What Do I Value?

soup girl Medium 257x300 What Do I Value?A group of university alumni, highly established in their careers, got together to visit an old professor. Conversation soon turned into complaints about stress in work and life. Offering his guests something to drink, the professor went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups — porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, some exquisite — telling them to help themselves to the coffee.

When all the students had a cup of coffee in hand, the professor said: “If you noticed, all the nice looking expensive cups were taken up, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress. Be assured that the cup itself, adds no quality to the coffee in most cases, just more expense and in some cases, it even hides what we drink.  What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup, but you consciously went for the best cups … and then began eyeing each other’s cups.

Now consider this: Family life is the coffee, and the jobs, money and position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain life, and the type of cup we have does not define, nor change the quality of the lives we live. Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee God has provided us.  Maybe it is time to spend a little more time and effort on the parts of our life that have meaning and connect us to those we love.

Reestablish Integrity in your Home

Integrity is something that we want others to have, but struggle to find it within ourselves.  Society is built on the ‘handshake’ principle of integrity.  Your word is supposed to be your bond.  Corporate missions declare it and pastors are assumed to have it.  But what is integrity and how do we develop it?

Look up integrity online and you find a multitude of pithy sayings, but they all seem to center on the idea that integrity is shown when our behavior, private and public, lives up to our beliefs and words.

We encourage you to embrace three critical practices in your life to reestablish integrity

1.  Plant some guardrails in your life

Screen Shot 2014 12 11 at 11.15.36 AM 300x199 Reestablish Integrity in your HomeWe put up literal guardrails for our kids early in life so they won’t fall out of bed.  We follow building codes and erect railings so that we don’t walk off of our deck or drive off the road.  Our lives are full of guardrails to protect us from physical miss-steps.   

But there are also unseen guardrails that you erect for yourself.   Personal boundaries that act as acceptable limits to your behavior.

Your standard of behavior is a conscious choice.  You set the line; you set where the rail is.  We all do this whether there are laws in place or not.  We decide what is appropriate to read or watch.   We decide what is acceptable regarding lying and cheating.   

We even set standards around what is an appropriate diet and how frequently we will exercise.  And when we drive through a barrier and over indulge, we typically feel bad and recommit to behaving in accordance with our beliefs.

Where have you set up our guardrail when it comes to completing your taxes?  Billing for jobs you have completed?  Telling stories about your sporting exploits?  Once a guardrail is up in a certain location it rarely moves.  Is your guardrail in a place of safety or are you living in such a way that if you hit your guardrail it will be too late? Has it been planted so far into the danger zone that it is not much good to you?

Are you taking risks in your sexual life, at your job, or with your physical health and no longer living the life that you intended?  If your behavior is no longer lining up with your words or beliefs, it might be time to reset the guardrails in your life.

2.  Becoming Aware of Our Choices

Guardrails should be set up in an area of safety to protect us from danger.  So that when we make a mistake in life and hit the guardrail we are able to carry on.  While hitting the boundary might be frustrating or painful it should not cost us our marriage, our job, or other meaningful relationships with friends, parents, or kids.

Life has a way of sneaking up on us and pretty soon we are middle aged living a life that we never intended.  It is easy to rationalize our behavior, “Every one cheats on their taxes” “Pornography is everywhere it is no big deal”.  We tend to make excuses for our behavior and simply mimic the behavior of what we believe others are doing. Don’t use today’s test for honesty and integrity and believe that, “It’s okay as long as you don’t get caught.”

By spending some time reflecting and becoming conscious of your choices you will be better able to fight the integrity slip and slide.   

3.  Accountability

The final and most critical daily practice for maintaining integrity is through the use of accountability.  Having people in your life that will notice when you are driving dangerously and might add a guardrail or two in your life themselves.  They should be able to ask the tough questions and be insightful enough to redirect your thinking so that you reconsider your choices.

It’s easy to lose focus and get distracted when we are driving down the highway of life.  But it is so much better to have someone asking you the tough questions regularly than to have a guardrail be added too late:  the spouse that needs to check your Internet search history because you have been distant and unavailable in your marital relationship: the boss that needs to do a surprise job evaluation because your work has become sloppy.  These sudden guardrails can be painful as we slam up against them, but they are intended to protect us from getting even further off track.  Having accountability in your life enables and encourages these guardrails.

We benefit from having someone who is looking out for our best interests, one who  will remind us when we are in the rough gravel on the side of the road and heading for the edge.

