The Power of Gratitude in Your Relationship

For many of us we spend an abundant amount of time scrolling through Amazon searching and shopping for the perfect gift for our partners— Something that will tell them that they are special and that we were thinking specifically about them. Sometimes we even consider breaking the budget and going all in on a gift that will surely make them feel loved. But what if I were to tell you that there is a gift that you could give your partner that would be guaranteed to make them feel just that–special, thought of and loved–and it wouldn’t cost you anything? That my friends, is the power of gratitude.

The truth is that there is a gift that we fail to give at times but it is a fundamental building block to every healthy relationship—the gift of gratitude. This is a gift that is so powerful that is has been deemed according to Dr. John Gottman, a leading Psychologist and Researcher, to be the antidote or cure for contempt (which he refers to as the most dangerous indicator of divorce). Gratitude is an essential part in sustaining any relationship and when expressed can make a profound difference in changing the negative tone and perspective that at times can override our relationships. Gratitude can change how we think and feel about our partners. It helps change our mode of thinking from scanning the environment for people’s mistakes and then correcting them to scanning the environment for what one’s partner is doing right and building a culture of appreciation, fondness, affection and respect.

Anytime you acknowledge and express gratitude for something your partner has done (ie ‘Thanks for picking up the kids’ or “Thanks for doing the laundry”) it is an absolute positive way to strengthen your relationship. However, there is something magical when your gratitude is tied to the positive aspects of your partner’s personality. (ie “Thanks for being [involved, reliable, dependable, understanding] and picking up the kids” or “Thanks for being so [supportive, resourceful, caring, receptive] and doing the laundry”). It is a game changer when they feel seen and recognized for the positive personality traits that they have and it is important to acknowledge the positive aspects of your partner’s personality. Just reading “Thanks for being dedicated and taking the time to read this article” out loud you can recognize in yourself what a positive affect that has. You feel really good at your core. It makes a huge difference to you and to your partner.

Now, in case you lamenting right now and perhaps are one of the many that I have heard on occasion comment –“Man, I wish my partner would learn to do that!” You are in luck. You can be the difference maker and do not need to wait until your partner reads this article. The studies have shown that just by one partner practicing a new behavioral interaction such as this form of personality gratitude for about two weeks–the other is highly likely to reciprocate the behavior. Not that your goal in sharing your gratitude should be reciprocity–in fact, even when the gratitude is not returned, the person who expresses the gratitude exhibits higher level of happiness and connection. That is a powerful gift for the receiver and for the giver.

So, how can you access this power of gratitude in your relationship? It is a new process and a new way of thinking to incorporate expressing gratitude and anything that is new isn’t always easy. The nice part is that the following is an exercise that you can do in real time now or is just as powerful in looking back in the past. Take a few moments and think about the selected aspects of your partner’s personality or even a friend, child or coworker. {This is a gift that works for everyone!} Below I will put down a list of a few, but there are tons more. Circle a few (3-5) items that you think are characteristic of the person at times–even slightly. For each word you circled, think of an actual incident that illustrates this characteristic of your partner. Write down a note about this incident and share it with them. It can be hard to recognize and implement this in real time but no matter when it is recognized whether it is something you witnessed today or 5 years ago, the power comes in that the gratitude was witnessed and shared.

Loving Sensitive Brave Intelligent Thoughtful

Generous Loyal Truthful Strong Energetic

Sexy Decisive Creative Fun Attractive

Considerate Imaginative Interesting Supportive Funny

Resourceful Athletic Cheerful Graceful Caring

Exciting Thrifty Vulnerable Committed Careful

Involved Reliable Responsible Nurturing Gentle

Dependable Kind Practical Calm Sweet

Powerful Flexible Receptive Protective Understanding

Gratitude is not only a fundamental key in maintaining and sustaining a happy and healthy relationship, it is also a powerful gift for the giver and the receiver. It allows you to change your perspective from one of criticism of weaknesses and mistakes to one that fosters fondness and admiration for the goodness that exists in this world, in your partner and in you. Add more of the power of gratitude in your life and relationship today! If you have found this blog to be helpful to you, please like and share. Thanks!

The Power of Hope {including 4 tips to apply it in your life}

Earlier this month, my 7 year-old niece came jumping up to me completely excited and with a voice of pure elation screeched, “Guess what!?! Next week, I’m going to go the dentist and he’s going to pull out two teeth!!” I looked up at her Dad with raised eyebrows and we smiled at each other realizing that it was pretty obvious that she had no idea that going to the dentist to get teeth removed would involve getting a potentially painful shot in her mouth. Not needing to squelch her excitement, I simply continued to listen as she opened her mouth to show me which teeth she was going to get pulled and how the tooth fairy would be coming to her house soon. I figured that she would probably be relaying a different story to me about those two front teeth after they were pulled but as it turned out, I ended up being the one completely shocked and surprised when she called me on her way home from the dentist. Even though it was over the phone, I could feel the utter thrill and excitement in her voice as she told me about her teeth being pulled and how the tooth fairy was finally coming to her house…TONIGHT! I immediately thought that maybe something must have come up that made it so she didn’t have to get a shot. How could she still be so excited having just had two teeth pulled out? However, it turns out that she really did get a shot in her mouth. She was just so looking forward with pure hope to the tooth fairy coming and finally having lost her front two teeth, that the temporary pain she experienced was not what she focused on. She looked beyond that and looked forward. In that moment, my niece reminded me of the importance and the power of hope.

