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 

BE HONEST

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. 

KEEP PROMISES

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.   

OWN MISTAKES

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 

LIES

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. 

BROKEN PROMISES

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. 

BLAME, JUSTIFY, MAKE EXCUSES

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.

 

 

Happy school year

untitledWith the start of a new school year fast approaching (at least in Arizona), I wanted to take a moment to address a critical skill that most students fail to practice.  It’s called mindset and believe it or not, it’s equally important to student success as the letter grades they will receive at the end of the first quarter. 

Parents, you know the drill.  The first few weeks of school, otherwise known as the honeymoon period, are relatively painless for your child as they celebrate the opportunity to be around their friends and the workload is manageable.  Unfortunately, in the weeks that follow, it might be common for your child to return home each day complaining about a certain class or teacher and how things just aren’t fair.  This is where the power of mindset can literally change their entire experience of school.

Below is a letter I’ve written for a pre-teen and teenage audience.  I invite you to share it with anyone who you think might benefit.

Dear Student Extraordinaire,

Whether you are ready for it or not, a new school year is upon us.  The desks are polished, the carpets are cleaned, the pencils are sharpened, and the chairs sit empty, waiting for you to occupy them on that first day. 

By the time you read this letter, you may already know your class schedule and/or your assigned teacher(s).  You might even find yourself dreading the one class or teacher that everyone has warned you about. 

“Oh, that class is so boring.”

“He/she lectures all of the time and is so unfair.”

“You are going to hate that class.  I am so glad I’m done with it.”

These are just a few of the statements that may be fighting for space in your mind as the first day of school draws near.  Despite the fact that you know these are simply OPO’s (Other People’s Opinions), you can’t help but wonder if they really are true. 

I have something I want to share with you that may just cause you to have the happiest school year yet.  Are you ready?

The classes you take and the teachers who teach them DO NOT determine your levels of happiness.  Your mindset DOES. 

Let me explain.

It’s common for students to ride what I call the emotional roller coaster throughout the year.  Depending on their interest in a particular class or teacher, their emotions can either be empowering or not.  Take for example, the class that your friend has warned you is extremely boring.  Chances are, the moment you walk into that class you will prepare yourself for boredom and look for all sorts of reasons to prove that it actually is boring.  Guess what?  The class itself is NOT boring.  Boredom is always a product of our thinking.  Having said this, you really have two choices.

  1. Spend each day being bored and blame the teacher or class for your mood.
  2. Change the way you think about the teacher or class and take ownership of your mood.

If you’re looking for the easy route, you are welcome to blame the teacher or class.  However, despite your best efforts, blaming will never change anything.  If you’re looking to be happy, I invite you to be curious and creative about the way you see this experience. 

Here are some examples.

“This class is teaching me the importance of patience.”

“My teacher may not be teaching the way I would, but the information they are sharing is valuable to me.”

“When I walk into this class, I’m going to choose an attitude of gratitude.”

The choice is yours.  Your thoughts can literally change your experience with regard to school.  Don’t let school dictate your emotions.  You have the power to do this yourself.

Here’s to your happiest school year yet.

Sincerely,

Mike Sissel – former teenager

 

Friday with Mimi

10525837_10204153372222613_4240702497158384353_nIn his 1997 best-selling book Tuesdays With Morrie, author Mitch Albom recounts the precious time he spent with his 78-year-old sociology professor Morrie Schwartz, who was dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).  Each Tuesday, he would visit Morrie at his home in Massachusetts and listen to one of his many lessons on the meaning of life, eager to absorb the profound wisdom that Mr. Schwartz possessed.  Embedded in each of his lessons were themes of communication, love, and happiness; each of which would change Mr. Albom’s outlook on life.

Perhaps you have your own Morrie, someone who has lived a full life and is willing to share their insights with you from a place of love.  Each time you talk with them, you may walk away feeling refreshed and invigorated as a result of their wisdom. 

