How to Survive Working from Home: Tips for Busy Parents

This post comes from a guest contributor, Emily Graham. You can connect with Emily at: emilygraham@mightymoms.net. Please take a moment to check out her awesome website at: http://mightymoms.net/

The ability to work from home is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, holding a remote job will enable you to save money on childcare and spend much more time with your kiddos. But on the other, working from home makes you vulnerable to the many distractions of parenting life. For parents with young kids, juggling the demands of childcare and work is an endless struggle! But you shouldn’t have to sacrifice one for the other. To help you get a handle on your hectic life and thrive as a work-from-home parent, we have created this quick survival guide.

Protect Your Mental Health

People are often surprised by the incredibly draining nature of remote work. When you work from home, you may find yourself logging long hours, struggling with feelings of isolation, or facing the constant pressure to be online and available at all times. On top of this, it’s common for moms and dads to feel a sense of guilt about choosing work — or rest — over their children. All of this can be incredibly draining!

Practicing self-care is pivotal to your mental wellbeing when working from home with little ones underfoot. First off, make sure the energy in your home feels bright and positive. Clutter and stuffiness can quickly drag you down and drain your energy, but a little cleaning can go a long way to help you stay productive. Another great way to practice self-care is to ask for help. If you have a spouse, see if they can take on some of your daily responsibilities to lighten your load. Trying to do everything yourself just isn’t realistic! 

Take Care of Your Body

Treating your body right will also help you maintain the energy you need to juggle your busy life. Sleep, nutrition, and fitness — the three pillars of health — are key! Try to pack your diet full of nutrients. A simple salad is a fantastic afternoon pick-me-up that doesn’t have to be bland or boring. When it comes to fitness, try to get your body moving in some way daily, whether this means taking a walk around the block or sweating through an at-home bodyweight routine. Finally, make time for at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night.

Schedule Deep Focus Time

As Verywell Mind explains, multitasking doesn’t work. Our brains struggle at handling more than one task at a time, which is why multitasking can reduce your productivity by as much as 40 percent! Resist the urge to try to multitask while you’re working from home. Instead, schedule work time when you can focus deeply on the most important tasks of your day without your children around to provide distractions. This might mean getting up early to work before your kids wake up or having your spouse distract little ones for a couple of hours in the afternoon. When you’re watching the kids, stick to simple work tasks like reading emails.

Consider a Career Change

If you wake up every morning and dread the start of your workday, it might be time for a career change. Your job should excite and inspire you! Boredom, fatigue, and chronic stress are signs that you’re not doing work that is fulfilling and healthy for you. Fortunately, changing careers is super easy for remote working parents. Countless high-paying jobs exist online, so you’re bound to find something that better aligns with your professional goals. You could even pursue an online education and go after jobs that require diplomas or degrees. If you want to work in business, for example, an online school like WGU will help you learn the skills you need to excel in business management, administration, or marketing. It might not be the simplest solution, but sometimes it’s the best one.

For many parents, switching to remote work after having kids seems like a no-brainer. But working from home with a baby or toddler underfoot is much easier said than done. Protect yourself from stress and burnout by prioritizing self-care!

This is just one of many great resources for parents offered by the Be a Champion Dad team. For more great tips, check out our blog.

Top Parenting Resources for Various Ages & Stages

For this post we have a guest contributor, Kristin Louis from Parenting with Kris. Below Kris has put together a great list of resources for parenting at any age. When you have a moment, please check out here parenting site with the link above. Thank you for your submission Kris!

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Parenting is a tremendous joy, but at times it’s anything but a walk in the park. Dilemmas seem to pop up routinely that can have you scratching your head, unsure of what to do and how to do it. Because we want to help you navigate those occasional parental hiccups, we pulled together some of our favorite resources to guide you along.

Raising Little Ones

The baby and toddler years are fun, but they can also be big conundrums. These tips will help!

Nutrition for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Good Toys for Young Children by Age and Stage

Guidelines for Keeping Your Child Safe at Home

Communication from Infants to Preschoolers: It’s So Much More Than Words!

Best Ways to Help Children Fall Asleep at Nap Time

School-Age Kids 

Packing your kiddo off to school is only the beginning. For everything, from keeping them learning to keep them safe, read on!

Nutrition for School-Aged Children

7 Educational and Entertaining Activities for Young Kids

8 Tips for Keeping Kids Safe to and from School

Communication and Your 6- to 12-Year-Old

10 Tips to Get Kids to Exercise

Junior High Through High School 

The teen years are sometimes the toughest, as kids hit that stage between childhood and adulthood. These resources will help you get them through it!

Nutrition for Teens – Everything You Need to Know

Seven Games to Play with Your Teens (That They’ll Actually Love)

Awesome Video Games to Play with Your Children

If You Play Games Online, Invest in a Package That Keeps You in the Game

Tips for Starting a Conversation with Your Teenager

11 Ways to Get Your Teen to Exercise

When you hit hiccups in parenting, it’s easy to feel bewildered. Thankfully, there are plenty of resources to help when you’re struggling. From safety to nutrition and exercise, how to have a real conversation, and how to have fun, there is something here to help you when you hit a wall at any stage in your parenting journey.

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Be well!

-MJ

Photo by Marisa Howenstine via Unsplash

Change Starts with Personal Awareness

This photo was provided by our own JB. The two pictured are her children’s great grand parents.

We hope that we have reached critical mass as a country. Along with a pandemic that continues to wreak havoc on the world, we have widespread social unrest. People have taken to the streets to protest, riot, and loot. The social unrest erupted at the unnecessary and tragic death of George Floyd. There are many varied takes on the situation, but no one can dispute how wrong and horrific that event (and those similar) was. While we do not condone rioting and looting, we want to caution the reader that poor behavior is always a symptom of a larger problem (poor behavior encapsulates all acts of violence: rioting, looting, and police brutality). 

The larger problem is this: Racism is still prevalent, and we have large portions of our black communities who feel unheard, unvalued, and deeply wronged. Long story short, these violent behaviors are happening because all other cries for help have fallen on deaf ears. Or, positive change has not happened fast enough. Regardless of what each of our personal feelings is on this topic, the numbers do not lie. People of color do not have an even playing field in our society. This needs to change.

The contributors to this site have zero tolerance for racism. In this great world that we live in, it still is bewildering that racism is still as prevalent as it is. It is high time for all of us to stand firm and push this darkness out of the world. This post is dedicated to how ALL of us can take action in our own lives to ensure that we eradicate this ugly beast.  To be clear, ALL of us need to take action for this change to be sustainable.

A strong theme throughout many of the posts on this site carries the following message:

Do not expect lasting change to happen externally if you have not changed within

We can fund, defund, elect, remove, riot, loot, and fight all we want, but those things are merely just sticks planted in a river. Sure they impede some of the water, but it does little to nothing to change the river’s flow and direction. We, the people, are the river. 

Societal change only happens when the personal change has happened. When enough of us change our hearts, the world will flow to a better place. So how can we change to make sure that all of our cultures are taken care of? Awareness, education, and action.

Let’s start with awareness. Awareness is like flicking a light switch on in a dark room…you begin to see things. Once you see things, you can start to take action to change things. In this vein, I want to flip the light switch on one thing: Everyone has a bias in their life

Having a bias is not a right or wrong thing. It is a natural process. Biases develop and are a normal process of the brain. The key here is that this is how we are wired as human beings. We have experiences and form thoughts and feelings around those experiences. Our brain, to be efficient, associates past experiences with current circumstances to protect itself. A simple example is as follows: A boy is bitten by a dog when he is young. For the rest of his life, they avoid dogs because their brains tell him dogs equal pain. It goes in the other direction too. A boy is raised with a dog and has only positive experiences with it. For the rest of his life, they get excited when they see a dog because it reminds him of love and home. In both cases, the boy has relied on past information to influence current action.

However, here is where biases get us into trouble. Biases become problematic when we are not even aware that we have them. So often, we take blind action without conscious thought. It further becomes troubling when we group with others who feel the same way as it reinforces that our belief is correct. 

When we blindly act, we model for the world on how we do business. We also model these behaviors for our children to pick up on. They can assume our biases as “this is how it is supposed to be.” To learn more about biases and how they develop and unroot them, please check out this article: Think you’re not biased? Think again. Alison Pearce Stevens does a great job of outlining how the mind works, how biases are created, and what we can do to become aware of them. 

The great thing about becoming aware of bias is that you can choose a better action in light of the brain’s conditioning. Become aware and chose the highest. Over time, we will undo the biases we have that do not serve us and our world.

I want to reinforce to the reader that it is perfectly ok to question your beliefs (political, religious, and whatever else you hold onto!) as well. It is ok to questions all of your silent preferences. Shine them to the light and see if they still have value. And don’t shame yourself for questioning all of your beliefs. When we question, It does not mean that we are no longer faithful or lack loyalty as we are merely figuring out if they are worth keeping around. This is the first step to becoming an independent thinker (don’t let others do your thinking for you).

So the next time you have an adverse or visceral reaction to something that happened automatically, take pause. Think about why that happened. Examine your thoughts, feelings, and memories that produced the negativity. Weed the garden of the mind. Why do we do what we do? Why do we get triggered on certain topics? How do we get off of the automatic pilot mode of life?

The answers we seek cannot be found in our media outlets or through our politicians. All of our answers are found in the heart.

Be well

-MJ

Photo from JB

Engage, Share Stories and Love One Another

“Ignorance and prejudice are the handmaidens of propaganda. Our mission, therefore, is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity. Racism can, will, and must be defeated.” 
― Kofi Annan

I’m a middle-aged white woman, living in suburban Massachusetts. I have two children, and my husband is one-quarter Jamaican. On the surface, that doesn’t sound like much pigmentation, but I have observed over the years and generations that in families with multiple kids, one child tends to be considerably darker than the other. In my husband and his brother, it’s my hubby. In my kids, it’s my daughter.  

So these have been a few interesting weeks for me. I always wondered with a smile, which of my children would be darker. I didn’t smile; however, when the nurse in the hospital shortly after my little girl’s birth looked at me sharply and said, “No, REALLY, who is the father?” When I indicated my husband, she said it simply wasn’t possible as my daughter had a birthmark “only” from children of African American descent.  

The racism I encounter is slight and generally unobtrusive, but white supremacy’s undertones are intensifying around me. Sometimes people don’t believe that my kids are mixed races (and it’s a fascinating mix we are). One even went so far as to tell me that if I believed people should be able to tell their experiences around race, even the painful ones, my entire family must be both violent and Marxist.  

I don’t pretend to have the answers, but I know that I will continue telling the story of our combined family heritage to anyone who will listen. I will teach my children not to whitewash (gloss over/cover-up) history. I know that poverty is an outcome of slavery, and I have worked with populations trapped in economic cycles very similar to slavery, yes, in the modern United States.  

It’s no longer enough for me to pray for unity and peace. Instead, I will raise my ears to listen, my heart to value all people who are hurting, and reach out my hands in relationship with those who are different from me. Do I have white privilege? Absolutely. But maybe that will be useful in an audience that otherwise may disregard any voice they don’t recognize. 

Be kind,

JB

Photo by Clay Banks via Unsplash

Unearthing the Call

“The opposite of depression isn’t happiness, it is purpose” -Cathy Heller

In our last post (You Have Been Called), our main theme revolved around the importance of authenticity and that the world needs you to be you. In today’s post, we will provide insight into how to use our authenticity to find our Calling. Our ultimate goal is to sift through the noise of life so we can identify our uniqueness, gifts, and set up an incredibly meaningful life.

“Your profession is not what brings home your weekly paycheck, your profession is what you’re put here on earth to do, with such passion and such intensity that it becomes spiritual in calling.” 

― Vincent van Gogh

I wish I had an easy formula for us to follow. It would be great if we could find a fail-proof road map on uncovering our unique Calling. It would also be awesome if we could take a magic pill that gives us courage and clarity….

Let’s be clear and upfront on this: There is no formula, map, or magic pill that can unearth our Calling or the song that is singing in our hearts. Finding our Calling is a process of discovery and can only be found by taking action while observing our feelings/results. Our Calling leaves clues all over the place if we know where to look…as it is never explicitly stated.

The path that we are looking to take has never been walked before. We are entering the woods where there are no preexisting trail or signposts to guide our journey. The only thing we know is the song in our hearts. This song whispers to us urges us to enter the woods and begin our journey.

“I believe there’s a calling for all of us. I know that every human being has value and purpose. The real work of our lives is to become aware of it. And awakened. To answer the call.” 

― Oprah Winfrey

Let’s get to it then….where do we start? Where do we push aside the branches and start our adventure? I use the following three questions to triangulate and to get me aimed in the right direction. Even after we are on the path, we can use these questions to remind ourselves of our purpose. 

  1. What do you do best? What comes naturally to you? What do you do so well that an outside observer my say…you’re just a natural? Our answers can be all over the map. I love starting with this type of question because it is a great momentum builder. Everyone has things that they are great at. Our answers can be based on physical (I am great at building things or athletics), intellectual (I am a great problem solver or organizer), or emotional (I am a great listener and empathy is easy for me).
  2. What are the things in life that you carry the most passion for? What are those things that light you up? What are the things that put the wind in your sails and get you energized? These questions are where fun and inspiration are found. When answering these questions, our focus should be on those things that we find the most enjoyment in. What gets us up early on the weekend? What can’t we wait to do? These are the things that once we begin, we lose track of time and forget to eat. 
  3. What is most meaningful to you? What do you feel your duty is? These questions are not as clear as the other two, but it is perhaps the most important. This is a personal value based question and may take more thought to net out a clear answer. Another way to position this question is: What are the things that would make us feel personal betrayal at the end of our lives if left undone? What needs to be done? Examples of this answer may look like: “I want to be the best parent possible” or “I want to teach others all that I know about such and such.” Spend time with this question because this will be the litmus test as we take action (are we producing the most meaningful results?). 

Understanding our talents, passions, and what matters most providers a wonderful clarity on how to show up in the world. Once we have answered these questions, it is time to start to blend them. This is where our true journey starts. These answers define what action we are to take, how we are meant to interact with others, and what legacy we are to leave behind.

Unearthing our Calling is much like locating and digging out a buried treasure. We have to dig deep. We have to sweat and work it out. Then, once discovered, unearthed, and opened…we are to give it freely to the world. 

Make your Calling a priority. Please write down your answers and read them often. Create a personal mission statement about them. Shifting your attitude towards your talents, passion, and purpose will amplify the song you hear….this is the path. 

As you begin with this newfound clarity, you may notice the life conforms around you and supports you. Food tastes better, the air smells sweeter, and gratefulness becomes a more natural state.

Say good-bye to mediocrity and merely surviving your day to day struggles. It is time we move the mountains; only we were created to move. 

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Matt Noble via Unsplash

You Have Been Called

The whisper in our heart…the urging of our soul…the familiar voice that we drown out with life’s busyness and noise…Let’s give it a moment and tune in…

Have you ever stopped to think about how unique and special you are? The odds of you being you, alive now, come out to around 1 in 400 quadrillions (that is right, a 4 with seventeen zeros! This doesn’t even consider all the factors). When you take time to really think about these numbers (or all of the variables/decisions made to bring you to this exact moment), life can all seem very random and chaotic. For me, I cannot grasp too well odds over a million so let’s say that I feel lucky, privileged, and grateful to be here…and you should too. We should all feel special and valued when engaged with those thoughts.

You see, there has never been another one of you in this world. Never was there one, and never will there ever be another you to walk this earth. You are unique! No one else has thought your thoughts or walked in your shoes the same way you have. Also, no one else has a unique blend of traits and skills that you have. Your life experience is unique to you, and you alone…it will never be replicated or repeated. 

Let’s switch angles on this stream of thinking. Let’s get inspirational! You and I are not random. We were not brought into this world at the roll of dice as the odds would suggest. I believe that we all have a purpose and that we are here for specific reasons. You and I are not random, and the fact that we are still drawing breath indicates that we are needed.

YOU ARE NEEDED.

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, to have the life that is waiting for us. Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls”.– Joseph Campbell.

You are needed in this world in a way that ONLY you can be

Similarly, you are not in this world to continually meet someone else’s ideas or expectations of you. When we chase other’s ideas and expectations, we are wasting our precious time.

This uniqueness that you are is what is needed to be developed and given to the world. Yes, our life is a gift, and we need to learn to give it.

What is that whisper within your heart? What is it saying? Have you listened to its urging? Have you followed it to see where it takes you? Within that voice, we find our authenticity and purpose. 

Our authenticity is our gift to the world. It is why we are here. When we develop this whisper into a strong voice, we begin to find our purpose. When we cultivate and live, our authenticity life fills in and shapes around us. 

Satisfaction/contentment in life comes from living out the voice in our heart and giving it to the world…giving it to others. 

The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”– Joseph Campbell.

Who will we become if we fully develop the whisper into a loud, beautiful song? How will the world transform when we give this song freely? 

The world needs you to be you.

Staying in your comfort zone is a stagnant proposition. It is a waste. Stagnant water is dead water…water needs to flow. For things to flow, there needs to be an opening…and the opening in your heart. Listen to it….it knows the way.

You are good enough. You have a special uniqueness, and you have true value. The world needs you, or you wouldn’t be here (there are no mistakes). It is time for you to step up and start living your authenticity. 

Release the comfort of coasting along…be still and listen…move to the whisper…follow the whisper. As you seek the whisper, the voice will get stronger. Continue and follow it…it will get stronger and stronger…then; over time, you will recognize that this was your authentic voice all along and not the fear based voice in your mind.

The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.”– Joseph Campbell

You are needed, and you have been called! Live the life on your terms, give your authenticity to the world….and watch the magic happen….get rid of your distractions…get quiet and cultivate the whisper.

have been called….

Be Well

-MJ

Photo by Katrim Hauf via Unsplash

Certainty in Uncertain Times

Don’t be controlled by fear. Fear is a liar.

It has been a while. It has been about eight weeks since I chose to step away to focus on family while the world turned upside down. Things got bizarre out there for sure. While we have all been struggling and coming to terms with a worldwide pandemic, I have been busy. Busy, yes, at work (lucky to still have my job), but more of mentally preparing for tomorrow…our new tomorrow. Things won’t be the same as this whole thing shakes out…but that is ok. You are ok. Let me repeat that: You…are…ok!….ok? 

Everything feels uncertain nowadays. I guess that is to be expected, this feeling of unease and constant anxiety. If we check in to our news stations, they pedal fear hoping to attract us to buy into the hysteria longer…or at least until the next commercial break (hint). If we tune into social media, we get more of the same, but there are people we know and stories we share (a better choice in my books). This is all noise, and the longer we try to fight the noise (or surf it), the longer we stay with fear and anxiety. I, for one, do not like uncertainty. Uncertainty drains peace of mind, and it makes you fight phantoms that do not exist. Phantoms that only appear between the six inches between your ears….yet there is a better way.

There is a better way through this time. Now, we cannot control the pandemic or snap our fingers and make it go away (does anyone have 6 Infinity Stones?), but we can find certainty. We can have peace of mind. We can have stillness, faith, gratitude, and love.

You have control. You have control of you. Each day you chose what to feed your brain. Each day you chose what to focus on. What you focus on becomes your reality. 

We can focus on death tolls, social distancing, and whether or not we should wear a mask…or we can focus on doing the right thing (where the mask), helping each other out, and being of service to one another. The choice is always ours to make.

I have many posts to write, and I am delighted and excited to be writing again. It has been a challenging time, but we all will get through this. Remember what you focus on and dwell on becomes your reality. Our brain is wired to only notice what matches our internal beliefs and internal contexts (Google: Reticular Activating System). Long story short on our thoughts: Work to eliminate the negative while accentuating the positive….habits will form, and peace of mind will return.

When everything is chaos: BE THE CERTAINTY OF YOUR LIFE.

To finish this post, I will end it will be an old Cherokee tale: The Two Wolves.

One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle inside all people.

He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside of us all. One is EVIL. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is GOOD. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee replied,

“The one that you feed.”

Feed your mind well and prepare for a better tomorrow. The world needs you.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Jasmin Sessier via Unsplash

A Digital Spring Cleaning

“Clutter is not just the stuff on your floor. It’s anything that stands between you and the life you want to be living”- Peter Walsh

It is that time of year where the temperature starts to rise, and we open the windows to let the fresh air in. Spring cleaning seems to be a rite of passage for those of us in New England. Smelling the spring air waft through your living space is a wonderful moment as it signals that warmer days are upon us. As spring fever sets in, we work to put away winter clothes and to sweep away the thoughts of a cold winter.

Spring often represents new beginnings and a fresh start. It is an exciting time where the world comes alive again. This year not only did our household start spring cleaning early (shout out here to my wife!) I took it upon myself to clear out my phone! Yes-my electronic device received a thorough cleaning. In many respects, digital clutter is just as bad as physical clutter. It distracts our mind, makes things harder to find, and can cause stress with the sense of being overwhelmed. 

In my digital declutter effort, I focused on two areas; unused applications and photos. What a world of difference this effort has made. I can now see the background photo on my phone, and I can easily locate the applications I regularly use. Also, removing all photos (delete or back-up) that held no value makes all of my favorite photos easier to find (imagine trying to find your kids in a larger crowd…so much easier when the crowd is gone!).

Through this process, I found two gem worthy items from my photos that I have populated here. This first one is from the book Philosophy for Life by Jules Evens. The four steps below outline the Socratic tradition. In many respects, the Champion Dad mindset is stoic and wonderfully align with these thoughts.

  1. Humans can know themselves. We can use our reason to examine out unconscious beliefs and values.
  2. Humans can change themselves. We can use our reason to change our beliefs. This will change our emotions because our emotions follow our beliefs.
  3. Humans can consciously create new habits of thinking, feeling, and acting.
  4. If we follow philosophy as a way of life, we can live more flourishing lives.

The second thing posted below in green; I have no idea where I found it or wrote it! So if anyone can identify who this is, please let me know so I can provide credit (Contact). I am putting it here because it is a great reminder that we only have one life to live. To have the greatest impact on others, we must first start by taking care of the self. This one really hit home with all of the trials I have gone through this winter:

You’re going to realize it one day- that happiness was never about your job or your degree or being in a relationship. Happiness was never about following in the footsteps of all those who came before you; it was never about being like the others. One day, you’re going to see it- that happiness was always about the discovery, the hope, the listening to your heart and following it wherever it chose to go. Happiness was always about being kinder to yourself; it was always about embracing the person you were becoming. One day, you will understand that happiness was always about learning how to live with yourself, that your happiness was never in others’ hands. It was always about you. It was always about you.

WOW! So true! Follow your bliss and then be of service to the world to help others do the same thing!

Get cleaning and let the fresh air fill your soul will excitement and love!

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Daniel von Append via Unsplash

5 Techniques to Improve Your Listening Skills

Guess what? I am a terrible listener. I am especially bad when I am in the middle of a task or if someone is talking to me while watching my kids. You see, I am sharp enough to believe that I can “multi-task,” but if I am not fully locked on to the person, just about all of my retention goes bye-bye. 

This drives my wife bonkers and leads her not to feel valued. A real-life example of how something small thing can corrode a relationship is as follows:

A few weeks ago, while I was unloading the dishwasher, my wife explained (for the second time) how to make iced-tea the way that the kids and her like it. I half-listened and gave her all the verbal cues that I got it. At that moment, I conceptually understood what she was saying and thought I got it, but the reality is it never stuck. One week later, my wife asked me to make some iced-tea before I went to bed. I thought, “I got this!” but I had a problem: I couldn’t remember the right mix of tea to use. So I asked through text, but being late, I never received a response. As such, I took my best guess and made it incorrectly…you can imagine the delightful conversation that ensued the following day.

You may think that my example is no big deal and it is just iced-tea but is this really about tea? No, it is really about my inability to listen and make my wife feel heard and valued. Small things and big things; we, if do not listen, we are hurting the relationship. Feelings of not being valued do not care about the circumstance.

Here are a few things that we all can work on to ensure that we truly listen to the other person. When we employ these techniques, not only will we retain what they are saying, but they will also feel honored.

  1. Stop what you are doing and square up with that person. This first step is really critical. First, stopping what we are doing allows us to shift gear and focus solely on the person talking. Second, squaring up with the person (turning, so our body is facing them directly) signals that they have our full attention. Squaring up also will help our brain focus and drop the other task it was in the process of doing.
  2. Mirror what the other person is saying. This is simply repeating the last two or three words of their last sentence. Example: Wife: “Let me show you how to make the iced-tea correctly.” Me: “Iced-tea correctly?”. Mirroring, in this nature, invites the speaker to tell you more and makes them feel honored. When we verbalize and repeat what we hear, we start to lock it in our long term memory.
  3. Label ANY emotions that you pick up on. Using the example above, labeling would sound like: “Seems like you are frustrated” or “Sounds like you are agitated.” What is so great about this technique is labeling negative emotions will decrease that emotion for the other person.  Labeling positive emotions will have the opposite effect; they will increase! Additional tip: Don’t use phrases like “I think I hear” as these do not work. Placing “I” when labeling puts the focus on us, and we don’t want that.  Remember, the focus needs to be on the speaker.
  4. When, and only when, the speaker is done speaking, paraphrase what you have heard, so they know that you understand.  The goal of paraphrasing is to make sure we got everything important that they said. We will know when we have done a great job when you hear back, “That’s right.”  That’s right is confirmation that they have been heard and that we understand what they are communicating. 
  5. If needed, write down what you need to remember. This is so simple and allows us the grace to return to our task without worry that we will forget the conversation. From my original example, I now have a note on a bulletin board in our kitchen to make great iced-tea! 

Good listening is a true art form. It takes practice to do it well. I am still not the best listener, but I am sure working at it. Employing these techniques will work wonders. They will make the other person feel validated (stronger relationship) and help us meet any expectations we have agreed to.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Ellie Lord via Unsplash

Cultivation Joy part 3: Family Principles

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”– Mark Twain

For this week’s post, I could have taken part 2 and amplified it to include others in your life. Yet, that would seem too easy. We will walk through some basic principles that are the foundation for joy to manifest in a family setting for today’s post. 

Belonging & Community: Families that thrive in joy have a deep relationship with themselves and their community. Regardless of personality type or demographics (religion, nationality, age, or gender), a person’s greatest need (yearning) is to be seen, heard, validated, and understood. Joy appears in the places where a person can be their authentic self and share their uniqueness with others (see post: The Balance: Authenticity & Belonging). The beautiful thing about environments that support authenticity is they allow the individuals to grow at their own pace and in their own way. Safe environments are fertile soil where joy can take root.

