It has often been said that the greatest battles we face are the battles within our own mind. Today’s tip is a simple one, but can make a tremendous difference in combating this war with a simple tool I call the thought check.
The thought check is a quick and effective exercise in gaging how we are treating ourselves. Here is how it works: you simply imagine your best friend committing the same error that you have. How would you respond to them?
For instance, you are late for an important meeting or for picking up carpool. What would you tell your friend if they were to relay to you that they were late for an important meeting or picking up carpool? Would you berate them or attack their character with phrases like, “You are such an idiot and are so unreliable.” “Why can’t you get your act together?” No, that would be absolutely crazy. While the fact they were late doesn’t change, you would probably be empathetic to their plight and express that this does not define their character and maybe you would offer some perspective or advice–“Everybody’s late sometimes. Maybe next time you could try taking a different route–that freeway is so backed up at that hour.” “I know that you are feeling embarrassed right now. This isn’t you. They will get to know that you will be there next time on time. Everything is going to be okay. “
You then repeat those phrases to yourself that you would tell your best friend rather than the internal negative dialogue that we often berate ourselves with. This tool allows yourself the grace and room to acknowledge weaknesses and shortcomings but from a place of love and growth that allow you to become better. So the next time you recognize a mistake and the negative inner dialogue you tell yourself, simply stop and tell your mind to do a “Thought Check”. Become your own best friend. We all spend a lot of time in our own heads– make it a place where you would want to be.
Regardless of the state of your relationship–whether you are currently riding sky high or feel like you have hit rock bottom, there is one tip that will make a huge difference in improving it. Simply stated: Be intentional.
What does be intentional mean or even look like? Being intentional means that you make your relationship a priority and that you are intentional about its value. Let me give you an example–take a look at your calendar. It is beyond easy to fill it up with all kinds of important activities, events and celebrations. In this day and age, it has become necessary to develop the skill to not schedule overlapping conflicts. Everyone is busy. But you can easily assess the value of your relationship based on your calendar. For instance, when you schedule a meeting at work with your boss or you schedule a parent teacher conference with your child’s teacher–those dates and times are mentally blocked off. You are committed to making those things work, as well you should. But what about your relationship with your spouse? Do you have a time where you have mentally blocked out a time where it is just for them–not just what’s leftover at the end of the day or an occasional date night but where you are intentional about blocking out a time for them? A time that shows they matter to you and hold value?
Intention is powerful. Even if you absolutely get things wrong—when your intent is to show your spouse that you love them, it improves your relationship. I will share a personal example with the permission of my husband here that might illustrate this concept. I will call it the Parable of the Spider Jewelry. My husband and I enjoy binge watching television shows together and in one such show, a character wore a red spider brooch that I had commented looked neat. My husband found a cheap costume jewelry red spider brooch for me and that gift is still on my winter jacket. Very thoughtful and meaningful. He didn’t end there though and thought this idea of spider jewelry was the best concept yet and ended up getting me a spider ring, a spider necklace and a spider bracelet in subsequent gifts. I am including a picture here so you can get an idea of the size of this spider ring that he to this day swears is a great gift. I don’t even like spiders. What I do love though is that I know his intention. He intended to buy me a gift that showed how much he cared even though this gift missed the mark in my book and I have a difficult time to this day wearing them. Intention is powerful force for improving your relationship even if you get things wrong.
