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super hero high fiveI’ve worked my way through Leadership Coaching by Tony Stoltzfus. One of the things he recommends when a client achieves a major accomplishment is to offer encouragement and praise. He warns against generic statements because they lose their effectiveness quickly. For instance, how motivating is this?

Great job! You’re awesome!

The first time and two it’ll probably provide a boost. However, if that’s all your coach every says, eventually you’ll begin to doubt the sincerity of said coach. This also holds true when we’re interacting with co-workers, subordinates, and family, especially children. His recommendation is the G.U.E.S.S. approach:

  • Genuine: You mean it.
  • Unequivocal: It’s all praise. There’s no back-handed insult in what you say. There’s also no sarcasm.
  • Energizing: You should match the enthusiasm and energy of the person you’re praising.
  • Specific: Your praise should focus on something they did well or something important that they accomplished.
  • Substantiative: You are saying something important about the person.

Consider the following two examples which I could have given my daughter at her recent karate belt test:

That was pretty good, girl. It’s about time you knocked another belt off.

Versus:

You did an awesome job! Your focus during the belt test meant you did a magnificent job on your forms. Plus, your karate yells were clear and well-timed. This shows how hard you prepared!

Yes, the second response is longer, but that’s not what makes it better. I gave very specific examples of what she did well. I tied it back to her as a person. My language matched her passion at the end of her belt test. Finally, there wasn’t a put down hidden in the praise. Those qualities are what the praise better and more likely to encourage and inspire.

You don’t have to follow the G.U.E.S.S. model perfectly when you give your praise. However, at least try to make it specific and tie it to the individual in question. Generic praise becomes ineffective quickly. If we are going to take the time to praise, let us do so in a way that energizes and motivates the person we are praising.

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Mouse with Sword and CapeI used to be the kind of guy who was interested in doing things bigger and better than anyone I came across. This was the way I was in junior high school, high school, and about halfway through college. One of the things about going to a place like The Citadel is it’s humbling. For instance, when we went to play for the Washington Light Infantry, we came face-to-face with Congressional Medal of Honor winners. That’s humbling. They stood out and made you look, and then you saw all the folks wearing Navy Crosses, Silver and Bronze Stars, and Purple Hearts. Those were the times I found myself asking, “What have I done? I’m just some Air Force ROTC cadet. These guys have faced combat and showed great valor in the face of it.”

You don’t do things bigger and better than a Congressional Medal of Honor winner. It’s the highest award we give. The truth of the matter is that the majority of recipients would rather not have had to be in the situation which put them in line for the medal. They’d rather have their comrades back. They’d rather not have the memories. They didn’t earn the award because they were looking for it. Rather, they were just looking to stay alive and keep their fellow brothers and sisters-in-arms alive, too. They weren’t fighting for glory. They were fighting for their fellow airmen, soldiers, sailors, and Marines.

“It matters not what you fight, but what you fight for.” – David Petersen, Mouse Guard

I found this quote from the graphic novel series, Mouse Guard. Life isn’t about trophies and fame and glory and riches. Or at least, it’s not supposed to be. Rather, it’s supposed to be the why and the who. I work hard for my family, not for me. So when I have enough for my family, I go be with my family. I give of my time to help those around me for them, not for me. I write the check to a charity not for a tax break, not to be recognized as some great philanthropist, but simply because I believe in the case of the charity and want to see it succeed. Folks that do it for ulterior motives miss the point, as this graduation speaker pointed out:

Think about what you are fighting for. You’ve got goals and dreams. Do they fit with what you’re fighting for? Or do they sacrifice what you are fighting for? Make sure your goals and dreams, as well as your efforts and work, all of it – align with what you are fighting for. To do otherwise will likely mean you’ll accomplish that which you’ve set out to do, but you’ll look around and see that you’ll have compromised or lost what you were fighting for.

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Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages, has been out for quite a while but I had never gotten around to reading it. I’m glad that I have now. If you’re not familiar with the material, the premise is that there are five basic ways people feel love. These are what Chapman calls love languages and they are:

  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Quality Time
  3. Receiving Gifts
  4. Acts of Service
  5. Physical Touch

All of us have at least one of these which is primary for us. We feel love more strongly in that manner. For instance, if receiving a compliment from your spouse really makes your day, then words of affirmation is probably your primary love language. On the other hand, if it’s when your spouse takes the time to wrangle up the kids so you can sleep in on a lazy weekend morning, then your primary love language is probably acts of service.

