Who will you be this year?

imagesWhich of the following statements do you most identify with?

A.  I believe in the power of New Year’s Resolutions and set them each year.

B.  I believe in the power of New Year’s Resolutions but rarely set them.

C.  I don’t even like to hear the words New Year’s Resolution.

If your answer is C, bear with me.  I’m confident you’ll find some value in my unique approach to resolutions.

I won’t bore you with the statistics regarding the overall success rate of New Year’s Resolutions, of which there are many.  Let’s just say they aren’t very encouraging. 

So, rather than attempting to convince you that I have the secret sauce to finally adhering to resolutions, I’d like to introduce you to a new strategy that I believe is much more effective.  Unlike the traditional goals of weight loss and increased finances, which are often fueled by will power and eventually succumb to old habits, this strategy looks at who you need to be in order to get what you want.   

Wanting to lose weight and increase your finances are admirable goals, but they both fall into the what category.  Think of them as destinations.  We all know that without a destination, your goal is futile.  Unfortunately, choosing a destination is where most people stop.  They simply declare what they are going to accomplish in the new year and hope that the temporary momentum (and adrenaline) will carry them.  That is until they crash into the proverbial wall of reality.  If you identified with statement C above, it’s likely that you’ve run into this wall one too many times.  I know I have. 

Let’s look beyond the what part of a resolution for a moment and consider the most critical component, which is who you need to be.  You see, our character influences every choice we make.  Of course we all possess a certain amount of will power, which allows us to make decisions that may not be consistent with our character.  However, at the end of the day, character always prevails.

Imagine that Julie has a resolution of getting into better shape.  Immediately after securing a gym membership, her will power kicks in and she becomes a gym fanatic for the next three weeks.  Unfortunately, perseverance has never been a part of her character, so when the complexity of life slowly creeps in, the will power she once had is suddenly replaced with her true character.  Before she knows it, the gym is a distant memory.  Sound familiar? 

Imagine if Julie had spent some time considering who she needed to be in order to achieve her goal.  With a little bit of self-awareness, it’s likely she would identify perseverance as an area of weakness.  Therefore, instead of simply declaring “I’m going to get in better shape,” she could add the character trait of perseverance to her mental arsenal.

I truly believe that if you simply focus on who you’d like to be in the new year, you’ll begin to accomplish goals that you were unable to in the past.

Here’s the application part of the blog.  I want you to spend some time in self-awareness over the next day or two, carefully considering the character traits that are areas of opportunity for you.  Once you’ve done this, choose one word that seems to surface to the top.  Perhaps you’re like Julie and you tend to fold in the midst of challenges.  Your word might be perseverance or grit. 

Once you’ve chosen your word, I want you to imagine looking at it on December 31, 2016, as you reflect on the previous year.  Now answer this question – What is the sentence that captures the essence of who you were throughout the year? 

Let me share mine with you.  My word is peace.  As I imagine thinking about this word at the end of the year, here’s the sentence that really resonates. 

I trusted the vine to work in and through me so that I would bear the fruit of peace. 

Mine happens to be inspired by one of my favorite bible verses (John 15:5). 

Here are some other examples.

I remained optimistic in the midst of challenges.

I kept a consistent work ethic throughout the year. 

I listened empathically to the loved ones in my life.

Once you’ve established your New Year’s sentence, I invite you to place it somewhere visible and use it as a reminder of who you’ve chosen to be this year.  Remember, in order to get what you want, you need to be aware of who you want to be.  

Happy New Year!

What did Steve Harvey teach us?

184c5bd077e6d93d74957aac625851fcBy now, most of you are probably aware of Steve Harvey’s much maligned mistake at the conclusion of last weekend’s Miss Universe pageant.  If you’re not, I’ll give you the abbreviated version.  With only two contestants remaining in the competition, he announced the wrong winner on live television.  While the supposed winner donned her crown, Mr. Harvey grabbed the microphone and immediately admitted his mistake, thus handing over the crown to the real winner.    

