This is a very important aspect of communication that most people rarely think of, or tend to miss altogether, but you need to take care of you! When you take care of you, it becomes much easier to take care of and help the other people around you. You begin to value yourself and therefore begin to value those around you more. If you have ever been on an airplane, during the pre-flight safety demonstrations, there is a reason they tell you that if the oxygen masks are deployed, that you should put yours on first. If you start by putting on your children’s mask, or trying to help others around you, there’s a good chance that you will get panicky or lose control. By not taking care of yourself first, you become useless to everyone and won’t be able to help anyone. On the other hand, if you put your mask on first, you will remain calm and relaxed; therefore, you will be better able to serve and help those around you. This is not an invitation to be selfish and neglectful of others, using the excuse that you have to take care of yourself first; but if you are practicing the rest of this program, that will not be an issue, you will instinctively know what to do.
The first thing you need to do, is examine the lessons you learned as a child. There is a good chance that many of these lessons were passed on to you by well-meaning people. If they were negative lessons, they need to be corrected. If they were positive lessons, they need to be strengthened and reinforced. What I have discovered, is that there is a direct relationship between the life you are living now and the lessons you learned as a child. For example, look at the list of learned behaviors and the outcomes they lead to. I have done this for both negative and positive
behaviors, below. Some of these may be hard truths to accept but they are necessary for your continued growth.
- If a child experiences criticism, they learn self-doubt.
- If a child experiences hostility, they learn anger.
- If a child experiences rejection, they learn shyness.
- If a child experiences resentment, they learn shame.
- If a child experiences dishonesty, they learn deceit.
- If a child experiences extreme or ongoing lack, they learn poverty.
- If a child experiences patience, they learn understanding.
- If a child experiences success, they learn confidence.
- If a child experiences praise, they learn encouragement.
- If a child experiences discipline, they learn justice.
- If a child experiences prayer, they learn faith.
- If a child experiences approval, they learn acceptance.
This list contains only a small sampling of the possible lessons you learned as a child because of what you experienced. To make a complete list would be impossible.
“If you think in negative terms, you will get negative results. If you think in positive terms, you will achieve positive results.”xxxii We are what our thoughts have made us. We are in our current situation, good or bad, because of our thoughts. Our thoughts tell our brain what we deserve, so if you are constantly dwelling on negative thoughts about yourself and the world around you that is exactly what your brain will produce in your life. You will have a future based upon your thoughts today. The power to change your tomorrow begins with your thinking of today. Make an effort and make it a serious effort to change your thinking and you will change your tomorrow. Your life is the sum total of what you have allowed into your mind. Guard it carefully to insure happiness, peace and serenity.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”xxxiii
Be Content, Not Satisfied. Don’t confuse these two conditions. There is a difference. Contentment is being at peace with where you are now. It is being able to live with yourself at your present stage of life. It is not wanting to settle down where you are at, but learning to enjoy life where you are. Being content is not saying that you have decided that where you are now is where you always want to be.
If you are satisfied, then you are saying that where you are now is where you want to stay in life. It is saying: “I have arrived!” I no longer have to try to get better; I no longer have to work. I can sit back and relax. I like to use the example of my kids when they first entered preschool. Of course, I was happy and excited for them, but I didn’t want them to spend the rest of their life in preschool. I was content in the time for where they were, but I wasn’t satisfied about them ending up there forever.
There is a story about Diogenes, a Greek philosopher, that illustrates contentment perfectly. Diogenes was poor, living in a barrel that he rolled from place to place. One day he was approached by Alexander the Great, the Greek ruler who had everything a man living at that time could ever imagine wanting or having. Alexander approached Diogenes as he was lying on the ground outside of his barrel. Alexander asked Diogenes if there was anything that he could get or do for the philosopher, to which Diogenes simply said, “you can step aside a little as not to keep the sunshine from me.” To that, the king turned to his officers and said, “If I were not Alexander, I should like to be Diogenes.” That is contentment.