My Morrie is my 94-year-old grandmother Marjorie, affectionately known in our family as Mimi.  This past Friday, I had the great fortune of spending an afternoon with her at her new senior living center in Albany, Oregon.  As is often the case, in just a few short hours together, she taught me so much about the meaning of life.  

She taught me the power of connection. 

After living by herself in an apartment for over 35 years, you can imagine the difficult transition to a home which she now had to share with fifty other people.  My concerns about this transition quickly diminished the moment we walked into the dining hall for lunch.  We were immediately greeted by a room full of smiling faces, eagerly watching our every move.  As I sat down, I quickly scanned the tables that surrounded us and noticed that a large majority of the people were still looking at us.  Feeling a little uneasy, I redirected my focus toward Mimi and noticed that she too was smiling at a gentleman who had just walked in.  Then it dawned on me that the eye contact and smiles served as a powerful form of connection.  You see, instead of having their eyes glued to a cell phone or iPad, each of the people in this room were gazing into the eyes of each other.  Even though the verbal conversation was minimal, the power of their nonverbal communication was evident.  Once I realized this, I decided to scan the room again, but this time with a giant smile on my face.  I was eager to connect with a group of people I had never met. 

She taught me the power of perspective.

After lunch (which they actually call dinner), we walked back up to her room and sat next to each other on the very same couch I sat on as a young child.  As a six-year-old, I was probably more concerned with the movie that was playing on her television, but on this day, as a forty-one-year-old, I simply wanted to be present with her.  Knowing that she had recently had a fall and was still in pain, I asked her about her recovery.  Shortly into the conversation, she looked at me and said, “You know, if I ever get down about things, all I have to do is look around this place and see that there are people who are much worse off than I am.  I’m pretty lucky to still be alive.”  It would have been very easy for her to play out the entire saga of the fall and belabor the fact that the pain still existed, but instead she chose to see her circumstance through a lens of gratitude.  While she attributed her longevity to good luck, I can’t help but think it is a product of her empowering perspective.   

She taught me to celebrate the small things.

With only a little bit of time left, we decided to drive to Safeway as she needed to pick up a prescription.  To save time, I handled the transaction with her debit card and tucked the receipt away in the bag.  Just as we exited the building, she asked me how much the charge was.  When I told her it was only $1.64, she was initially dumbfounded.  Expecting to pay at least $40.00, her eyes eventually lit up with excitement, thrilled about this tremendous savings.  It was as if she had won the lottery.  As we walked back to the car, I thought about some of the “big” things that I was experiencing and the emotional weight they carried.  It was clear to me that I wasn’t taking the time to celebrate the “little things”, but rather I was allowing my thoughts to drift toward negativity and all that was wrong. 

Unlike Morrie, Mimi didn’t actually teach me these lessons in a pointed conversation about the meaning of life.  She taught me by simply living her life; a life of powerful connection, empowered perspective, and genuine celebration.          

I love you Mimi.  Your wisdom continues to shape the way I live my life. 

The burning match

untitledImagine that I handed you an unlit match and asked you to hold it firmly between your forefinger and thumb.  Now imagine that I lit the match and asked you to keep it in this position for as long as you could.  Suffice it to say that most of you would hold on until the very moment you felt a burning sensation in your fingers, at which time you would probably throw it to the ground. 

Now I want you to think of the last time you were angry with someone.  Perhaps it was your boss who failed to honor your vacation request, or maybe it was the person who cut you off on the freeway.  While you may not be able to pinpoint exactly how long you held onto your anger, I’m guessing you have had moments when you chose to keep the match in your hand (anger) despite the fact that it was burning you.  In other words, you continued to manifest feelings of anger long after the circumstance had passed.  While anger is a natural human emotion, the suffering that occurs as a result of holding on to the anger can extremely costly.

So, how can we learn to let go of the burning match? Below is an incredibly moving story of a man whose life serves as a beautiful illustration of the power of letting go.  

At the age 19, Louis Zamperini ran the 5,000 meters at the 1936 Olympics, falling just short of a medal.  Determined to represent the United States once again in the 1940 Olympics, Zamperini’s dream was cut short with the outbreak of World War II.  He enlisted in the Army Air Corps and became a bombardier on a B-24 Liberator.  In May of 1943, he and his crew embarked on a search mission for a fallen pilot.  Unfortunately, his plane crashed into the wide open Pacific Ocean.