Not surprisingly, immediately following this live television blunder, the social media world became a virtual roast of Steve Harvey.  As you well know, it’s easy to be a critic from behind the safety of your computer screen. 

The purpose of this blog is not to condemn those who made him the butt of their jokes, but rather to highlight the way in which he responded to his mistake. 

Rather than walking off the stage and letting someone else make the announcement, he immediately owned it with a sincere apology and sought to clean it up by making right his wrong. 

This is precisely what I teach students every day.  When you make a mistake, hiding behind it with an excuse shield or reaching for the nearest blame thrower only compounds the problem and severs trust with those affected by the mistake. 

Let’s face it.  We all make mistakes – some more egregious than others.  The only difference is that our blunders aren’t seen by a live television audience of millions.  I would argue that if they were, in an effort to save face, our default response would often be to reach for the excuse shield or blame thrower.  After all, mistakes are bad, right?  No, mistakes are part of the human experience.      

While owning a mistake often takes a great deal of courage and requires a certain level of vulnerability, it’s the only way to gain wisdom and insight moving forward. 

I know very little about Steve Harvey’s character, but based on his response to last weekend’s mistake, I can tell you that authenticity and humility are an integral part of his value system. 

By the way, if you want to read about an ineffective response to a mistake, search for the name Odell Beckham Jr.

Are you willing to unlearn what you’ve learned?


Last week I wrote about the desperate need in education to look beyond the Common Core and into the Human Core, or the social and emotional well-being of all students.  While there are countless non-academic competencies that are often left out of a standard school curriculum, I would argue that the most glaring absence is in the area of social and emotional intelligence.

I’d like to introduce you to an emotional intelligence objective that may seem counterintuitive at first glance, but serves as a necessary component of social and emotional growth.

Students will demonstrate a willingness to unlearn what they’ve learned.  

Most of you are probably familiar with the work of Michaelangelo, considered by many to be one of the greatest artists of all time.  Each year millions of tourists flock to the Italian city of Florence to see Michaelangelo’s greatest masterpiece, the Statue of David.  Upon its completion in 1504, this 17 ft. tall statue, with its incredible precision and overall beauty, generated an immediate buzz amongst the townspeople.  Many were left wondering how Michaelangelo was able to create a sculpture of this magnitude, and with so much detail, out of what was once a huge slab of marble.  When asked this question, Michaelangelo would smile and humbly reply, “Actually, it was quite simple.  I didn’t create David, you see.  David already existed concealed within the stone.  All I had to do was chip away at what wasn’t David.”

His response serves as a perfect metaphor for the process of unlearning that I mentioned earlier.

When I look into the eyes of toddlers (1-3 years old), I often see a world of infinite possibility and an unbridled curiosity for the world around them.  Thoughts of doubt, shame, or guilt don’t even exist in their minds.  Because they haven’t learned these concepts, the idea of not being able to do something is a foreign one.  If you have a child, you know this all too well.  How many times did he/she try to climb out of the crib, despite your countless instructions not to?

Fast forward 7-10 years to the age of most of the students I work with.  Why is it that many of these students exhibit behaviors that are consistent with low self-esteem?  Why don’t they possess the same resiliency and absolute belief that was a trademark of their toddler years?  The answer is simple.  Throughout childhood, each of us received an education (directly or indirectly) with regard to our limitations.  In other words, we learned who we could not be and what we could not do.  Whether it was a television show that conveyed a message of inferiority or a friend who told you that you wouldn’t amount to anything, these messages ultimately serve as learning experiences which often lead to limiting beliefs such as “I’m not good enough.”  While there is clearly no truth in this statement, it’s easy to accept it as the truth and subsequently use it to shape a future of doubt, guilt, or shame.

