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!

A life lesson from an internet technician

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me give you an example.

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

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

It was a simple shift with tremendous results. 

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

I believe in you!

My open letter to students

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

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

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

Dear spectacular student,

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

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

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

You may feel pressure to be better than someone else.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Coach Mike