Category: Personal Growth

The Greatest Empire is…Drum Roll Please!

Ok, so how do you do that – get control of yourself?

How do you get your mind to rule over your body? There are many books out there that give some wonderful advice, but I suggest just a few things that any harried mom or dad can do right now – no reading involved.

1. Pick one thing in your life you want to have control over. Make it simple. The harder self-control is for you the simpler the thing you begin with needs to be. The point here is to be successful in one small thing.

If you lack self-control then you must begin small and work up to larger, more important things. It’s like building a muscle. You don’t begin with a 300# weight. You begin with 3#’s. When you can lift that without trouble then you move to 5# and so on. This idea applies to mastering yourself.

Here are some examples of places to begin – putting your dirty clothes in the hamper when you take them off, hanging up your PJ’s every morning, making your bed before its time to get back in it, putting your plate in the dishwasher, and so forth.

It doesn’t need to be earth-shaking or even important. What is important is that you’re willing to commit to it.

2. Commit – There’s a difference in deciding you’re going to work on something and committing to it. When you work on a thing you may get tired and quit. When you commit nothing gets in the way. Nothing!

I know when I have committed and when I haven’t. The real work for me is committing. Once that’s done it’s a done deal! I can feel it in myself when I’m committed and when I’m not. You will feel it too.

To manage the next steps, you must be committed.

3. Be consistent. Do it every day. If it’s hanging up your PJ’s do it every day. Make the effort to never miss a day no matter what it takes! If you do miss a day begin again immediately. Don’t take breaks. Consistency is key to taking control of yourself!

4. Stay the course. You have to do this for as long as it takes for it to become part of your way of being, whether it’s putting dirty clothes in a hamper, running a mile every day, saving $100 per paycheck, always saying thank you, walking away rather than yelling, or not eating after 7 pm. Some things may become part of your way of being after only a few weeks and others may take much longer. For many people tracking on a chart is very helpful.

Remember that it took me ten years to overcome raging. Ten years. But I never quit. I just kept doing the steps that I had determined would help me gain control over my responses. So, stay the course!

5. Only focus on one or two things at a time. Overloading yourself with to-do’s leads to failure. When you work on too much at one time it becomes overwhelming. You don’t do well on any of them and then you quit. I’m sure you’ve experienced this. You go to a class or read a book and have a list of stuff that you feel you need to work on right now. You begin but in a month you’re right back where you began. It is called the 1% principle and you can’t dodge a principle.

6. Forgive yourself for being human. If you miss a day don’t throw in the towel. Forgive yourself and begin again immediately. Beating yourself up is counterproductive. Thinking that you’re a failure is counterproductive. Picking yourself up and beginning again is the mark of success!

Making decisions is challenging and energy draining. It’s where most people fall short. The purpose of the above steps is to stop having to make so many decisions. Once you’ve done something long enough it becomes a habit and you never have to decide to do it again. You have mastered that one thing.

When you gain control over one small thing, you’re moving in the direction of controlling your empire.

Controlling your entire empire is a lifetime’s work and will be worth the effort.

 

If this article helped you, please share it. 

Welcome To My Morning

Recently I was taken back in time as I listened to a soundtrack by John Denver. He was a singer-songwriter from the1960s through the 1990s. I was a young teen when he began his career and I enjoyed his music.

One song, that I listened to on this day was particularly meaningful – Welcome to My Morning. Look at the opening stanza.

Welcome to my morning
Welcome to my day
I’m the one responsible
I made it just this way

Many years ago, I finally understood and came to believe that I was truly responsible for how my days look. That belief can be a bit intimidating because if it is true then we must take 100% responsibility. Yikes! We must give up blame. Double yikes! We must stop being victims. Triple yikes!!!

But it’s true. And here is why. We cannot control other people or their actions. We cannot always control the circumstances that we find ourselves in. But we can always control our response to them. That is the key to the tenor of our days – our response.

Make Controlling Your Response a Daily Practice

It isn’t always easy to stay in control of our response but there are a few things that we can practice daily that will help us get better at it.

• Pay attention to your thoughts – Thoughts generate emotions and emotions move us to action. Our action will trigger a result, either positive or negative. So, it’s important to monitor your thoughts. Make the effort to keep them positive. Don’t let your mind make stuff up which it will try to do. Our mind wants to make sense out of things and sometimes we put our own spin on the facts.
• Think the best of others – It is easy to have negative thoughts about others and their motives, but if we make it a practice to think the best rather than the worst it goes a long way to helping us control our response. When someone cuts us off in traffic we can think, “That dumb jerk.” Or we can think, “She must be in a real hurry. I hope she gets there safely.” We get to decide how we will view the actions of others. When we decide to think the best of others, we can manage our thoughts better
• Give up blame. Blame is always an indicator there’s a problem with our way of being or how we perceive what’s happening. Taking responsibility for how we perceive what’s happening can and does make a difference in our outcomes.
• Practice gratitude. It’s remarkable how thought shifting gratitude can be. For many, it doesn’t come naturally because life is hard. People are rude and inconsiderate. Bad things do happen to good people. But gratitude is something we can cultivate and when we do, it goes a long way to helping us have more positive thoughts. That leads us to better responses, and we have better outcomes.

