Real Lovers Appreciate Their Differences

“Opposites may not always attract, but differences sustain a relationship.”

John Thurman – Get a Grip on Your Relationship Workshop

Take a moment and reflect on the early days of your relationship. How did you meet? Who made the first move? What were some of the things that attracted you to each other early on?

I would guess that at least one piece of the puzzle was some of the ways that your spouse was different from you.

The difference is one of the things that initially draws us to our partners. Have you ever noticed how a talkative, engaging extrovert could be attracted to a quiet, reflective introvert? How about someone cautious being drawn to someone who is filled with confidence.[1]

And while this is the case in so many relationships, many times, these differences can become distractions down the road, those cute nuances can move from appealing to appalling. As time passes, many of these differences can cause conflict, misunderstanding, and even alienation.

You and your spouse are two different people. You have diverse families of origin, varied family experiences. You may come from an intact family or a family that was impacted by divorce, death, or trauma.

You have different tastes and a sense of style, and I am sure you may even have a different set of expectations. Based on forty-seven years of marriage and countless hours in the chair as a therapist, I know that you have different personality styles and love languages.

Let’s look at a few examples. While you review these examples, be sure to check and see if any of these sound familiar. (I am grateful to my friends Steve and Cindy Wright at Marriage Missions for their colorful insights)

Planners vs. Flexers:

Planners are the individuals who love organization and structure. If you were to look into their cupboard, things would be organized, because everything has a place. They generally prefer that life be neat and tidy. They use planners, keep lists, and can usually tell you what they will be doing a month from now.

Flexers, on the other hand, tend to be more malleable, able to adjust to the ebbs and flows of life quickly. They can sometimes see planners as being inflexible and being control freaks. Flexers tend to be more “in the moment,” flexible, and laid back. They take life as it comes. Loose ends are not deal breakers because they believe that things find a way of working themselves out. Planners may sometimes see this type of behavior as lazy and irresponsible.

This can prove to be testy, particularly when a planner and a fixer are married.

Big Picture vs. In the Weeds:

Big picture people have a general focus on the prize. They tend to think in terms of moving in a direction that accomplishes the mission. They are doers. People who are “in the weeds” are the detailers of life, and Lord knows Big Picture people need folks who love the attention to details.

Big-picture people tend to be abstract thinkers who are likely to see the entire situation. People who are more attentive to details tend to see the nuances of a given scenario. Big picture people paint a great image of what they want to accomplish. However,  without the perspective of the detailers, they will miss the rich nuances of the details of the journey. It is essential to understand that if a couple is matched like this, both perspectives are crucial.

Risk Takers vs. Risk Averse:

One author cleverly divides these two styles into leapers and lookers. Leapers get an emotional boost when they observe an opportunity. They want to grab the opportunity while it is hot. As a general rule of thumb, they come across as fearless and maybe even somewhat reckless as they seem impervious to danger. Those who are more risk-averse tend to be more observant, careful, and are risk-averse. They like to check out the facts, gather the data, analyze the data and take their time to look at multiple options before making a decision.

As a couple, the risk-taker can get bored and may seek new and unique experiences. Those who are more reserved and less likely to take risks will find much comfort in the familiar, routine, and predictable. In marriage, the leaper would be advised to seek the counsel, insight, and plans of the looker. Likewise, the looker needs to be stretched by the leaper. Which would tend to keep the relationship exciting.

Extrovert vs. Introverts:

Extroverts love the excitement and connectivity of the crowd. They are expressive and responsive and frequently are energized when they are around others. Introverts, on the opposite end of the spectrum, would rather have a quiet time either by themselves or with a few close friends. Extroverts tend to be in the moment, whereas introverts tend to be reserved, thinking through options before talking.

Authors Shaunti & Jeff Feldhanm’s books For Men Only and For Women Only are two books that I ask all of the couples that I work with to read. These two books provide the reader with dynamic truths about the differences between men and women. Here are just a few of their insights.

How different areas of insecurity can lead to variable emotional needs. 

Men always question how others view them, so they are filled up by knowing that their wife notices what they do. Saying things like “thank you” or good job” to your man in the little things of life is almost the same as you receive a dozen roses and chocolate. When you verbally express gratitude to your husband, you are making him feel competent, needed, and respected, which are his core needs.

Now to flip the coin. Women need to be reassured of their spouse’s love every day. Many times guys are stunned to learn that 82 percent of women are deeply pleased by simple things like holding her hand, shooting her a text to let her know that you love her, or that you are thinking about her.

Another huge difference is that our brains and, therefore, our communications stages are different.

Neuroscience is blazing many new trails into the understanding of how unique, different, and complex and that men and women’s brains are entirely different. One of the interesting findings is that women’s brains are wired to think things externally. That could be the main reason women like to talk. It seems, in sitting with each other and sharing, they can process solutions. Men’s brains are more structured to problem solve through internal processing, that could be one reason most men are challenged to find a “talking solution.”

How does this work itself out practically? Most of us guys need to pull away from emotional situations to figure out what we are rethinking and feeling to talk about it later.

Women generally tend to process emotions by talking. What a woman doesn’t is a quick, uninvited response or solution because that would short circuit her processing. For our wives, these intense feelings need to be processed by talking, and we as men would do well to learn how to sit with her and draw out those feelings.

Another big difference that we need to appreciate is how different men and women express themselves sexually.

Learning to appreciate different styles when it comes to intimacy in the bedroom and other places can significantly enhance a unique sense of closeness. Special Note: There is probably no other area in a marriage that can present as many opportunities for misunderstanding as those intimate moments.

