Break Time’s Over

Let’s start with the most important thing: Today is launch day for my book, Dealing with the Elephant in the Room: Moving from Tough Conversations to Healthy Communication.

Today would be a great day to pick it up.

Or not.

The reason to get it today is that a strong launch gives a book more quick exposure, which builds momentum. If it’s a helpful book, it’s a chance to get it into more hands so it can help more people.

So, it would be great if you could:

  • Pick up a copy or three on Amazon or your favorite online retail outlet.
  • Share this post with your “tribe” through your social media accounts, and encourage others to do the same.

There is one reason, though, why you might want to pass it up:

You might already have it.

Here’s the scoop:

A couple of years ago, Revell published my book You Can’t Text a Tough Conversation: RealCommunicationNeeded.
It was a book about learning to communicate effectively when conversations get challenging and uncomfortable. But people read the title and thought it was a book about the evils of social media, and how it messes with our relationships.  Even the media interviews I did focused on technology, not communication.

People agreed strongly with that idea, but they didn’t need a book to tell them.

So they said nice things about it, but didn’t buy it.

I approached my publisher and asked if we could make a change in the packaging so it would be more accurate. They had already been thinking that direction, so they agreed.

The result? The book that’s launching today – Dealing with the Elephant in the Room: Moving from Tough Conversations to Healthy CommunicationIt’s a revised version of that original book. So if you bought that one, you might not need to get this new one (though it’s a little different).

But you can still spread the word . . . which I would deeply appreciate.

I just read through the book again. It’s been awhile, so I wanted to see what I said.

Here’s the interesting thing I discovered: It’s a really good book. In fact, I think it might be the most helpful book I’ve written.  When the focus was on technology, it was an OK book.  But now that the focus is on communication, it was a surprisingly helpful read.

If you’re challenged by tough, uncomfortable conversations, I think you’ll find some real help here. It’s full of practical tips and advice of what’s needed to build your conversational toolbox, and how to use those tools effectively.

Know someone who’s struggling in a relationship? This could make the difference for them.  It’s simple, it’s practical, and it’s proven.  It’s not stuffy (as evidenced by the cover).

So, this isn’t just about making a book successful (though that’s part of it). It’s about getting a tool in the hands of people who are stuck in their relationships.

——————–

That leads to the second part. I’ve been “on recess” for the most part over the past year.  There has been a lot going on – from job changes to multiple surgeries and a few other things that make life interesting.  So I’ve really missed connecting with you in this way.

But it’s time to come back.

There’s a new website coming in a few weeks (I actually hired an expert). It’ll be our “coffee shop” where we can connect about life.  I’ll be your barista, and you can drop in anytime.  I’m looking forward to that.

I’m also jumping back into this blog again. So, you can expect to hear something about once a week.  (If you’d like to receive these posts automatically, sign up at the top of this page.)  You’re going to help pick the topics.  It’s a dialogue, not a monologue.

And I’m working on the next book proposal. You’ll be part of the writing process on this one.

I also stuck my toes in the Instagram pool today. If you’re on there as well, we can go exploring together.

This “season” has helped me see how much I enjoy writing and connecting. So I’m looking forward to having you along on the journey. It’s a privilege, and I’m grateful that you’re along for the ride.

Now – go spread the word about elephants . . . and we’ll talk again next week!

FYI – “Crazy People” E-book $1.99 this week only

People Can't Drive You CrazyGood morning!

People Can't Drive You Crazy

Just wanted you to know that Amazon and Barnes & Noble are offering “People Can’t Drive You Crazy If You Don’t Give Them the Keys” for $1.99 from now through Saturday, February 8.  If you haven’t picked it up yet, or know someone you think could find it helpful, here’s your chance.  You could also send this to the crazy person in your life, hoping they’ll get the hint.  (But if you receive the same from them, you’ll know who their crazy person is . . . )

Bottom line: It’s about how to keep from being a victim of other people who are hijacking your emotions and driving you crazy. It’s possible — and this book provides the blueprint for getting back in control, no matter what others do.

 

To order from Amazon, click here.

To order from Barnes & Noble, click here.

It’s nice when these offers come along, which is why I want to make sure you know when they happen.  Enjoy!

Mike

(BTW – A number of people have been asking if it’s available as an audio book.  It’s not part of this discount, but you can find it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble — if you’d prefer to have me talk your ear off instead of reading it.)

 

A Simple Approach to New Year’s Resolutions

I heard the other day that there are well over 100 million blogs in the US.  Worldwide, it could be 400 million or more.

I wonder how many of them will be talking about New Year’s resolutions today.  My guess is . . . a bunch.

