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Why Your New Year’s Resolution May Do More Harm than Good

Why Your New Year’s Resolution May Do More Harm than Good

I know it sounds cliché, but most American s who make a New Year’s resolution have dropped it by the month of February. 80 percent of us will downright fail to keep them at all. They look good in January—but not so much in June. Gym memberships skyrocket at the beginning of the year, and plummet in the following months.

But why?

I love setting and pursuing goals. It lights me up, like it does many people. There will be millions of people, however, who set some New Year’s goals—and those goals come back to bite them; in fact, those very goals can discourage you instead of inspire you. I know several people who have resolved to stop making any New Year’s resolutions.

Let me offer four of the most common reasons why our New Year’s goals fade and what you can do about them.

Four Reasons Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

1. The goal is too big.

Too many of us try to sprint before we can walk. For instance, we may know we need to lose weight or exercise, so we jump into a regimen at the gym that is not sustainable. Or, we decide we want to read more, and we instantly attempt to read for two hours a day. It’s difficult to go from zero to two hours overnight. I suggest you begin small and progress toward something bigger. Why not resolve to workout once a week or read a book for ten minutes a day. Leave yourself wanting more and more will come.

2. The goal is not specific enough.

Too many of us don’t put much thought into our resolution. We say things like: “I want to be kinder.”  Or, “I want to get in shape.” These are good aspirations, but not good resolutions. Goals motivate us when they are clear and specific. Instead of the statements above, what if we said: “I will speak one word of encouragement each day to someone,” or “I will walk a mile each week and lift weights for 15 minutes each day.” The more specific your resolution is, the more likely it will inspire you and enable you to achieve it.

3. The goal is out of your control.

Resolutions are a crap shoot if they are goals that are out of our control from the moment, we set them. If I say: “My resolution is to experience good chemistry with my colleagues at work,” that becomes a goal that is up to several people other than yourself. It would be far better to say, “My goal is to pursue 30 minutes of personal time in conversation with my colleagues this year.” There are all kinds of elements to factor in when you set a goal—like the weather, the response of others, and decisions of your authorities. Choose goals that are in your control.

4. The goal is not measurable.

My past resolutions have failed when I chose ones I couldn’t evaluate. If a goal can’t be measured, its inspiration fades quickly. We must track our progress. Seeing a goal achieved over time is one of the most motivating activities we can enjoy. But we have to keep score. Daniel Wallen says, “Keeping a written record of your training progress will help you sustain an ‘I CAN do this attitude. All you need is a notebook and a pen. For every workout, record what exercises you do, the number of repetitions performed, and how much weight you used, if applicable. Your goal? Do better next time.”

Standards, Not Just Goals

Twenty years ago, I decided to not merely set some goals for each new year but establish some standards for myself—standards that represent a lifestyle I want to maintain. A goal is something you can pursue and reach, and then it’s over. A standard means setting the bar high for yourself and maintaining it. Some of mine are:

  1. Be a quality husband for my wife by listening to her every day, dating her once a week, and doing my share of the domestic tasks at home.
  2. Live healthy by keeping my blood sugars under 140 (I’m a type one diabetic), eating a salad each day, drinking three bottled waters daily, and working out three times a week.
  3. Practice lifelong learning by reading two books each month, meeting with six mentors regularly this year, and listening to a podcast daily.

Here’s to 2020 being a year that makes you better than you were a year ago. My friend Derric Johnson says, “Daily devotion is better than yearly resolution.”

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The Normalization of Anxiety

The Normalization of Anxiety

This may sound strange—but I love the fact that we’re talking about mental health issues today. While I hate that millions of teenage students struggle with such issues, at least we’re finally addressing them, rather than hiding from them, and beginning to take action against anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and other disorders.

Nearly everyone on planet earth experiences some anxiety.

Luna Greenstein, of The National Alliance on Mental Illness states:

“This fact is both positive and negative for people who live with anxiety conditions. It’s beneficial because most people have some understanding of what anxiety feels like and may be more sympathetic to someone who experiences daily symptoms. But because anxiety is ‘normalized,’ it can often be downplayed as a feeling everyone experiences rather than a serious health condition. Example: ‘Oh I know exactly how you feel. I had a panic attack last week when I thought I lost my wallet.’”