A picture of my niece taken by my sister-in-law after she arrived home from the dentist.

Hope is one of the most powerful feelings which allows us to look forward and get through the difficulties that we will all experience as a part of life. It allows your mind and your body to recognize that this pain is temporary and allows for you to see a different outcome. Being able to visualize and imagine yourself in a future time not experiencing the pain you might be currently experiencing, immediately reduces that pain you are feeling. Hope is powerful. Everyone can recall times in their lives that were truly painful. Not just physically painful like when you stubbed your toe or walked on a LEGO, but emotionally painful times of grief and sorrow. They are truly painful. In fact, researchers have discovered that when people feel emotional pain, the same areas of the brain get activated as when people feel physical pain (the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex). Studies have found that these regions of the brain were activated when people experienced an experimental social rejection from peers and even when people who had recently broken up with romantic partners viewed pictures of the former partner. Whether you are experiencing physical or emotional pain, hope is a powerful feeling which allows us to consider even when it the midst of that pain, a time in the future when we will not be feeling that pain. Hope allows us the joy of tomorrow being a new day, a new chance to start again, a new chance for things to be different than they are now.

There is a another story which helps to illustrate the power of hope. The world here just recently celebrated Easter. The celebration of the story that offers more hope than any other in all the stories of the world where Jesus Christ is crucified on a cross and then is resurrected on the third day. Is there any more hope in the world than that to know that because of Him, that we can be resurrected again one day? That there is more to life than just this one? When we reflect on the story of Easter, there is a tendency to focus on the pain that Jesus Christ experienced on the cross and then we often jump to the morning of the resurrection when the hope of the world was confirmed. However, there is not much focused on what happened during that Saturday in between His death on the second day. We know that Mary Magdalene brought oils to anoint his body on that Easter Morning because they were in such a rush to prepare his body and place it in the tomb before the Sabbath day. Other than that, there really isn’t much we know of that happened other than that the apostles and His mother and other women like Mary stayed. Granted, no one knew or understood what to look for– what resurrection even meant. What they knew was that the Savior was killed and that they put his body in a tomb and rolled a large rock in front of it. There were in no doubt a serious state of mourning and grief. But they prepared oils and they stayed. Their hope was manifest that second day–in the middle of the story– and confirmed on the third day when they saw that He was resurrected. Hope begins during the difficulty. For most of us, life is what happens “in the middle” and where we need the power of hope.

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Hope is what rises up from the ashes when we feel burned. Hope is what motivates us to look forward when we are surrounded in darkness and confusion. Hope is what helps us to visualize our lives in a different time with a different outcome and allows us to develop a plan to move forward to that. Hope allows us to picture a time different from the one we are experiencing. Hope is the catalyst for change. Hope is what allows us to survive difficult times and moments in the “middle”. Hope allows for a new ending.

So, how can you apply the power of hope in your life? There are a few proven strategies that can help including visual reminders, vision boards, visualization exercises and utilizing positive reinforcement.

Visualize it.

Whether it is spring blossoms on the trees or the sunlight that breaks through the darkness at sunrise, find something which can visually remind you that hope does exist. Winter and darkness are temporary and hope is what allows us to remember the sun and the good things in life that are coming.

Vision Boards

Vision boards of what you envision are a powerful tool that help you apply the power of hope in your life. What do you hope for? What holds meaning for you? What do you hope to achieve? What qualities do you hope to gain? Who do you want to become? What are you doing currently to bring that to fruition? Even just asking those questions to yourself can show you how powerful hope can be. The more intentional you are about your hopes and dreams, the more that you can use the power of hope in your life.


Psychologists have recognized the benefits of using visual imagery for decades as a way to help people improve and enhance their performance, change and create new views and feelings, and achieve life goals. In fact, many professional teams now have guided imagery sessions before games and matches. Studies have shown that people who want to learn to shoot basketball hoops can show considerable improvement just by visualizing shooting baskets in their heads. Simply visualizing playing the piano can actually improve someone’s ability to play a piece. Being able to visualize something in your head, greatly increase your chances of being able to do it in real life. Picture what it will look like. The most you can picture and describe it, the more you brain will start to develop neural connections. Think of the 5 senses: What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you taste? What do you feel? The more you can visualize it, the more motivated you will be to take an action toward your goal. Your brain’s natural ability to problem solve is also jump started allowing you to develop a plan for how to obtain what you want.

Not only can visualization help to start you on your path towards your goals, it also helps during the difficult times in reaching your goals. For example, during the grueling practice, you can train your mind to visualize and to focus on the feeling of crossing the finish line. Visualize the music that you hear are you feel yourself breaking the tape, the cheers you might hear and inner feeling of accomplishment and smile across your face, knowing that you finished strong.