Ladies, contrary to popular opinion, sex is not just a physical need that we guys have; it’s primarily an emotional one. Think about that; the idea of intimacy for men as an emotional one, an idea that has almost been erased from the map. A husband needs to know that his wife deeply desires him. This type of affirmation gives men a deep sense of well-being that gently flows into every other area of our lives.  

However, many times a husband can avoid these painful feelings by engaging his wife in ways that she needs instead of expecting a response that he thinks she should have if she desires him. Testosterone gives most men the “microwave response,” the ability to be ready in a short time. Women are designed to be more of a “crockpot.” Ladies, please don’t be offended by the term. 

To use a foodie illustration. Would you rather have microwaved soup or a slow-cooked pot roast with vegetables that have simmered all day?

Men, she needs to feel close to us outside of the bedroom, so letting her know ahead of time could help get her in the right frame of mind.

In all fairness, these are generalizations, the key is to appreciate the difference and adjust accordingly and intentionally

Learning to value and work with your differences will provide you an extreme advantage in your relationship as you choose to grow as a couple, experiencing intimacy in multiple areas.

I hope this post will help you be open to understanding the differences and celebrate them as a couple.

Want to learn a little more about personality styles as you learn to appreciate the differences

Hey, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to leave me a comment. I will respond.

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[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-practice/201508/6-reasons-appreciate-differences-your-partner

10 Ways to Boost Communication in Your Marriage

10 ways to boost communication in your marriage

“It is a luxury to be understood.”      Ralph Waldo Emerson

February is traditionally a month that focuses on love and relationships. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be featuring some of my most read articles on relationships.

Building a relationship and being married is a team sport; you either win together or lose together.

One of the keys to building intimacy is communication. Two-way communication based on respect, honor, and grace is essential for two people sharing a life.

Drs. David Olson and Peter Larson have invested their careers studying relationships. They have identified 10 Communication Skills that will enhance your intimacy.

1.     Give full attention to your partner when talking.  My wife gets very annoyed when I think I am listening, but am distracted. My suggestion, turn off the phone, Ipad™, computer, or television and turn towards your partner.

2.    Please focus on the good qualities and be intentional about catching them doing good.  People tend to rise or fall on our expectations when you are intentional about finding the good in someone they rarely disappoint.

3.     Be assertive, not aggressive or passive. Share your thoughts, feeling, and needs.  One way to do this is to the old therapist standby of using “I” statements versus “you” statements. (e.g., “I worry when you don’t let me know you’ll be late” rather than “You are always late.”)

4.     Avoid criticism. It is a relationship killer.  I think William Arthur Ward hit the nail on the head when he said, “Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I may not forget you.”You can never share too much encouragement.

5.     If you must criticize, sandwich it with a least two positive comments. (e.g., “I appreciate it when you help out by cooking, the food is excellent. It would mean a lot to me if you could straighten up a little after. Thanks again for dinner.) 

6.     Listen to understand, not to judge.  Two eyes, two ears, one mouth. Listening is all about trying to understand.

7.     Use active listening. Summarize your partner’s comments before sharing your reactions to feelings.

8.     Avoid blaming each other at all costs. Instead, work together for a solution.  There is energy when we accept responsibility and decide to work towards a mutually beneficial solution.

9.     Manage your conflict.  (I will give you ten steps for resolving conflict in a few weeks.)

10.  Seek counseling.  If you are not able to have better results with your communication as a couple. Then take action.  Enroll in marriage/relationship class, read a book together, see your pastor, priest, or get counseling if you need to.

One of the best ways to increase the frequency of physical intimacy is through reliable communication. When men and women feel heard, they usually are open to more intimacy.

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How to Reset Your Failed New Year’s Resolutions

How to Reset You Failed New Year's Resolutions

STOP!  How are you doing with your resolutions? I hope you are feeling great about them. However, research suggests that most of us are not doing such a good job of maintaining them.

Is it time to reset your failed New Year’s resolutions? We are beginning the second week of January are you feeling hopeful, focused and enriched or hopeless, scattered, dazed and confused?

As we move into what could be an enjoyable and exciting New Year, I thought it would be fun to look at the traditional Top 10 resolutions and then give you some tips on how to be more successful in meeting them.

These are from Statistic Brain.

Lose Weight/Healthier Eating

Life/Self Improvement

Better Financial Decisions

Quit Smoking

Do More Exciting Things

Spend More Time with Family/Close Friends

Work Out More Often

Learn Something New On My Own

Do More Good Deeds For Others

Find The Love Of My Life

NEWS FLASH! According to Statistic Brain, the average American has a 9.2 percent chance of keeping them.

But don’t lose hope! I am going to show you how to reset your failed New Year’s Resolutions.

Here is the 4 Question Tool that will help you reset your failed New Year’s Resolutions.

In reviewing 2019, resist the temptation to overthink 2019.

Instead, ask:

What did I do right?

What did I do wrong?

What can I do better?

What did I/we do, right?

I want you to really drill into this and think about what you did right in 2019. What can you celebrate from this past year? Think about your personal, relational, and professional life. Take some time to review, celebrate, and express genuine gratitude for the positive things that you were able to accomplish. Spend twice as much time answering this question as to the next.

What did I/we do wrong?

Be very careful and proceed with caution when you answer this question. I would not want you to suffer from the paralysis of analysis.

Dolly Parton says, “I thank God for my failures. Maybe not at the time but after some reflection. I never feel like a failure just because something I tried has failed.”

So, take half of the time you spent reviewing what you did right to reflect and list what you did wrong. 

This way, you can honestly look at the missteps, call them what they are, and take corrective action.

