I Choose….

June 2016

If I prompted you to complete that sentence, what would it be?  When asked directly, the majority of us would not add “to be miserable”, “to be angry”, “to be sad” or “to be insulted, or hurt, or discontent”.  Yet, sometimes more often than we’d like to admit, we find ourselves feeling one or more of those emotions. Why is that?  If we have ‘free will’ and would never purposefully choose such, then why would we ever invite negative feelings to enter our day? If we had a choice, why are we letting our circumstances or others take that ability away from us and steal our joy?

I discovered long ago that it is not my destiny to jet set to exciting destinations all over the world or stay youthful looking regardless of my age.  There may be some of you out there in the same situation.  Does that mean I am unhappy? Absolutely not.  In fact, my goal is to not ‘be happy’.  My goal is to be content.  That, my friends, is the purest form of happiness for being content means that you are completely satisfied with exactly who you are and where you are in life at this very moment. You are not relying on the advent of the weekend or next vacation to provide pleasure.  You are finding it in the every day.

Will we confront grave difficulties that may cause temporary anger or sadness?  Of course, we live in the world and what goes on in it is often out of our control.  But, how long do we allow it to affect us?  And, what about the ‘not so grave’? What of the lesser struggles that we allow to creep into our positive mindset and pilfer our bliss like a dime store thief? Is the unknown individual that accidentally cut you off worth it? Is the longer than expected line? Is it the co-worker who is not having a good day and therefore no one else should that important that you are willing to trade your sense calm of well-being for it?

“Life is too short” is definitely one of the overused clichés to date. Why is that?  Do we really need to use this adage as a way to convince ourselves to ‘go for it’, ‘just do it’, or ‘don’t worry, be happy’?  In reality, there should never be the need for mottos or self-talk. Just a choice.  One simple decision that can influence your life as well as the lives all those around you for the better.  Today, “I choose…”


Being Kind is good for you!

May 2016
Since writing this blog for our Team Focus parents, students and the public in general, there have been two articles that I did not contribute to. The below excerpt is one. As we explore the acts of kindness in our school’s curriculum this month, I wanted to find information on the relevance of such when it comes to our physical well-being. We so often attribute physical and emotional health to diet, exercise and the latest book written by the Oprah recommended psychological expert of the day. Yet, as complicated as we choose to make it is as simple as adding one small ‘tactic’ to our daily routines. Being kind.

Being kind is defined as; “of a good or benevolent nature or disposition”, “having, showing or proceeding from compassion and/or generosity”, “being considerate, helpful; humane”. Notice it is not defined as ‘being a complete push over’ or ‘one to be taken advantage of’. Unfortunately, we often equate a kind person with such statements. Kindness comes from confident people. Confident people are not push overs. And, confident people also do not always have to come in first, receive the award, or make the championship to believe they are winners.

The following was written by Lindsay Holmes, the Deputy Health Living Editor of the Huffington Post where she provides quick and easy to follow insight on how “6 Ways Being Nice to Others Is Actually

Good for You”:

1. It May be Natural Behavior:
As we grow up, we learn values and morals that help us become nice people, whether it be proper manners, compassion, consideration or a combination of them all. But research from the University of Buffalo suggests that our capacity for goodness may also lie in our DNA. In the study, scientists found that some people may be born with certain genes that give you specific receptors to oxytocin and vasopressin — two hormones in your body that are associated with feelings of love and generosity.

However, that’s not to say that you’re only a nice person if you possess the right genes. Researchers also found that genetics work in tandem with your upbringing and life experiences, and the combination of both can suggest how social you become, Live Science reported. Either way, whether we’re wired for “niceness” or just brought up on it, our good nature is something that’s ingrained in us from an early age.

2. It Could Help Us Live Longer:
One hallmark of being kind is practicing charitable actions. When you’re helping someone, you’re not only bettering their lives, you may also be improving your own: Studies show that those who volunteer reap health benefits that may help you live longer, ABC News reported. Making the world a better place and increasing our longevity? Sign us up.

3. We Are Happier When We Are Kind:
The motive may be a little selfish, but being nice to others doesn’t just benefit them, it clearly works in our favor, too, by instantly boosting our mood. You don’t have to travel too far out of your way to be nice, either — sometimes just a few kind words will do.

4. It May Be The Key To Success:
It pays to be kind. Those who are compassionate and better in-tune with other people’s emotions may be more successful at work. “People trust you more, they have better interactions with you, you even get paid better,” Dacher Keltner, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley and co-director of the Greater Good Science Center, told ABC News. Not a bad trade-off.

5. It May Bring You Less Stress:
There’s a certain thrill that comes with fighting to be at the top, but it isn’t without its own challenges. One of the costs? Your stress levels. One study on baboons found that “alpha males” experienced higher stress levels, suggesting that those “nice guys” may be healthier. While the study isn’t entirely conclusive on the health benefits niceness has for humans, it does offer some interesting insight on what it means to finish second. Additionally, practicing compassion through meditation has also been shown to reduce stress.

