Saturday, October 17, 2015

Using Technology Mindfully

Have you ever sent a text to the wrong person because you didn't take the time to make sure it was being sent correctly? What about when you were upset? Have you ever sent a text in the heat of the moment that you wish you had thought about before you sent? The technology you’ve grown up with is pretty amazing and undoubtedly one of the best ways to keep up to date with what’s going on and to connect with friends and family.  At the same time, there’s no built  in pause button to make sure you double check your thoughts or take space before sending whatever it is you want to send in the moment.  As great as it is, technology doesn’t do a whole lot to protect us from ourselves.  As a result, hurtful photos, cruel words and harmful ideas are sent into cyberspace without a moment’s hesitation, with the sender often regretting their actions later on.

We all have hundreds of thoughts throughout the day.  Some of these thoughts are helpful while others are clearly not.  It’s important to recognize that these thoughts are not necessarily a representation of who we are or what we truly think.  In fact, many of the thoughts we have on a daily basis are colored by our friends, our teachers, our families, society and past experiences that have left pretty deep imprints on our hearts.  If we acted on every single thought that came up, you can imagine that some pretty crazy things would start to happen so more often than not, we don’t.  Technology though makes it a lot harder for us because it gives us a way to act on these thoughts without pausing and thinking about the impact our actions might have. 

Think about when you’re angry.  We all get angry from time to time.  That’s normal.  When we’re angry, our emotions often cloud our thoughts and the emotion takes over.   In situations like this, when emotions are running high, we often say things we wish we hadn't or do things we didn't necessarily want to do.  Throw technology into the mix and suddenly, those words and actions are captured in permanence long after our emotions or thoughts have moved on.

What would it look like if you took the time to think before you typed?  How could mindful posting affect you in the long run?  These are important questions to ask and the answers may look different for different people.  By taking some time to check in with yourself before posting, texting, or commenting, you give your true self an opportunity to speak up.  You might realize that the text should actually be a face to face conversation with the person or that the photo you were going to post could actually have a lasting impact on someone’s life.  The time you take to think critically and compassionately prior to posting is actually an opportunity for you to dictate how the future unfolds and what part you actually play in someone else’s life.  Big stuff when you think about it!  So see what it’s like to take that time.  You might not get another chance.

Copyright © 2015 by Maggie Steele

Monday, August 10, 2015

Coping with Stress

As a parent, it's not always easy to tell when your teen is stressed out. Some teenagers keep their fears and anxieties well hidden and others, even when approached with compassionate curiosity, may not feel comfortable sharing their truth. 

It is becoming alarmingly clear that the social and academic pressure at school can be devastating and all too often, simply too much to bear.  While there are various things beyond our control, there are several ways we can help reduce some of the stress and anxiety a child is experiencing.

1. Normalize.

One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to normalize the stress that your teen is feeling. Every single teen that I speak to feels incredibly relieved once they realize that they are not alone in what they are experiencing.  It seems scary and lonely when you have no one to open up to about what you are feeling, but even worse when you think that everyone else is enjoying life without a care in the world. 

2. Teach.

The next most important thing you can do for your teen is to teach them how to cope with the social and academic pressure they are experiencing on a daily basis.  Stress is something that we all encounter and some situations get the best of us.  Talk about healthy coping strategies that work for you and model these skills in action.  Ask your teen what relaxes them or what they enjoy.  Urge your teen to turn to that particular activity when things feel like they’re getting out of control.  You can even hold each other accountable and have a secret code word to remind one another to use their healthy coping skill.  It doesn’t have to be serious.  In fact, the more fun, the less stress.  Simple as that. 

3. Get help.

If things seem to be unraveling at home, it is critical that you bring in a third party to intervene and support your teen.  Turn to a relative you trust, a teacher you respect, a youth pastor, a sports coach, a life coach or therapist.  Too many teens are experiencing stress and are fighting it alone.  They don't have the tools to cope with their pain effectively and are taking their lives.  We can change this and we must.