If you need help with your resolutions, you’ve got plenty of places to look.  Lots of people have lots of advice, and they’re all going, “Pick me!  Pick me!”

So, don’t get too excited.  My chance of saying something unique or clever here is pretty small. 

I won’t talk about willpower (it’s overrated).  I won’t talk about habits (though they’re critical for success). I won’t try to use guilt (it hasn’t worked before, why would it work now?)  And I certainly won’t make a list of “must” resolutions (because we all get to choose for ourselves).

Instead, here’s my suggestion.

Make one resolution for the year.

Dogs and resolutionsThat’s it.  Not two or three.

Just one.

Why?  Because for people with a busy life and a crazy schedule, resolutions become “more stuff to do.”  They end up slipping into the background, and we feel guilty because we’re not doing what we committed to.  So we quit thinking about them.

And nothing ever changes.

What if we picked one thing we want to accomplish by the end of the year?  Then, it becomes a focal point for our efforts.  The chance of it happening are much greater.

A single resolution (substitute “goal” if you prefer) will work best if it has these characteristics:

  • It will add value to your life if you achieve it.  You should be able to see the difference it’ll make, and it’s something you’d really like to see happen.  Keep it practical rather than abstract or noble-sounding.
  • It’s something positive, not negative.  Nobody gets motivated about negative goals.  Focus on starting something, not stopping something.
  • It’s easily broken into small steps. The steps should be easy to accomplish each day.  Then, carry out that step before you check your email in the morning (there’s the habit).
  • It’s public.  Tell somebody what you’re doing, and why you’re excited about accomplishing it.  Give them permission to ask you how it’s going so they can encourage you.
  • It has positive emotion tied to it.  When you think about it happening, your “warm and fuzzy” alarm goes off.

It doesn’t mean we’re ignoring other areas in our life.  We always want to be growing.  It means having one thing that would make a huge difference if we could make it happen by the end of the year.

I haven’t decided what mine will be yet.  I’ve got all day to think about it. 

A couple of years ago, I set a goal to be able to find every country in the world on a map. I got distracted, but am considering going back to that one:

  • It would add value to my life (the news would make more sense).
  • It would be positive (something new) instead of negative.
  • It’s easy to break down (less than four countries per week).
  • I could make it public (I have some friends that were planning to do the same).
  • It would be fun. (And I would feel smart.)

So, how do you feel about a single resolution? (If you want to do more than one, there are millions of blog posts to help . . . )

If you share your resolution/goal, maybe we’ll all get some ideas. (Comment below)

Happy New Year, Friends.  I’m looking forward to our journey together in 2014!

 

We Should Only Need One Book

At a yard sale a few months ago, I saw a large box of books for sale in someone’s driveway.

They were all on the same topic: Taking control of your personal finances. 

I read through the book jackets, and saw a common theme:

  1. People have financial pain.
  2. People need a solution.
  3. This book has the solution. 

booksThe implication was, “If you buy this book, it will solve your problem.  You’ll finally find success, and you’ll never need to read another book on this topic.”

But all of them said basically the same thing. 

If each book did what it promised, there would only be one book in that box.  It would have solved the problem, and was no longer needed.

But there were probably 20 books in the box.  That means the owner tried one, and it didn’t work.  So he or she tried another, and another, and another. 

I’ve seen other boxes of books on dieting, fitness and relationships.  All of them promise success.  But all of them are surrounded with other books making the same empty promises.

People have pain in their lives.  They’re looking for solutions.  When they’re desperate, they’re an easy target for quick fixes.  They’re trying to win the life lottery, hoping for a simple, painless answer that will relieve the pain.

It’s called opportunity cost.  Whatever time and money we spend on something, that time is no longer available for anything else. 

Maybe, instead of spending $20 on a self-help book, we should invest that $20.

Maybe, instead of reading the latest diet book, we should go for a walk.

Maybe, instead of browsing magazine articles about better relationships, we should sit down with that person and share life over a meal.

(I can’t believe I’m telling people to not buy the kind of books I write for a living . . . )

The books aren’t bad.  They offer great food for thought, and a new perspective to help us develop solutions.

But they won’t provide the solution we’re hoping for.  They’re just an ingredient in the solution.

Learn to ignore the hype on the back cover.  Read the insides to gain another person’s perspective. 

Then make it your own, and do the work to make change happen.

 

Thoughts?

Do You Need a Break Today?

I’m ready for a vacation.

I’m picturing palm trees . . .

. . . and sunsets . . .

. . . and warm, white sand and warm, clear water . . .

. . . and barefoot, hand-holding strolls in the breezy evening . . .

. . . and holding a Kindle instead of a phone . . .

. . . and no alarm clock . . .