6. It Just Feels Better:
When was the last time you heard someone lament over a little courtesy? Sure, being “too nice” can have its pitfalls, but practicing kindness also has a multitude of feel-good benefits, according to clinical psychologist Lara Honos-Webb, Ph.D. “When we help others and do kind acts, it causes our brain to release endorphins, the chemicals that give us feelings of fervor and high spirits — similar to a ‘runner’s high,’” she writes in a Psychology Today blog. “Doing something nice for someone also gives the brain a serotonin boost, the chemical that gives us that feeling of satisfaction and well-being.”

Plus, studies show that having specific goals — like setting out to make someone smile — may boost our happiness. If being “kind” means feeling more joyful and better about ourselves in the long run, we’ll gladly take the label.


“Long term consistency trumps short term intensity” Bruce Lee

April 2016

I do not think there is a person who has not watched a fireworks display without feeling a sense of wonder and awe sometime in their life.

Whether it was as a child or an adult, attending a Fourth of July celebration or staying for the professional ending of a parade at a favorite theme park, we all can agree to the feeling that viewing a spectacular stream of coordinated lights and sounds evokes.

Accomplishing an incredible goal, beginning the ‘dream’ job you landed, starting a fun project, or initiating a new, potentially life changing activity, can certainly be exciting. However, like the conclusion of the fireworks extravaganza, eventually our initial fervor begins to fade all too soon. We may do everything right; set a goal, create a plan in order to follow through, even ‘dig in’ with a persistence we thought we could never have mustered when challenges ensue. It is without a doubt that action and drive will result in success. But what then?

The real work begins.

“If you are persistent, you will get it. If you are consistent, you will keep it”

Though we feel we have met our objective, are we stopping short of the finish line? Unfortunately, that answer is yes more often than we would like it to be. We reach our fitness and weight goals. Our ‘dream’ job begins to lose its initial appeal as routine sets in. The joy of learning something new begins to feel like work. Then what? This is the pivotal moment that defines the true difference between failure and success in all areas of our lives.

Consistency is the key.
Can you keep that ‘fireworks’ feeling alive for the long haul? If so, how? The answer is not so simple, especially an era of ‘instant gratification’. You don’t like your job? Quit. Tired of jogging? Stop. Don’t like playing an instrument or sticking with a sport because there seems to be no end? Give it up and do something new. Then something new again, and again, and again. Does that sound like success? Does it even sound like the answer to being happy?

From personal relationships to businesses, leaders, entrepreneurs, social programs, education, etc., those that remain consistent remain successful. How do they do it? By keeping things ‘fresh’. By setting new goals while in the same job or activity, by understanding their ‘why’ and revisiting the reasons they began all this in the first place. By feeling secure and by feeling proud. By seeing how their accomplishments continually affect those in their life in a positive way. By understanding that they are setting an example for their friends, co-workers, and family.

How do we keep that ‘fireworks feeling’? Maybe the answer is not that difficult after all:
We become what we want to be by consistently being what we want to become.


Persistence Overcomes Resistance

March 2016

During his professional career with the NBA, Michael Jordan scored 32,292 points, securing his position as one of the greatest players in history of basketball.  It’s amazing to contemplate. However, what we don’t focus on is how many shots did Mr. Jordan take AND MISS in order to achieve such success?  What if, early on in his young life as a student, he became so frustrated with his ‘misses’ that he quit playing the game altogether?

Thomas Edison once wrote; “I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.  Imagine if Thomas Edison gave up after the first, second, or third failure.  No one would fault him even if he threw his hands in the air during the fourth; after all, he really tried.  

Did Martin Luther King Jr. face adversity? Did Mahatma Gandhi encounter challenges? Did Bill Gates and Steve Jobs get ‘everything right’ the first time? The examples are countless.

What do we think sets these people, the ones we know about and even those we do not yet know, apart from most? Persistence. Persistence is defined as the “determination to continue in a course of action despite any challenge or obstacle”.

Let’s face it, life in general is a challenge.  There are days that we all simply want to throw the blankets back over our heads and hide.  Learning to walk is hard; it takes persistence.  Riding a bike is hard; it takes persistence. Going to school and educating oneself from kindergarten all the way through college is hard; it takes persistence.  Going to work and supporting oneself is hard; it takes persistence. Parenting is definitely hard and surely takes a great deal of persistence!

These are things that require an enormous amount of persistence but we take for granted because they are part of our everyday lives. We separate ourselves from those mentioned above because for some reason we believe that they ‘have what it takes’ and we simply do not.  But, we do.  Look at the list.  We have been training to win the Persistence Award our entire lives!  There is truly nothing we can’t do.  Hey, we don’t have to be great inventors and I personally never aspired to compete in the Olympics.  We all have different dreams, desires and goals we want fulfilled and not one individuals is more important or less valuable than another’s.  But, is sleeping in worth more than your plans?   Is binge watching a television series worth more than your dreams?  Is feeling sorry for yourself for a recent failure and wanting to give up worth more than your desires?