I love this example from my friend April Hiatt, who had attended a class I taught on this topic. She was practicing giving up blame, thinking the best of others, and being grateful.

“I opened the dryer door to discover wet clothes. Jonathan (my 14-year-old) didn’t press the start button when he transferred loads. I was three words into my grumble when I heard myself say out loud “Oh, I’m so glad I checked the dryer.” The next words were of understanding, with a deep feeling of love . “I’ve done this same thing before .” This whole cycle took under 3 seconds, and it happened without me really thinking about it. Wow, I’m amazed.”

We need to make setting our intention for the day a practice. We will have to do this our whole lives. Eventually, it does become easier, but it is a life-long work. We must decide that we’re going to have a good day. We must decide that people are basically kind. We must decide that life is good. These daily decisions help us respond better.

When you wake up and have a headache you can roll over and think, “This is going to be a lousy day.” Or you can close your eyes and think, “I’m glad I have something I can take for this.”

I know, it feels irritating to even think about it. That’s exactly how I felt when I first learned this principle, that I am responsible for how my life feels. But I want you to know that as I embraced this truth it changed my world. It gave me all the power!

You can listen to John Denver’s beautiful song HERE. Enjoy.

We All Lean Into Love

There’s a tree in our back yard that is growing faster on one side than on the other. The other morning my daughter gave me her impression as to why this tree is so lopsided.

First, you need to know that it wasn’t lopsided two years ago when we moved into our new home. You also need to know that it was a very sad looking black walnut tree. The leaves weren’t thick and deep green. There were very few nuts that first year and not many more the second. However, this year the tree is loaded with nuts, the leaves are thick and deep green and it’s growing towards my patio.

Jodie said that she thinks it’s because the tree is reaching for our patio as if it wants to come right inside. She said that’s because it feels the love, the caring. Isn’t that an extraordinary thought!

I’m not one to talk to plants, but I love nature, outdoors, and gardening. I even love weeding. As soon as we could I built garden boxes for my patio and I’ve tended them with loving care. I feed them and I prune them. I deadhead the flowers every day, so they’ll keep blooming. I water. I am consistent.

Our patio is a shaded, blooming wildness that is irresistible. Yes, those are sweet pea plants in the flower beds, and we’ve enjoyed snacking from them for weeks.

It doesn’t really matter whether this thought about why the tree has become lopsided is true or not. It illustrates a very important, in fact crucial, fact about people, about families. We all lean into love. We want to be loved. We want to matter.

What I know from working with hundreds of families is that most parents want their children to know they matter. Why then do we unknowingly send messages that make our kids feel they’re in the way, that they’re bothering us, or that they aren’t as interesting as whatever else we’re doing, or that they aren’t good enough. It’s because we aren’t focused on being Present with our children. We check out.

It’s easy to check out in this busy world and often we don’t even realize that we have checked out. When we’ve checked out or are totally involved in what comes next on our list, it’s easy to be irritated and frustrated with our children, which leads to poor responses on our part. Children and youth don’t hear “I’m busy. I’ll help you later.” They don’t sense you’re overwhelmed or tired. They aren’t old enough or experienced enough to give you the benefit of the doubt. They hear, “You have no value.” “You don’t matter.” “This is more important than you.”

HOW TO SEND THE I LOVE YOU MESSAGE CONSISTENTLY

Here are some behaviors that we, as adults, can practice that will help us send a clear message to our children and youth that we love them, that they matter, regardless of whether they’re meeting our expectations or not, regardless of how busy we may be?

• STOP whatever you are doing. Turn away from the TV or your computer. Put down the cell phone. Saying “I’ll talk to you later” will not cut it. Say “I can’t talk right now but I will come and find you in ten minutes.”
• LOOK your child in the eye. When we take the opportunity to look another person in the eye, we send the message that we are present with them, want to hear them and find whatever they have to say important. This is especially important when we need to disciple or teach.
• TOUCH them on the shoulder, hand, back, etc. Touch sends the message that we like being with them even if we are upset with them. It connects us to them.
• RESPOND to what your child is feeling, not only what they’re saying. Are they feeling angry, disappointed, attacked, judged, sad? Focus on the feelings.
• LISTEN with patience and interest. Whatever you’re feeling, your child will know! They’re like energy magnets. If your energy is inwardly impatient, they’ll know. If you’re dying to get back to your stuff, they’ll feel it. If you’re bored out of your mind, it’s coming across loud and clear. It may all be on a subconscious level, but they know. Hold thoughts in your mind that will help you maintain interest and patience.
• ACTIVELY LISTEN Don’t check out looking for solutions or what you want to say next. Stay Present. Hear your child and respond to what they’re saying. If you feel the need to teach don’t. Wait until later. You can always teach but your children will not always come to you if they can’t trust that you hear them.
• CHOOSE YOUR WORDS WISELY – We must begin taking full responsibility for the words we say. If we want better outcomes, we need to watch our words. Say what you want, not what you don’t want. Words generate emotions. You’ll feel the way you speak. How you feel moves you to an action that gives you a result, either good or bad.

