We cannot live for our lives alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results. Herman Melville

 

 

When You Feel Alone

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In our world of constant connection to all things electronic, it may seem peculiar that many people feel isolated and alone. A recent study by health insurer Cigna revealed that nearly half of all Americans feel lonely, and 54% responded that they feel like no one actually knows them well.

Loneliness is different than being alone, as we all need some healthy “alone time” now and then. A sense of loneliness is more of a deep aching that people experience when they feel disconnected, disengaged or detached from others.

Most people experience loneliness at times, but few talk about it or address how to push through it. Let’s consider a few principles that can help us move from a mood of isolation to a place of connection once again.

Mind Games. When a person feels alone, there are often thoughts that tend to be replayed in their mind. Thoughts like:

  • No one understands me.
  • No one cares about me
  • No one sees life the same way I do.

While each of us are unique individuals and have  different life experiences, there is actually nothing new under the sun. Don’t buy into the lie that no one understands or cares or that no one has ever experienced similar circumstances. It is time to weed out the old messages you are telling yourself and start planting new ones like:

  • There are other people who understand.
  • There are people in my community who care.
  • There are people who have gone through similar situations.

Change your thought patterns and slowly bring hope into the structure of your daily thinking.

Simple Action Points. When we feel lonely, it is easy to accept the invitation to our own pity-party, but that’s one party invitation we need to decline. We must choose to slowly and surely step forward and get out of our funk. Here are some practical ways to do just that:

  • Volunteer at a place you feel passionate about
  • Join an organization, club or support group
  • Go to church and join a small group or Bible study
  • Reach out to people you know who need encouragement or help from you
  • Pay attention to lonely people at work or in your community – be their friend

Take an honest look at yourself. There is always room for self-improvement, and we can make positive changes in our lives. Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself.

  • Am I always negative?
  • Do I complain too much?
  • Am I bitter?
  • Do I discourage others rather than lift them up?
  • Do I need to forgive someone and open back up the door of friendship?
  • Am I typically thinking or talking about myself?
  • Do I sincerely care and love others or am I just concerned about what people think about me?

As you answer these questions honestly about yourself, you may realize you need a turning point to go in a new direction. Start by being grateful (counting your blessings every day) and focusing on the needs of others. Guard against complaining and grumbling, and speak only kind words about others.

Less Online, More Real Time. Online connections can’t take the place of real human connection. We need eye contact and touch. We need to hear the intonation and sound of people’s voices to understand and feel understood. Online connections loose many of the non-verbal cues essential to relationships. Sometimes in our own families, surrounded by people, we can feel lonely because we are engrossed in our electronic devices. Be deliberate about putting down the electronics, so that you can truly communicate with the people around you. Meal times especially should be “No Phone Zones.”

Proactively Deepen Connections. There are simple actions we can take to strengthen and deepen our relationships. Never underestimate the power of eye contact. Pay attention to the people you are talking to and actively listen by asking questions to learn more about their thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams. Stop looking away from each other and start looking toward each other.

Remember you are not alone. Possibly one of the most comforting statements ever uttered is “God is with you.” He is a constant source of comfort and strength to our tired and weary souls. He loves you and will never leave you. He created us for connection. We can ask Him to guide us and show us how to be a good friend to others. He can open our eyes to the people we should reach out to and give us the grace and love to connect in a deeper way.

 

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

How to Handle Criticism

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Critical words rarely feel good. Whether it’s a less-than-spectacular review from a boss, demeaning comments from a teacher or unkind remarks from a neighbor, no one enjoys the sting of negative feedback. How do we learn to deal with criticism in a positive way and grow through the hard conversations of life? These steps will help you navigate the rough waters and keep you from sinking into discouragement.