Positive Reinforcement

Another proven strategy which can help you apply the power of hope in your life is positive reinforcement. Also known in the parenting world as bribery. While you might think that using a technique that is attributed to the mob might not be a good thing, tying into the power of hope can be a very powerful thing. Just as my niece was looking forward to the reward of the tooth fairy, reward systems tie into the power of hope and can motivate adults and kids alike to get through the “middle” and hard things. It is important to emphasize and reward effort rather than just whether they meet their objective. If they are putting forth full effort into something they are inevitably strengthening their character. Teenagers visualizing what it will feel like to drive their own car has allowed them to get through the at times grueling tasks of flipping burgers, washing windows or cleaning toilets. The key is to make sure you are reinforcing something that you want them to develop for themselves. Earning something based on effort and rewarding them for pushing through hard times. Having something to look forward to is the epitome of hope.

So, apply the power of hope in your life. Hope is one of the most powerful feelings which allows us to look forward, become better and even get through the difficulties that we will all experience as a part of life. Hope can and does make all the difference in the world.

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How a Marble Jar Might Just be the Key to Understanding Trust

Who knew that a marble jar could be they key to understanding trust? Not only it is a powerful way of teaching about trust, the marble jar carries an even more important message of how to regain or rebuild trust.

Back in 2015, Research Professor and Author, Brené Brown, gave a speech at UCLA’s Royce hall as part of Oprah Winfrey’s Supersoul Sessions series titled, “The Anatomy of Trust” . {I included the link and although it is a little long– the 23 minutes will be worth your time.} In the talk, she relays the story of her own daughter’s experience with the marble jar and how it relates to trust.

She related how her 3rd grade daughter came home devastated after she had related something that was hard for her to some friends and how before recess was over how lots of her classmates had found out and then began to make fun of her causing a commotion which made the teacher take marbles out of the jar.

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A marble jar is where collectively as a class they can earn marbles for following directives etc. and then conversely lose marbles when they aren’t following instructions. Filling the glass jar with marbles would result in a class celebration.

In her devastation, her daughter exclaimed that she was never going to trust anyone again. Her mom then explained:

“Trust is like a marble jar. For every moment of trust earned, one marble goes into the jar. You only share your important stories with friends who have filled up their marble jars.”

There are two really powerful lessons that we can learn from this analogy of trust being like a marble jar. For one, it gives something that is difficult to define but so powerful like trust something that you can physically see. We all know what a marble looks like. We know that one marble by itself it pretty insignificant. It doesn’t take much to add one marble in a jar and like trust, it doesn’t take much to build.

Trust is built in small moments. Someone remembering your name. Someone keeping their word and saving you a seat on the bus. Someone helping you shovel your driveway. Someone responding to a text. In fact, relationship expert, Dr. John Gottman, refers to these trust building moments as sliding door moments: “In any interaction, there is a possibility of connection with your partner or turning away from your partner.” Trust is built in very small moments.

However, just as trust is easy to build and put marbles in a jar, it is also easy to tear down and for marbles to be taken out.

But there is something even more powerful that we can learn from this analogy of trust being like a marble jar–how to rebuild trust. Just like the young daughter, when someone breaks our trust or disappoints us or hurts us, it is easy to simply want to cut them off and out of your life. We all know and can relate to the feeling of not ever wanting to trust anyone again. However, this analogy of the marble jar holds a powerful lesson about trust. It’s not all or nothing. The marble jar isn’t just full or empty– it is actually most of the time in between full and empty. It’s not that you have trust or you don’t have trust. The fact is that trust is an ongoing process.

Building trust or putting marbles in a jar is constantly happening and is a part of our relationships. One of the most important lessons we can teach our kids is how to build and to rebuild trust when it is broken. In every relationship that you have, even those relationships you value the most, you have had marbles taken out. Every relationship will have times when that will happen. What do we do when marbles are taken out of the jar or when we have been the cause of marbles being removed from someone’s jar?

Rebuilding trust isn’t a complex task although it can require more actions and therefore be more difficult. In her talk, Brené Brown actually goes on to define trust and divides the definition into 7 categories using the acronym ‘Braving’. Defining trust actually gives us a way to be able to recognize what aspect of trust is needing to be addressed and then we can do a better job of addressing how to fix and change that. It allows for a progressive definition of trust rather than an all or nothing definition where you are either trusted or not trusted. We all know how heavy of a weight the term “I don’t trust you!” carries. Understanding the aspects of trust allows us to see areas of growth and change to improve trust so much easier. Trust is no longer all or nothing.

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Trust is something that is meant to be built and rebuilt–over actions and time when through simple moments and actions, like marbles that are placed in a jar. Sometimes when we have experienced hurt and marbles have been taken out, it is hard to stay vulnerable and allow our marble jars to stay open. However, it is a crucial life skill to learn and know how to build and rebuild trust and it starts with trusting ourselves. Using the BRAVING definition of trust, review where you are. What is your level of trust for yourself? What is an area of trust that you could improve in? We are all works in progress–changing and learning everyday.