Now let’s apply the metaphor in the story of Michaelangelo’s response to the creation of David.  It’s clear that the finished product was a thing of absolute beauty and brilliance.  However, let me remind you that Michaelangelo referred to this magnificent sculpture as something that was already concealed in the stone; it already existed.  His job was to chip away at everything that wasn’t David.  Just as Michaelangelo was able to chip away at the various layers of marble that represented who David wasn’t, we too can chip away, or unlearn, the various layers that prevent us from achieving our true potential.  We are not doubt, fear, guilt, discouragement, or suffering.  These all originated in the mind as a response to outside stimulus; we learned them.  The unlearning process begins with a commitment to self-discovery and a willingness to change a set of beliefs that quite honestly have been running on auto-pilot for years.

What thoughts do you have that may be holding you back?  Consider for a moment that you’ve spent years learning (and reinforcing) these thoughts, so it may seem like they’re etched in your mind forever.  Thankfully, this is far from the truth.  I invite you to do as Michaelangelo did and start chipping away at who you’re not (limiting beliefs).  Eventually, you’ll uncover your beauty and brilliance.  The same beauty and brilliance you’ve possessed your entire life.

We must think beyond just the Common Core.

incrediblejoy2Whether you have a school-aged child or not, I’m quite certain that you’re familiar with the Common Core initiative.  Launched nationwide in 2009 as a means of collectively defining expectations for what every child should know and be able to do when they graduate from high school, there continues to be much debate about the efficacy of this initiative.

While I certainly have my own opinions on this topic, the purpose of this blog is not to partake in the debate about whether or not Common Core is working, but rather to introduce you to another core that unfortunately takes a back seat in a large number of classrooms throughout the country.  I call it the Human Core.

Unlike the pages and pages of Common Core objectives, which are academic in nature and primarily aimed at career readiness, the Human Core has nothing to do with academics and everything to do with preparing students for success in life. 

So what is this Human Core, you might ask?  Simply put, it’s the social and emotional well-being of every student that enters a classroom.  Put another way, it involves the process of educating the hearts of students, not just their minds.   

While millions of dollars are spent designing tests that measure the academic success of students, millions are lost in workplace productivity each day because of the lack of Human Core competencies on the part of employees.  

Preparedness for career is an admirable goal, but I believe that true success has much more to do with the Human Core than it does the Common Core.  Why then are we not addressing this in every classroom in America?

Below are three classes that I believe every child should be required to take, every year.  Not surprisingly, they all address the Human Core. 

Emotional Intelligence 101

In this class, students will have an opportunity to look introspectively at why they make the choices they make.  They’ll gain a deeper understanding of the power of thoughts and emotions and learn to manage both of these with proven tools and strategies, which are backed by scientific research.  Although class instruction will be administered by a teacher, students will be encouraged to create change from the inside-out by owning and applying the skills individually. 

Relationship Building 101 

In this class, students will examine the critical components of effective relationships.  Unlike the surface relationships they’re exposed to on social media, students will be asked to participate in real face to face communication, which requires the use of eye contact and empathic listening.  Conflict resolution strategies will also play an integral role in this class. 

Values 101 

In this class, students will not only be asked to examine the importance of core values, but more importantly learn how to live these values.  Using the tools and strategies they’ve learned in Emotional Intelligence 101, students will practice identifying various obstacles that are preventing them from living these values (i.e. peer pressure, negative thinking, media influence, etc…).  Students will also create a personal mission statement which will serve as a “values roadmap.”

My sincere hope is that the school of the future will place an equal emphasis on the Human Core as it does the Common Core.  

What other non-academic classes would you like to see added to school curriculums?  Please share your ideas in the comments section below.  I’d love to hear your insights.   

Parent as coach

untitledA few weeks ago, I wrote an article about the critical role that parents play in youth sports.  In today’s highly competitive athletic landscape, it’s unfortunately become all too common for parents to overemphasize secondary greatness (i.e. trophies), thereby neglecting primary greatness (i.e. character development).  Click here to read the article.