  1. Ask questions. It is often beneficial to build a bridge of understanding by reaching out with questions like, “Could you clarify what you mean?” Or “How would you do it differently?” We must also ask ourselves a few questions such as, “Is there validity to what this person is saying or is his criticism off-base?” “Are these comments relevant to my situation?” No one is perfect, and we all have room for improvement, but we also want to make sure the comments are valid, helpful and realistic. The two most important questions to ask ourselves are: “How can I grow from this?” “What positive actions steps can I take to move forward?”
  2. Consider the source. Throughout our lives, we will encounter grumblers, bullies, gossips, complainers and hurtful people who continually spew unwelcomed commentaries out of their mouths. It is a good idea to set boundaries and keep a distance from destructive people such as these and learn to let their negative comments slide off of us like water on a ducks back. On the other hand, when we receive a critique from a wise and respected person in our lives, we can treasure their words as if they were gold.
  3. Get another person’s perspective. It is difficult to get a broad view of our own situation, so it helps to seek out advice and counsel from a trusted friend. A third party can see the picture from a different angle and help us understand what we may or may not be able to see in ourselves. It takes courage to be vulnerable and ask for help. Consider who you can trust. Never let the office gossip read your negative review, rather find someone who is safe and can give you prudent and honest feedback.
  4. Be grateful. It may sound odd to be grateful for something we consider negative, but remember criticism has its positive side. It keeps us humble, it allows us to get better, it makes us more sensitive to others. Plus it makes us stronger and tougher and prepares us to face more challenges. There are times when it may be appropriate to reach out and thank the person who was critical toward us. When we are grateful, we demonstrate maturity, grace and a willingness to learn and grow.
  5. Change Focus. When hurtful words come our way, they tend to press in on us like a nagging headache. It’s all we can think about, so we must deliberately shift gears and turn our focus in a new and positive direction. But how? One antidote to negative feedback is to remind ourselves that each one of us is created with unique strengths as well as certain weaknesses. We all have things we do well, so let’s build on our strengths, manage around those weak spots and consider what steps we can take to grow and learn. Don’t let someone else’s words diminish your dream. Refocus on your goals and move steadily toward them.

Criticism doesn’t have to define us, but it can be used to shape us into braver, stronger and wiser people. The next time we feel disheartened by negative comments, let’s use it for growth and use it for good. We should never seek revenge, and never miss the opportunity to lift up others with kind and reassuring words. Let’s be encouragers rather than discouragers.

 

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

Looking for that next positive step in your life? Join us as a volunteer at Engage Positive Parenting Initiative. For more information visit our website  www.EngageParenting.com

Simple Joys

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This past week, we were blessed to have my 2 ½ year old grand-daughter staying at our house. We visited parks, played at the pool, colored pictures and discovered that life is filled with countless simple pleasures. As adults, we often allow our worries, cares, hurts and disappointments to muddy the waters, and we easily lose sight of the fact that there are many reasons to smile. So let’s revisit some of our childhood cheerfulness and take a few cues from these little ones.

Life lessons from a two year old:

  • Take time to see (and I mean really see) God’s creation – the magnificence of a flower, the wonder of a bug, the fun designs in fluffy clouds.
  • Smile often. Smile big. Allow yourself to be happy. Bring joy to others, by giving them the gift of your smile.
  • Cry when you are sad. We all need to release our tears and grieve at times.
  • Do a happy dance now and then.
  • Forgive quickly and completely and move on.
  • Make new friends where ever you go.
  • Be truly happy to see others and hug them like you mean it.
  • Use your imagination. Allow yourself to be creative. Dream big dreams. Keep hope alive in your heart.
  • Play. Find something you enjoy (a sport, a hobby, an activity) and do it with gusto.
  • Remember, the best activities are the simple ones. Collecting leaves on a walk, making pretend pancakes at the park, reading Green Eggs and Ham (again), playing “House” under the kitchen table, making a fort out of a large box, all remind us that we don’t need a lot of elaborate or expensive things to experience joy in life.
  • Love well and laugh often – the best lesson of all!

When Plans Change

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This past Saturday I returned from a week in Deer Valley, Utah with my husband. Let’s just say that the trip held some unplanned adventures. One of the highlights of the trip was being at the Utah Symphony performance under the stars along with some wonderful friends. With an overflowing picnic basket and beautiful mountains surrounding us, it was a spectacular memory in the making. Unfortunately, the next day, we made a hiking memory that was slightly less than spectacular.