Copyright © 2015 by Maggie Steele

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Getting the Respect You Want

We all want respect but not all of us know how to get it.  As a result, those who are seeking respect often end up getting into heated arguments that lead to deep frustration and resentment toward the people we care the most about.  This can be exhausting for everyone involved, so it’s no wonder that the majority of teens I work with want the fighting to stop.  Arguments between you and your parents or you and faculty may be draining at the moment, but there are a lot of ways you can get the respect you want that don’t require raising your voice or stomping the ground. 

One of the most important ways to gain respect as a teen is to keep your voice steady and calm when talking about things that are emotional for you.  Too often we get wound up in our emotions and the injustice of the situation.  Our voice starts to get louder and the specific point that we wanted to make gets buried somewhere behind our aggressive tone, multiple profanities and our high pitched screams.

Recognize that the power lies within you.  Seriously.  You have the power.  

It is up to you to communicate effectively and calmly, and if you do, you’ll see that you can diffuse any argument.  

It can, of course, be really hard to express yourself when your emotions are high.  The more distraught we are, the harder it is to listen to someone else’s point of view and the more challenging it can be to communicate our thoughts.  This is why it is so important to recognize your anger before it takes hold of your voice.  I mean, let’s be honest.  You don’t want to start chewing your mom’s head off at the grocery store in front of a bunch of people, right? 

The work you do before the argument is probably the most important.  Spend some time alone with a journal or notebook and write down specific moments in time when you felt frustrated or angry with your parents or someone in authority.  What did it feel like?  Where in your body do you remember feeling it the most?  What happened just before the argument started?  What did they say during the argument that got you even more frustrated?  Taking the time to think back to that moment and recognize how you were feeling will serve you in the future.

The next time you feel an argument coming on, focus on your breath and count to ten.  Sometimes it’s even helpful to tell the person that you have to go to the bathroom so that you can walk away and collect your thoughts before it is too late. 

Once you have control of your emotions, remember to keep your voice steady, low and calm.  People are more likely to listen if you are not yelling or screaming your head off and you’ll show your mom or dad that you’re making a serious effort to communicate respectfully.  Explain your feelings and ask questions that will help clarify the situation.  The more you understand the other person’s perspective, the more they will be willing to listen to yours. 

Taking the time to recognize what sets you off and learning how to keep your voice calm will help you communicate your thoughts more clearly and respectfully.  While I can’t promise that the conversation will always end in your favor, I can assure you that you will gain a greater self-awareness and highly effective communication skills that will serve you throughout your life.

Copyright © 2015 by Maggie Steele

Saturday, June 6, 2015

3 Steps to Make Peace with Your Inner Critic

1. Recognize it!

The first and possibly most important thing to do is to recognize the voice inside your head that does the comparing.  You know who I mean right?  That annoying voice that ends up telling you you’re ugly, stupid, pudgy, or worse.  Now you may think to yourself, “What? I don’t talk that way to myself,” but I urge you to listen.  Some of you may be shocked when you hear some of the hateful things you are telling yourself on a regular basis. 

You will likely start to notice that some of the things you tell yourself are so mean that if a friend of yours told you the same, you would probably want nothing to do with them.  Think about that!  You are allowing your own inner voice to berate and humiliate you on a daily basis, but if a friend told you the same, you would never put up with it.  Well, don’t put up with it now! 

2. Write it down!

What are your strengths?  What are you proud of?  What is your favorite color at the moment? Or do you have many?  What is something you really enjoy doing?  What are you grateful for?  What qualities do you possess that make you you?   Have fun with the questions and come up with some of your own.  By focusing on who you are and perhaps, who you would like to become, you will start to feel more comfortable in your skin and your self-esteem will increase significantly.

3. Listen up!

Make it a point to listen to your inner voice when you’re flipping through a magazine or watching a movie.  What kind of things are you telling yourself?  Are you comparing yourself to a celebrity?  If so, recognize the comment and let it go.  No need to berate yourself or judge yourself for being cruel.  Just notice the comment and let it go.  This exercise will have a huge impact on your self-esteem in the long run.   Practice it enough and you will soon be doing it without even thinking, squashing that negative chatter before it has a chance to effect you.