But that’s not scheduled until October.

In the meantime, I have stuff to get done.  Lots of stuff. 

It’s the same feeling I get at the TSA checkpoint at the airport.  My laptop is in one bin, my shoes and coat in another, a plastic bag with toothpaste is in another, followed by my carry-on bag.  They make it through X-ray, and I try to collect them on the other side. 

But more luggage is coming through, piling up, jamming everything forward until it’s almost impossible to coordinate it all.  I feel rushed, and people are getting upset because I’m not moving fast enough.

By the time I walk away, my hands are filled with random, unzipped bags – my coat and belt slung over my shoulder – laptop under my arm and shoes suspended from my fingertips.  More than once I’ve soaked my socks by stepping in liquid someone else spilled doing the same thing.

beach chairsSo I find a bench where I can regroup, repack and recover.

Assuming I’m not rushing to catch my plane, I stop for a moment and catch my breath.  Not long . . . just a moment.  I’ve learned to consciously slow down and get my bearings before moving on.

It’s like taking a mini-vacation in my day.

It’s easy to get so caught up in all the “stuff” we have to do, that we never stop to catch our breath.  The tyranny of the urgent drives us from one thing to the next.

Stopping briefly and hitting “reset” at the end of stressful tasks can make a huge difference in our attitude about the next one.  Sure, it might take an extra minute; but that stress-relieving minute pays huge dividends in how we feel entering the next project.

Like a real vacation, we come back energized.

And it makes the whole day go better.

Try it a couple of times today.  It’ll be tough, because it feels like wasting time while we could be making progress.  But we’ll get more done – in less time – if we go on a brief vacation:

  • Listen to your favorite song – not as background music, but intentionally savoring the selection.
  • Think of five things you appreciate most about your spouse or one of your kids.
  • Study something natural around you – a plant in an office, a grassy landscape, or the sound or running water (even if it’s coming out of a faucet).
  • Find a shape in a cloud (it’s been a while since you’ve done that, right?)
  • Be conscious of the taste of what you’re eating for lunch or a snack instead of rushing through it.
  • Smell your coffee before each sip.
  • Listen to the tone of someone’s voice that you care about.
  • Take 5 deep breaths.

In other words, use your senses.  That’s what vacations are for – to remove the daily distractions so we can notice things we usually overlook.

October’s coming.  The vacation is planned.

But I’m taking one today.

You, too?

 

How do you find space in your day?  Leave a comment.

How to Initiate a Conversation

When the space shuttle used to launch, it burned up 90% of its fuel in the first few minutes to escape the earth’s gravity.  After that, it’s just a fraction.

For many people, starting a conversation is the hardest part of communication.  It seems to take 90% of our energy just to make the initial contact:

  • We don’t know how to start the conversation.
  • We don’t know what to say first.
  • We’re not sure the other person will want to talk to us.
  • We don’t know how to approach someone.

Bags on headBut once the conversation has started, maintaining the momentum is easier than getting it going in the first place.

An effective conversation begins before the first word is spoken.  Both people go through an unconscious dialogue about each other.  We read their facial expressions and body language, using those visual cues to decide if it’s safe to connect with them.

If the signals look positive, we go ahead.  If the signals look negative, we assume they won’t be interested.

But often, those assumptions are inaccurate.  It’s important to separate what we observe (facts) from our interpretation of those facts.

There are two ways to start a conversation:

  1. Wait for someone to approach you.
  2. Approach them.

The first option seems safe, because we assume a person wouldn’t approach us if they weren’t interested.  But that approach has some inherent problems:

  • If nobody approaches, we feel even worse.
  • We focus our attention on ourselves instead of them.
  • We don’t have control over the outcome.
  • The whole process can be painful.

The second option works for extroverts, but is scary for introverts – so they don’t consider it.  But that fear is based on certain assumptions:

  1. “I don’t want to intrude.” (But they’re probably waiting for someone to approach them, too.)
  2. “They might not like me or think I’m interesting.” (That’s assuming that we’re boring – bad perspective.)
  3. “They’re more confident than I am.” (Most people try to appear more confident than they really are, including the other person.)
  4. “They’re standing alone because they prefer it.” (They’re using option #1.  If they didn’t want to interact, they would have stayed home.)
  5. “I don’t know them, so I don’t know what they would like to talk about.” (Huge advantage – you don’t have to know a lot.  Just start exploring and follow the trail.)
  6. “I’ll feel like a failure if we don’t have a great conversation.” (That puts all the responsibility on you.)

The purpose of conversation isn’t to show how clever we are.  It’s to make a connection between two people.

The biggest advantage of being the one to initiate a conversation?  You get to pick who you spend time with.