Remarks like these can make someone who actually experiences a genuine anxiety disorder feel dismissed. This is why it’s important for us to recognize the difference between feeling “anxiety” and having an “anxiety disorder.”


This is the emotion we all feel when we become overwhelmed with too much happening or with the feeling of being out of control. Life naturally brings stressors with it.

  • We can’t find something important.
  • We feel we can’t make progress.
  • We fear we won’t have a good future.
  • We are overwhelmed by messaging on our phone.
  • We feel nervous or stressed out about a job interview.
  • We lose hope over a situation.

These realities are part of every one of our lives. We must learn to navigate them as part of being human and living in the 21st century.

Anxiety Disorder

This is a chronic state of mind—the person feels overwhelmed, fearful, and distressed constantly, even in daily situations. While there are several types of anxiety disorders, they all share these symptoms, according to NAMI:


  • Feelings of apprehension or dread
  • Feeling tense and jumpy
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Anticipating the worst and being watchful for signs of danger


  • Pounding or racing heart and shortness of breath
  • Upset stomach
  • Sweating, tremors, and twitches
  • Headaches, fatigue, and insomnia
  • Upset stomach, frequent urination, or diarrhea

These are the realities of 40 million Americans; and almost a third of teens today. We are living in a new normal.

How Do We Lead Students Through This New Normal?

I believe we can respond with empathy and sympathy to students who simply feel anxious on any given day, and to those who endure anxiety disorders. In both cases, you may be tempted to think they are overreacting. (Sometimes they may be). But saying this instantly doesn’t help get to a solution. The person with an anxiety disorder is a pounding heart and perhaps sweaty palms; their stomach is in knots and they often feel dizzy or disoriented; they are deeply afraid, feeling trapped by this state. They can begin to cry so hard they get a headache, and it all happens within minutes.

In both cases, they need to know you can sympathize with them. Rather than telling them to “grow up” immediately, (that may have to be said later), we can say something like: 

“I know you’re feeling overwhelmed about what just happened. I’m sure I would feel this way if I were going through the same thing. I am so sorry you’re dealing with this issue. Believe it or not, while this emotion feels like it will go on forever, it won’t. You will get through this. In fact, we both may be able to laugh about it one day.”

The goal for both situations (someone who feels anxious and someone with an anxiety disorder) is to sympathize with them, soothe the current pain and bring them to a point of hope that they can, indeed, navigate this situation.

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Five Steps to Reverse a Sense of Entitlement

Five Steps to Reverse a Sense of Entitlement

I had the most intriguing experience on the road this year while speaking at a private, elite high school.

The school was located in a wealthy suburb. I was astonished by the beautiful, expensive cars the students drove to school. Some who didn’t drive themselves took an Uber. Every student and teacher had the latest iPhone; technology seemed to be the centerpiece of their daily experience. Kids wore brand-name clothes and either complained or bragged about where they’d gone on fall break.

It was no surprise to me, then, that during and after my faculty in-service, they grumbled about the sense of entitlement the teens exhibited on campus.

What made this experience intriguing, however, was my conversations with the faculty and staff afterward. These adults complained to me about how they didn’t have what they felt they deserved and how they resented the kids and their parents. In short, it was not just the kids who demonstrated a sense of entitlement.

In fact, I think I see where the kids got it from.

Understanding Entitlement

The fact is, a sense of entitlement is not only real, it is growing in our culture today. And while I don’t blame the “kids” for it, it is affecting them more than other demographics.

According to a study from the University of Hampshire, young professionals born between 1988 and 1994 scored 25 percent higher on entitlement-related issues than their 40-60 year-old counterparts, and 50 percent higher than those over 60.

“Another study found that people in their 20s are more than three times as likely to have narcissistic personality disorder (which is commonly associated with entitlement) than people 65 or older,” according to a report from Forbes.

If someone has a sense of entitlement, it means the person believes he deserves certain privileges—and he’s arrogant about it. The term “culture of entitlement” suggests that many people now have highly unreasonable expectations about what they are entitled to. An Atlanta-based employer told me he chose to dismiss a young applicant, not because he felt this Millennial was unable to do the job, but because of his sense of entitlement:

  • He felt he deserved a job just because he graduated from college.
  • He felt he deserved more pay than the position allowed.
  • He felt he deserved more perks than the rest of the team.

