Monday, August 25, 2014


School starts this week and I have a video for you if you are a teacher, counselor, parent or student leader. I love this video.  If you work with students, play it for them.  It is a 'how to' video-manual for the use of your brain. It talks about everything many of us talk to students about so that they can become familiar with how their brain works all encapsulated in this 8 minute film.  It's about the invisible stuff that we tend to take for granted, the stuff that you think of as ... well...'you'. It is the stuff that when dis aggregated, from 'you', you can say, 'oh, I bet if I turn that one aspect of my brain up or down, I could make a change in my life!'. But if we think of our brain as just mystery meat that takes up space inside your head, we can't take the control, or the direction that our desires demand of us.

 Ever since I watched Angela Duckworth in a TED video when she talked about this thing called GRIT, a defining trait found in the lives of people who felt they achieved a level of success. I fell in love with that word. When I talk about GRIT with students, I demonstrate the word, by clenching my teeth, making fists, and talking about walking through walls to get to my goals. It goes along with my other favorite word, MINDSET.

When you watch the video, listen for those words and think about how this information can give you what you need to make changes in your own life and the lives of your students. There are other words used in this film that describe a whole host of character strengths that make this an important film. It is time again, to get gritty, so listen for the word and figure out how it comes about and how it can be used.  Go through this process for each character strength or at least the 7 most important traits spelled out in the video that are necessary for success.

Have a great year!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A New School Year of Possibility

I think my parents were more excited about the start of a new school year then we were, as kids.  We'd count the days that were left of summer vacation and, back then, there were way more vacation days then there are now.  Buying a new school bag and supplies with my mother was an experience that definitely ranked up there as a favorite childhood memory and rang in the new year.  My father would say, 'are you ready for school yet?' or 'how many days are left til you start school again?' or better 'want to get a head start and I'll drive you there now?' And then, one year he said, 'You know, (this is the grade) when you learn all about the world'. My Dad was a simple guy that didn't really possess a vast amount of knowledge about the world, but he thought that if his kids simply applied themselves, they would find out. So that one sentence seemed enough for me.

It is now many years later and tomorrow I start my 20 something-th year as a school counselor and there is a part of me that still feels the same way as I did when I was a kid. The unscripted year that lies just ahead is waiting to be written in by possibility, potential, creativity, awareness, insight and courage. This year, I will improve on my skills, reach further than I thought I could, collaborate with greater effectiveness with students to help them realize their goals and purpose. I think it is only in the midst of the struggle, particularly the struggle within myself that I figure out how I will reach, stretch, morph, adjust, expand, transform, grow and keep going. This is the year (as it is every year), that I will learn about the world.

Still hopeful...

Monday, August 11, 2014

Right here. Right now.

As children, we are given routines and rituals, holidays, and celebrations to participate in. We have dinner time rituals, bath time routines and Good Night Moon.  Gathering in the kitchen, singing silly songs in the car and honoring a report card that was hard earned are all occasions to celebrate and we like to experience those events over and over again to provide our lives with a steady rhythm. We are communal beings that have always enjoyed telling stories around the fire. And we pass those stories and customs on to our children for them to take with them on their journeys. We also take great pleasure in spreading them out horizontally to our extended family and friends.

Why? Because we know that those rituals provide us the security that we need to feel safe.   Predictability is what keeps us centered, grounded and calm and in my world it keeps the universe humming. I like things and people I can count on.

But what is it about uncertainty that makes us feel like there is a threat to our survival? For some, that threat is real. For others, it may not be quite as imminent. How do we put both into perspective? I try to hold this uncertainty in my hand and it feels sleeky-metallic and unfamiliar. I don't have any frame of reference for this.  It is too smooth to get a hand hold, it slips from my grasp over and over again. As I try one more time to hold it in my hand I am suddenly aware of my laser focus on this one moment in time. I am not thinking of the past, I am not planning for the future.  I am here, I am right here, right now in this moment.  Ekart Tolle writes that if all is well in this one, singular moment... then all is well, because this one moment is all that we have.

Despite what Tolle wrote, I still prefer predictability over uncertainty, it is my human nature. In fact, according to some neuroscientists, it is encoded into my DNA to search for whatever patterns will ensure my survival. I'm always trying to 'name it' and it can drive me crazy.  But there is one thing that uncertainty forces me to do that might not be such a bad thing, which is at the crux of what Tolle is trying to tell us.  It forces me to forget about time and think about how I am going to spend this one moment. It teaches me to show up and tease out the really important stuff. It teaches me to watch the moment unfold and fold back again into the next moment. And in this way, I am still here. I am still here in all these moments making decision after decision, moment by moment.

Maybe this is the rhythm, the ritual and the magic that we need to stay focused on in order for uncertainty to have less stressful effects on us. Maybe after we control whatever we can, and if we can find our calm in the midst of our chaos (return to the breath) we can focus on the present moment and all the stuff that has ever made us happy. Similar to the metaphor of embracing the dragon that I talked about last week, we may find it surprisingly easier to embrace then to struggle against, the very thing we fear. Very young children who curl our hair around their little finger, who touch our face, whose discoveries we take so much pleasure in can teach us a lot about not-knowing -in- the- present- moment. Just watch them... they aren't fixed on the past, they aren't hell bent on something in the future.  They just are. They are content to feel the splash of the water or the fluff of a dog.  This is what the Buddhists call 'Beginner's Mind'.

I am a work in progress as I still and may continue to struggle against uncertainty for a while longer, as I come to each crossroad on a highway I thought I was familiar with... I hope you will find me at beginner's mind, finding my calm, controlling only what is in my power to control and finding the courage to allow the moments to unfold.  Okay... big breath and now relax.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Gratitude-Happiness Connection

So I wrote about gratitude last week and the benefits of being genuinely thankful.  One of the benefits that was alluded to, but was not directly listed, was happiness.  What do we know about happiness? Is it something that is turned on and off by extrinsic events?  Is it something that we have control over? Is it only noticeable when something really good happens to us, but other little, more subtle stuff gets ignored because for some, the brain hasn't been taught to recognize the loveliness of the 'everyday'?  For some people, the happiness switch isn't turned on and we just can't recognize it against the backdrop of the ordinary. It is only when we are faced by challenges that we start to observe the moments that aren't as challenging and that's when we learn to seek out more and more of those experiences. 

It also isn't a constant.  We aren't always happy, every moment of the day.  An unaware person may find that they are frustrated when the universe did not conspire on their behalf.  We can't wait for someone else to make us happy as I believe that happiness is an 'inside job'   We can't control other people's behavior or feelings and they can't control ours. Even if we could, would you want someone to make you happy because 'you said so'?... someone to love you because you said so?.... someone to admire you because you said so? Someone to take out the garbage because you said so? Well... maybe. I'm leaning toward yes on this one! The opposite is also true.  Would we want to love someone because they told us to? I haven't scientifically proven this or found research to support this notion, but I think the inspiration to make someone else happy comes from the happiness it creates for us. The happiness that comes from gratitude is contagious.

Below is a link to a youtube video on the connection between happiness and gratitude.  Gratitude, especially when it comes over you unrehearsed, is a happiness lever. If you want more happiness, be more grateful. Make eye contact with the waiter and say thank you. Start a conversation with someone who is serving you to make your life pleasant. Let the teller at the bank know that her smile got you through a hard time. My guess, is that most of the people who are inclined to read my blog already know this to be true.

Enjoy the video: