Tagged: Thoughtfullness

One of my Daring Days

Our 12 year-old recently said to me, “Today is one of my daring days.” I don’t remember the context.

There was something to overcome and he overcame it. It might have been an orchestra concert to perform in or a tennis match to play. It may have been connecting with a new friend or sharing thinking in class. Regardless, “One of my daring days” stuck with me.

At 12 years-old he understands and can articulate that some days are daring and others are not. He knows that courage isn’t at the ready all time, but a character strength we have to understanding and intentionally enlist. He know’s even thought is’t not always available, that daring is accessible to him. He had access to it on that day and he recognized that access. I believe this sensibility will allow him to have increasingly more daring days, along with more automatic access to them as he grows. He seems to like the feeling. I was thrilled he mentioned it.

In mentioning it, he reminded me that while daring days are wonderful, some days are not daring days. Some days are cautious. Some days we get stuck in fear and find ourselves unable to move. He reminded me it’s ok to live some days within our comfort zones. Even to live some days regressed and motionless. Sometimes I feel like I can conquer any fear and travel any distance. Sometimes I feel locked in place. Human. 

Change, while essential and inevitable, requires daring. Even positive change. Change is wonderful and exhilarating. Change is also loss. Even when we change for the better, the better replaces what was in its place. Whatever was there before the better might not have been as good, but it may have been comfortable. 

“Better,” even though it’s better, can be scary. When we change for the better it often feels like we are then responsible for maintaining. Can we be expected to be our better selves indefinitely? What if we mess it up? There’s lots of pressure in change. On daring days, the motion of change, the growth that accompanies it, and even that pressure can be exciting. 

Our 12 year-old knew he was having a daring day. The possibilities were boundless. After the first daring thing he decided to do more daring things. He told me it was a daring day while we were driving toward home. After he told me he mentioned he was going to write when we got home. If you’re a writer you know it can be a daring thing to do. He was teaming with ideas and enthusiasm. He enlisted the daring he found access to. He maximized its benefits while they were in front of him. 

It’s ok to have days that are not daring. When we do have days that are, we should harness them. We should take action and make plans. We should specifically plan for open-hearted self love and for grace in the knowledge that we will continue experiencing many types of days, and that each one it gift; days we soar, days we doubt, days we show up, and days we hide. Each is a gift. Each has value.

We should ground ourselves in reality by being intentional about identifying our daring days, taking advantage of them, and settling in comfortably to the notion that our moods, our energy and our capacity to engage courageously in the world, both inside and around us, is subject to ebbs and flows. 

It is said that happiness does not come to the person who has the best of everything but to the person who makes the best of everything. We should consider that as best be can, forgive ourselves when we can’t, and dare to keep putting one step in front of the other with every bit of strength we have in every given moment.
In it together for the kids. 

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

A Massive Stroke of Genius

I have five brothers and sisters. Our mother had a massive stroke on Friday. While it was terrifying, I was in crisis response mode in the first moments and hours; listening and learning, answering doctors’ questions, providing comfort, contacting family members and friends. Thankfully we were at the hospital when it happened, waiting for our mom to come around after a successful procedure. 

The stroke team leapt into action and were laser focused for the next few hours. They kept me informed every step of the way and I kept in close contact with every doctor I knew, working to process and communicate with my siblings in realtime. We’re a close knit group and we’ve needed to share thinking a lot over the past 72 hours. Ironically, any one of us would typically be calling our mom to help make the decisions we’ve been making on her behalf. My hand is still reflexively going to the phone for her wisdom and feedback. 

Once things were relatively stable and we were through the initial response phase, waves of emotion began to wash over me. Family and friends were good to have around for this. I’ve lived long enough to understand a bit about grief, and there it was. Relieved with that assurance that our mom wasn’t going anywhere I began to grieve the initial deficit picture. Some loss of movement, questions about expressive and receptive language, and even wonderings about chewing and swallowing. 

If you’re reading this you most likely either know my mom or have heard me talk about her. My mom is a life coach. She has a PhD. She’s an expert in human development, she’s a problem solver and she’s helped a multitude of people find pathways to progress through challenging situations. She’s strong and she’s stubborn. She’s a fighter. In the preface of her book, “I Don’t Want To Be Anyone But Me”, she points to her own transformation, connecting the ideas that, “the first step to positive change begins with self awareness” and, “only you can empower yourself to choose your own destiny.” 

