An Important Chapter – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, February 14, 2019

In last week’s blog, we took some steps to manage our energy level and maximize our impact in our present situation. As we look to reach our full potential in the present, there is an important chapter we should not overlook in order to be our best. The important chapter is our past.

The most effective coffee shop and kitchen table counselors along with world renown academic psychologists would all come to the same conclusion that experiences in our past have a profound impact in shaping our present point of view and subconsciously guiding our actions in the present.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, we need to process our past in a healthy understanding way in order to be our best for those we care about most.

All of us have some unresolved issues in the past from relationships that did not end well or experiences that range from bothersome to traumatic. No one escapes childhood/adolescence unscathed and our decisions as young adults begin to cement our past experiences into the guardrails that frame our point of view as we continue in life.

In looking to build and sustain healthy relationships in the present, we need to acknowledge the truth that we bring more to the table than the issues in the present. Here are a few practical steps to address our past in a healthy and productive way to ensure we can be the best version of ourselves in the present:

  1. Be Reflective: We need to take time to dig deep and thoroughly reflect on our past. This is not a one-time, five-minute moment of reflection. Chances are that we need to consistently reflect on past events in our childhood and our young adult journey to fully appreciate how those experiences are shaping our current beliefs and behaviors. Understanding the dominant emotions in our home as a child and our school/community experience will help us gain some insight on our past.
  2. Find Healing: For some reason, most of us prefer to bear our past burdens and struggles alone and in silence. We all need some help and deserve some support to process our past in a healthy healing way. Finding a trusted friend or family member, support group or counselor could be what is needed. Also, simply journaling about our past has been proven to be a great step in healing from some difficult situations.
  3. Learn and Grow: Since there is no “do-over” in life, we need to move forward no matter how heavy our backpack is from our past. The most effective way to view our past is to learn and grow from the experiences. An unhealthy way to view our past is as a constant reminder of our weaknesses and confirmation of our limitations. We should work hard to choose to learn and grow vs. finding another reason to believe we are not good enough. It is our choice on how we view our past and it is one of the most important choices we can make to reach our full potential in the present.

As we take the necessary steps to address our past in a healthy way, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to be our best for those we care about most at home, work, and in the community.

An Adult Dose of Life – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, February 7, 2019

There is no denying the fact that life continues to grow in complexity and intensity. The challenges we face in building a strong family, succeeding at work in a vibrant global marketplace, and meeting the needs of our community require more than just a casual bystander’s effort to ensure we make a difference. For most of us, we are getting an adult dose of life and need to take some steps to ensure we can keep fighting the good fight.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, we need to be intentional about managing our energy level and health to reach our full potential and make a positive impact on those we care about most.

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” This quote has been credited to General George Patton, Coach Vince Lombardi, and a handful of others. Regardless of who said it, it is a truth we can all relate to.

All of us at some point have reached a sense of being burned out, fatigued and not at our best. In order for us to be our best for those we care about most at home, work and in the community, we need to carve out time to take care of ourselves.

Don’t worry, this is not a call to action to take the latest vitamin supplement or exercise craze. Here are a few practical steps to manage our energy and health each day in order to be our best:

  1. Be present in the moment: When we remain focused on an individual, a task at hand, or an experience and we eliminate the distraction of multi-tasking, we minimize the energy drain of other mediocre efforts. In addition, being fully present in the moment with someone strengthens the relationship more than anything else we can do. Being mindful to pay full attention in these moment to moment experiences has been proven to support health and happiness.
  2. Find moments to decompress: Creating brief moments where we can unplug from the routine cadence of the daily grind provides us a significant source of renewed energy. Whether it is a few minutes of reading, having a snack without the distraction of checking email or social media, or taking a brief walk in the fresh air are all helpful steps to decompress daily and regain some energy.
  3. Connect on the long-term plan: We can get overwhelmed daily as we jump from one frying pan to the other which brings about fatigue and frustration at a fast rate. At some point in our day like an early morning or evening before bed, we should pick our heads up and reconnect with the long-term plan of our life. Taking a brief moment to step back and reflect on the big picture beyond our present situation has been proven to create the positive energy necessary to carry on.
  4. Nutrition, Exercise, and Sleep: There is plenty of advice we can get on these topics and we all seem to have developed a good pattern of inconsistency on these commitments. This is a quick reminder that they are important and provide a little encouragement to get back on track if you have fallen off the rails.

As we take some small steps to ensure we have the energy to be our best for those we care about most, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to reach our full potential and have a positive impact on those around us.