What followed was a 47 day struggle for survival.  With only a meager raft, Zamperini and his crew spent days without drinking water and were exposed to extremely hot weather conditions.  Sharks would often circle beneath their raft.

Zamperini drifted for almost 2,000 miles before he washed ashore on a Pacific Island.  From there, he was taken as a prisoner of war by the Japanese.  As a prisoner, Zamperini was fed poorly and was often abused by countless prison guards.  Perhaps his most notable tormentor was a Japanese sergeant, nicknamed “The Bird”, whose beatings were so fierce that Zamperini often wondered if the next one would lead to his death. 

Against all odds, Zamperini survived and was liberated at the end of the war.  Clearly overcome with intense anger toward his tormentors, especially “The Bird”, he wrestled with countless moments of rage and depression.  He resorted to alcohol as his emotional escape, but nothing could erase the terrifying memories of his experience as a prisoner. 

Several years after his return, Zamperini attended a Billy Graham sermon, a moment that would shape the rest of his life.  He embraced Christianity and his spiritual walk helped him to uncover the tremendous power of forgiveness.  Shortly after hearing the sermon, he began writing letters of forgiveness to the very people that almost took his life.      

In 1950, Zamperini returned to Tokyo and requested a visit to a Tokyo prison where several of his tormenters were serving sentences for war crimes.  He even planned on forgiving “The Bird”, though he refused to meet with Zamperini. 

The anger that once consumed him was now gone.  Why?  Because he was willing to let go of the match.  He realized that by holding on to the anger he was creating more and more turmoil in his own life.  He learned to acknowledge the fact that anger itself wasn’t going to change the people who inflicted all of this pain.  You see, by choosing to forgive his tormentors, those who tried to take all of his physical and mental power from him, he was taking back the steering wheel of his own life.  No longer would he allow a circumstance to govern his emotions.  Not surprisingly, he dedicated the rest of his life to spreading the message of forgiveness.     

Sadly, Louis Zamperini passed away on July 2, 2014 at the age of 97.  Below is a segment from his appearance on CBS Sunday Morning, which will give you a glimpse into the life of this amazing man. 

Parenting with a butterfly lens

untitledWhat would you say if I told you that the single most effective parenting strategy is to assume the role of a butterfly?

A fundamental component of our Lenses of Leadership program is the concept of a lens, or the way we see things.  Simply put, each of our thoughts is influenced by the lens through which we are viewing our circumstances.

Below is a beautiful example of what I am now affectionately referring to as the “butterfly lens”.  This piece was written by my best friend, my life coach, and the mother of our two beautiful daughters.  As you will see, she is a huge inspiration for everything I teach.

It is so easy to have a short-sighted caterpillar perspective during these scorching summer days of “vacation”.  Toys that would normally be tucked away nicely are strewn throughout the living room.  Moans and groans of “I’m bored” can be heard from a distance.  The dishes pile up as the day progresses due to excessive snacking.  It’s easy to get lost in all of the monotony.

Today; however, I will choose a butterfly lens.  A lens that will allow me to see the overall story; a combination of millions of tiny moments strung together.  I will choose to be curious as to what this day will hold.  What memories will we make today that will last a lifetime?

When Ivy pulls Emerson’s hair, I won’t raise my voice and declare for the umpteenth time, “We don’t pull hair, that’s not kind.”  I will look deep into my 2 year-old’s blue eyes and gently remind her of that redundant fact.  As they carry on with their playing, I will imagine a moment in the future when Ivy is giving a toast on her sister’s wedding day.  The whole crowd laughs as she raises her dainty glass and shares the hair pulling tale in its entirety.  She is smiling and filled with gratitude for her big sister, thankful that Emerson has enough lovely locks to wear an up-do on this most important of days.

If you are immersed in the unique challenge of children and summer, I invite you to try on your butterfly lens.  Parenting will take on a whole new meaning.

