Finding a Coping Strategy When Life Puts You on Edge

Have you ever had one of those weeks? It’s filled with stress, disappointment, and hard work. The moments of rest are few and far between. A family member treats you unfairly. People are relying on you to get things done when your “to do” list is a mile long. You want it to be Friday but it’s only Tuesday. What you need right now is a coping strategy.

I’m in the middle of a week like that. These kinds of weeks don’t happen all that often, but when they do they put me off kilter. I feel burdened for some of the people who have revealed their heartaches and problems to me. My “to do” list is longer than usual because my fall is filled with commitments and speaking engagements. Some of my regular work has been put off, but it needs to be accomplished by Friday. It’s not really all that bad. It’s just that when things like this add up I can’t seem to relax.

Right in the middle of it all I was reminded that we all sometimes need coping strategies to make it through. I’m blessed to be part of a clergy council for our local Christian counseling center. We get together every quarter to learn and to talk. It’s always well worth making the time to be there.

Today we learned about coping strategies. Some strategies distract you, some ground you, and some calm you and relax you. Not all coping strategies are healthy. They might mask your stress, or even make it worse.

But a healthy coping strategy is beneficial and helpful. As we discussed this at our meeting today I realized that one of my coping mechanisms is doing what I’m doing right now: writing. It’s why I try to be consistent by posting right here two to three times a week, and writing other things on most other days.

Here are some other strategies:

  • Exercise
  • Take a nap
  • Talk about it
  • Listen to music or a favorite song
  • Thirty seconds of deep breathing
  • Change what you’re doing for a short time
  • Help someone else
  • Eat a healthy snack
  • Read something enjoyable
  • Write or journal

What coping strategies have been helpful for you?


Why the Solar Eclipse Should Make Us Look Down (And It’s Not What You Think)

I hope you’re going to look down today. As you know, a wide swath of our nation is experiencing a total eclipse of the sun. People are buying “eclipse glasses,” traveling across state lines, and even having viewing parties. I’m certain you’ve received more than sufficient warning not to look at the sun. People have gone blind doing so during previous eclipses. So make sure you’re looking down today. But not just to protect your eyes…

A solar eclipse reminds us of the miraculous wonders of the creation that surrounds us. Our God created the universe for our benefit. He gave it to us as a gift to live in, and love, and celebrate, and steward, and manage. Instead of looking up, maybe we should be looking down, and around. I suppose that being able to witness a solar eclipse is like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time, watching the aurora borealis, or studying a hummingbird in flight.

But if we look around us there are all kinds of miracles and wonders every day. Flowers bloom, babies take their first breath, and the tide at the beach comes in and goes out like clockwork. Cars hurtle us down the highway at seventy miles per hour, computers with massive memory fit in the palms of our hands, and TV screens are larger and clearer than they’ve ever been. Some even let us see the picture in 3D.

Martin Luther once said:

[Most people] are so accustomed to [the works of God in nature]; they are as permeated with them as an old house is with smoke; they use them and wallow around in them like a sow in an oats sack. Oh, they say, is it so marvelous that the sun shines? That fire heats? That water contains fish? That hens lay eggs? That the earth yields grain? That a cow bears calves? That a woman gives birth to children? Why, this happens every day! You dear dolt Hans, must it be insignificant because it happens daily? … If God created all other women and children of bone, as He did Eve, and but one woman were able to bear children, I maintain that the whole world, kings and lords, would worship her as a divinity. But now that every woman is fruitful, it passes for nothing. … Is it not vexing to see the accursed ingratitude and blindness of mankind?

So as you appreciate today’s nearly once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon, let it serve as a reminder. The miracles of a loving God surround us. Though we may take them for granted, they bring benefit to us. These miracles comfort us, make life more convenient, and deliver health or healing. Sometimes they even amaze us.

Look up today for a moment or two (with the proper eye protection). But then take a look around and notice the miracles that happen everyday.

What regular miracles do you often take for granted?

*Special thanks to Charles P. Arand for the ideas behind this post and for bringing to my attention the above Luther quote.



When Your Emotions Get the Best of You

When I was babysitting my grandson the other day, I noticed something. Babies’ emotions can change on a dime. At one moment Crosby would whine, almost to the point of crying. But all I had to do was read him a book, play with blocks, or distract him in some other way and he smiled or laughed. When he started to get just a little fussy, I changed his environment and took him outside. Crosby loves to be outside. When he’s out there he’s often as still, as quiet, and observant as a baby can be.

Emotions are a funny thing (get it?). Today I experienced a wide variety of emotions in the adults with whom I interacted. I laughed heartily with a group of people as we shared common experiences. A man called me on the telephone to tell me he got the job he hoped for. He was so full of joy and thankfulness that it brought him to tears. I heard the fear in the voice of a woman who has family members facing medical issues.