Nature: Spend time as a family outside in nature. Make it an automatic for your children (and you) to spend time outside each day (regardless of weather). Nature can alleviate all anxiety and depression. It increases resilience, self-image, and the ability to engage socially. The long story short on nature is that it heals the brain. As we spend time in nature, we are stimulated by all of our senses. This is because nature is not a controlled environment. Sights, sounds, and obstacles happen all on their own, and we have to navigate them. Nature prompts us to forget about the self (think of all the times you got completely lost in something and forgot self and time…..this only happens through joy. It never happens when the brain is fixated on the self with anxiety). 

Next time in nature, watch your children…I bet you they are playing fully at the moment and not consumed with thoughts of self. And as such, they most likely are exhibiting spontaneous acts of joy.

Sense of Higher Power: Higher power can mean different things to different people. You may have your own definition (God, religion, spiritual sense, or philosophical constructs), but we will define it at a high level for our purposes here. Higher power is that life is greater than the individual. No matter how much we learn or discover, we will never have all the answers on why we are here and what this life is all about. Overall, there is something greater at play than what our minds can comprehend. Allow time to contemplate the mystery of it all and how we each fit beautifully into life’s continual play. Having an understanding of a higher power or higher-order prompts us to keep things in perspective. Maintaining an element of mystery in our lives allows life to shine its novelty and can even pull us out of our darkest moments. Having a sense of high power allows us to savor the time we embrace those around us.

Risk: Risk is important because it pushes the soul. I don’t mean risking of life but trying things even when the outcome is unknown. When we push forward and don’t know how it will end, we are experiencing life fully. We live on the edge and feel truly alive. Think of some of the greatest moments of your life. I bet most of what you can think of contains an element of risk and the unknown. Big and small victories in our life contain the element of risk.

Risk is crucial for children’s development (see post: 5 “Dangerous” Things Your Kids Should Do and Outdoors and Unsupervised…Let ’em Play). Life is full of risks and challenges, and children need opportunities to develop skills in managing risk and making informed judgments about risk. Risk in play helps children to develop important life skills that pay-off later in life. Risk management is an essential building block that all children should practice. 

Humor and Play: I love to be a goofy dad whenever I can. Making my kids laugh is one of the greatest treasures of fatherhood. We also play a lot of games…even chores we turn into a fun activity. Creating environments where humor and play are the norms allows joy to manifest and become habitual. For more information on creating more laughter, check out the post:  5 Ways to Increase Laughter in Your Home.

“Laughter is the GPS of the spirit. It is the sun that drives winter from the human face. It grounds us in a place of hope and is a source of creativity.” -Jeanine Fitzgerald. 

There is nothing better than creating joyous experiences for you and your family. As you go through your day, reflect on those things that bring you joy or that you get completely lost in. It is those things that will provide you guidance on building environments where joy is the norm.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Karina Thomson via Unsplash

Cultivating Joy part 2: Personal Habits

Last week we covered the main difference between happiness and joy. As a super light recap, happiness is something that we chase and is fleeting (cannot hold on to), while joy emerges through the process of a life well-lived (sustainable). This week we will dive into the habits shown to provide the best chance to live a fulfilled and joyous life.

Note that these bullet points are not listed in any order of significance. As you read, you may see that you already do some of these while others may seem a bit foreign…that’s ok. To plant the seeds of a joyous life, you do not need to master all of these. Usually, if you are progressing on a few, the benefits will show. 

  • Work towards a dream, vision, or a goal. Why do you wake in the morning? When you add up all of your actions throughout the day, where is it taking you? When we have a vision for our life, we have a star to guide us. Also, we can have many different goals (big and small) or destinations along the way. Those tethered to a goal/dream experience less depression and anxiety as they walk with purpose. 

I can personally attest to this. Before following my dream, my life was a grind. My pursuits, while fun, often left me hollow when achieved. Take time to build goals to aim towards. Doing this will breathe oxygen into your life.

  • Move! I could have stated exercise here, but that word tends to come with much extra baggage (routines, club memberships, pain…). Just get up and move more than you did yesterday. Moving the body immediately changes the chemistry of the mind and kicks off all of your happy chemicals. If you can, move OUTSIDE. Nature entices all of our senses and heals the mind. Go outside and smell the fresh air, hear the sounds, feel the earth under your feet. 

My personal favorite is walking. This form of exercise all of us can do. We are designed to do it, and it is magic to clear the mind of all of the unnecessary thoughts that have clogged our day.

  • Create healthy relationships by expressing gratitude often. I am sure you have heard of adopting an attitude of gratitude. Well, this really works. Gratitude puts things in perspective (what matters), and when shared with others, it strengthens relationships. We so often walk through life, thankless. I challenge you to express more gratitude each day. You will be amazed at how it changes your mindset to joy and will provide joy to others. Learn to praise and thank the ordinary (Ex. The barista provides your favorite latte perfect everyday…tell them how awesome it is). Often it is what we take for granted that needs the boost of gratitude.

On the flip side, if you have some unhealthy relationships, learn to place boundaries around them. I tend to struggle with this one. I often put too much energy into winning another person who has no desire to change or meet me halfway.  Remember: attitudes are contagious. Carry gratitude at all times and walk away from those are discordant. 

  • Maintain a positive attitude when things don’t go well. Sometimes we don’t win the game or achieve what we set out to do. This is ok, and all we need to do is keep a healthy perspective to move on. It is best to understand that winning and losing are only mindsets. Having a better attitude in any situation will create a win even when the chips are down. Either we are winning, or we are learning. Cherish our wins with gratitude and seek out the silver lining when we don’t come out on top. 
  • Be of service to others! Magic happens when you give your time, money, and attention to another. Volunteering is a wonderful way to be of service, just like moving (listed above), taking time to service to others wards off depression. Moreover, adopt a service mindset. What I mean by this is when you look at your life as a life of service (who can I help now?), we drop the habitual attitude of narcissism. Life becomes fulfilling when we look at our lives as a part of a whole instead of the vacuum of me, me, me, attitude.
  • Take full responsibility for your life and don’t take things personally. This point, I can write another post on (and most likely will). There are no victims in life. Everything that we have decided and chosen to do has brought us to this moment…and brought the results that we are experiencing now. Take ownership of your past, present, and future. Even if you believe in victimhood, it is better to adopt an ownership attitude. Taking full responsibility gives you control and places you in the driver’s seat. Own your life and drive it to the destination you have defined above (Vision, Dreams, Goals).

Taking on this attitude helped me pull myself out of a serious depression about twenty years ago. I cannot stress this point enough and the power it will give you. Ownership clears out all of the self-defeating excuses. It also makes the journey more rewarding as your life unfolds. Certainly, we cannot control the world and how it interacts with us, but we can own how we move and take action (or reaction) from now on.

Hopefully, you have found a couple of habits to work on here. These are tried and true in my life. The results of these habits have spoken for themselves in my day today. Not every day is perfect, but I find myself with a sunny disposition more often than not! 

Next week we will elevate these concepts to parenting and the home environment. Stay tuned….

Be well

MJ

Photo by Anastasia Petrova via Unsplash

Home Culture Part 4: Wellness for All

Wellness is a balance of the external and internal environments of a person

Through this series, we have identified our values, taken a look at our personalities, and reviewed how trust is built between people. This post will put it all together and discuss elements of a home filled with wellness.

A household that operates in full wellness is functioning with authenticity while providing feelings of belonging. The household’s environment ensures everyone’s needs are met, and they are safe to be their authentic self.

“Wellness is not the absence of adversities, but intentionally designing the conditions of an environment to support optimal functioning.” – Jeanine Fitzgerald.

The importance of identifying household values is that the family can get on the same page and aim in the same direction. By understanding these values, a family can align its short and long-term actions to them. A family can also correct or eliminate any areas of non-alignment.

By understanding our own nature (personality) and the nature of the other members of our home, we can ensure that we develop a deep connection. When we develop a deep connection with each other, we honor their authenticity while providing a sense of belonging (remember: people gravitate to where they feel most acknowledged and accepted). Out of this, each member of the family can derive meaning and a purpose for their life. 

Values, personality identification, and trust-building are all internal elements of wellness. What about the external? 

What is the perfect physical home environment? There is no perfect recipe that works for all households. In fact, every home will have its own ingredients for success and wellness. Here are some tips that can help you build an environment that draws out the best in its members:

  • D/I personalities are often on the move. Look to create areas of open space so flowing movement can happen. 
  • S/C personalities? Look to create areas where concentration and solitude can be found.
  • Keep the environment flexible as the house should change with the changing needs of the individuals. My wife and I have had four living room set-up changes since our kids were born (oldest is 7).
  • Artwork, decorations, and themed rooms should all align with the values of the household. By creating visual harmony, we subtly reinforce household values and create an appropriate tone for day-to-day living.
  • Work through your house’s rooms and analyze your stuff (furniture, decorations, and space usage). Remove items that hold no value or get in the way of optimal wellness—less stuff=more freedom.
  • Allow your kids to create their own room design. This is a fun activity where kids can figure out what they like best. Allow them to change often to test things out. 

Hopefully, this series has provided some value for you. Keep in mind that life and parenting are not games where perfection can be achieved. Life and parenting are more about constant discovery and continuous learning. By using your values as guidance and cultivating your relationships, you can develop strong resiliency and wellness of all home members.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Michal Parzuchowski via Unsplash

Home Culture Part 3: Building Trust

In part 2, we took the time to walk through the DISC model’s four basic temperaments. Hopefully, through reading each of those descriptions, you could get a feeling or understanding of where you fell within that model (If you are interested in really nailing it down, click here). Today, we will look at identifying other personalities and building trust in relationships.

When we can fully understand ourselves, we also develop the ability to apply the same principles in understanding others.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained, you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” – Sun Tzu.

I love this quote because it applies to every interaction we will have in our life. Let’s throw away that he is speaking about war and look at the larger picture with the dealings we have with whomever we contact.

Bottom line: all of life’s interactions are, on some level, a negotiation. The more we understand ourselves and others, the greater chance we can develop a healthy relationship with them.

By defining our values, understanding ourselves, and understanding others, we can confidently build trusting relationships where everyone involved comes out ahead.

To start building this trust level, let us revisit the DISC model and look at the left (Task) and right (People) parts of the Axis.

Starting from the left side of the model (D/C), we deal with people who place a high value on getting things done. They like to complete things and achieve. When interacting with us, they will measure and build trust in whether we have done what we said or completed the tasks they have given.

We can see how this looks through a conversation I just had with my 6-year-old son last weekend (my son is a high D temperament). “Daddy, you said in the morning that we could have lollipops after lunch…now it is bedtime, and it is too late to have them. You forgot.” A little trust has been lost. To help him move on or reconcile the situation, lollipops have to happen (and no, he didn’t get one in bed!). 

D/Cs will assign us little tasks (or big) to complete. They will also measure whether or not we are true to the letter of our word (are we dependable?). They are less concerned with circumstances and feelings and focus on the result or goal. If we complete the task, their trust goes up. If we fail to complete the task, their trust goes down.

Conversely, on the right side of the model (I/S), we deal with people who place a high value on feelings and relationships. Tasks come secondary to relationship-centered people. If they feel bonded to the other person, all is well. Trust happens earlier than their D/C counterparts and can be stated as simple as “I like you, and you like me- good, we can move forward.”

My daughter is a high I temperament. Her focus is happiness and having as much fun as she can with others (people-centered). If the lollipop conversation happened with her, she might have said something like this: “Daddy, we were supposed to have lollipops after lunch, but we went to the playground instead…would it be ok if we have them tomorrow?”. Notice the slight difference in approach. She has taken in all of the day’s dealings and is checking in with me to see if it would be all right. Lollipops are secondary, so long as we can remain feeling good with each other. I will be measured on how well I can repair the relationship.

I/Ss establish trust early and then adjust based on whether their relationship has been honored and respected. Unlike task-oriented people, I/S temperaments are more concerned with how they interact with others instead of competing with them. 

Taking time to assess our relationships to get a sense of where they fall in the DISC model will go a long way in building trust. What is great is that we have to pick up enough on the other person to determine what side of the model they fall on. Knowing whether or not their primary tendency favors Task or People will help us accurately set our expectations. It will also help us met their expectations of the relationship. When expectations are set correctly and are met by both parties, trust develops, and communication strengthens.

Next week we will wrap up the Home Culture Series to optimize the household environment for all that inhabit it. This final post will put it all together so you can start to develop strategies to implement effectively.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Dimitri Houtteman via Unsplash

Home Culture Part 2: Who are you?

This week we will do a high-level overview of temperaments and personality types. Yet, before we dig in, let’s recall what we learned last week about identifying values. 

Values: Your values are the things you believe are important in the way you live and work. They (should) determine your priorities, and, deep down, they’re probably the measures you use to tell if your life is turning out the way you want it to (Mindtool).

Hopefully, you took the time to do the value exercise presented last week. If so, you should have two or three core values to build your household on. These values are your guiding principles. They outline how the household should function and what is expected of the occupants. Yet a bigger question remains: who are you with these values? 

“Know Thyself” -Socrates

I know many people don’t have a clear understanding of how they are wired and what their natural tendencies are. If they do know, it has been found through trial and error. This is not a good or bad thing, but it does mean that they might not understand how to set themselves up for success day in and day out. Essentially, it is like driving a car that you have never been in before. Sure, you can drive it around, but you might not know all the cool features or whether or not the vehicle is suited for bad weather. However, if you took the time to do a thorough personality assessment, you would know your personal user manual, so to speak. 

Below I will be pointing out the basics of the DISC model. Out of all of the personality tests I have done and studied, the DISC model is the most accurate and easy to apply in your life. Let us start with a basic picture of what the DISC model looks like:

As you can see, there are four main temperaments or personality types. These types are divided into their own quadrant by tendencies. From top to bottom, we have Outgoing to Reserved. Outgoing people (D, I) tend to speak and move with high amounts of energy. Their primary focus is to speak things out. Reserved people (C, S) tend to speak less and exhibit slower paced action. Their primary focus is to think things through before acting. 

From left to right, we have Task to People. Task-oriented people (D, C) tend to focus more on the job done or accomplished. Task focused people like to get things done. People-oriented people (I, S) like the company of others. Their focus is on others as their main priority rather than the task at hand. People-focused people value other’s opinions and how others feel.

Now we will take a more in-depth look at the individual types. Keep in mind that all of us have a blend of each of these types. However, most of us will heavily gravitate towards one or another in our natural state.

D Temperament (Outgoing/Task)

The D temperament represents about 10% of the population. Some words that describe this personality type: Determined, Demanding, Direct, Doer. Their basic needs are to have challenge, choice, and control. At their best, they can accomplish whatever they set their mind to. At their worst, they can run over others without even realizing it.

I Temperament (Outgoing/People)

The I temperament represents about 30% of the population. Some words that describe this personality type: Inspiring, Influencing, Impulsive, Imaginative. Their basic needs are to have recognition, approval, and popularity. At their best, they connect with others through their abilities and their optimism. At their worst, they can be a flash in the pan and let their emotions get the best of them.

S Temperament (Reserved/People)

The S temperament represents about 35% of the population. Some words to describe this personality type: Supportive, Steady, Serve, Sentimental. Their basic needs are to have teamwork, support, and no conflict. At their best, they take care of and show empathy for their relationships. At their worst, they can have difficulty being decisive and overthink decisions that need to be made.

C Temperament (Reserved/Task) 

The C temperament represents about 25% of the population. Some words to describe this personality type: Cautious, Calculating, Correct, Cognitive. Their basic needs are to have quality information, excellence, and value. At their best, they are most informed are very thorough with all of their dealings. At their worst, they can lack flexibility as they like to see everything proven out before action.

So there is the basic rundown of the DISC personality types. How does this play out in life? Imagine if you were at a party with four others that represent these types. It is time to decide what food the party needs….you might hear them say something like this:

C: “I have been reading up on this restaurant in town. It uses all organic ingredients and has a lot of great reviews online.”

I: “Wow! I was just there, and the atmosphere is awesome! Their pizza is the best I have ever had!”

D: “I know exactly where that is, and the best way to get there. I will drive. Is everyone ready to go?”

S: “That sounds good to me. Is everyone in agreement? I will check out the menu on the way and am sure I can find something to eat.”

To wrap up, when you start to identify your strengths and weaknesses through your blend of personality, you can strategize and set yourself up for success with whatever you take on. This post was merely a light overview of these personality types. To really take it to the next level, I would suggest having a full assessment done. If interested in having an assessment done, please use our Contact page, and we can discuss how to make this happen. 

Next week, we will discuss temperaments and how to build stronger, trusting relationships with the household members. In the meantime, take a look around and see if you can start identifying where other people’s personalities fit into the DISC model.

Be well

-MJ

A special thanks to The Fitzgerald Institute and their materials to help shape the descriptions of the temperaments in this post.

Photo by Ludomit via Unsplash

Home Culture Part 1: Values

In last week’s post, we touched upon wellness and creating a home environment where everybody’s needs are met. We specifically pointed out the friction between the sense of belonging and authenticity. To this point, we reviewed the slippery slope where people begin to choose the comfort of conformity over a sense of authenticity.

Over the next 4 weeks, we will dig into the steps of creating a Champion Family culture, a wellness culture that supports authenticity while providing belonging to the individuals. There are 4 steps that we will discuss (one step per week), and they are:

  • Identifying and defining the values of the household
  • Discovering our own personalities. What are our natural strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies? 
  • Understanding your personality with other personalities in the house and reviewing strategies to strengthen those relationships.
  • Adjusting the environments to support the values and the uniqueness of the family

Wikipedia has a great definition of culture, but for our purposes, we will define culture as the social behavior, knowledge, beliefs, customs, capabilities, traditions, and habits of the house’s individuals. 

Values: The importance of identification and defining

“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same, but you leave ’em all over everything you do.” –Elvis Presley.

I love the above quote from Elvis, but I would even take it a step further. Just like fingerprints, most people are not even aware that they are leaving them around. Whether you are aware of them or not, you and everyone in life have values, and they are on full display to be observed. Some values are easy to identify (trust and honest communication), while others have no clue that they exist (needing the latest smartphone or technology).  To this end, it is essential periodically to stop and question what our values are.  If we don’t do this, our values will be formed through our surrounding culture, environment, and other people.  Personally, I like to have a greater sense of autonomy and don’t want others to shape what I find most important.

Once we have identified our values, we can start to clean them up and provide a meaningful definition for them. By doing this, we can see what values are fundamental, what values are minor, and what values get in the way of a wellness household. From our defined values, we can now align our daily actions to these values. Your values will serve as your North Star in everything that you do.

Exercise: Over the next week, set aside a half-hour and write out what is truly important in your life. You might write down things like I value trust, affection, quiet time, quality time with family, or family dinners every night. Your focus should be on what you would like your ideal household environment to be. 

A little trick to uncover your hidden values (blind guiding forces), take a few moments to analyze behaviors that trigger you emotionally.  Strong emotional reactions often happen when a value has been violated.

Once you have a good list going rank them by importance. In this second step, we are looking to find two or three that we can build around. What values are the most important to you and your uniqueness? Then work this list over with your significant other to find agreement on your guiding values.

The final step is to try to work out a statement that encompasses what your household stands for. An example might sound something like this: “Our household is a place where love is given freely. We cherish quality time together to share (and listen) to each other’s daily adventures. We always support each other even when we might not always agree.”

Identifying and defining values can be an eye-opening exercise. Be open and honest with yourself when doing the exercise. Also, do not judge what you may find. Remember, we are only uncovering here…not defending how we conduct our lives currently. We are looking to find the best values and eliminate the ones that are getting in the way.

Next week will post up the frame work of personalities so we can begin to understand ourselves better.

Be well

-Mj

Photo by Tyler Nix via Unsplash

The Balance: Authenticity and Belonging

Today’s post is really just the tip of a large iceberg (called Wellness) that we will uncover in the coming weeks. Hopefully, these words will give you some great triggering thoughts on how to adjust your home environment to maximize your family’s wellness potential.

As a dad, I find myself trying to balance out my household every day. My goal is that everyone is operating in a state of wellness and not fear. A household that operates in full wellness is functioning with authenticity while providing feelings of belonging.  What does this mean? It means that the household’s environment ensures everyone’s needs are met, and they are safe to be their authentic self.

Easy enough, right? I wish, but being authentic and feeling that you belong often run in different directions! 

My whole life has been friction between these two dichotomies. 44 years of trying to fit in (seeking belonging/significance) while also trying to be who I naturally am (emerging authenticity). Do you see the rub?

All people will gravitate to where they feel most significant. Humans are tribal animals and are wired this way. It is our natural survival mechanism to seek belonging. Belonging happens in many ways, good and bad (loving empathy, conformity, acceptance, fitting in, or sharing similar thoughts/values). 

Authenticity, on the other hand, stands firm and declares: “This is who I am!” Every time someone placates pleases or conforms; they are (on some level) betraying their authenticity. 

I am a firm believer that authenticity in every moment should be the true goal of everyone’s life. As parents, our overarching goal is to foster the emergence of authenticity in our children. Moreover, there is only ever going to be one us, so it is our job to fully express this unique identity to the world…conformity at its worst is a life wasted. 

But our basic need is Belonging….

So how do we get these two ideals to play together? 

Acceptance and celebration of our diversities.

A strong and healthy household creates a culture that accepts the uniqueness of the individuals who occupy it. When this happens, members no longer seek to conform and can allow their authenticity to emerge.

Home environments where acceptance and differences are celebrated to become safe spaces for all members to operate in. Wellness takes root and thrives. Children develop well adjusted, and parents can hold their heads high.

Next week I will dig into identifying the elements of great family culture and how to create a wellness culture for your home. 

But in the meantime, I would like you to think about the following questions:

Are differences celebrated in your home, or does everyone try to change (mold) each other into their right version?

What is your current family culture, and how would you like to see it change?

Have a great week, and share if this post has helped you.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Max Goncharov via Unsplash

Hesitation: The Mind’s Quicksand

Happy New Year! 

With the new year, I have made a couple of resolutions to improve my life. I do this every year, and each year I have mixed results. I attribute my mixed results to the fact that I used to wait on inspiration to take action. Perhaps you know the feeling. Inspiration is great when you are all fired up about something, but what happens when that emotion fades? We end up slowly migrating back to our old habits…back to our comfort zone. Not this year. Not for me and not for you!

It ends up that waiting on motivation or inspiration to strike is a terrible bet. It is a losing proposition for long term change. Emotions change day in and day out, so waiting on or riding a fleeting emotion is not sustainable. If you want to change your life, you must build better habits. 

How do you build better habits? Action. Yes, take action….but act now… don’t delay!

Here is some science for you (outlined from the book noted below): We have roughly five seconds to act on a thought before our mind begins to kill it off. Should we take action in the first five seconds, our brain will work really hard at doing the “new” thing. However, if we deliberate beyond five seconds, we are geared to shut it down and figure out ways not to do it. It is the brain’s way of protecting itself since the “new” things are unknown.

He who hesitates is lost….we have five seconds to get our butt in gear! Please test it out and see what happens when you wait.

How did I come across this information? Well, the universe responded to my observances and thoughts after watching my son attempt obstacles at our American Ninja Warrior gym. One Saturday, midway through his session, I began to notice how he approached every new obstacle. He would square up to it, take a deep breath, clap his hands once, and go full speed at it. I chuckled at first when I noticed this, but it was strangely mesmerizing.

The clapping of the hands triggers he picked up from me. Watching him made me analyze how I routinely shift mindsets to go after things. When I call my kids to come inside, I will get their attention by finishing my statement with a clap of the hands (“Let’s go guys!” *CLAP*). At work, getting ready to teach a class, I would have some internal pump up dialogue and one big clap (yes, even at work). At table tennis, right before starting a match ….yep, I clap. Clapping signifies that the thinking is done, and it is now time to get done to business.

The following Monday, I came across and listened to a Podcast with Mel Robbins, the author of the book: The Five-Second Rule. Listening to her, I was blown away by her own story and by the science she had behind it. It was like the universe was emphasizing my Saturday thoughts that I was really onto something. Suppose you would like to listen to the podcast, click here. If you want to check out this book (I am mid-way through), click here.

Since that day, I have been putting the five-second rule to work. Habits are changing, and I am getting more done than I ever have before. As my habits are changing, the frequency of happiness, contentment, and inspiration is also changing…I experience them more often.

Action is the key to any sustainable change. Action rewires the brain. Even the smallest action is one step closer to your goal than you were before. Actions that “fail” is still better than the action you failed to take.

So I wish you success in this new year and when you have that great thought that enters your brain…start the stopwatch…you have five seconds to begin to make it a reality. Let’s go! *Clap*

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Veri Ivanovo via Unsplash

Glance Back and Leap Forward

Champ Dads going strong into 2020!

WOW! This year has gone by fast! Within a week, this site will have its first anniversary. Over that time, we have put up 64 posts and 7 different pages of content. Current day, all of the content has broken down into two categories: Personal Strategies and Parenting Strategies.

As we close out this year and look forward to 2020, we will be shifting focus from blogging to creating video content. The blogging will still happen but on a lesser scale.

We have a series coming out that will be a stockpile of short videos of things that all dads should know how to do. Topics will range all over the map, from how to tie a Windsor knot (tie) to how to shuck an oyster without hurting yourself. 

Once we get the above video series rolling, we will be putting together interviews with various Champion Dads and thought leaders in our local community.

Okay! After reviewing the stats this year, I present to you the top 10 least viewed pages. Yep…..the least viewed. Why the least viewed? Because this website took some time to gain a solid readership in its first year. Therefore, the odds are that many might have missed several posts while we were finding our way. So take a peek and view some posts that started it all.

  1. Be a good enough dad part I
  2. Agent of Change
  3. Influential Matters: The Tale of two Dads
  4. Three steps to morning freedom
  5. 5 Ways to increase laughter in your home
  6. A Perfect Mess
  7. Authenticity part I
  8. Traditions: The binding stories of our life
  9. Sacred Time: a pillar for mental wellness
  10. Break the mold: Inspire your Child’s authentic self to emerge

May you have a great and safe end to 2019. Please continue to join us in 2020 as we continue to gain traction and build out this wonderful Champion Dads community. If you have any comments or suggestions please reach out to us through our contact page.

Love, Peace, and Harmony,

Be well!