We want our children to lean into our family, to want to be home, to see our example, and to know that they matter, that they are loved. Children who feel loved have far better outcomes in life.

This leads to the final behavior:

• BE CONSISTENT – You won’t be perfect. You can’t be. But be as consistent in your efforts as possible. If you do, it will be enough, and your kids will know that they are loved and that they matter.

Share and comment. I love hearing what you have to say. : ) 

This Is the Most Fun Thing I Have Ever Done!

Some years ago, we had a dirt pile in the corner of our yard. Then my daughter decided to create something beautiful in that space.

She measured and cut the wood and figured out how to hold it all together. She built a fence to keep the dogs out. She planted herbs, tomatoes, peas, a watermelon, and a pumpkin. She built trellises for them. As a final touch, she added a metal baby robin, a fairy statue, and a brick walkway. It was beautiful!

My daughter said, “It took me two weeks to do a one-day project”. That was because she had three small children, one with cerebral palsy. The fact that she couldn’t focus and get the job done more quickly was a bit frustrating. Yet, despite the frustration, she said, “While I was building the garden, it was exhilarating. It was so exciting and rejuvenating.” Building that garden gave my daughter a wonderful sense of “This is the most fun thing I have ever done!”

My daughter was startled by the absolute joy she experienced as she figured it out and then built the garden. She thought a lot about that and remembered that she had felt this overwhelming joy before when she was four.

On our porch, she found two pieces of wood. She decided to make a plane. She asked for her snow pants because every builder needs overalls. She wanted a hammer and nails. Then she proceeded to make a plane. It didn’t look like a plane, just two sticks nailed into a T which she painted. She thought it was grand!

My daughter loves to build things. She also knows that she doesn’t build often enough. She works on ways to add that element into her life. When she makes time to build, no matter how stressful life is, she manages better.

Satisfaction and Joy Make Us Better People

There’s value in determining what brings us a sense of satisfaction and joy. As we create opportunities where we experience these feelings, we’re better mothers, fathers, grandparents, neighbors, friends, and people. These feelings enhance our ability to problem-solve instead of blowing up or becoming depressed. They ease the stress of modern life. They increase our patience and our ability to reach out to others, to forgive and to love.

The key is knowing what brings us these feelings and then finding ways to include them in our lives more often. We must make space for them. This isn’t always easy, but it is doable!

Do the work of figuring out simple things that feel exhilarating, satisfying and joyful to you. As you implement more of these activities into your life you fill your bucket. This enables you to give more to your family, friends, and community. Above all, it increases the quality of your life.

Let me leave you with an example from my own life. I love organizing things. Yup, work. I know it wouldn’t feel joyful and satisfying to everyone, but it is to me. So, I make plans on a regular basis to order something in my life, a drawer, a closet, a shelf in the garage, under my bed, etc. I organize something at least once or twice a month. I’m busy so I must plan it. I must get the support of my family to make space for it. But it’s worth it because it feels exhilarating, satisfying and brings me joy.

Someone once said that life is not a dress rehearsal. This is the real deal, so find ways to live a life of satisfaction, fulfillment, and joy no matter how busy life gets. Determine what generates these feelings for you and then find ways to incorporate them into your life.

Feel moved? Please comment.  Then share. : )

Change Looks Like Failure First!

Change can be hard. One reason that change is so challenging is that we misunderstand what change actually looks like and we also misunderstand the time that is required for change.

I have read many books on change. There is the standard – it takes 30 days to create a new habit. If we are talking about making our bed daily or exercising every morning then that is probably true. But if we are talking about changes that involve our character or our ability to respond differently in times of stress then maybe, just maybe, it will take more.

When I wanted to stop yelling that required a huge mind shift. I had to come to believe that I could actually stop yelling, that it was in my power to make that change. Accepting that fact took a few years.

Then I had to figure out what to do besides yell because it’s easier to replace a behavior than to stop a behavior. Once I knew what I was going to do instead of yelling I had to practice, practice, practice.

And here is where it’s important to understand what change looks like. Change looks like failure long before it looks like success.

Steps to Change

Step One – Realize that you need to make a change.

Step Two – Begin to believe that it is within your power to make a change.

Step Three – Determine what needs to change. Let me give you an example. I needed to get a handle on my complaining. It wasn’t that I wasn’t happy but the words of complaint just kept falling out of my mouth. It’s just too hot! I don’t know why you can’t put your socks in the hamper. I wish the prices weren’t so high. Why won’t my hair just do what I want it to? This meat is overcooked.

When I had this conversation with a friend, she said, “Well, everyone does that!” She is right but that doesn’t make it a healthful or useful practice. I knew that if I controlled what came out of my mouth I would experience far more moments of happiness during the day.