This week, I’d like to share a broader perspective on parenting; one that transcends the world of athletics.  For the sake of understanding this blog, I’d like you to consider a new role of parenting – the role of coach (or guide).  It’s important to note that the most important game your child will ever play doesn’t take place on a court or a field, but rather occurs in a much bigger venue.  It’s called the game of life.  Your responsibility as a coach is to empower your child to achieve incremental success on this journey.  This success I speak of does NOT consist of a win-loss record, but rather a consistent path toward further character development.

Perhaps the biggest mistake parents make with regard to their child’s participation in the game of life is the endless pursuit to play the game for them, which often leads to heightened criticism and condemnation.  In some cases, they may even attempt to manipulate the rules in order to achieve a back door route to success.  In an athletic context, the notion that a coach would choose to play the game for his players or change the rules in order to ensure success is ucommon, yet when it comes to parenting we often fail to make this distinction.

The point I’m trying to make is this – if you’re able to assume the role of parent as coach, thereby taking yourself out of the game, you will be in a position to empower your child with tools and strategies to play the game more effectively.  You see, if you’re playing the game for them, you’re more concerned about the outcome than you are the process.  By standing on the sideline, you give yourself the distinct advantage of observing your child and subsequently developing a game plan to further empower their journey. 

Let me give you a fictitious example of how this might play out in real life, given the two different parental roles.

Jared is having problems getting along with one of his classmates.  They don’t see eye to eye on anything, which often escalates to intense arguments in the midst of a classroom lesson.  Needless to say, it’s becoming quite a disturbance for the other students, which has prompted the teacher to reach out to both parents.

Playing the game response: After hearing from the teacher, Jared’s parents decide to ground him for a week and take away all computer privileges for the same duration.  Furthermore, they choose to criticize him for his lack of composure.  In an effort to curtail these behaviors, they schedule a phone call with Jared’s teacher and ask for him to be transferred to another classroom, which will avoid any future problems. 

Coaching from the sideline response:  After hearing from the teacher, Jared’s parents ask him to share his side of the story.  They listen with the intent to understand (not judge) so that Jared feels safe to share all of the details.  After uncovering the root of the issue, which happens to stem from an incident a few years ago which was still unresolved, they decide to teach Jared about the power of forgiveness.  They try to impress upon him the notion that his classmate may be dealing with things that Jared knows nothing about.  Finally, they suggest to Jared that he makes an effort to see his classmate through a lens of empathy, thereby attempting to understand what he may be experiencing emotionally.  Finally, they notify the teacher that they’ve discussed the situation with Jared and he’ll be returning to school with a new “toolkit” to address these incidents.

I invite you to experiment with this new role.  Remember, it’s a journey, not a destination.  Instead of focusing on your power as a parent, try transferring some of that power to your child, which is the essence of empowerment.      

Thanksgiving Lens

untitledLast year at this time, I wrote a blog about the power of our gratitude lens.  In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to share it again, but this time with a twist.

Imagine what the world would look like if we treated each day as a day of Thanksgiving?  While it’s easy to pause and reflect on a given Thursday each year, I invite you to consider giving thanks each and every day.

How can you do this, you might ask?  Try wearing your Thanksgiving Lens, just like Grateful Glenda.


A very famous man once said, “The lens through which you view the world will greatly affect the quality of your life.”

Okay, he wasn’t famous, nor does he aspire to be.  His goal is very simple.  It’s to be a spark that creates positive, sustainable change in the lives of others.

That man is me and these words will continue to serve as a foundation for everything I teach.

Simply put, life looks a lot different depending on the lens through which you view it.  You see, life is just out there lifing.  We all have similar circumstances.  The single most important factor in determining the quality of our lives is NOT our financial means, but rather the lenses through which we consistently view the world (and ourselves).

Sadly, the default lens for many is what I call the powerless lens.  Some refer to it as having a victim mentality.  Life through a powerless lens is accompanied by feelings of anger, fear, and jealousy, which are a direct result of the quality of our thinking.  While we may appear to have it all together on the outside, our powerless thoughts act as poison on the inside.