-MJ

Photo by Trent Szmolnik via Unsplash

Failure: I am looking forward to it!

As this year is wrapping up, I start my annual process of reflecting on the year just completed and thinking of a few goals for the new year. Many of us go through this process…parties and celebrations happen and are followed up with some resolutions. (How much is that gym membership?)

I have one vague and weird goal: I want to fail more than I ever have before. Yep…fail. Crazy right?!

Let me unpack it a little bit, and maybe you can take away a few nuggets to help you on your journey. 

Failure is the pathway to being a Champion. The more you fail at things, the more you will learn valuable lessons and information. Yes, this does sound simple, but how many of us embrace the failure for all of the glory that it is? Not many-and if you said, “I do MJ!” I would call your bluff and put all my chips in the center of the table.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

― Thomas A. Edison

In my life, I have fought so hard to win and win over others. However, this attitude of winning, when unchecked, has wreaked havoc on my happiness. This habit of trying to hit the goal or please, results in a frantic attitude of not losing. Trying not to lose is the perfect recipe to lose. 

“I can’t give you a sure-fire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time.” 

― Herbert Bayard Swope

If you want to win or accomplish something, the proper mindset is to focus on the process…the moment. Anytime we focus on the result, our attention is misplaced. Remember: placing too much attention on future thoughts generates worry and anxiety…ain’t nobody got time for that! Stay in the moment and focus squarely on the process.

Now I aim to fail in a smart way (I fail to achieve and learn…not because I am a masochist). So here are my guidelines so that I can fail smartly:

  1. I am going to go hard at the goals that I set. This means that I will take incredible action in the direction of the goal without overthinking it. Whenever I find myself dwelling on the goal, I will stop, figure out the next best action to take, and then take action. 5…4…3…2…1…GO!
  2. I am going to study and take notes every time a failure happens. Having the habit of check and adjust will allow you to eliminate the failure from happening again. Each failure has valuable information to be gleaned. Embrace it, study it, adjust, and then take more action! 
  3. I am not going to take any of it personally! No one can choose their emotions, but everyone can control how they act and respond to their emotions when they happen. Pause when failure happens. Feel the feelings associated with it and then get back to step number 1 and 2 above. Remember, emotions rise on their own accord and have important information for us. Honor them and then move on. Or, as others have said, “Fail fast.” 
  4. I am not going to concern myself with what others think. That is their business, and I will be too focused on the process at hand to carry their views with me (don’t accept criticism from someone you wouldn’t seek advice from).
  5. I am going to have fun while I fail. This little step is often overlooked in life because most of us carry around the attitude of no pain; no gain. Guess what? Let’s have fun while we go through the struggle and pain. Like I say at work: “I have no problem working hard, but I will have fun doing it.” Maintaining a playful attitude will really help keep your emotions in check and help you stay healthy in your pursuits.

I am really excited about this year coming up. I am moving in directions that I have never gone to before. I have big ideas for this site that I am going to have to learn the ropes on. We have a video series in the works. We have inspirational videos on the way. We have interviews that will take place. So, I will go hard, and I expect there to be lots of failures along the way…but no worries as failure are the pathway to success.

Yep-I am going to fail my way to victory. It’s going to be fun and I hope you join in 2020!

Be well

-MJ

The Flywheel Mind Revisited

Just over a month ago, I started a thirty-day journey to stop my “flywheel” mind. In those thirty days, my goal was to practice doing one thing at a time and to meditate every day. I have had some mixed results with this adventure, but I did start to build some good habits while I regained control.

Let me start with where I fell the most. Meditating every day proved to be more difficult than I expected. When I remembered to do it, I was pressed with the urge to get something else done. This urge is the mind’s attempt to push its way through life. Meditation’s goal is to let go of those urges. Thoughts will arise, and you let them pass without attaching to them. So doing nothing but letting the thoughts go is quite a hard practice. Yet, every time I could sit in peace and meditate, I came away from experience balanced and found myself in a more rejuvenated state.

If you are looking to build a habit of meditation into your life, let me offer you these tips:

  • Schedule your meditation each day. When you set aside sacred time to sit, you are signaling to your brain that this is important. For me, what works best is to have it at the same time every day. This way, you are developing a routine that you will create your habit around.
  • If you are new to this practice, start with some guided meditations. Having guidance to keep you focused will be a lifesaver while practicing. Guided meditations provide you the tools to build a strong habit. Without some basic tools to navigate, it will be easy for the mind to run rampant and overwhelm you. There are some great apps you can get on your phone for this. Headspace is my preferred.

Where I had the most success during this time was in focusing on one thing at a time. Often, when my mind would start to race, I would remind myself to pick one thing and move forward. Staying in the moment with the one task at hand provided incredible relief and balance for my mind. Perhaps the greatest win with this practice is that I do not allow my brain to fire off all of the feelings of panic when I am singular in focus. This has a downstream effect by lowering the body’s stress response over time. Essentially, while staying centered, you are training your mind to stay in a state of wellness instead of survival.

If you are looking to build habits around singular focus, here are a couple of things that worked for me: 

  • When the mind starts to run off and fixate on all of the worries or to-do list for the day, please take a moment to write them down. Writing out a list is like opening a valve on a pressure cooker. Once they are on paper, pick one and take action. This way, you have acknowledged the thoughts and taken back control through the action.
  • Note the feelings associated with each item. Do not try to fix or change the feeling. Just be a space for the feeling to be present. Allowing the emotion to run its course removes it from the body. I go into great detail in this post how to regulate here: Flight…The other quiet emotional trigger response (and how to get out of it)

Getting in control of your mind is perhaps the greatest achievement you can have in your life. It can be very hard at first, but you can turn it into an ally with the right tools and practice (habits). So, instead of your mind resembling a flywheel that is out of control, it may now resemble a fidget spinner. A spinner that is balanced on a flat surface. It is still running, but it is not all-consuming. We can enjoy the spinner while it works for us and not against us.

Be well

-MJ

Photo provided by Ian Dooley via Unsplash

The Entitlement Antidote: Gratitude

If you are like me, you probably would say that you want to give your kids the world. I mean, as you look at it, love is that way. You want to provide for them and give them all that they need.

However, if you are also like me, you have a big problem with attitudes of entitlement. This attitude is defiant to my personal belief that everything in life is a gift and is not owed to you.

The idea for this post came from reading my daughter’s and son’s wish list letter to Santa. Instead of a standard letter format with storied content, it read more like an order fulfillment request. They are young but are just at the age where they can start to think of others instead of solely themselves.

So there is the rub for this post. I want to give my kids the world, but I do not want them to develop even a smidge of an entitled feeling. During the holidays, this can prove very hard to do as I want my kids to experience a magical Christmas with lots of stuff under the tree. So how do we give them stuff without the development of an entitled mind? Gratitude.

The entitled mind says I deserve this, or I am owed this. The grateful mind says everything I receive is a gift.

(In my research to develop some good ideas to help them shift their attitude, I came across a great book: Dr. Robert A Emmons: The Little Book of Gratitude. According to Dr. Emmons, the attitude of gratitude has many other benefits besides being a well-adjusted person. Gratitude boosts the immune system, improves sleep, lowers depression, and helps with feelings of compassion.)

How will I battle the “get me” attitude and assist my kids with developing gratitude? Thank you cards/notes!

Thank you notes go beyond the standard lip service of please and thank you. Great thank you notes should express the following:

  • Point out intention– The receiver can identify and express the intent of why the gift was given. “Thank you so much for footballWe were never able to find the one that we lost, and now we can play again…”
  • Cost– Cost comes down to time and money….what did the person give up to make this gift happen? The key point here is to recognize that the cost of a thing ($) is not the only cost (time, effort). “I can’t believe that you were able to track down the popular doll. It was sold out everywhere; I bet you had to travel to a lot of stores….”
  • How it helps you– Identifying how this will benefit your life or enhancing your life shows that we are all dependent on others. “Now that I have the new art set, I can paint pictures that I could only imagine before…”

Depending on how old your kids are, I want to point out that they may not articulate what has been outlined above. In these cases, it is quite all right to map it out for them. It has been my experience that I have received a handwritten card or letter any time it is a gift unto itself. The recipient won’t care too much about how it was created and is more likely to be grateful for it. For younger children, have them sign their name or draw a picture. For older children, push them to find their own words of gratitude.

Taking time to handwrite a card is a wonderful practice in grateful contemplation. It slows down the world and allows the child to appreciate the moments in which things are good. They may not feel it at the moment but developing this gratitude attitude will greatly enhance their lives down the road.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Aaron Burden via Unsplash

Give Thanks, Hugs, and Feelings of Significance

Be A Champion Dad wishes you the best this Thanksgiving. This day is more than being indulgent and watching football (or gearing up for Black Friday).
Thanksgiving is when families and friends can unite and celebrate all of the blessings they have received throughout the year. It is a time for reflection and an opportunity to show appreciation for everyone in their lives (past and present).
Slow down today and embrace the moment. Give extra hugs and make others feel significant.
Below is a song that Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers) recited to the US Senate in 1969. His goal this day was to defend and support funding for PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, in response to the significant proposed cuts by President Nixon.
I have shared a lot about emotional regulation this year, and the song encapsulates the true spirit. Fred was a master in making children feeling valued and heard. He addressed real feelings and problems. He hit hard topics headfirst and normalized them—what a wonderful soul.

“What do you do with the mad that you feel? When you feel so mad you could bite. When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong, and nothing you do seems very right. What do you do? Do you punch a bag? Do you pound some clay or some dough? Do you round up friends for a game of tag or see how fast you go? It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong. And be able to do something else instead, and think this song —

I can stop when I want to. Can stop when I wish. Can stop, stop, stop anytime….And what a good feeling to feel like this! And know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there’s something deep inside that helps us become what we can. For a girl can be someday a lady, and a boy can be someday a man.”

What would the world look like if every child was taught these skills? Imagine what a difference we would see if adults and children honored their feelings and chose their response to them….instead of getting consumed by them…..

….speaking of consuming….I smell a turkey that needs my attention!

Be well and eat extra pie!

-MJ

Photo by Suzy Brooks via Unsplash

Home Environments: Emotional Safety

There are times where I am baffled by my children. It is like I have a couple of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hydes. When we go out for the day (anywhere away from home), my kids behave very well. They watch, listen, and generally stick close to my wife and me. When we are at home, though, it is a very different story. My kids are quick to act up at home, be crazy, and run afoul with sinister giggles. Perhaps, your kids are the same…and guess what? I think this is a great sign that we are doing something right.

A great home environment is one that creates and maintains emotional safety for the child. When a child feels emotionally safe, they are free to express themselves fully let their hair down. The home life should be like the prototype lab of a company. In the lab, ideas are expressed, things are tried, adjusted, tried again. The home lab (environment) thoughts and expressions are made that might not be world ready….and that is ok! Sometimes things get wild as the kids learn how to be well-adjusted citizens. And like a prototype lab, the home environment should be a safe place to work things out and develop.

What is emotional safety? Emotional safety is where a person can be who they are without concern of judgment, punishment, or disrespect.

“Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.” – Fred Rogers.

There are five components of emotional safety. Each of the components is important in cultivating a safe home environment and rock-solid relationships.

  • Trust: All emotional safety begins here. Trust is built in many ways, but for the home environment, the child should rely on a consistent support experience. When running a household, this is often facilitated by making everyone feel significant and heard.
  • Empathy: A great home is one where all of the members are understanding and are sensitive to the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of each other. The family unit shares the victories, hardships, and drudgery of day to day life.
  • Non-judgment: We accept each family member as they are while tempering down the feelings of who we want them to be. This acceptance provides the freedom for the child to develop their authenticity through their unique individual needs.
  • Emotional Respect: A safe home environment is where feelings can be expressed without repercussions. Emotions are honored and are not made out to be good or bad. In this respect, I find it helpful to remind myself that I can control what I think, but I cannot control the feelings that arise. Therefore, I do not judge emotions when they happen to my children. Then I can coach the child in how to manage the emotion without shame or guilt.
  • Individuality Respect: We respect the similarities and differences of all members of the household. In this environment, we share admiration towards each other and demonstrate their importance.

Emotional safety is not only for the home environment. Utilize these five components everywhere you go and with everyone you meet. You will be amazed at the transformation in your relationships when these five areas are honored. Hopefully, this post today brought some awareness in creating the ultimate home environment for your children (loved ones).

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Allen Taylor via Unsplash

3 Questions to Unearth Your Calling

Over the last couple of posts you probably get the sense that I have gone through a lot in life lately. However, to the outside observer, I am just a happy-go-lucky guy marching through his life. So the question may beg- how do you not let life beat you down? Or, how do you shake off the garbage and keep your head held high? Well, the answer is simple: Know your Calling, your Why, your Bliss.

*For purposes of clarity I will only use Why going forward. However, Calling, Why, and Bliss are all interchangeable.

This year I have written a few of posts that speak to cultivating an unbeatable attitude in life:

While I enjoy these posts, there is one thing they do not assist with: Helping someone find their Why.

I see so many people running off to achieve their way through life, yet they don’t have an internal guiding system. It is similar to a person stepping on the gas to a car but without any steering wheel control. Inevitably they crash. Alternatively, we could say that they are forever lost since they do not know where they are going.

Knowing your Why will anchor you in your life, will provide unlimited inspiration, and help keep you afloat when all seems lost.

The Why is bigger than the self. It extends beyond ego and guides us along like a GPS, even when we try to fight it. Which leads me to a profound truth I have come to realize as I got older: 

The life of just personal achievement eventually leads to hollowness. 

Perhaps, like me, at times, you have had days where you ask: What is the point of it all? Is this all there is? I thought once I hit my goals, I would be happy, but I am not.….

Maybe you don’t know your Why, or perhaps you have a sense of what it is but have not defined it. Below are the three questions to answer, which will put you on the right path of cultivating (drawing out) your Why.

  1. What is it that you most enjoy? List out activities that continually bring you the most joy. What are those things that you do that make your heart sing? These are the things you wake up early on the weekend for…or the things you would do for the sake of doing them because they excite you.
  2. What is it that you are naturally good at? List out all of your natural talents or things that have always just come to you. We all have talents. Study yourself and jot down your abilities you naturally excel at. What are your superpowers?
  3. How can I be of service to the world? Using the answers from the first two questions start to connect the dots on how to provide value to others. This question is the binding agent for your Why. It is critical to be of service, or you will end up in The Meaningless Hollow*.

As an example of how this works, let’s examine how mine was unearthed (this is a very high level, but at least we can get a sense of the process).

What do I most enjoy? I love working, laughing, and connecting with others. My life is about the play, even when I am working. I find the most joy when I am sharing and listening to life experiences. I love inspiring smiles in others and helping them feel significant.

What am I naturally good at? Sports of any kind. Yet if I dig a little deeper, I have this uncanny ability to see the larger picture, game plan, and figure out a way to win. I love studying strategy. Even when all seems lost, I can figure out how to get to the finish line first. To me, everything is just a puzzle to figure out. Yet, even when I don’t win, I come back stronger, smarter, and more confident.

How can I be of service? I have gone through many hard times in my life (like everyone) and have landed on my feet. I can connect and teach others how to define their values and goals. Then I can help them strategize and figure out a game plan to live their best life. By connecting authentically, I can inspire others to stand up and kick some ass! (By kicking ass, I mean own your life and put in the work. There are no victims)

This example illustrates why Be A Champion Dad is in existence. The Champ Dad site is devoted to helping dads (others) navigate their chaotic life. It aims to assist all dads to declutter their minds, sharpening their dreams, and living the life they envision in their hearts.

I cannot stress the importance of uncovering your calling. Once it is unearthed, you will have an inexhaustible light to follow through good and bad times. You will always have the wind in your sails even on the days where you want to sleep the day away.

Answer the questions and get on with living your bliss. There is nothing greater!

Be well

-MJ

*The Meaningless Hollow: A trapped and fearful state of mind. A mind that is imprisoned by obligations and expectations of others. A depressed state where personal achievement no longer can cover up the void within one’s heart.

Photo by Ambir Tolang via Unsplash

Stopping the Flywheel Mind

Earlier this year, I wrote a post called Endless DistractionI detailed how I was in the habit of always checking or reaching for my phone. I also touched upon how these mindless (or programmed) activities take us out of the moment (put away the phone when you are in the presence of your children). A little later, I wrote a post, Too Busy to Arouse Your Soul, in which we offered a couple of suggestions to get out from under the weight of the too busy mindset.

 

Today is a slightly different spin on those earlier posts. Not too much has changed for me personally since I wrote those. However, I am in much more control of the impulses that drive my phone use. This post is an examination of the current state of my mind. See, I still have too much to do. I am still strongly drawn to checking my phone for texts, emails, news, and whatever social media apps I use.

 

I have observed an unsettling pattern of late. My brain will not stop racing. It is always on the go…to the next thought, next worry, next thing to do, or the next problem to solve. There is little to no stillness even when I have no external distractions. Let me unpack this a little bit. My mind seems to be in a holding pattern of unrest. I have gone so long now in trying to get everything done that my mind is always seeking or moving to the next thing. It is much like a flywheel continuing with its own crazy momentum. I seemed to have taught it to be this way, and now I aim to stop it in its tracks!

 

It stinks, and here are some symptoms that you may share the flywheel mind:

 

  • Does your mind endlessly loop on a worry?
  • Do you have trouble thinking one thought through to its completion without jumping to something new?
  • Are you quick to self-judgment as you remember things you have missed or recognize an expectation you did not meet?
  • Do you feel like your mind is going to crack if one more thing gets thrown your way?
  • Do you ever think, “once I get all of this done, then I can relax and be happy”?

Well, here is how I am personally going to slow down and stop my flywheel mind. Over the next thirty days, I will follow these two approaches to get back to sanity:

  1. Meditation. For at least 10 minutes a day, I will sit in stillness with no external distractions. 10 minutes might not seem like a lot, but science supports that this is a great starting point to quiet the mind.
  2. No more multitasking. I will make a tremendous conscious effort only to do one thing at a time. All of my focus will be centered on my current task. When distracted, I will recenter around my chosen task. Multitasking trains the mind to be habitually unfocused. Dr. Travis Bradberry said this about it:

“Focus on one thing at a time. Focusing completely on a single task is a big risk—the risk of failing at something to which you’ve given your all. That’s why it’s so uncomfortable. The alternative—multitasking—is a real productivity killer. Research conducted at Stanford confirms that multitasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time. The researchers found that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information cannot pay attention, recall information, or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully. When you spread yourself too thin and chase after every bright, shiny thing that catches your eye, you’re missing out on an important opportunity for personal growth.” To read the full posting click here.

In thirty days I will report back with how my experiment worked. Hopefully I will have retrained my mind how to rest, focus, and be at peace.

Peace of mind is a habit and more valuable than my worried to-do list. It is ok to stop racing….there is no finish line to cross. Peace is the way.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Ben White via Unsplash

Flight…The other quiet emotional trigger response (and how to get out of it)

“Being human is not about being any one particular way; it is about being as life creates you—with your own particular strengths and weaknesses, gifts and challenges, quirks and oddities.”―Kristin Neff

I have a problem which I bet a lot of you also suffer from. I get caught in a loop of self-pity from time to time. It is not all the time, mind you, but when it happens, I hear my inner voice say things like:

“What is wrong with you?”

“Why can’t I ever get this, right?”

“I am worthless.”

I know that seems I bit dramatic, but when things go wrong or “off the rails” in your life, what is your mind telling you?

People tend to have one of two responses to these situations. I have both, and my response is generally based on the circumstance in which I fall down. Each stems from past trauma. Everyone has some past trauma as no one gets out of childhood without things to work on.

  1. Fight: Push and fight back and defend their actions at all costs. By trying to overcome or achieve through the situation, they can feel right and justified.
  2. Flight: Flee the situation and try to escape. By running from the situation, they avoid it and then quietly beat themselves upon the failure.

In both cases, the lesson of the moment is lost. In the first one, we are defending our actions to the world. The trauma/wound does not heal. I wrote about this in some detail in Diffusing your Emotional Triggers. In the second one, we run and hide. We hide from the lesson, and the trauma/wound is ignored….only waiting for the next time to be triggered…and emerge bigger while further deepen our self-pity.

In this post, we will focus on the flight response and quickly nip this in the bud before we become downtrodden with inadequacy feelings.

The following 3-step method in dealing with self-pity I picked up from Gabby Bernstein.

  1. Notice the feeling of self-pity and flight. When you pause, ask yourself, “how does this thought make me feel?”. Becoming aware of the trigger and identifying the emotions behind it will put the breaks on the situation. This will stop the emotional slide.
  2. Immediately forgive yourself for the thought. Remember: you are not your thoughts, so don’t identify completely with them. They are just like clouds that pass through the sky…always coming and going. Forgiveness further allows you to gain positive mental traction.
  3. Choose another thought to focus on. Pick the next best thought in your mind. Pick a thought to think about what you believe in and are passionate about.

Let’s work this out in an example. You have a meeting with your boss, and he tears into you for not meeting expectations. Instead of fighting, you hear him out and head back to work. Your day is ruined as you start to identify with his perceptions of you. Driving home, you start to have wave after wave of self-pity feelings. You feel worthless…but then you remember: YOUR VALUE IS NOT DEFINED BY THE OPINIONS OF OTHERS…so you stop and acknowledge the thought “Here is the self-pity thought again, and how does it make me feel? Wow, I feel like crap, and this is not fun. It’s ok that I have these thoughts, but I refuse to be owned by them. Instead, I will focus on how I have great work habits and a great family to come home to. Tomorrow is another day and a new beginning.”

By becoming aware and acknowledging the pity spiral, you have now given yourself space and freedom to heal and grow. Following these three steps will allow you to build stronger habits around self-compassion. As the habits build, you will become more resilient and have greater compassion for yourself and others.

 

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Allie Smith via Unsplash

What you might have missed….

We are fast approaching the one year mark since the Be A Champion Dad site took off! Over this time, we have had over 50+ posts with insight into being a better parent and/or person. The odds are you might have missed some of our most popular posts. Below I have listed four of our top posts during this time. Enjoy!

5 “Dangerous” things you should let your kid do– Are you a parent who likes to hover and intervene in your child’s play when they are about to do something scary? If so, then this is a must-read. Lean into their curiosity instead of shutting it down. Coaching them has a much greater impact than not allowing your kids to take on a “dangerous” task.

3 Habits to Help Disable Depression– This is one of my personal favorites, and I use it more often than I would like to admit. Heading into winter and the darker months, many of us may suffer from the seasonal affective disorder. This post gives you some good tips and reminders on how to battle back to a healthy mindset.

Outdoors and Unsupervised…Let’em Play!– This one closely relates to the “5 Dangerous” post listed above. Unsupervised play is required for kids to develop into well-adjusted adults properly. Heck, if my kids are acting up and fighting indoors…I boot them outside and get them running. The outdoors is the elixir that heals all of our souls. Get them out there and let them be!

Traditions: The Binding Stories of Our Life– As we rumble on into the holiday season, take a moment to pause and reflect. Traditions (whether societal, family or personal) play a wonderful role in our life. Traditions provide meaning and connectivity with others and our own divinity. Whether you dreamed it up or it has been passed down through generations..take part! Traditions have value and help you tell the story of your life.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Vidar Nordi-Mathisen via Unsplash

First Hour Needs: Optimizing your child’s well-being

Needs…we all have them. Hopefully our needs are met on a routine basis. In this post we will be reviewing some of the basic needs your child may have to function optimally. Specifically, we will be looking at addressing these needs within the first hour from when the wake in the morning. These are call first hour needs.

Two years ago I read a book that transformed how I handle my morning with my kids. The book was called The Dance of Interaction by Jeanine Fitzgerald. In it Jeanine discusses first hour needs and how meeting these needs are critical to developing a secure relationship with your child.

As stated throughout many of Champion Dads other posts– Behaviors are an end result. When the child’s needs are met they develop and exhibit good behaviors. When the child’s needs go unmet they develop and exhibit problematic behaviors. The key is to address the child’s needs as soon as possible in the morning. By meeting their individual needs the child is off to a great start and has the space to deepen their resiliency while taking on the day.

Needs…we all have them. Hopefully, our needs are met on a routine basis. In this post, we will be reviewing some of the basic needs your child may have to function optimally. Specifically, we will address these needs within the first hour from when they wake in the morning. These are called first hour needs. 

Two years ago, I read a book that transformed how I handle my morning with my kids. The book was called The Dance of Interaction by Jeanine Fitzgerald. In it, Jeanine discusses first hour needs and how meeting these needs are critical to developing a secure relationship with your child. 

As stated throughout, many of Champion Dads’ other posts– Behaviors are an end result. When a child’s needs are met, they develop and exhibit good behaviors. When the child’s needs go unmet, they develop and exhibit problematic behaviors. The key is to address the child’s needs as soon as possible in the morning. By meeting their individual needs, the child is off to a great start and has the space to deepen their resiliency while taking on the day.

Since reading her book, I have made meeting these needs a habit for my kids and me. The results have been amazing and have really assisted in starting the day on the right foot. I have provided an example below of my interaction with both of my kids. Then I have listed out the ten needs with a short definition. Keep in mind that my kids are both under 8 years old, and as they grow, I will adjust how I meet these needs in the future (needs never go away). You don’t have to meet all the needs listed, but I make sure I meet some of them every time (Acknowledgement/Touch/Encouragement/Nutrition).

I am consistently the first one up in our house. So when I hear the footsteps on the stairs, I get ready to pause whatever I am doing to acknowledge my kids. When one appears, I make eye contact, smile, and wave them over (acknowledgment). From there, I give them a big embrace and tell them how happy I am to see them (communication & touch). I ask them how they slept and what they are going to do with their day. I let them talk as long as they need while I slip in some goofiness (socialization & humor). At this point, I ask them what they would like for breakfast let them get started with a word or two of inspiration mixed in (nutrition & encouragement).