 

(These ideas are adapted from the upcoming “How to Communicate With Confidence” – hitting bookstores on July 15.  More in the next couple of posts . . . )

Conquering Cell Phone Addiction

Distracted by smart phoneTechnology addiction starts small.  We all tend to ignore the symptoms:

— Interrupting a conversation with our kids because the phone rings

— Feeling agitated when we haven’t checked our email for a while

— Leaving the phone next to the bed and checking messages in the middle of the night

I knew I was in trouble when I checked my email in church during the sermon last week.  It was a great sermon, and I actually pulled out my phone to use the Bible app I installed.

But while opening it up, I didn’t realize how tempting it was to sneak a peek at my inbox.

I don’t want to be controlled by my smart phone.  I want to be the smart one, not my phone.

I want the control back.

So I’ve decided on twelve “choices” I’m going to commit to in order to take control.  Here’s my list:

  1. I will not set my phone on the table when dining with others.  It seems innocent, but says, “I’m just leaving this here in case something comes along that’s more interesting than you.”
  2. I will practice a tech version of the Golden Rule: “I’ll observe the rude things other people do with their phone, and I won’t do those things.”
  3. I will not talk on the phone while walking in the park.  The park will be where I restore my sanity.
  4. I will remember that my voice is louder when I’m on the phone than when I’m having a face-to-face conversation, and it irritates the people around me.
  5. I will not use my phone while driving – including texting.  If I need to call or text, I’ll pull off the road.
  6. I will not talk on the phone in public restrooms.  Or elevators.  Or waiting rooms, airplanes, libraries, weddings or meetings.  It bothers everyone.  Especially the first one . . .
  7. I will not text in a theater; the light from the screen is like turning on a flashlight.  Movies are expensive; I will choose to watch undistracted.
  8. I will not look at my phone when playing with my kids or grandkids.  It sends a message I don’t want to send.
  9. If I’m expecting a truly critical call, I’ll explain to the person I’m with why I’ll have to take it.  When it comes through, I’ll get up from the table and keep it short.
  10. In public settings, I will text instead of call.
  11. I will model the type of phone manners I want my kids to catch.
  12. I will schedule how often I’ll check my messages – perhaps once per hour.

Mostly, I will remember common courtesy.  I will not be rude – but I have to think carefully about what rudeness looks like, so I can avoid it.

I don’t want my phone running my life.  It needs to be a tool, not a tyrant.

And next Sunday, I’ll take a paper Bible to church instead of using the app on my phone.  (I wonder if I can find it . . . ?)

 

What are some choices you need to make about your smart phone?  Comment below:

The Myth of Self-Help Books

I’m a sucker for self-help books.

It’s my favorite section at Barnes & Noble.  Maybe it’s because they all promise solutions to everything I struggle with.  Fitness, relationships, communication, success – according to the titles, everything I need is right there.

I shouldn’t complain – that’s usually the section where my books are found.

But there sure are a lot of them.

That leads to some logical question:

  • If the self-help books worked, why are there so many of them on the same topic?
  • If one worked, would we need others?

Asleep in bookstoreEvidently, people buy a book because of the promise on the cover.  But when it doesn’t work, they’ll try the next one.  And the next – and the next.

Even if those books don’t work, we keep buying them like lottery tickets, hoping the next one will be a big winner.

If the self-help books on weight-loss worked, everybody who bought those books would be skinny.  If the self-help books on marriage worked, everybody who bought those books would stay married.

But what if the problem isn’t the books?

What if the problem is the reader?

The problem is that we’re an independent bunch, us humans.  We want quick solutions, and we want to do it ourselves.  We don’t want to admit that we need assistance; we’re proud.

Thus, the rise of “self-help” books.

There’s a problem: We’re designed to need others.

I don’t know everything, and don’t have all the answers or resources.  Neither do you.  But I know a few things that you don’t.  You know a few things that I don’t.  When we work together, we get stronger by drawing from each other.

We need more human moments, where we look each other in the eye and do life together.

Haven’t you ever been totally bummed out about something, and you feel stuck in your emotions?  Then you have a conversation with someone else who’s been struggling.  All you say is, “Wow – I’m so stressed.”  The other person says, “Yeah, me too.”

And you both feel better.

Maybe we should swallow our pride and ask for help.  That’s tough for me – and I’m guessing it’s tough for you, too.

But when two people work together, the results aren’t doubled.  They’re multiplied.

What if, instead of buying self-help books to help ourselves, we used them as a curriculum for growing with others?

Barnes & Noble should change the name of the section from “Self-Help” to “Together-Help.”  Or something like that.  While there’s value in independence, there’s much greater value in interdependence.

