Lesson Learned from Ants: A Powerful Strategy to Manage Feelings in an Instant

Fun fact! Did you know that ants don’t have ears? It’s true! Having had four kids doing online school this past year has really given me the opportunity to learn and relearn a whole variety of fun facts, but relearning about ants reminded me of a beneficial and powerful strategy that can benefit and assist anyone to be able to deal with and manage our feelings in an instant.

My daughter was looking for some help on a school assignment and came to me asking where the “feelers” are in an ant and what they are supposed to do. Her question caught me off guard a little bit but I was able to realize that the “feelers” she was referring to was the ants antenna.

I described the long, curved looking legs on their head and explained that they are very crucial for an ant as ants use their antennae to smell, feel and touch what is ahead of or behind them as they crawl and even use antennas to talk with their friends. So, even though ants have mouths, they don’t use them to talk–{they actually communicate using their antennae to smell pheromones.}

Doing a little more ant research, I also discovered that ants don’t have ears but use their antennas to feel out sounds and vibrations. Kinda ironic that the one insect that is known for being a good listener and following directions, doesn’t even have ears. They actually rely on their antennas to navigate their worlds.

Just as it is vital for the ant to use its antenna or ‘feelers’ in order to navigate in their world, we really need to learn how to use our feelings to navigate in ours. Just like ‘feelers’ serve as a way to get information about what is ahead of or behind the ant, our feelings can likewise serve to help us understand our world as we see it. Our feelings help us to see what is ahead (danger, surprise and what is behind us–reminding us of past hurt or embarrassments). Our feelings are sending us messages, reminders and warnings. When we can recognize what we are feeling, {label it with a name and identify it}, we can then decide what we are going to do about it.

The key is recognizing the messages our feelings are sending us and realize that not every feeling is accurate and that our feelings can change. In fact, we can change our feelings with our thoughts. But how, you ask? The Cost-Benefit Analysis Strategy Technique.

There is a technique known as Cost-Benefit Analysis that is very effective at being able to help us analyze our feelings and change them if needed very quickly. All of you who are math minded or accountants are probably really intrigued right now but even if math isn’t your strongest subject, this strategy is something simple that everyone can use and benefit from.

With the Cost Benefit analysis you would simply list the advantage and disadvantages of a feeling. You can do this in your head or even on a piece of paper.

For instance, an event happens. Let’s say your plane is late and your first feeling you recognize is anger. You would simply mentally list what would be the advantage or disadvantage of getting angry that your plane is late. You can determine within your mind that getting angry isn’t going to change the fact the plane is late and then choose a different feeling and thought. Ex: This is frustrating, but staying angry isn’t going to change the fact the plane is late so I am going to choose to remain calm and look for alternative options and choose to feel hopeful.

You can recognize that your feelings are simply messages, reminders and warnings and that not all feelings are accurate. For example, one of my personal favorites: “I don’t feel like doing it, so you put it off.” If you waited until you felt like doing a task you don’t like, you would never get it done. Instead, you make choices to brush your teeth, make dinner and visit the dentist and it has little to do with your feelings. Using the Cost Benefit Analysis you can mentally weigh the advantages and disadvantages of putting something off because you don’t feel like it. You can decide that it isn’t worth the dealing with all the disadvantages and make a conscious choice to move forward even if you don’t feel like it.

You can even use the Cost/Benefit Analysis strategy with a negative thought you are having. For example: the thought that no matter how hard I try, I always give up. What are the advantages or disadvantages of listening to this negative thought? You can choose to say, this thought isn’t helpful. You can determine that it is not worth it to listen to a thought that is not helpful and then choose to remember the time that you make a difference when you didn’t give up or the difference someone in your life made on you when they didn’t give up on you.

The Cost Benefit analysis also works on changing patterns of behavior: (Lying around and eating when you are feeling sad). What are the advantages or disadvantages? When you recognize a pattern of behavior is not helpful, you can choose to implement a different pattern. Choose to sit outside for a moment or find someone to serve or look to other ways that have been helpful in dealing with sadness for you. You can change your feelings simply by asking yourself if they are helpful to you and then making a choice to change them.

All of our feelings have a purpose but unlike the ants, we can choose what we do with those feelings and we can change our feelings, our thoughts, and even our patterns of behavior. Pretty powerful, huh? Try it out and see how the Cost Benefit Strategy can improve your world in an instant!

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Flip the Switch: A powerful tool that can change your perspective and your life immediately

Flipping the Switch is a simple, yet powerful tool that can help your mind cultivate gratitude and can change your perspective immediately.

The tool is simple. When you feel frustrated or overwhelmed with a particular situation you would simply ‘flip the switch’ and imagine that the opposite holds true. What does that do? Flipping the switch has an immediate affect. It helps to cultivate gratitude for your situation. You are able to recognize blessings that you may have been overlooking and it allows you a path forward. It also allows more joy into your life and grants you energy and motivation to improve and change your circumstance.

For example, if you are frustrated with the size of your house you would ‘flip it’ to being homeless. This doesn’t mean that you can’t improve your housing situation if needed but it does allow you to be grateful for what you have when you consider what life would be like if you had nothing at all. And when you are feeling gratitude, you take better care of your belongings and you have a greater appreciation for what you do have. You see things more clearly and are more able to find ways to improve your situation rather than dwelling on what you don’t have.