This leads me to the next question, which is the key to having a better year in 2020!

What can I/we do better?

This, I believe, is the most crucial step you can take! After celebrating the victories, acknowledging the lost opportunities and missteps, no, it is time to begin laying out a definite action plan.

A few days ago, I was on Facebook and saw a message that one of my friends had posted, and it got me thinking. The quote said:

You are not born a winner. You are not born a loser. You are born a chooser! So choose wisely!

The key to making and keeping resolutions is to have Sustainable Motivation and Energy.  How do you do that? The key is to be clear about what you want and why you want it. When you understand your “what” and “why,” you will increase the odds of being able to experience success with resolutions.

Michelle Segar, from the University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organization, has developed a practical way of streamlining this process.

Segar suggests four action steps to begin applying the Right Why to changes you want to make in 2020:

#1: Reflect

Consider your “whys” for initiating a lifestyle change, and ask yourself if it has symbolized that this change/behavior is a chore or a gift?

#2: Reset

Know that we’ve all been socialized to think about a “healthy” lifestyle from the same perspective, one that has turned them into medicine instead of the vehicles of joy and meaning that they indeed are. Let go of any sense of personal failure because the formula we’ve been taught sets us up for starting and stopping but not sustaining. People feel like failures, and this isn’t very good for motivation.

#3: Choose

Consider the specific experiences, that if you had more of them in your day, would lead you to feel better and drive greater success in your roles. Do you feel drained and need more energy? Do you need more time to connect with loved ones? Then pick one of these experiences – this is what the right Why is – and identify what lifestyle behavior might deliver it to you. It’s essential to focus on changing one behavior at a time because the goal is to institutionalize it into our lives. Humans have a limited capacity for decision making, so we must strategically use it as the scarce resource it truly is.

#4: Experiment

Experiment with a plan for one week to see what happens. Be mindful of the types of things that get in the way. Plan a date on your schedule to sit down and evaluate whether that behavior helped you realize your right. Why and also what you might want to tweak going forward. Because it’s an opportunity to learn, there is no failure. It’s about continuing to experiment with whys and ways to achieve them until you discover what works for you.  From Sustainable Motivation for New Year’s Resolutions, by Chris White.

Here is an ancient text to consider as you move into the New Year. It is found in Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT

I hope that 2020 is a year filled with opportunity, hope, and joy. I also hope that this next decade will be filled with blessings, growth, and peace.

Be sure to subscribe to my update as I will be giving you 10 tools you can use to have an Outstanding 2020!

Avoid the 4 Pitfalls of the Holidays!

Stress and the 4 pitfalls, young couple
Stress and the 4 pitfalls, young couple

By John H. Thurman Jr.

Can you believe it? Christmas is almost here. And in the next few days, millions of people will be headed home for the holidays.   If you are a parent, then you are also keenly aware that Saturday morning cartoons, YouTube, and other prime time for kid’s program are filled with toys, computer games or devices that they “just have to have.”

While television and the movies portray the holiday season as a wonderful, magical time, for many people the beginning of the season that can dredge up unpleasant thoughts and memories.  The truth is that the holidays can be a time of great joy and a time of painful reflection. 

With that in mind, I wanted to warn you about four pitfalls to avoid. Why? So you can become more resilient as a person and a couple.

There are at least four Pitfalls that can show up, particularly during the holidays.

The Pitfall to Avoid is Bitterness  

Remember The Grinch Who Stole Christmas? Dr. Seuss was writing about bitterness.  Holding on to anger and resentment is not only dangerous to your health but can harm you spiritually, emotionally and relationally.  Bob and his two tweenage (9 and 12) sons were preparing to celebrate their first Christmas after his wife had abandoned he and the boys for another man. “I had heard about anger and resentment in a DivorceCare™ Class at church but had no idea or understanding of how powerful these emotions were until the “Holiday play” at my nine-year old’s school.  At that moment, while watching my youngest son, by myself, I felt a pain and a level of anger that really shocked me.

Part of the recovery from any loss is coming to terms with bitterness, anger, pain, and disappointment. The problem for many people is that they refuse to let it go. The roots of their bitterness usually relate to old anger that many times was righteous anger that failed to get processes.  Carrying around these feelings can literally destroy you from the inside out.  Holding on to these thoughts and feelings can, and usually does lead to some type of emotional and physical manifestation.   

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. 

Jesus said, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” Forgiveness is a powerful tool.   Forgiveness does not mean that you approve of what happened to you, or that what happened to you was okay.  It does mean that you can learn to forgive. Forgiveness means that I as an individual can learn to release my hurts to the Lord and let Him take care of them.  When I forgive those who have sinned against me, I leave the consequences of the offense for Jesus to deal with.

The Pitfall of Perfectionism

Sally was a hardcore perfectionist who loved God and had a home that would make Martha Stewart proud.  She had struggled for years with her need to be perfect.  The fact that her mom, a professional perfectionist all of her known life, hadn’t helped.  Perfectionism means you are constantly trying to achieve a self-induced standard that you have a slim chance of hitting.  And that standard is usually linked to a parent or family of origin that struggled with the same issues.  Some of you know exactly what I am talking about, remember the eight grade when you brought home a report card that had five As and a B, one of your parents didn’t notice the As, but instead they shared their disappointment over the B.  Now that is a perfectionist family.

Perfectionism is kind of like walking by the chocolate shop at the mall and only having a free sample of their fine chocolate, the perfectionism leaves you consistently unfulfilled. The pressure of perfectionism leaves you feeling like a loser ensuring that you will never enjoy the life God has given you to live right now. You feel that there is this standard that you will never be able to meet and the truth is you won’t, but Jesus already has.