First Hour Needs

  • Acknowledgment: Acknowledgment is the greeting we provide our children to welcome them to the new day. It delivers the message that we welcome them as part of our household. A child who does not have this need met right away may nag and seek your attention (or someone else’s) throughout the day.
  • Nutrition: Nutrition is one of the most basic needs of the child. If this need is not met, it will be difficult for the child to move on to higher needs during the day. This results in a child whining about hunger or constantly seeking to eat anything.
  • Communication: Some children, after a night of sleep and processing, need to share/tell stories when they wake. We must create a home environment where the child feels safe enough to communicate with us. Listening allows the child to decompress and feel significant by feeling heard; the child will better manage their day ahead.
  • Socialization: Some children need time to socialize and play with others when they wake. My son fits this category as he gets right “to work” when he wakes. This usually entails telling me how he is figuring things out and things he really wants to do. Other times, he may need me to sit with him and help him get started on a game or task.
  • Touch: The need for touch is often tied to how a child gives and receives love. It is a love language. My daughter has this need. When she wakes, she seeks me out to give a giant good morning hug. This also happens when I come home from work, where she has not seen me all day. Hugs, holding hands, cuddling on the couch fills the child with enough love to take on the day. 
  • Humor: Humor is an earnest business for some children (I have this need still to this day). Humor serves as a stress buffer and a positive coping strategy. Research suggests that children (people) who use humor suffer less from fatigue, tension, anger, and depression.
  • Physical Activity: This need is common among children. My son has this need. He can’t seem to sleep in. As soon as he wakes, he is off into his day looking for things to do. He needs to move. Oftentimes, shortly after he has woke, he asks to go outside to play. Meeting this need is allowing the child to move about and use their physical capabilities. This can be achieved indoors or outdoors. We should make appropriate space for our children to be always on the move.
  • Structure: Predictability and order in an environment provide children with a sense of safety and stability. The structure is attained by meeting the child’s expectations through routines and schedules. A good example would be to be consistent with how things get done each morning (wake, use the bathroom, brush teeth, dress, then get something to eat).
  • Relaxation: There is a strong connection between body and mind. This means that emotional and psychological reactions affect our physical health and well-being. Some children need time to get warmed up to the day. My daughter requires this need. She does not function well when rushed right when she wakes. An approach that works for her is time spent with a personal activity (usually drawing or writing). This allows her to balance out and get ready on her own terms.
  • Encouragement: A child who has this need will demand reassurance before taking on a task. You may recognize this need if you hear the phrase, “but I can’t do it.” Meeting this need is as simple as starting the day with some positive affirmations or a little pep talk (“I believe in you and know that you are going to have a great day”)

As you read through the above list, chances are you began to think about how you have these same needs. Just like your children, if you have an unmet need, you can expect your behaviors to be less than stellar throughout the day. So, hopefully, this post has brought awareness and insight on how to optimize your mornings. 

Observe your children and discover what types of needs they exhibit. Work with them to create an environment and routine that brings out the best in them. You will be blown away by how addressing first hour needs can transform your relationship and put them on a path of well-being.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Simon Matzinger via Unsplash

Why Sport is Critical to a Child’s Development

Sports are great for everyone involved

Growing up, the sport was what kept me on track in my life and development. Very early on, I had a learning disability due to my hearing. This turned into delayed progression with reading and writing. Needless to say, I did not feel at all confident with academics well into high school. However, even though I was only average with schooling, I excelled at sports. I can only imagine what life would have been like if sports were not a part of my daily routine. Sport gave me a feeling of significance where academics never did.

In today’s post, I am providing several reasons (reminders) on why ALL CHILDREN should participate in sport(s). It is my position that sport goes beyond achievement. Sport is an art form that all can partake in and grow from. Wins and losses are not what it is about. Sport develops the body, sharpens the mind, and enriches the soul.

What sport teaches: 

  • Life lessons– Simple lessons show up every day while competing. Things like “Even on your best day, you still may not win” or “You may be the best player on the field, but if you don’t play as a team, you won’t win.” 
  • Values and Respect– Children will learn about sportsmanship and what it means to be a humble winner or gracious loser. They will also learn the boundaries or their own bodies and how to manage them.
  • Emotional Regulation– This is a critical skill to develop in a world that often values achievement over the community. Sport brings the child into contact with highly emotional situations that they learn to control and navigate. This serves them well later in life.
  • How to learn from failure– Failure is one of the best teachers out there. Children who learn to handle failure, self reflect, and try another day again build resiliency. Resilient children are happier and well adjusted later in life.
  • Problem-solving skills– Sport teaches children how to assess a situation, scheme up a game plan, and then execute what they thought up. Chess is a wonderful game that promotes this. All sport requires this on some level.

As children participate in sports, there is a whole host of things that increase (or get a boost). Over time staminastrength, and cardiovascular fitness rises in the child. Downstream this improves the child’s sleep quality and immune system. 

Let us not forget about increased development in communication skills. Team sports especially push children to communicate better for the success of the team. It has been my experience that the best team (most fun and enriching) is the best communication team. Children develop a sense of belonging and what it means to be part of something bigger than themselves.

There is also a bunch of things that sport reduces over time for children as well. Sport gives the child an outlet outside of the home and school life. As such, sport allows the child to blow off mental tension, which decreases stress, anxiety, and depression. Physically, for sports that require this type of effort, there is a reduction in childhood obesity.

Going back to my own childhood story, I don’t think I would have made it through schooling if physical education and recess was ever taken away. As I started to take part in sports offered through the school, my grades improved dramatically. No joke….baseball and soccer was the main driver on why I got into college. 

All life is a balance. Let’s help cultivate an environment where that balance is honored for the child. Sports provide this balance by offsetting the demands of schooling and everyday life.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Jeffery F Lin via Unsplash

Champion Dad’s Pillars of Growth and Relationships

Recently I have had time to reflect on this site and all of the posts within. One thing that really stands out is that life is all about growth and relationships. There really is nothing more to life than this. When we talk about growth and relationships on this site, there are three pillars we aim at:

  1. Personal: I have found that when one can maintain a growth mindset, they remain open to life and all of the opportunities that come along. Being open to life can be challenging as we often have to self-regulate when our emotions take hold. Regulating allows us to stay cool and see things as they are instead of how we feel them be. From a relationship standpoint, we take care of ourselves, physically and mentally. As a parent, I have had to learn (and relearn) to take care of myself first before anyone else. It feels so contradictory as a caring husband/father, but it is the best way to manage. When we take good care of #1, we can take care of #2, 3, 4,….so on and so forth. When we put #1 last, we limit our capacity to take care of anyone else and eventually fail.
  2. Inner Circle: When I think of inner circle growth, I think of immediate family and closest friends. This is where things get dicey. You can control all of the personal stuff above with practice, but you cannot control everything when others are involved. We have to release the idea of control. Growing these relationships is about honesty, empathy, communication, and compromise. We do our best to influence (actions are better than words) where we can, but we also have to allow others to do the same. Great inner circle relationships are ones centered around trust and listening. We must make our inner circle feel significant, or they will find a different circle to be in.
  3. Outer Circle: Outer circle is everyone and everything that does not fit into Personal and Inner Circle. These can be distant family, acquaintances, and the surrounding community. Growing in this respect comes in all different shapes and forms. A few that come to mind are volunteering, donating, and showing respect to all we come in contact with. The bottom line here is we set an example for the world to see what it means to be a caring person.

When we take care of our relationships (in the order above), we begin to create an environment where joy can manifest. Joy is the output we experience when we are growing and tending to our relationships. There is nothing greater than this.

However, this does not mean that there are not struggles along the way. The greatest struggle that I had to learn to accept was that I would often violate the expectations of what others had placed on me as I grew. Yes, there is an agreed on (often silent) definition of identity/expectation in every relationship we have. Not everyone takes well to change, and not everyone is in a growth pattern. When these struggles appear, we need to fall back on honesty and communication. Change and acceptance of change take time. Be patient with our relationships, and continue to cultivate an environment where they can blossom. Everything happens in its own time.

We create a great life when we create and grow great relationships.

Honor yourself, your inner circle, and your outer circle. When we can expand all three through our daily actions, we are truly on the path of a life well-lived.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Tobin Rogers via Unsplash

Diffusing Your Emotional Triggers

When I think of negative emotional triggers, a vision of land mines appears in my head. I am sure you know what I mean, but if not, imagine a war movie. Soldiers marching across a field and one poor fella steps on a mine…BOOM! Or, if gore is not your flavor, a soldier notices he is against a tripwire, and if he moves, it will explode…

Emotional triggers: a person, event, or circumstance that sets off an emotional reaction. The person moves from the thinking (intellectual/control) part of the brain to the brain’s emotional (feelings/unregulated) part.

Negative emotional triggers are very much like a tripwire. Everything is ok until one is set off. Then hell breaks loose, and there are casualties. The casualties of our emotional triggers are the trust in our relationships. Every time a trigger is set off, we break trust with those around us. Even when our reaction feels justified, we are damaging our relationships.

Everyone I know has emotional triggers. I myself have a few that come to mind. But what are emotional triggers, really? In my experience, negative emotional triggers stem from a wound that has not been healed from our past. Generally speaking, all wounds stem from a part of us that has been unseen or unheard of. All of us have been wounded in our life at some point or another. The emotional trigger created is our defense to protect the wound, so we do not have to go through the pain again. Note: the trigger does not heal the wound; it protects the wound from getting further hurt. The wound remains intact with our defenses around it.

To paint a clearer picture, this is an example of how the wound and emotional trigger play out. I am using my own childhood example here:

Growing up, I had a learning disability due to my hearing. I was constantly behind in reading and writing. For most of my childhood, I felt I was not as smart as all of my friends. When picked on or made to feel inferior, I would be triggered into anger (always a secondary emotion). Then I would want to fight or show some dominance over the person that triggered me. I did this to prove my worth, so I would not have to feel the pain of being inferior.

So with this being said, how can we get underneath the trigger to heal the wound? This is a great question, and the answer starts with becoming aware of the root cause of why you feel hurt or unseen. Once you have an awareness of the root cause, create a space to feel the emotions associated with it. For me, creating space means to sit with the emotion. Sit with it and be with it as you would hold your child who is upset. Feel the painful emotion in its entirety. Allow it to be felt and be seen. Stay with the emotion until it leaves of its own volition.

Another example I just went through where I diffused a buried trigger:

Recently I came across a picture of an old flame that I had not thought about in years. Upon seeing this picture, I was filled with mixed sadness because I was really hurt when it ended. Even though I am married with kids and have found my match, this wound was still alive inside. I sat there and held the part of myself that still hurt. I allowed it to be present, and I reassured myself internally that I loved that old immature version of me when this old flame did not. After about a half-hour, the emotion left, and I felt liberated. Since that time, I have seen this picture one other time, and I smiled…no more pain.

The hardest thing about this process is allowing the emotion to be felt without taking action. That’s right….take no action to change, fix, solve, overcome, or hide it. FEEL IT FULLY AND ALLOW IT TO BE. That is all that needs to be done.

There are two main pitfalls to watch out for in doing this:

  1. We avoid emotion. As soon as we feel the wound, we instantly distract ourselves to cover it back up. (Soldier avoids the field altogether and as such the mines remain)
  2. We try to overcome the emotion. This comes by way of trying to control external circumstances not to be triggered again. (Soldier points out mines and directs others not to trigger them…and as such, the mines remain)

The crazy thing here is nothing needs to be fixed. There is nothing right or wrong about feelings and the wounds we have. It takes some deep work to pull these band-aids off and heal the wounds. But let me assure you…it is well worth it! It may take a few attempts but don’t get too discouraged. Each time you work through the feelings, the trigger becomes less powerful.

Imagine how awesome life would be if we eliminated all of our negative triggers? How cool would it be to be the person who is unshakable when emotions are running high? It’s a great goal to aim at. It does take some deep reflection, but we can all get there.

Remember, don’t justify your triggers- work to diffuse them. Your triggers are your responsibility to handle and not the worlds to avoid.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by RKTKN via Unsplash

The 5 Contagious Traits of Champion Dads

You know a Champion Dad (person) when you see one. They walk with a certain methodical confidence. When they speak, everyone listens, and they have a magical charisma about them. They seem unshakable yet completely happy and flexible at the moment. No matter the circumstance, they are grateful for the moment and emit a humbleness that is infectious.

Below are the five traits that we should all aspire to. They will be listed soon on our Vision page. I have posted them here to bring awareness to the traits that a Champion Dad embodies. These are the most common traits that I have found with many strong, cool, hardworking dads that I have encountered. These are not listed by importance as they all carry the same weight.

(A special shout out to three individuals who boosted my inspiration for this post: Jeanine FitzgeraldKyle Cease, and Chase Hughes)

Leadership: A Champion Dad sets an example for his children (and everyone) to follow in such a way that it spreads to all those who he comes in contact with. As such, he makes everyone feel significant and important in every interaction. He looks for the best in others, and his communication inspires trust. Humility, honesty, and integrity is his normal mode of operation.

Confidence: A Champion Dad can take action without hesitation and will do what needs to be done at the moment. His confidence naturally rubs off on others as he can diffuse negativity around him. Criticism and feedback are seen as information only and not as an attack on character. His confidence is unshakable even in times of uncertainty. He owns who he is and has a strong positive self-image.

Gratitude: A Champion Dad says, thank you. They can express sincere appreciation of others and can count their blessings often. As such, they create an environment where others become grateful. When things don’t seem to go their way, they remain open minded and try to see the larger story being told.

Regulation: A Champion Dad exercises control over self. They prioritize the needs of the family over personal enjoyment, especially when the greater good is involved. They can create new habits for the expansion of self and others. They manage time effectively while balancing life’s many priorities. They manage finances and budgets responsibly. They naturally create a desire for self-discipline in others.

Joy: Through their encouragement of others, they have a positive impact on everyone they meet. They tend to be happy go lucky by nature and are willing to try new things to experience life fully. They are the rock or the person called when things go wrong. They can endure hardships with a sense of playfulness. Their actions speak to a win, win, win (expansion of self, expansion of others, expansion of community).

For me, I am strong in some of these but am working on others. Which ones resonate within you? Which ones are you working on? Remember, life is not a game of being perfect. This list is about awareness and to give some goals to aspire to.

Be well

-MJ

Photo provided by Champion Mom Meaghan Arnold

Influential Matters: The Tale of Two Dads

Recently, I was on vacation with my family up in Old Orchard, Maine. Our hotel of choice has a really nice swimming pool between our room and the ocean. This is really neat since our kids like to jump between swimming in the ocean and the pool throughout the day.

During our second afternoon, I was walking out to meet my family by the pool. Halfway there, I walked by a dad who was lighting up his children for showing too much excitement. The kids couldn’t wait to get to the beach and were acting up a little bit (from what I can tell). The dad, clearly at his wit’s end, blew up at them with the typical lawnmower stuff: “STOP IT RIGHT NOW!……KNOCK IT OFF, OR WE ARE NOT GOING TO GO!!!”

I took the safe route and gave this gentleman plenty of space as he tore into them. Yet, even a few minutes later, while I was picking a place to sit, I could still hear the dad barking at his kids. However, the kids never stopped being happy and excited as they had clearly tuned him out (good for them…funny how I take the kid’s side unless it is me yelling).

Twenty minutes later, I witnessed another dad act exactly the opposite. He had two boys roughhousing in the shallow end, making noise and splashing other pool users (not on purpose but through their play). Once things escalated to where he needed to take action, this man was unfazed. He looked up at his boys and slowly closed the book he was reading. He looked over again, stood up, and deliberately (yet unhurried) walked across the pool to where his boys could hear him. He knelt and started talking to his boys. Midway through the conversation, one boy giggled, said something fresh, and turned to swim away. He placed his hand on the boy’s head for emphasis, letting him know he was to be taken seriously. The child stopped. He then stood up, smiled at them, and walked methodically back to his book and chair. The kids cooled down and were now echoing how calm their dad was. No one was embarrassed, no one was angry, and no fun was lost on the kid’s behalf.

WOW! If there was ever a Jedi mind trick at play, this was the guy who could do it. I was amazed by how cool, calm, and collected he was. He meant business and was in complete control of his movements and the words he used. What an influential way he had!

Before we comb out some gems here, I only know what I witnessed about the two families. I don’t know how rough of a day the first family had compared to the second. I have been both dads over time. I think it is safe to say that we all have been both at one time or another.

However, let’s analyze their influence on their children.

First thing, we cannot give our children what we ourselves do not have. Our children are not motivated by words alone. At least 90% of what we pass on to our children is how we behave and model for them to see. When it comes to communication, up to 80% of what is communicated is non-verbal. If we yell and scream in disapproval (or adult tantrum), they take this as how to do business in life. Words mean little to them. What is more important (always) is how we are delivering the words. The delivery method has the most impact.

The second thing, when our kids become unregulated, it is not an open invitation for us to become unregulated. No matter how bad their behavior may be, it does not justify the parent to act the same way and blow up. When we do, we are only reinforcing their behavior to continue. They do as we do.

A third thing, we empower what we emotionally react to. The divide between these two dads is wide. The first man caved and was triggered by his children, whereas the second man remained calm and controlled. It is our job as parents to work on ourselves to disengage our personal triggers continually. It is not the child’s job or society to change their behavior, so we do not become triggered. Let me repeat that once again: Work on yourself every day. Do not try to make the world act in a way that does not set you off. Controlling the external world does not work. Our work should be done internally. Take time and diffuse your triggers’ emotional charge (I will have a post on how to do this soon). This is how the battle is won long term.

This post was fun and painful to write all at the same time. I had to forgive myself every time I recognized where I was the first dad internally. I was also able to feel good when I was a Jedi like a dad number two. The point really is to bring awareness to our actions. The more we can become aware of our triggers and behaviors, the more we can take steps to change. When we change, our kids will naturally follow suit.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Andrew Seaman via Unsplash

Catch’em in the act! Turn clashes into small victories…

I had only what I can call a huge victory recently with my son. No, we did not win a major event or anything like that. It was much simpler. We avoided a heated standoff, and then we followed up with some positive reinforcement.

“Wow! Epic story, Mike!”

Go ahead and laugh at how ordinary that may seem. But to any parent with a super strong-willed child, it is heaven.

This just wasn’t one event…four big things happen that really stood out to me:

  1. My son and I butted heads where it seemed like a complete meltdown was about to happen (they last for a long time once triggered).
  2. I kept my composure and did not yell. I then asked for his help and let him know what would happen if he did not listen (or kept being fresh), all while being calm.
  3. I proceeded to walk away, allowing him to decide on his own (which his temperament needs).
  4. Later on in the day, when no one was around, I pulled him aside, recalled the moment, and told him how proud I was that he did the right thing. I then followed it up by acknowledging how strong he is and how happy I was; he handled his big emotions without yelling. He hugged me and said, “I love you, dad.”

(I think I learned more by this process than he and it was a good reminder that it is easier to pull a rope than push it)

With my strong-willed child, I typically come unhinged right around #2. I typically clash hard in the struggle for power (WHO IS THE BOSS HERE?). However, for the strong-willed child, the worst thing you can do is show them your dominance. My son resents me when I take full control and lay down the law. It doesn’t work for him and pushes him to dig in and lash out harder.

Strong-willed children cannot be bossed around when they are feeling big emotions. To make matters more difficult, this will only heighten if the struggle is happening in front of others or friends.

The best thing we can do is keep calm, provide them their options/outcomes, and walk away. This does a few things for the strong-willed child. First, they can still feel in control because they make the decision (instead of being told). Second, they get to save face in front of whoever they are with. Third, since we play to their strengths (not fighting against them), the child will most likely choose the right path as they are naturally geared to please.

Bonus on #4 above. This works great in every other area of your life! I work in corporate America, and often the work is a thankless job. It is expected that you do a good job, so gratitude isn’t always present. More recently, I started to acknowledge my peers in calm moments well after they might have forgotten about the situation. Oh, how they light up! Talk about breathing life into another person’s soul. Try it out!

It is so easy to catch problems and things that we do not like. I propose that we should all try to catch and acknowledge the great acts of others. I find it better to fill someone up with appreciation than to point out perceived issues. I mean, it is straightforward: Love works better than anger.

Be well!

-MJ

Photo by Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash

The Lawnmower Approach

Children are always growing, learning, and discovering. Part of this process is for them to come up against life, bang around, get into fights, have night terrors, and get big feelings. All of these normal things need to happen so they can learn to regulate. Yet, these normal things are often inconvenient for us parents. In turn, we easily label undesirable behavior as bad or problematic. On a high level, this is not fair for the children for they do not know or have the skills to choose better…they are learning those skills by going through these tough situations. This is how life is learned. 

Yet, even though I am aware of this, I still see that my first impulse is to take the lawnmower approach to their behaviors that appear inconvenient for me.

What is the lawnmower approach? It is the approach where I react emotionally and cut everything down in front of me. Essentially, this approach looks to end the perceived problem immediately. It is impulsive and seeks to take immediate control of the situation. No good learning gets done this way.

Sometimes in this situation, I may raise my voice: “HEY! Knock it off! STOP DOING THAT!”

Other times it may be when I react by giving an ultimatum: “If you guys don’t stop, then no one gets the toy!”

In those examples, as simple as they are, I just took the easy way (for me) to stop the behavior. Yelling or taking away is often just a Band-Aid approach to problem-solving (behavioral solving). It covers up the problem but does nothing to fix the issue.

So let’s return to our analogy. Weeds (undesirable behavior) are growing all over the place…We pull out the mower and mow them down….problem solved…for now. A week later, those same weeds have grown stronger and spread….outcomes the lawnmower, and we cut them down again. The problem never has been addressed and grows back even stronger with more numbers. Not only do we cut down the unwanted behaviors, but we also cut down opportunities to model great behaviors: listening, trust, empathy, and understanding.

Is there a better way to approach this problem? Yes, we should treat children as a garden, not a lawn. We don’t mow a garden. We tend to it, get on our knees, dig in the dirt, and pull the weeds. We plant things to grow (values, virtues, and habits). Then we create the optimum environment for those seeds to flourish.

Gardening is not a convenient thing…not at all. To create a beautiful garden, we have to observe and listen to what it tells us it needs at the moment. Things grow in their own time, and all the while, we watch, monitor, feed, pull weeds. It is a long process that needs patience and perseverance.

Good problem solving is not a race back to our easy, convenient life. Let’s aim to take the time to understand the problem. Taking time to reflect and dig into a problem is the only way to stop it in its place properly. Gardeners pull weeds for a reason. By getting down to the roots, you stop it from growing back. Mowing keeps the roots in the place where they can continue grow…and get worse.

A few reminders to go from lawnmower man to gardener: 

  1. When emotionally triggered by the situation, pause. Wait and listen before responding. Get back to the intellectual brain.
  2. Coach rather than yell.
  3. Ask questions. By asking questions, we are helping the child move from an emotional state to a thinking state.

All behaviors are symptoms that are rooted deeper within a child. Work not to shame it. Do the opposite…pause, accept it, listen, and let it teach you something about what it needs…All behaviors tell a story….what story are you listening to today?

Be well!

-MJ

Photo by Gabriel Jimenez via Unsplash

Filling The Emotional Well

 Every child has an inner well of positive emotion. Wells that are full provide the ingredients for successful interactions and growth opportunities in our little ones. Confidence, acceptance, compassion, competitiveness, optimism all flow from this well.

Children perform better when they feel better about themselves. This is a fairly straightforward and simple concept. However, as parents, we often get caught up in feeling we need to fix every perceived shortcoming as they happen. Please notice the use of “perceived”. Not everything that you perceive as a parent truly matters in the whole of life. It is ok to let kids be kids.

As a father and coach, I have found that human nature, especially in youth, pushes just hard enough not to get yelled at. There are far better ways to get a child to want to please you and run through the proverbial brick wall for you! Yelling and punishments are not motivators! They tear down a child’s confidence and dry up the emotional well, often forcing them to look towards other mentors to help refill the well.

Constantly beating a kid over the head with what you see as shortcomings take water from this well. Constantly taking digs in a joking manner equally add up and deplete the well. Kids naturally want to please us. Let them. How many times have you walked through the door after a long day and immediately start asking about the test they didn’t do well on, or the room that wasn’t cleaned? Ask them about their day, intently listen and find the positive that you can praise. The chores can wait, corrections can wait, life mentoring cannot.

Help them maintain balance, help them bring water to the well when it ebbs. Teach them the power of positivity. After all, we are raising the next generation. Let’s make it a great one! 

Take care!

-Coach Phil

Family Dinner: 5 Tips to make the most of this important time (and Tom Selleck)

Recently, I had a good conversation with my mom regarding a very popular show: Blue Bloods. I don’t watch the show, but I know it has Tom Selleck in it. My mom said she liked the show so much wasn’t only because of Tom (sure mom…I know he is hot) but because the show always ended with everyone joining together for a family dinner.

When I think of a family dinner, I don’t think of any show, but rather the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving feast painting (Freedom from want). Everyone in the family is sitting around anxiously as the turkey arrives at the table. I love that iconic painting because it reminds me of how special and important family dinners truly are.

Looking back at my childhood, most nights, my family had dinner together. It was a time where play was over (or at least paused), and we could now focus on investing in each other. Since I was the youngest, I did the most listening. I would listen to my dad, my mom, and my brother brings the family up to speed on how their day went. I learned many things that I did not even think about during that time. Things like manners, listening, good posture, problem-solving, and storytelling. The family dinner at our house was a safe place for all to participate in the conversation.

Research and studies also back up how important family dinners are for the development of children. Per The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, children who have family dinner are:

  • Less likely they are to use drugs, drink, and smoke
  • More likely to get better grades in school
  • Less likely to have mental issues (anxiety, depression)
  • More likely to eat better foods and have better nutrition
  • More likely to have stronger relationships with their parents

My wife and I make it a point to have family dinners as much as possible. We have experimented with how we go about it, but one thing remains constant, we routinely have them. 

If you are looking to make the most out of this special time or to begin a new family routine, here are some tips that have helped our family out:

  1. Have the children help with setting up or cleaning up the table. This instills that we all have a responsibility to the family and promote teamwork.
  2. Allow children to assist with meal preparation (cooking) (I love this one for all of the life skills that will be learned).
  3. Have the children wash and put away dishes.
  4. No smartphones present at the table. The same goes with a television on in the background. Phones and television promote passive behavior. The goal of family dinner is to participate and interact in a bonding experience.
  5. Take turns asking about each other’s day. This gives everyone a chance to talk, vent, and share stories while giving everyone else a chance to listen (another great one as we can model a winning behavior).

Every family dynamic is different. I enjoyed the data and research because it didn’t really matter how you had your family dinner. What mattered most was that it was happening consistently. With this in mind, experiment and have fun. Different things will work for different homes. In a world of over scheduling, family dinner is the perfect opportunity to bring everyone together and demonstrate that family does come first!