I determined that I needed to express gratitude more often and I did this by using a small notebook where I wrote down what I was grateful for as I went through the day. I also had a second small notebook where I recorded my complaints. Then I would tear up those pages each night. These exercises may seem simple and even silly but they kept my mind on what I wanted to do instead of what I had been doing.

Step Four – Make a firm commitment to doing the work and giving it all the time required. I can always tell when I only wish I was different or hope to be different and when I am committed. That is key. You have to have a firm intention that no matter what it takes, how long it takes or how discouraging it feels you will keep going.

The Process of Change

A – Realize that you will continue to do the very thing you want to change. This is the step where change looks and feels like failure. When I was working to replace yelling with self-control I would often yell. Right after I yelled I would think in my mind, “Rats. I yelled. I don’t want to yell anymore!” I would feel bad and I would feel like a big failure at this self-control thing.

However, I eventually came to understand that every time I recognized that I had errored, gave up blame and took responsibility for my actions and then determined to do better, I was making progress.

B – Stop. Eventually, I would stop in mid-yell. I would mentally catch myself and reverse course. This entailed a fair amount of apologizing. It was uncomfortable but it was progress. I caught myself and made an adjustment.

C – Change. Finally, I would think about yelling and I wouldn’t. I would choose to respond differently. It felt wonderful when I began to experience this step more often. That didn’t mean that I didn’t fall back to step three and four; I did, for a long time. But eventually, I found myself staying in control more often.

It Takes Time to Change Our Way of Being

Here is another place where people in the process of change find themselves in trouble. We think that if it takes 30 days to develop a new habit then that should equate to change but it doesn’t. The kinds of change that I’m talking about, those that make us better people and parents, are changes not just in what we do but in our very being, our character and that requires time.

It took me ten years from the time I realized that yelling was not a good coping skill or parenting tool to consistently staying in control. And the truth is, I can, on occasion, still find myself yelling. It is a lifetime work for me. However, if I had bought into the idea that I needed to accomplish this significant change in 30 days or one year or even five years, well, I might have given up and never made it to where I am today.

My current project, giving up complaining, has been in process for over six years. Sometimes I feel discouraged. But I express gratitude more often than in the past, even though I still complain. I am making progress.

Changing our way of being, who we are, how we respond, doesn’t have to take ten years or even six. But if it does, hang on and keep working.

As Nelson Mandela said,

Your shares are the very best compliment. I also love hearing from you so PLEASE leave a comment.

The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly of Parenting

Every parent is made up of a measure of good,
a portion of bad and
occasionally a dollop of ugly.

 

I don’t care how good a parent you are; this is true. The problem that we run into is focusing on any one part.

Many parents focus on the bad. They forget that there is a large portion of good. Others focus on the good and forget that they need to work on the bad. And occasionally, some see only the dollop of ugly. Each of these scenarios lessens our ability to parent well, long term.

Let me share three personal experiences.

1. I was on occasion, not nurturing. I can recall hearing a child gaging in the night and then pulling them out of bed, running them down the hall, all the while repeating in an urgent voice, “Hold it. Don’t throw up.”

2. My youngest daughter wanted to be a cheerleader. During the try-outs, she had to do a solo routine and fell. It seemed like an eternity until she looked up towards the bleachers where I was, although only seconds had passed. When she looked my way, she saw me standing in a sea of sitting parents. She saw me silently sending the message, I am proud of you. I want everyone to know I am your mom. Get up, you can do this. P.S. She made the squad!

3. We had six kids, were living in Montana, and money was tight. One night I found an open Tampon in the bathroom garbage. A child had been curious, opened it, and it was now no good. I had, on occasion, found myself without that needed necessity. I flipped.

I drug six kids out of bed, lined them up in the hall and went up and down the line shaking the Tampon in their noses, asking repeatedly, “WHO OPENED THIS!”

Story one is bad. A good mom sits on the side of the bed with a pan, soothing a fevered brow and speaking calm and loving words. They aren’t concerned with vomit and cleaning it up. Right?

Story two is so good. I mean, doesn’t it make you want to be that mom?

Story three is ugly, totally out of control.

And there it is. We all have our ugly moments. We all have moments when we shine. And we all have moments when it’s clear that although we aren’t the worst parent on the planet, we surely could be better.

It’s vital to remember that you are not just one part, you are all three. There is no perfection in parenting any more than there is perfection in friendship, relationships, or life.

We need to focus on the good. We need to improve the bad. And we need to forgive ourselves for the occasionally ugly. When we do this, we are better parents. There is power in seeing the good, acknowledging the bad and forgiving the ugly and that power helps us parent better.

Here are a few things I have learned

about kids that make it easier for you to improve and forgive yourself, to worry less and to know that it’s going to be OK in the end.

• Kids love their parents unconditionally
• Kids are quick to forgive
• Kids are resilient
• Kids have a way of moving on

Our goal is not perfection. There is always going to be something you don’t know, haven’t mastered yet or that is messy. In a family, in life, there is always work to do. Keep improving yourself. Do more good, improve the bad and you will lessen the ugly. And in the end, it will all be OK.