The Psychology Behind Our Sense of Entitlement

If we break down what is happening psychologically, a sense of entitlement usually involves the elements below. I don’t believe we can overcome the problem until we understand it. Here is what I have discovered in my research:

  • The source of entitlement is arrogance.

I feel I’m important and superior; I deserve perks without working for them.

  • The symptom of entitlement is resentment.

When I don’t get all I deserve, I grow bitter and feel resentful toward others.

  • The enemy of entitlement is humility.

I overcome this as I humble myself, realizing I’m part of a much bigger picture.

  • The antidote to entitlement is gratitude.

I must recognize what others have done for me that I didn’t deserve and thank them.

I actually believe the source of entitlement is arrogance. If we’re not aware of our arrogance, we’re blind to its influence. Both arrogance and it’s offspring, a sense of entitlement, have symptoms:

  1. Offenses come quickly. You become easily hurt and insulted.
  2. You don’t express gratitude as often as you should.
  3. Your compassion evolves into merely looking down on little people.
  4. Forgiveness becomes difficult. You begin holding grudges.
  5. Expectations of others is high, but you make exceptions for yourself.

Steps to Take to Avoid a Sense of Entitlement

  1. Combat your awareness of what you don’t possess with what you do. Be mindful of your blessings. Write down what you’ve gained over the years.
  2. When you resent someone else having something you don’t, research to discover the hardships that person has endured. This will level the playing field.
  3. Begin benefit-seeking activities, where you reflect and record all the benefits you’ve received but didn’t necessarily earn.
  4. Be mindful of progress more than status. In other words, instead of focusing on what you haven’t gained, celebrate the fact you’ve made progress.
  5. Write a note of gratitude to someone new every day this week. This forces you to stay focused on what you have, not what you feel entitled to have.

Author Dan Rockwell says, “Everything good in leadership begins with humility. Everything bad in leadership is rooted in arrogance.”

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Five Questions Every Student Needs You to Answer

Five Questions Every Student Needs You to Answer

A faculty member and university dean just told me one of their best students got expelled from school. They were baffled by a poor decision he made—and said what we’ve all said too many times: “How could such a smart kid do such a stupid thing?”

I reminded them it was likely a matter of the heart and had nothing to do with his IQ.

Most of us who lead students recognize that what stands in the way of their learning and growth is not an intellectual issue—it’s an emotional one. If they’re not performing the way you know they’re capable of performing, it’s very likely an issue of the heart: something is wrong at home, something has gone awry in a relationship, or something has impacted their self-esteem. Jess C. Scott said, “When our emotional health is in a bad state, so is our level of self-esteem. We have to slow down and deal with what’s troubling us, so that we can enjoy the simple joy of being happy and at peace with ourselves.”

Dale Carnegie wisely noted, “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion.” This is especially true of students.

Getting Personal with Students

Recently, Virginia Ward, Kristen Ivy, and my friend, Reggie Joiner, collaborated on a project they call: “It’s Personal.” In it, they share five questions every one of us should be able to answer for the students under our leadership at school, in our homes, on a team, at work — you name it. The questions are simple, and we can answer them, they’re profound keys to unlock the doors of their hearts.

Five Questions Every Student Wants You to Be Able to Answer:

1. Do you know my name?

They need us to get beyond the superficial. Much of their life on social media is superficial. They need us to get personal, to genuinely know them.

Students can tell they’re not the only ones who are overwhelmed. We are as well. Consequently, we labor to make our workload manageable; to take short cuts. I recently met high school and college students who say they feel like a number. No adult authentically knows them by name and by their story. I’ll admit this is work for me—but when I do the work, it makes a world of difference. I returned to a school to speak a year after I’d visited for the first time and greeted some students. One approached me, and I happened to remember her name. Her eyes got big; she couldn’t believe it. The result? She was my most attentive listener when I spoke that day.

2. Do you know what matters to me?

They need someone to authentically understand what makes them tick and what they find important and interesting. What they have a passion for.