So, put a marble jar in your office or in your bathroom to remind yourself to make a conscious choice on filling your jars by simple acts and keeping your commitments. If and when you fail, to make the choice to be quick to be accountable and make amends. Remember that the small things matter. Just as important as it is to build trust, it is just as important to rebuild it one marble at a time.

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The One Factor That Makes It More Likely To Have A Thriving Relationship

It’s no secret that people have been searching for the answers to what makes a relationship successful for decades. Researchers recently set out to explain why some partnerships thrive and some fail through a year long study with over 11,000 couples that was just published six months ago. The findings just might surprise you. The landmark study found that there was one factor that made it more likely than any other to have a thriving relationship. And it beat out age, gender, income level and even sexual satisfaction. So, what was this factor?? One partner’s perception of how committed their partner was to the relationship. So, the study found that partners who believed that their partner was committed to the relationship were the most likely to have a thriving relationship.

So, knowing the importance of your perception of your partner’s commitment in having a successful relationship, how do you apply the findings of this study to your relationship? For those of us who are in a committed relationship, there are two questions you need to ask yourself and then two action steps you can implement that will help you. If you are not currently in a relationship, there is still much that can me learned from this study including two takeaways about what to look to look for in a partner.

Currently In a Committed Relationship: Two Questions to Ask Yourself

The First Question: Take a moment and ask yourself what tells you that your partner is committed to the relationship? You might be surprised to recognize that it might be a small act of kissing you goodbye before they leave, a consistent check-in text they send you, or something larger such a a joint-venture in signing tons of paperwork and working towards owning a home or going through tests and procedures to start a family together via IVF. Whatever it is for you, have you expressed your appreciation to your partner for it? Make a concerted effort to express appreciation for those acts that you value that show commitment to you.

The Second Question: What do you do to show that you are committed to your relationship? It could once again be something small and consistent [which the research shows makes a profound difference] or it could be something larger. Most of the time we don’t outright explain why we are doing what we are doing but these acts are essential to having our relationships thrive. Select something that shows your commitment to your relationship and simply do whatever the act is and let your partner know that your objective in doing it is to let them know you are committed to the relationship. Even if it is unloading the dishwasher after a long day, simply state to your partner that “our relationship is important to me and that is why I’m unloading the dishwasher.” Be intentional in showing your commitment to your relationship and you will how much your relationship improves just like watering a plant. I should note that this is not a quid pro quo where you expect that your partner reciprocates–it is simply your desire to share your commitment. They might reciprocate or they might not, but you are still feeding your relationship and helping it to thrive.

Not Currently In a Committed Relationship: Two Takeways

Even if you are not currently in a committed relationship, there are several valuable things you can take away from this study.

One, the study found that interestingly their partner’s personality or their partner’s perception of the relationship didn’t seem to matter much. And while factors such as your personality or whether or not you experience depression or anxiety could very well affect the quality of your relationship, the study authors noted that building a relationship that you feel satisfied and secure in could outweigh those things. You are not a perfect person and you are not going to date or marry a perfect person but you do want to make sure that you feel that you are building a relationship where you feel secure and that you could build something together.

The second takeaway from the study is that what the researchers found is that your own judgment or your own view of your relationship — meaning, how satisfied you feel your partner is or how appreciative you are of your partner — says more about the quality of your relationship than either of your personalities. So, don’t focus so much on whether a person fits your type or checks all of your boxes but rather how you are engaging with each other and if the relationship leaves you feeling satisfied. The study author’s noted that when it comes to a satisfying relationship that can thrive, the partnership you build is more important than the partner you pick. Your perspective and your perception of yourself in the relationship–how secure and comfortable you feel about yourself matters.

The secret to what helps your relationship thrive is no longer a secret. So, take the time to apply the findings of this study and watch how your relationship improves. If you are not currently in a relationship, make sure that you are dating a person that allows you to feel secure about yourself and how you feel in the relationship and has the same desires of commitment that you do. It can make all the difference in the success of your relationship.

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Top Tip to Making Your New Years Resolution (or any goal) Stick

The truth is that we are all under construction. We all have areas of growth and we are lucky that each day we can improve ourselves. No one loves or believes in change and goals more than a therapist. But there is one tip that can make a huge difference in helping us to improve and reach those goals or keep those New Years Resolutions.

That top tip is this: Replacement. When you are looking to improve your life by letting go of something that isn’t the best for you, instead of just focusing on getting rid of that thing, you need to replace it with something better.

We are just learning more and more about the capacities of our brains. They are absolutely remarkable and complex. There are some things that researchers have found about our brains that can apply directly to our ability to improve ourselves and how we can make more progress in reaching our goals. For one, there is a term called neuroplasticity which basically is how the brain forms and recreates connections–or how the brain rewires. What they have determined is that anything we give attention to or anything we emphasize in our experiences and interactions creates new linking connections in the brain. So, where attention goes neurons fire. You can and do create new linking connections all the time. No matter what habit you are trying to break or new habit you are trying to develop– neuroplasticity means you have hope to be able to make any necessary brain rewiring needed.