The Thanksgiving Lens, on the other hand, is perhaps the single most powerful lens we possess.  Instead of complaining and blaming, our Thanksgiving Lens allows us to be present to what we have, in any given moment.  Instead of giving our power away to a life event, we can choose to maintain our power in spite of what some would say is a bad circumstance.

Below is a poem which illustrates the difference between the two lenses.

Grateful Glenda awoke in the morn, eager to embrace the beauty of everything God has adorned. 

Grumpy Gordon, on the other hand, stumbled out of bed.  Thoughts of despair raced through his head.

During her morning commute, Glenda encountered a traffic jam which seemed to stretch for miles.  Just as a careless driver abruptly cut her off, she couldn’t help but notice the van next to her, where two children sat patiently, waving their tiny hands and beaming with smiles.

Gordon drove into the same traffic on his way to work.  However, he yelled obscenities at the careless driver, who was still jockeying for position.  What a jerk!

Glenda arrived at the office, ten minutes late for an important meeting.  Even though she was greeted with several unwelcome looks, she was grateful for the lone welcome greeting. 

When Gordon finally arrived at work, with a distraught look on his face, he proceeded to inform his cubicle mates about the crazy guy who had turned the traffic jam into a race.

Later in the day, Glenda sat down for lunch, anxious to eat her delicious leftovers from a family brunch.  As she grabbed her banana and began to peel, she thought of the wonderful friends who had prepared the meal. 

As for Gordon, he ate lunch at his desk.  His angry thoughts continued to fester as his mind remained firmly entrenched in the events of his morning mess.   

The end of the day had finally arrived and Glenda was pleased with all she had done.  Despite the difficult circumstances she had faced, she quietly celebrated her choice to be grateful.  She had won.

Gordon sat at his desk, papers stacked to the ceiling.  He thought to himself, “If only the man who cut me off knew how I was feeling.” 

Glenda lay her head down at night and quietly whispered this simple prayer, “God, thank you for giving me the freedom to choose my lens in any given circumstance.  Thank you for the many gifts you bear.” 

Gordon lay down at night, glad to see an end to his horrible day.  Just before he closed his eyes, this is what he said, “I wonder what terrible things will happen tomorrow?  Those cars better stay out of my way.”

As I said, it’s not the circumstances that define us.  It’s the lens through which we choose to see the circumstance.  Take it from Glenda, gratitude works.

I’d like to personally wish each of you a very Happy Thanksgiving!  I’m grateful for you.

Parenting young athletes

imagesSRYFQRG9This past weekend, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of parents at Amanda Borden’s Gold Medal Gymnastics in Gilbert, Arizona.  While I was quite confident in the material I shared, it donned on me as I left the building that my presentation lacked a clear, concise title designed to capture the essence of my message.  If my sixth-grade Language Arts teacher was in attendance, I may have received several red marks for this obvious deletion.  After all, a title sets the tone for the story, right?  My sincere apologies to Mrs. Swearingen. 

Well, consider this blog to be a form of redemption.  I’m assuming that many of you reading this are parents of young athletes, so I’d like to share these valuable insights with you as well.  The only difference is that I’m going to provide you with a profound title.  Are you ready?

The best way to parent a young athlete is to do so from the inside-out.

In our current youth sports landscape, a heavy emphasis is placed on what the late Stephen Covey refers to as secondary greatness. Essentially, secondary greatness refers to what we see on the outside of an athlete (i.e. medals, trophies, scores, wins and losses, etc…).  Primary greatness, on the other hand, refers to one’s character; or what’s inside of the athlete (i.e. sportsmanship, work ethic, mental toughness, etc…).