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Pablo Merchán Montes via Unsplash

Be a Good Enough Dad, Part II

In part I of this post, we discussed what it means to be a good enough dad. I used the definition: a dad who is present, engaged, and responsive to the child. We also mapped out that responsive parenting is the cornerstone of success. Responsive parenting has two steps: Fully listening to the needs child and (when they are done expressing) answering the child’s needs.

For part II, I would like to start by addressing the negative self-talk we as parents may have and what to do. I continually struggle with this one and have to work on it every day. Changing and ridding yourself of the “not good enough” feeling takes time, patience, and acceptance. 

Often my negative self-talk appears through the most ordinary of ways. A good example would be when I let my kids watch too much TV or when I am short with them and raise my voice. I know that I shouldn’t do these things, so I beat myself up about it. But when I look at any situation like this, what am I really dealing with? Generally speaking, I am dealing with two things. 

The first thing is that in my weakest moments, I have an underlying unmet need. In the case of letting them watch too much TV, the unmet need could be that I need time to breathe or when the kids are not focusing on me to accomplish a task. Unmet needs to develop into less than wonderful behaviors.

The second thing is that I am dealing with a perfectionist attitude. What is a perfectionist attitude? Simply put: Since I know better, I should do better…and when I don’t, I will feel shame. Perfectionism is a terrible thing to get hooked into and to base all of our actions on. Measuring ourselves against a perfect ideal is a sure way to suck all the joy out of our life. On the one hand, it is good to have a perfect ideal in our minds to aim at and guide us towards becoming the best version of ourselves. On the other hand, it can cut us apart if we use the perfect ideal as a benchmark to judge ourselves. 

So, how do we begin to eliminate this negative self-talk and the not good enough feeling? We have to change our optics in how we view our role as a parent. 

I have been practicing this in two ways. First, I have been reminding myself that parenting is not only about raising a child. Parenting is about developing personally while we raise and develop the child. These happen hand in hand. Secondly, parenting is not a science!  Parenting is pure artistry! Art never has a perfect ideal. Parenting is an art because there is no one size fits all approach to the daily struggles. As parents, we have to acquire many tools and use them in a myriad of different ways to work through all of the situations we may be faced with. When we couple these two things together (developing self and it’s an art form), our new standard becomes something like this:  I am committed to doing the best I can each day. I will learn and do better over time through observation and reflection.

All of this leads me to my favorite paradox: Failure is the only path to success.

Everything single thing I have tried, I have failed until I didn’t

I bet as you look at your life experience, it reads the same way. We try things and fall…we keep trying and working at it until we are successful.  Get used to the idea that failure is expected and is the pathway to developing successful outcomes. When we look at life with this understanding, it is really hard to maintain a perfectionist attitude. It is okay to fail so long as we are dedicated to the process of learning and doing better next time.  It is from the ashes of our failures from which success is born. 

When we fail or disappoint ourselves, we should aim to accept that is happened. It is critical to sit with it and own the experience.  Doing so will allow the failure to teach us something and help us grow stronger. We should be careful not to judge ourselves too harshly on it, for that leads to a defeatist attitude. Fail fast by learning from the moment so we can get on to doing better.

What does all of this translate into? Being a great leader/influencer in your household!  When we can dedicate ourselves to the process of self-development and being consistently responsive to our children, we can cultivate an environment where love and appreciation are found.

A great leader keeps their eyes on the goal, reflects/adjusts when needed, and builds up those following. 

Another big thing with great leaders…they don’t influence by words alone…they walk the walk.  Children will do what we do, and it doesn’t matter what words we assign with it. So let’s demonstrate and model for them more than telling them.

To recap both posts- Be a Good enough dad:

  • Responsive parenting (listen then respond)
  • Eliminate negative self-talk by being committed to personal growth and recognizing that parenting is an art
  • Expect and own failures for that is the pathway for growth
  • Lead by example with consistent well thought out actions (words mean little in the scheme of things)

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Paul Gilmore via Unsplash

Cultivating Joy part I: Happiness vs. Joy

Today’s post will be the first of a three part series: Cultivating Joy. In this post, I would like to bring some awareness of the differences between happiness and Joy. There are clear distinctions between the two, and understanding these differences can help you cultivate wellness in you and your family’s life. In the second post, we will offer up great habits to adopt to cultivate lasting joy in your life. In the third post, we will work on coaching your family to stop chasing happiness and bring up some good strategies on growing joy.

Below (in yellow) is from the page: Champion Dad’s Vision. Joy is a pillar that all dad’s (people) should strive for. 

Joy: Through their encouragement of others, they have a positive impact on everyone they meet. They tend to be happy go lucky by nature and are willing to try new things to experience life fully. They are the rock or the person called when things go wrong. They can endure hardships with a sense of playfulness. Their actions speak to a win, win, win (expansion of self, expansion of others, expansion of community).

While on a recent vacation with my family, I watched my kids closely on making them happy. Over a few days, a pattern emerged, and I could determine what gave them happiness and what allowed joy to emerge. From these observations, I started to watch other families, and the same pattern applied.

Coming back from our vacation, I pulled together all of my notes that I could find on happiness and joy (yes, I collect and write down anything that speaks to me through life, training, movies, work…you name it…I am a collector of thoughts). What I found aligns with everything that I observed. With this, let us take a moment to delineate the difference between happiness and Joy. Having this basic awareness will give us a foundation to stand on for our next two posts.

Happy: feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.

Joy: a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.

Boy, those two definitions sound very much the same, don’t they?! Well, they really do point at each other so let’s analyze. 

Joy is manifested through living a good life. It is the result of living up to our values and living out our authenticity through our actions. It is a positive response to things going well and being lead well. Joy is something that emerges within us. Joy usually comes through the giving of the self to something or others. Joy is steady and is most often found in wonder and gratitude. Joy involves self-forgetting.

Happiness is an emotion that is pursued. Happiness typically comes from achievement. Happiness is briefly attained when we receive something.  It is fleeting and comes and goes like all other emotions. Happiness is the dopamine hit that triggers the brain when we get something we desire.

Here are a couple of examples of each from my vacation I noted above:

Happiness example: Our hotel had an arcade, water park, and professional climbing walls. My kids chased happiness to go to the arcade. They were happy on the walk there (anticipation). They were then quickly consumed with the desire to play the candy claw game. Happiness returned when they received candy. Once the candy was obtained, they were consumed by their next achievable desire. They chased the happiness bug all around the arcade until their money ran out. Their excitement and happiness were fleeting at best and not sustainable.

Joy example: My son, each day, worked on the climbing walls at the hotel. Over three days, he got better and better. On the third day, he completed the hardest climbing wall to the amazement of all who watched (he just turned six). Moreover, my daughter completed a hard balancing pool obstacle on day two. She was scared but pushed through it to the end. Their contentment was pure and could be seen for days after. My joy watching them give themselves to an effort (self-forgetting) and living up to their goals was something that will never go away (sustainable). 

So next week, we will really flesh out some great personal strategies to manifest Joy. Over this next week, take time to review things in your life that you chase for happiness and note all things you do where joy emerges. The ultimate goal is to realize that joy is sustainable and is found in the process of living….happiness, on the other hand, is fleeting and comes and goes based on what we achieve or get in the moment.

Aim for sustainable enjoyment….life is more peaceful that way.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Sebastian Leon Prado via Unsplash

Be a Good Enough Dad, part I

Lately, I have been having power struggles with my very determined boy. He is five and is testing every word I say. At my best, I don’t argue with him. I state what needs to be said and move on, leaving him to decide how he wants his day to be. At my worst, which has happened more often than I would like to admit, I get triggered emotionally, and we argue loudly. He screams at me about things, and I boom back, trying to get him in line (which, SURPRISE, does not work as I intend it to).

I worry about the effect this may have long term. Honestly, I probably worry about it too much. My greatest fear is that I will slowly alienate my children as they grow. I would hate there to be a point where they no longer seek help or guidance. I don’t want to be that dad….the dad they hide from, avoid, and keep things from. Perhaps you have had similar thoughts and concerns as well. But wait, there is good news…

Yesterday…in the midst of my obsessive worry, I heard a great line from Father Richard Rohr during an interview: 

“You don’t have to be a perfect dad; you just have to be a good enough dad.”

Hearing this was music to my ears as it was one of those magical moments where life moved in and reminded me that parenting is not a game of perfect. It is a game of experience with trial and error. It is a game where showing up and being present every day is far more important than the impact of an occasional argument.

But what is a good enough dad?

A good enough dad is a dad who is present, engaged, and responsive to the child. Being there for the child..to play with…to argue (test) with…to provide boundaries…to guide…to love…to feel safe with.

Responsive parenting allows the child to create a secure attachment (trusted relationship). Having a secure attachment is critical to the child’s continued development. Children who do not develop a secure attachment will endlessly be seeking to fill that void (for more information on Secure Attachments click here.)

There are two main steps with responsive parenting:

  1. Listen to the need of the child. Allow the child to express themselves before you respond. (In my case above, I need to work on staying regulated while listening to him test me. With practice, I will hopefully be able to stay cool and patient).
  2. Allow the child to work out their message to you. When they are done, and only when they are done, respond to their need.

One of the great benefits of responsive parenting is that you are modeling behavior to emulate when emotions run high. By practicing patience and pause while listening, you create a safe environment for the child to work out their issues, emotions, stories, and needs. 

Being responsive is the cornerstone of great parenting. Great parenting isn’t about being perfect or attaining your perfect ideal. It is about creating the correct environment for your child to develop where their needs are being met. 

Arguments happen and are going to happen. That is ok, and as I have been reminding myself:  Keep showing up, keep engaged, and keep working at it.

In part II of this post, I will dig deeper into personal strategies so you (I) can overcome the “not good enough” feeling. I will also cover my favorite paradox: Failure is the only path to success. I will then round it out with some philosophical points on being a leader in your own home.

 

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash

5 Ways To Increase Laughter In Your Home

Laughter…is there really anything that you can do that is better than laughing? For me, nothing compares to it. I also bet that you would have a hard time disagreeing with me on that statement if you think about it.

Laughter truly is the best medicine, as well. From a physical standpoint, laughter relaxes the whole body, triggers the release of endorphins, burns calories, boosts immunity, lowers stress hormones, and can decrease pain. From a mental standpoint, laughter helps ease anxiety, improves mood, and can strengthen resilience. 

Most laughter is brought on through social situations, meaning it happens with and through interactions with others. Laughter in the social realm can strengthen relationships, promote bonding, and diffuse conflict.

Besides personally laughing, the most awesome and beautiful experience is listening to a child laugh. Children’s laughter is music to my ears. I relish the moments where I catch my kid’s belly laughing. It is truly the best sound in the world.

Laughter is contagious. Yes, that is a cliche but test it out! The next time you are in public, make your child laugh and watch everyone around you…I wager that they begin to smile and may even join in the happiness. We are social beings, and laughter is a prime attractor in life.

There is a crazy stat out there that reads something like this: Toddlers (children) laugh on average of 300 times a day. Whereas adults only laugh an average of 20. I couldn’t verify how accurate that was (some say it’s a myth), but I do know that my children sure do laugh a lot more than I do. I think we can all agree that children habitually laugh more than adults.

So, how can you bring more laughter into your home life? Here are five simple things that you can do to encourage more laughter in your home.

  1. Smile. Smiling is the first step before any laughter begins. Smiles, like laughter, are also contagious. Smile at everyone and everything…and notice the effect that it has on others. Smiling attracts others and can transform any situation.
  2. Adopt an attitude of gratitude. Yes, I know, another cliche…but it is simple and an effective way to rewire your brain to smile. Share your gratitude with others as it opens a doorway to a stronger, more appreciative relationship.
  3. Watch comedy shows with your family! This one is so simple that I don’t have much more to add. If you are going to tune in and pass some time, comedy shows/movies are always a great option.
  4. Self-deprecate! This one is really one of my favorites. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Self-deprecating humor is funny for everyone involved. It also teaches your child that no one is perfect, and that is totally ok! It normalizes the experience of life and that no one can be perfect.
  5. Laugh at situations where things don’t go smoothly instead of showing anger/frustration. Like above, this normalizes the situation and models a constructive behavior for your kids. Take a wrong turn driving? Drop an egg on the floor? Yell, something like “PLOT TWIST” and immediately provide levity to the situation.

Laughter is always a blessing, and I cannot get enough of it. One additional thought here: study your children, figure out what they laugh at most, and then play to that tendency. Doing so can provide a safe exit sign for them when difficult emotions trigger them.

Below is a clip my wife captured of my son laughing a little over a year ago…Enjoy!

Be well

-MJ

Photo by via Unsplash.

Coaching vs. Directing: Helping Your Child Develop Critical Thinking Skills

This post is dedicated to my mentor Peggy. You have modeled and coached these behaviors since we’ve met. Simple but powerful. Thank you for coaching me on how to develop a thinking child.

Perhaps you have heard something similar to the following examples:

“Daddy, daddy! <insert name> is not giving me a turn with the basketball”

Or

“DAD! <insert name> is not playing fair. I only have one marker while she is holding the rest!”

Really I could type for days how many times a similar type of conversation has started with my kiddos. I could easily pop in or out whatever their problem is at that moment…and it is all really the same. Bottom line: My child is seeking me out to solve a problem for them.

Don’t take the bait. There is a hook in there that will be hard to remove. Making a habit of jumping in and solving their immediate need sets a precedent that you will be the traffic cop for all their relational (and other) problems.

Now, truth be told, I used to buy into what they were saying and play the role of directing traffic to get their playback to normal. So when my child would complain that their sibling would not be sharing, my typical response sounded like this:

“HEY! Make sure you guys are taking turns!”

Or

“GUYS! No fighting! Be sure to share!”

These moments that seem so normal, so innocuous, are critical and important in developing your child’s problem-solving skills. Yet, when I solved their problems by telling them what to do, I was really only robbing them of the opportunity to grow.

A much better way to approach this issue is to ask them questions. Asking questions allows the child to own the problem, think about solutions, and learn from working through it. Instead of telling, we are now redirecting using simple questions like:

“What is your plan….?”

“How does that make you feel?”

“What can you ask…..?”

“How will you……?”

By asking reflective questions, we act more like a road sign to a destination. We assist in helping the child start the problem-solving process. Coaching the child in this way gives them space to develop critical skills for relationships and life.

This parenting method takes practice and can seem inconvenient at the moment, but I challenge you: Would you rather always be a traffic cop or have children who develop skills, so they do not always need your involvement?

Me? I would rather watch the traffic instead of play in it.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Brittany Colette via Unsplash.

5 “Dangerous” Things Your Kids Should Do

This post was inspired by watching my son step on a basketball, fall, and wickedly scrap his knee. As I assessed the situation and tended to his wound, I couldn’t help but think there was no way I could have helped him avoid that. He wasn’t looking as he turned to run and stepped on a ball that was rolling by his feet. The bottom line was this: Kids can get hurt doing anything with anything…AND THAT IS OK! They learn from it.

If I acted like our town (which I care deeply for) with how they build playgrounds…I would have replaced my driveway with a bouncy foam floor and removed all balls from our yard…I would have also put up signs warning my kids of all the risks associated with everything found on our property…moreover, I would then buy knee pads for my kids so they can’t scrap their knees anymore…I would also make it mandatory to be present as they played. Yikes!

Too much, you say? Yet have you looked around lately? Society is a childproofing the world, and parents are overreacting when it comes to risk associated play. I am guilty of this, as well. I find that this appears in two ways with my kids:

  1. If I don’t want something bad to happen (injury, broken things, etc.), I will completely remove the item in question. This way, I eliminate the possibility of a less than favorable outcome.
  2. Micromanaging their play. I did this more when they were toddlers. This shows up in saying things like: “be careful” or “take your time” or “watch out!”

But what are we really doing besides providing ourselves convenience of not having to deal with crying and band-aids? Essentially, we are robbing our kids of valuable, teachable moments where they can develop.

Removing risk cripples our child’s development. Some of the ways their development is crippled by overprotection:

  • Inability to assess risk and solve problems (critical thinking)
  • Risk aversion (being self-reliant and how to handle anxiety)
  • physical and manual competence (less exercise, hand-eye coordination, lack initiative)

Now I am not saying that we should not have a watchful eye or not let them enter reckless abandon. I am simply asserting that we have a great opportunity to teach our kids responsibility, awareness, and foundational life skills with the risk-associated play.

Below are five things that you should let your child do and coach them along the way.

  1. Wrestling– Wrestling or roughhousing does wonder for the kid’s development. They get to test all of their muscles while building awareness and coordination. Wresting is a great exercise! It also teaches respect for others as kids will often learn how to create rules around the “fighting.” When I wrestle with my kids, I state a rule like no hitting. Then I let them give me a rule or two to follow (usually they say no tickling as I am a sucker for making them laugh!).
  2. Build something with real tools (hammer/saw)– I once gave my son a scrap piece of wood with a few nails and screws. That is all he did for two straight days (AND IT WAS A FREE ACTIVITY). He did bang his fingers a couple of times and scratched my porch, but he now has real-life skills. When misused, tools can be very dangerous, but by starting them at an early age, they can develop respect for them and workable knowledge of how they function.
  3. Climbing– Let your kids climb the tree (rock, steep hill)! This activity is great for developing their risk assessment skills. It also fosters personal confidence that they can think out and achieve a challenging task. Let us not forget how their motor skills and fitness increase.
  4. Using a knife– This one almost belongs in the tools category, but this goes beyond just creating something. When I grew up, I was allowed to carve sticks and wood whenever I wanted. Talk about artwork and satisfaction! With my dad’s guidance, I learned how to hold a knife correctly, what direction to carve in (away from the body), how to keep a blade sharp, and how careful I needed to be. I am still amazed today by the number of adults who do not know knife basics and end up in the ER. Learning proper skills and a healthy respect for knives pays dividends later in life.
  5. Build and tend to a fire– Yes, fire! Just like knives, many adults never learned the skills or respect for one of nature’s most powerful forces. I grew up with a fireplace and a wood stove. I learned early on how to build a fire, tend to it, and manage it safely. Respect is what they will be building here. Work with your kids on this one (keep it supervised). Allowing them to tend to a fire pit is a great way for them to learn the ins and outs of fire care.

We cannot protect our kids fully from life (nor should we). Yet, by allowing the right risk-based activities, we can coach them to build meaningful life skills, respect, and lay a foundation of what it means to be a fully functioning adult.

When I began writing this post, I followed up with some research to validate my feelings. To my happy surprise, much has been studied on this. If you would like more information, here are some of the resources that I came across:

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Dan Edwards via Unsplash

Outdoors and Unsupervised…Let’em Play!

I love listening to my kids at play. I often can tell exactly what is going on by the tone of their voice or the shade of laughter I hear. Often, based on these sounds, I can accurately predict how their unsupervised play will end.

However, if my kids recognize that I am near, the dynamic of their play changes dramatically. Their tone and activities shift to giving me routine updates about what they are doing, or who are slighting who, or my least favorite: playing referee.

In these moments, I try to evade making anyone right or wrong. They know their dad is a problem solver and can quickly reconcile the situation. Yet, if I was to judge and right the situations constantly, I am only robbing them of important growth. Children must have good stretches of unsupervised play. Below I have listed five critical benefits of this type of play (reference: Jean Oram- it’s all kids play, see bottom).

Unsupervised play for children leads to:

Independence- Children begin to learn to function independently of their parents and others.

Social Skills- Children practice modes of conversation, interact, and how the world will respond to such usage.

Problem Solving- Children develop critical skills to break down a problem and resolve it without aid.

Resiliency- Being able to solve problems and develop their own identity, children learn to regulate their emotions when things don’t go as planned.

Confidence– Children gain confidence in self that they can function in the world without constant guidance.

Now, if we add in that, as much as possible, play should be outside, the benefits are multiplied. Children live through their senses as their intellect develops. Outdoor play is a complete sensory experience. Below are the main benefits of unsupervised outdoor play.

Intellectual Health Benefits: Children have reduced ADHD symptoms. While ADHD symptoms go down, concentration and mental acuity go up.

Physical Health Benefits: Children are more likely to be active while outside. Outside activity leads to an increase in motor fitness and a decrease in childhood obesity.

Mental Health Benefits: Being outside and unsupervised, children have an increased feeling of self-worth. They also have a decrease in feelings of anxiety and depression.

I love watching my kids outside hustling around the yard or just creating their own games with whatever toys they find. There is something magical about the outdoors that just cannot be duplicated inside. Let them run wild while keeping an eye on them from a distance. The benefits outway any potential risks of injury (AKA- let them climb the tree or jungle gym).

Be well

-MJ

Photo provided by Annie Spratt via Unsplash

Benefits of unsupervised play were referenced from www.itsallkidsplay.ca by Jean Oram

Too Busy to Arouse Your Soul

When you look at your day, how many times do you think or discuss how busy you are? I hear it every day. Sometimes it is me, and sometimes it is others.

“I am so busy.” 

Or

“I have too much stuff to do.”

Or the worst of it:

“I never have any time for myself.”

What are we really saying here? There is a part of me that knows all too well what this really means. When my mind has clarity, I read it to mean this:

Being busy is a signal that you are doing the meaningless. The meaningless is hollow actions or actions that are mere distractions from a purpose.

When being busy hits my day where I feel overwhelmed, the voice in my heart whispers…“why are you wasting your time?” Or “Isn’t there something else more important you could be doing?”

These thoughts stink and are deeply frustrating…because I’m not too fond of The Meaningless Hollow.

There are two ways that I have found on how to handle these situations. The first one is a mere band-aid to silence the voice and the second one takes some deep work.

1. Focus squarely on the busy work as an artist painting a masterpiece. Take special care while wading in the drudgery. Think of a job well done. Think of the impact it may have on others. Overall, maintain integrity with the task. Get through it right and move on.

But when that one fails, as it inevitably does…

2. Find a quiet space outside with no distractions. Put away the phone. Sit or walk and allow your mind to unwind. While your mind jib jabs along, do not judge the output. Just let it run out…and it will (could take a while). From a settled state, ask:

“Why am I here?”

Or

“How can I give my life in a meaningful way?”

These questions, the Big Ones, no one, and nothing can provide the answer to you. It would be best if you discovered these on our own. This is called the Hero’s Journey.

If you practice this, over time, you can cultivate a life of actions where you will always feel like you are right where you need to be. You will never feel busy…but you may always look busy. It is the path to purpose.

Those lucky enough to find the answer to “Why” they are here are full of life, fully present, while giving themselves completely to the moment. They don’t complain of too busy. They do. They are in a joyous state. Their life is their masterpiece.

Let’s work to become one of the joyous heroes. Drop the distracted, busy life in search of fleeting happiness. Build character within to listen to your heart and game plan with your mind.

Or are you simply too busy?

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia via Unsplash

4 Silent Lies From Mother Culture

I was listening to an interview with Mark Brooks (author of The Second Mountain), and I was captivated by his take on today’s society. According to Mark, we live in a time of hyper-individualism. Our society suffers from a crisis of connection and a crisis of solidarity. I agree, as we all see it and all feel it. We have incredible technology to make connecting easier than it has ever been before. Yet, it has created just as many boundaries as it has brought us in touch with each other.

One idea that emerged from Mark’s speaking is this:

Happiness cannot be achieved alone or on an individual level. It can only happen with others and building/creating with others.

I would take this one step further. Happiness is just one of the six emotions that, like all emotions, is fleeting. Happiness is not a destination to achieve and is not sustainable. What is attainable? Joy and contentment.

When you center your life around building relationships, where the focus is not on yourself but serving your connections, joy, and contentment are found.

All of life is about relationships. Then the question becomes, how are you serving your relationships?

Mark also listed four common lies that cripple our ability to build a joyful life. These are silent lies that are carried out in our society. Hopefully, after reading the list below, you can pull these dysfunctional weeds from your life and get on to joy.

1. Career success leads to lasting fulfillment. I know this one on a very personal level and know-how sneaky this lie can be. Careers are an individual pursuit. Once hit, the targets move and ask for you to hit it again and again and again. You may find a smidge of happiness here and there, but ultimately you are just chasing the horizon. How do you change this lie? Begin to try to find all the ways your work helps others in their life. If you cannot locate the connection, perhaps it is time to reassess your situation.

2. I can make myself happy. I used to think this one was true. Perhaps many of you may think the same thing…but guess what? Whenever I try to prove it right, it ends up that there was somebody else there. Somebody I was relating to that fueled the happiness. Achievements in life are great but are completely hollow if you can’t share the victory. Think about this one in your own life…I bet the lasting joy was only found with others and not solely by yourself.

3. You are not a soul to be saved but a set of skills to be maximized. The first part of this one I would alter (based on my philosophical views) to read be cultivated. The second part is spot on. How often do we show up at work to be asked, “What were your numbers yesterday?” Or, “Just work smarter, not harder, to get more done.” There is no lasting fulfillment there…like number one above, it is pure B.S….garbage….a lie. The real question I would like to be asked each day (which I ask myself every night) “How many people did you help grow today?”

4. People who have achieved a lot more are smarter and are, therefore, more valuable. This is a villainous lie that I think we all feel and create a lot of self-shame around. This one has crushed me time and time again…mostly this lie has come about through my own little voice in my head. All those negative thoughts that crop up in your noggin stem from this lie. Guess what? I don’t care what you have achieved or not achieved: YOUR LIFE IS VALUABLE AND WORTHWHILE. Judge yourself on the relationships you keep, not your individual achievements. Relationships are eternal…achievements are fleeting at best.

As we wrap this post up, I want to leave you with one additional quote from Mark:

“Happiness is the expansion of self, whereas Joy is the breaking down barriers and becoming one with other things.”

Relationships are where contented life resides.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Annie Spratt via Unsplash.

Dreams, Creative Action and Surrender

I love watching the determination in my children’s eyes. My son is very physical in his pursuits. When we bought a basketball hoop, he spent hours working on his shot. He did not want to come in until he could consistently make a shot. That was all that he thought about. My daughter loves writing and drawing. I cannot make her move away from her drawing until it is just perfect and all colored in. Although, at times, inconvenient, their determination is really amazing. Kids figure out what they want, and they work at it until it is in their hands. Adults, well, we are a very different story.

Adults too often think themselves out of a goal...or they get complacent while enjoying life comfortably. How do I know this so well? I have seen it unfold over and over again in my life. Yep, me. I would set out a goal or a dream…think it through and see all of the obstacles and conclude that…things are good enough as is.

That is the poison of being comfortable. A goal is sacrificed, so we do not have to change or experience hardship.