Everybody Makes Mistakes. It’s okay to make mistakes. In fact, if you lived a life in which you did everything perfectly and you never made a mistake, it would probably be a very boring existence. Mistakes are a part of life. Instead of running and hiding from them, embrace them. Use your mistakes as learning experiences. Whatever you do, don’t become negative or self-critical about your mistakes. I know many people who spend a great deal of time putting themselves down, or being overly self-critical for past mistakes. I believe that people who do this are trying to avoid criticism by other people. They may think, “Hey, I should criticize myself before somebody else does.” One of the most self-destructive things you can do is to berate yourself. Don’t do it! If someone else criticizes you for your mistakes, who cares? Don’t do it to yourself. The idea is to not continue making the same mistakes; that’s insanity. Learn from them and change!
Avoid Isolation From Others. Get involved in something. Talk to people and do things that involve others. Join a club, volunteer, or just call a friend. If you don’t, there’s a good chance that you are isolating yourself from other people. It’s easy to go to work, come home and turn on the television. Yes, you probably did have a hard day at work. I won’t disagree; and you probably socialized with people there too. The problem with that line of reasoning is, that most of the socializing you did at work, was probably about work. You need to spend time interacting with people who have common interests. I call them friends. I know that you probably tolerate or maybe even like your cubicle mate or work partner, but it is very unlikely that you are getting the interaction that you need, at a personal level, from work.
Isolation allows deceptive thinking about the world, other people and yourself. When you spend a great deal of time isolating, your thoughts begin to be led and directed by your pride and ego. If you don’t share these thoughts with others, there is no one to challenge them. Unchallenged thoughts are usually negative. You simply begin to think things that are false and sometimes dangerous. Don’t confuse isolation with taking quiet time or personal time; these are good, but taking them to the extreme, leads to isolation which is damaging.
Have Reasonable Expectations. For years I would get into a rut when the seasons changed from winter to spring. Living in New England with all of the winter weather, when the calendar said spring, I would usually be ready for spring. I would be excited for the warm weather and sunny days. The chance to get outside and enjoy nature would occupy my mind. Then it would happen. It would rain and snow. It would be cold and cloudy.
I would never understand this, until I realized, that it wasn’t that spring had disappointed me, just like last year. It was my expectations that were wrong, not the season. Just because I put an “X” on the calendar for the first day of spring, does not mean that everything suddenly changed overnight.
Gradually, day after day, it would get warmer and the wind would ease. The snow showers would become fewer and farther between. It would get warmer, nicer and more pleasant outside, as my expectations stayed reasonable. Before I knew it, I was complaining about how hot and humid it was outside.
Learn to Make Good Decisions. If you are still making the same mistakes today, that you did 5, 10 or even 15 years ago, you need to seek wisdom in your life and your decision-making process. The best way to acquire wisdom is to pray and read the Book of Proverbs daily. Proverbs contains much information for the person honestly seeking wisdom.
Here are some guidelines to help you in your decision-making process:
- Never make a permanent decision based on temporary circumstances. Don’t sell your snow shovels because it’s 85 degrees in the middle of July. It will get cold and snowy again, if you live in the right climate.
- Make sure you consider all of your options before you make a decision. Weigh all of your options carefully before committing yourself. There may be a better course of action.
- Consider the consequences of your decisions versus other possible courses of action. Yes, you probably could go to happy hour with the guys from work on your way home, but did you promise your son or daughter that you would spend time with them when you got home?
- “Sleep on it” before you make a final decision. Unless it’s an emergency that needs your immediate action, (no that car salesman sitting across the desk, with the pen in hand is not an emergency) take it home and allow yourself time to think and do the right thing.