Given the extremely competitive nature of youth sports today, it’s easy for parents to focus all of their attention on the outside.  After all, who doesn’t want their child to be the best at what they do.  Unfortunately, there is a tremendous cost of this outside-in approach.  The cost I’m referring to is the likelihood of your child developing a fixed mindset with regard to athletics.  In other words, they learn to attribute their inherent value to the level of secondary greatness they’ve achieved.  Put simply, the more a parent emphasizes the wins and losses, trophies, scores, or any other form of secondary greatness, the more they fuel this fixed mindset.  In the mind of an athlete, it might sound like this, “I’ve got to receive a perfect score or I won’t be successful.” 

Inside-out parenting is quite the opposite.  Instead of fueling a fixed mindset via a relentless pursuit of secondary greatness, inside-out parents recognize the value of primary greatness, or a growth mindset.  In other words, they seek to empower their child with tools and strategies that are designed to influence character.  Unlike the fixed mindset, which is very narrow and rigid in nature, the growth mindset evokes opportunities for growth, both personal and athletically.  In the mind of an athlete, it might sound like this, “Even though I didn’t win, I’m so proud of my perseverance and positive attitude throughout the game.”

Below are three things you can do as a parent to promote this inside-out mindset in your child. 

Learn to praise the process, not just the result.  Rather than spending an inordinate amount talking about the win or the loss, seek opportunities to empower your child with examples of primary greatness.  Be as specific as possible with regard to the character values you point out.  Here are a few examples.

“I could tell by your body language that you maintained a positive attitude throughout the game, despite being down by four goals.”

“I’m so proud of your courage to come back in the game after your minor injury.”

“I was so impressed by your composure when you chose not to retaliate when an opposing playing provoked you with his words.  That is a great example of mental toughness.”

Be a good listener and encourager.  Every athlete is different in terms of how much they want to share following a game or practice.  Rather than assuming the role of coach and attempting to critique or correct, try being an encourager.  In fact, if you want to start out the conversation with a powerful statement that will almost certainly create a space of safe sharing, I encourage you to read the following article, titled What Makes A Nightmare Sports Parent — And What Makes A Great One

A lot of the insights I share in this blog are borrowed from the above article, which highlights the work of my friend Bruce Brown and his colleague Rob Miller of Proactive Coaching LLC.   

Model appropriate behavior.  Your child will always do more of what you do and less of what you say.  It’s the old adage of monkey see, monkey do.  When a parent projects poise, control, and confidence, the young athlete will likely do the same.  This is the essence of the powerful ripple effect that takes place in any parent/child relationship. 

P.S.  If you’d like to read more about Stanford professor Carolyn Dweck’s work with mindset, please click here. 

Every student leads.

untitledLeadership is not a position to obtain, nor is it a sense of power one must gain.  It’s not a designation given to only a select few, and it’s certainly not about only the things you can do.  Remember, you’re a human being, not a human doing. 

Leadership is, quite simply, your ability to influence others.  It’s the invisible ripple effect that you create as a result of your being.

Sadly, when I visit classrooms, I often encounter a large number of students who aren’t ready to own the fact that they influence.  They are quick to list countless reasons why their peers are leaders, but when it comes to owning their own intrinsic leadership, the conditioning of their minds just won’t allow it in.

Below is an excerpt from my book, Seriously, Dad?, which I invite you to read with your child, regardless of his/her age.  The book is written as a conversation between a father and daughter, so you can even take turns reading the parts.  Keep in mind that the content is not gender specific. 

My sincere hope is that the following dialogue will serve as a foundation for your child’s journey toward owning the fact that their ripple really does matter.       

Dad:  You are a leader despite what others may tell you.

Daughter:  “Okay, I already have a respectful dispute.  How can I be a leader when I’ve never actually been in a leadership position?” 

This is precisely why I chose to start our conversation with this common untruth.  In fact, if you are not able to embrace your own leader within, none of what I’m about to share with you will make an ounce of difference. 