Thankfully, my kids don’t have a sense of this yet. They are not worried about hardship. They are blind to the process, and it doesn’t phase them in the least. They see what they want and work like the dickens to make it a reality. It is beautiful to watch, and I miss having that be my default (I have to schedule focus time, believe it or not).

What I find so energizing to my children’s approach is that they surrender to the process. They set their mind and heart to something, and they march towards it. They are not thinking about the hardship involved, how many times they will fail, or how long it may take. Long story short…they don’t overthink it…they take action. All the while, they are at peace with the exploring, failing, learning, adjusting, and growing.

This is what surrendering to the process does: It brings the mind a measure of peace so it can get out of the way while we take action. It also allows the world to move in and fill in the gaps.

If you have a dream in your heart…

If you know, you can experience more…

If you know that you can create more…

Then it is time to start building the bridge to your dream. Stop thinking and over analyzing it…make a commitment and start marching.

That is how life works…the world only becomes magnetized when we take action. Life favors and responds to those who create out of their being.

Once you have set your sights and married yourself to the goal/dream, let go and surrender to the journey. Then put in the hard work. Remain open and flexible to what life gives you.

I liken this to a game of tetherball. Our intention is the ball. Our dream is the pole. Our commitment is the rope that ties the two together. This game cannot be won unless we hit that ball repeatedly. Life acts as our teammate or opposition moving the ball back and forth as it wraps around the pole (this is where we remain open and flexible). If your conviction and actions are strong enough, eventually, the ball and pole will meet.

What is your life are you tethered to? What dream is waiting to be dusted off and achieved?

Let’s mitigate overthinking and instead focus on taking creative action until we experience the dream.

Be well

MJ

Photo by Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash

Father’s Day Reflection

I saw this poem (below) a few weeks ago and it really rang true in my heart. It was anonymously penned and it epitomizes what a Champion Dad is.

I have often thought that if I took all the words out of my parenting, my children would still learn all that they need by what my wife and I show them. We (all of us) are always leading by example. Everything we do, they pick up…they are sponges to our ways.

At the end of the day remember: The pathway to your child’s heart/mind is built on their feelings of personal significance. Help them see and cultivate their inner hero.

So for this Father’s Day, I wish you a day of gratitude, love, and joyous reflection.

Be well

-MJ


“A careful man I want to be —

a little fellow follows me.

I do not dare to go astray,

for fear he’ll go the self-same way.

I cannot once escape his eyes.

Whatever he sees me do he tries.

Like me he says he’s going to be —

that little chap who follows me…

He knows that I am big and fine —

And believes in every word of mine.

The base in me he must not see —

that little chap who follows me…

But after all it’s easier,

that brighter road to climb,

With little hands behind me —

to push me all the time.

And I reckon I’m a better man

than what I used to be…

Because I have this lad at home

who thinks the world of me”

Boredom is a liar

My five-year-old son started using a word that is really offensive to my ears: Bored.

“Dad, I am bored.” Or “Daddy, this is boring.”

I know that he picked this up from school because we don’t use this word in our household. Sadly, he uses it in the correct context. So from that, I know he has a good understanding of what it means. Still, I wouldn’t say I like it. Good for his grammar but bad for his attitude.

Boredom is a word I have never had much use for. Yes, I have experienced it, but I have not allowed the experience to define me or become habitual. Being bored screams that we see the world as fixated. Boredom is a lot like sleepwalking. Sure, you are up and moving around, but you are not with it and miss the magic. Boredom is a signal that we have to get off our ass and look at things from a new perspective.

When I was in early high school, my best friend and I used to sit on his back porch and dream up ways that things have never been done before. We did this because we were bored of feeling bored. We would look at routine things and come at it from absolute ridiculous angles. An example I remember we came up with: I will eat this taco from the middle bottom. We would laugh ourselves sick deliberately doing things in an asinine way for amusement. What a great time we had even when we got covered with taco innards by being silly. On another day, we played backyard baseball, swinging the bats upside down. We learned a lot about how hard it was to hit the ball with the handle side of the bat…you know…just in case we had to do it in a game.

Boredom chokes the present moment. Boredom is a condition of the brain that states there is nothing new to see here. So how does one break the chokehold of boredom?

Creativity

Creativity is the exit sign to a life of boredom. Creativity opens a gateway of possibility for the mind.

The simplest way to go from boredom to creativity is to ask your mind (or child) a question. The brain is built to solve and will instantly jump on the opportunity to create.

The simplest questions work best. For task-related things, you may ask: What is another way I can do this? For situations where others are involved, you may ask: How can I make this person smile? Or, I wonder what this person is thinking (or feeling) at this moment?

The reason for this post comes down to this. Boredom is a terrible state of mind to be in. Every moment of the day contains magic in it if we remember to ask or look.

Think about this:

Your life is the first attempt. No one has ever had your attributes, challenges, and possibilities. You have never been done before….and neither has anyone else.

Life is always creating itself new. Things may seem the same or feel steady and fixated but don’t be fooled. The world, your life, is always in constant flux.

Creativity is the gateway to vitality and a life well-lived. If boredom is creeping in on you (or your child), it is time to ask better questions.

What can you create a little different today? Who can you connect with to break your static view of who they are? How can you approach today with renewed novelty that all things are not as our boredom has assumed?

Hmmm, I wonder how many different ways are there that I can drive into work?

Be Well

-MJ

Photo by Ricardo Annandale via Unsplash

Never Tip The King!

Lately, I have been reflecting on this site and what it really means to be a Champion Dad. I have read through all the posts I am contented to report that the messages are consistent with the original intent:

“This site was created for the dad who wants to be the best dad they can be.

This site is about becoming the Champion Dad your kids already believe you are.

This site is also about being the best person, relative, friend, employee, citizen, competitor…..well you get the idea…the best “it” you can be.

Moreover, this site focuses on life strategy.”

The above wording is directly from our About page. Today I would like to extend it a little further…add a little more zing to it…a little more attitude. So here we go:

This site is also about being a kick-ass dad! Ideas are presented to help the reader drop their self imposed shackles. There is no reason, NO REASON, that we can’t wake up each morning with unmitigated reverence and zest for life.

Listen, life can be a cruel taskmaster if you let it be. Nothing is ever easy. There are no handouts here, as it is all one lesson after another. If you fail to learn the lesson, it will continue to appear a little harder in another eventuality down the road. That is simply the way of it.

Yet, that is why we are here. That is why I am writing this…That is why you are reading this. We have victories waiting to be won. We have failures waiting to teach us. We have loving relationships to build. We have stories to share.

Embrace it all, accept it all…then move the mountains. Do the work and clear the path. The Champion Dad’s work is all internal. Sharpen your mind.

We can get control of ourselves. We can employ strategies to live healthy, strong, and joyful lives. We have the power and resiliency to build and practice the life we envision for ourselves. It is there waiting for us to focus on and make it a priority.

Life is a struggle, and nothing will ever take that away for good. Yet we can wake up and start new each day. Each day is our second chance to do a little better than before, love and accept others more broadly, and fight the good fight for our core values.

If you live your life with no motivation and wake up with no gas in the tank, that is truly troubling. Don’t waste another moment drowning in the backwater of your own life! Swim out of it! Find a way to get back into the current and then use it to advance you forward instead of beating you down. Get tough! Get inspired! Discover the novelty of life again. Get comfortable with the uncertainty that life brings you. Get comfortable that you might not know all the answers….get comfortable with the struggle. The magic of life lies in the heart of the struggle. Above all: keep working on it…get out there and kick some ass. Keep your chin up and progress forward.

Just get out there and be the best damn dad you can possibly be. Our children need it…the world needs it.

Be well my friends.

-MJ

Photo by Jeshoots.com via Unsplash

Strengthen Your Values & Meaning (3 smart but uncomfortable angles)

Donny: Are these the Nazis, Walter?

Walter Sobchak: No, Donny, these men are nihilists, there’s nothing to be afraid of….These men are cowards.

Nihilism: the rejection of all religious and moral principles in the belief that life is meaningless.

Nihilism is a cop-out and a coward’s way of confronting their own existence. If you are reading a post like this, then most likely you are not a nihilist. However, I would like to put out there that avoiding the big questions and leading an undisciplined life equates to the same thing.

Champion Dads do not walk through life without a compass. We believe in something higher, something better, something within ourselves that is undefeatable. For some, religion is their North Star. For others, deep moral principles are their guidance. There is the highest value in both cases that directs everything in their life, which provides meaning.

And this is what Be A Champion Dad is all about: Working at becoming the best version of ourselves that is possible.

Champion Dads work to become mentally stronger, healthier, and content. Below are three uncomfortable (but smart) angles to think about to strengthen your moral compass and help identify more meaning in your life.

1. Seek out conflict in a healthy way. Your highest value really directs everything in your life. A sure-fire way to build and strengthen your values is to have a healthy amount of conflict. Conflict will allow you to reaffirm all you believe in, clean up the weak areas, and get stronger. By conflict, I mean seeking out and listening to opposing viewpoints. Listen not to win an argument but rather to understand. Good dialogue with conflict is just like working out. The more you do it, the stronger you get. This is hard if you are not in control of what triggers you. Keep an open mind. You will be surprised how much you will grow when you seek to understand an opposing viewpoint. One of the best teachers in life is confronting what you are not.

2. Listen to personal shame. I know this one sounds a little weird but hear me out. I am against shaming others, and I am against unnecessary personal shame. Yet, sometimes, personal shame happens all by itself, and in those moments, listen. Usually, what is happening is that your heart/mind is letting you know that you are not living up to your highest values. Listen, correct the situation, and move on. Everyone who holds high moral standards will feel some shame now and again. It’s ok, learn from it and forgive yourself. A little internal shame teaches us and provides a nudge back on the right track.

3. Take into account all of your limitations. Guess what? You cannot be anything you put your mind to. None of us can. It is also impossible to be everything to everyone. This is just not how we are designed. However, you can take stock of all of your limitations. This will help you understand where to grow and use the limitations to play to your strengths. I know my faults to a tee, and knowing this, I can avoid situations where they become a liability. Know yourself inside and out, and be honest in your assessment. This is how meaningful growth is done.

So there it is. Don’t be a nihilist or act like one. Go out there work hard, stand for something and kick some butt!

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Jewel Mitchell via Unsplash

Balancing The Emotional Intellect

I think it is common to believe that we are solely autonomous and make most of our decisions logically. But if I was to state that this is not the case, that in fact, we are almost always guided emotionally…would you believe me?

I used to have a really hard time believing this, but it is true. So, it ends up; I didn’t want to believe it because I feel that I have a pretty good handle on things. I like the thought of being rational and poker-faced. Since I hold these thoughts in high regard, my logical mind creates stories to support this persona. But….emotions are the real driver. Emotions are subtle little ninjas that get the logical mind to justify just about anything it really wants while making you believe otherwise.

Please test it out…next time you are justifying doing something that isn’t logical (frivolous purchase, ridiculous vacation, having an extra drink, etc.), the brain’s logical part is working hard to build a story to get you to fulfill the emotional request.

I mean, think about it! Watch an ad or commercial…they only appeal to the emotional center of the brain. Advertisements, programs, and commercials are just planting emotional seeds for you to act on at a later date. So, KILL YOUR TV! Hahaha…I will save that post for another time.

(Wait, do you want to know how easily a person can influence you??? All they have to do is appeal to the emotional part of your brain and validate your self-image…yeah…it is that easy.)

Everything that you experience in your life passes through the emotional hemisphere of the brain first. It has to get through this area before it can even get to the logical hemisphere. To complicate matters, a person cannot be in both hemispheres at the same time. This is why we have cliches:

“Never make an important decision when emotional” or

“Count to 10 before saying something out of anger.”

So right now, I am really working on balancing these two out. It is very important to feel our emotions and process them. Don’t bottle them up, or they will figure out a way to escape (which usually results in a questionable behavior….watch your kids- they exemplify this as they figure the world out).

Also, it’s just as important to honor the logical part of the brain. Without learning how to get logical, we will remain emotionally unregulated (cue up a child’s temper tantrum). The remedy to help bridge over to the logical brain:

PAUSE

Pausing allows us to exit the brain’s emotional part and enter into the logical part of the brain. If you can do this and build a habit around pausing, you will become more regulated and controlled. This is a great habit to work with your children on. Who wouldn’t love well behaved, competent child with good critical thinking skills??? Wait…we first need to lead the way for them to follow.

What is a good test to determine whether or not you should build a habit of pause? Hmmm…..Have you ever been instantly triggered into anger from a comment some idiot (you’ve never met) has posted on Facebook or Twitter? Of course…we all have.

Feel and process the emotions so you can bring in the logical. You can’t control how you feel, but you can honor the emotions without immediately acting on them. Emotions are signposts in the mind; they pop up, we recognize and then act accordingly with the new information.

Balance the emotional triggers with a pause. This will lead to opening the gateway to logical control.

I mean…don’t we all want to be Jedi’s? I do.

Be well

-MJ

*Special thanks to Peggy Hoime and Jeanine Fitzgerald for the discussions around the power of pause. Great stuff that works!

Photo by Joshua Earle via Unsplash

Hey! Go Take a Hike!

“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking” Friedich Nietzsche

I have had a lot of stress lately (professional, personal, and health-related). Yet when I think about my current situation, it does not feel like a new thing. My daily struggles are a song that I have heard repeatedly throughout my 44 years on this earth. It is nothing new. If hardship has not externally come into my life, my ego does a great job creating mental baggage. I worry too much.

Mental baggage is heavy. For the most part, I cope with this stress quite well, but occasionally I get paralyzed by it. A common theme about mental paralysis that I have noticed is that I feel no control over the situation. It is hard to cope when my mind goes on strike and moves into a survival mode. Essentially, my coping gets lost because the stresses feel stronger than my personal will power.

It is very important to exercise some action measures even when we feel beaten down (whether externally or internally). Taking action is the first step in taking back control or the reigns and building momentum back to a wellness state.

This post is about the go-to environment that gets me unstuck every time…yes, every time. As I think back over the last twenty-five years, there is a common background to the remedy: getting out into nature.

Pure and simple: NATURE.

Long grueling bike rides, hitting golf balls, fishing a stream, or going for all-day hikes, I am outside breathing in nature. Being outside for long periods allows my mind to settle and sort through all the baggage. Nature clears away from the excessive thoughts that I have and helps me return to the center of my being.

Nature is a sensory experience. It is the balm of the soul and the calmer of thoughts.

“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery- air, mountain, trees, people. I thought: this is what it is to be happy” -Sylvia Plath.

Instead of me just blathering on about my experiences, here are some proven scientific facts about getting out into nature and what it does for you and your children:

  • Children and adults who play regularly outside have stronger mental acuity, concentration, and feelings of self-worth.
  • Children and adults also have a drastic decline in anxiety, depression, and obesity. 
  • Children who spend a large amount of time in nature have far fewer behavioral issues.
  • Children develop more vital problem-solving skills, resiliency, confidence, and social skills.
  • The sounds of nature shift the nervous system into a relaxed state.
  • Those who live close to nature have reduced diastolic blood pressure, heart rate, and stress.
  • Nature is also associated with a reduced risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death.
  • Spending time in nature (or outside) also drastically improves sleep duration and quality.

Take back control of your mental state by one of the easiest things you can do: Go outside and do something, anything. Now that spring is here, I will make up reasons to get out more and build back up my resiliency. 

“The mountains are calling and I must go” -John Muir

Be well

-MJ

*Resources used for the above bullet points came from: http://www.sciencedaily.com (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180706102842.htm), http://www.hyperbiotics.com (https://www.hyperbiotics.com/blogs/recent-articles/5-ways-spending-time-in-nature-benefits-your-health-and-your-gut), and http://www.itsallkidsplay.ca – Jean Orem.

Photo by Westboundry Photography- Chris Gil via Unsplash

Rituals: An Invitation For Purpose and Connectivity

I leaned over and dumped the bucket of balls on the dew covered grass. The strong scent of the cut lawn wafted through my nostrils stirring feelings of summer. As I stretched out with my pitching wedge in hands I felt my father’s voice whisper:

“Don’t forget to put some weight on your heels”

I smile, as shivers run up my spine and down my arms. I have grown used to this sensation when graced by the other side. I whisper back loud enough for my ears to hear but not loud enough to disturb the other golfers:

“Thank you. Alright Jake, let’s see what we got today.”

I take a deep breath while noticing how wonderful the sun feels on my face. It’s time to get to work and dust off the winter rust on my golf game. I am grateful for this time with my father, this moment, and the life I have been given.

Some people find their higher power by going to church. Others find it through tilling their garden or through exercise. For me, I often connect with the divine through the drudgery of hitting golf balls or working a stream fishing. Yet, no matter what a person is doing to invoke this state of mind, they all have one thing in common: they are plugged into something greater than themselves.

The intro to this post recently happened. I found myself on a driving range experiencing a deep connection with the universe and with my father (who passed in 2017).

This is what ritual does for the individual. Ritual provides a passage from one state of mind to another and back again. It can provide glimpses of complete wholeness, contentment, and purpose.

Rituals are a symbolic action where we connect with our psyche or soul. A good ritual has meaning. Rituals carry the ability to suspend the intellect while allowing us to commune with a higher power.

The brief suspension of intellect is key for me because I am always thinking and figuring things out. If I don’t suspend my intellect and go with the flow, I will not find that deep connection. The intellect is like a person who asks why a joke is funny…as soon as you start to explain it, the joke is ruined.

In a world dominated by the intellect with quick knowledge/facts at our fingertips, I see a culture starving for the divine mystery. This mystery is our gateway to purpose and meaning.

What rituals do you have in life?

What are the things that you do that provide this deep connection?

How can you incorporate meaningful rituals for your kids or your family?

How do you connect with the divine?

Be well…I am off to the driving range…..

-MJ

Photo by Christoph Keil via Unsplash

Sacred Time: A Pillar For Mental Wellness

How many of us live a life of busy? How many of us lead our days by giant to-do lists? How many of us feel the weight of mental clutter that busy creates. 

How many of us have sacred time just dedicated to taking care of the self. Sacred time so pure and important that you allow no one to disrupt it?

If you are part of the first line of questions, chances are you are racing from one thing to the next. Chances are you in a constant state of stress. Coping as best you can while life keeps piling on more items to do, worry about, and obsess about.

It is time for us to stop this pattern. It is time for us to break free of the cluttered mind chasing the unattainable. It is time for us to stop and gain better optics momentarily.

The cluttered mind if full of anxiety and discontent….but, how do we evolve this? Sacred space. We must create a personal sacred space that we hold in the highest regard.

A few years ago, I stiffed armed the world, life, my to-do list, and made time for myself. This time is in the morning for me. I wake up at 4:30 every morning alive and (for the most part) ready to go. When I wake at this time, I know that no one else is foolish enough to wake with me…so I have two hours of straight time! Over the course of the last two years, I have discovered much:

1. I can prep for the day and get all my ducks in a row. It is amazing how getting everything ready (physically and mentally) can create a smooth flow to the day. I am and feel prepared. Chance and luck favor the prepared mind.

2. My mind can stop racing and slow down. When my mind slows, I can see things as they are instead of loaded with all of the urgency I have placed on them. I am clear-minded and can place the correct level of importance on each item. Sacred time allows deep connection with life to form and helps the mental traffic to slow.

3. I can breathe and allow my little voice or intellectual mind to shut up. Yes, if you are like me, it needs a break. When this happens, the wonderful world of mystery opens. What do I mean by mystery? Well, I could use words like enlightenment, higher power, connectivity just as easily. When the beautiful sense of mystery takes hold in your heart again, where you can hear the call, wellness begins to shape. When the ego shuts up, we can begin to see the connectivity of all things.

4. I can actually feel and process out my emotions. When I feel and get into my emotions, I realize that I can move through them and move on. Moving on is the key here because I used to either not feel or get stuck in it. Process and move on so you can open up to what the universe has in store for you. Sacred time allows you to hit the reset button and start with a clear heart and mind.

Push back against the world and stake a claim on your time! To start, carve out a half hour…then build from there. Turn off the distraction. This is not a time for TV, Phone, Tablet, Texting, Email. This is quiet reflection time where you can be YOU and allow the ego to rest. The brain will settle and clear itself. This is a skill that needs to be practiced…just like everything else we learn to do.

There is nothing wrong with a busy life at the end of the day, so long as we are busy with the right things.

I challenge you to give yourself space in your day. I think that if you do, you will realize that life isn’t just a to-do list…IT IS FUN, EXCITING, AND AWESOME!

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Mārtiņš Zemlickis via Unsplash

A Few Thoughts To Chew On…

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending another two-day training session with Jeanine Fitzgerald. Whenever I attend one of these training pieces on education & parenting, I am amazed at how strong my soul lights up. The distilled wisdom and the practical application of the material is phenomenal. After clearing it with Jeanine, I will post some of the keynotes that I took down (past and present).

These notes that I present below will not be unpacked. They are for you to connect within your own way. These have come from various training days I have spent with her.

Hopefully, some of these thoughts or raw notes will inspire you to take action, think about things in a new way, or open your heart/mind.

*Note: In live training classes, I am writing as fast as possible while trying to conceptualize the material. These notes are presented just as I was able to take them down.

 

Help others draw out their own wisdom. A person can’t get their wisdom from someone else. Only life experience can give this.

You cannot get the most out of someone where emotional safety is not present.

Change comes through a change in mindset. Lasting change happens through the heart, which backs the mind.

Come to the moment as clean as you can so you can be there for how the moment needs you. Let go of your bias.

The best thing to do is whatever reaches the heart and mind of the child (person).

The two most important days of your life: The day you were born, and the day you discover why. The why provides significance.

Fear must be faced. It is our job to give them the tools to face it.

We (and children) always will follow that which makes us feel significant.

Face your fears, or they will blossom into anxiety or disorders. Anxiety turns into narcissism.

The goal is not for the parent to win but to teach them to become better at who they already are. 

Play for your children does not have a product…it is just a process. Immerse yourself/kids/families in nature.

Get connected with the heart. Don’t adultify the child…listen and encourage them to continue their story.

It is our job to see through the eyes of the child, not make the child see through ours.

The root of the challenge is found in their story. Let them tell it. Learn their story! This is where resiliency is found. 

Behaviors are always an end product, while thoughts and emotions run current. Behavior is a symptom of an unsolved problem or unmet need. Stop talking about problems…shift the dialogue and talk about solutions.

You don’t want to give learning. You want to draw it out. Let them do the heavy lifting. Please don’t take away their struggle as that is where learning is done.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Greg Rakozy via Unsplash

Resiliency : 3 steps to build it

Lately, life has been punching me in the ribs. Every day, something else seems to be going wrong or happening to disrupt my plans. My wife and I joke about how life is turning into just one damn thing after another. But I smile and march forward anyway…to my contentment she is doing the same. 

We have developed resiliency in the fluctuations of life. We go forth, get hit, adjust, and move forward again (repeat, repeat, and repeat). I am proud of this. I love that we have developed this for our family. However, it didn’t happen all by itself…we have been working at it for some time now. Yes, to make a resiliency stick, we have to work at it.

However, this was not always the case with me. I remember the days where my mood reflected my present circumstance. My attitude would shift with the wind on whether life seemed favorable or unfavorable. Things would drag me down, and I generally had a hard time recovering. I used to figuratively wander in my life this way…drifting through good days and bad while not being in control of any of it. But things have changed. Below I have outlined just a few key concepts that have helped me roll with the punches. These are things that are time tested, and I use constantly.

Life isn’t all cupcakes and rainbows (yes, Troll reference). Things are going to happen. Over the last few weeks, I have had several small inconveniences (car issues, work changes, plan changes, etc.), and I have had a couple of big issues (health scares, kids sick, house on the market) well. Yet, today I woke up excited to get going with my life. I am inspired and motivated to create the world I want to see out there. I wish you the same vigor!

If you feel that you are in a wandering phase right now, semi-lost, don’t fret. Below are three things I have put into play to take back control and build up my resiliency. Having a strong resiliency is critical to weather the storms of life! Bonus thought: When you model these behaviors, your kids will develop them as well.

1. Don’t take life too personallyWhat??? If you think that sounds crazy, I may guess that this one will give you the most freedom. We all have our goals for the day, but as soon as we step out that door, we come in contact with other people (things) that have their own agendas. Long story short: We can only control ourselves, and when we collide (interact) with others, stuff happens. When we learn to go with the flow, we give our living space to breathe and adjust.  Life is not out to get you.

2. No longer worry about outcomes. Another way to put this is to leave your expectations at the door. Expectations create anxiety and gear us to future thinking. Over investing in our expectations will lead us to habitual disappointment. Our job is to focus on doing the best that we can with what we have. The results will be as they may, but at least we can be content and proud that we did all that we could. This, like the one above, provides peace of mind. We can control the effort but not the final score.

3. Take time to allow yourself to feel good about things. As humans, we are geared to seek out the negative things so we can protect ourselves. It is really how we are wired. However, like all of our thoughts, negativity can become habitual and weigh us down. On the flip side of the coin, we can take a few minutes a day to feel good about things. It doesn’t even have to be a big thing either (ex. You just finished mowing the lawn…take a moment to relish in a job well done…feel it). Creating a habit of contented reflection enables our brain to seek out more of the good in things…momentum (neuroscience has my back on this).

To tie this one off, I will say that I still need constant reminders to do these things. However, every day I am getting better, stronger, and more resilient. It feels good to rebound and land on my feet.

Work to be adaptable, flexible, and RESILIENT! It is the best way to navigate the hectic life.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Ryan Tang via Unsplash

Ask the Forbidden Questions…It’s Ok!

 

Several recent conversations inspired this post with various friends (those folks reading this will undoubtedly remember them). I will leave the edge in this post because it appears that life is pushing this one forward into the world…yes, serendipity feels to be at play here. So with that being said, I hope you keep an open mind if you feel that I am stepping on your toes….this post is a wake-up call to anyone living their life through a fear-based ideology. It is time to examine your fear and start to live your life through love instead….truth, love, and…God cannot be found through fear. Because…well…that is not how it works. These things can only be found by profoundly knowing what is in one’s own heart…not through what you are told to say, do, believe. (I should end the post here, but I will unpack it anyway, LOL!)

So what forbidden questions am I referring to? Hmmmm…let’s see:

Why am I really here? What really is my purpose? Is my purpose what my heart tells me or what my faith (or family, friends, society) tells me it should be?….. Does God exist? Why am I going or not going to church? Is dogma the way, or is it simply getting in the way? Does it matter if the good book is historically accurate? What if the good book is only stories?