P.S.  My wife recently published a beautiful children’s book titled Miraculous MeClick here to order your own copy.

Conversation with a teen

As some of you are aware, I’m in the process of writing a personal development book for an audience of both parents and teens.  While some would call it wishful thinking, my goal is for parents to sit down with their son or daughter and begin to build a foundation for positive change by simply having a conversation about various leadership principles.  In fact, I’ve written the entire book as a conversation between a father and his teenage daughter.  It’s common for teens to see adults, especially their parents, as lecturers.  Therefore, I’ve tried to create an environment for openness and trust between parent and child.

Below is an excerpt from the book.  Once you have finished reading it, I would be grateful if you would leave a comment in the space below.  What are you overall thoughts about the content and style of the story?

***********************************************************************************************************************************

Dad:  I want you to know that you are a leader despite what others may tell you.

Daughter:  How can I be a leader when I’ve never actually been in a leadership position?  

You don’t have to maintain an actual position in order to be a leader. That’s a myth. When you learn to embrace the leader within yourself, you build the foundation for everything else that will follow in your life.

Even though no one has labeled you as a follower, it’s quite natural to shy away from the role of leader.   Many people view leadership as a position of authority, which requires a certain level of power.  You might identify your mom and I as leaders because we’re in charge of the family and assume a certain amount of authority in those roles.  You might also view your teachers as leaders because they’re in charge of your classes and are responsible for teaching roomfuls of students.  Do you notice a common theme here?  These are each examples of authority.

So, if I don’t have to be in charge of other people to lead, what makes me a leader?

It’s not the fact that you may or may not be in charge of others that matters most.  What matters is the undisputable fact that you will always be in charge of yourself.  That alone makes you a leader.  Leading yourself first is much more important than trying to lead others.  This idea will serve as a foundation for everything else.  You could go through your life like many people and be affected by outside-in change when others try to control you through manipulation or persuasion. Your mom and I don’t want that for you. We want you to have the tools to change yourself, which is called inside-out change.

Wait a minute.  How can you say I’m in charge of myself when you and mom and are always asking me to do things I don’t want to do?  Doesn’t that mean that you’re in charge of me?   

That’s a great question.  Mom and I care deeply about your success in life so our primary responsibility is to empower you, or give you tools that will help you along the way.  It may seem like we’re in charge of you when we ask you to clean up your room or finish your homework, but the fact remains that you still have the power to choose your response in any of these situations.  That means that while we may be in charge of the circumstances, we will never claim to be in charge of you.  We’ll talk about that later. For now, let’s focus on helping you to embrace your inner leader.

Okay, I guess I am in charge of myself, but that’s not really leadership, is it?

Think about the last time you dropped a coin in a water fountain, or threw a rock in the river.  What happened when it landed?  The impact of the object created a ripple that extended far beyond where you threw the coin or rock.  Well, you and I are no different than the coin or rock.  Every time we say or do something, we create an invisible ripple around us.  Our ripples are strongest when we focus on our actions, not necessarily our words.  That means that wherever you go, your ripple follows, so the fact that you influence others makes you a leader.  Whether we are 8 years old or 80 years old, we all lead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A daily dose of dopamine

imagesIn the last three months, how many times have you handwritten a note of gratitude for someone in your life?  Not a text or email, an actual handwritten note. 

I asked this question recently of a room full of tweens and teens and as expected, the answer for the majority of them was a whopping zero.  Sure they had spent plenty of time on their cell phones texting various messages to friends, some of which may have included glimpses of gratitude, but the word handwritten almost seemed foreign to them.  Some of the students even demonstrated body language that conveyed a message of – Why would I do that?

Recent scientific research has proven that there is a direct correlation between gratitude and happiness.  In fact, neuroscientists equate the effect of gratitude on the brain to that of indulging in your favorite food.  There is a chemical called dopamine (the happy chemical) that is released in your brain each time you eat your favorite food.  The same chemical is released when you express gratitude. 