- Make sure your decision is being made based on logic and judgment, not blind emotion. “When dealing with people, remember that you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.xxxiv
- Have a mentor and use them. It doesn’t need to be a professional. Find someone who is getting the results you want in life and talk to them on a regular basis. It’s good to have someone to bounce stuff off of before making big decisions, if only to get a second point of view.
- Gather all necessary information and facts. Nothing is worse than rushing into a decision to find out that you missed an important detail that would have affected your choice.
- Don’t have wrong expectations. If you go fishing in a rain puddle, there’s a good chance you’re not going to catch many fish. If that’s what you decide, don’t be disappointed with the results.
- Be consistent. Make sure other people know the types of decisions you make and try as much as possible to be consistent. You will make it easier on yourself and everyone else around you.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. Growth takes time and that includes learning to make consistently wise choices. Even then, you will still make mistakes. Remember, you are human and are guaranteed to make wrong decisions some of the time.
Learn to Be Happy. Socrates, like most philosophers, was convinced that all people desire happiness. This country’s founding fathers thought that it was important enough to mention it in The Declaration of Independence. People have pursued it; some have found it. Most haven’t. What is this thing called happiness and how do you achieve it?
Dictionary.com defines happiness as: 1) the quality or state of being happy; 2) good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy.
I believe that happiness is the measure we place on our current situation in life. It is how we evaluate our present circumstances that determines if we are happy or not. It’s amazing how some people can “have it all” and still be miserable. It’s just as amazing, though, how some people can lose “everything” and still maintain their happiness.
So, what is the difference between these two extremes and how can you learn to be happy, no matter what is going on in your life?
These are the characteristics that I have found to be present in the lives of people that I have met who seem to be happy. While the unhappy people tend to lack them:
- Faith: I see the benefits of faith time and time again. In fact, it has been mentioned many times throughout these principles. There is a reason! People with faith know that things will get better, so they have a reason for hope if their present circumstances are less than perfect. Study after study proves that people with faith are far happier than people without.
- Meaningful Work: Proverbs 12:14 states “From the fruit of his lips a man is filled with good things as surely as the work of his hands rewards him.” You need to find work that not only satisfies you, but also helps others. When you know that you have helped someone and made their existence here in our world better you will be happy. You don’t necessarily have to find a new job, or begin a new career, to find meaningful work. Meaningful work can be anything that you are currently doing. Just make sure you’re benefiting those around you. Whether they are co-workers, customers or clients, make them better for having interacted with you. That is meaningful work!
- Generosity: Generous people are happy. They give out of the abundance of their heart. I don’t know if generous people give because they are happy, or that people that give are happy because they are generous. I just know that there is a connection. So, learn to be generous. Remember that it’s not just about money. Give of your time, talent, energy, wisdom, faith, knowledge, etc. “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”xxxv
- Family: The people who are in our lives on a continual basis; those who stick with us, when everyone else ditches us, are the people who matter. Yes, they may make us angry sometimes and our pride and ego may cause some friction, but these are the people who make life worth living. Make sure that you are giving to your family relationships more than taking away and you will always feel that very real blessing of happiness.
- Friends: Having friends to share our blessings with is very important for our overall level of happiness. Friends are people who share similar interests and have similar hobbies. It may be a spiritual group, people we know from the gym, or a fantasy football league. These are the people who can help round out our lives and allow us to have some fun and recreation. Just don’t spread yourself too thin in this area, or you will find yourself more stressed than relaxed. Remember, you are looking for quality not quantity in your friendships.
- Husband/Wife: Your husband or wife should be your most significant source of happiness. They should be your best friend and, in some cases, even a business partner. They should be the person that you can share your secrets, fears, wants, desires, shortcomings and mistakes with. They should be someone who you trust in all circumstances and in all situations. They should be the person who you desire to spend the most time with and you should follow through on actually spending that time with them. He or she is the one you will spend your life with. If this is not the case in your life, I urge you to fix this problem the best you can or you will be missing out on a very important aspect of happiness. “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.”xxxvi
Michael at R2W
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