Check your self talk.  It is the chatter of the mind that seems to run on automatic.  It is those thoughts that can consistently build you up or tear you down.  There are specific strategies you can learn to help you more effectively manage those thoughts. If being stuck on perfectionism means that you never feel like you are good enough, your house isn’t clean enough, your project isn’t correct enough, you are stuck, captured by the power of perfectionism.  The following passage of Scripture can help you learn to check your self-talk and manage it in a way that is more realistically based on biblical thinking.

Learn to push back that voice of fear.

As you learn to more effectively manage your perfectionism you will find that you will begin to feel less stress, more focused and be able to enjoy the celebration of the Lord’s birth.

The Pitfall of Shame

You are either living your life with a balance of grace and appropriate guilt or you are living a life out of balance with some grace and a lot of blame, shame or inappropriate guilt.  Our culture has adopted the “find someone else to blame,” and though you may feel like you may be justified in blaming others for things in your life the truth is that there is only one person that can make you feel guilt or shame and that person is you. These feelings can and are usually rooted in some old family relationships, which is one of the major reasons the holiday season puts the issue so close at hand.

Walking around with feelings of shame and guilt about who you are and what you have done in your life will only slow you down and steal the joy of the holidays. When you are consumed by shame and guilt you cannot and will not live a life that has the joy of purposefulness in it.  

Barbara was one of those folk who had grown up in the Southwest.  She was the oldest of four.  Her dad was a pastor and her mom worked as a school teacher.  Being firstborn, she tended to be driven by rules and competition.  In her early teen years, she stopped going to church and began to experience sex, drugs, and the party life.  She had heard all of the talks about how bad premarital sex was, but she had to admit it felt good to be pursued and to feel like someone loved her.  Within two to three years she came to a place where she decided it was in her best interest to slow down the sex, stop drugs, and to rethink her partying pattern, and to rededicate herself to the Lord.  

She struggled to forgive herself and seemed to carry around a fifty-pound sack of shame with her most of the time.  What Barbara needed to do was to accept God’s forgiveness and forgive herself. 

Look in the mirror and forgive yourself.  Remember the story of Jesus and the rich man.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  You need to do an internal, reality-based gut check. 

The Pitfall of Anxiety

If you feel like a cat running through a room of rocking chairs then you are probably having an up close and personal season of stress and anxiety.  If you are stressed up and tweaked out about everything from your relationships, finances, and health, it is inevitable that the holiday season will probably add to your stress and anxiety.  Mix into the soup the sometimes unrealistic hopes for the perfect holiday with tender family time, award-winning decorations and meals that the chiefs from the Food Channel would be envious of and you are heading for a major crash.

Anxiety and stress are usually expressed physically.  This can manifest itself with heart palpitations, racing thoughts, feeling insecure and hopeless.  Stress can also make you feel numb and may cause you to become completely overwhelmed.  Because Christmas and New Years normally cause us to review the past and hope for the future, the Holiday season can be a time of stress, anxiety, and hopelessness. 

Modern research validates the ancient truths of Scripture, with that in mind here are just a couple of short poignant examples.

“As a man thinketh so is he..,” Proverbs 23:7.

Any my favorite antidote to stress and anxiety is Phil 4:4-9

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again–rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon. 

And now, dear brothers and sisters, let me say one more thing as I close this letter. Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. NLT 

I hope that you and your family have a peaceful, blessed, hope-filled Christmas.

Here are some links to other articles:

Reduce Fear, Anxiety, and Stress

Be Aware of Stress

Grief, Recovery, and the Holidays: Christmas and a Recipe Card

Me prepping the chocolate.

For those of us who’ve lost a parent or family member, particularly around the holidays, this time of year can have some rough patches as we remember our loved ones.

In December of 2015, I received the call from my sister that my mom

Mary Anne Thurman had breathed her last breath. As a Jesus Follower, I took comfort in the fact that I believe that when she took her last breath on this Earth, she took her next breath in Heaven.  That being said, her death began a new journey for myself, my siblings, my dad, and my family.

Grief is not a neat, predictable process or orderly thing. It is messy, sometimes unpredictable, and rarely follows the handy, five or six-step path that some folks espouse.

It is also intensely personal and unique for all of us.

And while each of us processes the loss of a loved one is very different and unique ways, I choose to celebrate some of the good memories of mom.

One of the ways that I celebrate her is by preparing one of her favorite Christmas recipes each Christmas.

First, a little bit of a back story, I left at home to go to military school when I was 15, and apart from a few years in the late seventies and early eighties, I have lived away from my family.

Since I was the one who was not home most Christmases of my adult life, mom would always make sure that I received a care package close to Christmas. It usually included fruit cake cookies and Martha Washington Candy. (Here is a great link that gives the story of MWC).

Over the years, I would call mom and ask for some of my favorite recipes, and a few years ago, she sent all of us a box of handwritten recipes. The photo at the bottom is the one for mom’s Martha Washington Candy. (NOTE: Oleo is an old school name for margarine, use butter that is at room temperature instead.)

Every year as I begin to pull our that special recipe box gentle memories of my mom, dad, siblings, and Christmases past slowly trickle through my mind as I remember her.

At the same time, I think about the 47 Christmases with my wife, and thirty-seven years as a parent, and now a grandparent. I am thankful for the life I have.

May your Christmas be filled with joy and precious memories as we celebrate the first coming of Christ the King.

Lower Holiday Stress as a Couple

Lower Holiday Stress as a Couple

Three things that will enhance your relationship over the holidays.

Our Christmas Tree is up and operational, and one big difference this year is that I didn’t trim the house with lights! 

