Thursday, April 28, 2016

3 Things That Are Keeping You From Saying "No" (and what you can do about it)

One thing all people who are relationally healthy have in common is the ability to say “no”. Most people struggle with using “no” in a healthy way. Three of the primary reasons people avoid saying “no” are:

            1)We don’t want to disappoint anyone
I was once given the following piece of advice: If someone asks you to do something at work, always say yes, you can always figure out how to get it done later. At first glance it would seem that being the person who always finds a way to get everything done is a great way to advance in your company. The reality, however, is that it’s impossible to always get everything done. The more we add to our plate, the more likely we are to not complete our assignments or to do them poorly.  Nobody wants to let down their boss or organization, but saying that you can do everything when you can’t won’t endear you to your company. Everyone has expectations of you. Their expectations are not your problem. Have clear, ambitious, and realistic expectations of yourself. If people are not satisfied with that, nothing you can do will ever satisfy them.

            2)We don’t want to make anyone angry
If you have someone in your life that manipulates others with their anger, then you have experienced this one. It’s easy to believe that if you do your job well, no one will ever get angry at you. While that would be a nice world to live in, it doesn’t exist. People get angry for hundreds of reasons. While it’s not fun to deal with some else’s anger, it’s dangerous to change your behavior to try to avoid it. You don’t have the power to make people angry. They choose whether to get angry or not. Sometimes their anger is justified, sometimes it’s not. Either way, changing yourself in an attempt to pacify others is a bad decision.

            3)We don’t really know ourselves
Another reason we avoid saying “no” is that we don’t really know what we want. If you don’t have clear opinions about which direction you are going in life, then you are likely to defer to others who seem more confident. It’s ok to not have all of the answers, but it’s not ok to place the direction of your life in the hands of other people. Take some time to review where you are right now in life and where you want to go. It may take a few hours to think through, or you may need to get away for a couple of days. The more clear you are about your life direction, the better able you will be to say “no” when it is needed.

Monday, April 25, 2016

How To Find Peace When Your Mind Won't Stay Still

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

My mind rarely stays on anything for very long. I am a proud member of the A.D.H.D. generation. We don’t just watch TV. We download songs, Tweet, and carry on a conversation while we watch TV. We have thousands of steams of information at our finger tips every minute of the day, and for many people (me included), those options are just too tempting to ignore. We have developed incredible abilities to multi-task, but are horribly regressed when it comes to focusing.

The prophet Isaiah in his writings stated that our peace is contingent on our ability to keep our mind in one place, with God. That means that we are mindful of what God would think of our situation. Who would God talk to here? What does He want me to see? How would God have me handle this? If you are anything like me then the task of focusing your thoughts seems like an incredible challenge.  How can we get to the place where our minds are more consistently “stayed on God”?

Master the art of returning

Keeping our mind perfectly focused on God and the things He would have us think about is impossible. Rather than trying, failing, and giving up, we need to master the art of returning. Once we realize that our mind is travelling down roads that are not good, we don’t need to panic. It doesn’t mean that we have completely blown it, or that we will never get it right.  Instead of beating yourself up or giving up, just take your mind back to where you want it to be. The goal is to simply bounce our thoughts back to where we want them to be without punishing ourselves for allowing them to become distracted in first place The more you practice the task of returning your thoughts to God, the better you will be at it.

Accept that you can’t know/see/do it all

One of the reasons we struggle to keep our minds in one place is that we are afraid that we will miss something. We want to see everything out there and know everything we can possibly know about everything. There seems to be a thousand things worthy of our attention, and more often than not, we just split our attention between them. By dividing our attention between everything, we are unable to  focus on anything. We have to admit to ourselves that we can not see it all. We can’t do it all, and we can’t know everything there is to know. Once we have admitted our human limitations, we are free to decide where we would most like to spend our mental energy. When we choose where to place our focus, we take control of our thought lives.

Create pockets of distraction-free space

One of the best ways to regain your ability to focus is to create pockets of time that are free from distraction. Shut off your phone. Turn off the TV and any music that may be playing. Get away from other people, and allow you mind some moments of peace. It doesn’t have to be an incredibly long period of time, just a bit of time away will make a difference. Our minds need a break, other than when we sleep.  A bit of mental rest will allow you to more clearly place your focus where you would like for it to be.

God does not scream in our ears, demanding our attention. His offer of peace is an invitation, one that we are free to accept or reject. If we trust him with our thoughts we will find that He loves us and is for us.  With a little practice you can learn to enjoy the peace that God offers.  

1- Isaiah 26: 3 (ESV)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Is Your Past Controlling Your Present?

I remember it as clearly as if it were yesterday. I stepped in the batter’s box, there were two outs and I had two strikes on me. We were in the state playoffs, playing a team we had beaten twice earlier in the year. My only advice from coach was to lay off the curveballs that dipped low and out of the strike zone. It was good advice, because I had a weakness for curveballs that drifted low and away. It seems the pitcher knew that as well. The next pitch? A curve ball, low and away.  I swung the bat with every ounce of strength I had and missed the ball by a mile. The coach (deservedly) let me have it as I trotted back to the dugout.

That was several years ago. It wasn’t a life changing mistake. But I can still feel embarrassed when I think about it. It’s amazing how much power the past can still have in our lives. I’ll bet that if you thought about it for a second, you could call up three or four things from your past that still cause you to cringe. We all have things in our past that we aren’t proud of. Most of those things don’t affect our present or threaten our future. For many of us, however, there are past events that are still doing very real damage to us. How can you tell if something from your past is controlling your present and threatening your future?

If You Can’t Talk About It

Some things are so painful that they are difficult to talk about. That’s dangerous, because processing what happened is a key component to healing and moving on. You don’t need to talk about what happened to everyone, but you do need to be able to talk to someone. If the memory is especially painful or if you are confused about what it meant, then talking to a trained professional is a good idea. Refusing to talk about it is not an option.

If You Can’t Stop Talking About It

If you can’t stop talking about how horribly you were treated by your friend when you were 15, you probably have not resolved whatever happened. Our brains are magnificent machines (made by a magnificent Creator), and they will continue to bring the information that we haven’t fully processed back to our attention. If there is something from your past that you can’t stop talking about, then you may need to seek a greater resolution to whatever it was that happened.

Your Emotions Don’t Match Your Circumstances

Holding painful memories from our past under the surface is difficult. A friend once likened it to trying to hold beach balls under water at the pool. You might be able to keep one or two submerged, but any more than that, and they will all eventually pop to the surface. When you are trying to keep issues from your past buried inside, often it registers on an emotional level. You may be emotionally numb and unable to feel the normal highs and lows of life. For others, their emotions are much more explosive than you would expect given the circumstances they find themselves in. If you are trying to keep something stuffed down inside from your past, and the effort is affecting you emotionally, you may need to have a closer look at what you are hiding from.

We can gain great strength from our past. Successes and even challenges that we have endured and overcome can make us stronger. Unfortunately, our past can also cause us pain in our present. If you have things in your past that are preventing you from enjoying your present, make time to talk with someone about it. Whether it’s a counselor, a friend, or a minister, getting the words out can make a huge difference. You future is too valuable to be held hostage by your past. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

The One Question We All Must Face

I’ve talked to hundreds of people who were hoping to save or repair a relationship in their life. I’ve talked with parents who were struggling with their children, and husbands and wives who were struggling with each other. I’ve comforted the heartbroken and sought to calm the enraged. Some people were struggling with just one person, others felt that they had alienated everyone around them. While every relationship is different and has its own unique challenges, relationships are also similar in many ways. There is one question that every relationship faces at some point. It’s the one thing that anyone who is seeking healing in a relationship must ask themselves. That question is, “Am I Willing To Change?”. This is the most important question you can ask for several reasons:

You Are Not 100% Right

You’ve probably already come to realize this, but you are not perfect. I know, I was crushed when I found out as well. We all fail from time to time. We all misunderstand. We all act too quickly at times and too slowly at others. Even if the person you are relating to is totally wrong, it doesn't mean that you don't have room to grow as well. Since we are all imperfect, we all have the opportunity to grow and learn something new. So, if you are open to change, you always have the possibility of growth in front of you. No change = no growth.

You Are The Only Person You Can Change

As much as you may hope that your patience and understanding will one day break through to your spouse, the truth is you have no real power to change him. You can be great, and she can still choose to treat your poorly. You can parent perfectly and still have your child make disastrous decisions. If you put all of your hopes on being able to change the person you are relating to, you will end up discouraged and defeated. Instead, you must be open to whatever change may be the most healthy for you. You must be honest about the person you care for, but you must focus the bulk of your energy on your own growth.

Your Change Can Be Inspiring

While your growth may inspire your friend to examine themselves more closely, there is no guarantee that they will actually make any changes. What is guaranteed is that every time someone finds the courage to examine themselves and make changes, it is inspiring others. It may inspire others around you that you aren’t even aware are noticing. People who have the courage to change can inspire others who may also want to change. Not only that, but your ability to change will give you more confidence when new you face new challenges in the future.

Are you willing to change? Change isn’t easy and it can be quite scary, but growth is impossible without change. When you are willing to focus on your own strengths and weaknesses,  you can make the sort of changes that make you stronger, and when you are stronger, you will have more consistently stronger relationships!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

How To See The Danger You Can't See: 3 Ways To Deal With The Blindspots In Your Life

I love quotes. I love it when someone is able to package words together in a memorable and insightful way. It’s not an easy task. Most of us throw out thousands of words a day, and few of them seem to stick. I stumbled upon a quote recently that stopped me in my tracks.

