What is the most powerful question that you can ask yourself? That question is this: What is it that you hope for? And the follow up question: What are you doing to make that a reality? Hope is a universal necessity that is essential for everyone regardless of your age, gender or socio-economic status. Hope is the true and basic desires of your heart and it is what propels us forward even when we can’t see the finish line. So what can you do to key into the power of hope? Simply write out your hopes and dreams on paper. Writing down hopes and dreams allows your mind and heart to be on the same page working together.
There is a power in being honest with yourself in writing down and working towards what your hopes and dreams are. If you are hesitant to write them down, start with spending a few moments pondering the reason(s) why. Are you worried if you fail what that would mean? Are you not able to see the end result and therefore feel a little it is a daunting dream to write down a goal that seems out of reach? Are you not sure what control you have over the situation and therefore are uncertain about stating a goal that is outside of your complete control? Are you worried about the reactions of others to your goal and so the vulnerability required to acknowledge a dream seems too difficult? Are you unsure about how to go about reaching your dream and so it seems easier to daydream instead of actively pursue it? Whatever your reasons, my hope is that you will take a step of faith and allow the power of hope to work in your life. Key into the power of hope and let that be your guiding force as you work towards your dreams and goals. There really isn’t a more powerful force or motivation.
Empathy comes from being able to see something from someone else’s view. Unfortunately, many adults have never developed this necessary skill. Developing empathy is crucial and this is something that will help them thrive in creating connections with their teammates, peers and siblings. Not to mention, that helping your child increase their emotional intelligence and understanding will also increase the likelihood of them selecting a spouse with the same skill set. Being able to empathize with your spouse is one of the most important factors in a healthy marriage as it fosters understanding, forgiveness and connection. So, what can you do to teach your child about empathy? It honestly doesn’t take much and it is never too early to start.
In fact, researchers back in 1982 discovered that within a matter of days, a newborn baby will learn to discriminate between different emotional facial expressions like sad, happy and surprised faces.
By 5 months old, infants will learn to match the image of a sad or happy face with its corresponding voice.
By five years old, the child’s ability to recognize and label facial expression is nearly that of most adults.
It doesn’t take much to be able to teach this essential skill to your children. Here are five of my favorite ways to help them develop empathy.
One: Reading! When you are reading a board or picture book with a child, emphasize the facial expressions and focus on their feelings. “Ooh look at that pig’s face. He looks scared! I bet he is going to try and run fast!” Then, simply put them in that character’s place. “What would you do if your house got knocked down by a big bad wolf?” Do the same exercise yourself. “Oh man! If that happened to me, I would be so scared. I would probably try and run to find somewhere safe too!” Characters in books are a great way at being able to help your children learn to empathize with someone that is in a different situation than they are. Learning that someone could have a different thought or perspective than they do in a book allows them to look for that when they are dealing with situations that arise in their own lives. Books are FANTASTIC at being able to teach about emotions. Correlating facial expressions and emotions is key to helping your child recognize them in others throughout their day. This even works with your youngest kids- mimic the faces in the board books and repeat the word for that feeling: Surprise face in the book, mimic the face and say the word “Surprised.” For older teenagers you can even use books that were made into movies and see how the dynamic of the movie would shift if one of the side characters was the main character in the story. This is a shockingly simple way to see things from another person’s perspective and develop empathy.
Two: Resolving Conflict. Conflict especially between siblings is bound to happen and it can be a great time for teaching empathy. When I can recognize an emotion in one of my kids, I try and emphasize that to their sibling. For example, “Don’t just grab the hair brush from her. You wouldn’t like it if someone did that to you. Next time, just ask her first and she will give it to you.”
Try and place your child in the place of their sibling they are having a conflict with. “How would you feel if that happened to you?” Even if they respond, “Well, I wouldn’t care etc..”, you can redirect them to the facial expression or outward expression of their sibling and explain , “Look at her face. She does care and you would want someone to care if it mattered to you.” Emotions are often times ways to communicate messages that are unheard. Situations escalate when people don’t feel like they are being listened to or have a voice. We all feel emotions and we can relate to them. The emotions that we feel are communicating a message and if we can listen to what they are trying to teach us we can handle the situations better. It is important to help our kids recognize their own emotions and the messages those messages are trying to convey so that they can in turn realize that other people are the same as them–feeling emotions and it allows them to empathize.