A high school teacher I know found it difficult to explain math equations this fall. No matter how clear his explanations were, his students didn’t seem to engage. Then, he tried something new. He applied the equations to social media followers and to Fortnite (in which most of his class was fully engaged). Suddenly, his “theory” was relevant because he related to their interests. His actions said, “I know what’s important to you.”

3. Do you know where I live?

This means they need a caring leader to know their backgrounds, their zip codes, and what goes on in their daily lives. Their struggles, loneliness, and anxieties.

This past year, administrators at a high school discovered three of their students were part of a family whose income was so low, they would not experience Thanksgiving or Christmas like most of us do. Five of the faculty decided to do something about it. They raised money to provide an incredible celebration for the kids and personally delivered it to the mother. After the holiday, the three teens visited each of the teachers to thank them. What they expressed gratitude for (more than the food) was that the educators came to their house and saw the context in which they lived. They were personal, not distant.

4. Do you know what I’ve done?

Most kids have secrets they hide from everyone. Why? Because of shame. They feel that if someone knew these hidden realities, we wouldn’t like them.

I enjoy telling the story of Jim Sporleder, former principal of Lincoln (Alternative) High School in Walla Walla, Washington. When he handled the discipline cases on campus, he always took the high road with the student offenders. He found ways to relay that he knew the details of what they’d done—but he still believed in them. In fact, he believed their infraction was not an accurate depiction of who they were.

5. Do you know what I can do?

They need us to know them personally enough to spot their gifts and strengths. To see their potential and believe in them enough to encourage them.

Jeffrey Knight is a science teacher in Louisville, Kentucky. He engages his students with experiential learning and gets to know their capacity while doing so. He is always amazed at how teens open up to him about the struggles and details of their life, when he begins by connecting with their best-self and potential. He reminds them of what he sees in them—and they reply with transparent dialogue about their dreams their hopes and what they want to do with their future.

I love how Rasheed Ogunlaru the issue: “The only way to change someone’s mind is to connect with them from the heart.”

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Four Traits of a Self-Care School

Four Traits of a Self-Care School

The Associated Press recently reviewed, data from more than three dozen public universities and discovered what I’ve suspected for years. The number of students seeking treatment for mental health problems has almost doubled in the past five years, while overall enrollment has stayed about the same.

Did you catch that? The students seeking help has nearly doubled.

Some educators explain the increase by a reduced stigma surrounding mental health issues as well as the rising rates of anxiety and depression among students. This is tough news in itself, but worse when we add it to the fact that “campus counseling centers grapple with low morale and high burnout as staff members face increasingly heavy workloads,” the AP reports . Many campuses have just one counselor for every 4,000 students. Few of the 39 universities studied met the industry-suggested requirement of one counselor for every 1,500 students.

Most of the college presidents said that if money were no object, the first move they’d make to improve services would be to hire more mental-health staff members, according to a by the American Council on Education.

So, what can we do about this?

Four Ideas to Create Self-Care Campus Cultures

I believe change should begin with K-12 education. Parents and educators can create cultures that foster good mental health, hence sending graduates off to college or a career with a skill set and priorities that ground them as people. In fact, I believe the schools and families that do this actually create natural leaders inside those kids. Think about it. Any kid today who has a handle on anxiety and can remain poised in the midst of stressful situations will naturally be seen as a leader. So, let me offer four suggestions.

1. Self-Care Centers for Help

At Growing Leaders, we know a number of schools that have added what I call “Self-Care Centers” to their campuses. They vary in their offerings, but all of them are locations on campus (a library, media center, counseling office, etc.) that provide students with tools to better govern their workload and mental health. I’ve written before about Principal Gary Davison who utilizes his media center at lunch time for students to come in and catch up on their subjects; take a test; get coaching on a project they’re falling behind in or whatever. He calls it: Lunch and Learn. One faculty from each discipline is present. Students can schedule a time or just drop in. Gary has adjusted the daily calendar to lengthen lunch time for students to get this help or to pet a therapy dog and catch their breath. It’s been a game-changer for Lambert High School students.