Relationship Killer: Assumptions

Screen Shot 2014 12 15 at 7.12.10 PM Relationship Killer: AssumptionsLet’s take a couple of minutes to break down why making assumptions is such an easy trap to fall into.  We all know it’s a risky practice because it often causes greater misunderstanding and yet we can hardly help ourselves.

Well, as you might have guessed, the way your brain processes information is part of the problem.  It turns out that making assumptions is a natural process that helps us move faster and make decisions quickly.  An assumption is really a paradigm, a frame of reference, perception, or basically the way we see the world…not in terms of our literal sense of sight, but in terms of perceiving, understanding, interpreting.

So an assumption is like a mental ‘map’.  Now suppose I asked you to find my home in Kansas City but gave you a map of Chicago.  No matter how hard you tried or how positive you remained, trying to find my house would still end in frustration.  Effort and attitude are really important, but only if you have the correct map.  Does connecting with your teen or your spouse feel this way sometimes?  Are you making the effort and trying to stay hopeful, but still getting the wrong outcome? Maybe it is time to challenge the accuracy of the map.

Each of us has many maps in our heads, which can be divided into two main categories:  Maps that are Real and maps that are Imagined.  But our brains can’t tell the difference between Real & Imagined – So we fill in the gap and believe all of it is real.  We interpret everything we experience through these mental maps. We seldom question their accuracy; we’re usually unaware that we even have them. We simply assume that the way we see things is the way they really are, that we are objective.  And our attitudes and behaviors grow out of those assumptions.

Let’s take a minute for a short story that Stephen Covey once shared.  Imagine sitting on a quiet subway car.  Then suddenly, a man and his loud rambunctious children enter and sit down beside you.  Instantly the whole climate has changed as the kids begin yelling back and forth and the father closes his eyes, apparently oblivious to the whole situation. The kids begin to bump into people and still the father does nothing.

Your irritation increases, as you can’t believe that this father is so insensitive as to let his kids run wild without doing anything.  Other passengers are also irritated and so finally, with measured patience and restraint, you take leadership on the subway car and ask the father if he would mind controlling his kids.  It seems very appropriate; after all it takes a village, right?  And you have certainly seen this before – after all, this is why schools are struggling and kids have no respect for authority anymore.  It is time someone did something.  Well, now the father finally speaks and says softly, “Oh you are right.  I guess I should do something about it.  We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago.  I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”

Bam – we have just had our assumptions reset.

We have to work hard to overcome our brain’s natural tendency to cloud our thinking by filling in the gaps based on our perceived truths.

As parents, we love to fill in the gaps in the sparse information that we receive from our kids.  When our children move into adolescence they tend to become more secretive.  This secrecy is spurred on by their desire to create independence and distance.   As the gap in communication widens, we as parents are prone to fill this void with assumptions as we try to make sense of their behavior.  But what we believe to be true is often based on our own past experiences and this may or may not be valid for the current situation that we find ourselves in with our own child.

Our assumptions about our kid’s ability, behavior, attitude and beliefs can set up roadblocks in our communication with them and limit our ability to find options and solve problems.  Assumptions often send us in the wrong direction and unfortunately we typically move forward with tremendous conviction.   Our ‘mental map’ built from years of experience leads us to believe that what we are thinking ‘must be true’ and therefore there really are no other solutions.

The more aware we are of our basic assumptions and the extent to which we have been influenced by our experience, the more we can take responsibility for those assumptions, examine them, test them against reality, listen to others, and be open to their perceptions, thereby getting a larger picture and a far more objective view.

Our brains are always looking for patterns so that we can compare and draw conclusions.  But instead of leaping to conclusions, we need to stop and engage our brain in a different way.  Challenge assumptions by asking:

1.  How confident am I?

2.  What if it is not true?

When you have some time I would encourage you to get out an old-fashioned note pad and list the truths that you believe about teen culture.

Each of us makes general assumptions about this period of life based on our own experience.  Some of us see teens as a threat to be feared; others see them as vulnerable and weak; and some might view them as overly capable and talented. The key is to be honest with yourself and your assumptions.

Now what if you reverse these assumptions?  What if instead of seeing them as vulnerable and in need of parental support you reverse this assumption and see them as strong with untapped potential?

What if instead of seeing them as threatening and intimidating you reverse the assumption and see them as fearful and insecure?

What impact would this have on your decisions … and your ability to think differently about the challenges you are facing with your own teen?

Hopefully this will uncover some new ideas and unlock a new understanding of your own teen.

Remember that assumptions close our thinking, but by challenging assumptions and reversing them we can shift our thinking, experience greater empathy and creativity and enable us to see more opportunities and potential within our relationships.