At the end of the day, we all have insecurities and there are moments when we feel bad about the way we look.  It’s okay to feel bad from time to time, but feeling bad on a daily basis will cause you more pain and grief in the end.  Why waste your energy feeling down when you have so many things to celebrate?  Who you are reveals so much more than a reflection in a mirror, so focus on becoming the person you want to be and less on worrying about what others see. 

Copyright © 2015 by Maggie Steele

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Communication Matters

When it comes to communication, we have three ways of showing up.  We can be passive, we can be aggressive, or we can be assertive.  Of course, when you’re in a situation, it’s not always easy to just think, “Hmm.  How should I communicate here?” Taking some time to think about situations in advance, however, can give you the opportunity to imagine what it would be like to communicate the way you want to.

Let’s take a look at passive communication.   Darren and Rachel are heading into Algebra class.  Over the weekend, Rachel’s mom told Rachel and her sister that she and her father were getting a divorce.  A lot happened over the weekend and Rachel wasn't able to concentrate on school.  Instead, she tried to process the changes that were taking place and the emotions she was feeling. 

It is now Monday morning, and Rachel suddenly remembers that there is a quiz.  Her friend, Darren looks over at her and asks if anything is wrong.  Rachel shakes her head no and slides into her seat, hoping that the quiz has been canceled and that the teacher will be absent for the day.  The teacher shows up, passes out the quizzes and Rachel fails. By being passive and hoping that the quiz would be canceled, Rachel was unable to advocate for what she needed.  As a result, neither Darren nor her teacher knew what was going on and were unable to offer her the support she needed. 

If Rachel had used aggressive communication, she would have responded to her friend, “No! I’m not okay.  My parents are getting divorced and I didn’t study for this stupid quiz.”  When the teacher walked in and started handing out the quizzes, Rachel would have gone straight up to him and said, “There’s no way I can do this.  I can’t even begin to tell you what I went through this weekend.  I’m not taking this quiz.  There’s no way I’m taking it!”  The teacher would then have the opportunity to respond but might be thrown off by Rachel’s aggressive tone.  Rachel’s teacher might not have had much empathy for her situation and may have had her take the quiz.  In addition, Darren might have been put off my Rachel’s attitude and in the end Rachel would not have gotten the support that she needed. 

If Rachel had used assertive communication, she would have answered Darren by stating that she didn’t feel well and had had a rough weekend.  When the teacher came into the classroom, Rachel would have walked up to him and calmly explained the situation.  She would then ask the teacher if she could take the quiz on Thursday so that she could have some time to study.  Rachel’s assertive communication style would have likely gotten her what she needed; understanding, support and accommodation. 

When it comes to communication, assertive communication is always your best bet.  By standing up for what you need and expressing yourself in a calm and even tone, the person you are speaking with is able to hear what you have to say without feeling attacked.  As a result, they are able to understand your needs.  While they may not always be able to meet your needs, you can rest assured that they will be able to hear you out and support you as best they can.   

Copyright © 2015 by Maggie Steele

Monday, February 9, 2015

You Don’t Need Someone Else to Be Happy

It’s funny to me that so much of what we believe is simply the result of being bombarded with ideals and opinions that don’t necessarily match up with our authentic selves.  Much of what we hear is that we need to find that special someone to spend the rest of our lives with.  In fact, many times that special someone is meant to be the key to our happiness.  If we find that special person, everything will be better and we will finally be happy.  Seriously?  If that were the case, then everyone with a partner would be dancing around in absolute bliss for the rest of their lives.

We can’t suddenly be happy just because we’ve found that special someone. Think about where happiness comes from.  How do you know you’re happy?  You feel happy, right? The feeling itself comes from inside of you.  It only makes sense then, that true, authentic happiness is something that only we can give to ourselves. 