Before It Is Too Late – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, January 31, 2019

There are a great deal of benefits to the “always on” and connected world we live in today.

We have instantaneous access to the activities of those we care about most. We can quickly find people and services to help when we are in need. We can efficiently get educated on a new topic and expand our horizons to grow.

Most social researchers and psychologists would agree that one area of human development that seems to be in decline as a result of our connected world is empathy. Our ability to “walk in the shoes” of someone else, see experiences from their viewpoint, understand their perspective, and feel what they feel, seems to be in rapid decline.

Our willingness and ability to empathize with those we care about most is an essential component to build the kind of healthy, lasting relationships we all desire.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, it is important that we acknowledge the risks that our connected world brings to our ability to empathize with others and take some necessary steps before it is too late, and we lose the skill altogether.

There are several simple steps we can all take to improve this most needed interpersonal skill:

  1. Listen more and talk less.
  2. Hide our phones and be totally present.
  3. Ask a few simple, open-ended questions instead of blurting out some solution or “brilliant” idea. “When that happened, how did you feel?” “What else was racing through your mind when they said that.”

The above examples are common, practical steps that we all know we should do and just probably need a little encouragement and motivation to kick things in gear. We all need to get motivated : )

However, there is one fun and meaningful exercise that we probably haven’t tried in the past. This exercise has been proven time and again to improve this most needed interpersonal skill of empathy.

Taking away one of our senses, especially our sight, has been proven to expose our gaps in empathy and with some simple practice, we can significantly improve our emotional connection to those we care about most. Here are a few steps to get things rolling:

  1. Use bandanas, blindfolds, or just be creative on totally blocking the sight of you and the other person.
  2. Start a conversation about the simple things that occurred during the last 24 hours. Perhaps share a discussion about some upcoming plans or a prior experience. Move beyond the facts and describe how you felt and ask the other person to describe their feelings around the events.
  3. As we grow in comfort with this visually impaired interaction, we can eventually gain the courage to talk about the difficult topics we probably have been avoiding in our close relationships. In these difficult conversations, work hard to keep the discussion focused on our feelings, not simply passing judgement and shame onto the other person.

Empathy is a critical skill for us to build. We need to keep our eye on the prize of building our empathy to improve the relationships with those we care about most despite how difficult it is to work through some deep-seated issues.

As we become intentional about growing our empathy before it is too late in our ever-expanding, electronically connected world, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to build healthy relationships with those we care about most.

PS – Have some fun with the blindfolds…and try not to take things too seriously.

Learn Something New – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, January 24, 2019

“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” Albert Einstein

There is no denying the fact that our world continues to increase in complexity and intensity. Our lives in the home, workplace, and community do not get easier, we just get better at addressing larger challenges.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, it is important that we proactively access a steady stream of ideas and insights and remain intentional about learning something new to ensure we stay on a good path to reach our full potential.

For many of us, we may have graduated from school and to some extent, the education system told us we were done learning. We only needed to live a few weeks past graduation to know that was not true.

When we think about being at the top of our game, we think highly of athletes and movie stars having skill coaches, nutrition coaches, lifestyle coaches, etc. However, why is it that some of the most important roles we play like being a parent, a spouse, and a leader outside the home (in business, community, politics, etc.) still have an uncomfortable stigma with getting outside help to be our best? For most of us, these are the most important roles we will likely ever play, and we are still wandering around on our own to figure things out and almost feel shame or embarrassment in seeking a trusted advisor, life-coach, psychologist, or uplifting outside influence to help us be the best we can be.

Here are a few areas to help us all continue to learn something new:

  • People. New and old friends can be great sources of insight. Are you making new friends? That is not just a question we should ask our kids transitioning to high school or college. Interactions with somebody new can open us up to learn a thing or two.
  • Places of community. We find purpose in community with others, whether that be in our faith, some workout group at the gym, a book reading club, a young mom’s group, etc. Places of community can be wonderful sources of new ideas and insights.
  • Formal learning. When was the last time you sat in a classroom to learn something new? I am big fan of online education tools, but there is also something powerful about being physically with others while trying to learn. Whether it is a cooking class, a nutrition class, a marriage and family class, or learning how to build a website, some classroom activity is good for any age student.

Having a large appetite to learn is a good thing. However, we should be careful that all this new insight we gather does not violate some fundamental principle that we know to be true. A principle like the law of the harvest; Simply, we reap what we sow and there is no quick fix to achieving our goals. We can’t have our cake, eat it too, and still lose weight. Let’s all make sure to use some principles that are timeless and universal to act as guardrails as we work to learn something new.

