Top 5 Things Mentally Tough Athletes Don’t Do

imagesP0PJN7L1In the past, I’ve written about the critical importance of mental toughness for athletes.  It’s easy to overlook the fact that there are actually two games going on in any sport.  There’s the game that takes place on the field and there’s the game that takes place between the athletes’ ears.  I refer to this as The Game Within The Game.   

Typically when I work with individual athletes or teams, I seek to empower them with specific skills and strategies, designed to enhance their mental toughness.  A to do list of mental toughness tools, if you will. 

However, it’s also important to outline various things that mentally tough athletes don’t do.  Below is a list of The Top 5 Things Mentally Tough Athletes DON’T Do, along with a mental toughness solution for each.      

Give their power away to people and things

You can’t feel like a victim and be mentally strong at the same time.  When you say things like – My coach drives me nuts or My parents are making me crazy – you’re giving your power away.  No one has the power to make you think, feel, or behave in a certain way. 

Mental Toughness Solution:  Recognize moments when you’re allowing others to rent space in your head and take your power back by simply saying, “I’m taking my power back.”

Spend time trying to control things that are out of their control.

Complaining doesn’t solve problems; it only drains your energy.  If you practice controlling what you can control (thoughts, feelings, actions), you’ll be much better prepared for whatever comes your way.

Mental Toughness Solution:  Pay attention to times when you’re tempted to complain.  Accept that the situation (person) is out of your control and focus on influencing, not controlling.

Hang out in their comfort zone because of fear, doubt, or other people’s opinions.

You can’t become extraordinary without taking risks.  Fear will tell you that any risk is bad, which is precisely why it’s easy to stay in your comfort zone. 

Mental Toughness Solution:  Identify your goals and then identify the fears that may appear as you work toward achieving the goal.  If you’re prepared for these fears and know your triggers, they ultimately lose their power. 

Dwell on the past.

Learning from the past is beneficial; carrying it with you is not.  Constantly questioning your past choices keeps you from enjoying the present and making the future as good as it can be.   

Mental Toughness Solution:  Make peace with the past.  Give yourself some grace and recognize that your past doesn’t define you.  You don’t drive your car by looking in the rearview mirror, so why drive your life that way.      

Expect immediate results.

Self-growth develops slowly.  There is no such thing as an overnight success.  Bumps on the road are minor setbacks, not total roadblocks. 

Mental Toughness Solution:  Learn to ‘trust the process.’  When you find yourself thinking about where you should be, try to celebrate who you’ve become on your journey. 

If you’d like to learn more about my work with athletes, please email me at mike@kaleidoeye.com.

 

13 Reasons To Live

IMG_8125If you work with pre-teens or teens in any capacity, it’s a safe bet you’re aware of a controversial web television series titled 13 Reasons Why.  Based on a 2007 novel by the same name, the series revolves around a teenage suicide, influenced by a series of demoralizing events involving select students at the victim’s school.  The story chronicles a box of cassette tapes recorded by the victim prior to her suicide, detailing thirteen reasons why she ended her life.    

Given the work I do, I completely understand the need for meaningful dialogue on the topic of suicide.  However, I’m not sure a movie such as this is the appropriate means by which this conversation should start.  Note that I chose the word start.  I’m not condemning those who’ve watched the film as it may very well serve as a great source of discussion with kids. 

My biggest concern is the way in which it’s portrayed – a revenge fantasy of sorts.  If the goal of the film is to increase awareness on this topic, then it’s been a huge success.  However, if the goal is to address the root cause of most suicides, mental health, then it’s failed miserably. 

If you’re an average teenager watching this show, do you walk away from the series feeling empowered or equipped to tackle the countless social and emotional challenges of the teenage years?  My guess is you may feel educated, but not empowered or equipped.  In fact, I would argue that many teenagers may use the film as a means of justification or fuel for a victim mentality.  In other words, instead of looking inward for the true source of change, their focus will remain on what others have done. 

Regardless of your opinion of the film, I think we can all agree that there are more than 13 Reasons Why everyone should live. 