The ability to persist is the same for everyone; regardless of age, talent, education, circumstances, finances, etc. It is the will to press on, to never give up, to think outside the box, to ask for help, to read, to not watch television for the night, to skip that video game, to take just five minutes extra to organize….to PUSH; Persist Until Something Happens.


Step Away from the Buffet – February 2016

January is typically the month many of us seek to set resolutions for personal, financial, and spiritual improvement. Often times we fall short of fulfilling our newly determined mindset ‘that this time will be different.’  How do we break the unfulfilled resolution cycle and overcome the feeling of being stuck and following through, to get back on track? The following tips will help us follow through with the goals that we have set and plan to set for the wonderful year ahead.

Step 1 – Step away from the buffet. Buffets provide us with a wide array of choices that initially seem so wonderful but can end up being overwhelming. Too many choices actually paralyze our ability to properly make sound decisions. Instead of setting too many expectations and rules, carry out smaller, more manageable tasks without leaving each task until it is completed.  The psychology of following through is built on accomplishing one small task at a time and producing a habit.  Following through is dependent on the compound effect of simple daily choices. Like the buffet, do not get overwhelmed with the excitement of wanting everything; take and manage what you can.

Step 2 – Don’t make it an option. We often give ourselves the option not to follow through. We think that a promise to ourselves does not count as much as a promise to someone else. To be successful you have to turn pro; follow through and do the work until it is finished. If you want to be responsible, keep your promises to others. If you want to be successful, keep your promises to yourself.

Step 3 – Avoid leapfrogging but wear blinders. Leapfrogging from one project to another often results in a loss of the ability to manage your attention causing half done messes.  Be sure to set defined completion times. If you find yourself getting distracted ask yourself “Is what I’m doing right now progressing me towards completion?”  Race horses wear blinders to maintain their focus and avoid distractions. Train yourself to have a one track mind by wearing blinders.

Creative success means balancing your love for starting things with a habit of finishing them. Be careful of the pattern of starting something with passion and then falling short without following through. Following though is a habit and requires effort.  Start small and be cautious of filling your “buffet” plate too full.


 

Life is like riding a bicycle, to keep your balance, you just keep moving. January 2016

Starting Over

Why do the words ‘starting over’ sometimes elicit a negative response? Is it because we equate the need to start over with failing at something we began? If you think about it, the ability to start over is truly what life is all about.  There are thousands (if not more) quotes, books, and articles in regards to this subject.  Why? Because it’s true.  Every dawn is the advent of a new day for every single living thing on this amazing planet we call home. Yesterday is truly gone and along with it, all of our mistakes.  Now, you may be pondering the naiveté of such a thought.  After all, the choices we have made in the past can positively or negatively affect our experiences in the present. And yes, such choices can lead to missed opportunities, broken relationships, and altered plans for the future.  Yet, like the enormity of the thought many of us have of ‘starting over’, we become obsessed with the ‘weight’ of the past, and as a result, we stop moving completely.

Starting over is necessary at every age, and can occur at any time. We should not look at it as a misfortune, but a gift.  Too often we hold on to relationships, jobs, and situations because it is easier to deal with the known than the unknown and frankly, the opinions of others. Is it really a failure or have we recognized that what and how we started something is simply not working? Through experience, we gain knowledge and with knowledge comes the realization that change is required.  How is that a bad thing? Giving up is ‘giving up’. However, stopping and then starting over takes perseverance and courage.  Life is not always about fixing something that is broken or feeling we cannot change a situation for fear of ‘failure’, it’s about our ability to start over and create something better.


 

A Life of Giving

December 2015

This is the time of year when we think about giving the most. Though there is joy in being the receiver of something special, I think it’s safe to say that most of us find witnessing the look on the faces of those in our lives that unwrap our gift unsurpassable. After all, we put our thought, time, finances and love into purchasing just the right present. There is true sincerity in gift giving this time of year for which the remainder is nary a match.

Now imagine that same moment multiplied. The happiness of one from the earnestness of another. Imagine not just one month out of the year but every day of every year. Am I talking about giving to everyone for 365 days? Yes. Seems impossible? No. The word ‘giving’ itself is defined in many ways; ‘to present voluntarily and without expecting compensation’, ‘to hand to someone’, ‘to place in someone’s care’, ‘to grant’, ‘to impart or to communicate’. The word ‘gift’ itself is described as ‘something given voluntarily without payment in return’, ‘something bestowed or acquired without any particular effort by the recipient’, ‘to show favor toward someone, honor an occasion, or make a gesture of assistance’. Sound strikingly similar, don’t they? Notice how the words ‘giving’ and ‘gift’ are not stated definitively as something ‘tangible’. It is not limited to play stations, Legos, a star wars action figure, iPads, etc.