As we continue to place a priority on learning something new to be the best we can be, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to reach our full potential.

 

The Gathering of Wisdom – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, January 17, 2019

Where do we look for insight and guidance?

There is truth to the old proverb that we become “the company we keep.” A legitimate question for each one of us (adults too, not just our kids) is, “Who are we hanging around with?”

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, we need to be thoughtful about where we gather insight and guidance as our world gets more complicated.

In today’s world, social media makes it almost too easy to gather ideas and points of view from others. If we are not careful, we can passively let the artificial intelligence of search engines and news feeds keep us boxed in to just seeing our current point of view and not exposing us to other ideas.

Wisdom, most often, comes with age and experience. One common misstep in our technology driven world is that we tend to move quickly to dismiss “old folks” that may not be willing or able to keep up with the pace. In addition, given our new-found enlightenment and transparent world, we may dismiss old folks through pre-judgment as being insensitive or uncaring to the needs of others.

As we look to gather wisdom around us, the truth is that we do build our knowledge and awareness from prior generations. Before we move to quickly to dismiss the old folks who may seem out of touch, below is some wisdom taking from research conducted on people over 100 years old. The below captures the essence of some things these centenarians wish they knew then what they know now:

  • Relationships matter. Time with people you love is the most important. In our busy world where we are going in several different directions, be in the moment when you are with those you care about most…and try to make more of those “moments” by saying “no” to other less important things that can consume our time.
  • Go beyond the norm. We tend to live a life based on other’s expectations. As a result, we may be placing boundaries around our potential. Take a chance to make a greater impact by being you, not someone else.
  • Quickly let go of bitterness and anger. We all get hurt in relationships. The quicker you can learn to forgive and not be shackled by your own anger and bitterness, the better off you will be and those you care about most.

As we become intentional about gathering wisdom to be the best we can be, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to have a positive impact in our world.

Common Experiences and Shared Learning for Positive Influence

Character Creates Opportunity® – Probably, NOT on our List: Thursday, January 10, 2019

If we have lived more than few days in relationship with others, we probably have seen our fair share of mistakes. Some mistakes were done to us and some mistakes we did to others. We all wish close relationships were easy, but the truth is, they are not.

Mistakes in relationships are sometimes light-hearted, but they can also bring about a great deal of pain.  As with most things in life, we have a few choices on how to respond to mistakes.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, effectively addressing mistakes in our close relationships is critically important to reaching our full potential and having a positive impact on others.

For most of us, we have learned that remaining bitter and angry for a long period of time after mistakes does not particularly help the situation. Bitterness has been proven to result in greater pain and problems for all involved.  In addition, the one who holds onto bitterness usually suffers the most compared to the one who first stumbled and fell short.

There are many terrific resources for us to gain some additional insight on effectively addressing mistakes in our relationships. Just search the internet and we can learn the 3 steps to forgiveness, a time to heal, the pathway to peace, etc. You get my point. Many of these resources will be helpful, if we follow them, in responding effectively to mistakes.

There is one step that is most likely not on these types of “to do” lists and is probably NOT on our list either.

Most often, when we don’t handle mistakes in a healthy way, we end up isolated and alone. Since feeling like we belong, and we matter are essential to solid emotional health, we can find ourselves in a real tough spot when mistakes send us to our own corner all alone.

On the other side of a painful mistake, there is one of the most effective ways that we can rise above and many times, permanently solidify someone’s sense of belonging and acceptance. We can take an action step they may never forget. The additional step that is probably NOT on our list is to show redemption towards the individual who hurt us. We rebuild a sense of belonging and acceptance when we demonstrate grace through communicating redemption towards the individual who made a mistake.

The act of “clearing” one’s debt or “saving” someone from the continual pain and isolation of a poor choice and communicating our willingness to trust again is probably the greatest challenge we will face in terms of building strong and healthy relationships after a mistake. Providing redemption from past mistakes, as opposed to remaining bitter, has been shown time and again to build a strong sense of belonging and connection to those closest to us.

As we make the effort to build healthy relationships through the power of redemption with those closest to us, we will build and strengthen our character, and Character Creates Opportunity to support the emotional health and well-bring of those we care about most.

