Do you recall a time when praise gave you a lift?
I’ve enjoyed recreational swimming ever since my college roommate and I signed up for an endurance swimming class in our sophomore year. However, over time my stroke had become a diminished version of its former self – it had gotten a little sloppy. So I recently asked a life guard at the local pool to give me some pointers as I did laps. After a few weeks of fighting the water (as he looked on grimly), I heard him say, “That was decent.” And it brought a smile to my face.
We all enjoy and need praise! But did you know that praise is actually a two-way street? Let’s look closer at its benefits, and how you can develop the practice of praise in your own life.
It’s important to realize that each one of us is wired for validation. Self-esteem, the buzzword of our times, is a misnomer. None of us can simply approve of ourselves. People with good self-esteem got it from somewhere else first. They got it from someone else first, someone who first gave them approval and affirmation.
Given this deep and basic need of the human heart, when you praise another person, you give them a wonderful gift. But the gift is also to the giver. As we express our praise for others, it opens our own hearts to the blessings that surround us. It builds our awareness of what we have to be grateful for. Giving praise shines a spotlight on the grace that is already shining in on our lives.
How can you develop the life-giving and life-filling practice of praise?
1. Begin at home. It’s said that familiarity breeds contempt, but more commonly it breeds complacency. We can fall into the habit of taking one another for granted. Instead, take time to focus on the amazing gifts brought into your life each day by your spouse, children, parents, or siblings. Each person is truly a miracle, fearfully and wonderfully made. Letthem know about it.
2. Be specific. It’s lovely to hear, “I appreciate you.” But it’s memorable to hear, “I appreciate you for your kind and thoughtful ways.” Let the other person know you have noticed and treasured something specific about them. They will rightfully feel that you have paid special attention.
3. Be consistent. Look at all the appointments that fill up your weekly calendar. There is at least one that probably doesn’t need to be there. Get rid of it, and instead put in a praise appointment. This is your reminder to deliver your gift in a timely and consistent way.
4. Extend your reach. As you strengthen your praise muscles, look to see who else you can extend your gift of praise to. Colleagues? Employees? Neighbors? The person who just served you coffee with a smile on their face? It doesn’t have to be elaborate or take much time, but practice your skill throughout the day.
This week’s self-reflection: Are you a praiseful person? Do you notice the people around you frequently beaming back at you with appreciation? Would you like to to become an agent of praise?
This week’s call to action: Carry out a praise exercise for the next week. Use the steps above as a guideline, and be intentional, specific, and energetic with your praise. You will have a positive impact on others, and find your own heart being filled with gratitude for all you have.
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(photo credit: asenat29)
Have you ever noticed that what goes unsaid often says so much?
Albert Mehrabian is the UCLA professor who uncovered some famous research findings on non-verbal communication. He found that when people were asked to talk about their feelings to each other, the non-verbal content accounted for 93% of the conversation.
In business, law, and medicine, this observation has gotten a lot of mileage. Body language is taught as a way of building alliances and keeping the door open between doctors and patients, bosses and employees, colleagues and clients.
How can this same observation about body language help you?
Non-verbal language is a key way we convey to others that we are paying attention. In our culture of emailing, texting, linking in, and tweeting, it’s easy to forget the profound impact of not only the words we say, but how we say them.
Here are some ways to say it better, before you say a word.
1. Use your eyes. Start with maintaining eye contact with the other person. Nothing says, “I don’t want to be here” faster than looking around the room. If you are uncomfortable with eye contact, practice building up the habit slowly. Start with a few seconds, and add to the time until you are more at ease. Throughout a conversation, you should aim to keep a steady, easy eye contact with the other person, without staring intensely.
2. Bring down the barriers. There are many ways in which we can unconsciously wall ourselves off from other people. Folding hands across the chest is a common way, as is creating an upside-down L formation with one leg crossed over the other. Try resting your hands at your sides and uncrossing your legs. Removing objects between you and the other person is another way to further bring down the walls.
3. Step in the right direction. Which way are your feet pointing? Your attention tends to follow the direction of your feet. So if your feet are pointing out the door, gently re-direct them towards your partner. They’ll notice it, and so will you.