So, a massive stroke. It was shocking and surreal. You can’t be talking about my mom. This can’t have happened to the life of the party. This is the same woman who wakes up to thirty minutes on the elliptical machine every morning, the one who does the New Your Times crossword every day (the Sunday puzzle too), and the scrabble champion who can’t be beat. This is an international speaker who has inspired crowds all over the world. She’s the mother of six and the grandmother of twelve. Every person who meets my mom, from grocery store clerks to United States Congressmen, becomes her friend. Moreover, she doesn’t distinguish between them with regard to her outpouring of kindness and compassion. My mom gives tirelessly and loves without limit.  

She had a stroke, but when I think of my mom I think of a different kind of stroke. I think of the kind of stroke that an artist takes to create a masterpiece. I think of lines and colors on a canvas that I could stand and stare at for days. I think of beauty and imagination. I think of creativity and innovation. I think of eloquence, I think of determination and I think of grit.

During the past three days we’ve seen so much to be thankful for. After spending the weekend with my mom in this way I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that her recovery is going to be nothing short of a stroke of genius. No, a massive stroke of genius. My mom is using this opportunity to once again show us all what it means to take hold of life and control your own destiny. She’s already doing it. Every minute we’re seeing more engagement with smiles and laughter, hand holding and connected, knowing looks that might say, “This is frustrating,” but also say, “Give me a minute to work this out…we both know I can.”

Yesterday I asked her if she was ready to talk. We’re a teasing family so I told her, “O.K. mom, let’s give it try…say, banana pancakes.”  Her beautiful smile stretched into her cheeks and traveled up to her eyes, which she was simultaneously rolling at me. She’s here. She’s working. She’s resting. She’s problem solving. She is figuring this out. I have no doubt that my mom is already on the path to a full recovery so that she can get back to that elliptical machine, the crossword puzzles, Scrabble, her 12 doting grandkids, the 6 of us who need her so much, the sister she’s joined at the hip with, her extensive network of friends and family, and a world of people being washed over by waves of trauma that need Dr. Micki Berg’s comforting presence and sage wisdom. 

If you’re reading this and your a person who knows and loves my mom (two inseparable things), you can rest easy in the knowledge that she’s doing great. It looks like we have a journey ahead of us, and over the past 3 days she has shown us in no uncertain terms that she’s ready, and already carving a path. As always, she’s an inspiration. I cannot fully express how much my siblings and I are moved by the outpouring of love that’s come our way, and how important it has been as motivation for my mom. I know this goes without saying, but keep it coming.

I rewatched my mom’s TEDx talk today. Take a look for yourself: “Ageless Wisdom – Explore Your Untapped Potential” – Dr. Micki Berg. This is a woman who can’t be held back. She’s got this. Those of us who are with her are seeing my mom do what needs to be done to figure it out. Again, I am supremely confident that her recover will be nothing short of another massive stroke of genius. 

With my deepest love for my incredible mom. We got this, mom.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

Maturity, Autonomy and Independence

We’ve been working with our 10 year-old on a decision for the past couple of weeks. There’s a summer opportunity we’ve been excited about for him. He has not been excited with us. In fact, he doesn’t want the opportunity. He tried it last year and found that, for him, the cons outweigh the pros. 

We believe the challenges involved would help him develop increased maturity, autonomy and independence. We think the experience, cons and all, would help him build strength. We wanted him to try it one more time. When we told him that’s what we wanted he told us he felt like he was being forced to do something he didn’t want to do.

This was a tough spot. This is the type of decision parents talk about not having access to instructions for. Do we insist that our ten year-old engage in a growth opportunity because we know it’s good for him, or do we give him space to make the decision for himself because we trust that he knows what’s good or him? Maybe the decision itself is the opportunity. Maybe it’s a chance to let him make a decision and live with it. Maybe it’s a safe way to give him a taste of responsibility. 

We decided to exhaust the dialogue with him. We decided to give him some space and time to think and reflect. We hoped he would see things our way after a while. We worked through thoughts and emotions with him for a couple of weeks. We shared our thinking and our feelings and encouraged him to do the same. We told him it was his decision, and we also tried to try to persuade him. We did our best to keep it guilt free, but we could see him struggling with not wanting to disappoint us. 