Even though no one has labeled you as a follower, it’s natural for youth to shy away from the role of leader.  The biggest reason for this is that a large majority of young 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 are “in charge” of the family and assume a certain amount of authority in that role.  You might also view your teachers as leaders because they are “in charge” of the class and responsible for student learning.  Do you notice a common theme in each of these examples?  They 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 you may or may not be in charge of others that matters most.  What matters most is the undisputable fact that you will always be in charge of yourself, and 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 I share with you.  Rather than trying to change you through manipulation or persuasion, which are examples of outside-in change, I’m interested in providing you with 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 at home that I don’t want to do?  Doesn’t that mean that you are in charge of me?”   

That’s a great question.  Mom and I care deeply about your success in life and therefore our primary responsibility is to empower you, or give you tools that will help you along the way.  Although it may seem like we are “in charge” of you when we ask you to clean up your room or finish your homework, the fact remains that you still have the power to choose your response in any of these situations.  Therefore, 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.  It’s just so easy to think of the words leadership and in charge as synonymous.  Is there another way you could describe leadership?”

Yes, in fact I have the perfect metaphor that will provide you with a much different perspective.  Think about the last time you dropped a coin in a water fountain, or threw a rock in the river.  What happened when the coin or rock landed?  The impact of the object created a ripple that extended far beyond its original insertion point.  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.  I would argue that our ripples are strongest when we focus on our actions, not necessarily our words.  Simply put, wherever you go your ripple follows.    

“I understand the ripple effect.  That makes sense.  But your influence is so much greater than mine because you are around tons of people all of the time.  I am only around my friends at school.”

Remember what I just said?  Your ripple follows you everywhere you go and it extends well beyond the individual(s) you might have influenced.  So, while you might think that your choices only affect a small number of people, the difference you might make for one person could translate into positive change for the people in their lives as well.  Let me give you an example.  Imagine that you show up to class on a Monday morning with a giant smile on your face.  Meanwhile, the majority of your class is battling the Monday morning blues and already thinking about the end of the day.  Your smile happens to capture the attention of one of the students and he/she begins to smile as well.  Did you know that neuroscientists have actually proven that smiles really are contagious?  Well, your smile could very well be the start of a thousand other smiles. 

“But what if everyone else in my class stays grumpy and my smile doesn’t make a difference?”

I’m glad you brought that up.  One way to address this would be to “tell” everyone to smile, which will more than likely be greeted with feelings of defensiveness.  This is an example of the “outside-in” change I was referring to earlier.  Needless to say, it’s not an effective approach.  The other way to address this situation would be to continue smiling, knowing full well that someone is going to be influenced, regardless of whether they actually smile back or not.  This is the true essence of “inside-out” change.  If you think about some of the greatest leaders in history (Martin Luther King Jr., Ghandi), they weren’t concerned with changing others through force or control, they placed all of their energies on changing themselves, knowing that their influence would ultimately create positive change in others.

If you’d like to order a signed copy of my book for a loved one, please email me at mike@kaleidoeye.com.  For the month of November only, I’m offering a special rate of $7.99 (plus shipping and handling).      

Character Card

untitledAlright, it’s time for a Pop Quiz.  Please get out your #2 pencils.  Are you ready?  Don’t worry, I won’t grade it.

When you hear the words report card, what do you think of?

a.  Letter grades

b.  Grade Point Average

c.  Percentages

d.  All of the above

Depending on the age of your child, some of these answers may be more applicable than others.  Suffice it to say that each of the above words are often synonymous with report card.

During my ten years as a classroom teacher, I estimate completing over 1,000 report cards for my students.  Depending on the student, quarterly grade reports were either received with open arms of anticipation and excitement, or closed fists of devastation and dread.  What I remember most, however, was the sharing that immediately took place amongst students as they removed their reports from the standard manila envelopes.  It was akin to the annual Halloween candy comparison as they hastily peered at each other’s grades and asked an identical question – “What did you get?”