4. Relax your hands. Our hands are expressive. Tightly closed fists or hands clasped together in a tight grip will feel different (and convey a different message) than when your hands are resting in a relaxed, open position.
5. Remove the mask. Are your hands covering your face as you speak to someone else? Not literally, I hope! But hands or fingers around the mouth, chin or facial areas can be an unconscious attempt to hide or hold back. If you find yourself doing this, consider bringing your hands down and figure out whether you really need to hide or if you can be more open in your attitude towards the other person.
6. Smile. A classic that never goes out of style. A smile is the universal signal for “I enjoy being with you.” It remains one of the most appealing welcome signs we can put out for someone else, and sends a signal, loud and clear.
This week’s self-reflection: Do you make an effort to be fully present when you are interacting with another person? Are you aware of how your body language affects them?
This week’s call to action: As you go about your day, take steps to engage the people around you more fully through non-verbal language. Start out with one or two of the steps above, until they become more natural. Add to your repertoire consistently. Over time, you will be able to speak a whole new language.
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“Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
- Hebrews 12:1
For many women, the season of life around marriage and motherhood can be a wonderful. Yet it is also often intense. (Can I get an “Amen!”?) There are spouses to tend to. There are children to pick up, drop off, and go after. Careers have deadlines and meetings. There may be parents who now need you. Dinnertime arrives like clockwork – every single day. And there are other unexpected fires that suddenly catch aflame. The experience can feel like jumping in the deep end of the pool without quite having all the strokes you need to get to the other side.
Given these daily challenges, I want to talk with you about how to grow your ability to persevere.
Perseverance is a simple, humble trait that is like the inexorable effect of water against mountains of rock. It can help you be effective against even your biggest challenges.
It may not be a practice that comes easily at first. We live in a time where instant answers and fast outcomes are the expected norm. Yet we are still finite, imperfect human beings and our lives will constantly reflect that truth. We must learn how to keep pressing onward, despite our imperfections.
So how do you cultivate a spirit of perseverance in the face of the challenges and obstacles that are a part of life?
1. Start at today. If your task or challenge seems insurmountable, ask yourself: Can I do what I have been called to, for today only? Not for the next week or year or twenty years. Look at what is before you today, and focus on doing that part.
2. Flow forwards. In any situation, there is always a way to positively impact it. Search for that way. Look for answers or actions that you believe will move you forward. Ask family and friends for ideas, read, and pray continuously. Make that the focus of your energy, so that your momentum flows forwards.
3. Don’t look back. If it hasn’t worked well, then let go whatever you have done before. You can give it a nod to learn from it, but since you cannot go back in time, give yourself permission to let it go. Don’t continue to carry that rock in your wagon.
4. Drop your binoculars. Don’t worry too far into the future. You do not know exactly what will come, you can only conjecture. Ask God to give you His peace and remind you of His promises and plans. Then you will be able to more easily release your hold on all your outcomes.
5. Accept your weaknesses. So often, we become frustrated when the things don’t turn out the way we want. We silently berate ourselves for not being able to get it just right. But that’s who we are – imperfect! No human has yet been able to get around that law of nature.
6. Celebrate your successes. I really mean it. Celebrate! We linger long on what went wrong and rush by too quickly on what went right. Yet when we do achieve, push forward, or inch along, it truly is cause for celebration. It’s a gift we have been given – a door opened, a grace bestowed. When we take the time to celebrate, we live more presently and fully. There is beauty before you right now. Enjoy it.
This week’s self-reflection: Do you notice a spirit of perseverance within you? Do you find that despite the things you may not be able to do, you make the choice to keep pressing onward? Or does your energy get drained by the things that don’t work out?
This week’s call to action: Consider one of your difficult tasks or challenges, and choose to focus on what you can do. Don’t demand huge results from yourself. Simply do what you can do today. Celebrate the gifts when they come. Accept God’s plan being played out in your life. Then you will find the seeds of courage and encouragement to put one foot in front of the other today, tomorrow, and the next.
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(photo credit: steve garner)