If you are feeling frustrated about the limited options of schooling for your kids or your grandkids, you would imagine what life would be like for them having no school and having no opportunities to learn at all. While it doesn’t take away the difficulties you are facing, it does allow for gratitude to work in your life and to recognize opportunities you do have but might be overlooking due to the frustration. You become more aware of what opportunities they do have and ways to maximize them. You feel and express gratitude for those teachers or technology that they do have. You become part of the solution–looking for ways to improve their education rather than feeling hopeless and powerless to help.

If you are feeling frustrated with an aspect of your job, you would flip the switch and imagine what it would be like not to have a job at all—where you were prevented from having a job–no money, no opportunity to grow or learn, no sense of accomplishment in making a difference in the life of someone else. Flipping the switch allows you to recognize what you would actually miss the most and then feel gratitude for those aspects despite those aspects that can be frustrating. It can even lead you to a new path that you might not have been considering. It allows you to recognize what you enjoy most about working and by concentrating on that you are able to move forward instead of stay stagnate in a negative circle of frustration. Positive employees tend to have higher job performance and gratitude for your opportunity to work allows you to be more positive about your employment.

If you were overwhelmed with your your kid(s), you would flip it to not ever having them in your life AT ALL. While everyone can and should benefit from breaks as a parent–flipping the switch means you would imagine them COMPLETELY never a part of your life. And not just for that moment after you stepped on a LEGO for the hundredth time–imagine what your life would be like never having ANY of the moments with them. Who would you be without them? What qualities and characteristics have they helped you develop because they were there? Flipping the switch allows you to not only remember but also reexperience positive feelings– that feeling when they looked to you for help and your arms were sufficient to provide all the help and healing they needed. The feeling that you had introducing them to something new and watching the thrill of excitement. The feeling when you enter a room and as they recognized you and brightened simply because you were there. You would flip to a memory of them that makes you smile like as a little girl in pig-tails with with a big, black smile from oreos covering all their face or when they were dressed up like Darth Vader and making all the sounds of a light saber battle. Flipping the switch allows you to find reasons to be grateful especially during those moments when it is hard to find a reason. Even if that reason is they are helping you to become a more patient person. You recognize that having them in your life is helping you to become a better person than you would be without them. It can inspire you to grow together to improve.

So the next time you are feeling frustrated or overwhelmed, try “Flipping the Switch” and look for the blessings that are there but might have been overlooked. Flipping the switch allows gratitude to immediately work in your life. It is just like a flipping the switch on a light in a dark room that allows for the ability to see things that we would have missed if we continued to stumble in darkness. And gratitude turns what we have into enough.

If this has been helpful for you, please take a moment to like and share. Thank you!

A Lesson From Disney’s Frozen 2 That Can Make the Biggest Difference in Your Relationship

There is a scene in Disney’s Frozen 2 that is one of the best examples of a tool that is absolutely vital in relationships especially with this added stress of the COVID-19 virus pandemic. In this scene, Princess Anna is overwhelmed with grief and completely heartbroken at the loss of her sister, Queen Elsa, and she returns to try and save the city of Arendelle when she runs into Kristoff. Now, for the sake of those who haven’t had the opportunity (or requirement) of watching Frozen 2 like a million times, I will refresh your memory a bit. Princess Anna actually essentially had abandoned Kristoff and left without telling him, leaving him to sing his 80s ballad, “Lost in the Woods.” When they are reunited, they are in the middle of a crisis and Kristoff comes to Princess Anna’s rescue. Kristoff was justified to feel hurt, angry and abandoned but instead of giving into those feelings, his next line is very telling. He simply says, “I’m here, what do you need?”

This is a powerful tool to be able to hold your valid feelings and be willing and able to listen to the hurt of someone who in fact has hurt you. This is unfortunately what happens in our relationships- we inevitably end up hurting ones we love at times intentionally or unintentionally. Relationships require that each partner be like Kristoff and be there for their partner– listening to their needs even while they are validly feeling hurt. Looking out for your partner’s needs while holding onto your own is a tool that is essential to learn and the biggest game changer in securing the vital attachment needed in relationships.

We are all vulnerable when we are alone. Our brain actually codes this kind of hurt in the same place and in the same way as physical pain. You are happier, healthier, stronger, deal with stress better and live longer when you foster your bonds with your loved ones. It is okay to need them, they are your greatest resource.

It is important to know that in order to use the Kristoff response of: “I’m here, what do you need?”, you don’t need to know how to meet that need. You just need be to able to empathize and understand that it is a need for them. You don’t have to have all the answers. Your partner just needs to know that they are not alone and that you are in this together. Studies have found that what makes the biggest difference in the happiness of couples is not that their spouse never did anything that hurt the other but that they were quick at acknowledging hurt or pain, quick to apologize and seeking to forgive.

Partners who are able to openly reach for and connect with each other are able to create a secure connection. A secure connection requires that our partners consistently feel we are accessible, responsive and engaged. They need to feel like we care and that they matter and that they are seen, safe and cared for. Dr. Jeremy Boden, a professor and licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, recently put it this way: “When our partner [and children] know they matter to us and we are aware of them, they feel seen. When they feel safe to come to us with a question, some feedback and they are accepted, they feel safe. And when they know that they can come to us when they are sad, lonely or scared and they will be soothed, we are building a secure bond…” When we don’t feel a safe emotional connection with our partner we only have two ways to deal with the vulnerability of love when we can’t connect: We get mad and move in fast to break down each other’s walls or we try not to care so much and build a wall to protect ourselves. We get caught in a negative dance that leads to more emotional starvation, stalemate and more disconnection. Underneath the discord, the real issue is that partners are questioning the security of their bond: “Are you there for me? Can I count on you to respond to me–to put me first?” Kristoff’s tool makes the vital difference in being able to meet your partner’s needs and allow for you to reconnect. This does not mean that you dismiss your own needs but it means you are able to stop the emotional disconnection and work on establishing your reconnection. In fact, once you are able to establish your reconnection and bond by addressing their needs, you will find that addressing your needs often follows.

