Friday, February 27, 2015

That White/Blue/Gold Dress And The Fragility of Perception

Is it white with gold or blue with brown? This confusingly colored dress is gaining tons of attention and causing waves all over the internet. Wired has a great article as to why the dress pictured above is causing so many disagreements. You can read it here:

Wired Article

While looking at this picture with my wife and disagreeing as to which color the dress actually is, I was reminded of how important perception really is. Perception is a way of seeing, regarding, or understanding something. While our perceptions may or may not line up with reality, they are very real to us. It's ok when our perceptions cause us to disagree about the color of a dress. It's not as fun when our perceptions cause us very real damage at work and home. Here are some commonly held perceptions that could be causing you great damage right now:

1)They are smarter.

It’s easy to assume that others know more than you. It’s impossible to know everything and it’s inevitable that you will run into somebody who knows a bit more about a particular subject than you do. That doesn’t mean that they are smarter than you. It just means that they know more about that specific area. The question you have to ask yourself isn’t, “Am I smart?”, but “Do I want to do the work it takes to know more about this topic?”. Life is short and you’ll never know everything about everything, but you can know a lot about some things. The key is to choose well the things you invest your time in. You are not less intelligent simply because you don’t know a ton about Mayan art or Andrew Jackson. Mayan and Jacksonian scholars are not smarter per se, they are just great in their chosen areas. Find what areas interest you, and dive in there. Don't let the interests of others drive you to try to learn things that you don't care about, so that you can feel "smart". Be yourself, that's what everyone really values about you anyway. (By the way, if you have friends that are constantly spouting random facts to try to prove they are smarter than you, it could be time to get new friends....)

2)They matter more.

This is a huge misconception that runs amok in Christian circles. The thought goes, “the way to love others is to remember that they matter more than you.” This thought sounds humble, but it’s actually destructive. You are just as valuable as anyone you relate to. If others are more important than you, then you aren’t loving them when treat them well, you are just doing what you should do. Love is what happens when I know that we are equal in value, but I choose to sacrifice my time, attention, money, etc.. to show you care and respect anyway. Your love matters because you matter.  

3)You are only as good as what you do.

This sounds so good, but it’s ultimately a broken thought. Action is important. Good intentions without follow-through don’t really do anyone any good, but that doesn’t mean that you should only feel good about yourself when your performance is great. No one performs well all of the time. Sometimes we don’t even try as  hard as we should. That doesn’t change our inherent value,however, not to God, and it shouldn’t to us either. Rather than using your performance to determine your value, remember that understanding your value is the key to your performance. If you are constantly trying to achieve in order to feel good about yourself, you will end up either exhausted or demoralized. If you wake up trusting that if God loves you (and He does), then you can be ok with you as well, your day and your performance will look completely different.

Perceptions are powerful, but they can be corrected when they don't reflect the truth. Take some time today to check what perceptions may be driving you.

And the dress is blue.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The One Thing That All Smart People Know

The most brilliant people on the planet all share one piece of knowledge. They all know something that adds to their greatness and allows them to achieve remarkable things. What is that one thing they know? They know that they don’t know everything and thus greatness never occurs in isolation. To put it another way, smart people surround themselves with smart people. It’s impossible to know everything about every topic and brilliant people don’t even try. Partnering with others who have unique intelligence and skill frees you up to do what you do best and to achieve what you could have never achieved on your own. Here are three ways you can apply this principle for success to your life:

1) Ask Someone A Question Everyday

Everything you have ever learned, you learned from someone else. More importantly, everything you learn from this point on, you will learn from someone else. Listen to others and learn from them. While you are at it, take a second and share some wisdom of your own. When you take time to ask someone around you a question each day, you are admitting that you don’t know it all. You are also taking time to clear your brain and more fully appreciate the people around you. Not only will you grow as a person, your day will be much more enjoyable.

2)Listen To The Experts

Living in 2015 may have its challenges, but it also has some amazing benefits. You have incredible access to the insights of people from all over the globe and from all throughout history. Take time to read books that interest you and that relate to what you may be currently working on. Listen to podcasts. Watch a TEDTalk. There are a million ways to learn, take advantage of them. 

3)Publicly Promote Someone Else

Since we are always learning from other people, it’s healthy and right to give credit where credit it due. If you are reading a book and pick up a thought that you use later, give the author credit. Post quotes from the book on Facebook or Twitter. Social media outlets are great places to thank others and credit them in some way. Take a minute out of your day and encourage someone in the good work they are doing. You love it when that happens to you, so remember to offer it others as well.