Emotions are a blessing from God. They make life interesting. Emotions give us a truly human outlet for the variety that life delivers. We express them already as babies. They help others know how to respond and react to us.

Unfortunately, as adults we tend to muffle them, cover them up, or mask them. We learn to “control” our emotions rather than give ourselves the permission to set them free. When I watch Crosby I realize that since he cannot yet talk he uses his emotion to communicate his needs and desires. And maybe that’s why they change so quickly. When a need is met his emotion changes. But he most certainly isn’t afraid to freely express his emotions.

Sometimes I wish I were more like Crosby. I know it’s not socially acceptable to openly and freely express my emotions. But I wonder how much better I would feel — and how much better people would be able to help one another — if we adults would be more open with our feelings. Even if that means our feelings change on a dime, as they sometimes do.

So I give you permission today to do an experiment. Express your emotions a bit more freely. Be sensitive to the feelings of others. Then react and respond in kind. And I really mean: in kind.

What would our world be like if this would happen more frequently?


Using Chapters of a Story to Think in a Different Way

A John Mayer concert is a showcase of creativity. One could talk about the guitar playing, the lyrics, the lighting, the sound, and the visual effects. I recently had the chance to witness him in concert at the arena in Nashville. All those creative elements were present in spades. But what really fascinated me was the structure of the concert itself. Mayer presented it in five chapters.

Chapter One included the full band. Chapter Two was an acoustic set. Chapter Three was the John Mayer Trio. Chapter Five was the encore and epilog. It was a fascinating way to present a show. The way the sets were broken in chapters added interest and intrigue. It was broken up in a way that kept the collective audience on the edge of its seat.

The form of a regular concert is the band playing one song after another, until finally they end with an encore. It becomes rather predictable. But break it up into chapters and it’s a whole new ballgame, as it were. One simple tweak to a concert and the creative sparks fly.

It seems to me the same type of tweak could apply to our own creativity. Split your task up into chapters. Focus each “chapter” on a different form or function. For instance, why not split your day up into chapters. Each hour of the day could be a different one, with a different focus, or a different task. The simple variety is sure to bring new thoughts and ideas all along the way.

Another way to split a day into chapters would be to find a new place to do your work for each “chapter” of the day. Start your work in the office. Then move to a coffee shop. Go back to the office. Do some work at home. Make some notes before you go to bed. You’ll be surprised at the creativity that springs up.

How would you use the idea of chapters to be a springboard to your own creativity?


When Fame Begins With a Piece of Paper and a Pen

They say the heart of rock and roll is in Cleveland. I recently had the chance to feel that heart beat when I visited the city and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. One of the highlights for me was to see artifacts from one of my all-time favorite bands: Electric Light Orchestra. I got to see highlights of their induction which happened earlier this year. In addition, there were guitars, clothes, and other artifacts from the band that brought back memories and fascinated my creativity. It was fun to see how fame often has humble beginnings.

I was most fascinated by the numerous handwritten artifacts. Most of them were the original manuscripts of famous songs. The songwriters took pen to paper and scratched out lyrics that are now on the hearts, mouths, and minds of millions. It speaks to the power of simple paper and pen.

Jeff Lynne, the founder and front man of ELO, talked about the encouragement he received from his father. He picked up a used guitar and started writing songs. His dad saw Jeff’s potential, bought him a new (used) guitar, and told him to keep on writing. That encouragement led to a lifetime career in music, working with former members of the Beatles, and being part of a “supergroup” named the Traveling Wilburys.

Certainly not everyone needs, or even wants, fame. But we all need a certain kind of fame if we want effectiveness in our work or vocation. Every leader needs to be known well at least by those one leads. What better way to become known than by writing?

While we were in Cleveland I ran into a good friend who wants to do just that. Their kids are now all out of the house and she wants to start a blog. So she asked me about how to get started, logistics, and content. She has a great idea for her blog. I’m certain that she will attain the kind of fame she desires. She has the passion and the ability. She’s about to use her newfound fame for the benefit of others.

All it takes is putting pen to paper. Who knows where it might lead? There are all kinds of people in my life that I wish would write and put their musings out into the world. It would make this world a far richer place.

Why not you? You might even end up in some kind of hall of fame, even if it’s your own family hall of fame.

What can you write today?




Simple Tactics for When Life Keeps Getting in the Way

Recently I received a request from a reader of my blog. He was looking for tactics to help complete a project that had been on the back burner for years. The project is a writing project, and the questioner is fully capable of doing exactly what he wants to do. He can check this item off the bucket list with just a little concerted time and effort. Here’s his exact question:

What type of encouragement do you have for someone that has this innate desire to accomplish a task, but yet it seems life keeps getting in the way?


