Six Ways to Handle Stress

We all experience stress every day. Some days are much worse than others. I’ve recently experienced some stress related to travel that made me think about how to handle and manage the stress we face every day. First our flight got cancelled, then our new flight was delayed 3 hours, which caused us to miss our connecting flight. You probably got stressed out just reading that.

When stress builds up over time it can wear us down, and take a toll on us physically, emotionally and spiritually. When we are worn down we often will do and say things that we can regret later.

Stress is often relatively short-term, and is often caused by feeling that work or home life is out of control. When both of those are out of control the stress feels extra heavy.

Maybe you have a heavy work week with several big projects, causing you to work extra hours, and maybe pushing to meet a tight deadline. You may also be experiencing tension at home with a close relationship, or have some financial pressure that has been building.

Most of the time we have high stress days or weeks, and then days or weeks of lower stress. It’s when those stress days move into months and years that it can take a toll on us to the breaking point.

Prolonged stress can lead to burnout. When you start reaching the point of burnout, your work starts to not seem as meaningful, and there is often a disconnect between what you are doing and what you want to do. You start to feel like you’re just going through the motions, and you can become cynical, critical and adversarial. You are probably experiencing regular mental and physical exhaustion, and you’re finding it hard to rest.

So what can we do to manage stress. First it’s important to recognize the unhealthy ways that we are dealing with stress. Many people will self medicate by drinking, smoking, eating, shopping, binging on something. I’ve been binging on Law & Order SVU, Criminal Minds and Chicago PD.

Next you can start working on healthy ways to deal with stress. Here are just a few that help me:

  1. Exercise/Eat Healthy/Sleep – I put those together because those are all physical things we can do to help with our stress. Those three things, when done in a healthy way, can reduce stress and make you stronger physically and emotionally. You become more resilient and can bounce back faster.
  2. Prayer/Meditation/Worship – I put those three together because those are spiritual things you can do to reduce stress in a big way. I believe in and follow Jesus, and when I spend more time with Him, I feel so much better and less stressed. I also include reading my Bible and doing daily devotions to help prepare me everyday for the stress that is coming. Block off extra time when stress is high for Quiet time with God. Listen to worship music, and sing along. Write in a journal and list everything you’re grateful for. Caring for yourself spiritually builds internal strength, and allows God to make changes in you and through you.
  3. Plan for and take breaks during the day, during the week, and during the month. – Every day take short refreshment breaks. It could be a 10 minute walk around the office, going and getting a drink of water, standing in the sunshine for a few minutes or taking 5 minutes to pray. Each week you should have a day of rest, where you are not working, but resting, reading, exercising, sleeping, spending time with loved ones. Every month you should plan a little extra time for self care, spiritual care or relational care. Plan those and put them on your calendar.
  4. Have honest conversations – Talk to your leader if you’re able to, about the stress you are feeling. Ask for clear expectations, and help in prioritizing your work. Also ask your leader if you have the right goals, and if they should be adjusted. If you don’t have any goals for work or home, work on setting a few and then talk with your boss or spouse. If you’re in a toxic environment have the courage to talk about that, and offer ways that you can help make it better.
  5. Learn the art of saying no, and asking for help – This can be hard, but is a great way to reduce stress. You can say no and still be kind and helpful. It’s also wise to ask for help. If you are unsure about something, or don’t know how to do it, ask for help or clarity. Good leaders appreciate when you ask questions, and you can avoid a lot of stress and miscommunication when you ask good questions. This works at home as well.
  6. Finally talk to a counselor, mentor or pastor – This can help to dig a little deeper and find out if there are things that are causing stress that are under the surface, or buried inside you. This doesn’t mean you are weak, it actually takes courage and strength to go get help, and it will reduce your stress in the long run.

Philippians 4:6-7 is very helpful when it comes to stress. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Psalm 55:22 says “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you”

Jesus also told his disciples to “come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” When they had been overworked and overwhelmed Jesus encouraged them to get away and rest. That’s great advice for us today.