One of the true benefits of being in a relationship is that you know that if can be you and your partner against the world but many times it can be you against your partner. Kristoff’s response, “I’m here. What do you need?” shifts and changes the dynamic so that you are on the same team as your partner as it enables you to secure the bond of your relationship. It is clear that when we know that someone has our back, we are more confident and more adventurous. We achieve our goals more easily and are less derailed by disappointments. We handle stress better and we live longer. Connection with our partner is the key and by using the Kristoff response of, “I’m here. What do you need?”, you can become the hero in your own relationship and in the lives of many others.

Journaling: A Simple Task with Profound Benefits {9 Reasons You Need To Write, Right Now}

There is power in simple, small things. For instance, all of us have felt that power at one point in our lives from just a simple hug that made a tremendous difference. During this particular time of social distancing, hugging isn’t an option for many of us. However, there is a simple and small thing that can make a huge difference in our lives in the midst of uncertainty when it is apparent now more than ever how much of life is outside of our control. There is power in simplicity that we just often overlook. This simple task doesn’t have a particular method you have to follow. There is no recipe. There is no determined outcome you need to achieve or a set number of required reps or word count. And it isn’t graded. This is something that anyone (including any child who can write) can do and reap the numerous benefits. The task is simply journaling.

I realize that I just probably shocked many of you with that response. What could possibly benefit me from journaling? However, there are several proven benefits from journaling and small things can and do bring about great and profound results. Here are just a few:

Journaling Allows Your Mind to Process

Journaling allows your mind to process in a way that no other method can. Journaling allows you to center your feelings and allows you to realize what it really on your mind. It allows you to problem solve and declutter things that are weighing on your mind but you didn’t exactly realize how or what. It is a way to gain the clarity that we all crave and need. It more importantly allows you a way to get out of the constant feedback loop of your thoughts as your thoughts escape on paper and allow you instead to be able to move forward.

Journaling Allows You to Focus on You and Become Your Best Self

Journaling allows you to unplug and without the pressure of meeting anyone’s expectations. Instead of attempting to write a post that is going to generate the most likes, you are instead able to spend a little time pondering and reviewing your life and the direction it is heading. You don’t need to worry about punctuation or spelling or the reactions of others. You can take a step back from the pressures of work, school and even your social life and decompress taking time to get to know who you are. Knowing who you are, what you stand for, what you dream or envision for your life and family allows you to be present in relationships and develop honest and healthy connections and become your best self.

Journaling Allows for Growth and Change

Journaling allows you to recognize opportunities for growth and change and to recognize what is working well in you life and what you want to continue doing. You will find that the more sentences that start with “I” will allow you be be the change that you are seeking in life. It only takes one variable in an equation to change the outcome and there is real power in pondering and deciphering for yourself what the outcome is that you are seeking and even more importantly what you can personally do to become that agent of change. For instance, if I really at my core decided that I want a family that is more loving, I can look for way to share kindness myself and recognize and support the kindness I see in others. Journaling is the best way to being able to determine what you really value at your core and gives you an opportunity to give a voice to the dreams that you have inside you and create goals that are meaningful and valuable.

Journaling Increases Your Emotional Intelligence

Journaling helps you give a name to a feeling and makes you more emotionally intelligent. When a feeling has a name, it is much easier to know how to manage that feeling and helps you to navigate difficult issues that often are overpowered with unnamed feelings. Your emotional intelligence is key in being able to create and recreate connections. It allows you to decompress and assist your brain to be able to regulate and manage your emotions in a way that nothing else can.

Journaling Can Improve Your Emotional and Physical Health

Researchers have found that journaling for as little as four minutes a day resulted in measurable difference in a person’s mood and and sense of well being. Additional research by University of Texas at Austin psychologist and researcher, James Pennebaker, found that regular journaling strengthens immune cells (T-lymphocytes) and resulted in a decrease in health problems and an increase in immune system functioning. Researchers have also found that students who wrote about meaningful personal experiences for 15 minutes a day over the course of several days in a row felt better and got higher grades in school.

Journaling Allows for Hindsight and Perspective

Reviewing journal entries is a great way to remind yourself how much feelings can change–even very powerful feelings. When you reread what you write, you actually feel the feelings that you felt when you wrote it and can quickly notice how much feelings can fluctuate and change and how temporary they are. Rereading the entries allows you insight that coupled with hindsight is beyond powerful. You aren’t just thinking back on events in your life, but you are experiencing the feelings you felt then with your feelings now and are able to recognize steps that lead to your personal success and steps that do not. Reviewing journal entries is also a unique way to see and recognize patterns–healthy or unhealthy–and help you to make decisions that can lead you to reach the life you have determined for yourself. Journaling gives you an inside perspective and ability to reflect that simply relying on your memory does not.

