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.

Law of Love that Can Change Your Relationship

Being in a relationship is a leap of faith. In honor of leap year, I thought I would share a truth about love that will help change and improve your relationship.

My husband says that ice cream is best received in small, consistent doses and love is no different. Sometimes it is portrayed in the movies or reality television that it is these grandiose moves that you feel loved, but the truth is that it is actually the small things over time that cement relationships. According to top psychological researcher and clinician, John Gottman, PhD: “It’s the small things done often that make the biggest difference.” These small things are referred to as “bids”, which are really opportunities to pay attention to the small ways in which your partner reaches for you and attempts to connect. How you react to these bids to connect everyday will make more of a difference than extravagant gifts or time shared once in awhile. In fact, Dr. Gottman discovered after conducting a six year study on newlyweds that couples who stayed together turned toward each other’s emotional bids 86 percent of the time, while those who went on to divorce turned toward each other’s bids only 33 percent of the time.

When you are looking at filling your bucket with love, it is best filled with consistent, meaningful drops rather than a downpour of rain. So look for ways to express the love you are feeling in daily ways–whether it is a kiss before you walk out the door, a “miss you” text during the day, making the bed etc. The act itself could be anything but it is important that you express that it is your way of showing your love. Everyone wants to feel chosen and it is important to look for and be intentional about the ways in which you are choosing to share and express your love and to do it in small ways that are done often. So, take the leap and make a decision to be intentional about a small act of love that you can do consistently and you will be amazed at how far it takes you. Happy Leap Year!

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.

Top 5 Strategies to Help Manage Grief

The Holidays are often a time that many look forward to each year but for others serves as a reminder that life is not the same. While there are no ways to change that loved ones are not here with us, there are ways that we can process the grief that at times feels overwhelming. Grief is something that all of us are guaranteed to experience in this life. And though it will be experienced by everyone, each person is going to process it differently. The key is to find ways and outlets to express that grief. Here are five strategies to help manage and cope with grief.

Find Ways For Their Legacy to Live On

“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot. All of the unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.” Jamie Anderson

You can find ways to express the love that you would want to give but cannot. While they may not physically be here to hug or participate, you can find ways that their legacy can live on. Many sponsor events such as golf tournaments or running events and donate the money to a cause that their loved one supported. Some purchase benches or seats in the honor of their loved one. However, it can also be as simple as doing and act of service or something that they would have done in their honor. For instance, you can go and collect all the carts in a busy shopping center, make their favorite cookie or meal and bring it to someone else, pay for a drink or a meal of the person behind you, donate a newborn outfit to the hospital in their honor. Finding a way to have their honor or legacy live on is a very cathartic way to process grief.

Rituals

Rituals also have a great role in being able to express grief. Hiking on their favorite trail, leaving a pebble on their headstone when you visit, releasing their favorite color balloon, watching old videos or looking through photo albums on their birthday. Rituals and activities such as these allow you to send a postcard that “I remember you” or a way to say “Thinking of you” when those moments come.

Physical Momentos

Physical reminders also serve as a way to process grief. From pillows or blankets made from old shirts, necklaces made from their handwriting, birthstone or handprint, a token from items they collected that can be displayed, being able to physically hold something when you cannot hold your love one is an avenue that has shown to make a big difference in expressing grief. Just this past week, a friend whose brother had recently passed away from cancer wore his shirt to the movie theater to watch Star Wars. Physical momentos are a powerful way to express and process grief.

Find An Expression

There is a lyric from a song released this year by Craig Morgan. He wrote it as an expression of grief in tribute to his son who passed away in a drowning accident. “My boy’s not here, but he ain’t gone.”

It is important to be able to find an expression for your grief whether from art, writing poems, lyrics or a song, or even just journaling. Grief is not something that can be controlled and is often just under the surface but when you have an avenue to express the grief you are feeling, it becomes manageable. The pain is still there but that pain becomes a reminder of the love and then the love has an outlet to be expressed.

Reach Out

If there is one thing that you could do to help someone who is grieving, it is simply this–allow them to have an expression. Sometimes we fear causing them pain by bringing up old memories and feeling like we are opening up old wounds, but the most pain they feel is when the rest of the world isn’t grieving and recognizing their grief. So what can you do? Remember them. Allow them an avenue to talk about their loved one. Unexpressed or suppressed grief is painful. When the grief surfaces, allow them the space and avenues to express it. Those who have researched grief have found that the number one difference made in dealing with grief was the support the person felt while they were experiencing it. You can be that difference for someone.

No matter how old you are, no matter what your gender, your education level, how much money you have, where you live…we will all experience grief. While we will all experience it differently, finding ways to express and process this grief will allow us all to manage the role that grief plays in our lives.

If you found this article helpful, please like and share. Thank you.

For more information and to understand the grief that you might be experiencing or the grief a loved one is going through, here is a quick article:

https://practicallyspeakingwithbrita.com/2019/04/10/truth-or-myth-grief-is-something-that-you-should-get-over-myth-5-truths-to-help-understand-and-cope-with-grief/

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.

If you found this helpful, please like and share!

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.

If you found this useful, please take a moment to like and share. Thank you!

Top Tip to Stop Negative Self-Talk

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.

The Number One Tip That Will Improve Your Relationship Right Now

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.