Ten Principles for Healthy Leaders and Healthy Cultures

Healthy leadership is rare these days. Healthy cultures are a hard to find. Leaders set the tone for the culture of their organization. Therefore, the health of the leader determines the health of the organization. Healthy things grow and thrive. For an organization to grow, thrive, adapt and change it must be healthy. As I think about some of the key principles of healthy leaders and cultures these rose to the top.

  1. Healthy Vision – When it comes to any kind of leadership it starts with vision. A leader that has a vision will lead much better than one who doesn’t have a vision or is uncertain of the vision. A clear vision brings focus to the leader and the organization. A vision points people to a better future. A healthy leader has a vision for a better future and what could be or should be. The vision cannot be about the leader, but about the organization and why they exist. Getting the vision right means getting the leadership right.
  2. Healthy Values – Once you have a vision you also need to understand your values. It starts with personal values and then organizational values. What are those key foundational things that the vision sits on. A healthy leader has a good sense of the values that have shaped his or her character and that will influence the values of the organization. A healthy culture will have clear, and well known values that everyone can agree on, and live out.
  3. Healthy Heart – Your heart is your inner being, what you believe and what you value. It’s where everything flows out of. Having a healthy heart means dealing with the hurts, trauma and struggles that can get lodged in your heart. Healthy leaders do regular heart checks to make sure there is nothing growing in there that could become a problem. Practicing forgiveness and confession are two ways to keep your heart healthy. Our character comes from our heart, so a healthy heart leads to a strong, positive character.
  4. Healthy Emotions – The emotional health of a leader is one of the key indicators of success. The ability to also develop emotionally healthy people in the organization goes a long way to a healthy thriving culture. Just like a healthy heart, it takes self-awareness and an understanding of where you might be unhealthy emotionally. Sometimes it is easier to see how we respond in unhealthy ways like avoidance, anger, and defensiveness. Unhealthy emotions are like warning signs that tell us something is wrong, so understanding those emotions goes a long way to leading people well.
  5. Healthy Thinking – The thought life a leader is one of the most important things about them. That self talk that happens throughout the day tends to drive behavior and actions. Healthy leaders think more positive thoughts than negative. It’s also important to guard what and who you are listening to. The things that you feed your mind affect your thinking. Guarding your mind also helps to guard your heart.
  6. Healthy Humility – A big part of leadership is thinking about others and the organization more than yourself. A healthy, self-aware leader knows what his strengths are, and what his weaknesses are. A humble leader is always looking for the best ideas, not confirmation for his ideas. Healthy humility also means having confidence in your own abilities, and your teams abilities. Not being over confident and not being negative or passive. It’s important to find the right balance.
  7. Healthy Conflict – In leadership there will always be conflict. People disagree, things get misunderstood, people can be selfish and often don’t listen. Healthy conflict is going directly to the person, and asking clarifying questions. Going into those conversations with the mindset of trying to understand the other person. The leader that addresses things quickly avoids the deadly drip of a toxic culture. Listening is vital to make sure you are understanding the other person, and then being clear on where you stand and what you expect.
  8. Healthy Communication – A leader must be able to clearly communicate with the people they lead, and the the community around them. Healthy communication means you are clear, concise and that those hearing understand. Healthy communication is two way, back and forth, so listening well is a huge part of healthy communication. The ability to communicate both verbally and in writing are important skills for healthy leaders to constantly be improving. Not communicating is actually communicating, and people will fill in the blanks if you don’t communicate.
  9. Healthy Systems – A healthy vision and a healthy leader must have healthy systems in order to get anything done. Healthy communication must lead to healthy systems to guide people to execute the vision. A culture that lacks clear, helpful systems will soon slip into mediocrity and chaos. System should be constantly reviewed and tested to ensure they are working as intended.
  10. Healthy Faith – Leaders that have faith in God have an extra advantage. They have access to the creator of the universe, the all powerful, all knowing, compassionate and loving God. Prayer, and time in God’s Word build a solid foundation for a healthy leader. Plugging into God helps the leader in all other areas I mentioned before this. The most important thing about a healthy leader is what they believe about God. In today’s dark world a leader with faith shines brightly.