So, should we buy self-help books?  Absolutely (especially mine . . . )

But we can’t view them as “the answer.”  We need to see them as a “resource.”

Maybe we need more “help” and less “self.”

If we want to change our lives, let’s do it together.

Have you had a time when “together” worked better than “alone?” Comment below . . .

Why Kids Are Creative, and How They Lose It As Adults

Yesterday, during a corporate seminar, I drew a black dot on a flip chart.  I asked the group, “What did I just draw?”

Black dot

“A dot,” they said.

“Anything else?” I asked.

“A black dot.”

Over the years, I’ve probably done that exercise 300 times.  With any group of adults, I always get the same answer: “It’s a dot.”

But a few times, I’ve had a chance to do the same thing with a group of early elementary school kids.  When I ask what I drew, they’ve never once said it was a dot:

  • “It’s a squashed bug with no legs.”
  • “It’s a ball.”
  • “It’s the top of a telephone pole.”
  • “It’s a hole in a golf course.”
  • “It’s a black moon in a white sky.”

As soon as someone asks, “What is it?” their minds go into high gear, thinking of all the possibilities.  But ask an adult the same question and they always say, “It’s a dot.”

So, what happens between childhood and adulthood that causes creativity to disappear?

I’d love to know your thoughts.  I’ve got one idea:

Black dotA little kid scribbles something on paper with a crayon.  A well-meaning adult comes along and says, “What is it?”

The child thinks, “What do you mean, ‘What is it?’”  They know exactly what it is.  “It’s a bird,” they reply.

The well-meaning adult says, “Here – let me show you an easy way to draw that so it really looks like a bird.”

We think we’re helping.  But what the child hears is, “You can’t do this.  Only adults can do this.  You’re really not creative.”

Over time, when that happens repeatedly, they begin to believe it.  Little-by-little, they lose their sense of wonder.

I’m sure there are other reasons.  I’m no expert, but I’ve learned to respond differently when my kids give me a picture they’ve drawn.

Instead of saying, “What is it?” I’ve learned to say, “Tell me about it.” 

The results are pretty amazing.  They feel like their creativity has been reinforced, because they become even more creative in their storytelling as they describe the scene in detail.

I wonder what would happen if we did that with each other as adults?  Instead of critiquing each other’s perspective, what if we said, “Tell me about it.”

Just a few of my random thoughts, no firm answers or suggestions.  Care to join the discussion?  We’d all love to hear your perspective – just “tell us about it.”

(Comment below)

Thanks for Riding Shotgun Last Friday

I’ll keep this short and simple:

Thank You in beach sand

I can’t thank you enough for spreading the word about the free offering of “People Can’t Drive You Crazy If You Don’t Give Them the Keys.”

I’m grateful enough that you allow me to wander into your life a couple of times a week for a chat. To have you participate the way you did in a one-day project was beyond what I expected — and it was a kick to watch!

I also learned some things about the power of social media – and I was moved by your efforts and comments.

A number of you have asked me how it went.  Here are a few random facts:

  • It’s hard to get exact numbers, and Amazon has its own ways of tallying results.
  • Social media sharing starts small, then begins to snowball.  Over half the downloads took place after 6:00 PM.
  • By noon, it was 187th in popularity in Amazon’s free store (I didn’t realize they had a free store . . . but there are thousands of books available there).
  • By 1:30, it was at #56.
  • By midnight, it topped out at #4 – and reached #1 in the Self-Help category.

Now, that’s all in the “free ebook” category, so it’s not like being on the “paid bestseller” list.  But here’s what was most interesting:

  • After midnight, the book was no longer free, and moved back to the $10 range.  But the next day, at least 100 people went ahead and purchased it anyway — which moved it to #32 in the Amazon “paid” bestseller list (top 100).  Evidently, the topic hit enough of a nerve that people decided to grab it!

Thank You in beach sandSo that’s the power of social media – and I have you to thank for that.

What does it all mean?

Well, the book got some great exposure, thanks to your help.  But something bigger happened.

Let’s assume the book has some value for people – not necessarily a New York Times bestseller, but something that might help someone figure out the sticky relationships in their lives.

By sharing the book with your circles of influence, you’ve helped those people find some potential solutions.  You’ve touched their lives.

Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Thanks for partnering with me in the process.  I was blown away by how many of you participated, and how far your reach is.  You’re appreciated more than I can express.

So 2013 will be here shortly.  Nobody knows what the year will bring, but let’s do it together.  I’ll continue to knock on your e-door a couple of times a week for a chat.  You’ll steer what we talk about and where the discussion goes.

Let’s encourage each other in the journey!

 

 

 

Do We Really Need Other People?