My sincere hope is that the following list will serve as a source of empowerment (or hope) for anyone who finds themselves in a dark place.    

13 Reasons To Live

Reason #1 – You are a miracle.

The odds of you being born in the time, place, and circumstances under which you were born are 1 in 400,000,000,000. Your name should be Miraculous Me.

Reason #2 – Someone needs your gifts.

Each of you have special gifts that are uniquely yours. Step one is to uncover your gifts and step two is to share them with the world, regardless of others opinions.

Reason #3 – Your smile can change the direction of someone’s life.  You matter.

Smiles are contagious and spread just like sick germs. When you smile, you shine your light.  Whether you realize it or not, you make a tremendous difference for others.   

Reason #4 – Your value doesn’t change based on someone’s inability to see your worth.

If you wrote down the largest dollar amount you can think of, then multiplied it by one million, you wouldn’t even come close to your value.

Reason #5 – God started something good in you and the rest of the story is yet to be written.

Don’t stop on Chapter 2 when future chapters contain breakthroughs that will take you places you never imagined.

Reason #6 – Your feelings aren’t a good indicator of reality, but rather a gauge of your perceived reality.

Anger and sadness are natural human emotions, but they don’t have to influence your choices. Let your values be your guide.  When you change your lens (perspective), you change your life.   

Reason #7 – No one has the power to make you feel a certain way, unless you give them permission to.

Your mind is a beautiful 5-star resort. There is no vacancy for negativity.

Reason #8 – Your brain tends to dwell on the past or fear the future, but the only time you really have is right now – the present. It truly is a gift.

Stop what you’re doing right now and look at the people and things around you.  Listen to the sounds in the air.  They’re all gifts. 

Reason #9 – You ‘re not alone.

There is someone else going through a similar circumstance at this exact moment. Be vulnerable enough to share your story. There are people who are willing to listen and understand.

Reason #10 – Suffering leads to strength.

You will suffer. We all do. However, you’re not defined by your suffering. In many cases, suffering happens for you, not to you.

Reason #11 – Change doesn’t happen overnight.

We live in a world of instant gratification. We want things to change and we want them to change now. Remember, it’s THY will be done, not my will be done.

Reason #12 – We must fall so that we can learn how to get back up.

You can’t truly understand something unless you’ve experienced the opposite. You can’t know light unless you’ve been in the dark.

Reason #13 – I love you.

Some of you might be thinking, “He doesn’t even know me. How can he love me?” Jesus taught me to love my neighbors and although we may live miles apart, you are my neighbor, therefore, I love you.

If you’re a parent, teacher, coach, mentor, or work in any other capacity with young people, I invite you to use this list as a means of discussion.  While the movie may speak to their heads, this list will almost certainly speak to their hearts. 

P.S.  I’d love to hear your feedback.  I realize there are varying opinions regarding this film.  I’m open to your insights.  Please use the comment section below to share.   

The road less traveled by

photo1-300x300Eighteen years ago, I completed my MAT (Master of Arts in Teaching) at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.  The program culminated in a leadership symposium of sorts, with each graduate candidate presenting a Leadership Thesis on a topic of their choice.  From the moment I received my acceptance letter, twelve months prior, I had an immediate hunch as to what my thesis topic would be.  After spending a year immersed in both the theory and art of teaching, including six months of student teaching experience, my initial hunch was solidified.  It was clear to me that the academic needs of students took a front seat to what I felt was a glaring, unmet need – the social and emotional well-being of all kids.  So, I set forth in crafting a presentation that would open the eyes of my fellow graduates, in addition to a team of professors who rarely broached this topic.  I was going to shock the world with a ground breaking presentation on the absolute necessity of meaningful character education programs in schools throughout the country.  What followed was an emotional roller coaster of events that would ultimately lead me to where I am today.

I began my presentation by recounting the horrific tragedy at Columbine High School, followed by a thought provoking question, designed to plant a seed in the minds of those in attendance.

“Could a meaningful character education program, during a child’s elementary years, prevent something like this from happening?”