Those are all awesome, but not realistic or even necessary on a day to day basis. I promise you, the true act of giving is far easier, more realistic, and more fulfilling than anything imaginable. It’s the gift of oneself. Stopping a chore or a project for a moment to listen to the story of a child’s day. Helping someone who is carrying a heavy object from the store to their car. Thanking a person in your life for just ‘being there’, calling your family member ‘just because’. Sending a thoughtful note to someone you just met. Being patient on a long line and smiling or granting a kind word to the harried cashier. Putting aside small differences and ego because in the end, they do not really matter, not in the grand scheme of life.

The list can be endless, and does not require a great deal of time and absolutely no money. However, ‘giving yourself’ to others authentically, every day, even in small ways that you think may not make an impact does, not only to the person who is receiving, by for you as well and suddenly, giving itself becomes the greatest gift of all.


“Live your life with intention and you will live the life you were always meant to”   November 2015

“You did that on purpose!” is a phrase that, as parents, we may have heard all too often exchanged between siblings.  In fact, many of us may even recall our usage of such a time or two when we were younger.  Unfortunately, being the accused or the accuser of doing something ‘on purpose’ was rarely, if ever, stated for a positive reason.

Yet, what if we made an effort to be suspect of doing something on purpose every day, and for the greater good?  Living with ‘intention’ is easily said, but difficult to accomplish.  After all, intention is “the determination to act in a certain way”.  We really don’t think about our ‘actions’.  We simply ‘do’. We have an organization of life, which can feel like intention but in reality is exactly the opposite; it is a carefully executed structure to help one or many in a household survive through each day in an otherwise unpredictable world.  After all, we have school, work, hobbies, extracurricular activities, medical appointments, meetings, vacations, general schedules etc. that HAVE to be planned in order to avoid resulting chaos and zero progress. Therefore, if we think about it, anything else that occurs within our set routine is nothing but a side effect, for better or for worse, of our day. Do we plan on complimenting the gal behind the counter for a great job or a good attitude or does it happen, most often, spur of the moment? Do we plan on letting a car attempting to make a right turn during rush hour in front of us instead of ignoring them? Do we plan on thanking people who have helped us?  Do we wake up every day and consciously think about a kind word, a gesture, an ‘action’, that will make a positive impact on someone’s life?

Do we even live with ‘intention’ for ourselves or do we simply go to school, to work, visit our families, and complete a household chore because ‘we have to’?  Are we so used to our routine and protocol that comes with the necessity of life and that we forgot how to truly live a life with ‘intention’?

Imagine if we woke up with an incredible sense of purpose and set a specific intention each day.

Today, I am going to make five people smile
Today, I am going to study in advance for that test
Today, I am going to complete the project at work
Today, I am going to be conscious of my actions
Today, I am going to always ‘think’ before I speak
Today, I am going to get that promotion
Today, I am going to live fully and completely with joy
Today, I am going to be honest with everyone, especially myself
Today, I am going to forgive
Today, I am going to mend a relationship

Too often we underestimate our life’s potential by living ‘out of habit’. We don’t realize the amazing power we have with a kind word, a honest touch, a helping hand, a goal that was completed, a simple ‘thank you’, to change not only the lives of others, but ourselves.  Live with intent today and live your best life imaginable.


“What is Your Law of Motion?”

October 2015

I think it’s safe to say that most of us have heard of Newton’s Laws of Motion, especially the first one:

“Every object at rest will stay at rest and an object in motion will stay in a state of uniform motion unless an external force is applied to it.”

Simply enough right?  But, what if we used this law and applied it to the law of human motion?

Figuratively speaking, let’s say that humans move in three directions:

  1. Moving Forward
  2. Standing Still (yes, that even standing still requires physical energy)
  3. Moving backwards

Moving Forward:

Those that live by the law of moving forward can relate to these three concepts:

  1. Competition:  Think about the physical, mental, and emotional training that we go through to gain an ‘edge’ in the competitive areas of our lives (a project at work, a marathon, a tournament, the ‘Biggest Loser’ competitions with friends, etc.).  Individuals who consistently ‘move forward’ think about life as a competition.  They compete daily with themselves; they constantly strive to be better today than they were yesterday and tomorrow, they want to be ever better than today.
  2. “Faith without works is dead”:  It may sound like a ‘strong’ quote, but those that follow this law know that you can believe in something but if you don’t follow through with action, it means nothing.  Dreams will always remain dreams if not acted upon.
  3. Have a proper view of themselves:  When we consistently desire forward momentum in our lives, we know we have not ‘arrived’.  We know that there will always be something new to discover, grow, and improve upon.  Those that move forward understand that “Success is not a destination but a journey”, in all areas of their lives and the minute they think ‘they have it all’ or ‘know it all’ or have ‘done it all’, they have stopped living life to its fullest.