We gave him a timeline, at the end of which we sat on the couch together, put forward our closing statements and asked him to make it official. Would he take it on or not? He was energized and lighthearted. We could see he knew the decision was his, and we could see he gained strength from that. I started to see the irony.

With a smile he asked if he could use one of our phones to text the other phone his decision. He asked us not to look until he was clear from the room. He texted and left. This is what we saw when we turned the phone over: “I appreciate everything you’ve said but I need to make a decision, so I’m going to say…um, uh, I don’t want to – but I love you:).”

A demonstration of maturity, autonomy and independence. This experience has me revisiting the balance of goal setting and decision making with my kids as they progress toward independence. Turns out there’s more than one path to learning and growth. Once again, the kid opened my eyes. 

We can’t know for sure what’s right in any given situation. When we provide space and time, when we listen with compassion, and when we allow ourselves to consider other people’s perspectives, I feel like we’re on the right track. 

Thanks for reading…in it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

Spending the College Fund on a Pony

The other day our 8 year-old daughter approached me and began with, “Daddy?”

I asked, “Yes?”

She continued, “Are you and mommy saving up money for me to go to college?”

I answered, “We sure are. We’re saving up money for you and your brothers to go to college.”

She said, “Great! How much is it going to cost?”

I told her, “Sweetheart, between the four of you it’s going to cost tens of thousands of dollars.”

“Wonderful!” She said, followed by, “I have an idea.

“Let’s hear it,” I prompted.

With an altogether straight face and not a hint of hyperbole, she introduced an option I had not yet considered. “Instead of sending me to college, you could use that money to buy me a pony.”

I realized she and I have very different perspectives on the matter. I also understood that we both have a stake in the outcome, that we were going to have to agree on a meaningful path forward, and that the meaningful path should result in fulfillment for her. After all, it is her life we were talking about.

Maybe, she would be happier with pony ownership that she would with a college degree. Maybe, if we end up spending her college fund on the purchase of a pony, she would end up becoming a pony farmer. Maybe pony ownership is something she feels strongly about and something she could find joy from. Maybe she would raise the first pony to ever win the triple crown or start a pony-pulled sled team that would eventually compete in the Iditarod. Maybe, if we deny her the pony we would be denying her the opportunity to live out a dream.

On the other hand, it seems to me that lot’s of kids talk about wanting ponies. Maybe it’s a passing fancy. What if depleting the college fund in favor of the pony is the wrong move. What is insisting on a college degree is actually the sound decision. Maybe it’s too soon to turn the long-term planning over to our 8 year-old. Besides, I can think of multiple degree that could potentially lead to any farming. Maybe we take it one step at a time and expand her options. 

Maybe there’s a middle ground that would be suitable for all involved. We could send her to college while supporting the pony dream, and help her understand that there’s more than one way to achieve a goal. We could impart the valuable life lesson that not having something today doesn’t mean you’ll be without it down the road. Maybe insisting on college over a pony would help her understand that sometimes in life, “first thing’s first” is a good way to move about. 

Either way, she had obviously done the research (thank you internet). We want to encourage that exploration. We also want her to know that we value her voice. We want her to know that her perspective matters, and we want her to feel good about the journey she’s on.

In the end, whatever happens, it’s clear to me that whatever we decide we need to work as hard as we can to understand her perspective and stand behind the vision she has for her own life. Kids don’t have a ton of life experiences they can draw on for long-term decision making. While that sometimes causes them to want to spend their college funds on ponies, it also causes them to have open minds and open hearts, and to believe in a wonderful range of possibilities. While steering them in “right” direction is critical, we should simultaneously seek to support them maintaining that magical perspective for as long as they can. 

Thanks for reading…in it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

Not As Bad As I Thought It Would Be

Because of the snow days I was able to take our daughter to the orthodontist to get her expander out. She’s had some form of corrective equipment in her mouth for a long time now. This removal represents her first opportunity in a while to chew gum and eat taffy.

You would think she’d be excited. Instead, she was worried. She was worried about the procedure. She was worried about how it would feel and that it might hurt. She was worried that it would be a bad experience. She invited one of her brothers to come along for emotional support. He graciously accepted and comforted her along the way. 