I was looking for the box of Christmas bulbs that I’d hung around the house for years when Angie (my first wife) reminded me that we had a discussion last year and that we’d decided not to put them up. I was unaware until last year that she was not very fond of the lights.

Why on earth would I tell you this? Because the holidays can be a very stressful time for any relationship. With that in mind, I wanted to give you four things you can do to have a less stressful holiday.

First, turn towards each other. It is so easy to be swept up in the frenzy of the season. One of the easy things to do to have less stress over the next few weeks is to be sure to spend some time together as a couple. No smart devices, if possible, no kids, no distractions. It might only be a few moments in the morning or the evening; just make sure you get some uninterrupted time together. NOTE: don’t think big on this, a few private moments can go a long way.

Second, share the load. For many, the holidays can become a whirl of activities. It is essential that as a husband and wife, we make sure we work together to share the burden and get through the season with minimal stress. When I was a teenager, we had horses, and I remember talking to our local vet one time. He was telling me that two draft horses pulling together cannot pull twice as much as one. They can actually pull three times as much. The two draft horses that can tow 8,000 pounds alone can pull 24,000 pounds by working together. So, share the load.

Third, encourage each other. This past weekend we watched A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and one of my takeaways was how encouraging Fred Rogers was. Now I am not asking you to be him, but I am asking you to be more intentional, and thoughtfully engage your partner. 

Encourage. The word means to give courage, hope, and confidence. Here is a secret that I have learned as both a therapist and a man married to the same woman for 47 years.

Men need three things: To feel needed, to feel competent, and to feel respected.

Women need three things: To feel valued, to feel cherished, and to feel secure.

If you think about these three needs, you will find that it will be easier to be an encourager.

Remember, these three things, turning towards each other, sharing the load, and intentionally encouraging each other can go a long way in mitigating the stress of the season.

I sincerely hope your holidays are filled with joy, contentment, and great memories.

6 Ways to Grow In Gratitude this Thanksgiving

Thanksgivng
Thanksgiving with the Electric Strawberry (25th Infantry Division)

“Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” C.K.Chesterson

A SPECIAL NOTE: I am thankful to be an American, I am thankful to be a Veteran, and I am grateful for the men and women who will not be with their families this Thanksgiving because they are protecting us on the land, on the sea, and in the air. God bless our service members.

Did you know that one of the most significant and cheapest things you can do to enhance your mental and spiritual health is to have an Attitude of Gratitude? I am going to show you 6 ways to increase your capacity for gratitude this Thanksgiving.

It is the beginning of Thanksgiving week, which leads to Black Friday and the insanity of the Holidays. In the next few posts, I hope to give you some proven, practical tools and tips to lower your stress, increase your mental health, build your resilience and enhance your spirituality.

The word thanks is rooted in the Hebrew word yada is a verb meaning to acknowledge, give praise, or to give thanks. The English root comes from the Latin word gratus, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. The main idea is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible.

Did you know that modern research has proven time and time again that gratitude is continuously connected with greater happiness and an optimistic outlook? Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, savor good experiences, improve overall health, deal with adversity, and enhance relationships.

You and I tend to feel and express the idea of gratitude in multifaceted ways. We can apply to the past (reflecting on positive memories and being thankful for elements of childhood or past blessings). Regarding the present, we stay in the mindset of not taking good things for granted. And as far as the future is concerned, gratitude helps us maintain an optimistic, hopeful, future-focused view of life and work.

Six ways to grow gratitude

Gratitude is a great way to refocus on what you have instead of what you lack. Honestly, sometimes you may feel like you are faking it, this mental state grows stronger as you use it.

Write a thank-you note. This is one of those things you can do today that has an immediate payoff. Right now, think of someone who would love to receive a personal note. Maybe a spouse, a child, a co-worker, a friend, out a person of influence in your life. By the way, this is a great way to nurture relationships. The best way is the old school way, paper, pen or pencil, envelope, and stamp. Send it, or if possible, deliver it and read it in person. I think you will be amazed at the results.

Thank someone personally. Whether it is the clerk at the grocery store, your waitress, a neighbor, a family member, or a mentor, look them in the eye and let them know that you are grateful for them.

Keep a gratitude list. In my years of private practice, one of the regular assignments that I would give to my patients struggling with depressions or anxiety was to develop a gratitude list. By taking a few moments every day to jot down things that you are thankful for, increased the positive release of good brain chemicals and helps you feel better.

Count your blessings. “Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your blessings, see what God has done…” are words from a hymn I remember from my childhood while attending the First Baptist Church of Fort Valley. It is an old song with modern psychological and spiritual implications.

Pray. Personally, I believe this old piece of Wisdom Literature captures this concept.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.

1 Chronicles 16:34 NLT

Meditate. In today’s culture, meditation is a common practice for stress management and overall wellness. The art of meditation has been around for centuries. In the Old Testament model, the focus of the mediation was on the character of God, the Word of God, or the actions of God in an individual’s life. In the New Testament, the focus is on actively engaging the mind in reflecting on applying Christ’s finished work to our personal lives. In contrast, much of modern meditative practices are based in an Eastern form of meditation: Zen meditation, transcendental meditation, yoga, Chinese or Hindu meditation, guided meditation: all of which have their origins in New age and Eastern religions.

Regardless of which form you use, meditation combined with an attitude of gratitude can help you experience a deeper sense of focus, gratitude, and blessings as we move into this Holiday Season.

I hope that you are able to experience a profound sense of gratitude as we move into Thanksgiving 2019.

A Suicide Call

What would you do if a friend told you they were suicidal?

