The Art of Inclusion: Two Lessons From “Chalk Day” That Can Erase Bullying

This past week I was able to spend some quality time volunteering at my children’s elementary school. I was lucky enough to be able to pass the last afternoon with 16 of some of the most extraordinary Kindergarten kids on the planet on one of the best days of the year: “C” Day or better known as “Chalk Day”. They were simply given two large buckets of chalk to share and then were given free reign to draw on any of the concrete within the Kindergarten gates (and of course admonished to not draw on themselves or the actual school building 😉 ). I watched in awe as they all, armed with their stick of chalk, went and staked their claim on their concrete slab that would become some of the greatest masterpieces.

I loved how there were no two drawings alike and not one of them seemed worried that they had drawn something different than their classmates. They each seemed to value their own ideas and even if they struggled to make the design come to life that they pictured in their head, they didn’t stop trying. One little girl became frustrated with the star she was drawing. As I bent down to see her drawing I complimented her choice to stick with it. I told her how I could remember being little and practicing drawing stars over and over to try and get it right-just like learning to snap my fingers. I also told her that every star is different but they all light up at night. Reinvigorated, she turned her square into a twinkling skyline that would brighten anyone’s night.

At the end of “Chalk Day”, each student wrote their name under the phrase, “We love Mrs. Wilson” that I wrote. Every name was once again as unique as the personalities that drew it, and together, the combined art became a masterpiece. Experiencing “Chalk Day” reminded me of two points that are the key to address and erase bullying: Kindness and Inclusion.

Kindness matters. Not only is it important to be kind to others, it is really important to be kind to yourself. When things didn’t go as originally planned, I loved how the little girl drawing stars persevered despite the challenges. Eventually, she knew she would get better even if she wasn’t the best right at this moment. This kindness that she showed to herself, to be able to allow for progression, allows her to show more kindness to others. Those who show the most bullying behavior are often the ones who experience the least acts of kindness and have lost this skill to be kind to themselves. It is important to remember that we are all a work in progress.

The second key to decreasing bullying is inclusion. The world was created to be different. Somehow as we grow older we lose the ability to recognize that our differences and what makes us unique is what makes us stronger. Instead, we have a tendency to try and fit into what we view as expectations rather than focus on progressing and growing the talents and abilities that we have been blessed with. Maya Angelou was quoted as saying, “It is time for parents to teach young people early on, that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”

There is an importance to not just accept but celebrate our differences and that we are unique. I loved how each student on “Chalk Day” had their own idea of what they wanted to draw—no one was worried about what was expected and each felt valued for what they wanted to contribute. I can assure you that unfortunately “Chalk Day” in my daughter’s 4th grade class would not have been the same as it was for my son in Kindergarten as they are already concerned with fitting into the “norm” and meeting expectations. How boring would this world be if we all drew the same art with the same stick of chalk? Different view points and talents are what make the world diverse and together the world is better and stronger. Every parent desires for their child to fit in and it is heartbreaking when you recognize when they are being excluded. The greater lesson to teach your child is how to embrace their being created to be unique and how their gifts and talents matter in the world. Help them to recognize and celebrate the uniqueness in others. Once as I was leaving a tumbling class with a group of young tumblers and their mothers, a tumbler looked at the sucker one of the classmates was delightfully devouring. With all the disgust a 4 year old could muster, she turned to her friends and pointed at the classmate and said “Gross!”. The young girl quickly pulled out her sucker and was about to put it in the trash when I intervened and said, “Isn’t it great that God gave us all our own tongues to decide what we think is gross?” The girl quickly reinserted her sucker into her mouth and said, “My tongue loves it!” There are unique things about us all that need to be recognized and celebrated.

So, today’s tip: Learn the art of inclusion. Seek to develop an inclusion mindset– to look for ways to include others and create an environment where everyone has value. Find ways to celebrate the differences of others and to share what is unique about you. This world was created to be full of diversity and everyone contributes to this masterpiece.

Truth or Myth? Curiosity May Kill The Cat, But It Can Save Your Relationship. Truth!