When I was a kid, our annual family vacation was usually at Sequoia National Park in central California.  We would rent a “housekeeping cabin” where we’d cook on a wood stove, then put the leftover food scraps in metal trash cans on the canvas covered porch.  Shortly after dusk each night, we would watch through the windows as black bears would rummage through our trash cans, three feet from us.   (They don’t let you do that anymore.)

Giant Sequoia Trees

During the day we would visit the general store, take day hikes out to Crescent Meadow and climb Morro Rock.  We would hold peanuts on our laps and watch the chipmunks climb up our legs to grab them, and we’d watch blue jays fight for the ones that dropped (the peanuts, not the chipmunks).

Good times.

My favorite adventure was the nature walks, led by the park rangers.  Every day we would go on a different excursion where these experts described the intricate details of our surroundings.  One day it would be about trees.  The next, it would be about animals.  Then we would learn about the conditions on the forest floor that enabled seeds to grow.

Even at that young age, I was fascinated.  I remember how I felt when the ranger said, “We’re surrounded by the largest and oldest living things in the world – the giant Sequoia Redwoods.”
She told us that when the first explorers stepped onto the shore of the New World, these trees had already been alive for over a thousand years.

Giant Sequoia TreesGeneral Sherman was the granddaddy of them all.  By volume, it’s the biggest tree in the world.  Other trees are taller, but Gen. S. is the beefy one.  Weighing about 2 million pounds, it’s been around for about 2200 years (which means it was already 200 years old when Christ was born).  Our whole group would circle the tree and touch fingertips, but we never had enough people to reach around the tree.

“What do you think keeps this tree from falling over?” the ranger asked.  I had paid attention in science class, and remembered what my teacher told me.  “The taproot,” I said.  “Trees have one huge room going straight down that holds the tree in place.”

“Good guess,” she said, “but these giant Sequoias don’t have taproots.”

Now I was confused.  Taproots kept trees from falling over during storms, earthquakes and other natural events.  Now this ranger was telling us that the largest trees in the world are missing their taproots.

So what holds it up?

“These trees have surface roots that extend sideways for a huge distance – often covering a whole acre of ground.”

She continued:

“But that’s still not enough to hold them up.  These trees grow in groves, close to other trees.  Their roots reach out and intertwine with the roots of every other tree That’s where the strength comes from.”

“In simple terms, the trees hold each other up during the worst conditions.  If one of these trees were alone, it wouldn’t survive.”

We value independence.  I know I do; it’s hard for me to ask for help or depend on someone else.  It’s like a two-year old telling her mom, “I can do it all by myself.”

I don’t want to be dependent; I want to be independent.  I want to do it all by myself.

But we weren’t made for independence.

We’re made for interdependence.

We don’t realize that we need each other until the storm hits.  That’s when we discover that we don’t have taproots.

We need to hold hands through life.

 

When have you needed others to stay upright in the storm?

 

Why I Don’t Wax Rental Cars

I’ve never waxed a rental car.

Mud covered truck

I don’t purposely abuse them, and I’m careful not to get them scratched or dented.

But since it’s not my car, and I only have it for one day (and I’m paying a lot of money for it), I don’t treat it quite the same as my own car.

Mud covered truckSometimes I’ll drive it a little harder than normal or take it over rough roads I might otherwise avoid.  In my own car, hitting a pothole concerns me because I might have messed up the alignment, creating excessive tire wear and other problems down the line.

In a rental car, I don’t give it a second thought since I won’t have the car after one day.  Deep inside I’m thinking, “It’s not my problem” and “I’m paying them to worry about this.”

(OK, maybe I was having a bad day . . . )

I know that someone else will be driving that car tomorrow, and they have their own driving habits and issues.  If the car is rented every day, it has up to 365 drivers each year who aren’t committed to the car’s long-term care.  They treat the car differently, because they’re not committed for the long haul.  They don’t care if it’s washed, waxed or maintained.  They just want it to work for them all day long, and then they turn it in when they don’t need it anymore.

I think relationships are like that.

Making a commitment shows ownership in a relationship.  If we operate from a filter that says we’re committed 24/7, 365 days a year, we don’t treat the relationship as a rental.  We wash it, wax it, and take the steps to maintain it.

When Diane and I stood at the altar, we made some promises to each other.  Basically, we promised to be committed to each other “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health.”  We didn’t say, “For better . . . for richer . . . in health.”  We promised to stick around and work on the relationship.

Here’s the benefits of long-term commitment:

We take better care of things when we plan on keeping them.   When I have a long-haul mindset in a relationship, I’ll spend the time to keep it healthy.