Is there something you want to do but feel like you don’t have the time? Here are six tactics to help motivate you to get going starting today.

  1. Get up. Every single person has the same amount of time in the day. Yet some people seem to accomplish more than others. One of the ways they do it is by getting up earlier in the morning. It can be very difficult for those who aren’t “morning people.” But if you promise yourself it’s just for a month or two while you accomplish an important task, it’s very doable.
  2. Stop wasting time. Do you watch TV after the kids go to bed? Turn it off and work on meaningful things instead. Are you spending time on Facebook or other social media? Start a timer and limit that kind of activity. Then use the rest of the time to work.
  3. Set manageable goals. If you’re a writer, set a goal of writing just 500 words per day. Sometimes it’ll be a struggle to write those 500 words. But other times you’ll get on a roll. When you do, keep going. The same applies for all kinds of other activities, too.
  4. Use the Pomodoro TechniqueThe Pomodoro Technique is, in a nutshell, doing a task for 25 minutes, then taking a short, three to five minute break. Do that four times in a row, and then take a fifteen to thirty minute break. You’ll be surprised how much this tactic will help you accomplish.
  5. Pray. Ask the Lord for more structured time in your life, more free time, and for the ability to juggle everything well and in good balance.
  6. Use a Deadline. Deadlines are powerful motivators. They are even more motivating when you tell someone else what your deadline is and ask them to hold you accountable.

Sometimes simple tactics used consistently can help you accomplish that one thing you’ve always wanted to. Try these six things and watch yourself do the thing you’ve wanted to do for months, or even years.

What tactics do you use to accomplish an important task?



Using the Extra Mile to Make an Indelible Mark

It was a summertime week night in Volterra, ItalyThat little town is one of the most stunning places I have ever been in my life. It sits at the top of a Tuscan hill, and the views become even more spectacular as the sun sets. We spent a nice afternoon in that historic little town. On a quaint corner a shopkeeper invited us in for a wine tasting and we took him up on it. We sat in a private room with some friends as he brought out a few wines and some beautiful charcuterie. Then he went the extra mile.

He told us his family ran a restaurant down the street. It was one of the most well rated places in the town. A phone call made sure we had a table in the place at prime time. We would watch the sun set over the Tuscan hills as we ate our dinner. Sure enough, we made our way down the street and there was a table waiting for us.

As we sat down my wife, Tammy, noticed the silverware on the table was set in an interesting way. Each knife and fork was placed on a little “rest” that was made of clay. She became obsessed with them and wondered how we might be able to take some home. That’s when our waiter went the extra mile.

He said they were made at a little shop just down the street. So he actually ran over to the shop to see if it was still open and, if so, we’d be able to purchase some. Unfortunately, it was closed. But our dinner was outstanding. As we ate an incredible meal we watched one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen. The next day the restaurant went the extra mile.

Our friends who had been at dinner with us checked back the next day to see if they could purchase some of the clay silverware rests from the restaurant itself. It turned out that they had extras on hand, so they went the extra mile and sold them to us. Tammy now had a remembrance of Volterra, and that restaurant, that would be set on our table for years to come.

The extra effort made the the wine tasting host, the waiter, and the restaurant didn’t cost them anything at all. But the gestures they made were valuable to us as tourists. Sure, they got business out of it. But our experiences created memories that will last our entire lives. If we’re ever in Volterra again, I want to patronize those places.

What can you do today to go the extra mile for someone else? Your effort might just create a memory, a connection, or a relationship that will last far longer than you could have hoped. Something that costs you nothing could bring great benefits. Go ahead and give it a try.

What does your extra mile look like?




The Benefits of Confidence in the Midst of Adversity

If you want to see confidence in the midst of adversity, just take a look at Jordan Spieth. Talk about adversity! Spieth took the lead into the final round of the British Open Golf Tournament (one of golf’s four major championships). But he began to give it up in the middle of that final eighteen holes. Shots went awry and his score began to climb. Most people would have let their confidence lag. But not Spieth. If you’ve got a few minutes you can see how he handled it here.

In the middle of what could have been an epic implosion, Spieth’s caddy, Michael Greller, gave him the boost he needed. According to the New York Post, this is what transpired:

“Do you remember that group you were with in Cabo last week?’’ Greller asked Spieth when they were on the seventh tee, referring to some time he spent with Michael Jordan and Michael Phelps. “You belong in that group. You’re that caliber of an athlete. But I need you to believe that right now, because you’re in a great position in this tournament. This is a new tournament. We’re starting over here.’’