One last bonus principle is Healthy Failure. The way you handle failure will speak volumes about how healthy you are as a leader and organization. Failure should always be looked at as an opportunity to learn and grow. Failure means you are trying to do something. It’s a chance to ask good questions, make key changes and build better systems.

Lead On and get Healthy!

Basic Needs we all have…

God made us with needs, and God promised to meet those needs.

“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19

Paul is telling us that God is willing and able to meet all of our needs. It also acknowledges that we all have needs as human beings

Neediness is a characteristic of our God-given identities.

Physical needs:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Sleep
  • Oxygen

Spiritual needs:

  • To experience God’s love
  • To experience God’s forgiveness
  • To experience God’s peace
  • Only God Moments

Here are the Top Ten Relational Needs:

  • Acceptance
  • Affection
  • Appreciation
  • Approval
  • Attention
  • Comfort
  • Encouragement
  • Respect
  • Security
  • Support

These needs are the same for anyone, no matter where your from, no matter how young or old you are.

It’s OK to have needs, it doesn’t mean your weak.  When we understand our needs, it humbles us and builds our character.

Only God and other people can meet our needs.  Why did God create us this way?

  1. Our neediness Encourages us to depend on God and look to him to meet our needs
  2. Our neediness encourages interdependence – We are not robots, we have feelings and emotions and our neediness requires us to have healthy human relationships. We are here to serve one another.
  3. Accepting the reality of our needs helps us to develop a heart filled with compassion for others
  4. Admitting our needs frees us to receive and give care.
  5. Meeting the needs of others expresses care and produces unity in the body of Christ

My question for you is this.  Of the top ten relational needs listed above, which three are most important to you and which three are most important to your spouse or significant person in your life?  If you can figure that out and then communicate clearly to each other about it, your relationship will begin to improve.  You can control whether or not you are meeting these needs with others, you cannot control whether others will meet your needs.  However, if you are loving and serving the other person the likelihood of them meeting your needs goes way up.  If you’re too needy, that pushes everyone away from you.  You have to first meet the needs of others and show that you can do it in a healthy way.

One of the ways we can love and serve other people is by being aware of these basic needs in the people we are loving and serving. When we are able to meet some of these needs in others they feel loved and served.

Scars

It was 1979 and I was 10 years old. I remember telling my mom that I hit double digits! A few days later I was coming home from playing ball at Walnut Creek Ohio. We lived at the bottom of a hill and I was on my bike. It was a sunny beautiful summer day. I was picking up speed and feeling amazing, like a race car driver. As I approached the bottom of the hill I planned to slow down and make the turn. What happened next was a blur, as I hit some loose gravel and turned, I went into an extended slide.

I remember slowly getting up, my pants were ripped at the knee and my leg was throbbing. I somehow got my bike upright and started hobbling toward our house. I remember doing a Jimmy Carter impersonation as I walked, He was President at the time. Using his southern accent, I distracted myself from the pain and thinking about anything but getting home.

I made it inside the house and slowly peeled off my jeans. I nearly passed out when I saw my knee. It was a combination of blood, open flesh, dirt and gravel. Today we call that road rash. I cover myself up and laid on the couch and waited for mom to get home. She was working and my two brothers were not home. I laid there talking like Jimmy Carter and thinking about things like baseball, fishing and my bike.

When mom got home she knew right away something was wrong. After listening to my version of what happened and examining my knee she called my Grandma. I could hear her on the phone asking what she thinks we should do. “Should I take him to the emergency room” mom asked?
Grandma was small but very tough, she grew up on a farm and had raised 5 kids on a farm. Grandma did not hesitate in her reply. “Oh it’s just a knee he will be fine”. So my mom hung up the phone and put a patch on my my knee and said it would be fine.

A few days later it was not fine. An infection had started and my mom knew I needed to see a doctor. She took me in and the doctor cleaned up the wound as best he could. He said it was too late for stitches so he patched me up and told us to change the bandages every day. He told us my knee would be OK but I will have a good sized scar the rest of my life. I remember seeing all kinds on dirt and gunk every time we changed the bandage. The salve we put on the wound drew out the dirt and infection over time and it eventually healed.