When she was finally in the chair she found it difficult to go through with. She had trouble letting the doctor’s assistant wiggle the expander out. She resisted. Her brother and I sat with her, encouraged her and reminded about the benefits of not having an expander. We promised to stop on the way home for bubble gum. I asked the doctor’s assistant if she could simple show the kid what it would feel like to have the removal device latched on to the expander without wiggling it. She agreed and we moved a step forward. 

We went through those motions two times before it was agreed that we would give it try. Still, she maintained a worried expression and kept her hands clinched together. She was facing the moment she’d been afraid of. I told her I was proud of the courage she was showing…and I was. Regardless of the praise or the outcome, she was still worried about the process. A justified worry for an eight year-old. 

As difficult as it was for her to allow it to happen, she sat still for what seemed to be an inordinate amount of time as the doctor’s assistant had trouble making it work. During the procedure there was even an equipment shift. It wasn’t working for while, yet she stayed with it through the worry. She enlisted additional courage with each clamp and each pull. She started something that she was going to finish. She didn’t give up and eventually, the expander was out!

Afterward, I asked her how bad it was. With a contemplative look on her face she replied, “Not as bad as I thought it would be.”

Most things aren’t. We each face challenges every day. Some are momentous and some are relatively inconsequential. Of those I’ve faced, the great majority have not been as bad as I thought they would be. Some take considerable time and effort to navigate, some come along with intense struggle and some seem to tough. Sometimes, when we’re in the midst of grappling with a challenge it’s hard to visualize a positive outcome. Even when that’s the case, time pulls us forward. 

We don’t always see our way through challenges to outcomes we want, however, when we face them with courage and conviction we’re better positioned to be able to learn and to grow from them. As we continue putting one step in front of the other during these challenging times, we’re all well served to remember that with hope and courage we have the capacity to overcome what sometimes feel like insurmountable obstacles. I believe that in this way, we can carve pathways to joy and balance, and we can find the light at end of any tunnel. 

Thanks for reading…in it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

The Positive Power of Celebration!

I recently wrote about a great experience I had with our 10 year-old. A few months ago he decided to “be more mature.” He’s always been a nice kid with a kind heart and good intentions. He’s always done well in school and played well with friends. The “more mature” quest came in response to a smoothing out of some edges of silliness that brought him some attention he didn’t want. 

Initially, he asked if he could get some upgraded technology in exchange for the impending maturity growth spurt. If he showed us that he could handle it, would we get him an iPhone? A laptop? Access to new video games? We told him we’d think about it and he went right to work.

Day after day, week after week, he demonstrated that he was more than capable. Then one day we got the first note from his teacher. The note was a glowing review of how he’d stepped up in class. He was being his best self at home and at school, in front of us and away from us. The kid was not only demonstrating maturity, but integrity, too. 

He even shifted away from the tech reward and eventually told us that it didn’t matter anymore, because doing the right things and being his best self, simply “feels good.” It’s been a great time of growth and a wondrous transformation for us to watch, and to be a part of. Our part has been celebrating. 

We’ve now received multiple notes from his teacher over the past several months. Each time we get a note, we celebrate. We don’t celebrate with cookies or cakes, and we haven’t celebrated with upgrades to technology, but with hugs, words of praise, listening hearts, smiles and gratitude. 

Turns out, celebration is really powerful and really positive. It feels good to be acknowledged, valued and validated. When we mention how proud we are of him, how impressed we are by him, and how incredible he’s been doing, he lights up. Doing good and being recognized for doing good, feels good.

We all respond well to positive feedback and praise, and we all have things about us that can be celebrated. We can look for and focus on moments of achievement in our children and in one another to fuel positive progress and well-being. As we continue seeking comfort, joy and balance during these unique and challenging days, we can be using celebration as a tool. 

Pats on the back, kind notes of recognition, hugs, high fives and messages of awareness and pride all go a long way. Genuine celebrations feel good for those being celebrating and for those doing the celebrating. Let’s continue to put celebration at the core of how we take care of our kids and how we strengthen partnerships with one another. Look for opportunities and take the time…celebrations pay social, emotional and fulfillment dividends along the way!  

