How to improve happiness in 10 minutes a day

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A view from our “Wellness Park” in Palm Springs.

Is it possible to make yourself feel better and happier by doing a simple 10-minute exercise daily? In a book I’m reading called Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, I learned about a simple practice called What-Went-Well Exercise or Three Blessings:

“Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well. You may use a journal or your computer to write about the events, but it is important that you have a physical record of what you wrote. The three things need not be earthshaking in importance. (“My husband picked up my favorite ice cream for dessert on the way home from work today”), but they can be important (“My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy”).

“Next to each positive event, answer the question “Why did this happen?” For example, if you wrote that your husband picked up ice cream, write “because my husband is really thoughtful sometimes” or “because I remembered to call him from work and remind him to stop by the grocery store.” Or if you wrote, “My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy,” you might pick as the cause “God was looking out for her” or “She did everything right during her pregnancy.”

“Writing about why the positive events in your life happened may seem awkward at first, but please stick with it for one week. It will get easier. The odds are that you will be less depressed, happier, and addicted to this exercise six months from now.”

The book Flourish is written by Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D. bestselling author of Authentic Happiness. He’s world renowned for his work on Positive Psychology and is the Zellerbach Family Professor Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. I heard about the book from David Benzel of Growing Champions for Life, who is used as a consultant by USA Swimming, and holds monthly webinars about Sports Parenting.

Here’s why Seligman says this Three Blessings exercise works:

“We think too much about what goes wrong and not enough about what goes right in our lives. Of course, sometimes it makes sense to analyze bad events so that we can learn from and avoid them in the future. However, people tend to spend more time thinking about what is bad in life than is helpful. Worse, this focus on negative events sets us up for anxiety and depression. One way to keep this from happening is to get better at thinking about and savoring what went well.”

I’ve only begun reading the book, but this simple exercise seems like something not too difficult to do. If it increases a sense of well-being then why not give it a try? Yesterday, I was thankful for more than three things. They included having a pedicure and glancing at my daughter in the seat next to me–because it’s a mother-daughter tradition we’ve done for years and I cherish our time together. Second, was working on a book proposal. The reason why is because I’m making progress and accomplishment is satisfying. Third was a phone call with a friend I’ve had since my oldest was in kindergarten. We met in the women’s restroom after dropping our oldest kids off on their first day of school! It’s so nice to know I have supportive friends in my life that will come to my aid when I need them.

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What are your thoughts about what you’re thankful for today? Do you think you’ll give the Three Blessings exercise a try? If you do, please let me know if you notice any changes in your sense of happiness and well-being.

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What is the purpose of parenting?

robert 1Isn’t that an interesting question? I heard this asked and answered during the recent David Benzel seminar that I listened to last week on whether parents should push their kids. Benzel is a sports parenting coach and he’s written several books including From Chump to Champ and works with many youth sports organizations.

Benzel said this question has been answered by Madeline Levine PhD, who is the author of two books I ordered today from AmazonSmile. (FYI, AmazonSmile gives a small percentage of purchases to whatever nonprofit organization you choose. Mine goes to the Piranha Swim Team, which we’ve been affiliated with for more than 18 years.)

Here are the books by Levine:

Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success

The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids

After I read them I’ll report back to you on what I learned.

Back to the question, “What is the purpose of parenting?” Another way to phrase this is what do we want for our children? How does parenting serve our highest purpose? Here are the three objectives Levine expresses in her book The Price of Privilege that we should help our children achieve:

ONE
Lead independent lives.

TWO
Maintain loving relationships.

THREE
Enjoy a sense of competence.

Isn’t that impressive? In order to become functioning adults, we want our kids to be independent of us. We desire them to have loving relationships because that is the essence of happiness in our lives. Also, we want them to be good at something they enjoy. That’s another area where people lead productive happy lives. How do we go about helping our kids become independent, loving and competent people?

According to Benzel, our style of parenting makes a difference. There are four parenting types. The two worst are Tiger and Helicopter parents. Next is the Supplier and the best, which we need to aspire to be, is the Hero.

Here’s a breakdown of the four parenting types and the consequences:

The helicopter parent hovers and protects. We—yes I’m using the word “we”—aren’t allowing our kids to experience life without us making sure they never fail. They become too dependent upon the opinions of others and risk hurt feelings if people don’t think they’re the best. They also may develop a sense of superiority.

If you’re a tiger parent, you’re in command and have total control. Your children will grow up believing that they are how they perform and therefore a project. They will believe that if they aren’t performing, they are worthless in your eyes and aren’t loved.