I still have that scar, and every time I see it I go back to that day on my bike and the scene I just described. We all have scars, some physical like mine but some emotional from hurts and trauma’s we had in our past. Every time we see that scar it take us back to that moment when we got hurt, abused, rejected or assaulted.

The physical scar on my knee has made my knee numb in that area, I remember years later I could take a pin and push it into the scar and not feel it. It’s the same for emotional scars. It numbs us to the pain, but there is still damage that was done. If you have some emotional scars, they won’t go away unless you work through it. There can be an infection under that scar. This often requires the help of skilled people to help you navigate the right way to do that.

I also believe we must involve God in this as well. Everything has a spiritual element to it, including our pain and hurts. Our attitude can’t be it’s just a knee or it’s just my emotions. God is involved in every part of our lives, especially the inner parts. That’s where He does his best work.

When we experience a trauma in our life the sooner we talk about it, admit our hurt and feelings and work through things like forgiveness, the sooner real healing can happen and the scar becomes smaller or can even completely heal and disappear.

If I would have gotten stitches right away, I would not have this scar today. But if we wouldn’t have taken care of the infection I could have lost my leg. Even years after a physical or emotional trauma you can experience emotional healing. Don’t wait, go get help, turn to God, forgive those that hurt you.

A great place to start is by talking to God about it. Sharing all the emotions with him and asking for help, healing and comfort. Then take the step to talk to a person, a counselor, a trusted mentor, or a pastor. It might be hard, but it will make you a better, stronger person. God loves you and cares about every part of your life, even the scars.

Worry vs. Prayer

Big Point:  Worry is focused negative thinking, while prayer is focused spiritual thinking.

About 19 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders, but far more suffer from mild anxiety or worry that has not yet developed into a disorder.  For many people today, worry has simply become a mental habit. Automatically thinking the worse case scenario for the events that happen in their lives.  It’s also playing the “what if” possibilities over & over in their minds.

This has become the normal for many people, however there is a better way and a better normal.  This way leads to less stress, more peace and better health. Philippians 4:6-7 gives us the better way “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.  His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

So, prayer is the better way.  Pray should be our normal response to anything that comes our way.  Pausing to talk to God, ask for his help, for wisdom, for courage, for patience.  Expressing our frustrations, fears and doubts to him instead of having a negative conversation with ourselves leads to peace.  It also leads to better health both physically and emotionally.

Read and Reflect:  Read these passages of Scripture several times.  Each time you read it emphasize a different word.  Then reflect and think about what you noticed.

  • Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” 1 Peter 5:7
  • “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:7
  • “But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.” 1 John 4:4
  • “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find.  Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” Luke 11:9
  • “But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles.  They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

Questions to Consider:

  • What do you tend to worry about the most?
  • What benefits would you gain by praying more instead of worrying?
  • What is one thing you could do to remind yourself to pray more throughout your day?
  • When was the last time you memorized a passage of Scripture?  If it’s been awhile consider memorizing one of the verses in this devotional.

What’s Next?

  • Memorize one or more passages of Scripture this week.
  • Focus on Jesus by reading the story found in Luke 10:38-42
  • Make a list of all the things that you are grateful for
  • Build prayer into your daily schedule, with reminders until it becomes normal.

Pray:
Dear Lord,
I need you now because I am full of stress and anxiety. Reading your Word brings comfort, as I ask you to come and take my heavy burdens. I take each burden, one by one, and lay them at your feet. Please carry them for me so that I don’t have to. Replace them with your humble and gentle spirit so that I will find rest for my soul today. I receive your gift of peace of mind and heart. Thank you that I can lie down tonight in peace and sleep. I know that you, Lord, will keep me safe. I am not afraid because you are always with me. Please keep me daily, Lord, in your perfect peace.
Amen.