From there Spieth took control and won the tournament. He made long, dramatic putts, hit shots out of the sand, and made great drives all the way to victory. It all boiled down to confidence in the midst of adversity. And a little boost from a friend.

I’m not going to compare anything I do to the intense pressure of millions of eyes watching my every golf shot. But everyone goes through their own share of adversity. For instance, many churches face a significant downturn in attendance over the summer months. Our church is no different. People travel, participate in activities, or are simply lazier in the summer. To be completely honest I sometimes wonder if I’m the reason people are staying away.

But I have a wife who gives me a vocal boost when I need it. She reminds me of what’s important and why I should be confident. And I carry on doing my job and fulfilling my vocation to the best of my ability.

So these are the benefits to confidence in the midst of adversity:

  1. It keeps your focus on the goal instead of on distractions.
  2. It keeps the people around you calm.
  3. It gives you inner strength.
  4. It taps into your natural competitiveness.
  5. It gives you something to go on in the future.

When you find yourself in adversity listen to those who know you best, keep your eye on the goal, and remember how you have previously overcome.

How do you overcome adversity?



You Have More Determination Than You Think

How much determination do you have deep down inside of you? It might not take much to find out. One couple found out pretty quickly when they were on their honeymoon in the 1970’s. They decided to take a year to backpack around South America. On that adventure they ended up in a plane crash. After the crash in a remote place the only place for shelter was in a prison. After being rescued they kept their adventure going. They missed a boat to Bolivia so they built their own raft. They used it to float down a dangerous Amazon tributary. A severe thunderstorm threw them off course and left them eating frogs and slugs. You can read all about it here.

The couple survived their ordeal because of their determination (and a whole lotta God’s grace). But a turning point came for them in the midst of a dire time when they feared they would never leave the South American swamp alive. In the midst of hunger and survival mode, the wife, Holly, suddenly  discovered deep within herself the desire to have children at some point in the future. She did not want to die without having her own offspring.

So she convinced her husband to fight.

And they fought to live with all the determination they could muster. After surviving twenty-six days of bad weather, terrifying sounds from the jungle, and eating South American creatures, they were rescued by some natives.

The human spirit is much stronger than we often realize. Our bodies, when tested, can do far more than we think they can. Sometimes determination is forced upon us. But when it is, strength from deep within us wells up and moves us forward.

Yet far too often we wait until we find ourself in a difficult circumstance before we muster up gumption and strength. We sit around in our comfortable homes and offices and wonder why we don’t have motivation. In all seriousness, it might be beneficial to expose ourselves to some discomfort every once in while. It helps us perform better in stressful or less than perfect conditions. (Tim Ferriss talks about that here.)

Here’s the point: Try to muster up more than usual determination today to do something you’ve been putting off. Use The Five Second Rule and make it happen. Count down out loud and jump right in.

You’ll probably surprise yourself.

How do you muster up determination?




Using Accountability to Accomplish Important Things

Have you ever used accountability to accomplish something important? You know how it is. You tell yourself that you want to do something. But it never gets accomplished because you don’t write it down, you don’t tell someone else, and you don’t keep track of progress. It’s just an idea or a pipe dream. Then you wonder why half the year is gone and you haven’t accomplished what you wanted.

It should be no shock to you that I’ve had that problem before, too. That’s why I’ve discovered if I want to accomplish something I had better find a way to find some kind of accountability. It’s human nature. We often need extra motivation. Accountability also plays to one’s competitive nature (which most certainly describes me).

So how do you hold yourself accountable? Here are some ideas:

  1. Write it down. I have found that when I write down my goals at the beginning of a year, I am far more inclined to attain them than if I don’t write them down. In 2016 I wrote down my eight goals and accomplished, or very nearly accomplished, almost all of them. Full disclosure: In 2017 I didn’t write down my early year goals and have not accomplished as much personally as I did last year. Write it down.
  2. Use a coach. It’s a constant struggle for me to keep myself at a weight where I feel comfortable with myself. I have had some success in the past with apps on my phone and other kinds of calorie trackers. But recently our health insurance introduced a program for healthy living that includes an online, real live coach. As I begin this program I’m finding that I don’t want to disappoint my coach or do things that are unhealthy and have her know about them. I’m looking forward to seeing results that are lasting.
  3. Tell someone else. It might be your wife, or a friend, or a co-worker. And when you tell them, specifically ask them to hold you accountable. With my new healthy living program, not only do I have a coach, but my wife is holding me accountable, too. It’s double the accountability. And hopefully double the success.

What do you do for accountability? Where have you seen success?