One other aspect of the brain that researchers have found which gives a lot of hope regarding breaking and creating habits is about neural pathways. I’m simplifying greatly here for the sake of explanation but knowing how our brains work is crucial in knowing how we can improve or fix our thinking. Your brain is full of neural pathways which is basically the paths your thoughts travel and your brain is trained to take the shortest and easiest, most worn path if it doesn’t get different directions from you. Kinda makes sense now when you hear the phrase ‘we are creatures of habit’ now, huh? The hope lies in that we can direct our brains and we can create new paths or detours if you will to avoid our previous paths or ways of thinking. With the replacement option, when we have a tendency to go down a path that we are trying to change, you can direct your brain to hop onto and travel the replacement option instead of fighting within your mind to not go down the path you are now trying to avoid. (Our brains really don’t like to be told no–they much rather prefer –go this way instead. Knowing about neural pathways allows you to understand why it can be difficult to change behavior when the pathway is been so thoroughly ground in. It takes time to build new neural pathways and so don’t be discouraged when you recognize a tendency to return to old habits. Remember that you are building something better and focus on ways you can reinforce those thoughts that will allow you to progress in the goals you have for yourself.

For example, if you are looking to improve your health by limiting a particular food that you find isn’t healthy for you, you will be much more successful if you replace that food with something better for you rather than by only just cutting that out of your diet.

If you are looking at overcoming a pornography addiction, you will be more successful in this journey by replacing. Replace the time you spend alone pursuing a path that doesn’t lead to connection and add a meaningful connection like volunteering at an animal shelter or at a food kitchen or finding someone to serve. Replace the darkness with light. Tell your mind what to do instead of simply telling it to stop.

So when you are considering your improvement goals or your New Years Resolutions, don’t just look for what you should stop doing, but look for positive ways and things that you can replace what you want to stop doing by what you should start doing. We are all under construction, but knowing how our mind is constructed and using the replacement (detour) technique will surprise you how much more success you will find in progressing, reaching and accomplishing your goals this year.

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Why Goals Are So Powerful And How A Cow Could Be The Secret to Reaching Your Goals

There is a famous saying that you never step in the same river twice. Meaning that the river is always changing due to the currents moving in one direction or another. Life is really no different– it is full of change and we are either moving against the current or even without us realizing it, the current is moving us. Goals are the number one way to give direction and control in life. They can serve as an anchor in unchartered waters and the rivers of life and allow us to grow and improve despite our circumstances—even a global pandemic. Goals are powerful.

In fact, goals can allow you a path forward and more control in your life. They help you recognize what brings you joy and how to make your dreams and ambitions come true.

Goals can even help you push through difficult situations especially where feelings are intense. Instead of relying on “I’ll see how I feel”, you can predetermine your focus and thoughts and choose to move forward despite not feeling like it. Regardless if you are processing difficult feelings from a breakup of a relationship or early pregnancy loss or even an extended deployment –whatever you may be processing– having goals allows you a path forward rather than spiraling downwards in despair or discouragement.

Our thoughts can be more powerful than even the most intense feelings and if you have preset goals, your thoughts about your goals can motivate you even through dark times. Goals give you a chance to muster your energy (which can be depleted at times) to a central purpose and allow you to rise above your current situation.

Goals allow for you to recognize growth and progress and are more powerful than you realize.

Here are five tips to help you find more success in making and achieving your goals including a final tip about a cow that could be the secret to you reaching your goals.

The Importance of a Progressive Mindset

One of the most important things to keep in mind when you are setting your goals is to have a progressive mindset. The pass/fail mentality often limits goal setting for fear that you will feel like a failure if you don’t reach your goal. It is important to remember that it is not about achieving or not achieving your goal but that all goals are meant to lift us higher and that no matter how high your goal, if you shoot for the moon, you will still leave the ground and any height off the ground is progress. Having a progressive mindset allows you to recognize and feel all the joy from all the progress you are making rather than limiting yourself to joy only in the outcome or only frustration when goals aren’t completely accomplished.

The Importance of Knowing Your Why

Knowing your why is essential in both combating discouragement and providing the mental encouragement in helping you reach your goals. It helps you overcome challenges and is the source of motivation. It also allows you to ignore how your actions may appear to others when others may not understand. Knowing your why also helps get you through the day to day monotony. For instance, if you have a goal to be a good parent and provider for your children, knowing your why helps when you get up early and drive to work while it’s still dark outside. Whatever your why, knowing your why allows you to intentionally make decisions that will help you reach your goal regardless of the opposition you face or the the challenges you might have. This is a short two minute commercial actually but it does a great job of illustrating the power and importance of goals and knowing your why. Try and not cry at the end.

The Importance of Knowing the When to Win

To be successful at implementing a new goal in your life, knowing ‘the when’ can be a crucial step. You need to know when you are going to accomplish this in your life. Where does it fit in your life? When are you going to do it? In addition to knowing when you are going to add the goal in your life, it is also important to set a time when you can evaluate whether or not what you are doing is helping you reach your goal and if it isn’t, you can make subtle changes to make sure you are on the right track. It is important to keep in mind that it is normal for how you reach your goals to change. For instance, if your goal was to take and active role in your physical health by going to the gym for 30 minutes everyday before work and then gyms are closed due to COVID, you would obviously need to reassess and change how you would work towards that goal. You may need to change the way you are working towards that goal by doing a workout at home everyday instead or adding a morning walk to your routine. COVID or another challenge you might face doesn’t need to cancel your goal or mean that you need to give up on your goal, it just means that the way you reach your goal may need to change. Knowing the when of your goals definitely helps you to win.