It was 6:04 a.m. when a messenger alert went off on my phone to call my organization’s call center. I’m not sure about you, but if my phone goes off before 7:00 a.m. or after 10:00 p.m., it’s typically not good news. This morning would be no different.

An agency employee had committed suicide the night before, and the agency was requesting someone from EAP (Employee Assistance Program) to come and assist.

I fired off a quick prayer for those that were impacted and prayed that I would be fully engaged as a people helper. My wife, who has been my chief encourager for 47 years, told me how fortunate people were that I would be there for them. Within the hour, I was on my way to the worksite.

While the drive was only twenty minutes, and while I had responded to scores of calls to various workplaces after someone had suicided, this one was different.

Within the past few weeks, there had been two prominent, public figures who had made a choice to take their lives. Pastor Jarrid Wilson, a young, popular preacher who’d been very vulnerable about his own mental health issues. The other was Dr. Gregory Eells, the Director of Counseling and Psychological Services at the University of Pennsylvania.

With these two recent events in mind, I prepared myself for the rest of the day.

Because of the type of agency, I would be working with is very unique, I know there would be other support staff on sight to include a chaplain, other mental health professionals as well as the leadership of the team who’d been impacted. As we gathered, we greeted each other and began the day.

The leadership of the organization had contacted their team leaders to inform them of the individual’s death, but for the most part, the workforce was being notified as they came into work.

As individuals and small groups of twos and threes came into the room, emotions ranged from silent, stunned shock to wailing. As a team, we listened, supported, encouraged, and shared literature with those impacted. Needless to say, apart from the group meeting, there were scores of individual conversations that we had with those affected.

The individual who died had lad a long history of mental health issues, suicidal ideation, and was in treatment. The anger was the fact that the employee had been given multiple resources and yet, she chose death.

As a team, after we completed the intervention, did we debrief with each other, we went our separate ways.

As I came home from work, I knew that I had given a lot that day. When I got back, I told my wife about my day and let her know that I needed some time to regroup. We had dinner and watched a movie. By bedtime, I was feeling relaxed, reconnected, and detoxed.

We never really know what it is that causes a person to make that final decision. But for people who have known the individual who committed suicide, there is often a sense of guilt, helplessness, and feeling impotent when it comes to knowing what to do.

I could almost bet that you have been impacted by the suicide of someone in your life. These types of events should cause us to reflect and pause.
In the past few months, as the news reveals more sad news about suicide, I began thinking about what I could do.

Because of the increased awareness of the number of people who are considering suicide, and because so many people feel impotent to help, or do not know what to do if someone they know is suicidal I have decided to offer a class on suicide awareness and prevention, with a non-judgemental faith-based slant. I will offer it through some churches in the Albuquerque area and will also develop an online course. For more information on either of these, just email me john@johnthurman.net.

If you need help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK. www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Ancient Wisdom

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:10 NLT

Resilient Leadership Wins, Part 1

“You must manage yourself before you can lead others.” Zig Ziglar

Your true leadership abilities or lack of them will reveal themselves in a crisis. 

At that moment when the crap hits the fan, you will either rise to the occasion or crash and burn. You will either be a resilient leader, or you will cower to the pressure.

I know this from personal experience as a Certified Corporate Response Specialist.

Over the past 12 years, I have responded to over 150 disruptive workplace events ranging from layoffs to mass shootings, and I have personally observed both exceptional and impotent leadership

In this article, I will give you some of the best researched and most up-to-date strategies for being ready for whatever crisis comes your way. You have both the joy and the responsibility to be a resilient leader to those you are responsible for. Why? Because resilient leaders make things happen in both their personal life and in the business world.

When you implement these principles, you will be able to be a compassionate, clear-headed leader, even on your worst day.

Preparing for “bad days” really means becoming more resilient both before, during, and after an adverse event, even natural human-made disasters. Being ready can be one of the most valuable things you can ever do, especially when facing potentially life-changing circumstances (Everly 2019).

In reviewing people and companies who have overcome adversity, there seem to be five core psychological/behavioral factors that leaders have to take their organization through tough times. Here they are:

  1. Active Optimism – the deep belief and conviction that life events will turn out well, primarily because one believes she/he can contribute and assist in making things turn out well. Active Optimism is much more than just a belief. It is a mandate for change. It is a gut reaction to move forward when others are retreating.
  2. Decisiveness – the ability to overcome the “paralysis by analysis and make difficult decisions. You must be decisive and act to move forward. You have to acquire the courage to make difficult decisions. Making these decisions is easier when you are rooted in your…
  3. Moral Compass – the ability to evaluate one’s actions against the gold standard of honor, integrity, fidelity, and ethical behavior. Once you make your decision/you will need to employ…
  4. Relentless Tenacity, Determination, and Grit. A key ingredient in being tenacious is knowing when to pursue a course of action, and when to quit. To discover hidden opportunities, build your resilience, and boost physical, spiritual, and psychological energy, you will need to rely on…
  5. Interpersonal Support – Who has your six o’clock, your back. While we are more connected than every before, research tells us that we are more lonely than any time in history. To be effective, you have to have to be connected to others.

Of these five, there are two that stood out as the most influential, and they were Active Optimism and Self Efficacy.

Active Optimism

The first trait of a resilient person has engaged Optimism. The core belief that life events will turn out well, mainly because one believes she/he possess the ability to assist in making things turn out well. For the Christian, it may sound like the Apostle Paul’s reminder in Philippians 1:6, “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

One of the keys to understanding active Optimism is to realize it is not some “pie in the sky, and the world is all rainbows and lollipops.”Dynamic Optimism is based on having realistic expectations.