Thanks for reading…in it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

Emotional Support Plant

We were watching the movie “Sing 2” this weekend. In one scene, Miss Crawly (Buster Moon’s secretary) was driving to the country to locate and recruit the famous, hermitic, aging rock star Clay Calloway. Buster Moon and his cast of characters needed Clay in order to be able to put on a big show in the big city, but Clay was not easy to find, nor would he be easy to convince. Miss Crawly had set out on a seemingly insurmountable mission. 

As we watched her drive down the winding country road, we noticed that there was something in the passenger seat of Miss Crawly’s car. After a moment I realized it was the fruit basket Buster Moon sent with his secretary as a piece of the puzzle to try to win over Mr. Calloway. I pointed it out. Our 7 year-old matter-of-factly said, “Oh, I thought it was her emotional support plant.”

He never fails to amaze me. I don’t know where he heard the phrase “emotional support plant”, why he remembered it, or how he made the connection, but it was a reasonable thought. Miss Crawly was in a very difficult position. Sure, “Sing 2” is a piece of fiction and Miss Crawly is an imaginary, anthropomorphized elderly lizard, but she was dealing with some really tough stuff. She might have needed an emotional support plant.

Like Miss Crawly, parents and educators are dealing with some really tough stuff right now. Also like Miss Crawly, we are showing tremendous grit. We are resilient and determined, and we are pushing through challenge after challenge for the benefit of our kids. Instead of emotional support plants, we have one another. 

I like the idea of an emotional support plant. Plants are steady and stable, and if you take care of them, they thrive. We need to be taking care of one another. We are here for one another. We need to remember that we are not alone, and that we can only weather the ebbs and flows of this uniquely challenging time hand in hand, and heart in heart.

The best thing we can do for one another is be present and available. We’ve been doing a great job of providing our kids days filled with joy and balance, in large part because we’ve been doing the same for each other. These days are not always easy, however, each one is an opportunity for learning and growth. Once again, our kids remind us of what’s important. The emotional support we provide for one another is the foundation for everything else. Our partnerships are the key to our well-being and our progress.

Thanks for reading…in it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

Transforming Challenges Into Triumphs

I don’t remember when or how it started. We bring a plastic fork to the table when we have dinner at the Berg house. This particular fork is perfect for spinning. When it lays with the tines curved down, each end hovering slightly off the surface of the table, it’s center as a pivot point, you can give it a twirl and watch it spin – it’s fun! 

More than fun, though, we use the fork as a pointer. Whoever the fork’s tines  end up pointing to shares first. After one person shares, the fork is spun again to determine who goes next, and so on until each member of the family has shared three things: the best part of their day, the biggest challenge they faced during the day, and something they are grateful for. 

For a while, most challenges the kids shared were about a brother or sister bothering them. They regularly expressed thinly veiled difficulties they were having with one another. They did so in light hearted ways. Regardless, the word “challenge” became synonymous with the word “gripe.” 

Lorelei and I were noticing this pattern. It wasn’t in the spirit of the activity. We meant for the practice to be uplifting, reflective and celebratory. So, we decided to be intentional about making a shift. We intervened.

We began by explaining that the challenges we wanted to hear about were not necessarily annoyances or “bad” things that someone did to them during the day, but problems they faced, and moments in time during during which they had to employ courage to solve those problems. We explained that challenges should be things they fought to overcome, not things that simply bothered them. We emphasized that we were looking for reports of bravery. 

We’re still working on it, but every once in a while we get a good one. Focused on a writing assignment or made a new friend on the playground. Every so often we hear about experiences our kids are having through which they learn and grow. Our hope is that along the way, they’re building strength and fortitude. 

I can’t imagine a more challenging set of circumstances for parents and educators than the set of circumstances we’re living through right now. Every day I see examples of courage all around me. We’re putting every bit of energy into keeping our kids safe and balanced as they navigate the ebbs and flows of this unique moment. We’re doing the best we can. We’re doing great.  

As we take the challenges one at time, lets remember to give ourselves room to grow. We experience ebbs and flows, too. As we think about challenges, let’s think about how we can use courage to transform them into triumphs. When we do, we model the process for our kids. When we fall short, we’re simply faced with an additional challenge, that of dusting ourselves off and trying again. Another opportunity for us to model the strength and fortitude we hope to instill in them.