Why are these the forbidden questions? Because when you ask them, you no longer conform to all the beliefs you have been told to believe. You become a rogue. You become independent. You become a person who has taken a step towards authenticity. You have begun the hero’s journey.

I believe everyone needs to take this journey. The hero’s journey is the ultimate journey in faith.

It is ok to question all of the stuff you believe. I have found the hardest beliefs to question are the ones that were force-fed to you by your family, community, religion.

I am not saying don’t go to church or don’t believe in your version of God. What I am putting forth is this: You should know why you personally do these things…Why they are true for you. If you do not have a pure and personal answer to this…If you do these things to get into heaven or to avoid hell…If you do these things because you were told to do them….then I may ask you how your personal fear based prison feel? It is time to pardon yourself and break free.

Obedience is not the pathway to God, enlightenment, or love. The pathway is through your heart…through your unique calling.

Ask forbidden questions. Find the truth in your heart. Drop the shackles of fear and live in love. Live boldly, having faith in the voice inside. Exemplify that wonderful calling in your heart.

Let me reassert: It is impossible to find love through fear. Love is only found through profound acceptance of the self, other people, or of the circumstance.

The divine is a personal experience. It happens to all of us in our own unique way. What works for some does not work for others. We are all different, and we are spoken to in our own way. Learn to listen to that voice in your heart. That is the path home.

Mindlessly doing dogma ritual does not work if you do not know in your heart why you are there. I know people who faithfully go to church every Sunday out of fear of condemnation. How sad…

Yet I also know others who go to church because it is pure inspiration for them. Their heart sings there….that is what it is meant to be!!!

The path of an authentic life is not one of conformity. The hero’s journey is made by developing an unbreakable relationship with the divine unmanifested in one’s heart. To listen and be courageous enough to follow your own bliss. It is the hero’s job to stand strong in their convictions and bring forth into this world what their heart needs to create. The hero does not worry about judgment or condemnation. We are deaf to the calls of fear and anger. We have a laser focus on what matters most: Love, Learning, Creation. We march on, not worried who follows while blissfully singing our own tune.

Have fun this Sunday doing what the hero does in every moment…every second of the day: Know and live your truth. 

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Shane Rounce via Unsplash

1 Thing Worth Owning…and Nothing Else

My wife and I are looking at houses with the hopes of moving. As such, we have been decluttering our house and organizing all of our stuff. Holy cow, what a process.

As I go through all of our things, each thing calls my name, wanting my attention. Some things remind me that I have unfinished business with them (a project not completed or a book not read). Others are just hanging out, hoping that someday they will be used…I mean, that is why we are saving it, right? Maybe someday…..someday…a future day that does not exist but bares weight on my mind.

It is a process for sure, getting rid of all of this unneeded stuff. This stuff that is getting tossed, sold, or donated is quickly forgotten once it is out of my sight. Which really shows how important, said item really was.

Out of this process, I have experienced much mental freedom. Strange isn’t it? I get rid of physical stuff, and the more peace of mind I have…I want to get rid of it all. I chuckle as I write this because it is true: I don’t want stuff. I know I (we) need some stuff to operate as a family, but there is no reason to hang on to excess…for a future hypothetical someday.

There is, however, one thing I want to own. There is one thing I choose to own that is far more important to me than any of my personal items, and that is relationships.

My relationships are the most important thing in my life. In fact, that is the only measuring stick I want to judge by. How strong are my bonds with others? When do they think of me? What are the thoughts they have? Have we developed a relationship that had left us both better than before we met? These are the questions that I would rather have taking up that mental real estate than say the nagging someday physical item.

Often we place importance on the material items over our relationships. These material items (smartphones, tablets, cars, books, insert any item) pull us away from those people that matter most. Owning the items really isn’t the issue, but our compulsive behavior around those items causes problems.

So in my mind’s eye, we should own our relationships. Tend to them, as they are the most important centerpieces of our life. When we are spending time with others, we should strive to be fully engaged. Work not to be possessed by our phones, mindless games, distant thoughts, or dare I say it…social media sites. Let’s be present, be aware, and be alive. There is nothing greater than having a real-time dialogue with a friend, family member, or for those daring… a stranger. Let us be here and now with our relationships.

When relationships become strained, or disagreements happen, this is the best time to own them fully. Own the responsibility to make amends, seek clarification, and bring the relationship back to, at minimum, neutral ground. We might feel right in an argument, but that does not mean that we can’t own the result. Feeling right is not a justification for allowing a person/relationship to suffer.

“You can always be right, or you can get along—choose one.” —Joshua Fields Millburn.

Naturally, we can only go so far here, yet the goal is to know that we have tended to the relationship as best we could regardless of who is right or wrong. It is ok to disagree (even healthy), but, to me, it is not ok to allow a disagreement to get in the way of what matters most…a healthy relationship.

In practice, deeper meaning with others will emerge. I have experienced that lasting contentment is found through my relationships but not through all of my material items. Tending to my relationships has helped me transform and grow as an individual. My physical stuff usually serves as a distraction and a source of mental friction.

“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.”

―C.G. Jung

As always, I have lots of work to do, but that is why I am here: to grow, to create, and to polish out all of the blemishes.

Toss the physical and mental garbage…you don’t need it. It will feel great once it is gone.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Scott Webb via Unsplash

The Wandering Mind

I have a problem. Perhaps we all have this problem…I don’t know, just guessing on that. I think too much. HA!-you say. How is that a problem? Let me tell you a story. This story happens all the time, wherever I am, doing whatever I do.

Yesterday I was at dinner with my family. My daughter was trying to tell me something…I don’t remember what it was because I wasn’t really paying attention. I responded with words like “oh, really” and “ok.” My dead-end responses were to get her back to eating and to get me back to my incessant thinking. You see…I was off in my mind trying to solve all of the problems of my life. Problems, mind you, that did not need to be thought at all at that moment. Here is the map of what my mind thought about:

…I hope the viewing of my house is going well…

…Oh, don’t forget to finish the laundry when I get home…

…will the viewers care if there is unfolded laundry near the dryer?…

…hmmm, will the Red Sox finally start winning…

…when can I get out and hit some golf balls…

…Crap! Don’t forget to email that manager when I get back to work on Monday…

This is only a sampling of what my mind thought about. As you can see, none of it was really solving anything. Also, none of it needed to be thought about during a nice night out with the family!

Perhaps you know what this is like. Perhaps you do this as well. Perhaps instead of thinking too much, you scroll through your preferred social media app on your phone.

Past and future thinking are one of my worst habits. It is one of the reasons why I deal with anxiety regularly. Too much of this line of thought draws me out of the present moment and puts my mind in worry or depressed state. I have brought this up in other posts, and now I have a new scientific study that would support this.

This study was done by psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University. In this study, they used an iPhone Web app to gather 250,000 data points on the subject’s feelings, actions, and thoughts throughout their day. The end of the study revealed that people spend about 47 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they are presently doing, which makes them unhappy.

“A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Mind-wandering appears ubiquitous across all activities. This study shows that our mental lives are pervaded, to a remarkable degree, by the non-present. Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness. In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged. Many philosophical and religious traditions teach that happiness is to be found by living in the moment, and practitioners are trained to resist mind wandering and to be here now. These traditions suggest that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” –Killingsworth/Gilbert

Stopping the incessant thinking takes practice. There are a few things I practice that have provided temporary relief. Unfortunately, there is not a permanent solution to this issue. One must practice regularly to see results. Here are my top three:

1. Sit still for at least a half-hour every night. This allows the mind to unwind. Sitting still does not mean tuning into TV, internet, or phone. It means not doing anything for a half hour.

2. Meditate. Yep, I do this. Not as much as I like, but it provides relief. The goal in meditation is not to stop thoughts but to let them pass. Letting them pass can be hard because I am used to attaching to them…and thinking them out. Just let them go like clouds passing in the sky.

3. Pause and use all of my senses. This one can be tricky since I have to remember to do it. Yet, when I do remember, I pause what I am doing and engage my senses. What am I seeing, smelling, hearing, touching? The amazing thing about noting your senses is it draws you immediately to the present moment.

I may not be perfect keeping my mind in the present moment…but I am getting better. And that alone makes it worth the effort.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Dorota Dylka via Unsplash

Break the Mold: Inspire Your Child’s Authentic Self to Emerge

I have an internal battle going on. I really want my children to be a better version of me. Who has thought that? Seems pretty harmless….because…well, the word better is in it. But there is a huge problem with that statement. The problem is the word me. My children will never be me. They are growing up in different eras, with different technologies, parents, friends, and the environment.

Yet, even though I see this, I fight with it as I want to ensure (or control) their development. I want them to be in certain ways and not in other ways.

When I began my training with the Fitzgerald Institute, I was really blown away by something Jeanine Fitzgerald said. At the time, it seemed like a beautiful harmless epiphany. Little did I know it would be a constant struggle for me because I have to remind myself every day of this. I am paraphrasing here based on what I heard:

“When your children are born, they are strangers to you. You have no idea who they are or who they will become. Parenting is a discovery process. You don’t know them, and they do not know you. Your job as a parent is to help them become more of who they already are (not your predefined ideas).”

Draw out and help cultivate the person they already are….not a better version of me…not the person who I want them to become….the best version of themselves.….

Easy concept, right? HA!

What a struggle this is! I never thought about it in that way until Jeanine spoke those inspiring words. Immediately I bought in and was excited to cultivate them and bring forth more of who they are inside….not the 2036 PGA Tour Champion I was secretly hoping for (yes, humor).

So two battles are going on here. The first battle comes down to allow them to be who they are while also holding the responsibility for how they are interacting with the world! When I am responsible for something, I want and try to be in FULL CONTROL. The second battle I face is not forcing my dreams upon them.

Although it is a struggle for me on the home front, it works like magic at my job. You see, I have no responsibility in raising anyone at work. So, with that thought, yes, I can inspire people to be a better version of themselves. As a trainer, my true responsibility stops at teaching them skills or knowledge. I have no say with what happens with their career afterward as they are responsible for doing the best that they can (however, I do care that they are successful, but it is not in my span of control). With kids…I am responsible.

My battle continues, but I am getting better at this every day. My kids are guided now more than ever. I am not pressing them into a defined mold to make them the shape I want them to be, as that will create resentment and friction. Treating them like Play Dough; pressing them through the Fun Factory will erode trust and push them away…but still, internally, I have the voices:

My ego says: NOOO! JUST DO IT MY WAY…YOU HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS!

My heart says: Show by example and allow them to develop in their own way. The way that they need to be…the way that works best for who they are.

The following analogy has helped me immensely keep things in perspective.

Our job as a parent is to plant the seed in the soil and tend to it. THAT IS IT. We plant the seed and make sure the soil is right; the environment is right (get enough water, nourishment, little trimming, light exposure, temperature, etc.). Tending, tending, tending, always tending to the environment until it is self-sufficient.

However, we do not tell the seed how to do its magic. The seed knows when to pop. The seed knows how to grow. The seed knows what it is and how it will grow. Given the correct environment, the magic of life emerges. Continually tend to the environment and influence rather than force.

See the difference? Our job is only to create the optimal conditions for the child to grow and learn. When the right conditions are met, a child will automatically flourish, just like the plant.

I am learning not to worry. I am learning not to try to control life. What I have noticed when my child’s optimal conditions are met, they are magnetized to me, I have greater influence, and they naturally pick up on our family values.

Create the right environment and let life take care of life. Cherish this stranger, you are getting to know. They have a magic all their own, and that will be more beautiful than any predefined mold we can press them in.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Ravi Roshan via Unsplash

Shame is not the game (for adults and kids)

This morning, I wrote a post about the pitfalls of shaming others (kids) and shaming oneself. The post was long, scattered, and full of too much life! So, I walked away, searching for concise thoughts or pithy words to use. Hoping it would magically hit me….but it didn’t.

The gist of it was how damaging shaming is to our relationships…which it is. When we shame our kids, we break their hearts and damage their trust with us. Over time, if this continued, our kids will drift away and avert their life away. Trust will be minimal while their ears will be deaf to our trying to control them…or connect with them…or be with them. That is how misguided shame is. Shame is a reflection of the damaged self...not the other person.

On the flip side, just as bad, we can shame ourselves. This shame is nastier than shaming another. This type of shame and guilt will drive you into despair, much like a prison cell of your own making. Welcome…depression.

I have known plenty of both kinds of shaming. Towards me, towards others. Internally and externally…giving and taking.

Well, so much for that lovely post. Perhaps it will come to life another day. There are lots to be said about that topic.

But wait….the epiphany did happen just in a different pattern. Soon after I gave up writing for the morning, I was in the midst of it: Shame!!! Life is a cruel master that way. Or, life picks the most opportune times to show a lesson.

I will not go into specifics, but I was not a happy dude! Yet it brought clarity to the likes of which I have never thought of before.

The epiphany is this: Shaming a behavior is one thing…sure the child (person, self) will carry some guilt and avoid you the next time it happens but shaming a person’s emotions is the greatest sin.

I say this because a person can learn how to think. They can learn how to act. They can learn good and bad behaviors….but they cannot control how they feel. They can control only how they respond to their emotions.

That is the lynchpin. Emotions happen all on their own! No one controls this. Sure one can pent it up or hide it, but emotions have their own master, and it is not the thinking mind!

Shaming someone for feeling something is incredibly damaging. It is the deepest cut and the biggest breaker of trust.

Feelings are NOT GOOD, BAD, RIGHT, OR WRONG. They are, and we should not shame them. For the moment we do this, no healing can begin. With children, especially, let them feel without repercussions. Let them iron it out in a safe environment. Let them feel as they do without making them feel bad about something they have no control over with your family or friends. Let them be human.

Finally- yourself. Let the emotions happen. Sit with them. Allow them to get out. Then as they pass, ACCEPT THEM. It is ok. They are ok. You are ok. Acceptance is the first step to love. Shaming isolates and breeds fear.

We all have work to do here.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Marco Albuquerque via Unsplash

Traditions: The Binding Stories of Our Life

“Whoa! Here we go!” My father yelled, as once again he had the first catch of the season. They were here. My father’s voice rang like a gong, carrying down stream to where I stood. His call signified to everyone that the long hard New England winter was officially over. Opening day fever intensified in my body and my heart sped up. I too wanted to catch some trout…maybe one more than my father or brother…or perhaps just the biggest one. No matter what happened, one thing was clear: The Arnold Family was once again ushering in Spring with their trout fishing skills on full display.

This coming Saturday marks the opening day of trout fishing in Connecticut. Every year since I was about 7, my dad, brother, and I wake up around 4:30 in the morning, grab our gear, and head out to our top fishing hole. At 6 am, we were allowed, by law, to cast our line into the water.

This day carries so much significance for me. First, it was the true mark that spring had sprung. Second, it provided wonder and mystery to me as I dreamed in the week leading up to it that I might pull out a lunker. Third, and most importantly, it provided time for my dad, brother, and I to bond.

Sadly, my Champion Dad passed in 2017. However, every April, I still show up to the same hole to carry on the family tradition. Soon, my kids will be the age where it will be safe for them to go. The torch will be passed down.

Family traditions are the story of your life. They are the strings that knit your family together. They celebrate the differences and unite members together as a greater whole. Traditions are beautiful, fun, and give us something to look forward to. Your traditions define your family. They are the myths you leave behind when you are gone.

The following is a shortlist of benefits I have experienced through our family traditions. Hopefully, this list will inspire you (the reader) to pass down or start your own ritual/traditions for your family. 

Family connections get stronger. Traditions provide an opportunity for families to spend dedicated time together. Members of a family bond and have a sense that they are a part of something special. This also ties in the fact that it can bring together multiple generations. Moreover, it helps cull the narcissistic behaviors our culture develops as we experience something greater than ourselves.

Provides teachable moments. What a great way to reinforce your cultural heritage or pass down your life wisdom/experiences. These moments teach values. Values are instilled and reinforced through family dinners, bedtime routines, morning routines, and weekly activities. 

Builds a family story and identity. Rituals and traditions provide an explicit or implied story of the family. Who are we? Where did we come from? What do we care about? How do we act? Through these questions, your family can develop a natural sense of purpose and belonging.

Lasting memories. The things I remember most about my life all center around traditions. It doesn’t matter if it was big, small, daily, or seasonal; all of my fondest memories have been through one tradition or another.

Traditions are a wonderful way to provide bonding, connectivity, and organization to this crazy world. What traditions are you passing down or creating for your family?

Now, of course, there are traditions that I would love to pass on to my kids, but I realize that they may not take hold. So far, I have found that if I battle with them on doing something, the tradition will eventually be doomed. So it is ok to examine or modify your traditions. It is far better to put your energy towards building new traditions than forcing an older tradition onto your kids.

To make a new or modified tradition stick keep two things in mind. First, be clear on WHY you are doing it. Understand the purpose behind the action. Second, make it personal for all involved. Traditions are special and should feel special for everyone. When you have the why down and make it personal, traditions build a natural momentum all their own. Have fun with it!

Remember: Traditions bring your family together and help you reconnect. They provide a sense that there is something greater than the individual. Love elevates and bonds through traditions.

Be well….also wish me a spot of luck this weekend as I want to haul in a Lunker.

-MJ

Photo by Jed Owen via Unsplash

Unplug: Be Your Own Compass

I have too much of everything. TOO MUCH…EVERYTHING!

I have too much to do, too much to remember, too much to worry about, too many responsibilities….need I go on? Yes, one more: too much external stimulus.

My life feels like Time Square in NY….Traffic racing around, the noise so loud I can’t hear myself think, and advertisements galore begging to pull my attention….just a paralyzing stream of garbage keeping me from what matters most.

Here is a little fact:

The average American view anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 advertisements in one day! This number has dramatically increased since the advent of the smartphone.

Everywhere you look, someone is trying to sell you something or make you feel something to consume more.

All of these messages stack up and wreak havoc on your brain. Don’t believe me? Here is another little stat for you:

Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year.

When I went through my depression, that number was 1 in 8 (the year 2000) in their lifetime. What a terrible trend and I attribute it to the constant stream of crap that we are exposed to, telling us who to be, what to buy, and how to feel. Screw that.

I believe humans were just not meant to consume so much stimulus and expect to function normally. Our brains can only think and process things at a particular rate, so it makes sense that most of us are beginning to experience serious mental fatigue and illness.

Yesterday, I was burning out…every time I tried to start something, I was interrupted and felt a wave of anxiety because my to-do list was too long. The heavy mental weight was crippling. So I stopped and wrote out my Why (Bliss/inner urge) in life. In front of me, now is the scrap of paper that I used, and it reads:

“I have a job to do here, and it is bigger than (but infiltrates) what I get paid for doing. This job should be at the core of every moment, every action I take up. Who can I help today become a better version of themselves? Who can I help move closer to love (infinite source of all things)? Cultivate the environments! Cultivate relationships!”

This is just a draft, but it provides me direction. I read it, and it suffices. It is hard to ascribe words to this feeling. However, when we have direction and know our goal, we can stay on point and tune out the noise.

How many know WHY they are here? There is an answer to this question! And we can discover it within (it cannot be given to you by another). When we follow this bliss, it is much easier to shrug off and turn down the noise of the world. The journey does not get easier, but there is peaceImagine the peace of mind as you take on the day. Following your bliss also has a great side-benefit: energy and passion.

Too many of us are lost in the Time Square of life…aimlessly wandering…hoping to make it through the day.

Please go out and find your Why and build your life around it. When you tease this out over time, you can take control of the wheel and pull yourself out of the traffic.

The only way I have found to do this truly is to unplug from the world. I go for a walk or get into nature. I need to remind myself constantly to listen to my heart and not what mother culture is pumping into me. My (Your) true voice is there waiting to be heard. This voice is unique to each of us. This authenticity is our reason to be here, our job. Turn off the noise and listen…

Our inner voice, our inner urge/bliss, is waiting. As we learn to tune into that frequency…turn it up. The world needs more of our authenticity instead of another distracted drone.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Danial Barbarics via Unsplash

Power Struggles: Avoiding the War

“The greatest victory is the one that requires no battle.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

*Special thanks to Jeanine Fitzgerald and Peggy Hoime for the inspiration to write this post.

“NOOOOO! YOU DIDN’T LISTEN! YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO DO IT THAT WAY!”

This was what my son screamed at me this weekend while playing a game that he made up, asked me to play, and never shared the rules. Perhaps you have been there with your child. Oh, the joy of big emotions! (For context, he is currently 5 years of age)

How we show up in moments like these will determine the level of trust we establish with our children. Also, just as important, we will be modeling the behavior of problem-solving when emotions take control.

I wish I could say that every time a power struggle happens with my children, I act perfectly…., but that is not reality. A year ago, I might have met his fire with fire of my own. A fire just a smidge louder…a fire that let him know who the boss was. A fire that most assuredly would have lost trust and made sure he explodes in a bigger way next time.

Nowadays, I might not be perfect, but I recognize my triggering points. When I feel that I am about to be triggered, I switch gears and try to remind myself of three important things:

1. Stay calm. Even if I feel disrespected or attacked, I find it works best to maintain composure. I am finding that there is no need to get defensive. Staying calm helps my child return to calmness and reinforces that they are in a safe place to act out. Children need to act out to work out these big emotions. If I were to lay into them about getting angry, I would only be reinforcing their behavior to continue.

Might I have been attacked? Yes. Might I have been disrespected? Sure. But who is the adult….me. I am the one who is aware, the one who has control, the one who can choose how to cultivate a young mind who is learning how to interact in this world.

Be unflappable….be the Jedi.

2. Ask questions. This one is absolute magic! When I begin to ask questions, it allows my child to continue to tell their story. This is important because, through telling their story, they will get to the root of the issue. When we get to the bottom of it, we can help them resolve what is going on. This would not happen if I raised my voice and fired back.

Questions also serve an important piece in allowing the child to move from their emotional brain to their intellectual brain. It just so happens that humans can’t be in both hemispheres at the same time. Hence, once I am triggered, I meet fire with fire (emotions with emotions)…all logic goes right out the window.

Questions also serve as a buffer for me to gather myself while I listen. I can make sure I do not move into the emotional (reactionary) part of my brain. This extra time allows the heat of the moment to die down for all involved.

3. Build them back up by normalizing the emotion. This point, I feel, is often understated in life, whether with kids or adults. When conflicts arise, it is critical to allow the other person to leave with dignity as they do. Conflicts are not about being right or wrong. Conflicts are not about winning and losing. Conflicts are an opportunity for both to grow and come out a little better than before. Normalizing the big emotions has allowed my children not to feel shame as they work through it. It also serves as a huge trust builder for a stronger relationship.

Imagine, with every conflict; both people come out a little stronger than before. No shame, no dignity lost. Just a moment in time in which emotions were ironed out. This is how continued influence is built. I am working hard on these, and I have a long way to go, but I have the roadmap to follow.

Be well.

MJ

Photo by Eco Tour Adventures

Step One: Showing Up

(This is the first post by our new contributor JB. Please take a moment to check out her profile in the Contributors page)

A CHAMPION DAD…that sounds daunting, no doubt. Since I heard the blog’s name, I have been considering what this means, where I’ve experienced it. My own dad is a champion in many ways; my husband is in others. But this week, I met a champion dad who has come through the fire. Better yet, the defining characteristic of this individual is that he ran into the fire to sit with his daughter. And share in her hurt.

Life isn’t easy. We always want the best for our kids, better than we had. Yet sometimes they have to face hardship and real soul-wrenching, gut piercing pain. And we all wonder how we will ever survive. But we do, together.

Have you ever gotten the call? The call that the world is on fire for someone you love? Time slows down, and your stomach drops? I’ve gotten a few, thankfully only a few. But this is a part of life. When he got “The Call” from his adult daughter, this amazing man was driving to work. And he did what any Champion Dad would do, said “I’m coming” and started the long drive to get to her a few states away.

Work and responsibilities fade away when we are faced with the reality of heartfelt need from our children. Now, he couldn’t fix the problem, bring her fiancée back to life. But he did the most important thing any father can do…he showed up. In talking with him later, he revealed his feelings of helplessness, and while he wasn’t doing anything at that moment, he was BEING her dad. Being present and sometimes that’s the only thing that a parent can do. But this was only possible because of a lifetime of showing up in big and little ways – soccer games, hanging out with her friends at their house, conversations driving places, offering advice and laughter in the small moments. I hope and pray that my kids will know that my husband and I are always there for them, ready to show up.

C.S. Lewis said, “Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.” This is tough to remember when the kids are little, and I’m trying to get my work done, but I’m trying. It’s these small moments, the daily interactions and rituals that seem silly and exhausting sometimes. But they build up to a lifetime of trust. What can you do TODAY to make sure you have that critical connection? Wait for the bus, toss around the ball for a few, or let your daughter paint your toenails. The little moments of action are all training for the tough stuff. If you are conditioned, you will show up and BE the Champion Dad that you truly are.

JB

Photo by Jordan Whit via Unsplash

Tricks to Becoming a Master Listener

“Are you even LISTENING TO ME??!!

Have you ever heard those words spoken to you? Chances are, if you are like me, you have probably heard them a lot. In my life, I generally hear this from my wife, and truth be told, she has been well within her right to do so.

The fact of the matter is, I have always had difficulty listening to others. It is not that I am not paying attention but has more to do because I get so excited to share that I jump in or cut someone off before they are done speaking.

I work at becoming a better listener. I try to remember all the simpleton advice, like maintaining eye contact the whole time or being patient and waiting for your turn. I have now realized that this advice is very shallow and generally meaningless if you lack interest with whom you are listening to. I now know this and am teasing it out in life:

Our relationships’ depth reflects and is in direct proportion of how deeply we can listen to the other person. Deeper listening = deeper connection.

But about a month, my listening ability changed forever. I was listening to an interview with Robert Greene (author The Laws of Human Nature), and he said something that struck me like a lightning bolt that I never thought of before. It was (paraphrasing here):

“Why is it that we are not a good listener? The root of it is that we are more interested in ourselves than we are of the other person. Some may deny, but the truth is we are more interested in our own thoughts, ideas, and things that we are certain about than about the other person, what they are saying, and what is going on inside of them.”