Two Key questions to Ask to Create Goals

While creating goals for yourself can sometimes be an overwhelming and daunting challenge, there are two key questions that can help you determine where to start. One: What is something that you need to start doing to be that person? And Two: What is something that you need to stop doing? Pondering the answers to those two simple questions can allow you to determine the direction you want to head and regardless of the currents of the river of life, setting goals to reach them will help lead you to becoming that person you want to be.

The Cow Does Not Give Milk

The secret to success can be found in a simple truth taught by a farmer: the cow does not give milk. Yes, the cow produces the milk but in order to get the milk, it involves the monotonous process of getting up at the crack of dawn and walking through a bunch of cow manure to get a bucket, sitting on a bench and physically removing the milk from the cow. You milk the cow or you don’t get milk. The things one receives are the results of the efforts one does. There is no short cut to hard work. Don’t be afraid of work as it is the key to any goal. Just wanting something or asking for something doesn’t mean it comes true. The cow does not give milk, it gets milked.

So, make this year your year of progress. Physically sit down and write out your goals and what you are going to do to achieve them. Regardless of what this year will bring, you will find greater happiness, greater peace and joy in your progress to becoming a better version of yourself.

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How to Love Someone When You Disagree

Anyone who has ever loved someone and disagreed with them knows how painful that disconnection can be. However, there are five key concepts to understand about conflict that once understood and applied will make the biggest impact in your relationship with the one you love when you disagree.

One: Disagreements are Normal

First off, it is important to note that disagreements are normal. According to renowned researcher, therapist and author, John Gottman, PhD, nearly 2/3 of relationship problems are unsolvable. All relationships are going to experience disagreements as we all come from different backgrounds, have had different experiences and belief systems. In fact, a majority of the disagreements (69%) are not solved. What the research has found is that it is not the presence of the conflict itself but the manner in which the couple responds to that conflict that makes the biggest difference. Your job is not to solve the conflict but to understand where your spouse is coming from. How you respond matters more than solving the conflict.

Two: There is a Science Behind how our Bodies and Minds Respond to Conflict

While disagreements are normal and not always solvable, it is important to understand what goes on for us when we are experiencing conflict and why it is so painful so that we can do a better job at responding and repairing the rifts between us. Science and research on relationships tells us a lot about how our bodies and minds respond to conflict and how we can navigate reconnecting with those that we love.

So, what do we know?

Our brains are actually wired to see emotional isolation as dangerous. Our brains will send a panic signal when we cannot get a loved one to respond. If we can’t reconnect, we do one of two responses. We either fight or flight–we get demanding or we shut down. We get mad and move in fast to break down the other’s walls or we try not to care so much and build a wall to protect ourselves. How we respond is something that we learned when we were really young. And though we will have a tendency to respond by getting louder or shutting down, there is another way that we can learn to respond that can help us to achieve the reconnection to our partner we are seeking.

Three: The Best of Everyone Comes When They Feel and Know That They are Loved

I never thought that I would be a referencing a song sung by a troll in a Disney movie as an example of this, but these lyrics actually have a lot of truth in them:

“We’re not sayin’ you can change him, ‘Cause people don’t really change. We’re only saying that love’s a force that’s powerful and strange. People made bad choices If they’re mad, or scared or stressed. Throw a little love their way. And you’ll bring our their best. True love brings out their best! (From “Fixer Upper in Disney’s Frozen)

It is imperative to find simple ways to show them that they are loved. It can be a gesture of holding their hand or telling them something specific that you appreciate about them. Although it can be difficult to be vulnerable at times, be intentional and reach out and show them that they matter to you. What makes your partner feel loved? Do you know how your partner can show you that you matter to them? The truth is, we are more willing to compromise when we feel heard, loved and validated.

Four: “Try and Be A Fly”

When our emotions run high, our cognition or our ability to think straight doesn’t. It is important to note that when we are flooded with emotions, we really can’t process or even hear what another person is saying. There is a strategy developed by Dr. Susan M. Johnson, PhD, that at these moments is a lifesaver in helping understand what is going on. She suggests that the next time your partner gets upset with you, shuts down, or pulls away emotionally, to try and be a fly– to try and see the conflict as if you were a fly on the ceiling. Often underneath the discussion of problem issues someone is asking for more emotional connection. In fact, most conflicts are not actually about the issue itself but about what is underneath. Most often it has to do with connection. “Do I matter to you? Are you there for me? Can I count on you first to respond to me- to put me first? It is important to see the conflict from a distance and stay curious about what your partner is trying to convey. See if you can get curious and pinpoint distance or a typical pattern. Maybe its the dance where one pushes for contact, but the other hears criticism and steps back. Ask yourself questions such as: What is this argument really about? What is the message that my partner is trying to send? How can I show them that they matter to me?