The humility to learn from those around us is critical to our success at work and at home.  Take a second today to remember that you don’t know it all. Also, remember that it’s ok to not know it all. It’s not ok, however, to pretend that you do. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

How To Take Care of Your Most Valuable Asset

I enjoy cooking and playing around in the kitchen. We have a new knife in our home (a very generous wedding gift), and I adore it. It is balanced and razor sharp. I am constantly looking for things to chop, dice, or julienne. Most people think that the sharper a knife is, the more dangerous it is. That's not actually true.  More accidents happen with dull knives than with sharp ones. The duller the knife, the more pressure you have to exert. More exertion increases the chances of the knife slipping and cutting you. The author of the book  Ecclesiastes wrote that this is true not only of knives, but of life itself. He wrote, “If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge, he must use more strength, but wisdom helps one to succeed.” (Ecclesiastes 10:10) Sharpening a knife is like taking time to work on me. Stephen Covey calls this process “sharpening the saw”. Staying “sharp” makes us more effective at home, work, and with friends. Here are a couple of ways to stay sharp:

Make Time To Read

Reading is a chance to open ourselves up to other thoughts and perspectives. All your reading doesn’t have to be related to your job. Read a novel. Check out a collection of poetry that you have been curious about. Subscribe to a blog. There are tons of valuable voices out there that can help you grow and see the world in a new way.

Make Time To Pray

For Christians, it's easy for prayer to be something that we talk about but rarely do. Prayer reminds me that I’m not alone in the challenges I am facing. It connects me to a God who loves me and cares about the details of my day. Prayer allows me to focus on the fact that there is a bigger purpose and plan to my life. Ancient writer and prophet Jeremiah, reminded his nation of that fact. He told them that God had a good future in mind for them. His plans would offer them hope for their future (Jeremiah 29:11).  We often need to be reminded of that as well.

Make Time For Silence And Solitude

Take a walk and leave your ear buds at home. Shut out all the sounds that can clutter your day. Sometimes you need to be alone to give your brain a chance to re-calibrate itself. Taking a break from the hectic pace of life, even for just a few minutes, can improve your mental clarity. It allows you to see that the things that seemed so important a few minutes ago, might not be as critical as you had imagined (Did I just get into an argument about mashed potatoes?!). Getting away and getting quiet is like adjusting the valve on a pressure cooker. We are able to relax and release some of the stress and pressure that have been building up. Less stress means that you are less likely to do or say something that you will regret later.

Your relationships and work are important to you. So, cut out time in your day to take care of yourself. The sharper you are the more success you will have. 

Photo Courtesy of  Death To Stock Photo
"Sharpening the Saw" is one of Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People from the book by the same title. It is possibly the greatest book on leadership and personal growth in existence. Seriously, go read it.

Friday, February 20, 2015

How To "Really" Love The People You Love

I fit perfectly with the stereotype of a young man born and raised in the south: I loved my mama. My mom was incredible. She was sacrificial and loving in ways I only hope someday to be. When my mom was hit by a recurrence of cancer I made the 6 hour trip to see her and care for her whenever I could. Climbing back into my car one Sunday after a quick weekend with her, I broke down. I remember praying and asking God to make sure that mom knew that I loved her. There is nothing more important than trusting that the people we care about know how deeply we love them. Here are three things you can do to ensure that your loved ones are well loved:

Fix Less

Trying to fix the people we love isn’t the same as loving them. Your fixing may start from a heart of love, but it will quickly become something else. Your need to “correct” or “help out” or “make things better” may keep you from simply being with the person you love. The person you love (just like you) had problems, has problems, and will always have problems. It’s great that you want to help, but odds are that your loved one simply wants your time and attention, not your assistance.

Compliment More

It’s easy to leave things unsaid. I’m not sure why, but it often feels difficult to tell the people we love how much they mean to us. Sometimes we just assume they know it. Remember, even if they do know how much you care for them, they still need to hear it. Start small. Choose one genuine compliment every day to offer to the people you love. Give it some thought. Even if their response to your compliment isn’t what you had thought it might be, stick with it. I promise it will make a difference.

Sleep More

You are a pain when you don’t get enough sleep. I know that because I am too. My head isn’t as clear when I haven't gotten enough sleep. My emotions tend to be closer to the surface. Adequate sleep allows us to more fully enjoy the people we love. It allows us to be present with them, and not just sit beside them while our minds are a thousand miles away.