Knowing we had to check out of our hotel room at noon on Saturday, my husband and I set out for a morning hike on the Ontario Trail – a not-too-difficult, hour-long hike up the mountain and then down the ski lift back to our hotel. No worries…..except if you take the wrong path. When we got to the top of the mountain trail, we somehow missed a sign and started on a path that took us down a road less traveled.

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As we finally realized our error, we were too far down the trail and knew we had to push forward toward a large lake at the base on the opposite side of the mountain from our hotel and civilization. Along the way, we saw disconcerting evidence that a mountain lion was in the vicinity. Needless to say, we picked up some big sticks, as our one-hour hike turned into an almost three-hour tract through the wilderness. Along the way, I had an unfavorable encounter with a hornet’s nest which left me with several throbbing stings on my hand and arm. Did I mention we also saw fresh bear tracks?

We breathed (or should I say huffed and puffed) a sigh of relief when we made it to the base of the mountain and onto a small gravel road. Sadly, we were at least 11 miles from our hotel.  As we plodded down the road, thinking we still had miles until we reached a distinguishable Uber location, we heard a car approaching! Two young men who had camped in the area, became a much-welcomed relief to our tired and sore feet. They picked us up and drove us all the way back to our hotel, where we “more than slightly” over-extended our check-out time.

We never know when we will face challenges that stretch and strengthen us, but when we do, it is always good to consider what we learn from the experience. Here’s my take-away when plans change or life takes unintended twists and turns:

  • Pray for guidance and protection.
  • Stay calm and consider your options.
  • Be alert to the dangers or challenges. In our case, it was mountain lions, bears and hornets, but in life you may face difficult people, financial challenges or other unforeseen obstacles.
  • Equip yourself with necessary provisions. We needed big sticks, extra water and snacks. Consider what you will need for the possibilities ahead of you.
  • Enjoy the view along the way.
  • Accept help when needed.

Finally, always remember to thank God for His provisions. Curt and I recognize that God’s hand was with us all along the way. This was truly a wilderness opportunity to trust God for the outcome, plus we saw tremendous mountain top views that the typical tourist-hiker never has a chance to see. No matter what your wilderness experience is, allow these principles to help you through the unexpected paths in life.

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Hiking sign Photo by Callistus on Unsplash

Mountain Lion  Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Realistically Optimistic

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It’s easy to think that positive people are simply pie in the sky, superficially blissful. The truth is, that a sincerely optimistic person sees the real picture, but chooses to look at the upside instead of focusing on the negatives. Each of us can decide to be sensibly optimistic, or persistently pessimistic. Here’s a few principles to help us live with a brighter outlook.

Look at the Big Picture.  Ever been to a movie where you sat on the front row? Everything looks ginormous and blurry. But when you sit in the middle of the theater, you get a better perspective as you see the whole picture. Life challenges can seem overwhelmingly large at times, but step back and look at the situation in light of the bigger picture and you can have a calmer and wiser viewpoint.

Take one step at a time.  When we are facing a mountain in front of us, it may seem as though we will never be able to scale the heights. Yet if we take one small step forward, establish our footing and take the next step we will make progress. The key is not running to the top, but rather taking gradually steps upward to get where we are going.

Assess Your Assets.  It’s easy to focus on our weaknesses and feel as though we are making an accurate assessment of the situation. It is true that we each have weaknesses that need to be dealt with, but more important, we each have strengths that need to employed. Let’s take measure of our strengths and the assets, build on them and focus on how to use our gifts to the best of our abilities.

Seek Wise Advice. One of the best ways to stay grounded is to listen to wise counsel. We don’t want to allow someone to zap our hope and drain our dreams, but it is important to listen to other perspectives in order to make wise decisions. The wisdom of others can help us maintain a levelheaded optimism as we move forward with our goals.

Living life with a positive outlook, doesn’t mean we are impractical or unrealistic. On the contrary, we can choose to live with a confidence and boldness, knowing that we see the obstacles and are ready to face them head on with thoughtfulness and hope.