2. Schedules with Margin

You’ve probably heard of “Mental Health Fridays” on campuses across the country. These days are set aside to help students focus on their own mental health and to experience some margin in their day. Leslie Smith began R.O.A.M. when she was principal of Orange Lutheran High School, in California. It stands for Revitalize On A Monday. Students enjoy a segment of time on Mondays to re-energize themselves—from playing ping pong to catching up on homework, to talking with friends, to trying a new hobby. She clarified that the purpose was not to be on their smartphones, thus becoming more anxious. It was just the opposite. Leslie told me both faculty and students enjoy greater peace of mind and better relationships thanks to R.O.A.M.

3. Coping Skills Instruction

There are a number of administrators who now equip their staff and faculty to teach coping skills to students as part of health class, humanities, social studies or advisement periods. These skills include pausing and breathing, focusing on something the student is grateful for, avoiding distractions, and observing, which is focusing on what they’re doing in the present moment. Observing is also called mono-tasking (it’s the opposite of multi-tasking). If we don’t teach coping skills, teens often resort to coping mechanisms, which could be unhealthy (vaping, binge-drinking, addictive behaviors). Essentially, teaching these skills empowers kids to be intentional with their thoughts and emotions. If it all sounds absurd to offer these tips to students—just wait. It will be standard practice in 5 to 7 years.

4. Communicating Perspective on Priorities

By this I mean, offering messaging to your staff and faculty—and parents—that reminds the students that life is about more than grades. I know of schools that place appropriate focus on test scores, but consistently remind students to maintain perspective: a bad grade is not the end of the world; the process of knowing how to study and how to take breaks is essential, and making mistakes along the way, is normal. In fact, I love it when I meet parents and educators who consistently remind students that failure is the best teacher and the sooner kids learn to fail the better. I’m convinced this step is important because I meet students all the time who feel pressure to perform perfectly and believe the adults around them won’t be satisfied with anything short of perfection. This is unhealthy leadership.

One senior in high school told me recently that his school practices the entire list above. His conclusion? He told me, “I feel my parents and teachers just gave me my life back.”

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What is Sportsmanship in 2020?

What is Sportsmanship in 2020?

I love celebrating, and I love sports. So I naturally enjoy celebrating a great performance from a team after a win. As a fan, I get to vicariously live through those young athletes on the field, the court, or in the pool. Everyone feels good as they celebrate a victory for their team.

Over my lifetime, however, referees and umpires have witnessed an evolution of what it means to celebrate a touchdown or a score. The NCAA has labored to create boundaries to try to curtail “unsportsmanlike conduct” as our culture evolves.

Here’s the latest episode.

On Nov. 28, with four seconds left in the Egg Bowl, Ole Miss wide receiver Elijah Moore caught a 2-yard touchdown pass that brought the Rebels to within one point of tying with heated rival Mississippi State. The “extra point” would have tied the game and sent it into overtime. Unfortunately for Ole Miss, Moore drew a “celebration penalty” that journalist Ben Kercheval note, “will go down in the lore of this rivalry for a long time.”

So, what did he do? Moore simulated urinating in the end zone.

Yep, he got down on his hands and knees and lifted his leg (like a bulldog) and pretended to pee in the end zone. The penalty was leveled on the next play—the extra point kick, which was moved backward. Now, Ole Miss kicker Luke Logan’s kick felt more like a field goal attempt than a point-after touchdown. The kick went wide to the right and Mississippi State secured their victory by one point, all because of an over-zealous “celebration” by Elijah Moore.

Excessive celebration can cost a team in more ways than one.

How Did We Get Here?

Football is a great case study. I live in the South, where football is a religion to many. For several fans, it even plays an unhealthy role in their sense of identity or self-esteem. What is it about a sports competition that does this to us?

College football began right after the Civil War ended. The game was accepted by a handful of colleges in the northeast as people felt our young men were “getting soft.” While the war took a toll on our nation, it also cultivated a resilient and sturdy population of young men according to people at the time. Psychologist William James said, “Football was the moral equivalent to war.”

Herein lies one key to understanding what’s happened to us. We feel like our team is a troop of warriors. We love the strength and the strategy in this “war” going on, knowing that deep down, people really don’t get killed. So, we allow for crazy, disproportionate behavior to happen.

But what if we really did treat it like a war in every way?