After what I felt was a compelling 30-minute presentation on the need for quality character education programs in schools, I walked confidently toward the back of the auditorium, ready for another speaker to take the stage.  Just prior to reaching my seat, one of my supervising professors handed me a paper.  It was a critique of my presentation, which included several hand written comments.  I quickly perused the feedback, most of which was positive, but a single sentence near the end of the page caught my attention.  Little did I know that this comment would serve as a springboard for the work I do today.

“Great presentation, but I don’t think a character education program is going to prevent anything like this from happening.”

The rush of adrenaline following my presentation was quickly replaced with another unwelcome rush; a rush of anger.  The resulting though attack, many of which were accusatory in nature toward my professor, would eventually subside and I’d come to a revelation of sorts. Although I don’t remember any particular thoughts at the time, I realize now that the divergent roads which Robert Frost referred to in his well-known poem “The Road Not Taken,” were right in front of me.  I could either continue to talk about the need for change or move in the direction of being the change, which was clearly the road less traveled by.

Fast forward to today and I’m firmly on the road less traveled by.

As we continue to witness tragic school shootings, unprecedented numbers of teenage suicides, and a bullying epidemic that continues to gain steam, I can’t help but wonder…

“Are we still of the belief that these events are largely out of our control?”

Each day I walk into a school, I choose to think about the one child who needs to hear my message.

The child whose self-esteem is at an all-time low and is beginning to contemplate whether or not it’s worth it to live.

The child who’s under a tremendous amount of pressure to be perfect and just wants to throw in the towel.

The child who’s the victim of countless bullies and feels absolutely powerless with regard to moving forward.

The child who spends hours and hours playing video games that glorify death and destruction, not realizing the impact it’s having on his mind.

I ask you, “What is the purpose of education?  Is it to only educate the mind, or do we have an obligation to educate the whole child, including their heart?”

I believe we have an opportunity, and an obligation, to provide a transformative means of education for our children.  It’s called self-education and it has nothing to do with the 3 R’s that we continue to obsess over.  While standardized tests may very well measure a child’s intellectual abilities, what are we doing to measure, or even pay attention to, their social and emotional well-being?

I may never know if my teaching will somehow prevent one of these tragic events from occurring, but I can assure you that I’m going to do whatever I can to make emotional intelligence a part of every child’s education.

Will you join me on the road less traveled by?

If you feel so moved, I invite you to share an introductory video (see below) with teachers, administrators, parents, coaches, or in any other adult who might be interested in providing young people with the gift of emotional intelligence.

As always, I’m grateful for your support.

Dear athlete,

EIMG_7663 (2)very day, millions of young athletes arrive at ballparks, gymnasiums, fields, or countless other sporting venues, ready for practice.  Their bags are overflowing with the newest, greatest equipment and their bodies adorn the latest trends in sports swag.  Although they may not embrace the idea of practice, they long for the opportunity to shine in the game.

Meanwhile, coaches tidy up their practice plans, while simultaneously leading the team through warm-ups.  With only a few precious hours to work with the athletes, their minds frantically gravitate toward a single, pressing question – “Are we going to be ready for the game?

Often unbeknownst to both athlete and coach, there’s a much more important game taking place, long before practice even begins.  I call it The Game Within The Game and unlike a traditional sporting event, this unique game takes place between an athlete’s ears.  Some call it mental toughness or mindset training, while others refer to it as emotional intelligence.  Regardless of the semantics we use to describe it, the fact remains that in order for an athlete to truly excel in the game, he/she must learn to manage the complex nature of the human mind.

For the past several years, I’ve had the great fortune of working with young athletes, both individually and in a team setting.  Perhaps my single greatest role as a mental toughness coach is to expose the many limiting beliefs that occupy an athlete’s mind, then work to replace them with empowering beliefs that will ultimately serve as fuel for success. 

Below is an open letter to all athletes, in which I expose the two most common limiting core beliefs that often destroy an athlete’s mindset and even drive them away from sports.

Dear athlete,

Did you know that the most important thing you’ll bring to practice today is not the contents of your bag or backpack (equipment and apparel)? 