A Key Principle that Leads to Success

I recently met with a group of men in their workplace.  I’m part of a leadership development and culture building process with this organization.  The topic for the day was self-control.  A good definition of self-control is disciplining your thoughts, words, actions, and attitude.

The conversation we had was one of the best I’ve been a part of, because most of these guys struggle with self-control.  We talked about both work and home and when it came to self-control at home with their wives and children it got real interesting.

You see these guys are like you and me.  They have relationships at work and at home.  Both are important to them and both take work and effort.  However most of us struggle more at home than at work, because at work we could get fired if we get too out of control.  Of course when we are out of control at home for long enough it leads to getting fired as well.

Why is self-control so important?  There was a study done back in the early 70’s with children.  They put a kid in a room and gave them one marshmallow.  They told them that if they can wait until we return we will give you another marshmallow.  If you eat it before we come back that’s all you get.  They left the room for 15 minutes.  Only a minority of children ate the marshmallow right away, most at least tried to delay.  Of those who attempted to delay, one third deferred gratification long enough to get a second marshmallow.

They followed up with these children several times later in life.  The children that delayed gratification longer were described by parents 10 years later as significantly more competent, the children also scored higher on their SAT scores in high school.  They also went further in education beyond high school and even had a lower Body Mass Index (BMI).

So self-control is an important attribute for people to develop in order to do better in all areas of life.  Jan Mckingley Hilado said “Self-control is a key factor in achieving success.  We can’t control everything in life, but we can definitely control ourselves.”

To have healthy thriving relationships it’s important to have self-control in these 3 key areas:

  1. Words Our words are incredibly powerful and they can help our hurt.  Words cannot be taken back once spoken so having self-control with our words is vital to healthy relationships.  Don’t allow emotions to drive your words.  Wait until you have calmed down before making a decision or having the difficult conversation.  If you already said hurtful things, humble yourself and go ask for forgiveness.
  2. Thought Life – The things we think about tend to become the most import in our lives.  Our thoughts lead to actions and words so it matters what you think about and what you believe.  If you are believing things that are not true it can lead to negative hurtful words or actions.  If your focused on the wrong things it can lead to wrong actions and words.  Feed your mind things that are true, good and helpful.  Get wise counsel from others for a better perspective.
  3. Attitude – Every day you get to choose your attitude.  You can choose to smile, believe the best and be positive or you can frown, believe the worst and be negative.  Having self-control in our attitude is one of the hardest, but most important things we can do to have a healthy relationship with anyone.  If your attitude toward a person is negative it will adversely affect that relationship.

People that have good self-control with words, thoughts and attitude are much more likely to have healthy thriving relationships and also be more effective and productive at work and home.

My faith in Jesus Christ helps me to have better self-control.  It’s one of the results of my relationship with Jesus, I get help from Him in those moments I need self-control.  I get strength and power in those critical moments when conflict arises or life happens.

So where do you need to have more self-control?

 

Lessons Learned This Past Year

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As we approach the end of another year I can’t help but reflect on this past year.  It was filled with good times, bad times, positive emotions and negative emotions.  I cried and I laughed.  I opened up and I shut down.  I made some good decisions and I made some bad decisions.  I got angry and had a negative attitude and I was filled with joy and had a positive attitude.  I also learned a lot this past year about leadership, my relationship with God and the baggage that I still tend to carry.

If you’re like me this can describe almost every year.  However every year I like to ask myself if I have grown in my faith, character and leadership in this past year.  For me it’s a big yes this year.  Probably more than many other years because of the amount of change I experienced at work.  Here are some of the lessons I learned or went deeper in understanding.