Three: Make Discussing Emotions a Part of Your Day. When you are asking your child about how school was you can ask a question that can spark some empathy such as, “When did your teacher smile today? What did your teacher frown about today?” Help them to clue into the emotions of others. During dinner we take turns talking about the best part and worst part of our day. This helps to normalize that we all have difficult events that happen and also to look for good things that happen throughout the course of the day. They are able to develop their skill of empathy listening to others talking about their day. Empathy doesn’t mean that they have to feel the same way as the other person, it just means that they can understand why the person might feel the way they do. For example, one of my daughter’s really doesn’t like math and so it was hard for her to relate to my other daughter saying that math time at school was the best part of her day until we were able to explain it that they way my daughter who enjoys math feels is the same feeling that she has about her P.E. class that she really likes. You are relating the feeling, not having the same feelings for the same events.
Four: Emphasize Your Own Emotions. It is important for your kid’s to recognize feelings in others and there is no one that their recognize more than a parent. You can help them learn to put a label or a name to emotions by doing that yourself. For example, instead of simply saying, “We are going to be late–put your seat belt on!” add in the emotion that you are feeling: “I am nervous that we are going to be late. Put your seatbelt on.” You might just see that putting a label to your own emotions will help you process and communicate better as well.
Five: Seek to Be An Example of Empathy. It is has been said that the number one rule in communication is: “Seek First to Understand, and then be Understood.” It is important for all of us to feel listened to and understood–especially our kids. When your child is explaining why they behaved the way they did or why they made that choice, seek to empathize with them. It doesn’t mean there isn’t a consequence for their behavior, but it does mean that you are trying to understand and empathize with their feelings: “I can understand why you would be nervous and didn’t want to be embarrassed when you showed up at piano lessons with tangled, wet hair.” Kids don’t always know why they do they things they do, but they will seek to look for those reasons the more that we ask about them. When we model seeking to understand their emotions, they will seek more to understanding their own and then at the same time develop that skill to understand and empathize with others.
Truth! Society often portrays being vulnerable as the opposite of courage—that if you are vulnerable that you are weak. You need to be invincible and so we seek to try and control as much of the outcomes that we can. However, the truth is that courage and vulnerability work hand in hand and it takes vulnerability to be courageous. The truth is that it takes courage to be the first to say that you are sorry and that takes being vulnerable. It takes courage to bring a child in this world and that means being vulnerable realizing you don’t know how to be a parent. It takes courage to put yourself out there in the dating world and risk rejection and that requires being vulnerable.
Brene Brown, the vulnerability guru, emphasizes this truth about courage and vulnerability describing a visit to Fort Bragg (the largest military base in the world—and where my brother-in-law and his family will be stationed in a few months):
“I was recently at Fort Bragg speaking to soldiers and joint special operations. It’s a hard group to talk about vulnerability with, because in a combat situation vulnerability equals death, and their job is to minimize vulnerability. So I asked them to come up with an example of courage that they’ve witnessed that wasn’t completely defined by a willingness to be vulnerable, a willingness to engage in risk, uncertainty, and emotional exposure. And no one could come up with an example.”
So take the leap of faith and have the courage it takes to be vulnerable. Vulnerability holds a lot of power. When you risk and reach out, that is where the magic happens, where connections are made and strengthened. As Brene Brown says: “Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage. Tell me how vulnerable someone is willing to be, and I’ll tell you how brave they’re willing to be.” Be Brave!
There are few words and feelings that make such a profound difference as the difference between these two five-letter words: Shame and Guilt. While you might think they are synonyms, you will be surprised to know that psychologically speaking, they are more distinct than you might think and understanding their differences can be life altering.
So, what’s the difference? According to renowned researcher/storyteller, BrenéBrown, PhD, LCSW, the difference is huge. Brown has been researching shame for over ten years and her TED talks have garnered over 10 million views. She defines shame as the “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” Shame focuses on yourself: “I am a bad person… I am stupid…I am a failure.”
She defines guilt on the other hand as “holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.” She view guilt as adaptive and helpful and focuses instead on the behavior: “This behavior is bad…that was a really stupid thing to do…that outcome was a failure.”
According to Brown, “Shame [is] highly correlated with addiction, depression, eating disorders, violence, bullying and aggression. Guilt? Inversely correlated with those.” What does that mean? That means the ability to change the way in which you talk to yourself (guilt vs. shame) or your internal dialogue can dramatically change the outcome.