Five: The Key to Reconnection is Having a Compassionate Perspective

Arguments and disagreements bring out the worst in ourselves and in our partners. However, if you can consider that their unexplained outbursts or poor reactions from a compassionate perspective, it allows us to view our partner in a light that can lead to reconnection rather than disengagement. So rather than do the typical dance patterns and react with fight or flight mode, there is a third option that you can choose which can help you to reconnect with your loved one–to stay and reach out.

When our partner is lashing out or creating distance between us, it is extremely hard to remain compassionate and loving. However, Dr. Jeremy Boden, PhD, LMFT, CFLE, suggests that when your partner reacts poorly during a disagreement that you consider that these reactions are your partner’s “best adaptive strategy that they’ve learned to manage the difficult emotions that have come up for them because they perceive a disconnection between us. It’s not the most effective strategy, but it’s their best attempt to regain connection.” By viewing their behavior as your partner’s best attempt (although failed) at managing emotions they are feeling from being disconnected with you, it allows you to stay compassionately curious and explore what is really going on for them and gives you a way to reconnect and repair the rift in the relationship. It allows you to stay and reach out for your partner and demonstrate the love that they perhaps are not seeing or feeling.

Research is clear that relationships can thrive even with major differences, backgrounds and conflict. The one thing that love can’t survive is constant emotional disconnection. So, look for ways to validate your partner and show them that they matter to you. Remember that in conflict, your job is not to solve the conflict but to understand where your partner is coming from. Be the compassionate fly! How you react can dramatically shift and immediately improve your connection with the one you love.

If you have benefitted from this article, please like and share it so that other’s might benefit as well. Thank you!

Lesson Learned from Ants: A Powerful Strategy to Manage Feelings in an Instant

Fun fact! Did you know that ants don’t have ears? It’s true! Having had four kids doing online school this past year has really given me the opportunity to learn and relearn a whole variety of fun facts, but relearning about ants reminded me of a beneficial and powerful strategy that can benefit and assist anyone to be able to deal with and manage our feelings in an instant.

My daughter was looking for some help on a school assignment and came to me asking where the “feelers” are in an ant and what they are supposed to do. Her question caught me off guard a little bit but I was able to realize that the “feelers” she was referring to was the ants antenna.

I described the long, curved looking legs on their head and explained that they are very crucial for an ant as ants use their antennae to smell, feel and touch what is ahead of or behind them as they crawl and even use antennas to talk with their friends. So, even though ants have mouths, they don’t use them to talk–{they actually communicate using their antennae to smell pheromones.}

Doing a little more ant research, I also discovered that ants don’t have ears but use their antennas to feel out sounds and vibrations. Kinda ironic that the one insect that is known for being a good listener and following directions, doesn’t even have ears. They actually rely on their antennas to navigate their worlds.

Just as it is vital for the ant to use its antenna or ‘feelers’ in order to navigate in their world, we really need to learn how to use our feelings to navigate in ours. Just like ‘feelers’ serve as a way to get information about what is ahead of or behind the ant, our feelings can likewise serve to help us understand our world as we see it. Our feelings help us to see what is ahead (danger, surprise and what is behind us–reminding us of past hurt or embarrassments). Our feelings are sending us messages, reminders and warnings. When we can recognize what we are feeling, {label it with a name and identify it}, we can then decide what we are going to do about it.

The key is recognizing the messages our feelings are sending us and realize that not every feeling is accurate and that our feelings can change. In fact, we can change our feelings with our thoughts. But how, you ask? The Cost-Benefit Analysis Strategy Technique.

There is a technique known as Cost-Benefit Analysis that is very effective at being able to help us analyze our feelings and change them if needed very quickly. All of you who are math minded or accountants are probably really intrigued right now but even if math isn’t your strongest subject, this strategy is something simple that everyone can use and benefit from.

With the Cost Benefit analysis you would simply list the advantage and disadvantages of a feeling. You can do this in your head or even on a piece of paper.

For instance, an event happens. Let’s say your plane is late and your first feeling you recognize is anger. You would simply mentally list what would be the advantage or disadvantage of getting angry that your plane is late. You can determine within your mind that getting angry isn’t going to change the fact the plane is late and then choose a different feeling and thought. Ex: This is frustrating, but staying angry isn’t going to change the fact the plane is late so I am going to choose to remain calm and look for alternative options and choose to feel hopeful.

You can recognize that your feelings are simply messages, reminders and warnings and that not all feelings are accurate. For example, one of my personal favorites: “I don’t feel like doing it, so you put it off.” If you waited until you felt like doing a task you don’t like, you would never get it done. Instead, you make choices to brush your teeth, make dinner and visit the dentist and it has little to do with your feelings. Using the Cost Benefit Analysis you can mentally weigh the advantages and disadvantages of putting something off because you don’t feel like it. You can decide that it isn’t worth the dealing with all the disadvantages and make a conscious choice to move forward even if you don’t feel like it.