The greatest compliment is when you share
but the greatest joy is when you comment. : ) 

Do You Want to be Perfect?

Strive for improvement, not obsessive perfectionism.

“No matter how consistent I am at something I just haven’t been able to be perfect!” The mom making this comment was feeling really stressed out and like a failure. Can you relate? As a mentor, I hear it all the time!

Where in the world did we ever get the idea that there would ever be a time in our lives when we would have everything all worked out.

Unfortunately, this is how I lived a great many years of my life. I felt that in order to be of value in the world I needed to be perfect. I tried, I really tried. As a child, I REALLY tried. But I couldn’t do it and so I grew up knowing that somehow there was just something not quite right about me. And then things got ugly because as an adult I wasn’t any better at perfect than I had been as a child. In fact, I was less perfect because now I was the mother of a family and I had to lead out, so I made a lot more mistakes.

Now for the important part.

Because I was so busy trying to be perfect it became VERY hard to really enjoy life, my kids, my husband, anything. That’s because life is messy, kids are messy, and relationships are messy. Trust me, our parenting was messy. And because it wasn’t perfect and I wasn’t perfect at it, I had a hard time enjoying it.

When I began teaching about family connections and having more fun as a family it was challenging for me because I had parented imperfectly. I worried that I didn’t have anything to offer or that even if I did no one would listen to me. That was a tough place to teach from.

After a few years I contemplated quitting because, in order to teach the very things that I really knew a lot about, I had to confess to the world that I wasn’t perfect. This was truly daunting for a person who had spent a huge portion of her life working for perfection.

Before I began teaching families how to connect, back in my Montana days,  I had a façade going that was amazing. People in my world thought I was perfect. In fact, I was slightly intimidating because I looked so perfect. But then our lives began to fall apart and it became evident to everyone that I wasn’t perfect and this made how I felt about myself worse.

Recently I read an article by Glennon Doyle Melton and was struck by what she said about this issue of perfection.

“So often, people’s lives are presented to us as before and after stories. It’s always: “Look! My mess is fine because I’m ALL BETTER NOW! Ten steps to FREEDOM! Look at me, I’m FREE!” Sometimes it feels like it’s only okay to talk about your Cinderella story when you’re at the ball. When the tough, ugly parts are over. When everything is shiny and happily ever after, promise!! …But there is no ball. There is no point in which you stop working and just brush your long pretty hair and flit around, untouchable. Done. All better. There is no before and after. Most honest folks…will tell you that it’s just the same %^$# thing, over and over. That you just fall down seven times and get back up eight…I’m not at the ball. I’m scrubbing floors: wondering why everyone else gets to dance and make it look so easy. I’m a little angry and confused that I’m almost forty years old and STILL DEALING WITH THIS %*&^#. Why I don’t have all of this figured out yet.  Glennon Doyle Melton

She was speaking specifically about body issues, weight, overeating, etc. but it’s all the same. It could be yelling, poor spending habits, not connecting with your kids or a thousand other issues. When you don’t have things worked out you feel bad. You feel that somehow you’re a failure, that if you were worth anything you would have it all worked out by now!

I have a couple of friends who are in their late 80’s, they’re twins. They have lived together for the last few years and they walk almost every day, arm in arm.

One day Marion was walking alone, and she was a bit tippy on her feet. I saw her and was worried so I went out and said, “Marion, can I walk with you.” As we walked, she talked about her life and her sister. They had been fighting and she was sad. Their relationship had been a mess for a few days. She began to cry.

I was flabbergasted!! I couldn’t help myself, and despite her tears, I blurted out, “Marion, I thought when I got to your age I would have it all worked out!”

Through her tears she began laughing – “Oh goodness honey, that will never happen. There is always something to work on!”

And there it is. We aren’t ever going to be perfect. We will get good at some things. There may even be one or two things that we do fairly perfectly but, we are never going to be perfect. We are never going to have everything worked out. There is always going to be something you don’t know, haven’t mastered yet or that is messy.

So, what can you do about it?

Do what I’m doing.

  • Keep working on yourself, your attitude, your relationships, your systems, etc. 
  • Know that your value isn’t in perfection but in the fact that you are here, trying.
  • Know that your efforts to be better will matter and that even if you aren’t perfect you have something to share with your spouse, your children, your neighborhood, maybe the world.

Keep working on things. There really isn’t a before and after in life, a place you get to where you have it all worked out and life is happily ever after. Remember what Marion said, “Oh goodness honey, that will never happen, there is always something to work out!” And at 80+ she ought to know!

Your Shares Are the Best Compliment

We ALL Play the Embellishment Game

I got a fabulous call recently from a dear friend. She wanted to tell me about her three grandchildren, twins, aged 8 and one, aged 5. They have been playing a game with their grandma when she takes them to school 3 times a week. It’s called, Embellish the Story. One of them begins the story and then they each take a turn adding to it. In other words, they embellish it.

My friend said the best thing is watching their faces when the person ahead of them takes the story in a direction they didn’t want or didn’t anticipate. She sees their face go from annoyed or mad to thoughtful and then illuminated as they figure out where they can take the story, so it fits what they want better.