I’d like to introduce you to a much different kind of backpack; one that far outweighs the importance of the backpack you’re accustomed to carrying over your shoulders.  It’s called the mental backpack and it contains all of your core beliefs with regard to sports, yourself, or life in general.  Unlike a sports bag, which you can remove from your shoulders at any time, your mental backpack is with you wherever you go.

When you arrive at practice, it’s easy to get caught up in all of the physical preparation for your upcoming game or competition.  Therefore, you spend countless hours working on your swing, your shot, or your dismount.  What you often fail to realize is that your mental preparation is always contributing to (or hindering) your physical performance.      

Below are two limiting beliefs that a lot of athletes carry in their mental backpack, followed by a new, empowering belief.  If either of these apply to you, I encourage you to embrace the new belief and add it to your mental backpack. 

Limiting belief #1- My success is defined a medal or trophy.

Unfortunately, if you watch a lot of sporting events on television, it’s easy to see why you might adopt this belief.  After all, the athletes who win are often glamorized with confetti parades, lucrative marketing deals, and a larger than life reputation.  This is what every athlete longs for, isn’t it?  Or is it?

Here’s what most people don’t realize.  While the trophies and medals are certainly nice to have, they tend to lose their meaning over the years.  Ask any retired athlete what they remember most about their experience and rarely will they point to a trophy or medal.  They’ll talk about the relationships they developed with their teammates and coaches, or the person they became as a result of hours of training and preparation. 

If this is a limiting belief you’ve adopted over the years, I invite you to replace it with a new, empowering belief.

My success is defined by WHO I’ve become (my character), not by WHAT I’ve accomplished (trophies and medals). 

Limiting core belief #2 – I can’t fail.

When I meet with athletes for the first time, one of the first things I say to them is, “You’re going to fail this season, and it’s okay for you to fail.” 

If you think that perfection is possible, then you’re choosing to believe an illusion.  Again, television will have you believe that the ultimate goal of sports is to be perfect.  However, what television rarely portrays are the many failures in the lives of these supposed perfect athletes.

Think about it.  If there’s no room for failure in your life, then there’s no room for risk.  If there’s no room for risk, there’s no room for growth.  If there’s no room for growth, then you’re bound to stay in the safe confines of your comfort zone, doing only the things you know you’re good at.

You see, we all have that little voice in our heads called doubt.  Doubt asks, “Are you sure you can do this?” or “What if you fail?”  You are welcome to continue listening to doubt, or you can choose to talk to it with the voice of courage.  Here’s what courage says, “I’m doing this,” or “I’d rather fail than not try at all.”

At the end of the day, it’s not about the number of failures you make in your sports career; it’s about how you choose to respond to your failures.

If this is a limiting belief you’ve adopted over the years, I invite you to replace it with the following empowering belief. 

I may fail, but I AM NOT a failure.

I believe in you,

Coach Mike

You are the carpenter

FullSizeRender (2)Imagine for a minute that you’re a carpenter who just finished building your last house prior to retirement.  As a general contractor, I come to you for a personal favor.  I need you to build one last house before you hang up the tool belt for good. 

You agree to it, but your heart really isn’t in your work.  Each day, you show up to the job site and put in the necessary hours, cutting every corner possible (i.e. inferior materials).  Frankly, the only thing on your mind is placing the last board and hammering the last nail.  Suffice it to say, you’re just going through the motions.

Once you’ve finished, I show up the home site, hand you the front door key and simply say, “This is your house.  My gift to you.” 

Can you imagine the overwhelming feelings of frustration, regret, and guilt that would accompany this moment?  If you had only known that you were building your own house, your attitude and effort would’ve been so much different. 

Although the above scenario is fictional, there’s actually a home you’re building this very minute, often out of your awareness.  It’s called your life. 

So many of us suffer from the not now, maybe later syndrome.  We say things like, “I’ll work on my attitude next week,” or “My effort will improve once I get some other things in order.”

Consider that the thoughts we think and the choices we make today build the house we live in tomorrow.  While it’s certainly easy to blame the conditions of our house on other people or things, the reality is that we built it.