How true!!! He went on:

“That person we are talking to is more interesting than we think or imagine that they are. They are a book. Think of people in our life as characters in a movie. What motivates them? They are more interesting than we think! They have had traumas, family issues, successes…”

WOW! It sounds simple, but it is so spot on and practical. The trick here that is transforming how I approach conversations now is this:

When conversing, recognize that our initial assumptions about that person (or simplified story about them) are false or, at best incomplete. Fight the urge to put forward your ideas. Instead, be patient and ask yourself things like what are they feeling right now? Or, why do they think this? Be a seeker of their what and why.

Practicing these little thoughts will automatically make you a better listener.

Strong, connected relationships come down to the listening and emotion quality, not how much you have shared about your thoughts and ideas.

Quality of listening wins over quantity of exchanges.

As humans, we are a social animal, and how well we can work and listen to others will determine how far you can go in life.

A big reminder to wrap this one up: At first glance, we are not seeing the other person for who they are but are only seeing reflections of our own projections we have made about them. Don’t believe your stories about them. Fight the urge to interject and ask why. They will reveal their true self to you, the more deeply you listen. 

Be well

-MJ

.Photo by Kyle Smith via Unsplash

Champ Dads..The Marvel Way

While rummaging through my old book collection, I came across one of my most cherished books when I was a kid: How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way. 

As soon as I saw it, I was once again captivated by the possibilities contained within. I immediately searched for the page in the picture above (please take a moment to read it). This section spoke to me back then and spoke to me know. It has to do with how to draw a typical hero and how to draw a villain.

When I was younger (and even now), everyone wanted to root for and cheer for their favorite hero! However, when it comes to drawing a hero..well if you have drawn one, you have drawn them all. Yet, villains are a different story. Although we love to hate them, that is where all of the creative fun can be found. This conveyed to me a very important lesson to be learned:

-It is our unique imperfections that provide ALL of our opportunity for growth in life-

Let me unpack this a little bit (or should I say draw a complete picture). If we didn’t have all of our shortcomings, flaws, and weaknesses, we would not have a mountain to climb. Having our struggles to overcome paves the way to growth and accomplishment. There is no happy ending if there isn’t something to overcome. Tragedy leads to victory. Just watch any of the latest Marvel movies that have come out.

Returning to the book, Stan Lee points out (my words not his): perfection is boring, formulated, and easy. Yet flawed characters…YIPPEE…time to have some fun. Now, I am strictly speaking about drawing characters here. Since heroes generally have to look the same, writers provide them a flaw when storytelling, so they are relatable and likable (Superman…kryptonite..DC I know..forgive me). Flaws give us something to root for in another and something to work on within ourselves. With this being said, here is another habit I am personally working on:

-Learn to love and embrace your imperfections. They are what make you unique and wonderfully you. You can only change something that you have accepted. You will know when you have accepted it when there is no shame, guilt, or blame present- 

To finish out this post, I would like to use the Marvel theme, twist it a little, and apply it to Champion Dads:

Champion Dads are where all the fun is. We are not perfect. We come in all different sizes, shapes, colors, cultures, and backgrounds. We strive to be better every day for our family, friends, and society. While we might not ever be perfect, we exercise giving grace within and withoutWe do the best that we can with what we have got, and when all else fails..be goofy. We recognize that victory is not realizing a goal but rather found in how we cultivate and nourish the journey.

Be well

-MJ

Endless Distraction

I want to share a story today about something that, my guess, has happened to many of us. I was putting a puzzle together with my daughter and felt my phone’s vibration go off in my pocket. Instinctively, I reached down to see who needed me at that moment, only to find out that my phone was not there. My phone was upstairs on my bureau where I left it. This is what some refer to as the twitch.

This moment upset me. It had happened before, but I usually just shrugged it off. Not this time, though…had I become so programmed that I am mindlessly feeling and reaching for things that are not there?!!

That day I tried to figure out just how programmed I had become…how deep are the roots of this mindless habit? The following were my painful observations of my behavior.

*When I retrieved my phone from my bureau, I instantly checked it to see if I “missed” a text or a call. And every few minutes, impulsively pressed the home button to light up the screen.

*While driving, I felt the twitch again only to see my phone on my dashboard where I kept it.

*Standing in a long line at the store, I reached for the phone to pass the time.

*Three more times in the evening, I felt the urge to check and use the phone to review emails, texts, and run various games.

Needless to say, I was a bit disgusted by how strong the twitch’s calling was. I felt tremendous anxiety when I did not follow through on the urge.

I am now working to correct this terrible habit.

It has been almost a week since that fateful wake-up call, and I have had time to dig into how it has impaired my ability to be in the moment.

The twitch signifies a larger problem. It is not only about a phone but also the impulsive nature of needing constant input or distraction in one’s life. Look around and observe- the chances are that you will see people walking with their head down, lost in their glowing device. Or, perhaps they are in a line catching up on Facebook. Or, they are checking their phone quickly at a stoplight. Or, worst yet, reading their phone while they are spending time with their kids.

To me, the twitch is all the noise that sucks the magic out of the present moment. Why do we need to get lost in our device? Why do we need a constant distraction?

I remember the days when I did not have a phone. In my downtime (the line at the store, waiting room, sitting with nothing to do), I would think and allow my thoughts to sort themselves out. It was so beautiful to allow my brain a break where it could process out all that happened in the day. Anxiety was less. Happiness was more.

I guess that the rising levels of anxiety in adults and children are directly linked to constantly being distracted. The constant streaming of noise we are force-feeding our brains is impairing its ability to decompress and recharge.

Maybe it’s time to put the phone down for a while and take back control.

You’re not going to miss anything…In fact, you will be gaining….gaining back all the precious moments…the magical interaction real life has to offer…your kids laughter…a sunset…or just watching the day pass you by.

How awesome were the days where we had nothing to do but hang out and have a real conversation with…..hold on…just felt my phone…UGH!

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Jens Johnson via Unsplash

3 Habits to Help Disable Depression

In the year 2000, I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression. To think about this 19 years later still provides chills down my spine…and not in a good way. You see, depression changes a person forever. Although I don’t suffer daily, I can always reach out and touch it. IT is there. Now, in many ways, it is like a caged tiger. I have learned skills and thought processes that have kept it in a safe place…But it is still there, pacing back and forth…Every once and a while, letting loose a guttural growl as to say “never forget.”

For me, I have never been successful at describing what depression is like to a person who has not gone through it. IT is hell. It is an emotional roller coaster of uncertainty (when I could feel emotion). Imagine a world without color, without vibrancy, while every little stress put you in a place of despondent despair. There is no exit sign or escape while the dread in your bones has one constant theme: It is over, it is over, it is over.

So that was what it was like for me. Yet, here I am! I came back, and my aim every day is to live life on my terms and help others do the same.

This post is for Champion Dads, who are currently in the despair. The following three things helped me immensely. They provided me a foothold to start to gain back a little normalcy and control in my daily life. Even current day, I use these three things to make sure I keep that cage strong. (Remember, these are things that worked for me. I am not a doctor or a psychiatrist and am not providing advice…I am just sharing ideas).

1. Practice thinking in the present moment. A common occurrence was my head filled with future worries and past dwellings. My head would say things like:

Future- “I hope the rest of my life isn’t like this” or “How am I ever going to go on this way?”

Past- “I just want to go back to the way I was.”

Past and future thoughts have no place in reality. One is a reflection on what has long gone, while the other is an illusionary projection. Neither are real. When I caught myself dwelling back or worrying forward, I would replace the thought with “Mike, your only job right now is to experience all the sensations of the current moment.” An example of this playing out is as follows:

Imagine tying your shoes and worrying about all the crap you have to do today. “Stop, right now, focus on how perfect I can tie the shoes. What do the laces feel like? Let’s focus on how tight I need to tie them. How do the shoes feel on my feet?”

By repeatedly reminding ourselves to return to the present moment, we can ease the burden of overthinking.

2. Practice not judging everything you see. I owe my brother big for this line of thinking. It is hard, but good. On one of the worst days of my depression, we went for a walk, and I tried to explain how disconnected I was. Here is a snippet of that conversation:

Me: “Look at all these pink flowers. Before, I could feel how beautiful they were, and I would know how beautiful they were. Now I see them, but I feel no connection..it is like someone severed my cord to life.”

Brother: “Why does the flower need to be beautiful? Why can’t the flower be the flower?

BOOM!!! Things are not the judgments we place upon them. Allow things to be as they are. Things are neither good, bad, right, or wrong. When we can be in the present moment without incessant judgment, things can be just as they are. We don’t need to waste thought/energy on placing them in our made-up boxes of judgments. (Good practice with people too)

3. Be of service to others. On days where I could not effectively do #1 or #2, I would go out and help someone else. This way, I could stop the narcissistic behavior of ME ME ME thoughts. When we focus on helping others, we find ourselves naturally in a present moment state. Our focus shifts from ME to them. This step is magical to me, so I love my current career in adult learning.

So there they are…three ideas. I hope they help. They help me every day.

Let’s take small steps and build habits to bring forth a better tomorrow.

-MJ

Photo by Melissa Mjoen via Unsplash

You Are The Fire

THE GIFT OF FIRE- As told by Anthony De Mello
There’s this guy who invented fire. He takes the tools for making fire and goes up to the north, where there are some tribes shivering in the cold. He teaches them the art and the advantages of making fire. And the people become interested. They learn. And what do they know? Pretty soon they’re cooking, they’re using the fire for building. And before they had time to say thanks to the inventor, he had disappeared. He didn’t want any thanks; he just wanted people to benefit from his invention.
He goes to another tribe, and he attempts to interest them also in his new invention. But he ran into a snag there, see? The priests began to realize how popular the guy was becoming and how their own influence on the people was diminishing. So they decided to poison him. A suspicion arose among the people that it was the priests who had done it, so you know what the priests did?
They had a huge portrait made of the man. They put it on the main altar in the temple. They devised a liturgy by which the man would be honored, a ritual; and year after year, people came to pay homage to the great inventor and to the instruments for making fire. And the ritual was faithfully observed. But there was no fire. No fire. Ritual. Remembrance. Gratitude. Veneration. Yes. But no fire…
****
This story is my favorite from Anthony DeMello. Anthony was a Jesuit Priest who saw things as they are (not as prescribed by his own faith). I often remind myself of this story as I guide my children the best that I can. 
This story’s true purpose is not whether dogma is good or bad (that is lazy, shallow thinking). The message here is that the fire maker’s purpose was to show that everyone can do this fire making stuff! He helped people learn and awaken to their true fire making potential. 
And so it is with ALL OF US: We are the fire of the world. At our best, we help others awaken to their own potential. Today, I will work hard to bring my fire into the world. Today, I will be patient with my children and help them discover their own unique fire within. Today, I will listen better to their story and coach them where needed. Today, I will offer my hand to anyone who has forgotten that they, too, can spark a flame in this world.
You are the fire of life. Let’s go out there and fan the flames and help others awaken to their potential.
Be well.
-MJ
Photo by Ryan Wong via Unsplash

Three Steps To Morning Freedom

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily”

When I first became a dad, well…everything changed. The first thing that changed was I had to take care of another tiny human better than I have ever cared for myself! Ok, so my wife and I got this! (Yeah, totally needed her because watching me hold a crying baby looks about the same as a caveman holding a log that is on fire…This doesn’t seem right…what do I do, what do I do???? HHAAAAAA!!!)

The second thing that changed is my sleep schedule. It wasn’t in their owner’s manual, but kids don’t care how late you stay up or how much you had to drink the night before. When kids wake up…THEY WAKE UP so full of life and ready to go! They don’t “get” that dad made some poor decisions the night before. So I would have to drag my sorry butt out of bed.

So with that being said, here are three things that completely changed my morning dynamic and saved my sanity. The following will transform your mornings from playing catch-up and resenting their energy to being functionalloving, and in control.

#1 and #2 are about habits. #3 is about forging a relationship.

“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether or not you’re inspired”.- Octavia Butler

1. Wake up every day before for the kids. I try to wake up at least a full hour before they wake. This grants me some quiet time where I am not distracted (aka ME time). Since my quiet time happens in the morning, I have plenty of energy to enjoy it and get all of my ducks in a row for the day. Try this out! You will see that it is so much better than trying to find quiet time after the kids have gone to bed for the night (I mean, why have quiet time when you are already burned out?!)

2. Wake up at the same time every morning. It does not matter when you go to bed; build the habit of waking up simultaneously. It does wonders for your body, even on the days you may lack sleep (science has my back on this). Your body has its own natural rhythm, and waking up at the same time allows a good routine to form. Current day, I wake up without an alarm between 4:30 and 5. If I can do this, you can too! I used to be a natural night person. I made the shift originally because I wanted to read a book but would fall asleep shortly after I started reading at night. Now I have a beautiful, peaceful habit.

3. When your kids wake immediately, spend five to ten minutes giving them your full attention (no phone or fractured attention here). This is what is referred to by L. Tobin* and Jeanine Fitzgerald* as first hour needs. If you can fill your kids up right off the bat with touch (hug), acknowledgment, humor, conversation, nutrition, love, etc.- they will be so much more well behaved in the day and compliant to your voice. Really, this one is a miracle at work. Just fill them up with as much love as possible and watch them go…in a content state. I also use this tactic as soon as I get home from work. The key here is to create an environment where they feel and know that they are valued. (Bonus fact: did you know that 80% of what you communicate with another is purely non-verbal….yeah, words don’t tell the story)

In conclusion, I work these three things every single day. I love my kids, but hey…I also love me. Maximize your downtime when you have the most energy for it (you deserve it)…and while you are at it, fill your kids up with love and acknowledgment (they will return the favor).

-MJ

*L. Tobin What do you do with a child like this?

*Jeanine Fitzgerald- The Dance of Interaction

Photo by Japheth Mast via Unsplash

Agent of Change

The posts on this site often are meant to be a catalyst or an agent of change in the reader’s life. Every post on Be a Champion Dad got its start from ideas and actions that we, the writers, are learning and working on. 

Today I ask that you be an agent of change in your own life. Instead of going about your day waiting for something or someone to come by and inspire, I ask that you be the inspiration. Be the catalyst of change by taking one thing that you wish could be better and take a step in the direction to bring it forth.

“Create what you want to see in the world” –Jeanine Fitzgerald.

I am not talking about moving mountains but rather about making a small change today to build to a better tomorrow that you envision in your heart/mind. Some examples are as follows:

*Set a goal. Any change starts with a goal in mind. When you know your destination, you are more likely to take action and get there.

*Be happy. Happiness needs no reason. We are all responsible for our own happiness. However, so many people allow external circumstances or conditions to determine their mental state. The truth is everything starts from within and not the other way around. Happiness is a choice and does not rely on the external…unless you allow it to. Grab that steering wheel!

*Smile. This goes hand in hand with happiness. How many people do you see smiling as you navigate your day? Odds are not too many. Don’t be one of those people. Smiling is a great way to change your own mood and is a powerful way to help others open up and do the same. Smile- it may feel silly, but it does transform. Do it and observe. Your kids will mirror this behavior faster than anyone else!

*Develop a new relationship.  Success in life happens through your relationships. Often whom you know will shape future opportunities. Reach out to someone who you have never dealt with before and begin a conversation. Pick someone of interest or that you have admired from a distance. You will be amazed at the doorways that open when a new relationship is forged. This one is a little adventurous but will provide the most reward.

This post’s main point is to bring awareness to this powerful but easy truth: Life responds immediately to those who take aggressive action or stance. Now I don’t mean aggressive in a negative way, but simply boldly assertive. Life is always interactive. The more proactive one can be, the more life works to respond in kind. Success happens most to those who have chosen their outcome and drive towards it to shape their tomorrow. So have fun today and make a small change in your life. You just may be amazed where that new rabbit hole (change) will take you.

Be Well

-MJ

Photo by Mehuldave via Unsplash

A Perfect Mess

“The world is perfect. It’s a mess.
It has always been a mess.
We are not going to change it.
Our job is to straighten out our own lives.”

– Joseph Campbell

As you navigate your life today do not take the ups and downs too personally.  Remember: Life is merely a constant reflection of self.  A constant crazy reminder of our internal dialogue.  Don’t worry about fixing the mirror.  Instead, focus attention on the only thing you have control over: yourself.  When you get that right the reflection falls into place.

-MJ

Photo by Elijah O’Donnell via Unsplash

Timeless Poetry

I would like to thank my wife for providing this gem to me over tens years ago. We were only dating and she was witnessing me (at work) getting crushed by a mountain of stress and obligations. When I received it, my perception of time slowed and it pulled me right out of that funk.

“The true magic in life is only found through our relationships”

The crazy thing is she wrote this before we had ever met. It just makes me think that all of us should focus on what is in our heart. Creating from the heart plants seeds that will grow and reveal themselves in the future (for people we never even knew existed).

I hope you find a measure of value as I did that fateful day. Be well.

-MJ


Do you find your life to be full of stress?

You look around and it’s all a mess?

You feel like you hardly have a moment to treasure,

Well wake up now! Life is all about the simple pleasures.

How often do you stop and look at the trees?

Feel the warmth of the sun and the cool of the breeze.

Take time to do this, these things can’t be measured

Life is all about taking time to love these simple pleasures.

Why give in to the world and yell and complain,

This means nothing in life, you have nothing to gain.

When you’re old on your death bed would you want to look back?

And realize you wasted your life traveling down the wrong track?

Just stop right here, just stop and think….

Mindlessly stare at this page, try not to blink.

How much time have you wasted on things that don’t matter?

You’ve screamed and yelled and you’ve gotten madder and madder.

Only you can change this, you have the power within,

So stop, and realize the simple pleasures life can bring.

Whether your twenty or fifty or on your very last breath.

Take the time to appreciate things that count before death.

Look up to the sky, on a blue cloudless day,

Close your eyes and enjoy what the birds have to say.

Cause it is moments like this which we should all treasure,

At the end of our time, a good life is filled with these simple pleasures.


Photo by Ben White via Unsplash

Beliefs are the Parables of the Mind

Don’t believe your beliefs.

What a statement, huh?! Everyone reveals their true nature through their past and their current actions. What drives people’s actions are the beliefs they hold onto about their life. But….Please don’t believe them.

Let’s build this from the floor up. Beliefs are those ideas you hold to be true in your mind and heart but cannot prove in the world. Beliefs are not facts. Beliefs are merely theories waiting to be proofed out. 

So what do I mean with don’t believe your beliefs? Simply this. Keep your mind open to the possibility that your beliefs might not be true. Keeping an open mind like this will allow for new data to come in to amend your beliefs and grow. I know this sounds really awful to many of you, especially if you are a fundamentalist (view my post on Authenticity).

Why is it so awful? (because it is going to make you think!)

Your beliefs are the security blanket of your mind. They are the assumptions about life that enable you to move forward. Beliefs fill the gaps in the mind to sleep at night, navigate our day, and not be paralyzed by fear of the unknown (like- why we are even on this earth?). So it becomes really awful that we would even question the beliefs that keep us sane….because essentially you are removing the mental security blanket with questions like: Is this true? Or can it be amended to a higher understanding?

(Besides awful, it can be really scary too. I once read a book (The Story of B) that removed a huge pillar of belief from my mind. I didn’t know who I was for a few days, but I knew I could never go back! Hooray for enlightenment…that’s the way of it)

Don’t believe your beliefs. They are just stories for guidance.

How will this help you? You will grow as a person. You will learn to adapt and amend when higher knowledge comes in. This is also a great way to model how to be a thinking person for your child. (Champion Dads cultivate authentic thinking children)

Those who keep a fixated belief system without questioning are stagnant, closed to life, and severely disables their own growth/enlightenment. Not only that, but they cripple their personal creative power in this world.

What I am not saying is to get rid of your beliefs. We all have them and are required to live and navigate a healthy life. Keep them but allow them to grow with you on your journey. In other words, hold onto them as long as they work or serve a purpose. Let them go when they are no longer useful.

Don’t believe your beliefs. They are just a tool to help you go about your day and build your life…always feel free to upgrade new tools when life is trying to teach you something.

Or to be EVEN MORE redundant, let’s sum this up to another way: Beliefs are merely the parables of the mind. It does not matter if they are “true” or not. What matters is that they help facilitate wonder, curiosity, and point the way when needed.

Don’t believe your beliefs but feel free to enjoy the story.

-MJ

Photo by Joshua Earle via Unsplash

Friday Wake Up Call

This site is about waking up, taking control, and building the family life you envision. To me, everyone is asleep (including myself.) We are all sleeping and are at different stages of waking up. This site is devoted to helping cultivate a waking mind. A mind that can think on its own and grow is a mind that can positively impact its surroundings (kids and anyone you come into contact with).

Let’s get one thing out there: Waking up is hard to do. For the most part, if you are like me (or the average Joe/Jane), you will wake up for a moment, experience enlightenment, and then fall back asleep. It’s a vicious cycle. Waking up is not an end result. You won’t wake up and be able to automatically sustain it…mainly because we are human.

Enlightenment in life is about the journey. Step one is this: understand the “why” in each moment while focusing on experiencing it to its fullest. God/Truth/Love/Peace…whatever you want to call “IT” can only be found in the present moment.

Waking up can be very uncomfortable because it means we must challenge our thoughts. I have noticed that the hardest thoughts to change are the ones that I have always believed and never questioned. These are the ideas that we learned growing up; the ideas “mother culture” spoon-fed us. These deeply rooted thoughts keep us in line and inhibit our ability to create a unique/authentic life. Examine these thoughts as they come up, shine a light on them, and if they add true value to your life, keep them. If they do not hold value, cast them aside, and create better thoughts to live by.

Our work is never finished. However, it is deeply satisfying once you have some momentum.

On a train in 2002, I wrote the following poem on a cover of a book:

 “I am just a plow in a field, planting seeds, planting seeds. The gorgeous flowers that will grow yet even weeds, even weeds.”

The mind is fertile soil. We can actively work at cultivating the soil to bring forth flowers or allow it to produce on its own accord. If we don’t choose the content, our mind will fill with the weeds “mother culture” decides to plant. Regardless of whether or not we are consciously tending the soil, it WILL produce. The mind is always at work.

So let’s go forward and start pulling all the weeds that we don’t want in their place plant flowers and ideas worth living by. Work the soil and actively create. This is the true journey of life: to bring forth that which your individual self has to offer and share it with the world.

Wake up!

-MJ

The Day in the life of…

The following is a great quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson.  It is a great reminder to give each day your all and not to dwell too long in the past. I can’t help but think of it when I reach the end of my day and realize that I was not perfect with my kiddos. Parenting is not a game of perfect. It is constant adjustment as we try new things while adapting to their changes.

“Finish each day and be done with it.  You have done what you could.  Some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can.  Tomorrow is a new day.  You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense”.

Shake the weight of yesterday, smile, and go on with today.

MJ

Three Quotes to Ponder

Here are three quotes to ponder today after (for me) a hellish Monday. They are from one of my favorite authors, Joseph Campbell. Be Well.

“Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it. The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be. Being alive is the meaning”

“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls”

“What each must seek in his life never was on land or sea. It is something out of his own unique potentiality for experience, something that never has been and never could have been experienced by anyone else”

Say yes to life. Say yes to you. Perfection is not found in conformity; actually that is where it is lost. Perfection comes through a moment to moment experience of being fully yourself.

MJ

Authenticity

“You have to be odd to be number one” – Dr. Seuss

For a great deal of my life, I was always looking to fit into one group or another, and well, that never really worked out for me in the long run. My personality naturally calls for this, but my heart screams against it.
Now that I am older, I can see things much clearer and without an emotional attachment. So out of this, there is a pillar of thought in my heart and mind that rings very true:

Conformity is the enemy.

Conformity cripples the path to an authentic life.

The authentic life is the most significant path for anyone. It is the most challenging and happiest pursuit there is. There is simply nothing as beautiful as a person pursuing authenticity in everything that they do. It does not even matter what they are doing. There is unique craftsmanship involved only they can bring into this world. It radiates and shines and does not concern itself with who “likes and subscribes.” It marches on in its beautiful way.

Authenticity is always creating.
Conformity is always trying to fit in.

Authenticity = celebrates creation and uniqueness.
Conformity = fixed, established, and someone else’s vision.

Now don’t get me wrong, I fit in all over the place. I blend in across a myriad of groups. Also, I am not a “non-conformist.” My focus is just different. I am more concerned nowadays with fully expressing my uniqueness to the world (and you should too). If that fits, it fits, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I don’t worry about it.
You see, authenticity is about attraction. Authenticity is the lighthouse that shines on whether or not anyone notices. While it shines, it is not concerned with anything other than shining the best that it can. As it shines, the right people will take notice and move into their life.
Conformity is the opposite. It is about trying to find their place in this world. This place is already established.
Create your place. Be authentic.
It took me 30+ years to figure this out. 30+!!! Hopefully, you get there faster than I. My main goal with this website to help Dad’s (anyone) pursue their authentic self. You have the greatness that no one else in the world has ever had (and never will!).
Pursuing the authentic self takes courage and perseverance. I work hard every day to tow this line. It’s challenging yet significant all at the same time.
Be authentic! It is far more important to push your uniqueness into the world than to worry about whether or not someone agrees or likes you.

Be Well

MJ

Who’s driving anyway?

The greatest delusion that we can maintain for ourselves is that personal freedom resides anywhere other than within. Personal freedom always rests in our hearts and mind. Sure, some external events and forces come in and shake up our life, but we have the choice of how you respond to those events. How are we going to show up? Who is the hero to the story we are telling yourself? (Or do we always find a villain?)
We might not have control over all that happens in life, but we do have control over how we respond to it. The key to personal freedom comes down to one-word responsibility. Are we taking responsibility, or do you deny it?
To answer that question, watch how you respond to the next unexpected event in your life. Is there resistance or acceptance? Freedom appears once we accept things right as they are.
Yes, we create the figurative shackles that bind you. We build all of our life (the good and the bad). Always creating, creating, and creating. We might not be aware that we are.
I am not suggesting that we can eliminate everything that you do not like. Nope, I am merely stating that we can use it, create around it, and transform it into the life we would like to live.
Own your life, accept it, and take on full responsibility. The shackles will drop. We may not control the traffic on life’s highway, but there is no reason we should not be in the driver’s seat.
As a dad (parent), it is best to model this behavior for your kids early and consistently. Not only will you be practicing a winning strategy for yourself, but you will be teaching an important lesson on how to approach the unpredictability of life’s journey.
Remember: Life does not happen to you. It happens through you. You create it and help it unfold. Be an active participant and help others do the same.

Love, Peace, and Harmony

MJ

Photo by Axel Antas-Bergkvist via Unsplash