Recently, in school, the older girl’s teacher said that they were going to have an embellishment project. The twins were so excited because they knew what the word meant. They were the only kids in class who knew what it meant. So, what does the word mean to them? That is a very interesting thing – In their words you get to tell your story and sometimes you make stuff up.

Our Stories Matter!

Isn’t that the truth. In every situation, we get to tell ourselves the story and sometimes we make stuff up. And it all affects the results that we get. I’ve learned through almost seven decades of life that we do have control over the story that we tell ourselves in any situation and that the story we tell impacts our response to whatever is happening and the outcome that we get.

One of my favorite quotes is from Viktor E. Frankl, a Holocaust survivor. He said, “When we’re no longer able to change a situation—we’re challenged to change ourselves.” He reminded us in his book Man’s Search for Meaning the one thing that can never be taken from a person is their ability to choose how to respond (Frankl)

This can be tough because it means that, just like these little girls, we have to figure out how to tell a better story, one that leads us to the destination we want.

You’ve all heard this old saying or something like it, “What you say is what you get.” It’s true. If you say, “My kids are driving me nuts,” they’ll drive you nuts. If you say, “I can’t stand my kids today,” or “My kids are so sloppy, messy, noisy, naughty, and so on,” that’s what you’ll get. It’s what you perceive is happening, regardless of what’s actually going on.

I worked with a self-employed mother who was telling herself a negative story about her son’s actions. She felt he was whiney and needy. He was a bother when she was trying to work. Her responses to her son were causing a strained relationship between them. She was having difficulty figuring out how to fix the situation. When I asked her to tell me more about her son, she replied that he was bright, loving, and responsible.

We talked about the importance of our story, how they affect our response and ultimately the result we get. Her result was painful. She determined to change the story even if the situation wasn’t changing. She decided to remind herself of her sons’ positive qualities each time she began to experience annoyance or frustration.

When I talked with her next, I asked her how it was going. She replied she and her son were no longer at odds. She enjoyed his company. She could see that he was just interested in what she was doing, and they had had opportunities to connect on and off during the day. She was able to respond positively to him more often.

This mom got better results because her feelings were positive. Her feelings were positive because she changed her story about her son.

Now back to my friend and her grandchildren. She made the call because she wanted to thank me for all that she has learned about taking control of our stories and how impactful and life-changing that has been.

She wanted me to know that because I have made an impact in her life, she has been able to make an impact in the lives of her granddaughters. This morning as she dropped them off to school she asked, “Now when you get in school you get to tell your story. So, what will you do if someone gets your story going in a different direction that you don’t want it to go or that wasn’t what you expected? They knew – “We get to take it in the direction we want it to go!”

As my friend said goodbye and thanked me for sharing with her through the years, she had tears in her voice because as she said, “It’s wonderful when you can see it used in real life, and when you can help the rising generation learn it so much earlier. I know this is going to have an impact on how their lives will go.”

Here are a few tips to help you have better stories.

• Take responsibility and stop blaming
• Decide to think the best of others
• Choose your words wisely
• Keep practicing

Take responsibility for your thoughts, the stories, and emotions they create, and your responses. Stop blaming. Take responsibility for your words, which are your stories in concrete form. You’re in control of the stories you tell—stories about yourself, your family, your children, the world, the past, the present, and the future. Knowing this gives you all the power.

Our Stories Determine Our Happiness Level

Stories are powerful in determining our happiness level. My granddaughter, Mary, is six. She loves to watch the fish in our tank. We have a very sleek, silver catfish that swims fast and erratically whenever anyone stands in front of the tank. I believe the fish does this out of fear or because it has been disturbed. One day Mary asked me, “Do you know why this fish swims so fast when I’m looking at him?” I replied, “No, why?” She responded with, “Because he likes me!”

Mary, like all of us, gets to write the story, and her story makes her happy. And for all I know, her story may be as true as mine.

Want to Know More?

If you want an in-depth understanding of how to control your responses in tough situations, how telling a better story can open up your internal resources, and an in-depth look at the tips above as well as a few more, then read my book Becoming a Present Parent: Connecting with Your Children in Five Minutes or Less. You can purchase it on Amazon or at your local bookstore. Here’s to better stories and better outcomes.

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A Principle with Power – Consistency

I love to write but don’t always want to prepare and post a new article every week. I enjoy posting something of value every day on Facebook but sometimes I would rather do other things. However, I do both as perfectly as I can because I have a goal and to reach it, I have learned that there must be consistency in my effort, for as long as it takes.

Consistency is a principle with power. When we do simple things consistently, over time, we will achieve amazing results. This principle can be found in cultures all around the world and in most, if not all religions. But this is a challenging principle to live because what we really want is a silver bullet, one big thing that will bring us growth, change, or success.