Supplier parents are more concerned with their own lives than their kids. They pay the bills, sign kids up for sports and make sure they go to school, but they aren’t spending much time with them. They’re waiting for those 18 years to be over. The child may feel like an inconvenience, but actually, they’ll learn to be independent and self-reliant. However, how awful would it be to feel like a circumstance and a problem?

The best option is to be the hero parent. According to Benzel, the hero gives their child the message “you are a beautiful creation and therefore valuable and full of potential.” They give their children unconditional love with no strings attached. The children grow up accepting themselves and able to rise to challenges. These parents encourage their child’s interests. They don’t worry about performance and they let their kids learn from their mistakes.

It sounds simple, right? Knowing how we should parent is the first step in becoming the best parent we can be. Now, if only I had learned this years ago. I can still apply the hero parent approach today. Better late than never.

What is your goal as a parent?

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FYI: I discovered Benzel from USA Swimming, which is our national federation for swimming from first-time beginners to Olympians. His sports parenting website where you can join and get his newsletters, webinars and books is called “Growing Champions for Life.” Yes, I’m a big fan. I wish I discovered him about 15 years ago instead of after my kids were done age group swimming.

From their website “Growing Champions for Life Inc.® was created as a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the youth sports experience. We nurture the bond between sports parents and their children by providing parents with positive and practical strategies for playing their role as a sports parent effectively through the gift of unconditional love and the pursuit of personal excellence.”

 

 

What are the worst sports parenting mistakes?

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I was listening to a webinar from “Growing Champions for Life” sports parenting expert David Benzel and he went through a list of nine of the worst sports parenting mistakes. It was during a talk about whether to push our kids in sports–or not.

Who is David Benzel? He’s a former sports parent himself, whose kids were athletic, loved their sports and made it to the pros—as he says—in spite of him. He felt like kids were coached in sports, but felt he was sorely lacking in knowledge about being a sports parent. He said that he and his wife changed throughout the years and now he coaches sports parents in many different sports including gymnasts, tennis, baseball and swimming.

I discovered Benzel on USA Swimming and have read his book from Chump to Champ, plus I have several copies of his little booklet “5 Powerful Strategies for Sport Parent Success” lying around the house in case I need a refresher.

I too changed through the years as I learned from my swim mom mistakes. I continued to grow as a parent, and looking back there are many things I’d never dream of doing today that I thought were perfectly normal years ago.

The list of 9 awful things sports parents do that Benzel presented was from the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University. 

Here’s the list:

ONE
Exhibit an outcome orientation.

TWO
Are critical, negative and overbearing.

THREE
Apply pressure to win or perform.

FOUR
Make sport too serious.

FIVE
Are over-involved and controlling.

SIX
Compare child to other athletes.

SEVEN
Distract child during competitions.

EIGHT
Restrict player’s social life.

NINE
Too much sports talk.

Between me and my hubby, I think we’ve got this list covered. We’ve been guilty of every single one on the list.482023_4501677623832_667860262_n

How many on this list have you done? What are things you’ve done in the past as a parent that you wouldn’t do now?

“I’m Getting Better Every Day, In Each and Every Way”

 

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What are we doing every day, to get better in every way?

I listened to a webinar this weekend by sports parenting expert David Benzel called “From Good to Great in Four Steps.” He has a link on the USA Swimming website to his webinars and website called “Growing Champions for Life.” I enjoy his material because it’s so well researched, he has real-life experiences to share, practical advice, plus several good resources of books to do further study.

Although the webinar focused on four ways we could help our kids achieve in sports and life, I listened to the talk through my own unique lens. Some of the areas Benzel hit on were Citius, Altius Fortius, the Olympic motto which means Faster, Higher, Stronger. Benzel pointed out that it doesn’t say, Fast, High, Strong—because we constantly want to get better.

It comes down to–what are we doing every single day to get better? That reminded me of a saying my mom and aunt often used: “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.” That is a famous positive affirmation by French psychologist and pharmacist Émile Coué, 1857-1926. His autosuggestion method has been met with positive acclaim as well as cynicism.

My own daughter has pointed out that I often have very negative self-talk. I’m sure her work as an athlete with the university team’s sports psychologists has educated her in the importance of positive self-talk. That’s something the entire team works on together. If we are continually doubting ourselves, or think we’re not good enough, then it should be no surprise that we’ll prove that negativity to be true.