The truth is that our brains are wired to crave new things. Our brains love to learn new things and you can see from a survivalist standpoint why our brains would want to notice and be alerted to new things and thus survive any new threat or overcome any new obstacle. However, unlike the curiosity that kills the cat, maintaining or creating this curiosity in your relationship can actually can save it.

There are two ways that curiosity can save your marriage. For one, curiosity is the spark that can ignite your brain to pay more attention. Remember when you first met your spouse? How you wanted to know everything about them? Psychologist Dorothy Tennov back in the 1970s first coined the phrase limerance which refers to the sometimes intense state of mind at the beginning of a relationship–where you want to know everything about that person and want them to reciprocate the same desire.
Since then, there have been several studies on the effects of “falling in love” and the brain. Researchers have found that increased levels of dopamine are released in your brain which are responsible for the feelings of pleasure and euphoria. Love is like an addictive drug. When the novelty of a new relationship wears off as your brain chemistry changes (usually around 12-18 months), you can jump start your desire to continue to learn more about your spouse by simply staying curious. What is their favorite part of the day? What is something they have always wanted to do but never done before? How do they feel loved? What is something that makes them feel successful? Curiosity is what can keep your desire to increase your connection with your spouse even after the novelty wears off.

The second way curiosity can save your relationship is by being curious together. Recent research by Dr. Arthur Aron, a professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and one of the top researchers on romantic love, indicates that couples can recharge their romantic chemistry by intentionally opting for novelty in something new they do together. In these studies, couples who engaged in fresh activities gave their relationship significantly better satisfaction ratings afterward.

The theory is that dopamine and norepinephrine highs are generated both by novel activities and romantic love. To some degree, your brain doesn’t care whether the source of the high is from your partner or the things you do together. When you do something new, interesting or exciting together, some of the novelty chemistry positively impacts your relationship.

So, go on a new adventure- learn a new skill you have never learned before (snowboarding, horseback riding, deep sea diving, kayaking etc), go to a new picnic spot, take up a new hobby together, move the furniture, try a new restaurant. Do something novel together and see how being curious about each other and new activities can excite and save your relationship and increase your connection. Yes, novelty by design wears off, but curiosity never has to.

Number One Advice Tip for Newlyweds That Will Improve Your Relationship No Matter How Long You Have Been Married

It seems like any bridal shower you attend, there is a plethora of advice given for the bride and groom. I mean, you hear you whole life that marriage is hard and yet it can be hard to fathom why when you are in the bliss of dating. There is one piece of advice that I usually share with the ‘Brides to Be’ but in reality, it is the number one thing that will improve your relationship no matter how long you have been married. And it is this: If you want your spouse to continue a behavior, you simply need to express your gratitude for it everytime that they do it.

Everyone enjoys to be recognized and acknowledged by the one that they love. Especially when you were first dating, you would be quick to open doors or to send them a text to let them know that you were thinking of them. As a newlywed, you are constantly doing small acts of service to show your new spouse that you are thinking of them whether it is a packing a lunch for them for the next day or leaving a love note in their car that they would find later. However, seemingly without even noticing, these small acts dwindle and the routine to think of yourself returns. You no longer acknowledge when they do the dishes or wash the car–in fact, it becomes almost like the standard division of tasks and it turns those things to become automatically expected. We are more quick to acknowledge when they don’t wash the dishes or if the car looks dirty.  The lack of gratitude tends to lead to criticism that can invade your relationship and sometimes can damage your relationship beyond repair.

Acknowledgement and gratitude are the things that will make the biggest difference in turning that around. So take a moment to figure out what act of service makes you feel loved and make a point to acknowledge and express your gratitude for it–even if it is something that you already expect. If you spouse says you look nice today, instead of replying in her head, “Well, took him long enough to notice!” say, “Thank you. It means a lot that you noticed.” Or when your spouse makes a point to send you a text or call you, make sure you acknowledge the effort and say thank you and let them know the impact that it made. They will want to repeat a behavior when they feel like it matters and you express gratitude for it. Life is full of repetitive needs–cooking, mowing the lawn or shoveling the driveway, cleaning, driving to work, dishes, laundry etc… These mundane tasks can become ways you can look for to express your gratitude for the ways in which your spouse meets your needs. Expressing gratitude is the antidote for criticism and is the key to improving and sustaining a healthy relationship. So, look for ways to express gratitude for what you have and make it a habit to acknowledge and express gratitude for the little things. Gratitude is the antidote to criticism and will improve and strengthen your relationship before, during and after you walk down the aisle.