Journaling Allows You to See God In Your Life Regardless of the Challenges

It is hard in this life to feel like your life is being guided and directed especially amongst such uncertainty. There is a poem that is pretty famous but that is always been one of my favorites. It is titled, “The Footprints”. It recounts how it was only after a man looked back on his life that he realizes how he was carried and that he was guided and directed even and especially during his darkest times. Journaling allows you to see His footprints in your life.

Journaling Allows Us to Deal With Things That Are Outside of Our Control

We all love to feel in control. The examples are endless–from the weatherman who is supposed to predict the future and our outfit for the day—to even the school lunch calendar which can make or break your kid’s heart. Routine makes us feel good, like we control the outcome. Journaling is a great way to realize it’s okay not to have all the answers. It helps you focus on what you do know and the resiliency and strength we don’t always recognize in ourselves becomes apparent as we have daily examples of reactions to events that are outside our control.

Journaling Makes You Happier

Best selling Author and Top podcaster, Gretchen Rubin, devotes her life to seeking for ways and habits to be happier. She actually advocates for something she calls the ‘one sentence journal’ and even has a top selling one sentence journal and she has been journaling for 10 years. She has found that journaling doesn’t have to be a long task, but that it can and does make you happier. You don’t have to worry about the length of your journal entries or the content, but being consistent in writing can and will make you have a happier outlook on life.

There is power in simple and small things. Journaling is one proven way that you can reap a myriad of benefits that are proven to improve your mental health, and your relationships. So, make a moment to spend time journaling- start with just a sentence or thoughts on a topic of your choice or take an inventory of your relationships and life goals and where you are headed. When life seems out of control and you need to clear your head, don’t neglect the small and powerful gift that is the small act of journaling. I can promise you will be amazed at the results.

Finding Purpose and Comfort in the Uncomfortable

Something that we all strive for is comfort. Your favorite sweatshirt or cozy socks. Your favorite spot on the couch. Even comfort foods that vary from macaroni and cheese to your Grandma’s Chocolate Chip Cookies. We all seek and enjoy comfort. However, this quest for comfort can come at a cost when we also avoid the uncomfortable parts of life. It is important to know that there is a purpose in being uncomfortable. It in is the uncomfortable that growth happens. One of the greatest lessons we can learn for ourselves and that we can teach our kids is to find comfort or purpose in the uncomfortable.

It is difficult for us as parents to watch our kids struggle or experience pain. Just like observing a butterfly emerging from a caccoon is difficult, our initial reaction to watching our kids or loved ones struggle is to alleviate their condition. However, it is important to realize that there is a purpose to their moments of struggle. When these moments occur, there is a phrase that I tell myself which helps me deal with the uncomfortable and at times painful moments when our kids are struggling and learning. The phrase is: “This is their break out moment, what’s my role?”

That role can and does vary. Maybe it is helping them brainstorm solutions, maybe it is offering to work with them to clean up the mess they made, maybe my role is to simply listen. It is important to remember that these trials and trying times are also times of learning and growth and that they have a purpose.

I have a friend who noticed that her son had a tendency to be shy and it was difficult for him to talk to people. She decided she would assist him with this by taking him to a fast food restaurant and then forget on purpose to ask for water cups. She would then have her son go and ask for them. This was a task that her son told me filled his whole body with fear but little by little with each dinner outing with his mom, he was able to recognize what he was capable of. Bob Marley was once quoted as saying: “You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice”. It isn’t the task that changes, but our ability to deal with being uncomfortable increases and we recognize our inner strength. Her son’s ability to learn and grow during this uncomfortable period helped him to be able to cope and develop a skill set so impressive he actually recently was awarded a drama scholarship.

My friend’s brother who is a professional theater director and choreographer recently came from New York to visit and sat in on my friend’s ballet class that she teaches. While ballet is a very formal and precise dance form, it didn’t shock my friend that her brother had her class ballet dancing like zombies. It was very much out of their comfort zone so he even had them turn out the lights to do the exercise where no one could watch them. His purpose was to have them try something new and outside of the box–to test themselves and to be uncomfortable. It is being able to find a purpose in the uncomfortable that we are able to learn and grow—consistently reaching, exploring and growing.

So, give yourself {and your kids, and your spouse, and others} permission to grow. Growth means you are not perfect. We all have areas of growth so give yourself permission to learn. Know that learning means not getting it perfect the first time and sometimes completely failing and that is okay. Give yourself permission to try new things and also permission that you don’t need to happy with the results but that you can always evaluate and continue to modify, learn and grow.

Give yourself permission to fail, to not get things right the first time. There is a difference in failing on purpose than trying something new and not liking the results. The entire airline industry would not even exist if it wasn’t for the Wright Brother’s ability to view their failure as opportunities to learn. We can and should do the same for ourselves and others. There is extreme pressure to be perfect–to be the perfect child or to be the perfect parent or present the perfect instagram picture or perfect post on facebook. It is important to give yourself permission to grow–that those moments when we fail or make mistakes as a child or a parent or a spouse or a friend are unintentional moments. They are teachable moments where we can learn, grow and become better and stronger. Remember that there is a purpose in failure and an opportunity for growth and learning.

We are all here on Earth to learn and grow. It is important to see yourself through God’s eyes. He sent His son not to condemn us but to give us hope that we could change, that there is a purpose to struggles and adversity and a way to improve and become better. God, who knows all things including everyone of our strengths and weaknesses loves us. Knowing that as a human, with weaknesses and faults we are loved by Him who knows more than anyone in the universe is evidence that we matter. We are loved in our imperfections and we don’t need to be perfect. We don’t need to need to compare our strengths or our weaknesses to others. We are loved for who we are. He provided a way to fix mistakes, grow and improve. Look at yourself and others through His lens and you will find that we are capable of more than we ever realized.