Guilt serves as a motivating factor to change whereas shame becomes the catalyst to the downward spiral of self loathing that has been correlated with depression and addiction. For example, I could do really poorly on a test and say to myself: “Dang it. That was a mistake. I should have studied differently.” Now, I still feel bad and the event didn’t change-I still did poorly, but I am motivated to fix that mistake.
Check out the difference with shame: “Dang it. I am such a loser. I am so stupid. I don’t know why I bothered to think that I would ever be good at taking a test.” Shame cuts at your self identity and does not inspire you to move forward but rather stay in a downward spiral of negative thoughts. The ability to change the self-talk — and believe it — can dramatically change the outcome.
So, today’s Tuesday Tip: examine your internal dialogue. Is it more inline with shame or guilt? When you or someone you love make a mistake, allow your feelings of guilt to inspire a course correction. As I lovingly repeat to my kids on a daily basis: “Peirce’s make mistakes and Peirce’s fix mistakes.” They might have the same number of letters but feeling shame and guilt are extremely different and distinguishing between them is an absolute game changer.
This answer comes down to six simple words: You cannot change anything without it.
No one is perfect in this life and mistakes are going to happen. What you need to teach your child is not simply how to avoid mistakes but instead how to fix mistakes–what to do if and when you make a mistake.
Psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck, a professor and researcher at Stanford University, is known for her research on mindsets-or the ways in which we view the world. She discovered that there were two distinct mindsets–a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.
According to Dr. Dweck, “[i]f parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.”
Developing a growth mindset is really key in being able to develop what Dr. Angela Duckworth found to be the single greatest factor of success. She conducted research at West Point Military academy, the National Spelling Bee and even a sales team at a professional company to determine who is successful and why. She found that a term which she called ‘grit’ was the single most defining factor in being successful. She defined grit as passion and perseverance for very long term goals. Grit is having stamina and sticking to your future for an extensive period of time.
Wondering where your grit level is? For those of you who are curious, below are two links for a short grit scale questionnaire developed by Dr. Duckworth – [The first one is an 8 question for children to access where they are on a grit scale and the second is a 12 question for adults.]
Having a growth mindset of knowing that your talents and abilities will get stronger through your effort and persistence is the motivating factor for developing grit, and thereby being successful. However, the key to both developing a growth mindset and developing grit is really honesty. Being honest with your thoughts and feelings is the first step to being able to recognize where you are and then being able to improve. Cultivate and teach your children the importance of honesty. It is the foundation of trust, success and change.
So, today’s Tuesday Tip: When a child (or anyone really) comes to you about a mistake that they have made, instead of giving into the myriad of emotions that it evokes, take a breath and say the words: Thank you for being honest. This reinforces that you value trust and honesty and reminds both of you that this is the first step in being able to fix any and all mistakes. Honesty- you cannot change anything without it.
Myth! According to leading relationship expert, John Gottman, PhD: Happily married couples may have a lot of conflict. It is the positive sentiments overriding the negative ones. They are quicker at repairs. It’s not the appearance of conflict, but rather how it’s managed that predicts the success or failure of a relationship.
Looking for tips to improve dealing with and resolving conflict? Check out these articles:
Many times we get trapped in a vicious cycle- we wait until we feel like doing something. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “But I don’t feel like practicing the piano right now!” or “I didn’t feel like exercising today so I didn’t.” The truth is that we can dictate our feelings. You do not need to wait or spend the energy to pysch yourself into feeling a certain way. Your actions can change your feelings.
Take exercise for example. I am not one that looks forward to working out even though I have had an established routine for quite some time. I am not going to ever feel like exercising. However, there is a truth about how are minds work that helps me to to start exercising. I know that my feelings can change with actions. I know that chemicals including seratonin (which changes your mood) and endorphins (also commonly known as the body’s natural pain killers) are released during exercise so 5-10 minutes into my workout, I will feel differently. I can remember that previous times that I have not wanted to exercise but still completed the workout, I felt better after I have worked out. The action of working out will help me overcome my not feeling like doing it. When you can correlate your actions as a way to be on the way to getting the results that you want, your motivation will automatically increase.