Thanks for reading…in it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

Actually, It Kind Of Feels Good

Our 10 year-old started thinking about a pathway to some enhanced technology several months ago. Could he get an iPad of his own? A cell phone? How could he convince us of his readiness?

After lot’s of thought he suggested proof of maturity. He would clean up after himself, he would do his homework without multiple reminders, he would be kind to his siblings, thoughtful about his communication, engaged at school and responsible for things. He would show us that he was ready. He would prove that he could handle it. He would make clear that expectations would be met and that he could be trusted with increased responsibility. 

This kid’s resolve is strong and he has grit. He set off on his maturity mission and stuck with it. For days, weeks and months we saw the distinct effort. We noticed him catching himself, redirecting himself and smiling at his accomplishments. His accomplishments were kindness, thoughtfulness and integrity.

He became more precise and reflective in his work. He became more of a contributor in his classes. His academic achievements became more pronounced and frequent. Through his efforts to prove how mature he could be, he was developing the habit of reaching and exceeding his potential in all areas of his life. His basketball skills were sharper, he reveled in practicing his piano and his saxophone, and he read more.

We’ve not yet brought any increased technology into his life, and still, he continues on this path to self enhancement and positive progress. We could not be more impressed and proud. He’s showing his true colors and he’s shining. 

I was driving him to basketball practice the other evening, thrilled with the present, enthusiastic kid who sat next to me in the car. I told him how proud I was. I told him that his mom and I appreciate his patience while we are still thinking about the technology, and that we see all of the hard work he’s been putting in. 

Instead of pressing me for a timeline, gloating or even celebrating the gains he’s made, he simply turned to me and said, “It’s ok dad, I don’t mind waiting. I like being mature. Actually, it kind of feels good.”

The kid found his way to a turning point and took a really cool path. He may have been motivated by reward at the start, but he found his way to the intrinsic understanding that bettering oneself through focused and intentional growth feels good. 

I’m really proud of him. To be clear, there were ebbs and flows along the way. I have no doubt that there will be more, but at this moment in time he’s learning a wonderful lesson on the foundation of his own determination. 

As we continue to guide our kids through these uniquely challenging times, let’s remember how capable and resilient they are. We can reward them along the way, and as we do, let’s hold them accountable for standing strong. They can do it, they will find the joy in it, and it will cause them to access strength and balance. 

Thank you for reading…in it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

Awareness as an Anxiety Antidote

When the past and the future are out of mind the present is available. That’s why our breath is such a wonderful tool. Our breath is here now. Breathing is what we do in the moment. There is consistency and certainty in our breath. While we live and breath, our breath reliably moves in and out of our lungs. Unlike the many less connected facets of our daily lives that drive uncertainty and plague us with worry, doubt and fear, we can depend on our breath for comfort. 

When we focus on our breath we are focusing on our vitality. In that way, we can use our breath to be aware of reality in real time. Because anxiety is often based on unfounded, even fantasized accounts of the past and fictionalized predictions about the future, awareness of reality in real time can counterbalance it (anxiety, that is). 

Habitual awareness can serve as an extended antidote, diminishing the worry, stress and myriad other negative impacts associate with habitual anxiety. We are each already in the habit of breathing. Broadening the habit to a focus on our breath as we breath can have immediate positive implications on our behavior and long-term positive implications on our well-being.  

Over the past couple of decades I’ve exerted considerable effort and spent loads of time exploring and practicing strategies aimed at finding calm in the eye of the storm. So much time and effort that you’d think I’ve perfected it. Yeah, right. Come to find out, while most of what I’ve learned and relearned is based on a combination of awareness and common sense, it may still be a lifelong pursuit. Even as you read this reflection you may well recognize I’m not referring to anything you don’t already know. Especially if that’s the case, you also understand that knowledge and practice often sit at distance ends of a deep divide.  

That said, in my experience (and according to every philosophy, methodology or program dealing with problem solving, crisis management or deescalation I’ve ever come across) calm continuously surfaces as the ideal posture for maximizing safety, productivity and progress during stressful events or periods of time. Calm is a catalyst to well-being. 

This exploration of calm has been based in large part on the path I tread as a husband, a parent and an educator, it’s predicated on a desire I’ve long held to relieve the feelings of worry and stress I periodically (and sometimes habitually) fall into, and it is now proving as important and opportune as ever during a time when I see and feel a great deal of anxiety swirling around me, seeming to have a deep and determined impact on an enormous swath of the children I serve and the adults I partner with in that service. 