Managing Expectations – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, January 3, 2019

The start of the new year always seems to be a strong source of motivation for us to make a few plans to improve our situation in some important area of life like a close relationship, change a few ineffective habits, get after some professional goal, or simply to shrink our waistline.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, the new year also brings forward an opportunity to manage our expectations around the goals or resolutions we set going into the new year.

The truth that needs to be reinforced in order to manage our expectations during the start of the year is that for all the important improvements we wish to bring about, just about every one of them won’t happen overnight. The important things in life don’t have a painless risk-free short cut, EASY button, and we can’t purchase the FAST-PASS to eliminate some barriers.

The new year and the resolutions we put forth, presents a great opportunity to remind us of the one natural law that most directly governs the accomplishment of any new year’s resolution or life goal, The Law of the Harvest. The law of the harvest is the simplest and most powerful life-transforming principle.

The law of the harvest, in the natural world, is as true as the law of gravity. If we want to reap an abundant harvest of corn or soybeans, there is only one pathway to follow and there are no shortcuts. We must spend time in winter to make a plan and prepare to implement when the spring comes. In the spring, we must prepare the ground and plant the seed. In addition, throughout the spring and summer, we must cultivate the fields through a long growing season. Then, and only then, will we reap an abundant harvest in the fall.

As we look to accomplish important goals in the new year, the law of the harvest will always be our judge. As we manage our expectations for goals in the new year, here are a few points to help us all reap an abundant harvest:

  1. Make a plan: For important goals in life, “winging it” will not be a successful strategy. Once a goal is set, we should spend some time making a simple action plan to pursue the goal.
  2. Disaster may strike: Many more times than not, the law of the harvest will guide us to accomplish our goals. Certainly, there will be the occasion when disaster strikes and wipes everything out. However, for the vast majority of seasons, if we adhere to the principle of the law of the harvest, we will reach our goals in a most predictable fashion.
  3. Keep the faith: In that dark, lonely valley after our exciting start has faded away and our goal still seems so far off in the distance, we should keep our faith that the law of the harvest will return abundance if we keep working our plan…it almost always will.

As we use the new year to set some goals and manage our expectations with the truth contained in the law of the harvest, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to achieve our goals no matter what comes our way.

It is Your Turn to Ask – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, December 27, 2018

When was the last time you asked for help…in any area of life…whether it was something big or small?

For many of us, it may have been a real long time ago.

We could spend a great deal of time discussing why we don’t ask for help, but suffice to say, many of us do not ask for help. We typically march on until disaster strikes and we have blown our cover-up, or we fall short of a goal because we stubbornly tried to go it alone.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, having the courage to ask for help can strengthen our relationship with others and make positive strides towards reaching our full potential.

Let’s face it, we all could use some help. Whether at work, home or in our community, a little help could go a long way in achieving a goal or objective.

Some of the typical excuses we make for not asking for help are (a) We have this stubborn myth that men and women should be self-reliant, and only the weak need and ask for help (b) We don’t want to be a burden to others (c) We have asked for help before and been ridiculed or shamed and just don’t want to go down that path again.

Like many situations in life, when we take our focus off ourselves and look to others, we can find some insight to support our personal growth and maturity.

When we ask someone for help, we strengthen our relationship with them because:

  1. We affirm that they matter to someone else (us) in a most genuine way as we openly acknowledge they have the skills, abilities, or resources to help. By asking someone for help we meet a most important human need in them, to know that they matter.
  2. We demonstrate that we trust them in a most open and vulnerable way. We acknowledge we are in a vulnerable spot and we trust them to help and not hurt. Trust is essential in building long-term healthy relationships…and we could all use a few more relationships built on trust.
  3. We open a door for them to give instead of receive. We all know the truth in that it is better to give than to receive and we enable them to experience the joy of giving without any guess work.
  4. We set a positive example for others to follow. We all need some help and our ability to demonstrate the courage to ask may help others to ask for help during their time of need.

As we demonstrate the courage to ask for help, we will build and strengthen our character, and Character Creates Opportunity to build strong and healthy relationships with those we care about most.

 

A Holiday Connection – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, December 20, 2018

As the holiday season comes into full swing, many of us are preparing for some extended visits with family and friends to relax, celebrate, and probably overeat. Also, many of us may take time this season to connect with people in our community who are in real need and try to provide some temporary relief.

During this time of year, it is important to remember that psychologists, academics, and our own kitchen table experience would tell us that our greatest need beyond the basics for survival is our need to feel we belong and are accepted.

