respond in any way you choose. 

head, heart, feet  

Start your engines

imagesTX6D5NCNJust as automobiles need fuel to operate, we also need various types of fuel (physical, mental, etc…) in order to operate our lives.  As you know, there are several types of fuel available for purchase at a gas station.  Whether it’s just regular ol’ unleaded or the super charged variety that makes for a smoother running engine, the fuel you add to your gas tank ultimately serves as a reservoir of potential energy.  

Let’s imagine that our self-esteem is symbolized by an invisible fuel tank that resides in our heart.  A full tank would represent an extremely high self-esteem and consistent positive thinking, whereas an empty tank would represent a rather low self-esteem and consistent negative thinking.  If you’re like most people, then I’m sure your fuel levels tend to vary from time to time.  What you may not be aware of; however, is the type of fuel that you are adding to your tank each day. 

Imagine going to a gas station and seeing a sign for “toxic” gas that is designed to erode or burn off all of your good fuel.  Would you choose to put any of this into your tank?  I’m assuming your answer is no.  Well, what if I told you that the primary reason for a consistently empty tank is the “toxic” fuel that we choose to add, consciously or unconsciously, every day?  The fact of the matter is that each one of us is either adding toxic or super charged fuel as a result of our daily thoughts and actions.  Only one of them, however; contributes to improved self-esteem.  

Below are a few examples of each type of fuel.  These may seem like common sense, but as you know, common sense isn’t always common practice.   

SUPER CHARGED FUEL – Positive Energy 


We are the only ones that know the real truth.  Furthermore, when we tell the truth, we free ourselves from the burden of buried lies.  Perhaps equally important to honesty with others is the ability to be honest with ourselves.  In other words, each time we try to be someone or something that we know we are not, we add toxic fuel and therefore lose positive energy. 


Not only do we make promises to others, we also make countless promises to ourselves.  Think about all of the times you’ve said things like… 

  • This is the day that I start working toward my goal.
  • I am going to get up early and go to the gym.
  • I will forgive him/her and move on.

There’s a reason why we make promises to ourselves more than we do to others.  It’s much easier to break them.  After all, we can easily justify, blame, or make excuses when no one else is involved.  Furthermore, we convince ourselves that we are “right” in our justifications and fail to recognize how these actions impact our fuel tank.   


We all make mistakes.  It’s part of being human.  However, it’s what we do following a mistake that ultimately affects our fuel tank.  Owning our mistakes simply means that we take full responsibility for them.  Regardless of the level of outside influence, we still have the ability to own our part of the mistake.  Each moment we spend deflecting the responsibility to someone or something else, we are essentially missing out on an opportunity for good fuel. 

TOXIC FUEL – Negative Energy 


Unfortunately, it’s very easy to lie and get away with it.  As I mentioned before, we can justify and reason why a lie was okay, but the fact of the matter is that each of our lies acts as toxic fuel and therefore sucks our tank dry.  While the outside world may never know of our lies, our fuel tank always pays the price. 


In my opinion, the personal promises we break (i.e. I’m going to the gym tomorrow no matter what) have a bigger impact on our fuel tank.  While no one else is aware of the broken promise, we certainly feel it. 


We’ve already established the fact that blame, excuses, and justifications are toxic to our fuel tanks.  Don’t waste your fuel.

Here’s to a full tank of super charged fuel.  I’ll see you on the road.