Another key to understanding dynamic Optimism is to understand the term self-efficacy. This term coined by Dr. Albert Bandura (1977; 1997) and means “beliefs in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments.” Another definition is the person’s belief in his or her ability to succeed in a given situation. (Thurman 2017)

My question is; Why do so many Christian businessmen and women, ministry leaders, and others struggle with this idea.
I think it is because of our mindset. I do not believe it is a matter of faith, but more about our mindset.

So John, what are some things I can do to increase my Optimism?

Part of developing active Optimism has the right mindset.

Dr. Carolyn Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success looks into this matter with great skill and practical insights.
Here is an excerpt from one of my blogs from a couple of years ago.

First, choose to shift into a “growth mindset.”Dr. Carol Dweck, the author of mindset, spent her life researching the origins of mindsets, their role in motivation and self-regulation, and their impact on achievement and interpersonal processes. Her findings give us two options, a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. (Thurman 2017)

A “fixed mindset” is one in which you believe you are born with a particular set of talents, abilities, and intelligence—all of which are unchangeable. Some people with a fixed mindset may find it harder to experience life change and growth. As a result, a fixed-mindset person fails to develop his abilities and is more likely to give up or become distracted and feel depressed when he fails to make the grade in his own eyes. I believe this is where so many fruitless Christians are stuck; they think they have no power to change, which is a lie from the pit of hell. In my first book Get a Grip on Depression, I reveal six of the most common, fixed mindsets, or “stinking thinking”patterns that can hold us back. Why not order a copy today.

A person with a growth mindset begins in a different place. When you have a growth mindset, you see yourself and others as more flexible, adaptable, and hopeful. Way down inside, you know the potential for growth and development. With faith, the proper motivation, effort, moral compass, and concentration, you can make the changes you need to make. A person who has a growth mindset does not take failure so personally. That individual tends to see failure as an opportunity for growth. If one path does not work, then the person will try another.

As a Christian therapist, I believe the Bible continually teaches the benefit of being growth-minded. I believe God is active in time, space, and history, and He has a vibrant, life-fulfilling plan for each of us. The Bible gives us truth, hope, and stories of those who have gone before us and have found such purpose.

From my struggle in this area, I know working toward a growth mindset in the middle of depression may seem close to impossible. However, the truth found in the Bible is, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength”(Philippians 4:13 NLT). This confidence is not some magical incantation or mystical, spiritual event, but it is a process or a journey.

In addition to checking out your mindset, here are four more ways to increase Active Optimism. (Thurman 2017)

1.Being successful at something. Actual success builds the belief that one can be successful in the future. Past achievements, no matter how small, are the building blocks for future achievements.

2. Vicarious experiences (observational learning, modeling, imitation) increase the overall confidence of people observe the actions of others. For example, my wife is a Senior Leader in Premier Designs Jewelry; she has been involved with this outstanding company for the past 25 years. Over these years, she has shared her story of abuse, recurrent major depression, and suffering a Moderate Traumatic Brain Injury and how she built her business in spite of those challenges. Her hope is by sharing her story; she will inspire her audiences to embrace their problems with a growth mindset and trust the Lord to bless.

3.Verbal persuasion and encouragement from others enhance self-esteem and resilience. Parents, leaders, coaches, co-workers, and teammates have a positive impact on self-efficacy. These various sources of support help set the stage for success. Finding a supportive and encouraging mentor can mean the difference between failure and success in nearly every area of one’s life.

4. Learning to control one’s impulses, emotions, and reactivity under stress and adversity can convey confidence, which translates into proactive resilience.

So, what do you want to do? Are you happy where you are? Alternatively, do you want to work on a reset, moving towards a growth mindset, and a more optimistic world view? The Lord put you on this earth to have an impact! One of the ways you can move out of the shadows and into the light is to open your mind to the things the Lord wants to show you and have the courage to live with an optimistic world view.

I do provide private leadership coaching, if you ae interested in a free 30 minute consultation email me john@johnthurman.net. Type Free Consultation in the Subject Line.

Blessings.

El Paso: Hope Amid Chaos

Recently America experiences a weekend was filled with horror, death, fear, anxiety, panic, and dread as news spread of the El Paso shootings and the second shock of the shootings in Dayton.

Even as this tragic news was breaking, I was anticipating being called to respond to the tragedy in El Paso. Early Sunday evening, I was asked to head to El Paso early Monday morning as a Grief Counselor for a business that was directly impacted by this tragedy. I chose to focus on El Paso, because I was there.

In those two days, I talked with 21 people who were directly affected by this event. Some had lost friends and family members, others had experienced prior violence. All were nearly immobilized with fear, and others were angry.

This article is a direct result of the freshness of this week’s response as well as 150 plus responses to disruptive workplace events in my work as a Crisis Response Specialist.

With that in mind, I want to share some practical steps you can take to deal with some of the potential toxic emotional aftermaths of such a horrible and tragic event.

When any mass shooting or act of terror occurs, it is reasonable to feel anxious, scared, and uncertain about what the future could bring. With time and appropriate attention, these strong, sometimes immobilizing fears, thoughts, and feelings can begin to fade as life begins its return to a new normal.

Returning to a New Normal

You can accelerate the process by doing the following:

• Limit media exposure! On a practical level, the half-hour evening newscasts will give you enough information to stay current. There is little added value to hearing the 24-hour pundit input.

• Ignoring your feelings about the event will dynamically impair your recovery process.

• Talking about what and how you are feeling may be difficult, but it will help you and others heal.