                “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”1

The quote is from the mid 900’s BC by the Jewish King, Solomon. Even though the quote is approximately 3000 years old, it is still incredibly powerful. We have the power to convince ourselves that we are right even when we are dead wrong. I bet you’ve got examples of this from your own life, I know I do. There are moments from my past that still cause me to cringe when I look back. At the time, however, I had convinced myself that I was right, or that what I was about to do or say didn’t really matter that much. Our ability to deceive ourselves is incredibly dangerous.

The second half of Solomon’s proverb describes how to deal with our powers of self-delusion. “A wise man listens to advice”. So, how can we embrace the wisdom of this thought and protect ourselves from being blindsided by bad decisions?

Seek Advice From Experienced Sources

Most of us have a consistent pool of people that we share our lives with. Most often, these people are a lot like us. They may have kids our age. They live the same neighborhoods, or attend a lot of the same activities. It’s natural to limit ourselves to the advice and insight of people in our peer group. The problem can be that those in our peer group are often limited by the same things that limit us. They are asking the same questions and facing the same challenges. It’s always a good idea to seek out someone a bit older who has had life experiences that you haven’t had yet. Find someone who has been in your business for 20 years longer than you have. If you have children, find someone with grandchildren. Experience is a powerful teacher, and if you can learn from someone else's experiences, you will save yourself a ton of grief and frustration.

Seek Advice Close To Home

Even though we don’t want to limit ourselves to our peer group when looking for advice, we definitely want to take advantage of what they have to offer.  If you are a software designer, there are things only another software designer can teach you. If you are a stay at home mom, there are challenges that you face that only another stay at home mom can fully appreciate.

Clearly Ask For What You Want

Once you’ve found someone that may have wisdom that could help you, you will need to give that person permission to speak into your life. Many people are hesitant to share their thoughts and advice with others. No one wants to seem pushy or intrusive. If you really want to know what someone thinks about something, ask them directly. When they do share with you, make sure you receive what they say with grace and gratitude, even if what they share is tough to swallow! Sometimes the advice we need the most can make us uncomfortable. If you are gracious when others share with you, they will be more likely to share with you in the future.

We can all fool ourselves into thinking that we are right about everything going on in our lives. So, it’s important to have trusted sources of advice and wisdom that we can tap into. There are likely people already around you who can offer wisdom that would make your life better. Look for them and invite them into your life. You will be glad you did!

1 - Proverbs 12:15 (ESV)

Monday, April 11, 2016

Why Telling Yourself "No" Can Make All Of The Difference

For most of us, our childhood and adolescent years were built on trying to get people to tell us “yes”. As children we heard “no” a lot. While it wasn’t our favorite answer, it wasn’t a bad thing.  A healthy childhood is built on hearing “no” from teachers, coaches, and parents.

“No, you can’t eat paste.”

“No, you can’t bring that stray cat into the house.”

“No, if you don’t come to practice you won’t play in the game.”

When faced with “no”, we tried harder, argued more forcefully, and became more sneaky. We were desperate to turn the “no’s” we were hearing to “yeses”.

Then all of a sudden, high school ended. You headed to college or off to a job, and there were fewer people there to tell us “no” than there were before. Your job tells you, “no, if you aren’t on time or don’t perform on your job, you might be fired”. But, there is no longer anyone there telling you that you can’t stay up until 2 a.m. We can do pretty much whatever we want to do, and many of us do. We soon learn though, that the results of over indulging on our new found freedom can have some pretty tough consequences.  When life stops telling you “no” all of the time, your success depends on learning to tell yourself “no” at the right time.

More than any other skill, the ability to tell yourself “no” sets the stage for success as an adult. Adulthood reminds us that just because we can, doesn’t mean that we should. Is your inability to tell yourself “no” making your life difficult? Here are three tips that may help:

Insert a pause

There’s a time and place for making quick decisions. That time isn’t every time, and that place isn’t everywhere. Few people like telling themselves “no”, so if you act based on what you feel in the moment, you are likely to give into things that you know aren’t great for you. If, however, you can find a few minutes or hours to slow down and think things through, you are much more likely to come to an answer that best reflects your core values.

Don’t forget “future you”

It’s easy to restrict our thoughts to the here and now, to think only of what we feel now, think now, and want now. But “future you” (that’s you in 5 to 10 years) matters too. Something that doesn’t seem like a big deal now could really cause problems for future you. Take some time to imagine what you would like life to be like in 5 to 10 years. What sort of skills would you like to have developed by then? What sort of relationships would you like to have? What sort of activities will you want to be involved with? Then ask yourself if your present decisions are taking you to your preferred future.