Relationships need to be regularly cleaned.  No matter how clean my car is, it gets dirty when it sits outside for a few days.  It never gets cleaner by itself; it gets dirtier.  Keeping my best relationships “clean” takes intentional effort and regular attention to survive all the “stuff” that comes at it from the outside.

Relationships need to be regularly protected.  Pollution, bird droppings and tree sap take much longer to destroy a car’s paint if it’s protected by a good coat of wax.  Without it, they begin to eat into the paint and ruin it.  Strengthening and protecting a relationship needs to happen regularly, before the bird droppings hit.  When it happens, we need to deal with it immediately.

It’s easier to do routine maintenance on our relationships than repairs.  A wife tells her husband, “You never tell me you love me anymore.”  The husband replies, “I told you that when I married you.  If it changes, I’ll let you know.”  Maintenance takes time and investment, but repairs can be a huge expense — one that’s often preventable if regular maintenance takes place.

Without intentional effort, relationships deteriorate.  The second law of thermodynamics says that left on their own, things tend to run down — not up.  When we take our key relationships for granted because there’s no big problem, decay begins to attack quietly.  We only notice when the relationship turns painful.

Yes, I understand that there are things that happen that divide relationships.  I don’t want to minimize the pain anyone is going through where a relationship just isn’t working.  Sometimes it might be appropriate to separate ourselves from crazy people, such as when our lives or the lives of those we care about are in danger.  

But when withdrawing is our default solution, we never get to experience the positive things that come from working on a relationship over a long period of time.

In other words, I don’t want to treat my most important relationships like rental relationships.

Help me refine these thoughts.  What would you add or change?  Comment below . . .

How Many Friends Do We Need?

Someone sent me a “Friend” request on Facebook the other day. 

babies-on-couch

Should I accept it?

According to my Facebook page, I already have 296 friends.  Do I need more?

Somebabies-on-couch are people that I’m close to and see daily or weekly.  Some are people I’ve worked with, either in the past or the present.  Others are people from my distant past that I haven’t seen in years.  I have a close relationship with some, while I’ve connected with some out of curiosity. 

 

Connecting with friends from high school or college usually starts with that curiosity.  We know what they were like in school, and wonder how they’ve changed.  If we’re honest, we want to know three things:

  1. Where are they living?
  2. What are they doing?
  3. How much do they weigh?

They’re doing the same thing with us.

I’ve found that there’s a subtle comparison that takes place, too.  When I look at their page, I want to see how many friends they have.  If they have less than me, my self-esteem goes up.  If they have more, my self-esteem goes down.

How messed up is that?!! 

If I had 296 live friends in my real life, I’d never get anything done.  It’s hard enough keeping track of the people I do have in my life, giving them the time and attention they deserve.  Technology has made it a lot easier to stay in touch than ever before, which means we feel guilty when we don’t. 

So, what are we to do?  I’ve found an obvious solution, though it sounds callous:

Maybe I need to develop a friend budget.

That doesn’t mean one person is more valuable than another.  It means that since time is such a limited resource, I need to budget it carefully. 

It’s like doing charitable giving.  There are a lot of charities and causes that I believe in.  But since I only have so much money, I can’t support them all.  I have to be realistic about my investments, and choosy about my choices.

It’s called opportunity cost.  Whatever we say “yes” to, we’re automatically saying “no” to everything else at that time.  Any time and energy I invest in any one person means that time isn’t available for anyone else.

That’s why it seems important to budget my involvement with people.  It doesn’t mean they’re less valuable; but there’s only so much of my time to go around.

So, how should we budget friends?  I’m sure it’s very fluid, but maybe we could prioritize people in six categories:

  1. Immediate – Our spouse, kids, grandkids – those that represent a lifelong commitment.  These would be the ones we’re planning on keeping them until the end.  They get major investment of my time and energy.
  2. Closest – Our deepest friends, some extended family – people I that we care deeply about and they care deeply about us.  We intentionally seek each other out.  This could include old friends that we rarely see, but we pick right up where we left off each time.  We call to schedule times together.
  3. Close – People we know fairly well, and have good conversations with when we connect.  We’re interested in their lives, and enjoy occasional connections to catch up.
  4. Casual – People we’ve met or connected with in the past, and we can have good conversations.  It’s genuine, but not intentional.
  5. Transactional – Business contacts, casual acquaintances, most Facebook connections that don’t fit in the other categories.  Good people.
  6. Everybody else

It feels dangerous to post this, because everyone reading will be wondering which category they’re in with me.  That’s OK – it’s not a hard-and-fast set of rules, just a way of thinking to protect the people who matter most in our lives.  People can move up, but space is limited at the top.

It keeps us from being people-pleasers, and from letting people at the top get cheated by those at the bottom.