Not only do we feel love in one of these primary ways, but we tend to express love in one of these ways, too. For most, we express love the way we feel it. For others, it’s learned behavior, most likely from our parents. So if our primary love language is quality time but we grew up in a household where mom and dad were always serving one another, we might have learned acts of service as the primary way we express love.

Chapman talks about these concepts as well as our capacity to feel loved and what we do when we have felt loved for some time and what we stop doing when we feel neglected. Often times, if we feel neglected and unloved, it’s hard to respond in a loving way. The catch here is that our spouse might have been doing their level best to express love in the way they see it, but we’re like two ships passing in the night. And so there is guidance on how to discover each other’s primary love language as well as how to begin speaking it, if that’s the way we intuitively express our loves.

Finally, Chapman clears up that “in love” period and explains what research says about it, why it can overcome so many faults, and why, when it ends, we can suddenly be faced with someone we thought we knew but realize we don’t. This is a good set of knowledge to pass on to any couple considering marriage, who are newly wedded, or who have passed that initial infatuation stage into the reality of a life together where not everything is perfect.

If you believe in strong relationships and you’ve not read this book, I’d recommend it. While you may not agree with everything in it, Chapman does provide good advice on how to consider your significant other and work towards doing the things that make them feel loved. The suggestions he gives are invaluable and come from years of counseling experience as well as his own experience in marriage.

 

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Perusing Facebook this morning I was reading about things like the following:

  • Co-worker passed away after fighting severe burns, leaving small children behind.
  • Grandfather diagnosed with lymphoma and has begun chemotherapy.
  • Little daughter diagnosed again with a tumor.

It is a reminder of something Gretchen Rubin (blog | twitter) says, “The days are long but the years are short.” Quite simply, we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, or if we will have the opportunity to greet tomorrow. The advice has always been to live each day to the fullest and news like what I’ve posted above are a strong reminder to do so.

Are there friends and family you haven’t spoken to or contacted in a while? Drop them a line or pick up the phone and make that call. It doesn’t have to be much, just something to reconnect and share your love.

Is there something you always wanted to do with your spouse and/or your children? If it is something you can do on the spur of the moment, why not now? If it isn’t, what can you accomplish today towards doing it?

Is there something you find fulfilling or a dream you’ve had that you’ve not acted upon? What’s stopping you from doing so today? Again, if it is long term, what can you start on?

Pack life into every day and you won’t miss out as time flies by.

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I’m normally the type of person reading multiple books at the same time. Over the last couple of weeks, however, only one book has consumed me: Gretchen Rubin’s (blog | twitter) The Happiness Project. If you haven’t read it, you probably should. I thought enough of it that I bought my wife a hardback version last night for her to read (I have it on Kindle but there were times when I wished I had the physical book in my hands).

The Happiness Project is about Rubin’s year-long quest to be more happy. Now one could say this is a selfish thing to do, but Rubin covers this in the book, citing the research which reveals that when we’re happy, the people around us are happier. When we’re not happy, the people around us suffer for it, too. The old saying of, “When momma isn’t happy, no one is happy,” is valid. She extends this a bit as she talks about the topic, but the gist is this: by focusing on what makes us happier, we can actually improve the lives of the folks around us.

For instance, we become more productive. We tend to give more. We tend to be more thoughtful. We snap less and anger less easily. We are more compassionate and helpful. And we boost the moods of the people we come in contact with. Those are just some examples of what being happier does for others. She talks about these things and more because one thing Rubin loves to do is do the research (it’s one of the things that makes her happy). We benefit from this because she compiles it together in a useful way, actually applying it to her life and showing us some of the results.

And that’s really what the book is about. She spent time trying to figure out areas of her life which made her happy. These don’t always coincide with the areas of life we wish make us happy. For instance, she points out that reading children’s literature made her happy. Reading all the treasured classics of world literature? Not so much. She might wish that she would have a desire and find joy in reading all the heralded works of the past, to be that super intellectual literary type, but that’s not her. She cited great literature that she did read and that she did enjoy. But children’s literature held a special place for her.