Standing Still:

Those that live by the law of standing still can relate to these three concepts:

  • Comfort over courage:  People who live by this law will often chose the comfort over staying where they are (even if they don’t like it) than taking a chance for fear of the unknown.  Yes, it’s hard to make changes and if you are too ‘comfortable’ to try, then this is the law for you.  “To conquer oneself is a greater task than conquering others”  
  1. Envy and worry:  Envy is the art of counting others’ blessings instead of your own while worrying is a state of mind contemplating what may happen or is happening even though you cannot do anything immediately about it.  Both are immobilizing.  We all worry and many times, we all think about having the ‘gifts’ others have.  But, does it get us anywhere?  What has occurred other than the loss of time?
  2. Being a stubborn perfectionist:  One would think that being a perfectionist is a positive trait and it is.  When we look at successful individuals throughout history we notice that they maintain an “attention to detail”.  Perfectionists believe “Good enough seldom is” and will go the extra mile to ensure a task is done correctly.  However, when the need for things to be “just right” overshadows the true goal, then momentum becomes impossible.  The obsession for perfection becomes such that the goal does not get completed at all.

Moving Backwards:

Those that live by this law can relate to these three concepts:

  1. Negative Thinking:  This is a guaranteed way to not simply stand still but take a huge step back.  Those that live by this law look at the glass is half empty instead of being grateful that the glass has anything in it at all.  They not only bring themselves down, but their family and team.  “If I think the worst and the worst happens, I will be prepared.  But if good happens, then I will be even happier”, is a popular saying of negative thinkers.  Yet, time and time again, statistics prove that when you think the worst, guess what?  The worst happens.  Negative thinking is like trying to beat traffic by diverting through every shortcut possible because you just know you won’t make it to work on time. What usually happens? The time you spent focusing on the horrors of traffic and how to get around it only made you later.  When we think negatively about an issue, project, concern, etc., it will now take the time to first get back to the issue at hand and then start moving forward in a positive direction.
  2. Taking everything too personally:  Ever hear an example of what not to do during a meeting at work or a school lecture and immediately think “They are talking about me, what did I do?” and start racking your brain to discover what error you may have made for it to be exemplified to the entire staff or class? Have you ever personally suffered through the indignation of an individual cutting you off while driving, bumping into you as you walk, seeming ‘rude’, or even appearing to ignore you?  If you relate to the above examples, then this is your law. Once again, two steps back have been taken instead of one leap forward.
  3. Lack of Self Control:  Anger, resentment, fear, trouble at home, disdain for a coworker, worry, etc. are all human emotions and are natural.  However, when it increases to the extent that it damages relationships or interferes in family or team progress, then we are pedaling our bicycles backwards.  When we allow our inner emotions to surface at inappropriate times, everyone loses, especially us and our time.  “Try not to become a man of success, but rather a man of value”.  When we maintain integrity and self-control, even when the going gets tough, we move forward in all areas of our lives.

What law of motion do you live by?  Take a moment to think about it.  Are you satisfied living within the confines of that law or do you want to move to another? An object in motion will always stay in motion without an external force applied to it; what ‘external forces’ prevent you from moving? Do you want to? After all, it is law that “An object at rest will most certainly stay at rest”.


 

 

“If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk, then crawl.  Whatever you do, keep moving forward” – September

Martin Luther King, Jr.

I think it’s safe to say that the majority of us have heard the phrase “hitting the wall” at some point in our lives, primarily asserted by those who have run marathons.  But what actually does it mean?  “Hitting the wall” generally refers to the depletion of glycogen stores while performing endurance exercises and the resulting feeling of ‘running out of steam’ that an athlete will experience.  

Yet, despite the physiological answer, haven’t we all encountered our own metaphorical wall? The completion of a goal that continually eludes us, a failed relationship, an exam we did not pass, trouble with financials, children that proclaim to know what is best for them, the car that keeps breaking down; these are just a sample of ‘walls’ that life throws at us.

From the first time we fell off our bikes to our inaugural inexperienced blunder made at work, it is human nature to feel bad about the outcome, that loss of control.  It is at that moment when we need to decide how to handle ‘the wall’. There are those that will look at ‘the wall’ and immediately turn away from it.  They give up before they even start, intimidated by its size. Then, there are those that will attempt to scale it, but lack the knowledge, resources and/or physical and emotional endurance to accomplish the feat.  They too shrug their shoulders, wipe off their sweat and walk away, usually disgruntled by the lack of results from wasted efforts.  Finally, there are those rare few that despite the depletion of their physical, emotional, and even financial ‘stores’, triumphantly ascend.  

What separates them from the other ‘climbers’? They simply acknowledge ‘the wall’. And, they accept the fact that there will always be the possibility of one lurking around the corner in the marathon of life. As human beings it is important to encounter obstacles in order to grow in our daily lives. In fact, such occurrences are quite possibly the most important training tools we will ever have.  Lessons learned though experiences reside in our minds and through our actions greater than lessons taught. It is within our moments of physical and emotional weakness that we find our greatest strengths.

The next time you ‘hit a wall’, don’t turn around and don’t give up.  If you can’t climb the wall, go around it.  If you can’t go around it, go under it, if you can’t go under it, go through it.  And, if you cannot do that, find someone who can help you. It is, after all, only a wall.