  1. God opposed the proud but supports the humble – Every time I allow pride to creep into my life I get knocked down a few notches.  This often happens to me when things are going well and I start comparing myself to others.  It can happen when I’m meeting with someone that is going through a hardship and I think I can fix it with three simple steps.  Or when I don’t think a certain strategy or decision is the best and my way is better.  Or if I don’t pay attention to my wife and just do what I want.  I keep learning and understanding more deeply to humble myself and in due time the Lord will lift me up, but it’s his decision not mine.  I need to remain faithful, work hard and focus on doing what is right and good and submit to God and other people.
  2. Value your relationships because life can change in an instant – I was reminded through several tragic events that life is precious and things can change very quickly.  I was reminded to spend time with the people I love and to work on those relationship by practicing forgiveness, communicating clearly and often and by loving well.  The Bible says to love extravagantly and that we are bankrupt without love.  Learning to love or how to express love is one of the best things we can do to improve our lives and value the people around us.
  3. Having the hard conversations is a game changer – Conflict is not fun and many people tend to avoid it.  However if you want to grow, make progress, change for the better or have less stress, then you must deal directly with conflict.  Learning to admit when your wrong and confronting issues quickly when they come up does not allow things to fester and get infected.  I had many hard conversations this past year and most of them ended well and improved the relationship or the situation.  Resolving conflict is hard but it leads to relational, emotional and physical health.
  4. Vulnerability and openness are strengths not weakness – I studied and read a lot about vulnerability, shame and courage this past year.  It takes great courage to be vulnerable and be honest, but when you do it, you experience great freedom, creativity and strength.  I became more vulnerable in some of my relationships and took some risks by sharing more of me with others.  I grew in confidence and courage by facing the junk in my life head on and sharing that with some trusted people in my life.  Everyone knows your not perfect so stop trying to be, take off the mask and be real, that’s when things start to change.
  5. Emotional health is one of the most import things a leader can have – Being healthy emotionally allows you to lead at a high level and take on enormous responsibility.  However staying healthy emotionally takes constant work just like staying physically healthy takes constant work.  Caring for your soul and understanding your emotions is a sign of maturity and leadership.  Sometimes you have to go to a professional counselor in order to break through some of the emotional walls that come up in your life.  It’s always worth the time and energy and money to get healthy emotionally.
  6. When you keep God first and submit to Him other things fall into place – My relationship with God has grown and deepened over the years, but this did not just happen, I had to be intentional.  I have found that the more time I spend with God the more I can accomplish, the healthier I am and and the lower my stress tends to be.  Having a spiritual rhythm in life is vital.  What I mean by rhythm is having a thriving prayer life, feeding on God’s word regularly, being silent and being with God and living a life of worship.  That is staying focused on the most important thing in life, your relationship with Jesus Christ.  When that is growing the rest of life tends to be healthier as well.

Keep growing in Faith, Character and Leadership.

Six Guideposts for an Emotionally Healthy Life

wholehearted

Living an emotionally healthy life is incredibly freeing.  Yet it is very difficult to do because we all grow up learning unhealthy behaviors and unhealthy emotions.  Think of it like pieces of armor that we put on growing up, defense mechanisms, ways of handling conflict, how to treat other people, what we think about ourselves, others and God.

In order to get healthy here are a six guideposts that can help us all get healthier emotionally and live with freedom and joy.  Many of these guideposts come from researcher, author and speaker Brene’ Brown.

  1. Cultivate authenticity and let go of what other people think –   Authenticity is a choice and must be practiced every day.  It’s letting ourselves been seen for who we really are and also setting healthy boundaries in our lives.  It’s being able to say no in a kind way yet stay firm when pressured.  It’s choosing to have a hard conversation instead of stuffing it and letting resentment fill us up.  It’s paying attention to what we are feeling and why and dealing with the truth.  It’s speaking up instead of holding it in.  It’s taking our mask off and being our true self, imperfections and all.
  2. Cultivate self-compassion and let go of perfectionism – Perfectionism leads to frustration, anger and a host of other unhealthy emotions.  It also leads to negative self-talk and keeps you from moving forward in relationships and projects.  It can feed fear and keep us paralyzed.  To let go of perfectionism we need to be able to practice self-compassion or being kind to ourselves.  It’s allowing ourselves to deeply feel what we are currently going through and understanding that we are not alone in our struggles.  Others have gone through similar things and survived.  We must be able to love ourselves before we can love others.  It’s giving ourselves a break from having to be perfect and always doing the right thing.
  3. Cultivate a resilient spirit and let go of numbing behaviors – This involves knowing who we are and how we are wired.  It is the self-awareness to know what our numbing behaviors are and a willingness to get help to avoid going there.  It’s understanding our purpose in life and God’s plan for our lives.  When we grow spiritually it strengthens our spirit and allows us to bounce back much faster when troubles come.  It’s having a healthy outlet for venting frustrations and pain.  Allowing people close to us to know us and be vulnerable with them about what is happening.  numbing behaviors include things like spending hours on Facebook or social media, watching TV, video games, working.  It can be drinking alcohol, taking drugs, smoking or watching porn.  It can also be focusing on our phone and not being fully present with the people around us.
  4. Cultivate gratitude & joy and let go of scarcity & fear – It’s not just having an attitude of gratitude, but actually practicing gratitude.  Keeping a gratitude journal and actually telling others how grateful we are for them and the things we are grateful for.  It’s living with an eternal perspective and knowing we have a higher purpose in life.  It’s noticing the little things in life and being able to live in the moment and just be.  It is being comfortable in our own skin and not trying to be somebody we are not.  It’s having an abundance mentality, and not a scarcity mentality.  It’s being generous with our time, our money and possessions and our abilities by helping and serving others.
  5. Cultivate intuition and trusting faith and let go of the need for certainty – Certainty is not real but uncertainty is.  Our intuition comes from the experiences we have had in life.  To cultivate intuition we need to think about and learn from our experiences.  It’s also important to grow in our faith and keep searching for answers to life’s questions.  Yet it’s also being OK with not having all the answers.  Many people would rather be miserable and certain than emotionally healthy and uncertain.  One way to cultivate intuition and trusting faith to create time for silence and solitude.  Building time into our schedules to connect with God, feed our soul and nourish our minds.
  6. Cultivate creativity and let go of comparison – Every human being is creative, some people practice using it more than others.  Unused creativity turns into unhealthy emotions like anger, judgement, rage and depression.  When we start comparing ourselves to others our creativity goes down because of fear.  Often because of something someone said or did to us as a child we avoid being creative because we fear not being good enough.  When children get to be in the 4th and 5th grade their level of creativity goes way down because that is when their art begins to get graded and compared to others.  To cultivate creativity we need to start doing something we gave up or thought we were no good at.  Start drawing, painting, sculpting, writing, taking pictures, making videos.  Finding our creative side and exercising it will bring joy, freedom and energy into our lives.  Do something creative today.

Start pursuing an emotionally healthy life by cultivating the good and letting go of the bad.

A Key to Stronger Relationships

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I’ve been studying the idea of vulnerability and how that plays out in our relationships.   Brene Brown has some incredible insights on this tough topic.  Much of this post is based on her research.

One of the things that keeps us from being vulnerable is shame.  Shame thrives in secrecy, silence and judgement.  However when we introduce empathy, shame cannot grow.  So in order to be open and vulnerable we need to be around people that are great at empathizing and we need to learn how to be empathetic with others.  Learning how to be empathetic is one of the most powerful ways to improve your relationships.

In order to be empathetic we need to be able to see the world as others see it.  This is all about perspective, being able to take the perspective of another person and not our own.  It’s being able to listen to someone and not interject our own experience but to really what to hear it from them.  It’s not one upping the person by sharing what you did or how you messed up.  It’s being able to realize that our lens of life and our experiences are different than others and being OK with that.

Empathy also requires that we are nonjudgmental.   Most of us are  judgmental and we are usually judgmental in areas where we are vulnerable to shame.  We tend to judge people that are worse than we are so that we feel better about ourselves.  We do that because we are looking for validation that at least I’m not as bad as so and so.

Empathy is not our default or natural mode, it’s a skill that must be worked on and developed in order for this to happen naturally.  Empathy is usually very subtle, it can be just a knowing look or going to be with someone in a time of crisis instead of calling to express sympathy.