When our soldiers returned from World War II, and they were honored at banquets, they simply replied, “We were just doing our job.” Wow—a different response than grotesque celebrations in an end zone. (And they had just sacrificed to save the free world.) So, what changed?

Part of the answer can be found in the definition of “sportsmanship:”

“The fair and generous behavior or treatment of others, especially in a sports contest.”

I say we instruct our young athletes to treat their sport like a moral equivalent to war, but in every aspect—including sportsmanship. We do our job well and we don’t gloat when we succeed.

Three Types of Celebrations that are Wrong

Here are three common types of celebrations that we must coach our players to avoid:

1. Narcissistic Celebration

This is the player who scores or tackles, but is so into himself that his teammates can’t even get close enough to celebrate with him. He is ripping off his “Clark Kent” shirt, forgetting there were ten other athletes who blocked or decoyed to allow him to score.

2. Humiliating Celebration

This was exemplified by Elijah Moore, above, who did something in the end zone that is not only dehumanizing but humiliating to outsiders. It models for kids to act out of their lower-natures, not their best selves. It is emotional bullying and immature.

3. Hyperbolic Celebration

This is when the celebration doesn’t match what happened. The 2007 Georgia Bulldogs celebrated a touchdown with 70 players storming the end zone. Coach Mark Richt later apologized, saying he only wanted the 11 on the field to celebrate.

This is the holiday season—a time for celebrating what really matters. And there’s nothing wrong with celebrating great performances. But let’s teach life from sports. Let’s keep things in perspective.

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Six Ways to Begin the New Year Intentionally

Six Ways to Begin the New Year Intentionally

I want to tell you a story that is informative to parents. Today—I am writing to parents. As we begin a new year, this is the perfect time to establish new habits and set new standards.

The McCormicks have two sons and a daughter. Their boys are teens, ages 14 and 16. Their daughter is 11. If you met them, you’d see an average middle class, American family who’s trying to help their children through school, sports, and video games without going broke or having a nervous breakdown. (I’m exaggerating.)

When I met them, they were full of questions about their children.

The Slow Drift

Fifteen years ago, they decided they were going to be intentional about limiting the screen time for their kids; they chose to encourage extra-curricular activities since that looks good on a transcript and they began saving for college tuition payments. Today, the picture is different. They admit they’ve been guilty of a “slow drift.” All that intentionality got lost in the busyness of middle school and high school.

  • All three of their kids spend far too much time on screens with social media.
  • Their kids are over-committed with sports, clubs, theatre, and youth group.
  • They enjoy precious little time together over meals each week.
  • They spend far more money than they budgeted for their kids’ activities.
  • Their boys seem to be addicted to video games and get angry at stop time.
  • They’re in a vicious cycle of buying the latest Apple portable devices for them.
  • They got suckered into the assumption they must buy cars for their teens.
  • They have not saved enough money to come close to college tuition payments.

How did this happen? Does this sound familiar?

My friend David Christie recently shared a statement with me that explains so many of today’s challenges with kids: 

If you raise your children, you can spoil your grandchildren. But if you spoil your children, you’ll have to raise your grandchildren.

Far too often, parents reach the end of the parenting journey (when their kids are two decades old) and they find those kids are unready for what comes next. Why? We failed to be intentional about preparing them. Now, they need more parenting.

What Happened to Intentional Living?

Our problem is not intention; we all intend to raise good kids. Our problem is hectic lifestyles. We become so busy—we unwittingly shift into defensive mode. We stop playing offense and play defense; we began reacting to all the events, payments, and the demands that today’s “system” places upon us.

We fail to heed our intentions and turn them into intentionality.

Below, I offer a starter list for leading your kids intentionally this new year. I’ve chosen six categories to be intentional about when it comes to raising them instead of spoiling them. I hope these spark your own thoughts.

Six Steps to Becoming Intentional in 2020

1. Determine screen time and its replacement.

This is the most common categories that parents get off track and fail to lead their kids—especially their teens. Part of the reason for the mental health challenges kids face today is social media and the high number of hours teens spend on a portable device. Dr. Jean Twenge notes that two hours or more per day puts them at a greater risk of anxiety and depression. Less than two hours a day makes them less vulnerable to such mental health issues.