It’s amazing we ever believe the silver bullet myth because the truth of small steps over time has been restated and demonstrated so often. But the myth is comforting. It’s what we want to believe because the truth is harder to accept. Why would we rather do one big thing to change our lives? Although the big thing may take a massive effort on our part, if we gave the effort, then the work would be done. But the truth is we have to decide to do it and then follow through—over and over and over and over . . . ! There is no one and done.

Whenever you hear that a person has achieved an extraordinary goal, rarely, if ever, are you told the process they used—that is, the ordinary actions they took consistently. You only hear about the outcome. We’re led to believe extraordinary successes in business, home, or life are a result of significant actions, but they’re not—they’re a result of daily actions done consistently over time.

I worked with a single mom who was struggling with her children ages eight, eleven, and fourteen. They were argumentative and disobedient. One of her sons was withdrawn, and other people commented on how hyper her kids were. There was a fair amount of chaos in the home.

As we talked this mother realized that to have what she wanted in her family she would need to be more consistent. But being consistent in anything was a challenge for her. So, she picked one thing that she would do consistently in her home so she could practice living this principle.

She occasionally read to her kids, but it was rarely successful. However, she chose this to experiment with. As she began reading aloud to her children, it didn’t appear it was going to work out well. The kids were restive and quarrelsome. But I encouraged her to keep it up no matter how it looked or felt because the goal was to practice consistency. Her job was to provide a comfy spot and to read, no matter how her kids behaved, and to do it consistently.

So, she did. She committed to reading to her children twice a week. They would all gather in her room, in the middle of her bed and they would read. It wasn’t always easy, but as time went by it became more and more enjoyable. The surprising part is they began to have a sense of cooperation and peace while they read together, and this feeling moved into other areas of their lives. They felt it at mealtimes, in conversation, and when working together. People began commenting that her children seemed more patient and calmer. Her withdrawn child seemed happier and had begun to sing around the house.

Time and consistency are required to take care of most things. Understanding this is especially important in parenting because it nearly always takes until a child leaves home and creates their own life to see the results of our efforts. While they’re growing, it’s tempting to let ourselves feel failure because we don’t see our child as neat, quiet, mannerly and so forth. We often see a mud-covered child, a snitched cookie behind a back, spilled milk on the kitchen floor, or we hear voices’ complaining that it’s not their fault or “it’s my turn.”

Remaining Present while a child grows, not checking out because of discouragement or feeling overwhelmed, is dependent on doing simple things consistently rather than searching for a one-time fix to family issues.

Tips for Remaining Consistent

It takes time and practice to make lasting change and to grow as a person or as a family.
• We must commit to it.
• We need to consistently do the work.
• We must believe we can accomplish it.
• It’s important to remember that consistent is not the same as perfect.
• Keep your word to yourself. Do what you’ve decided to do.

Consistency long term is the key. We must commit to giving any issue time and consistency. Don’t allow discouragement and don’t quit! Time doesn’t equal failure. It equals eventual success.

Your shares are the best compliment : ) 

 

Process vs Outcome. Which brings joy?

Recently, I posted a photo on Facebook of my twelve-year-old granddaughter making cupcakes. She has cerebral palsy and so it requires some special accommodation to cook with her. We’ve been cooking together now, for many years.

It’s also coming up on April 2, which is my oldest daughter’s birthday. That recalled to my mind a memory which I wrote about and want to share because the message is timeless and priceless as it applies to creating a relationship with our children and in allowing us to enjoy working and playing with them. Enjoy!

3-18-2010
Three of my grandchildren live just a couple of blocks away. Maggie is almost four and Jack just turned two. Mary is brand new. Maggie has cerebral palsy. Working her arms and legs is a real challenge. These children belong to my oldest daughter, Jodie. Today is her birthday. I had planned to make her a cake and then decided to have Jack and Maggie help me.

My intention was to allow them to experience new things, really help make a cake, and have a lot of fun. I knew that there would be a huge mess, something unexpected might happen and I would be worn out when we were through. That knowledge has come from working with hundreds of children, of all ages.

Because of Maggie’s condition she has a special chair. It isn’t high enough to reach the table, so I put her and the chair on the table. Jack, of course, took his position on one of the kitchen chairs.

I opened the cake mix and allowed each one to pour half of the contents into the bowl. Some made its way to the table top and some to the floor. Next, I filled three measuring cups with liquid, 1 cup water, ¼ cup water, and 1/3 cup water. I helped Maggie get hold of the large cup and pour it into the bowl.

Because this isn’t the first time that I’ve cooked with them I wanted to see if Jack could pour the cup himself so I said, “Pour it in Jack.” He took hold of the 1/3 cup and gently tipped it to one side, onto the table. Ok…he still needs help. So, we tried again with my help.

Next came the eggs. I showed Jack and Maggie how to break one and get the contents out. Woohoo!! Whacking eggs suited Jack just fine. He gave it a whack and voila! egg all over the table. Not to worry. We just picked out the eggshells and scraped the egg into the bowl. Good thing we started with a clean table.