Today’s Tuesday Tip: Just Do it. Do an action even when your feelings don’t match. Just take a step in the direction that you want to go regardless of your feelings. Make that call you have been avoiding. Set up the appointment you have been dreading. Start practicing that piano. Just start to exercise. You will find that you can change and control your feelings rather than have them dictate you. When you realize that your feelings do not define you and that your actions can change those feelings, you will be able to achieve anything you want–Those small successes will take you to the big results that you are looking for.
Dan Wile, PhD, developer of Collaborative Couple Therapy, noted that, “When choosing a long-term partner, you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems.” These unsolvable problems are also known as perpetual differences in the mental health world and all couples will have perpetual problems. These issues center on fundamental differences in personality or differences in your own backgrounds which is where your belief system is derived. For instance, one spouse might be more extroverted while the other is more introverted. One partner might be more careful with spending having endured tight financial circumstances while they grew up while the other has a more free spending attitude due to emotional experiences associated with gift giving. One partner might value cleanliness and order more and place a higher value on neatness than their spouse who grew up differently and feels suffocated by their partner’s insistence on the house looking pristine. These differences which lead to perpetual problems or where the mountains collide can become an effective tool to bring you closer together as a couple or the wedge that can lead to emotional distance and gridlock.
The key to managing unsolvable problems is to establish a dialogue about the perpetual problem. It is not the presence of the conflict that stresses the relationship, it is the manner in which the couple responds. Be willing to discuss issues and know that your job is not to solve the conflict but to understand where your spouse is coming from. Most conflicts are not about the issue itself but underneath are about “Where are you, Do I matter to you, Are you there for me- Can I count on you first to respond to me- to put me first? Not having a way of discussion often leads to what therapists deam dialogue gridlock. Unaddressed gridlock eventually leads to emotional disengagement. The one thing that love can’t survive is constant emotional disconnection. Conflict is often less dangerous for your relationship than distance. Positive, respectful communication about differences helps keep a marriage thriving.
Seek to understand the meaning of your spouse’s positions. What is it that matters to them about that particular issue. For example, your partner’s fixation on not being late to an event can be easier for you to understand realizing that growing up being on time was emphasized as a way to show respect and that they feel upset that they are being disrespectful and feel shame and embarrassment when they walk in late. Instead of trying to change how they feel and that they shouldn’t feel shame, or embarrassment, seek to understand and accept that it matters to them and you can make it matter to you as well because you love them. Seeking to accept and appreciate your spouses differences rather than impose your beliefs (no matter how right we feel!) on how they should act, strengthens your bond in a way that nothing else can. To love someone is to accept that person exactly the way he or she is right now, knowing you both have weaknesses but working together, you become stronger.
Developing a shared meaning is a crucial step in creating the marriage that you really want. All of us come into marriage with preconceived notions and definitions for how we view things. We are meant to be different and these differences when combined often can lead to happier endings. Even now if you were to ask your spouse to define “home” or “love” you would find that you do not have the exact same definition. Shared meaning is where building on your unique views, you build something together. Rituals–daily, weekly or monthly is the avenue that helps to build this new shared life that the two of you are creating. Rituals around leaving and returning with a kiss or the special way you end a phone conversation to weekly dates that show that your partner values spending time with you or a monthly puzzle you put together. The rituals you create together will be as unique to your relationship as you are unique and will create the shared meaning which can alleviate the frustrations of merging ideas and focus on building the life you want together.
Beware what you are focusing on: Small things have a way of growing large when we dwell on them. There is a great story published in a magazine that I refer to as the parable of the toothpaste. One of the wife’s complaints was that her husband splashed toothpaste on the mirror when he would brush his teeth and never washed it off. It drove her absolutely crazy and she couldn’t let it go. The husband ended up passing away and the wife realized as the days past that even though her husband was no longer there, the toothpaste on the mirror remained. She realized that she contributed to the toothpaste on the mirror for years and the anger she felt towards her husband hurt her much more than it ever affected her husband. Choose to dwell on the positive qualities and attributes of your spouse instead of the “toothpaste on the mirror”. Overlook small things, be less critical and more forgiving.