Ice Cream Makes Everything Better – July/August 2015

It’s summertime!  It’s amazing how one word can conjure up so many pleasant memories, future plans and present excitement.  With summer’s arrival comes picnics, vacations and time at the beach.  We salivate in anticipation of BBQs layered with hamburgers and hot dogs accompanied with an array of fresh salads and colorful fruit.  And, whether young or old there is yet one more common denominator universally recognized upon summer’s advent; ice cream.

“Ice cream makes everything better” is one of the phrases on our manifesto wall that greets all of our students when they enter the school.  Why?  Let’s think about it.  Ice cream is associated with parties and the feeling of instant thrill when ringing is heard from an approaching ice cream truck; just the sight of the white vehicle positioned at a local park gets one craving all sorts of the frozen goodness.  Children are promised ice cream as a reward for good behavior and adults eat it straight out of the container as a way to cheer themselves when something unpleasant, like a recent ‘breakup’, occurs. We don’t often ask “What is your ideal fruit?” or “What kind of donuts do you like?” Yet the question, “What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?” is a collective one that spans every generation.

Regardless of its delicious appeal, what is it about ice cream that makes the world around us seem a little brighter despite the situation?  Yes, there are plenty of choices of flavor and texture to make even the most fastidious person satisfied.  But, there is something else to it; a notion we often don’t ponder when we consume the cool desert; you cannot eat it fast.  And that, my friends, is the real reason that ice cream makes everything better.

In a world that seems to become more frenzied with each passing year and the ‘speed’ of one’s internet directs the purchase of specific systems while grabbing dinner at a “fast food” restaurant as we drive to the next activity on the huge list of things to accomplish in a day becomes commonplace, ice cream is one of the few activities that we are forced to complete at a slower pace.  Eating it fast can cause “brain freeze” or disturb sensitive teeth.  It’s hard to drive while holding a cone and can become a parent’s worst nightmare when it drips all over the car seat.  And, with the growing array of taste profiles it is a decision not to be rushed.  When we think about it, ice cream is truly one of the few “foods” we have the opportunity to appreciate and truly enjoy.  In fact, it transcends the very definition of snack, desert, treat or reward; it is far more than that.  It is an experience.

Imagine if we savored our everyday lives like we do ice cream; if we anticipated our next seemingly mindless chore like we do for the latest flavor?  What if we felt the sheer joy of each moment we live like we do upon taking the first bite?  How about alleviating the stress of the day or abate the anger towards the person that accidentally cut us off like we do when we are calmed by its creaminess? What if we took the very concept of how we choose, eat, associate, and experience ice cream and made it a way of life?  Imagine how much better we would all feel? Why?

Because ice cream does make everything better and so should we.


 

“You cannot tailor make the situations in life, but you can tailor-make the attitudes to fit” Zig Ziglar – June 2015

Have you ever had a suit tailored for a special event? A dress altered in length? Your favorite trousers taken in a bit or perhaps require an extra inch of fabric?

Once we have altered these items of clothing, no one else can wear them. They are fitted just for us and as we change in size or style so do our ‘customizing needs’. The reason is obvious; we are one of a kind. Even twins who are genetically identical may have some small difference in height, weight, skin tone, etc. that creates a distinction from every other living being on the planet. It’s amazing to think about isn’t it? Of the billions of people that inhabit this earth, there is no one exactly like you.

When we wear clothes that have been altered to our exact measurements, how does it make us feel? When we look in the mirror, what do we see? We feel attractive, confident and above all, comfortable with who we are. We just feel good.

So, if this is true, then why don’t we carry that same feeling into our lives? Why don’t we tailor our lifestyle like our clothing instead of attempting to be, have, look, work, and live like someone else? I had a student who recently told me about an experience at school with a bully. “He told me I was weird”, he said. As an instructor of life skills, I immediately began internally assessing the appropriate advice that would assist this ten year old boy’s emotionally detrimental experience. Before I could impart my great words of wisdom, however, he continued, “but then I looked up the definition of weird and found out it is something that is unique, supernatural, and fantastic so the next time he said that to me, I thanked him”. I had just been schooled by a third grader.

We do not have to force ourselves to be acceptable based on another’s choices or perceptions. It is an impossible task that contradicts every inherent quality of our physical, mental, and emotional lives. We have the opportunity to live a tailored life, to ‘fit’ into a ‘style’ that will make us feel self-assured and totally satisfied. What message otherwise will it send to future generations? Will they feel as confident as this ten year old did when called different? Will we even as adults?

It’s time to tailor our lives like we do our clothing. We need to feel, think, and live exactly as it was intended, in an utterly wonderful weird way. 

“Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again. And what do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them; do you know what you are? You are a marvel, you are unique. In all the years that have passed, there never has been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything.”

Henry David Thoreau


There is no end of craving.  Hence, contentment alone is the best way to happiness.”  May 2015

Picture yourself lost in the desert.  You are dehydrated, sunburned, and starting to feel delirious.  Suddenly, you see something in the distance.  It looks like an oasis, chock full of shade, water, and perhaps even fruit to eat! Your heart rate increases, initially triggering your brain to think it’s fighting or fleeing, thereby releasing endorphins that will block pain and increase a feeling of euphoria.  Such a sense of elation coupled with the concept of being able to experience something pleasurable releases dopamine, one of our ‘feel good’ brain chemicals.  As we race to our destination with more focus than we have endeavored for in a while, our wondrous miracle ‘island’ of salvation seems to drift further and further away, always within reach but not completely attainable.