I’m taking the four steps I learned about in the webinar to work on–not only my health and recovering from my injury–but in my daily writing, too. What are the four steps, you ask? Number one is to “dream big.” I won’t share my big dreams here today, but I do have them. Second, “aim accurately.” That is taking specific actions to reach goals that lead you on the path to the big dream. Goal setting is another way to look at it, but they need to be goals that lead you in the right direction. There can’t be too many of them either, or we can lose our focus. Third, use “visualization” as a tool to reach your dream. Many successful athletes and people generally in life spend years living in the movie inside their brain how it feels, smells, and sounds like when they finally reach their dream. Once it happens, it’s not foreign but feels familiar and right. The last of the four steps is “to believe” passionately in ourselves and our ability to make it to our big dream.

With those four steps in place, then every single day, we can improve in some small way to reach our dreams.

12745503_10209017757384931_7005852646538628157_nHow do you approach your goals and life dreams?

Remember It’s Their Sport–Not Yours

 

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My son and teammates in the pool.

We all know helicopter parents are out there. Some of us may have been former ones ourselves or we may know friends who are overly involved with their kids. We see them at practice, meets or games—whether it’s soccer, baseball, football or swimming. They hover in the classrooms, waiting to talk to the teacher every day before and after school to make sure their child is adequately challenged and grades reflect that.

Here are two excerpts from articles I found helpful, the first written by a youth football coach and the second from a sports coaching and parenting expert.

From GridIron Now, A youth football coach’s advice for ‘helicopter parents’ By Dan Hancock:

It’s not the first time in my many years as a coach that I’ve dealt with a “my kid only” parent. On this occasion, though, I was amazed at how truly focused this parent was on his child only and not the team. I’ll skip the gory details and say that I removed the family, and consequently, the player from my team.

My job is to do what’s best for the team. This may mean putting a player into a position that he may not like if it helps the team. It also may mean removing a player from the team if effort is not given or respect not shown to the coaching staff.

I’d like to offer parents with kids playing youth sports advice from a coach’s perspective: Be supportive. Period.

Of course you want to see little Johnny score every touchdown, but it takes a team to get in the end zone. If your son or daughter is not playing in the position they want, or receiving the amount of reps that either of you find sufficient, be supportive. Work harder.

Talent and ability never goes unnoticed. Talking about ability does little come game day. Playing time is earned in practice.

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My daughter racing.

Here is an excerpt from David Benzel’s article that explains the only thing parents need to ask of their child. He’s an author and founder of Growing Champions for Life. Go check out his website and blog. He has so much valuable information and books and workbooks to order for you and your kids. USA Swimming has partnered with him to help swim parents, and he works with many other sports, too.

There’s No Strings Attached Parenting in Youth Sports

To see it we’ll have to go back to the early days when our child was in T-Ball, Guppy swim class, Tiny Mites football, or half-court basketball. In those days, we gave our parental support with no strings attached. It was an unconditional gift given for the sake of an experience we wanted our child to have. They were not expected nor required to do anything but have an enjoyable time playing the sport they loved.

Then things changed…

As we invested more time and money we expected them to learn and improve. And when the dollar figure got high enough or the miles reached triple digits, we expected maximum effort and peak performance every time!

Unfortunately for our children, what starts out as a gift suddenly appears to have strings attached and comes with the message, “You must perform well for me to feel good about the money and time I’m spending.”

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My daughter with her first medals.

Finally, here’s an excerpt from a helicopter sports article I wrote for SwimSwam this week:

 

What could possibly go wrong with ensuring our children’s lives are smooth and saving them from costly mistakes? Studies show that kids of helicopter parents often suffer at school and in the workplace. By hovering over our children and never letting them learn from their mistakes or face consequences, we can stunt our kids’ growth. Here are traits children of helicopter parents may share: acting out in the classroom, anxiety, difficulty making decisions, lack of “adulting” skills, and struggling in college and at work.

I’ve never heard of a parent who wants their kids to fail in life. That’s obviously not our objective when we help finish homework and drive forgotten lunches and papers to school. We’re just trying to help with the best intentions.

We should take advantage of the pool and swim team as a unique world within itself where our kids can practice skills for “adulting.” There are many life lessons inherent through years of swimming—we just need to let our kids experience them.

Kids gain so much from sports—from time management, good sportsmanship to being physically fit. They also have fun with their friends. It’s wonderful to encourage sports, but we need to always remember it’s their sport, not ours.

Do you know any helicopter sports parents? What have they done that bothers you the most?

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8 and under girls holding the team’s trophy after breaking a team record.