Although I knew it was normal to compare, it wasn’t actually the comparisons that made me cringe as a teacher.  You see, there was a section of the report card, usually tucked away in the corner of the page, which contained a tremendous amount of meaning.  It was a section that in my eyes was a better indicator of life success than the actual letter grades.  Unfortunately, none of the students ever talked about it because they were conditioned to believe that a report card is all about a grade or percentage. 

The section I’m referring to is what I call the Character Report.  While the letter grades serve as a gauge for what a student was able to accomplish academically, the character report is a gauge for who they were in the classroom.

This past week, my oldest daughter brought home her first report card of the year for second grade.  The first thing I did was to direct her attention to the Character Report.  Before we even looked at her academic development (grades), I celebrated her character accomplishments.  I wanted her to understand that school isn’t just about what she’s able to accomplish in reading, writing, and math.  Equally important to her academics is who she is for her classmates.   

This is precisely what I would do as a teacher during parent/teacher conferences.  Parents would often arrive with a series of questions, most of which were academic related, but it was the Character Report where we’d spend the first ten minutes of the conference.  Not surprisingly, many of the academic questions were answered as we talked about specific character traits (i.e. responsibility). 

It’s not your grades that influence your character; it’s the other way around.  While a letter grade is an end product, one’s character is more of a process.  Unfortunately, in the world of education, we continue to place an emphasis on the product, not the process. 

If you’re a parent, I encourage you to spend some time talking about this section of the report card with your child.  Explain to them that their success in life is not predicated on what they accomplish on a test, but rather who they are as a person.  While content can be taught, character must be nurtured.  Both are critical to success. 

Thinking Errors

One of the central messages of my teachings is that our thoughts influence our feelings, and our feelings influence our actions.  For example, if we’re feeling excessively bad, chances are we’re thinking badly – or, at least, in an unhelpful way.  Although we don’t often intend to think in unhelpful ways, the majority of our thoughts are subconscious, or habitual, and therefore occur outside of our awareness.

Having said this, our emotions can be a tremendous source of information with regard to capturing these unhelpful ways of thinking, or thinking errors.

I’d like to introduce you to a common thinking error which often coincides with feelings of fear, anxiety, or even panic.  It’s called catastrophizing and it occurs when we take a relatively minor negative event and begin to imagine a multitude of disasters. 

Below are a few examples.

You’re waiting for your teenage son to arrive home after a night out with friends. The clock strikes 10:00 pm and there is no sign of his arrival.  By 10:05, you start imagining that he’s accepted a ride from another friend who happens to drive recklessly.  At 10:15, you’re convinced that he’s been in a traffic accident.  By 10:20, you’re weeping uncontrollably. 

You’re at a party and you accidentally trip on the carpet as you’re making your way to the hors d’oeuvres.  You decide to leave the party, convinced that everyone who witnessed your mishap is still laughing at you.

You send a text to a friend about a personal matter, and when she doesn’t respond immediately, you become convinced that she’s shown the text to several of her friends asking for their opinion. 

It’s important to note that in each of the above examples, it wasn’t the circumstance that caused the individual to feel a certain way, but rather the way in which they interpreted the circumstance.  Each of the above events was interpreted through a catastrophic lens, so it’s not surprising that the resulting emotions were fear and anxiety. 

The best way to nip catastrophic thinking in the bud is to recognize it for what it is – just thoughts.  When you find yourself thinking of the “doom and gloom” scenarios, try one of the following strategies. 

Choose curious thoughts.  What other reasons might there be for my son being late?  I wonder if the movie ran late or they lost track of time while chatting after the movie.  Being late for curfew is common for adolescents, so perhaps we should have a conversation about communication when he gets home. 

Consider the evidence.  If you were in a courtroom, would any evidence exist that your friend is showing your text to others?  The majority of the time, our evidence is based solely on FEAR (False Evidence Appearing Real).

Try an alternative perspective.  Chances are that people are far less interested in your embarrassing moments than you think.  Don’t take yourself too seriously.  We all have our moments.