There are few things in life more rewarding than relating to people that you care deeply for. Slow down today and do the small things to remind them of your love. I promise that you will be glad you did!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Why Leaders Fail: And Two Things You Can Do To Avoid It

A article found that nearly 40% of the highest paid CEO’s in America had faced action due to poor performance in the past 20 years. These leaders were the best and the brightest, and were paid incredible amounts of money to bring success to their companies. This trend doesn’t only exist only in the highest profile jobs. Leadership breakdowns happen everywhere. While there are a lot of different factors that can cause leaders to fail, one that seems to show up again and again is when leaders fail to recognize the relational component of leadership. Leadership is a relationship, and when it’s not treated as one, it’s doomed to fail. Being a good leader means being committed to relational health. Here are a couple of relational reminders that will make you a better leader:

Have Honest Expectations

No one’s perfect. You are not and neither are the people you lead. There’s nothing wrong with casting an incredible vision for your company or church, one that seems almost impossible. It’s something else entirely to demand the impossible from your staff or employees. Unrealistic expectations and demands erode confidence and will eventually cause those who work for you to quit or rebel. Be ambitious but honest in your expectations.

Always Leave Your Door Open

Relationships are only relational if communication can flow both ways. If you only talk to (or at) your employees, they will soon believe that you don’t care about them and think that you only see them as a means to an end (which hopefully isn't true).  Be open for feedback. Take time to hear people out. Listening to critiques or the other side of an argument doesn’t make you weak. After you have heard someone out, you may choose to still stay the course, but occasionally you may gain insight that you didn’t have before, allowing you to change direction and be more effective.

Leadership is a relationship, and if you fail to recognize that, your leadership will likely fail as well. Respect and take care of the people who follow you, not only will you be winning as a leader, but you will be winning in life. 

The article that I referenced above can be found here

Photo courtesy of Death To Stock Photo

Monday, February 16, 2015

An Open Letter To The Church In 2015: Be Known For Your Love

Dear Church,

I know that you are frustrated with being known for things that don't accurately reflect who you are (You are not responsible for the crusades or for those who foolishly protest at funerals). You can't always control what people think of you.  You can control your actions and the decisions you make, so make decisions that allow you to be known as the church who:

                Loves the liar
                Loves the cheater
                Loves the unfaithful
                Loves the angry and judgmental
                Loves the homosexual
                Loves the addict
                Loves the Muslim
                Loves the Buddhist
                Loves the arrogant
                Loves the overweight glutton
                Loves the underweight anorexic
                Loves the abuser
                Loves the other political party (whichever the other happens to be)

Be known as the church whose first response is always love. We are not called to choose between love or truth. We are called to both.We love people in the midst of their brokenness because that is exactly where and how God loves them. It's how God loves us as well.  Being fully persuaded first that we are loved is the only chance for growth or change that any of us have. Regardless of what we disagree on, love is non-negotiable. It takes courage to change. It takes courage to leave the sin  that we have that is destroying us and the people around us. It takes courage to admit that we sin, but of course, we all do. Love is the only place where the courage we desperately need grows. There are difficult conversations to be had. There is sin and brokenness to be dealt with inside all of us. To skip the critical, foundational step of loving our neighbor will make that impossible. So, love relentlessly and tirelessly and be the underdog you were always meant to be. Be hated, be ridiculed, but always be committed to doing the hard work of loving others. When you are not sure how our nation will survive it’s own bad decisions and lack of direction, find someone to care for and make a difference there. When no one will listen to you and you are being mistreated, choose to kindle the small flames of love in your heart rather than stoking the bonfires of hatred and distrust. Love, and as you love, know that you are only beginning to scratch the surface on how greatly your God loves you.

Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo

Thursday, February 12, 2015

How To Communicate Well: The Often Ignored Art of "When"

I’ve logged countless hours as a counselor and have partnered with many couples who were seeking to save their marriage, or simply improve the condition of their relationship. One complaint that almost each couple has had over the years, is that they didn’t feel that they were able to communicate with each other as well as they needed to.

Few things will damage a relationship more than a breakdown in communication. Parents feel distanced from their teenagers when lines of communication break down. Husbands and wives feel lonely and misunderstood when their communication doesn’t  work as well as it did in the beginning of their relationship. Even relationships at work will suffer if communication is not clear and healthy between employees. Many people wrestle with “how” to communicate, but few ever consider “when” to communicate. Here are three thoughts about when to communicate that can immediately improve your relational life:

Just Because You Are Ready Doesn’t Mean That They Are

We’ve all been there, we have given an issue a lot of thought, we are burdened by it and ready to talk about it NOW. The person you are going to talk to may not be ready, however, and if they are not ready, the communication that you initiate will be weak at best. Just because you have thought the issue through and are ready to hash it out doesn’t mean that your child, spouse, or co-worker is equally prepared and ready. Also, just because they are not ready to talk about it doesn’t mean that they don’t care or are avoiding you. The next time you are ready to talk over something important with someone, ask them if it’s a good time to discuss it. If it’s not, ask for a better time. Your goal is not to simply get the words out of your mouth, but to initiate a shared conversation about the topic that you are concerned about.