Knowing that it in is the uncomfortable that growth happens, allows us to deal and handle these breakout moments. Take comfort in knowing that these breakout moments have a purpose and allow us be become better and stronger than we ever would have thought possible without them. So in our quest for comfort, take courage in knowing that we don’t need to avoid the uncomfortable moments. Giving yourself and others permission to learn, grow, and even fail from time to time will allow them to improve, succeed and soar at heights we never realized they were capable of flying.

Key Strategy to Dealing With the Tsunamis of Life

Growing up in California, I have always loved the beach. I can stare at the ocean for hours watching the waves as they roll in and retreat back. There is also another phenomenon that I love to watch with the waves and it happened all the time. It is something that I can still laugh at when I picture it in my mind. The scenario is always the same– a loving parent would turn their back to the unsuspecting waves usually while watching their child or another person and then they would just get pummeled by an oncoming wave. Some would just scream as the cold water would hit their back while others would get lifted off their feet with the force of the wave and then be brought into the shore. Even though they were in the ocean and knew there were waves, they just didn’t see it coming and weren’t prepared for the impact of the wave. I feel like that happens to all of us in life, inadvertently hit by unsuspecting waves or events that we didn’t see coming or didn’t realize would impact us the way that they did. There is a tip that can help all of us when we are faced with these moments in life, and that is to focus on what you do know.

The force of these powerful waves or events in our lives often knock us to our knees. What you thought you knew–how you saw your life– suddenly shifts and you are left confused and full of questions. Humbled with how much you didn’t know and now overwhelmed with all you do not know. Phrases like, “I don’t know what to do” and “I just don’t know anything anymore” are often voiced.

When you loose your bearings and you are not sure which way to turn, it is a natural reaction to simply not move at all. However, the heavy and depressing feelings that weigh us down without a counter reaction then gain more power to continue the downward spiral. They make it difficult to remember good times or memories. They make it hard to feel peace and instead pull us downwards in despair. In times like these, there is a strategy that can assist us to taking a step in the right direction. The key is to focus on what you do know.

What you know is going to vary by person and experience but I will try and elaborate with a few examples. For instance, just this morning, I awoke to news about a friend’s granddaughter who was in the ICU fighting for her life. This event absolutely blindsighted and overwhelmed the family as they helplessly watched their little girl being assisted by medical teams to save her life. The girl with the biggest personality was now sedated with multiple IVs/infusions and there were more questions than answers. But there were things that they did know and by concentrating on those, there is a way to face forward and stand among such difficult circumstances. They know that their little girl is getting the best care at the best facility possible. They know that God answers prayers. They know they are loved and that they are not alone. Focusing on what you do know allows you a path forward in the darkness and confusion of what we don’t know.

Another example was when a friend found out that her recently married husband was addicted to pornography. This revelation washed over her just like the waves at the beach and she felt washed up on the sand without hope. It was in the act of focusing on what she knew that gave her the courage to get up off the sand. She had to learn at her core who she was, that she had value and what that meant. In realizing her value, she was able to see her husband’s value and his battle with addiction and the shame associated. Focusing on knowing there is a way to overcome addictions with hard work allowed her a path forward.

Focusing on what you know doesn’t mean that things will work out the way you would want them to. I have another friend whose husband lost his job. Finances were tight and this new revelation was crushing. However, instead of wallowing in despair or anger over the circumstances of his termination, they focused on what they did know. What assets they had that they could use while he sought other employment and what they could do to limit their spending. Focusing on what they knew–that he was a hard worker, that he could be a valuable employee, that others would assist them in finding suitable employment allowed them a way to move forward.

There will and should always be things that we don’t know. We don’t and won’t know everything in this life. There will always be opportunities for growth and learning. Walking in the unknown is difficult. We would all much rather know the outcome before we start walking. My husband often will research a movie before we watch it in hopes to know the ending and if the movie is good.–although I can personally tell you this has not prevented us from watching some really lame and worthless movies. While it is difficult not to have all the answers before we start walking, we are required to take steps before we know all the answers.

Life can become dark and confusing at times and without knowing where you are headed or how you are going to get there, it makes it difficult to walk. However, you don’t need to worry about the speed of how fast you are getting to your destination but that you are taking steps in the right direction. And that involves focusing on what you know. There is a scripture in the Bible in Isaiah that I often reflect on where this idea is emphasized: “Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourself about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled” (Isaiah 50:11). Sometimes in building a fire or focusing on what we know, it isn’t a lot. It might just be sparks. We all at times are going to walking in darkness, and sometimes it might only be the sparks that are guiding us. However, even if we are only guided by the sparks, we will still be guided. So, the next time you are hit by an unexpected wave, remember to focus on what you know–it will help you to take a step into the unknown.