Truth or Myth: Any Therapist Will Be Able to Help You Where You Need To Go

Myth! The truth is that just like in any profession, there are those that are good at their jobs and there are those that are not. Sadly, therapists are no different and they are not created the same. Just as you wouldn’t want to take your car to just any mechanic but would search out for one that was qualified and able to address the needs of your car, you are going to want to invest in finding a therapist is qualified and will be able to address your needs or the needs (or the needs of a loved one) as well. It is a very difficult road to come to the decision to seek out a therapist and often because it is a hard decision, many enter the search to find a therapist under duress and will often see the first person they can get into. When you are at the crossroads of looking for a therapist, it is important to know that finding the right therapist is essential in order to get the outcome that you are looking for. Here are five tips to finding the right therapist for you.

https://practicallyspeakingwithbrita.com/2019/02/01/how-to-find-a-good-therapist-five-tips-to-finding-the-right-therapist-for-you/

Tuesday Tip: The Vital Skill of Listening {Including 6 Tips to Improve Your Listening Skills}

What is the most powerful antidote to grief and pain, the key to healing and the key to progress that doesn’t cost a thing? Listening.

Listening is a vital skill that can always be improved and listening is the number one way to improve your relationships. The truth is that people start to heal the minute they feel heard. Here are 6 ways you can improve your listening skills.

Be Present.  Listening is a gift that doesn’t require any money but it does require that you be present. Devote the time and energy necessary to have a conversation. We all have been part of a conversation where it quickly becomes obvious that the person really isn’t listening to us but is changing the channel on the tv at the same time or looking at their phone. It is obvious and you can tell. If time constraints or other aspects of life do not permit you do devote the time necessary to listen, simply express that to the person and set up another time when you can listen. Example: “I need to take your sister to school right now, can we talk when I get back?”

Be Focused. Listening can be hard work and we are easily distracted. Focusing is required to be able to block out the world of distractions including the urge to check your phone or be preoccupied with what you are going to cook for dinner. While it is normal to have your mind wander and be distracted– it is a skill that you can develop to focus and listen to what someone else is saying.

Be Curious. One way to keep you focused and engaged on the conversation at hand is to remain curious. If you go into conversations with curiosity and genuine interest in what they are trying to communicate, the person you are communicating with can feel it and respond.

Be Aware. According to a study done by Ray Birdwhistell back in 1970, he determined that 35% of communication is verbal or the words we use and 65% of communication is nonverbal or the facial expressions and body language. Basically what that means is you communicate more with your posture and body language and how you say things than what you actually say. So, you need to make sure you are aware of not only those nonverbal expressions of the person you are listening to but what you are portraying as well. Are you maintaining eye contact? Do you have a tone of voice that exhibits that you care? Are you facial expressions demonstrating that you are invested in the conversation? Good listening requires that you are aware of how you and the speaker are communicating.

Be Open-Minded. It has been said that we can only do one thing effectively at a time: listen, judge, or respond. If you are already calculating a judgement about what you are are hearing, you are no longer listening. It is imperative that you listen to the entire message. Be ready to hear and consider all sides of an issue. This does not mean that you have to agree with what is being said, but after you listen to the message, then you can weigh your thoughts against what has been said, and finally respond. A lot of times when you are listening you can put a lot of pressure on yourself to have a response but it is important to know that it also okay not to have an immediate response and to say, “I’m going to need to think about that.”

The truth is that listening does not mean agreement. Listening does not force us to silence our own opinions, it just asks us to show respect to the opinions of others. It actually communicates a willingness to communicate and to keep an open-mind.