We can all relate to the positive emotional sense we feel when we know we are part of a team on the athletic field, the workplace, the community, and certainly the home.  When we join efforts with others to support a cause bigger than ourselves, we feel most alive.  Whether that cause is building a strong family, a winning basketball team, a competitive business, a community project, or the defense of a nation, the sense of belonging meets a real personal need. Knowing we are an accepted part of something bigger than ourselves is critical to our emotional health and stability.

When we become disconnected or feel rejected from a group, we struggle.  In the absence of a sense of connection to others and a cause greater than our own, we all can become susceptible to loneliness and periods of sadness that can potentially lead into depression.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, an important opportunity for all of us this holiday season is to give the gift of genuine connection to those we care about most.

As our world gets more connected with technology, research would show that we are all at risk for minimizing the benefits of genuine connection. In addition, today’s technology enables the instant personalization of getting what we want, when we want it, and many times that fosters isolation instead of connection during our “free time” beyond school, work, and the essentials of running a home.

Social scientists would say that our technology dependent connections impact the depth of our relationships mostly because we lose empathy. Sure, emojis help with emotional connection, but it is not optimal.  I am sure we have all seen a picture of a beautiful sandy beach and I hope most of us have felt the warm touch of beach sand between our toes.  There is a difference in the connection.

As we approach these final weeks of the holiday season and the opportunity to provide the gift of a genuine connection is most available, here are a few thoughts:

  • Be intentional about slowing down and spending some time looking people in the eyes, sharing a warm embrace, and listening more than talking. It would be helpful to put the devices in a basket somewhere for just a few moments.
  • Conflict in the home is the most heart-breaking of all of life’s struggles. For those close relationships that may have grown cold over the year (or over several years), use the holiday season as momentum to act with courage and reconnect with them using the helpful guideposts of empathy, humility, and a genuine desire to repair the damage.
  • There is no single action that makes an individual feel like they matter more than when we help someone in need. When we find ourselves at a low point during the holidays (which is very common, despite the overload of “happiness” we see posted on social media), find a charitable organization and see where to help. It will make a difference in the lives of others and ourselves.

It takes an intentional effort to give the gift of connection to those around us. However, as we make the effort to build stronger connections with those closest to us, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to contribute to the emotional health and well-bring of those we care about most.

The Voice – Character Creates Opportunity®: Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Voice…not that one, but the voice in our heads.

In case you have not yet accepted the reality of our situation, let me reinforce a simple truth, life continues to get more complicated and uncertain. Whether in the home, workplace, or community, the rate of change, across so many mediums, is staggering to think about. These changes can bring about some of our biggest fears and some of our biggest hopes.

Over the course of the last few weeks, I happen to have separate conversations with a few close childhood friends. In addition to reconnecting on some wonderful memories, we all came to a similar conclusion after 50+ years of living that “I did not think it would be this difficult.” It being life, family, work, and making it all come together just like we had hoped it would.

Sure, many things in prior generations were just simply “swept under the rug” and not discussed. It seems like now we are all a little more willing to open up and put our lives “on the table,” but regardless, life is continuing to get more complicated.

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, it is important that we have some healthy guardrails in place to train and guide The Voice we all have inside our head.

We all have The Voice that comes out at various moments to either cheer us on, remind us of our shortcomings, spitefully tell us “see I told you so” or encourage us to look forward with hope or with fear.

Here are few ideas to help ensure we establish some healthy guardrails to hear more of the encouraging side of our Voice and less of the discouraging side of our Voice:

  • The Gap: We become what we think about…more often than not. We still have ultimate control over those thoughts in the gap between our situation and our response. If we can pause and fill that gap with principled thoughts around hope, sacrifice, and courage, we can respond more effectively to the situations we face.
  • Perspective: We are on a journey that inevitably will have some ups and downs. Keeping a perspective that the passage of time is our best counselor will help us remain on track towards our goal of maintaining peace of mind through the valleys and the mountain top experiences of our lives.
  • Reality: We can’t effectively address all our challenges alone. Being intentional about building healthy relationships and taking a risk to be vulnerable in opening up about ourselves to build those relationships will foster a support structure that will help us withstand life’s challenges.
  • Step by Step: Focus on moving forward one day at a time. Yes, it is important to have a long-term game plan that seeks to achieve peace, purpose, and positive impact. However, in the often dark valleys of our journey, just putting one foot in front of the other and taking life day by day is the most effective way to carry-on.

As we focus on maintaining some healthy guardrails to support The Voice inside our own heads, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to reach our full potential and have a positive impact on those we care about most.