The Power of Reflection: The Greatest Tool We Can Use to Achieve Our Goals

Our minds really enjoy a good book—meaning that our minds love things that have a beginning and an ending. In fact, we love it so much it can often become our downfall. I have not worked with a couple who didn’t have an initial goal when they decided to get married to have a happy marriage. However, life is much more fluid than books and it is often not full of neat and tidy beginning and endings. Even the seasons in the weather have transitions. For instance, my daughter was born on April 7th. On any calendar regardless if the groundhog saw his shadow, April 7th is most definitely spring. In fact, the calendar will tell you that the first day of spring is actually March 19th. But the night she was born, it snowed. And it shouldn’t snow in spring. But this is a good reminder of what progress looks like. It is in constant motion and not something that we can necessarily control. But there is one strategy that makes all the difference with our minds and it is something that we can control: the ability to reflect. This is the tool that actually provides the most success in establishing, monitoring, and creating the happy endings our minds desire.

Reflection is a vital tool for success in any goals. It takes honest reflection to evaluate where you are and where you want to go. What do you want to see happen? What are the desires of your heart? How do you want things to be? I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is to think that you only reflect once in order to create or set your goals but true success lies in learning to reflect more often.

Modern travel is a great way of showing the value of reflection. If Christopher Columbus never checked and made course corrections, it is safe to say that he never would have landed on the island. Planes in order to reach their destination or goals constantly are reverting back to their flight plan to make sure they are in alignment and traveling to where they want to go. Reflection is a tool that does the same things for the goals we have for ourselves. It is important to be able to check in and ponder or reflect on where we are in our progress with our goals in order to determine if we are indeed progressing where we want. We might not be able to control how fast we arrive at our destinations, but we can always control which way we are facing and that alone is the most important factor for reaching our intended destination.

If you continue on the path that you are on, where are you going to end up? Is that where you want to be? A reflection question that I have asked couples I have worked with is, “If everything stays the same as it is now and nothing changes, what is going to be the end result?” It takes a conscious decision to make a change in your life. But it requires reflection in order to see what changes need to be made. It is helpful to know that you can continue to change as you continue to reflect and make course corrections.

Reflection allows you to put yourself in the equation. If you want to be change the result or the answer in an equation, you do not need to change all of the variables. You only need to change one thing on the right side of the equation and the result is guaranteed to be different. If your goal is to have a healthy and happy marriage, what are you doing to make that happen? Reflection allows you look to yourself to be the change that will change the result.

Events in our lives often cause a reflection. Getting pulled over for a traffic ticket, finding out a loved one is in the hospital or that they suddenly passed away or hearing the words, “You have cancer” will cause us to stop and reflect on our lives. However, you do no need to wait for an event such as these to be able to reflect and make sure your life is in alignment and headed in the direction that you want.

So, make a time for reflection. Whether it is part of your daily commute, while you exercise, while you take a shower, while you fold laundry or while you take communion or the sacrament. Reflect on where you are in your goals and whether or not you need to make any course corrections. Ask yourself if there is something you should stop/start doing that would make you more successful at your goals. We are all works in progress and goals help us become better versions of ourselves. Consistent reflection allows us to be more mindful and successful at progressing in our goals. It really is the greatest tool we can use.

The Best Gift You Can Give Yourself- and Everyone {Including Two Strategies to Make it Happen}

As much as we might try, there are things in this life that are beyond our control. From the weather to a 2 year-old having a meltdown in the isle of a store, there are things we cannot completely control in this life. However, we can control our reaction to them. And the best gift you could ever give yourself which will positively affect everyone in your life is to improve the way you react and manage stress. Recognizing when we are stressed and taking steps to handle our own stress rather than passing that on to those around us is the greatest gift you could give yourself and will bless the lives of those around you. There are two main keys to learn to make this gift a reality for you–recognizing your stress level and implementing a healthy stress management plan.

Key #1: Recognize when you are stressed. How do you know when you are stressed? Does it seem like you realize that you are stressed only after you have maxed out? Do you ever feel like the Hulk just emerges without much warning? It can be difficult to recognize when we don’t know what to look for.

Why isn’t is easier for everyone to identify? There are a few good reasons we all struggle sometimes to identify when we are stressed until we tend to explode. For one, stress itself is not bad–we need some stress in our lives in order to function–we couldn’t function without it. So, we are used to feeling some stress and get accustomed to it. Second, just like a frog sitting in water that slowly heats up will end up being a boiled frog–sometimes when it is a slow accumulating stress we don’t tend to recognize it. Adding one more guest to a party– even adding one every few days over the week isn’t going to alarm us as much as the same number added the day before the party which can then be absolutely overwhelming. And finally it is sometimes difficult to identify because we all feel stress differently. We can’t always look to our parents, partners or even kids to see how they experience stress because it is completely unique and their experience for themselves will be different from ours but they are a great source to ask when they know we are stressed. My daughter says, “oh no–mom is getting her stressed eyes!” My eyes tend to get large when I am stressed so it has become a good indicator for me.

While we all experience stress differently, there are some things we all have in common. We all will feel stress in our bodies. While some people might have their breathing quicken, others actually unconsciously hold their breath and don’t breath as often. Some people’s muscles tighten while other’s get lightheaded. Some people’s heart race and blood pressure rises and they can feel chest pain. Some people feel stress in their stomach and can feel nauseous. Some people’s appetite changes where they have little appetite or tend to overeat. Stress can trigger headaches and migraines. It can make you feel fatigued or cause you not to be able to sleep. Most of the time, we feel it in more that one way in our bodies. What is important to note is that we can recognize the signals our body is telling us when we feel stress so that we can manage the stress level before it manages us.

Strategy: Implement stress self checks. Knowing that it is difficult to always recognize the stress level we are feeling in our lives, doing a stress check throughout the day is a great way of being able to manage our stress. Check your body and how you are feeling and assign it a number between 1-10 and then you can implement strategies needed to keep you in the optimal stress performance zone.

Key #2: Implementing a Healthy Stress Management Plan. I think that one of the greatest myths is that we only need a stress management plan when we are stressed, but in reality this plan is needed when we aren’t necessarily in a state of stress trying to troubleshoot what to do. Everyone will experience stress in this life. You make better choices and can control your reaction better when you have plan. So, what do you do to handle your stress? We all have ways of coping when we are stressed out–some more healthy than others. Here is a link to my favorites: https://practicallyspeakingwithbrita.com/2019/02/28/top-9-proven-strategies-to-manage-stress-including-the-science-behind-how-they-work/

It is also important to recognize the coping methods or cards that we use and to increase the cards as they can’t be played every time. For instance, obviously taking a nap is not an option when you are stuck in traffic, so you are going to need to play a different card like deep breathing or listening to uplifting music etc. The more healthier cards you know and can have in your card deck, the better.

There is a game I will play with young clients to help them understand this concept. The game is called UNO Attack and it takes UNO to a whole new level and instead of drawing from the deck when you don’t have a card or have to “draw two”, you actually hit a button and sometimes you get no cards and then sometimes a whole bunch of cards are popped out at you. This simulates how life is–sometimes things happen and you end up with a lot of extra cards or stress in your life but knowing how to manage that is the key to winning UNO attack and to be successful in life.

Strategy: Create a Stress Management Plan. Make a conscious effort to figure out how you are handling your stress and take a step to add a healthier card to your deck. For instance, if you are finding that you are often stressed in the car, add some healthy snacks or chocolate or create a cool playlist of music. A stress management plan is key whether you are currently stressed or not.

So get to know yourself and ask yourself these two pivotal questions: How do I know when I am stressed and what do I do to handle my stress? Implement a stress management plan. There really is no greater gift that you can give yourself and managing your stress becomes a gift for everyone.

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Dealing with Conflict: The Game Changer Question to Ask Yourself

Conflict is unfortunately bound to happen in this life. You don’t have to scroll down far on your feed to find evidence of conflict- in relationships, in schools, in politics–it is guaranteed to be there. However, there is one question that you can ask yourself that can be a total game changer where conflict is concerned. The number one question to ask yourself is this: “How do you want this to end?”

How do you want this to end? What’s your objective? Keeping the end in mind is more important than you might realize. Most people don’t think about the ending but are instead focused on their feelings and often get into an unfortunate cycle and communication myth where the louder or harsher they complain, the more the other person will know how upset they are by the complaint. So volume will tell you how strong your feelings are. The louder you yell, the more valid your feelings are. This unfortunately is a false belief and often leads to additional volume in response and more conflict, and hurt feelings. Speaking louder or more harshly doesn’t mean that you are more likely to be listened to or that your message will be heard. In fact, research confirms that it is the opposite.

Psychological Researcher John Gottman, PhD, who over the past 40 years has become one of the most influential researchers in the industry, actually found that 96% of the time, the way a discussion begins can predict the way it will end. He found that when one partner started the discussion with a harsh start up (being negative accusatory or using contempt) the discussion is basically doomed to fail. On the other hand, when one partner begins the discussion using a softened startup, the discussion will most likely end on the same positive tone. For example: (Harsh Start-Up) “You never have time for me!” compared to (Softened Start-up) “I have been missing you lately, and I’m getting a little lonely.” So, remember that your approach matters and that the way you begin a conversation has a direct tie to how it will end. So, if you want the conflict or conversation to end well, how your convey your message matters and you need to begin your discussions with a softened start up approach.

A softened start up does not mean that your feelings are not strong. In fact, expressing your feelings, even strong, powerful feelings is absolutely fine and necessary. The truth is that you can feel big emotions but do need to match the volume in your voice or tone to convey them. You can feel angry or hurt and not be loud. And how you convey your message matters. It all comes down to understanding the difference between Criticism vs. Complaint. And there is a very big difference between the two. When you are being critical, that means you are attacking the personality or character of a person. It often begins with “You always…” or “You never…” or “Why are you so…” or “What’s wrong with you?” For example, “What’s wrong with you? How could you leave without feeding the dog? You never feed him.” Complaint on the other hand is specific to a behavior you want to change. For example, “The dog was out of food again. Can you make sure he is fed before you leave next time?” Make sure that you are addressing complaints rather than just being critical and have an end in mind. What do you want to see changed? What behavior do you want to see? Don’t underestimate how powerful a tone of voice can be as you have a conversation about the behavior you want to see changed. Keep the end in mind and you will be more effective at conveying your feelings and messages.

The truth is that you do not have control over how someone else will react or that by conveying your feelings that they will change their point of view but you do have a say in how things will end by the way in which you choose to discuss your emotions. So, remember, when you are handling conflict, make sure you ask yourself, “How do you want this to end?” It can be a total game changer and lead to better communication, better handled conflict and happier endings.

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7 Strategies to Implement Gratitude with Your Kids {and Yourself}

Entitlement is a real thing. Just this morning, one of my children which will remain nameless was running a little behind. To help her sibling, another one of my children put bread in the toaster for her. When my child who was running late came into the kitchen– I mentioned that their sibling had put in the bread for them. They retrieved the toast only to say, “Than–oh–I like my toast darker than that.” After the initial shock of hearing their statement wore off, I realized that the missing part of this equation was gratitude. Gratitude is the antidote for entitlement and is beyond powerful. In this case, it was easy to point out that I was grateful for a toaster button that could be pushed again and would result in darker toast and that I was grateful that a sibling cared enough to try and help them eat breakfast. Luckily this story ends well with my child apologizing to their sibling, saying thank you and all toast was buttered and no one ended up being late. However, it is amazing how fast we can go from being grateful to entitled. Here are seven strategies to help implement more gratitude in your kids and yourself.

Recognize the Source: When your child comes home from school with a smile on their face with a good grade on a report, it is easy to praise them for their efforts and celebrate in their joy. But there is one more acknowledgment that will help them cultivate gratitude in their lives and that is simply by helping them recognize an additional source of gratitude. So that means that they aren’t just grateful for the result of a good grade that maybe came from extra hard work that they put in but with one extra statement you can help them recognize invisible sources they wouldn’t automatically consider. This is simply done by an extra statement–“I am so thankful that we live in a place where you have the opportunity to learn and go to school.” This is a statement of an invisible source that aided in their success. It really doesn’t matter what the statement is–just as long as it is an additional one that will help them consider more sources in their life that they might feel gratitude for.

Show them by Example: It is very easy in the day to day of life that we become complacent. I heard a wise saying the other day: Imagine that today you only had what you expressed gratitude for yesterday. I know a lot of us would be left without a lot as we all have a natural tendency to become accustomed to things and we all develop entitlement–I don’t always express gratitude for hot water during a shower but I sure expect that it should be a hot shower when I turn on the water. It is much more natural to complain when you don’t have something than it is to express gratitude for something when you expect it. It’s also easy to fail to see how actions can be an expression of gratitude: For instance, when I leave, I try to make sure all the lights are off. My daughter asked me why I even cared once and I quickly responded that I’m thankful that your Dad works so hard to earn money so we can have electricity so I’m making sure all the lights are off when we leave. When my kids were able to recognize the connection between their actions being a way to show gratitude, they were much better at doing the “light checks”. Kids and really even adults can use help in recognizing examples of gratitude to help them to make the connections between how things come to be and that it is not just the magic of a light switch.

Create Rituals or Routines around Gratitude: Make gratitude an every day part of your life by associating it with something you do on a regular basis. A friend once told me how when she is folding laundry–a task that she despises– she thinks of things or attributes of each person as she is folding their clothes. I thought it was a neat idea and decided to do the same. I found that I looked forward to folding clothes and my love and patience for my kids on laundry day is often higher. Other examples of adding gratitude to your life routines could be talking about something you are grateful for while you are picking up or dropping off your kids to school or an activity. Discuss one thing you are grateful for during dinnertime. Prayer time is another routine time that they can express their gratitude on a regular basis.

Express it: This is often the most obvious strategy but one that really gets overlooked. It is difficult to express gratitude when we expect things but it doesn’t mean we should stop expressing our gratitude. It seems ridiculous to constantly repeat, “Thanks for putting on your seatbelt.” or “Thanks for putting away your laundry” when you have asked them it feels like a dozen times to do so. However, saying thank you and acknowledging the gratitude you feel when they complete a task is an absolute game changer. It can trigger your brain to feel more optimistic and it also positively affects your child to increase their motivation to complete those tasks that are sincerely acknowledged. Think about the last time someone told you thank you for a routine task “Thank you for dinner.” or “Thank you for putting gas in the car”. It makes a big difference and helps your kids to feel more gratitude even for the mundane and typical things we all do everyday.

Make a Gratitude Journal: Although there are benefits from just reciting things you are grateful for, their is actually proven evidence that writing them down makes a big difference. In fact, researchers at Indiana University and Harvard found that writing down three things everyday for 21 days increases your level of optimism and more importantly that this higher level of optimism lasts for 6 months. Take a moment and jot things down or even put them in the notes section of your phone and notice the lasting difference gratitude can make in your life.

The Silent Minute Technique: Mister Rogers was an advocate for what he called the silent minute. During this minute he would ask that you think about those who have helped you become who you are today. Whether they were near or far away or even in heaven, if they’ve loved you and encouraged you and wanted what was best in life for you he asked that you honor them and devote some thoughts to them during one silent minute. Imagine how grateful they must be that during your silent times you remember how important they are to you. You can even take this silent minute technique a step farther by taking a minute to do something in their honor to show them how grateful you are.

Remember the Beginnings. We are very visual people, so put things in your line of sight that help your kids and you feel gratitude and remember the gratitude that you have felt. Maybe it is putting up the homemade card your kids made for you in their office when they could barely write their letters, maybe it is a particular quote or saying about gratitude that you display in your home. One thing that helps me remember the beginnings and increases my gratitude is oranges. I have a great grandfather who was a farmer and in a tough year they were barely able to scrape enough money that the only gift my great grandfather got for Christmas that year was an orange. He was so grateful though for that orange that he ate the entire thing including the peel. This helps me put into perspective when Christmas gift giving and receiving gets out of hand. We all have a natural tendency to forget the beginnings and get accustomed to what we have now and remembering the beginnings–living in a one bedroom apartment or eating ramen noodles in college–helps us have gratitude for what we have now no matter what the quantities. “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” (Anonymous)

Bottom line, you cannot make someone else feel gratitude—feeling gratitude is a choice–but you can share the gratitude you feel and can inspire them to recognize and feel the gratitude in their own lives.

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