Be Reflective. The idea is to give the speaker some proof that you are listening. You can show that you understand where the speaker is coming from by reflecting the speaker’s feelings. “You must be so excited! That sounds awful! I can understand why you would be confused.” Reflection can also be done through just a nod or an appropriate facial expression or an occasional “hmmm” or “uh huh”. Paraphrasing what you are hearing also helps to show that you are listening: “So, you thought you would be able to get a second interview but then they never called you back? That is disappointing.” Reflect what you are hearing or the feelings you are perceiving so that you can make sure the message you are receiving is what the speaker is intending to send. When listening to someone talk about a problem, refrain from suggesting solutions or offering advice unless they ask you for it. Listening doesn’t require you to provide solutions but if somewhere during the conversation, you do have a brilliant solutions, simply ask the speaker’s permission: “Would you like to hear my ideas?” Listening simply requires you to be reflective of their thoughts and feelings rather than inserting your own ideas.

So, today’s Tuesday Tip: Make a goal to improve your listening skills. It is the number one way to improve your relationships and although listening doesn’t cost any money, learning to listen is the best investment you can make.

Tuesday Tip: Two Lessons Learned From Flying That Can Change Your Life

The truth is that life is rarely traveled on a well-lit, smooth paved road. Life is bumpy and full of up and downs. Traveling by flying is no different. You can’t predict the wind or the weather and turbulence can happen at any time. It would seem that in life, the “fasten seat belt” sign is almost permanently lit. There are two lessons that I specifically learned from flying that can make a huge difference in how we navigate this life.

The first lesson I learned was actually before boarding the aircraft.
I once dated a guy who was working on getting his pilot license and I watched him complete a flight plan. Mind you, I had traveled by plane many times but I had never considered that creating a flight plan would be any different than mapquesting a destination in a car. You choose where you start and and where you want to end up and then figure out the roads and highways that will get you there. I figured it would be even simpler to do a flight plan since you wouldn’t have to figure out the roads to get there but could literally fly from point A to point B. That flight plan was one of the most intricate things I had ever seen. Using a map which has a million different circles on it that represent airways, you have to figure out all of the circles that you plan on passing through from one airport to your final airport. Then, while navigating in flight, you are constantly using your flight instruments and checking in to make sure you are on your desired path as you pass through those airways. Even with the detailed flight plan, you are constantly veering off course and having to correct your course. This is how life is. It is essential to have a flight plan–to know you are and where you want to go but even more essential that the flight plan is being able to use your ability to check yourself to be able to correct your course. The way to measure how you are doing in life is not how many times you get off course, but how fast you return to the flight path or in other words, how fast you are able to recenter yourself when life becomes unbalanced.

The second essential life skill I learned from flying is given during those long and monotonous emergency instructions you listen to once you are boarded on the flight. (I realize that I should probably pay more attention to safety instructions that are there for my own benefit but man it is rough to listen to sometimes!) During those lovely instructions though, they give one of the most insightful rules that is an absolute mental health game changer. In case of loss of air cabin pressure, they tell you that an oxygen mask will fall from the ceiling above you. Then they give you this admonition: Before you assist someone else, you need to put your own oxygen mask first. This is an essential skill that many caregivers or parents often overlook. They, (many times out of concern and love) attempt to address the needs of those they care for without having addressed their own. This can lead to burnout. The skill is to identify and provide self-care for yourself and then to be able to provide assistance to those in your life who may need it. What does self-care look like? Self care is simple acts that show that you are taking care of yourself and recognizing your own needs. Below I included a list of a few self-care items, but in reality your list will be just as unique are you are and may not include the stash of chocolate in the pantry. 😉 It is not selfish, but in fact will allow you to show more love to those around you just like putting your oxygen mask on first before you assist others to put on theirs.

So, take a moment to create your own flight plan for yourself. Who are you, and where are you headed? Write out that goal and then you can check yourself periodically to see what course changes you may need to make in order to stay on your path.

Second, create a self-care plan for you. What would be on your list of self-care items? Create that list. Check in and monitor yourself and if you know that you are going to be needed whether it is emotionally or physically– start by making sure you have first put on your own oxygen mask. Taking care of yourself matters and allows you to then assist others which in turn brings joy to your life.