Take Jessika for example.  Jessika grew up with the Disney classics and although she knew deep down inside that she was capable of doing just about anything, there was a small but significant part of her that believed without a shadow of a doubt that her life would be better and she would be happier as soon as her prince came into her life. Jessika did eventually meet that someone and soon realized that Jimmy wasn’t doing what she had imagined he would do.  She was certain that he would make her happy.  Instead, she only felt more alone and upset when things didn’t go the way she had hoped. 

Jessika’s story is pretty common.  We start off by looking for that person who will, in a sense, complete us.  Once we find them, we then put all of our hopes and dreams onto them and expect that they will be the ones to make us happy.  Imagine how that person feels! That’s a whole lot of pressure.  Sure enough the person isn’t able to deliver and we feel empty and hurt.  Once we’ve gotten over the pain and the heartache, we start telling ourselves that that person just wasn’t the one.  Again, we let society run our thoughts and we continue to seek out that one person who will be the one to make us happy.

What would it be like if you were able to find the happiness you're looking for by simply being you?  I know, I know, you're probably thinking, "What is she talking about?"  Bear with me, okay.  How do you think a relationship might benefit if you were happy all on your own, and didn’t need that other person to make you whole? 

The thing is, happiness is something that comes from within.  It’s something that we can cultivate on our own and then share with others.  So how do you do it?  One of the first things you can do is to come up with a list of things that make you smile.  It doesn’t matter how big or how silly these things are.  It could even be something like eating a warm chocolate chip cookie!  By identifying things that make you smile, you are gaining a deeper understanding of who you are and what you enjoy. 

Another thing you can do is keep a gratitude journal.  Whenever you feel moved to write, jot down some of the things you are grateful for.  By building awareness of what you have, you will be more in tune with yourself and your environment. This awareness will help you by highlighting who you are, what you have, and how those things bring you happiness.  If you keep looking for happiness outside of yourself you will continue down that hopeless path of disappointment.  If you take a look inside though, you’ll start to notice those unique things that bring about the joy that naturally resides within you.  And that happiness, well, that’s all yours.  And always will be.  No matter what. 

Copyright © 2015 by Maggie Steele

Friday, November 21, 2014

Unplug for the Holidays

With the holidays coming up, I thought it might be a good time to talk about some of the benefits of unplugging. I know, I know. Why would anyone want to do that? There are a lot of great reasons though, and some of them might really inspire you to take a break.

It’s no secret that technology is a huge part of our lives today. We spend most of our days posting, tweeting, chatting, liking and sharing videos and photos. When we’re not doing that, we’re mindlessly scrolling down our news feed checking in on what everyone else is posting. While social media is a fantastic way to build a community and connect with your friends, it can also bring you down. Some people subconsciously base their self-worth on whether or not people like their status and it can be devastating when their post is not acknowledged.

Taking a second to acknowledge someone in person, face to face, can do a lot more than simply “liking” a photo, but most of us spend more time on our phones than we do connecting with people in person. This is why it is so important for us to unplug from time to time. Not only will we be able to avoid the painful feelings that are often brought about by comparing photos and status updates, but we will be able to spend our time doing things that make us feel good.

Taking a break from the internet can actually lead to some productive, healthy and hilarious ways to spend your time. Instead of checking someone’s status, you could learn how to cook a muffin or build a dog house from scratch. You could design your own bracelet or make a ton and give them away to everyone at school! You could paint your room, go for a hike, do some yoga, play a sport or just sit quietly with your cat. You could meet a friend and go for lunch, take a random class or go to a book store. You could eat a bagel and dance around the kitchen singing, “Let it Go”! You could spend some time with your family or volunteer to help those in need.
Here’s the thing. There are countless activities you could do with the time spent checking in on your friends. Make a list of fun things you’d like to do and invite others to join you! Give it a chance and see how it feels to unplug over the holidays. Who knows? You might just want to unplug every month from here on out.

Copyright © 2014 by Maggie Steele. All rights reserved.