2. Determine family time and what will be engaging.

Studies have shown that families who enjoy meals together also enjoy greater satisfaction and less stress than those who don’t. As our kids were growing up we tried to schedule at least three dinners a week at our kitchen table. When they were teens we also tried to insert at least one monthly family date. This meant we limited their extra-curricular activities to one per semester.

3. Determine financial boundaries.

This one is tough because we are frequently guilty of merely reacting to bills and invoices instead of planning our spending. We follow this simple rule: give first, save second, and live on the rest. This means we choose the charitable giving we want to do and decide our amount each month; then we put money in savings, and then we see what we have left to cover all else. This offers a guideline for the emotional conversation about buying “stuff” for your kids.

4. Determine service projects.

As our kids grew older it became more challenging to do this one together. But, we attempted to schedule one time a month to find a place to serve together. It may be a homeless shelter; it may be a local food pantry, or a department in a local church. For years, we sponsored a child overseas (in Africa) to fund his or her education and personal needs. This gave us perspective on our own “first world problems” and conditioned to be generous and grateful.

5. Determine growth and quiet time.

We didn’t do this as regularly as we should have. But after researching the topic, I believe kids (especially Generation Z) need time when it’s quiet. This can be reading time; or journaling time, or a project where they learn to think critically. Neuroscientists say silence and solitude cultivate creativity and empathy in us. This counter-cultural act won’t make sense at first to adolescents. I’m convinced that it will foster peace of mind.

6. Determine work time and chores.

If you don’t plan this, it usually doesn’t happen with most tweens and teens. I believe it is healthy for every family member to contribute to the family, by doing age-appropriate tasks around the home—and eventually working a job. Both of my kids had jobs by age 16, learning work ethic and managing money.

You may have other categories to be intentional about, but I hope these offer a jump start.

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The One Thing I Do at the Beginning of Each Year

The One Thing I Do at the Beginning of Each Year

One ritual I perform enables me to enter a new year “on purpose.” After I invest a morning reviewing the previous year, I spend the second half of the day previewing the new year. Once again, I think and I write as I open a new chapter of my life.

I don’t simply create a list of goals, although some of the items I will list below feel a lot like a “goal.” I like to view it as an “action” list and a “standard” list. What are the actions I plan to take and what are the standards I plan to live by over the next year?

Here are the issues I address to create the goals, actions and standards for 2020:

1. What are my greatest dreams for 2020?  What projects will these dreams require of me? What daily actions must I engage in to fulfill them?

2. What standards will I live by, throughout the next year:

  • Health Standards
  • Family Standards
  • Financial Standards
  • Friendship Standards
  • Personal / Spiritual Standards

3. In what areas of my life do I most want to grow in 2020?

4. What books will I read this next year to achieve those growth goals?

5. What mentors will I seek out to achieve those growth goals?

6. What magazines will I scan and file to achieve those growth goals?

7. What events will I attend to achieve those growth goals?

8. What podcasts will I listen to, to help me grow?

9. What will I do Monday through Friday to be intentional about my growth?

I want to be better in January of 2020 than I was in January 2019. To do this, I have found that the issue is not prioritizing my schedule, but rather scheduling my priorities.  This means I must put into my calendar those things I say are the most important habits and attitudes I can embrace. Our character is simply made up of the habits and attitudes we possess daily.

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Five Important Conversations I Had with My Kids

Five Important Conversations I Had with My Kids

As a parent, an educator and a leader, my kids grew up observing my bias toward growth and lifelong learning. Over the years, I would take them out to breakfast or lunch, or we’d go on a trip, and we’d talk about life and leadership. I wanted them to not only be career-ready but life-ready. Here are five of the topics I discussed with them:

1. Your EQ is more important than your IQ.

My kids experienced what most kids do today—schools that placed much emphasis on testing or smarts. While we valued studying and good grades, I focused on the great differentiator: emotional intelligence. Author Daniel Goleman said, “If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you’re not able to manage distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going very far.” In fact, I boiled it down this way to my kids: Success in school is 75% IQ and 25% EQ. In life, it’s the reverse: 75% EQ and 25% IQ. Goleman summarized the issue this way: “In a high-IQ job pool, soft skills like discipline, drive, and empathy mark those who emerge as outstanding.”