And therein lies our quest for happiness.

If ‘happiness’ is simply described as ‘the state of being happy’, derived from ‘good fortune’, ‘pleasure’, contentment’, and ‘joy’, then why is it so difficult for many to achieve?  The reason is clear; the majority of us equate happiness externally.  External happiness is almost always associated with getting ‘the good stuff’; the pleasure of going on a trip or an extra day off, getting things that we want akin to cars, houses, clothes, etc., reaching financial security so we can retire with ease, being physically healthy, having satisfying relationships and so on.

In fact, we tend to forget that happiness is a ‘state of being’ and instead make it a goal.  Whether we say “Getting that job will definitely make me happy” or “All I need is a vacation, that will set things right again” to “If only we argued less” or “When the kids start understanding”, we feel that once that ‘goal’ is met, we will be happy.  But how often have we received that job promotion, paid off our bills, beat a serious illness, enjoyed an incredible vacation only to feel unsatisfied until the next thing we seek to make us happy, to experience that rush of ‘brain chemicals’ that make us feel like all is right in the world?  How many of us have read books on happiness or searched for inspiring quotes of the day? Did it work?  Were we set for a blissful life of contentment?

And there it is: contentment.  Contentment is a kind of happiness that is not based on personal tendencies or external circumstances.  It is the genuine feeling that despite what is happening in our lives at the moment, we are ok.  We are no longer attached to our conceived demands of how our lives should be, would be, or could be.  We are present in the moment we are in right now; living that moment to it’s fullest, experiencing it for what it ultimately is, knowing that even that is temporary.  It appears so elementary but nearly impossible to fulfill.  We must first divorce ourselves from any preconceived notions of what we think will ‘make’ us happy.  We need to ‘rid’ ourselves of the ‘happiness addiction’ we have trapped ourselves in.  We need to take time to get to ‘know ourselves’ in order to realize that most of what we are trying to do to become happy is actually thwarting our ability to just ‘be’ content.

Years ago, a colleague of mine, went to teach in a small village in West Africa.  When asked about the difficultness of a journey without running water, bathrooms, toilet paper, communal eating when food was available with a constant fear of dysentery or other conditions borne out of extremely unsanitary conditions, she stated, “I have never seen a group of happier people”.  Entire families lived in a one-room hut, often sharing one bed and living with a goat or a pig. Teenaged girls woke up at 3 am to make the one and a half mile trip to garner all the water from a stagnant well they would have for the day.  Women would start preparing meals, from scratch, with the very basic of utensils and men would attempt another seemingly impossible task of growing something green in an oppressive environment.  Yet there was little fighting, constant singing and dancing, and a deep sense of commitment to each other’s well being.  They were truly ‘content’.

Should we give up all of our external pleasures?  Quit our jobs and live off the land?  Absolutely not.  The above only exemplifies that we all have the ability to find inner contentment when not seeking the mirage of external happiness.

Don’t make happiness a ‘goal’.  Don’t let it become an addiction.  Free yourself from the need of external gratification.  And, if you search hard enough and with a lot of patience you will discover where the true source of happiness lies; within.


“Good enough seldom is” April 2015

Why do we ‘settle’? What is it that makes one individual press towards success while another feels that what we have, what we do, who we are….is good enough?

Didn’t get that promotion? It’s ok, the middle management job is good enough. After all, some people do not even have a job.
Got a B on the mid term? Good enough. Half the class failed anyway.
Still a little shy of that fitness goal? Good enough. I just want to sleep in for a change.
Latest work project impinging on your weekend? Leave it, it’s good enough, you deserve some fun.
Martial arts getting too difficult? Hey, made it to brown, that’s good enough.

The difference between those who settle and those who do not is a singular belief…

Good Enough Seldom Is.

Many of us too often settle for less than we can become, give, share, contribute, and learn. We are ok operating below our potential. We just get comfortable. We stop stretching, reaching, growing, expanding, and especially challenging ourselves when the going gets tough.

Think about where you are right now, regardless of your circumstances and believe that what you are experiencing is one level less than what you could and should be.

If think you are just ‘ok’, is there even one thing that you can do to make it ‘good’? If you are good, do you believe you can be great? If you want to be great, can you commit and take the steps towards excellence?

If you want to be excellent, is it worth persevering through the challenges, the longer days, the intensive studying, the increased training, skipping that Netflix binge to lead a total and utterly amazing life?

Let’s simplify it:
Netflix or an Amazing life?
A few more hours out with friends or an Amazing Life?
Ten minutes hitting the snooze button or an AMAZING LIFE?!