I’m OK with 296 Facebook friends.  I’ll check in occasionally – but then I’ll take a walk with my wife, have coffee with my kids, wrestle with my grandkids – and generally make appropriate investments in the people that matter most.

So, that’s my idea.  It’s not set in stone — it’s just an idea.  What do you think?  What would you change? We’d all love to hear your comments (below):

I Wish I Could Fix Everybody

When we see someone going through a struggle, the solution to their problem often seems obvious to us.  We think, “They should just do it this way . . . and everything will work out OK.”

Hydrangeas

I used that approach years ago.  When I saw a better way of doing something, I would go to that person and make my suggestions.  I thought I was doing them a favor, and expected them to be excited and grateful.

They weren’t excited.

They weren’t grateful. 

In fact, they were usually a bit irritated.  I meant well, but they took it as criticism.

I now realize that you can’t force anyone to change.

So, is there anything we can do?Hydrangeas

My wife, Diane, loves hydrangeas.  They’re a striking flower that grows in spheres of color, usually shades of pink or white.  They can also be a beautiful shade of blue – but not naturally.

Diane wanted blue flowers.  She had two alternatives for trying to make that happen:

  1. She could use force.  She could grab the flower around the stem and say, “Look, if you don’t bloom with blue flowers, you’re going to find yourself on the rough side of the compost bin.”
  2. She could use influence.  By applying a carefully measured amount of aluminum sulfate to the soil, the blooms will usually be blue.

It’s true with any type of gardening.  We can’t force plants to grow.  But we can influence their growth with water, nutrients, cultivation, and other forms of care.  If we provide the right environment, there’s a much better chance of healthy growth.

Relationships are the same way.  We can’t force people to change.  The more we try, the more frustrated we’ll become.

But we can influence them.

That doesn’t give any guarantees that they’ll change.  If we make it our mission to change them, we’ll probably be frustrated.

Expectations always lead to pain when they’re not met.  It’s better to have expectancy.

With expectancy, we don’t know what’s going to happen.  We can be honest about our concerns and acknowledge the desire to have someone change, but we’re not demanding that things turn out a certain way.  We don’t know how things will turn out.

Instead, we’re watching to see what happens.  We don’t take responsibility for whether they change or not. 

We can’t force change.  All we can do is influence, and leave the change up to them.

Would you agree? Leave your thoughts in the comment section.

You’re early — but come on in . . . !

Letting someone see your new blog before it’s finished is like inviting dinner guests into your bathroom to watch you get ready. It’s embarrassing, but at least they know you’re on your way.

I’ve been trying to launch this blog for months, wanting it to be all cleaned up and perfect before the guests arrive. But honestly, I’d rather hang out with you than wait until it’s awesome.

In fact, I’m going to let you decide what awesome looks like. Your interaction (through comments) will steer what we talk about.

Can-and-String Phone

This blog is a way to “continue the conversation.” You probably got here because we’ve connected along the way — you heard me speak, or you’ve read something I’ve written, or we’ve just spent time hanging out together along the way. Maybe someone recommended it. Or maybe you stumbled across it.

But you’re here. For me, that’s a treat.

This will be a casual, Starbucks-style conversation — a place we can hang out together and talk.

What will we talk about? Mostly communication and relationships.

They really go together, don’t they? Don’t most of the problems that show up in relationships have something to do with communication?

  • Your boss wasn’t clear on what she wanted, so she was upset when you turned in what you thought she expected.
  • Your co-worker eavesdrops on your personal conversations from the next cubicle.
  • You have little rugrats velcroed to your leg all day — who aren’t really committed to your sanity.
  • You have a distant relative who only shows up only on holidays and complains about the raisins in the dressing.
  • You make yourself absolutely clear, and wonder why the other person misunderstood.
  • You thought you married Prince or Princess Charming, but now you’re outside the castle with a moat full of alligators.

So we’ll talk about how to communicate effectively in a way that builds strong relationships. That will also include how to connect in writing, since that’s a more comfortable area for a lot of people. We’ll probably branch out occasionally, but that’ll be a good place to start.

I’ll post twice a week for now. I’d love to invite you to come with me on this journey. We don’t have a clear destination that we’re rushing to; it’s more of a road trip where we enjoy the scenery along the way.

So, thanks for dropping by. We’re still setting the table, and you can help if you’d like. The chips and salsa are already out — so feel free to munch on the content while we’re getting things in order. If you find it valuable, sign up to receive posts by email, and invite your Facebook and Twitter friends to join you. If it’s not, let me know what you need to make you stick around. (You can unsubscribe anytime.)

Ready?  Let’s go downstairs and get ready . . .