Enlist some help

Life without the input and encouragement of others is hard. When you have people around you who value the things you value, you have an amazing resource. You can learn from their successes and their struggles. You can ask them when you aren’t sure about decisions you have to make. You are more likely to tell yourself “no” at the right time, when you are surrounded by people who will support your decision.

Telling ourselves “no” isn’t easy, but it’s an important skill for all growing adults to have. Like every other life skill that is desirable, this one gets better with practice. So, begin to tell yourself “no”. It might not be easy at first, but it will be well worth it. You and “future you” will be glad you did. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Are Your Relational Investments Giving You Good Returns?

I have a few small financial investments to help provide for retirement. Like most people who have had money invested over the past few years, those quarterly statements have not been pretty. There is nothing worse than getting a bad return on what you have invested. People who are experienced with the stock market know that it’s crucial to find someone who knows how much to invest and where to invest it. The same is true in our relationships. You invest time, energy, and resources into every relationship you have. If you invest wisely, you will have healthy and enjoyable relationships. If you invest poorly, your relationships will suffer. So, how can you know if you are investing wisely in your relationships?  Start by asking yourself these questions:

Am I investing heavily in my “onlys”?

I am my daughter’s only Dad, and my wife’s only husband (thank goodness). No one will invest in my daughter as her father if I don’t. If I fail to give her the time and attention she needs, she will suffer. The same goes for my wife. Since I am the only husband she has, she needs me to invest as a husband should. Your “onlys” are your most important relationships. It’s easy to overlook those closest to us, and assume that they are fine. But, if you don’t prioritize your “onlys”, those relationships will suffer, and so will you.

Am I investing based on need or priority?

“The squeaky wheel gets the grease”, the old saying goes, and it’s true. Many times we invest our time and energy in people that are the most demanding. It may be work or a needy friend. It’s not wise to rely on other people to determine how we invest our relational energy. You have to be the one to choose where and how much you invest. Which relationships do you have that are the most important to you? Are there people that you care about that are going through a difficult time and therefore need more of you now than usual? You need to be the one to decide who gets your time and attention.

Am I overestimating how much I have to invest?

You are limited. You have limited hours. You have limited energy. That means you have a limited amount that you can invest in relationships. If you don’t choose where to invest, you limits will choose for you. How many people get to the weekend and finally have time with their family, only to have nothing left to give? It’s easy to overestimate how much time and energy you have available to you.  Be honest with yourself about how much energy and time you have so you can make a deliberate choice about how to invest them wisely.

Wise relational investments will give you the best returns of all. They will give your life stability and meaning. Take some time and evaluate your investments today.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Danger Of Needing Your Relationships Too Much

If you need your relationships to make you ok, you’ll never be ok.

In a previous blog post, I talked about the dangers of giving too much in relationships. While being too giving in relationships is dangerous, being too needy is a problem as well. We all know someone who defines themselves by their relationships, and most of us have done it ourselves at times. When the relationship is going well, life is going well. The skies are blue, the birds are singing, and everything is perfect! When the relationship breaks down however, life breaks down. It’s hard to get out of bed, and everything seems gray. It’s normal to be down when a relationship fails, it’s not healthy to feel as if you have nothing valuable left in your life.

There are some things you can only do for yourself.

It’s easy when you care deeply about someone to think very highly of their opinion. You admire that person or you wouldn’t be dating them or be their friend. The danger comes when you defer all of your thoughts and decisions to that person. Even if you think they are really smart, you shouldn’t share all of the same opinions. You need to be able to think for yourself. There are parts of you that won’t grow unless you take time to think through things for yourself. So, don't just adopt the viewpoints of others.

If you need someone for everything, you will eventually blame someone for everything.

When you go along with what your friends decide in situations instead of thinking things through and deciding for yourself, you will also blame your friends when those decisions go wrong. It’s a toxic cycle. In life, we are guaranteed to make mistakes. If we are humble, we can grow from those bad decisions. If you depend on others to make decisions for you, you will never learn by making the normal mistakes that the rest of us make. Few things hinder growth more than blaming others for the things that aren’t working in your life.

If you define yourself by them, you’ll never find you.

You matter. You have unique insights. You are a combination of talents and experiences that is unlike anyone else. When you live off of the approval of your friends or family, however, you will slowly stop being you, and start trying to be the person they think you should be. It’s important to listen to and learn from the people around us. That doesn’t mean that we should mindlessly become what others want us to be. The two most dangerous people in the world are those who listen to and follow every voice they hear and those who refuse to listen to or follow any voice.

Relationships are wonderful and life-giving, but you can only fully enjoy them, if you learn to be yourself first. If you are not happy with who you are before you have a relationship, you will never be happy with yourself in a relationship.