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.

If you found this helpful, please like and share. Thanks!

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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Top 9 Proven Strategies to Manage Stress {Including the Science Behind How They Work!}

Managing stress is a life skill that we all need to learn. These are 9 top strategies that are scientifically proven to help alleviate and manage stress.

#1: Meditation (Prayer): Research suggests that daily meditation or prayer may alter the brain’s neural pathways, making you more resilient to stress. A study conducted by Harvard Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital revealed that meditation rebuilds the grey matter in our brains in just 8 weeks. It is important to remember that mediation does not mean to ’empty your mind’ but rather is the process of letting your thoughts and feelings flow without judgment. You do not need to be in any particular position (standing, sitting or kneeling etc), but it is a state of peace and self-awareness.

#2: LOL! A good belly laugh doesn’t just lighten the load mentally, it lowers cortisol, your body’s stress hormone and boosts brain chemicals called endorphins, which help your mood.

#3: Deep Breathing: Deep Breathing counters the effects of stress by slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure. It also allows more oxygen to go to the brain which slows down the amygdala and allows the prefrontal cortex to return to functioning.
Basically you can break your brain into two parts with two distinct functions- a part that feels and a part that is logical and makes plans. When the one side of your brain gets overwhelmed or flooded, the logical side that calms and creates a plan on how to address being overwhelmed stops working. By simple just breathing you allow necessary oxygen to the logical side of your brain allowing yourself to come up with a plan. Try it out- before you make a big decision or begin to get mad at your children or upset at a coworker, take a deep breath and notice how much better you are able to think and thus make more logical, thoughtful choices rather than reacting to the emotions. There is true power in the deep breath, so just breathe!!

#4 Music: Listening to soothing music has been proven to lower blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety. Test this one out for yourself: Listen to 30 seconds of each song and see if you notice a difference in your heart rate and mood.

#5: Get Active: All forms of exercise can ease stress by helping the brain to release feel-good chemicals including endorphins, domamine and seratonin.
A study published in Neuropsychopharmacology revealed that regular exercise increases the level of tryptophan in the brain (an amino acid used to manufacture serotonin). While the research differs on how long to exercise in order for the body to release the chemicals, studies suggest it varies between 10 -30 minutes.

#6: Be Grateful: Gratitude has been shown to activate the hypothalamus in the brain which is responsible for regulating all kinds of bodily functions- including hunger, sleep, body temperature, metabolism, and how the body grows. Studies done by researchers at Indiana University and at Harvard have discovered that these neurological benefits experienced by their study participants were shown to be longer lasting. Something as simple as writing down three things you’re grateful for every day for 21 days in a row significantly increases your level of optimism, and it holds for the next six months.  Journaling about gratitude can be a fantastic way of being able to focus on things in your life which bring joy and that you should be grateful for. Cultivating gratitude is a game changer.

#7: Sense of Smell: This one is bound to raise some eyebrows, but your nose can become a powerful ally and can transport your thoughts quicker than almost anything. It highlights a different area of your brain and can highlight positive memories and the feelings associated with those memories instantaneously. Lotions, chapsticks, gum, cookies, flowers-really anything with a fragrance can change your mood in a split second. If you haven’t tried it, this is one that might just surprise you.

#8: Get Outdoors: A change of scene also forces your brain to be able to reboot as it has to process new visuals, hearing, even sense of touch from the difference in the weather. Being outside in the sun allows your body to absorb vitamins that also affect your brains ability to function.

#9: Holding Your Loved Ones (Even Animals!): “Cuddle” Hormones (oxytocin) can actually turn off stress hormones. So go cuddle with a loved one and watch a movie or spend time with a loved pet. Connection is a powerful way to alleviate stress.

Learning to manage stress is an important tool that everyone needs to learn in order to be successful. These 9 strategies are scientifically proven to help you manage the stress you experience as a part of life- test them out and see what impact they make in your stress level. Remember, practically speaking:



9 Proven Strategies to Change Your Thoughts and Change Your World

You can transform your world in an instant by the way in which you choose to see it.

Our thoughts are more powerful than we realize. In fact, it is really not the events in our lives that cause us the most difficulty, but our thoughts about those events.

For example:

The Event: My husband is late home from work.

My thought: Great, I have more time to finish picking up the house before he gets here.

How do I feel? Maybe relief, excitement?

What is my behavior? Quickly use that adrenaline to go and pick up the house.

Now, look how much changes with a different thought.

My thought: He’s never been this late before without calling. What if he has been in an accident?

How do I feel? Maybe anxiety, worry and stress?

What is my behavior? Try calling his cell phone.

Our thoughts about an event are going to determine our feelings and the actions we choose are based on those thoughts and feelings. Even more astonishing is that the fact that for all of us, many times our thoughts are actually wrong. Our thoughts can become the cause of unnecessary confusion and pain.

In the therapy world, these inaccurate thoughts are termed ‘Cognitive Distortions’ and everyone experiences them to some degree. Cognitive distortions are simply ways that our minds distort reality and convince us of something that isn’t really true.

While there are a myriad of cognitive distortions, below you will find my list of the top 9 cognitive distortions and more importantly the individual strategies to be able to address them.