How did she do it? She identified areas of her life she wanted to work on. For instance, the month of January kicked things off and one area was improving her energy levels. Good health, right eating, etc., all go into that. She figured that if she had more energy, she would be able to use it to tackle the other things. And research shows that when you have poor energy, it’s hard to be happy. Very few people can be happy when they are tired all the time. Not only did she identify areas of her life to improve, she made resolutions that were in some way trackable. In other words: accountability. And then she would actually measure herself.

The great thing about this book is it wasn’t a, “Gee, aren’t I so wonderful that I was able to do all of this?” type of book. Rubin talked about her successes and her failures. She’s blunt that on the last month, December, which was supposed to be the super boot camp of all the previous months’ resolutions, she was far from perfect. There wasn’t a single day in which she was. For each resolution she discussed specific examples of where she held to the resolution and where she didn’t. She also talked about what she learned from each resolution.

In reading this book, Gretchen Rubin got me to doing a lot of thinking about what makes me happy, where I’m not being very happy but rather pretty miserable in life, and what I can resolve to improve. Likely I will begin my open happiness project as a result of this book. There are definitely areas of my life I need to work on. I also plan on starting on some of the rather length bibliography Rubin included in the book. I love when an author does that because now I can go and read some of her sources and consider them for myself.

As I said at the start, this is a book I highly recommend. It’s not a Christian book and it’s not a spiritual book or even a typical self-help book, though you’ll likely find it in that section of your brick and mortar book store. Rather, it’s a well thought out, researched, and implemented project to boost one person’s happiness recorded for our edification. It’ll certainly cause you to think and consider what makes you happy and why aren’t you doing these things. It’ll also remind you, as Gretchen Rubin found out, that you can’t be perfect about it, but it’s worth the effort.

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On Divorce… Part II

This morning at service, it was announced that a couple had been married over 60 years (I believe the exact number was 64 years together). That brought this subject back into my mind in a fresh way. I would love, if our health sustains it, for our marriage to hit those high numbers and to keep increasing those numbers until God calls one or both of us home. I don’t want us to be a casualty of divorce, as I said in part I. That means I must constantly work to be a better husband. I must constantly be on guard to protect my marriage.  I started a list of things I must do in that first part, but it’s far from complete. Here’s part II.

I must be humble towards my wife.

It is easy to become full of oneself. I had a terrible problem with it as a teenager and I know that I’m not past it now. At any time, I can succumb to arrogance and pride, even towards the one I say I love with all my heart. And when I do, I put myself before her. I exalt myself above her. I start to think of her as less than me. Wrong, wrong, and even more wrong! My attitude towards my wife should be one of humility: seeking to understand what her needs are and then meeting them. Some would say this is taking the heart of a servant. Sure, but not all servants are sacrificial in their service. I must be towards my wife, just as I am towards Christ. I don’t know of a single husband that doesn’t need to work on this, and I, especially given the ease with which pride grabs me, need to work on this diligently and continuously.

I must be strong.

Being humble doesn’t mean being weak. Rather, being humble often requires great strength. When my wife is having a bad day and unintentionally lashes out, it’s easy to succumb to the desire to fight back. Strength is what I need to prevent that. This is the kind of strength I need: the strength to do what’s right simply because it’s right. I don’t mean the strength to lord over the house like some sort of dictator. And I certainly don’t mean the strength to do anything physically harmful to my wife. I mean the strength to be humble, to be gentle, to be loving, to be compassionate, to guard my eyes, to guard my heart. Another one I need to work on.

I must be gentle towards my wife.

I know my wife wants gentleness and tenderness from me. She wants to be able to talk to me and share her heart. She wants me to listen without trying to fix everything. She wants me to let my guard down and be open with her and allow her to be open with me. This is something I’ve gotten a lot better at, but if you ask my wife, she’ll tell you I still have a long way to go. I agree.

I must lead my family.