You can even use the Cost/Benefit Analysis strategy with a negative thought you are having. For example: the thought that no matter how hard I try, I always give up. What are the advantages or disadvantages of listening to this negative thought? You can choose to say, this thought isn’t helpful. You can determine that it is not worth it to listen to a thought that is not helpful and then choose to remember the time that you make a difference when you didn’t give up or the difference someone in your life made on you when they didn’t give up on you.

The Cost Benefit analysis also works on changing patterns of behavior: (Lying around and eating when you are feeling sad). What are the advantages or disadvantages? When you recognize a pattern of behavior is not helpful, you can choose to implement a different pattern. Choose to sit outside for a moment or find someone to serve or look to other ways that have been helpful in dealing with sadness for you. You can change your feelings simply by asking yourself if they are helpful to you and then making a choice to change them.

All of our feelings have a purpose but unlike the ants, we can choose what we do with those feelings and we can change our feelings, our thoughts, and even our patterns of behavior. Pretty powerful, huh? Try it out and see how the Cost Benefit Strategy can improve your world in an instant!

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The Most Important Lesson We Can Learn in This Life

In this day and age of social media and filters on instagram, there is a lot of time spent putting forth images that you want to portray rather than the reality of life. We are constantly looking for ways to sequester or hide flaws and mistakes in order to feel accepted. In this quest for perfection, we often end up overlooking and minimizing a vital truth: No one is perfect and everyone will make mistakes in this life. So rather than the focus be on perfection, it would be better served to focus on how to fix our mistakes. Being perfect is not the answer. The answer is learning how to fix our mistakes. And learning how to fix our mistakes is the most important lesson we can learn in this life. It is the one thing everyone of us has to do. Here are four reasons we should focus on fixing our mistakes rather than be afraid of making mistakes and promote perfection.

Mistakes Have the Ability to Teach Lessons

Mistakes have the ability to teach lessons. While we are often encouraged to forget the mistake and move on, remembering the lesson learned is far more important that forgetting the mistake. A few years ago, I was making cookies with my middle daughter who was maybe 5 at the time. My little helper was standing on a chair next to me anxiously looking on while I added the flour into the standing Kitchen-Aid mixer. I told her to turn it on but neglected to tell her what speed and she turned it on so high that within seconds she became a ghost covered in flour- not to mention the counter, the flour and pretty much the whole kitchen. A mistake for sure, but one that we talk about and laugh about nearly everytime I make cookies. In fact, just yesterday she said to me (in between bouts of laughter): “Remember when you made me into a ghost??” I think of that story everytime I go to turn on the mixer and luckily to this day haven’t made anyone into a ghost as I remember the lesson I learned: flour and speed don’t mix well.

You Don’t Have to Make Your own Mistakes in Order to Learn From Them

You don’t have to make your own mistakes in order to learn from them. There is power in books, and shows or movies; power in history and sometimes real lessons that you can learn from in your own family history. Don’t be afraid to talk about mistakes. My kids are all highly entertained by the Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series that has actually been made into 3 different movies as well. The main character, Greg, is constantly getting into trouble and finding mishaps–often digging a hole even deeper with his habit of lying. It is important to talk about and discuss characters in books and in movies and even relatives who have gone on or are still living and share the mistakes they made and how we can avoid making the same mistakes and repeating family history rather than growing from it. All of us have made mistakes, but what books and history helps us realize is that you can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.

Making the Mistake is not the Biggest Issue, it is not Fixing the Mistakes we Make

Don’t be afraid of mistakes. Mistakes can and will happen and making a mistake is not the biggest issue. It is not fixing the mistakes we make. Just last week, in my anger and frustration at finding my son playing with a LEGO set instead of what he was supposed to be doing, I picked up the LEGO set and broke it. It seemed liked millions of grey and black LEGOs went flying in all directions. I made a mistake into a much bigger mess. However, it became a great lesson to show my son that I fix mistakes–even mistakes like this one that took HOURS to fix. He will remember that I broke it but he will also remember that I spent hours working together with him to fix it– That I am not afraid to fix mistakes and that there is no mistake that he could make that I wouldn’t be there to help him fix. Yes, it would be better if I had not broken the set but I can’t go back in time and change that moment in that chapter, but I can change the ending of the story.

Mistakes Can Be Fixed

Charles F. Kettering was once quoted as saying, “You can’t have a better tomorrow if you are thinking about yesterday all the time.” If there is one thing that is more powerful lesson about mistakes than anything else, is that mistakes can be fixed because forgiveness is possible. It doesn’t even matter if you have shattered something that is beyond repair. Because of Jesus Christ, there is a way forward no matter what mistake has been made and it is not dependent upon whether a person we have wronged has forgiven us.

“However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love.” Jeffrey R. Holland

You are not the mistake. You are someone who makes mistakes AND who fixes them.

While I much rather have not made my daughter into a ghost that day in the kitchen and not broken my son’s Star Wars LEGO set, I am grateful for the knowledge that mistakes can be lessons that can help us learn and grow and that mistakes are made to be fixed. There really is not a more important lesson we can learn in this life than how to fix mistakes. If this has been helpful for you, please like and share so others will be able to benefit as well. Thanks!

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.