This lesson about the great debate as to how the toilet paper should be hung was a lesson that I was taught a little over 25 years ago while I was visiting the house of one of my older brother’s friends. This couple was one that in my teenage view, was one of the ideal couples–you know the ones that seemed to dance around and make you wonder if they ever raised their voices because they seemed to talk in a sweet whisper at all times. This visit obviously left an impression on me as I can still remember it to this day. I had walked in on a discussion that was dire. I can remember being absolutely shocked to find out that there was a flaw in the fairytale that I had conjured in my mind. What could possibly cause so much duress to my real life couple version of Ken and Barbie? I quickly learned that the major disagreement I had walked into was about the way the toilet paper roll should be hung and they both had fierce arguments for their differing point of views. Could a roll of toilet paper really have such a huge impact? How was this conflict going to be solved? It turns out that for my Ken and Barbie couple they came up with the solution that it would be hung one way for the first 25 years of their marriage and the other for the next 25 years. I have been meaning to check back in with them and see if they really did switch after 25 years, but knowing that they realized their relationship is more important and how their spouse feels mattered more than the direction of the toilet paper gave me hope and meaning for the perpetual, unsolveable conflicts we all face in relationships.
If there are no ups and downs in your life, it means you are dead. The truth is that no matter what, all relationships–whether they are with our family, coworkers, friends or spouses–will and should experience conflict simply as a fact of life. Resolving conflict is a necessary skill set for everyone. Here are some tips to help you handle conflict in your life.
Tip #1: Realize that Conflict is Normal and Necessary. In fact, Dr. John Gottman, PhD, who has been researching relationships for over 40 years, has found that it is not the presence of conflict that is damaging but the way in which conflict is handled. He found that the “Magic Ratio”: is 5-1. That means that for every negative interaction, happy couples will have 5 positive ones.
Tip #2: Take a Deep Breath. When a person’s heart rate reaches 100 beats per minute, they are unable to hear anything the other person says. By simply just breathing you allow necessary oxygen to slow down the amygdala which in turn “jump starts’ the prefrontal cortex or the side of your brain that comes up with the plans and problem solving and allow you to make more rational decisions.
Tip #3: Face each other when talking. Researchers found that simply maintaining eye contact made the biggest impact from changing a negative interaction to a positive one. Nonverbal behavior is the primary mode in which emotion is communicated. Facial expression, eye gaze, tone of voice, bodily motion, and the timing of responses are fundamental to emotional messages.
Tip #4: Mentally Recite Positive Attributes. All of us have a natural tendency to overemphasize the negative and underappreciate the positive. It is far easier to be critical than positive so amidst conflict, it can be helpful to remember positive attributes, characteristics or experiences that can balance and counter the at times overwhelming flood of negative emotions. For instance, upon finding a spouse’s is late, you can remember that they work hard to provide, are really good at playing games with the kids, picking shows to binge watch on Netflix or another experience that has made you smile in the past. Being grateful for the positive allows you to address conflict in a more realistic approach to the issue at hand instead of making mountains out of mole hills.
Tip #5: Use a Softened Start Up Approach. Gottman’s research has found that 96% of the time, the way a discussion begins can predict the way it will end. When one person begins the discussion with a harsh startup- being negative, accusatory or using contempt–the discussion is basically doomed to fail. On the other hand, when a person begins a 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!”
Softened Start Up: “I have been missing you lately.”
Tip #6: Limit criticizing and condemning language. What is it that you are hoping to achieve or what is it that you are wanting to communicate? Messages are often lost when language is critical or condemning: (“You always, or you never…”). Set ground rules in your relationship such as no name calling, no threatening divorce etc. and be cognizant of the the language that you are using. Language can be like the lighter fluid thrown on a smoldering fire- causing the fire to escalate out of control. Remember the goal is to face the challenge and work to put an end to the conflict rather than escalate it. Just because a thought goes through your head doesn’t mean it needs to come out of your mouth.
Tip #7: First seek to understand, then be understood. This golden rule of communication is key in being able to resolve conflict and promote change. Simply listening is a powerful tool in resolving conflict. “People start to heal the moment that they feel heard.” (Cheryl Richardson). Ask yourself, what is it that they want me to understand? When you get into a conflict, try and see the conflict as if you were a fly on the ceiling. Often, underneath the discussion of the conflict, someone is asking for more emotional connection. See if you can understand where they are coming from. “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.”(Thomas S. Monson).
While conflict is a normal part of life, these tips can help you navigate and successfully handle the challenges you face together and strengthen your relationships. Practically speaking, share these tips with the ones you love and the ones you have the most conflict with 😉 and watch your ability to handle conflict improve!
Truth! Our thoughts are beyond powerful and literally shape our world. But are our thoughts always right or are they the cause of unnecessary pain and anguish? Check out 9 strategies to transform your thoughts and your world here.