After reading this, you may feel a deep sense of regret, much like the fictional carpenter in the above story.  You may be saying, “I wish I would’ve __________________ when I was younger.”  If this is the case, I’ve got some good news for you.  Since you are the carpenter, you possess the skills to remodel the home you’ve built.  Put another way, you’re not stuck in your current home.

Below are 3 remodel strategies that you can begin to implement today.

Be clear on WHY you do what you do.

One of the biggest reasons why we go through the proverbial motions is the fact that our life (or work) is void of any purpose.  The carpenter in the above story wasn’t building the house on purpose.  He was building it out of obligation or necessity.  In other words, he had to do it.

I invite you to get out a piece of blank paper and answer the following question – Why do you get out of bed each morning?  Just write down whatever comes to mind.  There’s no right or wrong answers.  After you’ve brainstormed a list of answers, choose the one or two that resonate with you the most.  These will essentially make up your Why Statement.  Throughout the day, when you find yourself struggling to find motivation, simply refer to your Why Statement for some instant fuel. 

Own your mistakes, then clean them up.

Mistakes are inevitable, but blaming and excuse making are choices.  Imagine that each of your mistakes are akin to a crack in the window or a piece of torn carpet in your home.  When you own them and clean them up, you’re actually repairing the mess and restoring the integrity of your home (life).  However, when you blame others or make excuses, you’re simply pulling a shade down over the window or laying a blanket over the carpet tear.  It’s a short term solution to a longer term problem. 

Learn to embrace the grind.

It’s true that life can sometimes seem like a mental, emotional, and physical grind.  No one is immune to this.  I’ve never built a home, but I’m sure there are parts of the home building process that seem rather mundane or tedious.  The same is true for life.  Whether it’s the thousands of phone calls you need to make in order to land a big sale or the countless meetings you attend that seem to be pointless, they all lead in one direction – your dream home (goals).  On the other side of the grind is a tremendous amount of gratitude.  Gratitude for the values you obtained throughout the process (i.e. patience).    

Every new day is a new opportunity to build the house (life) of your dreams.  Build wisely!

I believe in you.   

You’re perfect imperfections

untitled“Raise your hand if you ever feel like you’re not enough?”

I’ve asked this question to thousands of students over the past several years, and as you can probably imagine, a large majority of hands go up.  Although I’ve never asked a room full of adults, I’d expect a similar response.

Why is this?  Why are so many people navigating the roads of life with a fixed mindset of “I’m not enough?”

While I certainly wouldn’t suggest that a singular answer to this question exists, I do think a lot of it is rooted in a toxic race to perfection.  Sadly, many of us, especially pre-teens and teens, have fallen prey to an increasingly prevalent myth that unless you are perfect, you are destined for mediocrity at best.

Thankfully, a sure-fire strategy for destroying deeply ingrained beliefs (i.e. “I’m not enough”) exists.  It happens to be the foundation of everything I teach as part of my Lenses of Leadership program.  It’s called perspective, or what I often refer to as a new lens on life.

Here’s a new lens I invite you to try on – My imperfections are perfect.

Perhaps the following story will help you to embrace this unique new lens.      

A water-bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on opposite ends of a pole that he carried across his neck.  One of the pots had a crack in it, while the other was perfect.  The latter always delivered a full portion of water at the end of a long walk from the stream to the master’s house.  The cracked pot arrived only half-full.  Every day for a full two years, the water-bearer delivered only one and a half pots of water. 

The perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, because it fulfilled magnificently the purpose for which it had been made.  But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its imperfection, miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do. 

After the second year of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, the unhappy pot spoke to the water-bearer one day by the stream.

“I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you,” the pot said.

“Why?” asked the bearer.  “What are you ashamed of?”

“I have been able, for the past two years, to deliver only half my load, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master’s house.  Because of my flaws, you have to do all this work and you don’t get full value from your efforts,” the pot said.

The water-bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion, he said, “As we return to the mater’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.”  Indeed, as they went up the hill, the cracked pot took notice of the beautiful wildflowers on the side of the path, bright in the sun’s glow, and the sight cheered it up a bit.