While these tips will not change the turbulence that we experience in this life, it will help you to more successfully navigate your flight and reach your desired destination. Have a safe flight!

Truth or Myth: Grief is Something That You Should Get Over. {Myth! 5 Truths To Help Understand and Cope With Grief}

Believe it or not, the first class I ever took regarding grief was in High School with Father Tom. I attended a catholic high school in California and it was in that class on “Death and Dying” that I was first introduced to the 5 steps of bereavement by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Although I do find value in her work and stages of grief: {denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance}, I also feel that it has assisted in portraying a false notion that grief is something that we are to get over. Truthfully, those who follow her theory will be the first to tell you that you do not go through these stages chronologically and each situation is unique. However, it can still perpetuate the idea that grief is something that you are supposed to get through or that there is an end.

In fact, the question I was often asked by clients was “When am I going to get over this?” or “When am I going to move on?” There are five truths about grief that will help with understanding the role and purpose of grief.

One: Grief is not something that you can fix or control. In fact grief expert, Julia Samuel, who recently wrote a book entitled, “Grief Works”, describes grief as chaotic, unpredictable and messy and is a process that you are not in charge of but works beneath the surface. Grief is personal and there is not one way to grieve. The key according to Samuel is to find ways to express your grief so that it doesn’t get stuck inside you–to reach out for comfort and support from loved ones, find a word or a way to express those feelings or to journal about your feelings so that they do not remain so overwhelming.

Two: It is essential to acknowledge painful feelings. What you are feeling is normal and if you attempt to shutdown pain or numb painful feelings, you also shutdown or numb happy or joyful feelings. Do not avoid the pain. In fact many often turn to alcohol or to work as a way to avoid pain and to try to numb the painful feelings. Grief and pain come and go in cycles and they have a role. Finding connection to loved ones that can support your grief and pain allows the pain to diminish and for you to heal.

Three: There is meaning in pain and it isn’t something that you should or need to avoid. Pain connects you to the person who is no longer there. When a loved one who has made an imprint in your life is no longer there, you can expect that there will be a void. This void is a reminder of the love that you shared which is not meant to be replaced.

It is important to note that there can be a tendency to equivocate pain with a way to connect to the person who is gone and you can feel like you are abandoning them if you stop feeling the pain. Many have felt guilty if they laugh, find enjoyment in life, forget an anniversary or special date. It is important to know that you can allow both and to give yourself permission to seek comfort in your life.

Four: Grief will always be painful and you will always miss them. One of my favorite analogies that has been pretty useful at explaining grief was told by the psychologist of Lauren Herschel and is known as the ball and the box. Grief is compared to a large ball that is placed in a box with a pain button. The ball is so large that at first you can’t move the box without hitting the button. It moves around in the box and consequently hits the pain button over and over. You can’t control it- it just keeps hurting and seems relentless. Overtime, the ball shrinks, and you can start moving the box without hitting the button. The ball still hits the button sometimes, but less than it used to. However, when the ball does hit the pain button, it hurts just as much. Although you can function better day to day, the ball will hit that pain button randomly when you least expect it. For most people the ball never goes away fully but the ball keeps getting smaller.

Five: Research shows that it is not the circumstances of the grief that predicts the positive or negative outcome but it is the support that the person receives at the time. So, if you are in the midst of grief and pain, reach out and connect where you can. Professor Brene Brown’s mother gave some of the best advice when it came to pain: “My mom taught us to never look away from people’s pain. Don’t look away. Don’t look down. Don’t pretend not to see hurt. Look people in the eye. Even when pain is overwhelming. And, when you’re in pain, find the people who can look you in the eye. We need to know that we are not alone–especially when we are hurting.”

Truth or Myth: Feeling Anxiety Can Be a Good Thing

Truth! Anxiety is a normal and healthy function. In fact, you couldn’t subsist without it. Evolutionarily speaking, it was essential for our brains to be able to be observant in order to survive. Anxiety is a sign you are aware of your surroundings and that you are mindful of growing opportunities and that you are frightened of things that are in fact scary (like that saber tooth tiger or starting at a new school/job)! There are several functions that are necessary for us to survive that stem from feeling anxiety.