And again, I don’t mean being a dictator. One day I’ll blog about the platoon leader’s view of the family. But I’ll condense it here to say that any good platoon leader listens to his platoon sergeant. Usually that platoon sergeant has great wisdom. Make a decision without the platoon sergeant and you’re asking for trouble. But at the end of the day, that platoon leader must make the decision. The same is true with respect to the family. There will be hard decisions. One was whether or not to continue our oldest in soccer. I love soccer. He loves soccer. Saying no was hard on him. I could have abdicated that responsibility to my wife. Let her be the “bad guy.” Let her bear the brunt of his discontent. That doesn’t sound very loving. That’s because it’s not. This is what I mean by lead. He and I sat down and talked about it. And he was upset. I didn’t enjoy disappointing him. But my wife and I had already talked about what the decision needed to be. We agreed on it. And I delivered it. In this area I do well. Through four years at The Citadel and four more years as an officer in the USAF, I was trained to do it. I had better not abdicate it. God isn’t going to accept me saying, “Sir, no excuse, sir!”

Part of being the leader for my family is to set the example. I want them to do something? I had better be doing whatever it is myself. I want my boys to respect their mother? How am I doing in that category? If I’m disrespecting her, I should expect the same from them. If I expect them to get up when their alarm goes off, I had better not be turning my alarm off or hitting the snooze button. If I expect them to be diligent about their chores, I had better be good about carrying out my duties around the house. This is an area of leadership I definitely need to get better at.

More to come…

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On Divorce… Part I

Right now, three couples I know are going through divorce proceedings. Two of those couples would be considered Christian couples, while the third would not be. All three couples have children involved. I’m reminded of Jesus’ words:

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”  – Matthew 19:3-9, ESV

Jesus’ words can’t be any more clear, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Divorce isn’t supposed to be an option. Unfortunately, it is too often. And it is rare that divorce happens because of a singular, spectacularly bad event. Despite what movies may portray, divorces are usually the result of death by a thousand paper cuts. Now I know quite a few men and women who are divorced. You don’t suddenly became any more a sinner than you were before because you go through a divorce. And those who have been through a divorce aren’t somehow weaker or more foolish or in any way any less than the rest of us.

The fact that they aren’t any different in any significant way from those of us who are married should be a loud and ominous warning to us. This should scream to us, “You, too, can end up in a divorce, because you aren’t any stronger, smarter, handsomer, or in any way better than these folks who have gotten a divorce. So be on your guard. If you aren’t, it more than likely will happen to you, too.” And with several of my friends taking hits and becoming casualties in this area of life, I’m on full alert. I want my marriage to last. And that means not only looking to protect my marriage from the spectacularly big event that the movies like to key on, but also looking to guard against those paper cuts. Some thoughts:

I must cherish my wife in ways she identifies with:

This should go without saying but I’m a male and sometimes we males forget this rather obvious “command.” Just because it warms my heart doesn’t mean it’ll warm hers. I must do the things that are meaningful to her. This is an area I really need to work on.

I must cherish my wife continuously:

Another thing that should go without saying. My wife isn’t like a car where you fill it with gas once or twice a week and everything is good. Maybe some men work this way, but most women I have met don’t. Real compliments that come from my heart and little things than warm hers done at every opportunity is the goal here. This is also an area I really need to work on.

I must guard my eyes:

Women know when you look around. They may laugh it off, but truth be told, it could leave just a little bit of doubt that maybe she’s not enough. That’s a paper cut. One of the things I remember Steve Farrar talking about at a men’s conference some 11 years ago now was how his son remarked that his father’s eyes never wandered. That stood out to his son. And Steve explained this principle to him. In South Carolina as the weather gets warm, it gets increasingly harder to do this. But that’s an excuse, not a justification. If my wife matters to me like I say she does, I find a way. No excuses. This is an area I’ve always been strong in. But there’s a saying in the military, “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.” That saying could be adapted here, “Eternal vigilance is the price of a successful marriage.”

I must guard my heart:

This has to do with making sure I stay out of situations where another person could take some of the affections due my wife. For instance, sharing personal things with a female friend. Spending time alone with another female. There are countless tales of folks who have started a Bible study with a member of the opposite sex because they were both intending to be better spouses and then they end up getting divorced because the person they were studying with “understood them better.” Forget best of intentions. Best of intentions fail. The only defense here is to stay out of the situations in the first place. This is another area where I’ve been strong. But that saying still applies.

There’s more in Part II.


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