When we empathize with someone, we go to that dark place with them, we don’t flip on the lights and try to cheer them up and fix the problem or make light of the situation.  It’s like walking up to your friend that is in a hole and going down into the hole with them, but knowing how to get back out of the hole because it’s not your hole.  Sympathy is walking up to the hole and asking what happened.  When they tell you, you express that your sorry to hear that, that’s a terrible thing.  Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.  There is a big difference.

When we empathize with someone, we are creating a safe environment for people to be vulnerable.  Being vulnerable is one of the most accurate measures of a persons courage.  To be vulnerable takes bravery, because it is walking into uncertainty, it’s taking a risk and it’s exposing your emotions.  It takes courage because the reality is you can get hurt when you do this with someone that is not able to empathize or keep things confidential.

However if you live in secrecy, and silence you might feel safe, but are most likely miserable.  When we are vulnerable we are our true self.  We are showing that we are imperfect, messed up, awkward and goofy.  The greatest relationships are the ones where you can be all  of that and the person loves you even more.

So if your looking to improve your relationships, first learn how to empathize better with the people around you. Work on those skills of listening and trying to understand their perspective.  Don’t try to fix them or the situation, but let them know we can do this together.  Then work at being vulnerable with the people in your life.  Expose yourself emotionally by being honest about your struggles and your shame.  When we do that there is incredible freedom and life when we push past our fear.

 

Meditation

Young man reading small Bible

 

Meditation has a different meaning to different people.  For some it’s emptying your mind and focusing on yourself, for others it is focusing on a higher power or something they think is good.  I’m a follower of Jesus Christ and so what I meditate on is God’s Word or the Bible.  For me this is one of the most powerful and helpful things I have ever done.    There is now a lot of scientific proof that meditating on good things like Scripture actually renews and changes our brains.  Brain science shows us the benefits of this focused thinking. The Bible talks about renewing your mind and taking your thoughts captive.  God designed our brains to be able to be changed depending on what it takes in.  The mind controls the brain and can make positive or negative changes.

To me meditation is considering and pondering a part of Scripture, a story in the Bible or a chapter or even sometimes a few words or one word.  What I try to do is pick something to focus on and then read through it 10-15 times in different ways.  I’ll read it silently several times, then out loud, then with a different emphasis on certain words and sometimes even adding my name.  Then I think about or ponder what I read.  I will then bring it back up a different times of the day for just a few moments.

The Bible talks about the power of meditation in Psalm 1:1-3 it says this: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night.  That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither-whatever they do prospers.”

Did you catch that?  Biblical meditation is so powerful that God promises that everything you do will prosper if you meditate on His Word day and night.  That may sound a bit intimidating or too hard to do.  For me meditating day and night does not mean 24/7 it means that in those times where I’m idle, waiting, resting, driving or by myself I need to meditate on God’s Word.  Those are the times that I am most tempted or that my thoughts are most likely to be negative or sinful.  So in those moments if I’m able to chew on a Biblical idea or a story from the Bible I can renew my mind and gain incredible strength, encouragement and hope.

Meditation is similar to a cow chewing the cud or rumination, which means to chew, swallow then regurgitate and chew again.  A cow does this several times to get all the nutrition out of the food and to digest it in a healthy way.  Biblical meditation is similar, in that we take it into our minds ponder it and then keep bringing it back up and chewing some more.

I have started on a 21 day journey leading up to Christmas Eve of meditating daily on a Scripture and reading through a document of Biblical Truth Statements.  It will only be about 7-10 minutes a day, but I believe God will use that time to strengthen my mind and nourish my soul in a powerful life-changing way.  The Scripture I have chosen is one I memorized 15 years ago.  It’s 1 Chronicles 29:11-12 “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and the earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and Yours it is to be exalted as Head over all.  Both riches and honor come from You, and You reign over all.  In your hands are power and might; in Your hands it is to make great and to give strength to all.”

I want to encourage you to pick a Scripture or two and meditate on it over the next 21 days.  Chew on it over and over again and pull out all the nourishment you can get.  Then pick another Scripture and do it again for another 21 days and then do it one more time.  If you can do that for 63 days in a row, it will be habit and you will be able to continue to meditate on God’s Word day and night for the rest of your life.