There is a song that sums up too many relationships that I have seen in my office. It was sung by numerous artists including Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Michael Buble and even the Pet Shop Boys. It shows the timeless outcome of not being intentional and unintentionally letting the love in a relationship dwindle. It is called, “Always on My Mind”:
[Verse 1] Maybe I didn’t treat you Quite as good as I should have Maybe I didn’t love you Quite as often as I could have Little things I should have said and done I just never took the time
[Chorus] You were always on my mind (You were always on my mind) You were always on my mind
[Verse 2] Maybe I didn’t hold you All those lonely, lonely times And I guess I never told you I’m so happy that you’re mine If I make you feel second best Girl, I’m so sorry I was blind
[Chorus] You were always on my mind (You were always on my mind) You were always on my mind
Tell me Tell me that your sweet love hasn’t died Give me Give me one more chance to keep you satisfied, satisfied Little things I should have said and done I just never took the time
[Chorus] You were always on my mind (You were always on my mind) You were always on my mind You were always on my mind
Maybe I didn’t treat you Quite as good as I should have Maybe I didn’t love you Quite as often as I could have Maybe I didn’t hold you All those lonely, lonely times And I guess I never told you…
You were always on my mind.
So, be intentional and voice your desires with your spouse. “I want you to know how much you mean to me so I am going to _________” and fill in that blank with an honest intent to show them how much you care and then do that item. It doesn’t matter how small or how extreme–whether it is making the bed or washing their car. Let them know the why or the intent behind the actions. I should note that this is not a quid pro quo exercise where you do this with the expectation that they will do the same for you, although many times that might be the outcome. This is simply you stating and showing intention in keeping your relationship alive. Intentions show where you heart is and will improve your relationship the moment they are expressed and shown.
“Today in an auditorium full of parents my son scanned the room looking for me. When he saw me his face lit up in the room. He wasn’t looking for the perfect parent. He was looking for his mom. Don’t ever forget the power of simply being their mom.” Rachel Marie Martin
Today I was able to accompany my 3rd grade daughter’s class on a field trip to the State Capitol Building and the Courthouse. Mornings around here can get pretty stressful getting four kids ranging from Kindergarten to 5th grade out the door and on time to school and this morning was no exception. It didn’t help matters at all that my daughter came up the stairs wearing shoes that weren’t going to work for a walking field trip. Getting her to wear tennis shoes was quite the chore especially with the little patience that I had, and I was far from a perfect parent in navigating the shoe switch negotiations of my sweet fashionista. Less than 30 minutes after dropping my kids off at school, I returned to check in as a volunteer to accompany her class field trip. As I entered the classroom, my beautiful little girl’s face lit up with excitement at my arrival. I couldn’t help but smile in return and then I looked down at her shoes. Although she was still wearing the tennis shoes that we had argued about less than an hour earlier, she still wanted me to come with her on her adventure with her classmates. She didn’t want the perfect parent to come, she wanted me.
This made me reflect on my own mother. Today she would be picking up my youngest kindergartener who would get out of school while I was still on the 3rd grade field trip adventure. Although I confirmed numerous times the pickup time and location, my mom ended up arriving late and my littlest girl ended up waiting in the office–the last one of three classes of Kindergartener’s to be picked up. My mom had let me down and the added guilt of imagining my daughter panicking at being forgotten at school definitely weighed me down. However, my mom sent me this picture a few hours later. My little bundle of entertainment had spent the afternoon making pickles from the cucumbers in our garden. When I asked her about her day, thinking she would relay how she was the LAST ONE, she shocked me with her response. She instead recounted how she helped her grandma–even with directions and what a good helper she was adding flour to the chicken that my mom had started in a crock-pot for our dinner. Just like my 3rd grader, they were not looking for the perfect (grand)parent, they simply wanted to be with their (grand)parent. I couldn’t eat tonight’s chicken dinner without feeling complete gratitude for my imperfect mother.
So, these pickles will now serve as this reminder that there is no such thing as a perfect parent, spouse, child etc… but in spite of our imperfections we hold an important and irreplaceable part in the lives of others. When it boils down to it, there is no better motivation than to become a better parent, spouse, friend and child than to feel that joy of knowing that you are essential in their lives. They don’t need a perfect parent, they need a parent that can model that to be loved doesn’t mean to be perfect. There are few greater gifts that you could give your child, than the gift of knowing that in spite of imperfections, they are loveable and wanted and it is important to remember that as a parent you are too.
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.