But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad that it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the bearer for its failure.

The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, not on the other pot’s side?  That is because I have always known about your flaw, and I have taken advantage of it.  I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day, as we have walked back from the stream, you have watered them.  For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table.  Without you being just the way you are, he would not have had this beauty to grace his house. 

You see, each of us has our own unique flaws or imperfections.  We’re all cracked pots.  However, as is the case with the cracked pot in this story, God is using our imperfections to glorify the beauty of His kingdom.  Believe it or not, your imperfections are often your gifts. 

Are you willing to trust that your flaws are part of your unique contribution to the world?      

Beyond the measurables: Three things that emotionally intelligent students do.

photoEach year, a few hundred college football players from across the country are invited to the NFL combine in Indianapolis.   Each player is armed with a common purpose – to impress the scouts.  Over the course of a week, players participate in a variety of drills, each of which contains a measurable result.  Whether it’s a 40-yard dash time or a broad jump distance, each measurable is meticulously calculated and added to an athlete’s portfolio of work, if you will.  For many players, this portfolio is the difference between a potentially lucrative contract and the risk of being undrafted. 

Here’s where it gets interesting.  If you follow these players over the course of a few years, you’ll find that many who finished at the very top of the measurable charts are no longer playing football, while some who finished at the bottom are flourishing.  How can this be?  The answer is quite simple.  You see, if you look beyond the measurables, you’ll find an entirely different set of qualities – the immeasurables.  In the case of a football player, a few of these are work ethic and mindset. 

Interestingly enough, this same dynamic occurs in education.  Similar to the college football player who walks away from the NFL combine with a portfolio of measurables, so too does a college graduate in the form of an official transcript.  One would assume that an impeccable transcript would lead to greater success in life, but countless research has challenged this assumption.  Again, the difference is the immeasurables that you won’t see on a transcript.  Perhaps the most notable of which is an individual’s emotional intelligence.

For the past eight years, I’ve been on a mission to make emotional intelligence a part of every child’s education.  Although academics will continue to remain a key component of education, we must begin to look beyond the transcript and into the hearts and minds of our students.  If we’re truly committed to educating the whole child, then emotional intelligence is an absolute necessity. 

Below are three emotional intelligence immeasurables that will contribute greatly to one’s success. 

Emotionally intelligent students are able to name their emotions. 

At first glance, this may seem like a simple thing to do.  After all, they’re our emotions, so shouldn’t it be easy to name them?  The problem lies in the fact that emotions often occur in layers.  For example, anger is referred to as a secondary emotion, which means that an underlying emotion exists (primary emotion).  For example, a student may feel angry, but fail to recognize that the anger is a result of an underlying fear of failure.  The more accurate we are at naming our emotions, the more effective we are in taming them. 

Emotionally intelligent students prevent various circumstances from renting space in their mind. 

Our mind is the most precious real estate we own.  Furthermore, we get to decide who (or what) takes up space in the rooms of our mind.  It’s quite common for kids to blame an emotion on a person or thing.  For example, a teacher may choose to assign a larger than normal homework assignment.  A common student response would be, “I’m so upset because now I have a ton of homework tonight.”  An emotionally intelligent student would recognize the fact that the homework itself has no power to rent space in their mind.  It’s the negative thoughts about the homework that lead to the upset, not the homework itself. 

Emotionally intelligent students practice empathy in all relationships.

It’s easy to fall into a habit of what I refer to as right-itis, which is the condition of always needing to be right.  While judgements are a part of what we do as humans, we don’t need to accept each judgement as a fact.  For example, a child may be angry about something a teacher said and proceed to check out mentally and emotionally for the rest of the day.  However, had they taken the time to practice empathy, they may realize that the teacher is in the midst of a very challenging personal circumstance.  Empathy often leads to curiosity and openness, whereas judgements lead to right-itis and stubbornness.     

If you’d like to learn more about how I work with students to develop these critical skills, please email me at mike@kaleidoeye.com.  I also invite you to watch a brief video, which outlines the importance of this work.  Click here to watch. 

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!