It seems like a daunting and less than enjoyable task, but the rare few who lead amazing lives were not always born under amazing circumstances. In fact, it usually is the opposite. Where they started, where they came from, regardless of their lack of education, or money, or family, etc., they have one thing that allowed them to become what a great deal of people envy. They did not believe that where they were, what they we doing, how they were living was…good enough.

Why? Because it seldom is.


The Past and ‘Presence’ of Kindness  March 2015

We have all heard the catch phrase about performing “random acts of kindness”.  Yet, many years ago, there was no such phrase and the ‘act’ wasn’t a consideration to think about, plan on, or discussed as something novel to accomplish.  Being kind seemed to come naturally, as an expected part of life; it was simply ‘the way it was’.

Why?  The answer is two fold; people simply had to rely on others more and communicate in person. Today’s technology has made every individual more self-reliant; we don’t ‘need’ others when we have the Internet at our fingertips to accomplish even the smallest tasks that make up our everyday lives.  We don’t ‘need’ to speak to another human being when even fast food can be ordered online and promptly delivered.  And, of course, there is text messaging and snap chat that allows us to share our thoughts without vocalization, often unfiltered.

In the past, you had to go to the store, the restaurant, or the library.  Answers to questions were not found on an Internet that didn’t exist yet.  You had to seek out a qualified person and speak to them.  This naturally caused one to be kind as politeness to the person you are standing in front of went a very long way.  Due to the absence of modern technology, there was also a sense of ‘we are all in this together’; we all have to get things done in the same, more often, longer way.  As a result, doors were opened for one another, seats were offered to those that should not be standing, a passerby helped carry groceries, and most individuals made eye contact and said ‘hello’.  They were not looking down at their phones.

Modern technology is invaluable, there is no doubt, but so are people.  There is a scientific response to kindness and receiving a thoughtful gesture.  Kindness is also contagious; individuals who are the recipients of benevolent acts are inclined to replicate that sense of humanism.  Studies show that merely observing an act of kindness induces a sense of joy to those that witnessed such.

If today’s way of life has produced the need to actually have to think about being kind let’s take a closer look: if an individual performed one act of kindness each day, even as fleeting as opening the door, saying thank you, or picking up someone’s dropped item, it would lead to 365 acts in one year.  In five years, that would calculate to 1,825 acts, in ten, 3,650 acts, and in twenty, 7,300 acts. Further factor in five, ten, or twenty plus people doing the same thing.  The number becomes insurmountable.

Now that’s the true ‘act’ to think about.


“The end depends upon the beginning” February 2015

We all experience peaks and valleys in our lives.  It could be difficulties at work, boredom with an exercise program, a plateau in dieting goals, or training that is becoming more challenging.  We even can feel that way in our relationships and parenting skills.

Many times, routine and repetition is the culprit, leading to complacency, apathy, and frustration.  Such feelings result in decreased motivation, withdrawal, and just giving up.

In any endeavor, even becoming a new parent or starting a new relationship, there is always that initial excitement, vigor and enthusiasm.  However, over time, routine sets in, and the thrill of the ‘want to’ becomes the toleration of the ‘have to’.

It is important to recognize that this feeling is natural and therefore okay.  Once admitted, instead of trying to display our ‘best parent ever’, ‘best manager ever’, ‘best spouse ever’, which will only result in regression and disappointment in oneself, we need to try to discover a new pleasure and purpose to the ‘everyday’.

If one can identify the joy and the why of an activity or life decision in the first place, the how, when, and what will eventually fall back into place.  Small changes can yield huge results.  It takes thought, it takes effort, but no more than the same amount it took for us to initially start our venture.

The people of influence and support in our lives can help us, we just have to reach out and have the willingness to make a change in our lives without having to change our life.

“Finis Origine Pendet”; “The end depends upon the beginning”.

While in a plateau or valley, return to the reason for that first step and we will discover that the end becomes a whole new beginning.


“Do not worry about moving slowly, only be concerned with standing still” January 2015

With every new year we become motivated to establish goals and resolutions that we feel will help us strive to be better than we were the last year. Whether it be getting in shape, losing weight, working towards that promotion, or setting up a financial budget, to name a few, there is one major obstacle in our path. Getting started. When considering the task we set before ourselves, we tend to only focus on the end result; 10 pounds to lose, at least an hour of cardio, running 5 miles, decreasing debt, etc. It can be overwhelming to the point that we either procrastinate; next week, after the party, when I get new sneakers, or stop altogether due to injury, being in pain, getting frustrated, and this is just not going to work.

In a society designed for instant gratification and the pressure of various media outlets, we forget the most relevant part of any goal; taking the first step. Let’s not try and look at the entire staircase and, depending on how far we may have to go, we can’t even see the top. But once we take that step, then another, and then another, focusing only on what is directly in front of us, before we know it, WE ARE THERE.

This year make your first resolution the most important one; Be Kind to Yourself. Set daily, realistic goals. Don’t get angry with yourself if you feel “you can’t do it”; start with five pounds, eliminating one food group you know is bad for you, walking first instead of running; you will soon find the fulfillment of the second most important goal; you took the first step.