Next, I helped Maggie get hold of her egg and smack it against the cup edge. That was necessary to make it pliable enough for her to squeeze out the contents, and squeeze she did. Some was dripping down the front of her shirt, there was a small stream running down her knee and the rest was oozing out her fingers. We did get all the egg out of the shell, the shell pried out of her little fist and hands wiped clean. Whew!

My sister had come to visit just as we began and was observing what we were doing. As I got a cloth to wipe up the egg mess, Maggie, who was just desperate to “do it herself”, reached down and plunged her arm into the batter. I turned around at that same moment. It was perfect. I took hold of the bowl and said, “Stir Maggie, stir.” She really had a tremendous time stirring that batter. It’s very difficult for her to hold a spoon and when she does, I have to help her. For a 4-year-old that’s so lame. But stirring on your own, now that’s living! I would never have come up with the solution she found. I glad my sister was there because she was able to video that small moment of magnificent success and joy for Maggie. You can see Maggie stir the cake here.

Of course, being unable to control her limbs, her hand and arm went in and out of the batter a couple of times, so we had cake mix on her, Jack and the table. Not to worry, there was enough left to bake!

I put the bowl on the mixer and turned it to stir. Watching them learn to cook was fun. Each time I accelerated the mixer the change in sound would make Maggie jump. She’s very sensitive to sound. I would pat her knee and say, “It’s OK Maggie.” After a few times, Jack reached over, patted her little knee with his smaller hand, and said, “It’s loud.”

Soon the cake was in the oven, all hands were wiped, and the table cleaned. Then I put on Winnie the Pooh and made the frosting myself.

When the cakes were cooled, I invited the kids back in and we got to work. Maggie, like any 4-year-old, wanted to lick the beater. I gave her the rubber spatula instead. She held it in place on her knee, bent her head down low (ah, the flexibility of children) and got busy. For the next half hour, we didn’t see her face once, but we heard lots of smacks and slurps. She cleaned that spatula.

While I was frosting the cake and Maggie was smacking her lips on the spatula, Jack was sucking frosting out of the decorating bag. It was a grand sight, grandma letting her little friends experience new and enjoyable things. There was no nagging about being neat, quiet or being patient. We just did our thing however it happened to happen.

The cake turned out great and I suspect, despite the fact that it didn’t get its full measure of egg, it will taste just fine. On the way home, Jack almost fell asleep. He was totally worn out from a fabulous day at grandma’s house. Maggie cried because she knew we were going home, and it’s so much fun at grandmas!

I shared this cake baking experience with you because there are some important things that I want to point out that will help many of you.

1. When you work with children, no matter the age, your intent, and your expectation really do matter.
This experience with my grandchildren would have been very different if I had worried about keeping my kitchen clean or making sure that everything was in order and done a certain way or trying to keep clothing clean. It wouldn’t have been as much fun if I had said, “Don’t be so messy”, “Don’t spill”, or “Look at your clothes”. You know what I mean. We all do it. That’s because our expectation is that it will be a well-run project, go smoothly, and the end product will be perfect.

2. As we begin to feel the tiredness that comes from working on a project with children, we can begin to feel impatient, frustrated, and possibly, even angry. That’s because we expected to have this perfect time with our kids and it wasn’t perfect, at least not in our eyes.

But let’s think about that. When we work with children whose eyes matter, whose interpretation of what should happen matters. I’ve learned that for most children it isn’t the result that they care about, it’s the process. They like doing. They like experimenting. Sometimes things don’t turn out, cookies are crumbly, plaster of paris is runny, paint is too thick, etc. It doesn’t matter to kids.

3. Is the project, chores or activity about me or the kids? For decades I would go to my children’s school and help children make gingerbread houses. I was VERY well organized, so it was a smooth project. I could help 25-30 kids by myself. But I’m going to be honest here. It went so smoothly because the project was about me and not about the children.

When I first started it mattered to me how the houses looked when they were done. I knew they were going home, and I wanted those parents to be amazed, to see what a great teacher I was. So, when the kids were doing their thing I would go around and make sure that the entire milk carton was covered and that candies were evenly spread on the house. In short, I meddled with everyone’s creation.

As I got older and wiser, I stopped doing that. I made it about the children! I learned that kids don’t always care if the milk carton shows. Sometimes all the candy will be on one side of the roof and nowhere else. I learned that not everyone wants icicles that look like icicles. Some kids would rather do it themselves even if they are just bumps on the side of the house. And you know what; I’ve never talked to a parent yet who didn’t think their child’s house was great, no matter what it looked like.

I suspect that is true for a lot of you if you’re honest. It’s your expectations you think about. It’s your outcome that matters. It isn’t about just being with your kids and letting them learn and enjoy. Be honest.

4. When we’re honest we will approach projects and activities with a different set of expectations and a very different intent.

5. If being Present with our children is our ultimate goal, whether we’re playing, doing chores, homework, or any other activity, we will have a better result.

6. When we’re Present we’re better able to remember this huge difference in adults and children: adults are project driven and kids are process driven.

As we adjust our expectations to include these differences it will increase our enjoyment in working, playing and being with our children.

Your shares are the best compliment! : )