• Being proactive about you and your family’s situation and well-being (rather than passively waiting for someone else to help you) will help decrease the feelings of powerlessness, anger, anxiety, and vulnerability. Focus on anything that allows you and your family to feel safe, calm, and secure.

Recovery Tips

• Re-establish the routines of your personal and family life.

• Connect with others in your neighborhood, workgroup, and place of worship. For those who exercise spiritual discipline, one of best practices to enhance your recovery is to regularly attend worship services and be a part of a small group.

• If you work a regular 9-5 job, there is a strong possibility that you have an Employee Assistance Benefit which provides free, short-term counseling for you and your family. Be sure to check with your HR department or the benefits link on your company’s website.

• Challenge any thoughts of helplessness.

• Minimize media exposure

• Make stress reduction a priority.
• Get out and exercise.

Tips for Helping Your Kids Cope

• Provide your kids with ongoing opportunities to talk about what they may be feeling.

• If you don’t know the answer to a question they might have, don’t be afraid to admit it.

• Restrict their exposure to media.

• Remember, children often personalize situations. They may worry about their safety or that of their family, even if the traumatic event occurred far away. Reassure them and help them understand the situation in context.

• Watch for the signs of stress: crying, insomnia, tummy aches, excessive fear, and worry.

Moving Forward

Humans are designed to be resilient. In several studies, resilience and post-traumatic growth and hope are three of the critical components of healing as well as personal and spiritual growth. By resilience, I mean the ability to resist the manifestations of clinical distress, impairment, or dysfunction that are often associated with critical incidents, acts of terror, mass disasters, and personal trauma.

While we are still reeling from the events of the first week of August, I can tell you based on my years of work in the field that we as individuals, families, and Americans will honor the dead, and care for those who are injured with both visible and invisible wounds. Also, we, as a nation of immigrants (my ancestry is Northern Western European, Wales, and England) will support each other and experience positive, post-traumatic growth.

One of the most important things we can do in the days and weeks ahead it to comfort, console and encourage each other.

This passage from the New Testament Book of 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 have helped people for over 2000 years. Take a moment and read it for yourself.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.

A Personal Note of Preparedness

These are dangerous times in our country. I thought long and hard about adding this portion, and I would never want to promote fear, I do want to be crystal clear about what I am about to say.

The best way to overcome fear is preparedness.

Many of you have been through Active Shooter Training at work. The Department of Homeland has a great link and a 90-minute training film that, in my opinion, is worth the time to view, whether you are a private citizen, and small business owner, or a part of an international organization.

You should know the drill by now. Flee if you can. If you cannot flee, Hide. If you cannot hide, Fight. I would add a fourth: know how to stop the bleeding. Incident after incident reveals that if a person does not immediately die from a gunshot wound, they will most likely bleed out.

Apart from these national tragedies, you and I still need to know basic First Aid, this video from FEMA is an exceptional training video on how to Stop The Bleed or hemorrhagic control.

If you are authorized to carry a concealed weapon legally, are you proficient in your use of arms? Are you prepared to engage the shooter if that is your final option? If you choose to carry these are some of the serious things you need to consider.

A few days after these mass shootings, an off duty firefighter who was authorized to conceal and carry a weapon stopped an armed individual outside a Walmart in Missouri.

The day of the shooting in El Paso, a young soldier, who is authorized to conceal and carry a weapon, drew his pistol and helped rescue several children when he heard gunfire; unfortunately, he lamented that while he asked people to help him evacuate the children, only one other man helped out. In my opinion, he is one of many heroes that day in El Paso—men and women who ran toward trouble rather than away from it. God bless our First Responders.

There will be lots of lessons learned from these recent tragic events.
While many will attempt to use these events as political currency, why don’t you and I, regardless of politics, socio-economic background, ancestral heritage pull together and do what we can to make this country and this world a better place to live.

Closing Thoughts

In closing, I’d like to take a quick trip down memory lane to some truths and principles that we need to remind ourselves of.

As a former Boy Scout, the oath and creed I learned as a boy is in my mind me today. For those of you who grew up in the Scouts, remember it with me.

Scout Oath

On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

Scout Law

The Scout Law has 12 points. Each is a goal for every Scout. A Scout tries to live up to the law every day. It is not always easy to do, but a Scout always tries.

A Scout is:

TRUSTWORTHY. Tell the truth and keep promises. People can depend on you.

LOYAL. Show that you care about your family, friends, Scout leaders, school, and country.

HELPFUL. Volunteer to help others without expecting a reward.

FRIENDLY. Be a friend to everyone, even people who are very different from you.

COURTEOUS. Be polite to everyone and always use good manners.

KIND. Treat others as you want to be treated. Never harm or kill any living thing without good reason.

OBEDIENT. Follow the rules of your family, school, and pack. Obey the laws of your community and country.

CHEERFUL. Look for the bright side of life. Cheerfully do tasks that come your way. Try to help others be happy.

THRIFTY. Work to pay your way. Try not to be wasteful. Use the time, food, supplies, and natural resources wisely.

BRAVE. Face difficult situations even when you feel afraid. Do what you think is right despite what others might be doing or saying.

CLEAN. Keep your body and mind fit. Help keep your home and community clean.

REVERENT. Be reverent toward God. Be faithful in your religious duties. Respect the beliefs of others.

Maybe we should thinks about what it would be like if we took some of these principles and integrated or reintegrate them into our live.

What if we spend less time in the blush’s screen and more time looking into each other’s eyes as we talk and live out lives.

Ancient Wisdom on day-to-day living:

So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Ephesians 5:15 NLT

Ancient Wisdom on dealing with fear.

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:7 Amplified

Live in Grace and Peace
John

Blessings,
John