Research has also shown that gratitude in kids leads to countless other positive benefits, including increased optimism and overall life satisfaction.  The more grateful a tween or teen is, the more likely they are to be engaged in their schoolwork and hobbies.  Furthermore, they are often less envious of others and avoid materialistic tendencies.

So, if gratitude is scientifically proven to increase levels of happiness, why is it that the majority of us, especially tweens or teens, aren’t committing to a daily gratitude practice?  For me, the answer is quite simple, we aren’t making the time for it.  I believe that every one of us contains an enormous amount of gratitude in our hearts.  Unfortunately, we often leave the gratitude in our heart and fail to express it for whatever reason.  William Arthur Ward once said, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” 

Last week, I invited a room full of tweens and teens to experience the reality of the above quote.  Each student was asked to write at least three notes of gratitude for people in their lives.  I wasn’t concerned with who they wrote them to, I only asked that the note be genuine and authentic.  For the next 15 minutes, the room was silent as they poured their hearts into the small thank you cards I had provided.  At the end of the exercise, I asked a simple question, “How many of you experienced happiness as a result of doing this?”  Not surprisingly, every hand went up.  Some even asked for more cards. 

I challenge you (or your entire family) to sit down for 15 minutes and think of three people who you’d like to share your gratitude with.  Rather than indulging in a favorite food for your daily dose of dopamine, try doing it the natural way; with gratitude.  Unlike food, which can sometimes have negative side effects, the only side effect of gratitude is happiness. 

Below is a picture of one of the students in a moment of gratitude.  Such a powerful image.    

10356707_686997878021041_5131153450696528006_n

Posters on the wall

untitledEach year as a classroom teacher I spent countless hours decorating my room, eager to create an environment that was pleasing to the eyes and the hearts of my students.  While some teachers chose a different theme each year and decorated their walls accordingly, most of my wall space was occupied with motivational quotes or colorful posters that contained character buzz words like integrity or respect. 

Early in my teaching career, I spent a lot of time referring to these posters as visual reminders.  For example, if there was a heated argument on the playground between a few of my students, I would direct their attention to the poster and say, “I’d like for you to be that.”  After all, we had spent the first two weeks of the school year discussing what each word meant.  I even had each student take an oath that they would honor these values.  Wasn’t that enough?

As the years progressed, I realized that the posters themselves weren’t going to make a difference.  Therefore, I couldn’t just staple them on the wall and expect my students to honor them.  Student behavior was not going to change as a result of a poster.  Once I realized this, I made a commitment to doing two things which continue to serve as a foundation for the way I teach and parent. 

#1 – I must live the principles I’m teaching.

My favorite definition for the word integrity is – the state of being whole and undivided.  Put another way, your actions are directly aligned with your values.  One of the biggest mistakes we make as teachers and parents is to ask our kids to think or behave in a way that we are not modeling ourselves.  As you know, kids have an uncanny knack at recognizing a lack of integrity and in many cases they aren’t afraid to tell you.  I can remember countless occasions when students would call me out by saying, “Why aren’t you doing that, Mr. Sissel?”  In those moments, I found myself in a reactive state, often feeling as though the same rules didn’t apply to me.  Regardless of the excuses I made in my mind, nothing changed the fact that I wasn’t living the principles I had asked them to live.  

There’s a great story of Gandhi that illustrates this idea beautifully.

There was a six-year old boy living in the same Indian community as Gandhi.  This boy had a very strong sweet tooth.  He couldn’t resist sugar.  Because he was diabetic, the sugar created painful boils all over his body.

His parents took him to the doctor, who said the boy must avoid all sweets; otherwise, the ailment would not go away.  The parents nagged the boy every day to stop eating sugar, but this was a challenge the boy wasn’t willing to overcome. 

In desperation, the boy’s mother came to Gandhi and asked if he could please convince her boy not to eat sweets.  Gandhi said, “Come back in 15 days and I’ll speak to him then.”  So the mother came back after 15 days.  Gandhi took her son aside and spoke to him for a few minutes.  The boy went home and immediately gave up sweets.