With the world on it’s side in so many ways, I often find myself wondering if now is the ideal time for simplicity. The challenge is, simplicity isn’t easy.

Timelines and obligations are real. The sun rises and sets, and in between those two events we do have to get certain things accomplished. How much time, though, do we spend toiling in worry? How frequently do we think about and relive our regrets, fret over the lack of progress we’re making on a task or a project, or doubt our ability to meed a target date? How often do we stand by while that thinking, reliving, fretting and doubting seizes our minds and our hearts? How much time do we spend outside of ourselves, watching as we perpetuate extended cycles of worry? 

What if we used the same amount, or even a fraction of that time for a focus on awareness? Without even considering a shift in how we feel or how we behave, could a simple shift in how we watch and listen to ourselves support increased well-being? 

What if instead of perceiving ourselves from the outside, as spectators, we intentionally kept and eye on ourselves from the inside? What if we zeroed in on our thoughts and feelings by way of a straight forward, pretense-free focus on our breath, even thoughts of and feeling around worry and stress? What if we accepted and attended to those thoughts and feelings with curiosity and kindness, not asking why but rather how it feels to feel the way we feel? 

Instead of considering what we can do to feel better, what if we could be calm and aware enough to simply ask ourselves to identify details about the thoughts and feelings we have while we are having them? What if a focus on our breath could help us? What if being aware could promote genuine learning and growth? A simple (not easy) path that, with practice and dedication might have the potential for prolonged and universal application and impact. By the way, as you know, breath as mindfulness tool is a centuries old concept that has had an incredibly  meaningful impact on the history and progress of humanity, across a multitude of regions, cultures and theologies.

Dr. Judson Brewer wrote a wonderfully thoughtful and well-researched book called, “Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to heal Your Mind.” In it, he points to habit loops through a reward-based learning paradigm as the basis for persistent entrenchment in anxiety. He recalls anecdotes from his research lab and clinic and puts forward simplified explanations of neuroscience to point out how we get ourselves stuck in habit loops through triggers, which catalyze behaviors and produce results that trick our brains into thinking some relief is at hand.

For example, if I wake up in the middle of the night feeling panicked about the uncertainly of a busy week ahead I might start making mental plans or checking emails. While planning and checking emails may give me a moment of relief and distraction from the worry, those behaviors are also likely to open the floodgates of stress and trip the signal wire for a worry habit loop. Dr. Brewer might map it like this:

Trigger: Middle of the night panic

Behavior: Planning/checking emails

Result: Temporary relief from immediate worry/perpetuation of extended stressfulness and possible trigger for additional feelings of panic

Alternatively, I could focus on my breathing (consistent and comforting) and turn into the  feelings of panic with awareness, curiosity and kindness, asking my mind, my heart and my body to describe what they’re feeling. I could live in the moment, accepting the situation, exploring what’s happening, allowing myself to spend time with with the panicky feelings, and providing my brain with some important data about how I process stressful situations.

I may not magically feel relieved from the panic and be able to quickly go back to sleep, but in theory, this alternative behavior could help me find pathways to breaking worry habit loops, not necessarily because I’m searching for those pathways, but simply because I’m developing a deepened understanding of myself and my capacities. Again, not easy but simple. 

Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the mindfulness standard “Wherever you go, there you are, reminds us that while being aware (specifically through the practice of mindfulness) is challenging work, it is worthwhile and growth-producing in that, “it literally allows us to see more clearly, and therefore come to understand more deeply, that which we were out of touch with or unwilling to look at (p.8).”

We are living through waves of trauma. If you, your kids or anyone around you are experiencing negative impacts from situational or extended anxiety, an intentional and dedicated focus on awareness through mindful breathing could be a step in the right direction. None of us wants to suffer. We are better for ourselves, the kids we serve and the adults we serve with when we’re clear-headed and calm. Face the challenges, celebrate the triumphs and approach stumbles and roadblocks with forgiveness and loving kindness, for yourself and others. 

It’s a journey for us all. One step at a time, with intentionality and togetherness we are strong. 

Thanks for reading…in it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.