For one, feeling anxiety or stress increases cortisol and adrenaline levels in the body, greatly improving the fight or flight reaction. Your heart beats faster, your breaths per minute increase, you become more aware of your surroundings and your body is ready to fight or run to protect itself. Almost like your “spidy-sense” is triggered and your body is set to gear up to deal with and handle the situation at hand.

This adrenaline can improve both attention and your ability to focus. Think of a time when something big was on the line. Perhaps it was a speech you had to give, a three point shot at the buzzer to win the game—all create certain amounts of stress and anxiety.And while many of these situations are filled with pressure, the increased anxiety makes you focus that much more. In all of these instances, if your body wasn’t producing extra levels of adrenaline and cortisol, you wouldn’t be as ready to make that game winning shot.

The stress response that is triggered by anxiety is also designed to help us react when something potentially threatening happens, to help us deal with it and learn from it. Dr. Daniela Kaufer, an associate professor at UC Berkley, studies the biology of stress–examining at the molecular level how the brain responds to anxiety and traumatic events. Her research found that the part of your brain involved in the stress response (called the hippocampus) will stimulate stem cells which go on to form neurons or brain cells. Hence, anxiety can be a good thing as it can help you focus more and be able to learn more!

Having an understanding of how anxiety can be a useful tool in helping you be observant (ability to focus more), and recognize areas of growth (example: where you realize that you should focus more on your 3 point shot) and give you the adrenaline or energy necessary to deal with situations (example: saving the 2 year old from falling off the chair) can help you realize that anxiety can be an asset. Feeling anxiety really isn’t a bad thing. It is a normal and necessary feeling that you can make work for you rather than against you. How do you do this? When you recognize feeling anxious (everyone is unique in how they feel anxiety in their body but everyone feels it) mentally listen to the message that it is giving you and then in your mind, assign the anxiety a task. For example, you recognize you are breathing faster while preparing to be interviewed for a job. Take a deep breath and mentally give yourself a task to remember the interviewers name or to remember answers to questions you have already prepared and your brain will be stimulated to complete that task. Anxiety can really be an asset and not just for the caveman.

Tuesday Tip: Kindness Matters

The ripple effect of kindness is more powerful than many might realize. I can’t emphasize enough how much kindness makes a difference. In fact, it has been the catalyst that has saved lives. The clients I have had the honor of working with as they processed he excruciating pain and anguish which leads someone to contemplate suicide, often surprised me by the stories that they would share of the simple acts they witnessed {many times these events did not even that happened to them} that would help them to hold on amongst the pain and restore hope. You don’t know the positive impact that you can make simply by moving over to give them a seat on the bus or at lunch to make room for someone else, the high five to a stranger in the hallway, the heartfelt smile that allowed someone in pain to realize their heart was still beating. Reaching out with kindness is something everyone and anyone can do and I promise makes a difference. The Boy Scouts of America has a slogan, “Do a good turn daily.” This is a tip that would be a great goal for all of us. So, today’s Tuesday Tip: Do an act of kindness daily: the ripple effect is beyond powerful.

Truth or Myth: Your Thoughts Are NOT Your Identity

Truth! You are NOT your thoughts. In fact, according to the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at the University of Southern California, the average person has about 48.6 thoughts per minute. That adds up to nearly 70,000 thoughts per day. Researchers estimate that 60-80% of those thoughts are negative! Dr. Raj Raghunathan, of the University of Texas recently conducted an experiment asking students in the business school to register their thoughts for 2 weeks and then categorized them. He found that 70% of those student’s thoughts were negative.
Negative thoughts do NOT define who we are. It has absolutely nothing to do with our character and who we are as a person. You cannot control if a bird lands on your head or every thought that comes in your head but you can prevent birds from making a nest and you can control what thoughts you allow to stay.

Looking to reduce the negative thoughts in your head?

Stay tuned for 5 proven strategies to combat negative thoughts coming next week. For recurrent negative thoughts, you can also check out:
https://practicallyspeakingwithbrita.com/2019/02/06/5-simple-steps-to-change-negative-thinking/