The mother was puzzled.  She asked Gandhi later, “Why did you ask us to come back after 15 days?  And what miracle did you perform to get my son to quit eating sweets?”

Gandhi replied that it wasn’t a miracle.  He said, “When your boy first came to me, I too had been eating sugar.”  He had told the boy that he couldn’t ask him to do something he, Gandhi, wasn’t willing to do himself. 

#2 – I need to teach my students (my daughters) how to live these principles.

Once I made a commitment to live in accordance with the values I was asking my students to honor, I realized that I couldn’t just tell them why they needed to, I had to teach them how.  The posters I mentioned earlier continued to be a staple in my classroom, but now I dedicated more time to giving my students tools and strategies that would bring these words to life.  For example, instead of just saying, “Be respectful,” I taught them how to be aware of their own thoughts and feelings and recognize how they influence our behavior. 

Five years after leaving the classroom, I continue to make these two a foundation of my teachings.  While I admittedly make mistakes and fall short of perfection, I remain steadfast in my commitment to live the Lenses of Leadership principles and to teach our youth how to live them as well.

Guess what?  You don’t have to teach a youth leadership class to make the same commitment.  If you have children, I challenge you to live what you are teaching them and to give them various tools and strategies to learn how.  If you are a teacher, I challenge you to live what you are teaching your students and to spend time each day showing them how

What does “No” really mean?

imagesOne of the primary functions of your brain is to make sense of the world around you.  Think of your mind as an extremely powerful information processor that is constantly absorbing data (reality), then interpreting it through various lenses (making meaning of reality).  Put simply, we are meaning making machines.  It’s important to note that the meaning we attach to certain events is often habitual in nature and therefore out of our awareness. 

The title of this blog poses a very important question – What does “No” really mean?  Well, based on what I just described to you, the answer can be different for everyone.  After all, the word “No” is just that; a word.  Nothing more, nothing less.  What gives life to this word, or any other word for that matter, is the meaning we attach to it. 

Let’s take a look at two different examples of interpreting the word “No”. 

The first example happens to come from my beautiful six year-old daughter, Emerson.  Perhaps one of her greatest gifts is her persistent nature.  She maintains an incredible focus with regard to the things in life that she truly wants.  Whether it’s a trip to Oregon to visit family or an afternoon snack, she always remains steadfast in her approach.  However, sometimes what she wants isn’t in accordance with what Mommy and Daddy want.  This is where the word “No” enters the picture. 

The other day she asked me if we could stop at Sprouts on the way home to get a water bottle that she had seen during a previous visit.  Given the hectic schedule of our day, I quickly responded, “No.”  Surprisingly, she remained quiet.  Thinking that she would eventually lose interest, I decided to let it go.  However, over the course of the next several days, she asked me for that water bottle six or seven more times.

While she obviously wouldn’t be able to articulate the meaning she attached to the word “No”, I like to think that she interpreted it as Next Opportunity.  In other words, she was curious about my answer and used it as an opportunity to scheme other approaches.

Now let’s look at my personal example.  A few weeks ago I was set to begin a series of leadership coaching sessions when I received an email from the parents essentially saying, “No, we’re not interested.”  Rather than choosing the curious/creative lens that Emerson had used, I noticed my thoughts spiraling into negativity; my powerless lens was in full force.  Did I say something wrong?  Did they see something on my website that shouldn’t be there?  Am I good enough to do this?

The only thing that happened was that I received an email that contained the word “No” (reality) and I began to make it mean something about me (interpretation).  I didn’t see it as Next Opportunity, I saw it as No Opportunity.  Rather than thinking about the thousands of other families in Arizona who would potentially be interested in my coaching, I chose to focus all of my mental energy on the one person who had said “No.”  Thankfully, after a few hours of hanging out at my own pity party, I was aware of my powerless lens and chose to be curious about the email.  As soon as I did this, my energy changed and I felt more empowered.      

The next time you are told “No”, I encourage you to see it as an opportunity.  As I always say, “The lens through which you view the world will greatly affect the quality of your life.”