2. Maturity demands that you get over yourself.

Both of my kids aspired to come across as more “mature” than their peers who were into childish fads or stupid social media stunts. I capitalized on this aspiration and began talking to them about what “maturity” looks like as early as fifth grade. I created a list called, “The Marks of Maturity” which I later included in my book, Artificial Maturity. In most cases, the qualities that mark a mature person are ones that illustrate the person has gotten over themselves and no longer have to put themselves at the center of attention. They overcome “attention-seeking behaviors.” They are humble as they see how others played a role in their success; they’re able to keep long-term commitments. They are grateful for what they enjoy. Finally, the goal of life is not to avoid pain or to find easier ways to live; it is to invest yourself in a worthwhile cause that is bigger than you.

3. Growth will always require a struggle.

This topic was a tough one. It was an issue I tried to teach experientially, not just verbally. The bottom line is: any goal we set, any target we try to hit, any worthwhile aspiration will require sacrifice and struggle to reach it. When my kids saw me struggle with a big goal I set, I tried to not hide it from them; I wanted them to see me (a grown adult) wrestling with the emotions that come with hard work—wanting to quit, wishing someone would rescue me from the work, or desiring someone to join me in my self-pity. My son and daughter watched me work non-stop on a book project that took 13 long months in my basement office. One year, I wrote three books in addition to my normal day-to-day job. I wanted them to see the value of the struggle and the satisfaction that came with doing more than what was expected. Brian Koslow once said, “To increase your effectiveness, make your emotions subordinate to your commitments.”

4. Success will likely take longer than you think it will.

I spoke to my kids about the apparent “overnight sensations” that seemed to pop up on television or YouTube. I explained that 99% of the time, their success wasn’t overnight. Americans called the Beatles an overnight success, but they held concerts for many years in Germany in obscurity. I used a Habitude® to explain that success cooks in a crockpot, not a microwave. It takes longer, but it tastes better in the end. I would tell them that they’d sabotage themselves if they could not delay gratification. I served under John C. Maxwell for 20 years and didn’t start my non-profit, Growing Leaders, until I was 43 years old. I was in a “crockpot” preparing for the role I have today. We must learn to work and wait.

5. The first person you must lead is yourself.

Eric Micha’el Leventhal put it this way: “We are most powerful the moment we no longer need to be powerful.” In a day that promotes leadership on the resume or transcript, I tried to teach my own kids that we have no right to lead others until we’ve proven we can lead ourselves. Then, people can look at us and say: I want to follow you because I respect you. You’ve earned the right to influence me, not by a position but by discipline. In fact, I believe genuine leadership requires no badge or title. I asked my kids to read biographies of men and women who had no official title, but who influenced their world. When we make self-leadership the goal, everything else naturally follows. This means managing our emotions and our will. Mavis Maxhura summarized it this way, “Emotions can get in the way—or get you on the way.”

By the way—if you’re interested, these kinds of conversations are sparked through the images in our course: Habitudes for Social and Emotional Learning.

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The One Thing I Do at the End of Each Year

The One Thing I Do at the End of Each Year

For thirty-five years now, I have performed a ritual at the end of December. It’s the way I wrap up each year and gain some perspective on my life.

I take half of a day and get completely alone. Usually, I get away from the house and find a quiet place to reflect. During this time, I think, I pray and I review the past year, making notes of my evaluations along the way. While the exercise varies slightly, I perform this ritual by asking myself the following questions.

  1. What are my fondest memories of last year?
  2. What were the “big projects” I completed during the year?
  3. What were the defining moments during the last year?
  4. What did I procrastinate on and fail to get done?
  5. What books and mentors had the greatest impact on me? Why?
  6. What were my biggest disappointments this past year?
  7. Am I closer to my friends and family from my activities this year?
  8. What will be my biggest goals as I move forward into next year?
  9. Where did I neglect to live up to the standards I set for myself?
  10. What am I committed to doing this next year, to fulfill my “Life Sentence?”

Answering these questions allows me to accomplish two objectives. First, it forces me to focus on the important things in my life and not get lost in the trivial ones. Second, it furnishes me with a platform to set goals for the new year.

If you don’t already have a “review plan,” give it a try.

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