We Are Not All “Night People”

The "right time to talk" is almost never after 10PM at night, especially if it is a sensitive or important issue. Some people do their best thinking after 10PM at night, but most do not, and everyone is more emotional at the end of a long day. If you have something big to discuss with your husband or wife, don’t start unloading on them after Jimmy Kimmel.

Put It On The Books

It’s easy to put hard talks off and never pick them back up. This lack of communication is often the most frustrating of all. Putting a talk off isn’t a bad thing, but you need to pick a specific time to pick it back up again. Don’t settle for, “we’ll talk about it some other time”, or even, “let’s pick this up this weekend”. Be precise. “Can we talk about it over breakfast on Saturday?” or “Could we grab coffee next Tuesday at 3PM and talk it over?” Pick a time and put it on the calendar. It may seem silly to schedule talks with your spouse or kids, but we rarely return to issues if we don’t schedule time to do so.

How you communicate not be the problem you are facing in your relationships. These tips on when to communicate will make you more clear and the people you are talking with more receptive. 

Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo

Monday, February 9, 2015

How To Keep That Really Bad Relationship From Destroying You

We’ve all had them. Some have done more damage than others, but all bad relationships leave their mark. I recently heard someone talk about how a relationship that had just ended “had destroyed them”.  It’s a common comment, and one that many of us have felt to be true. While we are never the same after a toxic relationship, the changes in us don’t have to be bad. Bad relationships don’t have to destroy us. Here are three ways to keep toxic relationships from your past from destroying you:

Quit Replaying It

It’s incredibly tempting to replay bad relationships over and over in our mind, like picking at a sore that we won’t let heal.  We will often over-analyze anything that we think we might have done wrong to cause things to end so horribly. Whatever may have gone wrong in the relationship, there is nothing to be gained from replaying it constantly in our minds. Chances are that you did things wrong in the relationship. We all do. If you have examined your role in the relationship or talked to a trusted friend or mentor who will be honest with you, then you have done what you can do. Lingering in the past will either make you bitter or discouraged, it will never make you better.

Quit Listening

We all have two competing “voices” in our head. The first focuses on the negative and is quick to find and obsess over our flaws. The second is more gentle, more quiet, and calls out the good that remains amidst the rubble. After a bad relationship the negative voice grows in volume. We zone in on the things about ourselves that we don’t like or that others have told us are broken. It’s crucial at this time that we strain to hear the gracious words that God will whisper into our souls when we are hurting. This isn’t a time to go into “self-renovation mode”, remaking you into whatever you think people might like better. This is a time to heal. We have to shut out the negative, self-critical voice by refusing to listen to it.

Quit Believing

Destructive relationships will only destroy us if we let them.  You will only be destroyed if you give up and pull away from life and the relationships around you.  So, quit believing in your destruction and defy it. You have even more to offer the world than you did before the relationship began. Don’t shrink away! God is often at his best when we are at our most weak.

Relationship pain is never easy, but it doesn’t have to be the end of your story. Instead, it can be the critical chapter of your life that turns your story into something remarkable. 

Photo courtesy of Death To Stock Photo

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

3 Reasons You Are Not Achieving The Goals That You Set For Yourself (And What You Can Do About It!)

You’re being too general.

It’s sounds great to have “be a better Dad” as a goal, but what does that actually mean? The more specific your goal, the more likely you are to achieve it. It’s discouraging to work hard on a goal, and then  not be able to see if you are succeeding because your goal is too general. It’s much easier to tell if you are having one quality conversation with your daughter a night for instance, or if you are leaving work 15 minutes earlier to spend time with your son.

You’re focusing too much on your weaknesses.

Goals can definitely help us shore up our weak spots, but constantly focusing on our weak spots is not healthy. Many people who are new to setting goals will choose their biggest weaknesses and try to overcome them in goal form. This is admirable but inevitably leads to discouragement. Your weaknesses are your weaknesses for a reason. We all have areas we are not naturally talented in and don’t enjoy, thus the weakness. Targeting only these areas will become overwhelming and frustrating. Instead choose a couple of goals that take things you are good at and enjoy, and elevate them to a new level. It will inspire you and give you greater confidence as you chip away at your weaknesses.

You’re chasing other people’s dreams.

We’ve all been here. You have coffee with a good friend and she tells you about the exciting things she is going to tackle in the upcoming weeks or months. They are so exciting in fact, that you decide that they should be goals that you have as well, and off you go! The problem is that her goals, as good as they may be, might not lead you to your desired destination with regards to your work, family, and friends. Your goals need to specifically fit you and your desired future.

Set your goals honestly and realistically and release that great passion of yours as you seek to change you and your world!

Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo