Marriage 101: Talking to Your Spouse About Your Past

Sweaty palms, tightness in the chest, nausea . . . these are all symptoms of vulnerability.

New dating relationships always make vulnerable conversations easier to accept, listen to, and understand. It is fresh, and you are still getting to know someone. There seems to be less of a risk in bearing your past to your beloved and less disappointment when listening to theirs.

But what happens when you are well into marriage and your past comes up, whether it be sexual relationships, insecurities, or childhood wounds? These vulnerable conversations can be more difficult and more hurtful. How do you determine what is and is not appropriate to share with your spouse?

Conversations like these can be tricky for a few reasons:

  1. As a married couple, you’re supposed to become one, and this leads to a feeling of obligation to explain every detail of your past.
  2. There are conversations that you might struggle to open up to your partner about because you’re unsure whether or not it is appropriate.

These feelings are completely understandable. Although it is not black and white, I do believe there is a balance between being vulnerable, open, and honest with your spouse while also being prudent in what and how you share.

The most important act of authenticity should be your desire to help your spouse and you become the-best-version-of-yourselves.

It can be confusing trying to determine what is best for your spouse and your marriage. Here are some tips to help you navigate this often sensitive issue.

If You’re Sharing with Your Spouse

Is it necessary?

The first thing to ask yourself before disclosing your past to your spouse is whether or not it is necessary or relevant to your relationship.

If you feel a burning desire to get something off your chest from fifteen years ago, it is worth asking yourself whether or not sharing will result in bringing you closer to each other and to being the-best-version-of-yourself.

If you’ve really been struggling to accept acts of love or touch from your spouse, it may be helpful to share with your partner why that is.

Again, this is about strengthening your marriage and bringing you closer to each other.

Beware of oversharing

Oversharing is one of the easiest things to do when it comes to these dicey topics.

It is vital to first understand that your partner can never be the one to give you the peace of mind and comfort you seek. You need to first forgive yourself.

Always have the intention to forgive. This is a great way to better love, know, and serve your spouse and your marriage.

It is very tempting to spill unnecessary amounts of detail to your spouse in an attempt to alleviate guilt or seek sympathy.

Some things are best shared with a trusted counsel, and that is okay. It is also worth noting that it is easy to confuse oversharing with vulnerability.

I know I have experienced this many times in my own life when oversharing did not help me find the intimacy I sought, but further pushed others away.

As much as you might want to share, your spouse may or may not be ready, and that’s okay!

Be patient with your spouse

It might take time for your partner to absorb everything you disclose to them. Being patient and allowing them to listen and think can be a great act of love for them. Before sharing, it is important to be open to how they might respond.

This is also a great opportunity to trust your spouse more by openly sharing with them.

If Your Spouse Is Sharing with You

Curiosity vs. Constructivity

Something to keep in mind as you are on the receiving end is that it is easy to ask questions out of unhealthy curiosity. Sometimes asking questions or probing deeper can cause more harm than good and set you up for hurt or disappointment.

“Curiosity killed the cat” is something I always try to remember. If I find myself full of questions, I always check my intention first: will it help me love and understand my spouse better, or am I trying to satisfy my own sense of curiosity and power within my relationship?

Resolve to forgive

Before having a conversation, it is important to always have the intention to forgive. You may hear things that are painful or hard to understand.

If it is something that may take a long time, that’s okay! Be kind and patient with yourself. This is a great way to better love, know, and serve your spouse and your marriage.

Last Thoughts

Honesty vs. Vulnerability vs. Authenticity

Something worth mentioning is that as you share with or listen to your spouse, know that not disclosing every detail with your spouse does not mean you are being inauthentic.

It is easy to confuse the two. We can make excuses in our heads for sharing something that may not be constructive and by claiming that it’s authentic and vulnerable.

At the end of the day, the most important act of authenticity should be your desire to help your spouse and you become the-best-version-of-yourselves.

How to Know If You Married the Right Person (and What to Do If You Didn’t)

I should have ordered the cheeseburger.

Sitting there, in that right-off-the-highway Applebee’s, a plate of very mediocre braised pork enchiladas on the table in front of me, I made myself a new rule: always order the cheeseburger when at Applebee’s!

Is there anything worse than ordering the wrong thing?

Well, okay. Sure. Lots of things, actually. In fact, most bad things in life are worse than a regrettable Applebee’s order. A traffic jam when you're already late. A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break. Ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife. Meeting the woman of your dreams, then introducing her to your wife.

(Thanks, Alanis.)

Marrying the wrong person. Terrifying, right? And much, much worse than a bad order. Realizing you don’t really want the plate of very mediocre braised pork enchiladas on the table in front of you—disappointing. Realizing you don’t really want the woman sitting at the table opposite you—life-shattering.

But how do you know? How do you if know you married the right person? Ideally, you’d ask these kinds of questions before getting married, and you would date long enough to figure this stuff out. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes, intense feelings of romance and lust and excitement blind us and trick us into seeing lasting love where there isn’t any. Sometimes, people change. And sometimes, we just think we really want mediocre braised pork enchiladas.

I am happily married. My wife is beautiful and smart and funny and kind and selfless to a fault (okay, I think that’s everything she told me to write). So, I can really only answer these questions for you from my own personal experience. Here is how I know I married the right person (and I know that I did)—I hope my reasons help you figure out if you have, too.

1. I really look forward to seeing my wife, especially after long periods apart.

2. I feel remorse or regret after a fight. (I am a flawed, stupid man more often than I’d like to admit.)

3. She is smokin’ hot. I almost always feel a strong physical attraction toward her, especially when she’s “not even trying.”

4. I really, really enjoy spending time with my wife.

5. We are okay spending some time apart, too.

6. We make each other laugh, a lot.

7. She annoys the heck out of me (though not nearly as much as I annoy her), and we still come back for more.

8. We still fight . . .

9. But we don’t fight too much (and rarely are our voices raised).

10. She is an incredible mother!

11. She challenges me, calls me out when I’m being a turd, and truly makes me a better man.

12. We share a very strong faith, have similar core beliefs, and agree on how to best parent our children (and we talk about all these things often!).

13. Did I mention she’s smokin’ hot?

So . . . You married the wrong person. Now what?

Are you reading this list and starting to panic? If so, that’s okay.

Because I have a confession to make. There is no cheeseburger on this menu. Just a whole bunch of flawed, broken braised pork enchiladas. (I think my metaphor is breaking down.)

I don’t believe there is such a thing as the right person. A person can be right for you—good for you, even—but the idea of soul mates is a little too predestine-y for my taste. It also makes love seem so . . . easy. Set it, and forget it—you found THE ONE. Now you’re done. Happiness this way, please.

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Would that it were so simple, my friend. Would that it were so simple.

You were made to love. Your spouse was made to love. You took a vow to love each other. But that promise is hard to keep each day. It only really goes wrong when you both stop making that daily effort. After all, you are marrying a real human being. And your spouse is marrying one, too. In every relationship, the fog eventually clears and that reality sets in. This is when marriage actually begins.

I choose to love my wife. Even when it’s hard. Even when I just don’t feel like it. Even when the culture says I don’t have to choose or that I am free to change my mind whenever the mood suits me.

So, what can you do if you are doubting you married the right person?

1. Dedicate yourself to a weekly date night—no excuses.

2. Go to a marriage retreat.

3. Stop watching TV every night and play board games instead—the important thing here is that you are interacting with each other; passivity is the enemy.

4. Pray together, each day—pray for each other, pray for help, pray for love.

5. Talk to your spouse about your feelings—though be tactful! Telling your spouse you feel like you married the wrong person isn’t the best conversation starter in the world. Telling your spouse you want to have a more dynamic and passionate marriage, while acknowledging that you both have things you need to work on, can get the ball rolling.

6. Ask yourself if you are making the intentional choice to be “the right person” for your spouse—you might be surprised how your feelings and view of your spouse grow and mature as a result.

7. Seek marriage counseling.

Love is not all about romantic feelings and gushing gooeyness. That’s just a part of it—a very small part. I didn’t get down on one knee because of butterflies and skipped heartbeats. I got down on one knee because of my thirteen reasons listed above—and about a kerjillion more.

It’s my job to make sure I am the right man for her. Each day.

All I know is that I married an incredible person. She is amazing. Is she perfect? No. Is she perfect for me? Also, no. Last time I checked, she didn’t come from Oil Money, she doesn’t laugh at every one of my jokes, and she absolutely refuses to play video games with me. We like our steaks cooked differently (anything over medium rare is a crime!). I can binge-watch a TV show with the best of them; she gets bored one episode in. She worries about . . . just about everything; I worry about . . . just about nothing.

We are both incredibly flawed. Without tons of effort and intention, neither of us is right for the other.

I choose to love my wife. Even when it’s hard (and, sometimes, it is really hard). Even when I’m tired or hungry or I just don’t feel like it. Even when the culture says I don’t have to choose or that I am free to change my mind whenever the mood suits me. The moment we got married, she became the right person for me. And now it’s my job to make sure I am the right man for her. Each day.

Shoot. I’d marry her all over again today. And I’d marry her tomorrow. And I’d marry her the day after that.

The love is hard. The choice is easy. Because she makes it easy.

And you know what? That’s how I know.

The Elephant in Marriage: Differing Values and What to Do About Them

A few nights ago, I went to a storytelling event where the theme was “Romance or Not.” As you might expect, the stories told were largely about relationships and the hilarious, disastrous, wonderful adventures they can be.

One woman, in particular, described her marriage as akin to “packing for a ski trip and landing on the Caribbean.” There were ups and downs, challenges and blessings that she could not have foreseen. Part of that included differences in values between her and her husband.

When the couple met, she was a working woman with an intimidating career history. She and her soon-to-be husband had come to the agreement that she would continue her career well into their marriage. It was what they both wanted. After all, two paychecks are better than one, right?

However, things took a turn the first moment she held her baby boy in her arms less than a year after getting married.

She didn’t want to go back to work anymore, but her husband’s opinion on the matter had not changed.

And so, almost immediately after the birth of their first child, a baby elephant that she named “Elephantina” was also born into their relationship.

The more you discuss and really listen to each other’s perspectives, the less you’ll get caught off guard when your loved one doesn’t agree with you.

Over the years, Elephantina grew. She began to take up more and more space in their relationship, and the strain became increasingly palpable. Marriage counseling was “okay” but didn’t seem to be doing the trick. The woman admitted that they reached a point where, though still together, neither she nor her husband wore their wedding bands. Her husband was gone a lot, and most of their communication took place over text.

Would their marriage survive the enormous presence of Elephantina—the vast space between them resulting from their different values?

You’d be hard put to find someone who agrees with you on everything. But how different is too different?

I mean if you don’t like olives, cool, more for me!

But what about the big things: religion, parenting styles, financial decisions . . . These are things that have the potential make or break a marriage. These are the things that make Elephantina grow big and tall.

In fact, disagreements on finances are one of the leading causes of stress in a relationship. Other top reasons for marital discord—and even divorce—are sexual differences and different core values or beliefs.

You can imagine why this last one especially complicates long-term relationships: he wants to go to one church, and you want to go to another (or no church). She thinks technology is fine for children, while you’re convinced it’s detrimental to their development. He wants to save as much as possible, she’s more focused on enjoying earnings in the present.

And so on. At first, these sorts of issues may not seem like a big deal. But the longer you’re with someone, and the more your lives become entwined, the more difficult it can be to prevent these different outlooks on life from getting between you.

Does different = disaster?

When you find yourself consistently on a different page from your spouse or significant other, you can try these strategies for confronting the challenge that different values in marriage can provide.


If you’re not married yet, for goodness’ sake, make sure to talk about important things. And know that not all big things feel like big things.

How you both unwind after a long day for work, for example, may seem like a trivial detail, but when you live together and experience each other day in and day out, one of the best things you can do is allow the other to decompress the way they want.

Why? Because, say your brand-new husband comes home after a long day at work and you can’t wait to tell him everything that happened to you today. He, on the other hand, desperately wants to just sit for a few minutes and think about nothing. Imposing your need on him will frustrate him because he really needs to chill, and you aren’t allowing him to. It will also be disappointing for you because you know he isn’t listening or responding to what you are saying.

The end result is two people who didn’t get their needs met and are angry at each other because of it. Now your precious evening together has been hijacked by simply not knowing what each other needed in that moment. If you understand that he needs to relax for fifteen minutes right when he goes home, then, when he is ready to listen, you can get what you need: a good listener.

Other things such as how you prefer to spend money (going out to dinner, new clothes, gym memberships, travel, etc.), what your stance is on organized religion and why, what chores you like and which you really hate, traditions that are really important to you and why, how many children you would like to have and when, thoughts on private school versus public versus homeschooling . . .

The more you can cover beforehand the better. Not necessarily because you’re on the lookout for dealbreakers—although you should know what those are for you—but so the transition to married life is smoother.

If you’re already married, all is not lost. Maybe you’ve already figured some of this out—maybe the hard way. But if not, now is a great time to broach some of these topics. The more you discuss and really listen to each other’s perspectives, the less you’ll get caught off guard when your loved one doesn’t agree with you, and the better you can respond with love instead of reacting negatively to your disagreement.

Develop a “We-ness”

This especially applies if you’re already married: you are a team. You are on the same team. You are not just you anymore, you are “we.”

You are each entrusted with the wondrous task of uplifting and encouraging each other, even when you don’t agree.

And if that’s not clear enough, I don’t know what is!!!

The point is, while you are both complete individuals on your own, you are two individuals who have become a united front. This means that while you can and will have disagreements—even on big things—it’s important to not view each other as the opposition.

You are not trying to “win over” your spouse or significant other to “your side.” It’s not your job to convince them of your argument or to prove them wrong. You can share your perspective should explain your reasoning, but that’s where the persuading ends and the accepting begins. You can accept that there is room for differences within your “we.”

You can accept that your loved one is not an extension of yourself.

You can accept that you married someone with their own thoughts, experiences, hurts, dreams, and strengths different from your own.

You can accept that you cannot and should not try to change the person you are with.

This is what it means to love unconditionally. You are no longer just you, you are “we”—even when you disagree.

And that rhymes!

Infuse Your Marriage with Passion and Purpose

Passion & Purpose for Marriage is a half-day event that is enriching marriages across the country. Through Dr. Allen Hunt’s humorous commentary and heartfelt real-life stories, you’ll discover how to fill your relationship with energy and fulfillment that will transform your lives. Don’t miss the opportunity to attend this event in a city near you!

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Practically speaking, to develop this “we-ness,” it is essential that you practice empathy as often as you can. Part of uniting yourself to your beloved means a continual effort to see them. This means not only doing your best to understand superficially what they believe and why, but also really delving into their experience. To put aside your own thoughts, experiences, opinions, and to put yourself instead in their shoes. Ask questions, listen, and use your imagination to get a glimpse of the inner workings of your loved one.

Imagine what it’s like to be them: What do they feel? Why do they feel it? What experiences have influenced their opinions?

Mutual Respect vs. Compromise

At the end of the day, through each other’s differing opinions and beliefs, there should be a high level of regard and respect of each other. Never should we condescend our significant other because of what they believe or feel. Nor should we compromise what we believe or feel. You don’t have to sacrifice what you value to make your spouse happy. You can be open to their opinion and the fact that they could be right, but that’s a conclusion you want to arrive at, not be forced into accepting.

Respect means having an appropriate reverence toward your beloved as an incredible human being worthy of love and adoration.

There can be disagreement within relationships and marriages as long as there is a healthy respect of each other.

And respect means not asking, “Are you crazy?” or, “How can you think that?” And not saying, “That’s ridiculous.” Respect means having an appropriate reverence toward your beloved as an incredible human being worthy of love and adoration.

You are each entrusted with the wondrous task of uplifting and encouraging each other, even when you don’t agree.

In practice, this looks like listening, thinking before you speak, and always using words that uphold the great dignity of your spouse.

In case you’re wondering, the woman at the storytelling event did stay with her husband. They have been married for over fifteen years. He was at the event with their two children listening to her speak, and he kissed her when she sat down after she finished telling her story.

Elephantina is still alive and well—they have disagreements and areas where they don’t see eye to eye. But despite the challenge these differences present, they have chosen to stick together and accept the beauty that is a union of two different people.

And she’s never gone back to work.

Love Is Patient: A Cynic’s Guide to Patience in Relationships

I’m not sure if I really care about being patient.

Why should I? What’s in it for me?

“Patience is a virtue.”


Just what I’ve always wanted—more virtue!

Okay, I guess I do want to be virtuous (whatever that really means), but it’s not exactly the most enticing idea in the world.

The problem is that “patient” is the first word used to describe love in one of the all-time most popular definitions of love, which comes from 1 Corinthians 13.

Whether you’re religious or not, I’m sure you’ve heard it at a wedding:

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

Right there at the top: ‘“Love is patient.” This gives the impression that it’s important; patience matters.

Because regardless of whether you care about virtue or not, you probably do care about love.

Love is a virtue—the greatest one, in fact—but somehow no one really talks about that.

We just talk about how beautiful and incredible and life-changing love is: rainbows, butterflies, cutesy photographs, oh my!

“Love is patient.”

We want love. We don’t want patience—unless it’s from someone else, of course.

Maybe that’s why so many of us sign the dotted line on our divorce papers. Maybe that’s why so many of us experience pretty serious and painful marriage problems.

Maybe we heard “patience is a virtue” a little too often (those tired words that mean nothing to us), while “patience will save your marriage” was never spoken.

Patience matters because people are annoying and frustrating and painfully disappointing—there’s just no way around it (as someone who is annoying, frustrating, and painfully disappointing, I can attest to this).

When we’re infatuated, we miraculously overlook this fact. It often comes as a rude awakening when the rose-colored glasses fall off and we realize what we’ve done: idealized someone who’s pretty much just like everyone else.

Your loved one can get on your nerves, and you may find that it is actually harder to be patient with them than with other people.

This makes sense as you see your beloved’s flaws up close, day in and day out. Your patience wears thin quickly because it is tested more than with someone you only see every once in a while. Additionally, because of the level of comfort you have with each other, it can be more difficult to hold back a biting comment or otherwise express your annoyance toward them.

Love is patient, we are not.

This is why, as people who hope to love, who want strong relationships and marriages, who have people in our lives we want to love, we must attempt to conform ourselves to love by striving to be patient.

How though?


Patience is not contingent on the good behavior of others. People are going to screw up, in big ways and small. Things are not going to go as planned, and we will spend a lot of time waiting. Patience demands that we not react harshly to the inevitable instances when our loved ones demonstrate their weaknesses and faults, or when our life together is different from how we imagined it would be.

Love isn’t necessarily something we are just born understanding and able to flawlessly put into practice—far from it. We learn to love slowly, one moment at at time.

Furthermore, we must remember that our desires are not demands. In other words, what we want—especially for and from someone else—should not be imposed on them. Your loved one is not an extension of yourself. We have to accept who they are and where they are, and embrace their complete otherness.

Basically, we can accept that the person we fell in love with—and possibly idealized a little bit—is not perfect. And out of love, we are invited to not merely tolerate their shortcomings, but to be compassionate toward them.

Again . . . how?


Don’t react. It is entirely normal to feel impatient, annoyed, or frustrated toward your loved one. You don’t have to be cheery about the fact that they did something which disappointed you or hurt you in some way (again). Patience comes in the space between what you’re feeling and how you react.

We have a choice whether to react or to respond. Reacting is the immediate sassy comment, eye roll, frustrated sigh, or burst of anger. It is instinctive and thoughtless.

Responding is a deep breath followed by a thought-out, gentle remark or question—or a decision to “let this slide,” because you realize it’s not a matter worth bringing up.

A reaction doesn’t take into account the long-term consequences of an outburst; it is only concerned with the release of strong emotions being felt in the current moment.

The beauty about it is that love not only allows us to be in relationship with others but also makes us a-better-version-of-ourselves.

A response is able to order the emotions to the good of the relationship by holding back angry words or other wounding actions.

A reaction does not take into account the other; it is preoccupied with self. A response is an act of love toward the other and self.

A response serves the relationship, a reaction often wounds it.

Every time you find yourself getting annoyed or frustrated with your significant other, make an effort to see it not as an inconvenience but as an opportunity to love them. What that looks like will depend on the situation. Maybe you need to bring the matter up and have an earnest discussion about it. Maybe you can let it go, or maybe you need to wait to decide what the right course of action is. If you do end up talking about it, the conversation can be fruitful and loving and lead to a stronger relationship, instead of a heated and defensive argument.

Even if this means leaving the room to take a few deep breaths or saying a quick prayer in silence, the point is to give yourself the space you need to respond instead of react. This isn’t burying all your feelings deep down and piling on insincerity toward your loved one. It is finding the best way to handle the matter and not allowing your instincts to sabotage your relationships.

It’s highly unlikely that you will react to something that irks, frustrates, or disappoints you in a loving way. However, you will always have the choice to respond to even the most annoying of instances with love.

Pro tip: Empathy

While you’re taking time to respond, it helps if you step into your loved one’s shoes. Often we can assume the worst intentions because we refuse to simply walk a mile in the other person’s shoes.

Rarely do people do things out of malice. Honestly, most of the times people act out of what they believe to be right, habit, carelessness, or, at worst, woundedness.

If we can understand why our beloved does what they do (especially that which exasperates us), we are much more likely to handle it lovingly when we see that their motive is not to hurt us.

If you’re not sure, ask. In fact, as a general rule, seek understanding from your loved one about their perspective, and do your best to truly see them before you interject your opinions on the matter.

At first glance, it doesn’t feel like patience needs to be high on my priority list.

But when I think about it in the context of love and how patience really is woven into the greatest virtue of all, I realize that if I have any hope of being in lasting relationships with others and eventually a successful marriage, patience is indeed instrumental.

Love isn’t necessarily something we are just born understanding and able to flawlessly put into practice—far from it. We learn to love slowly, one moment at at time. But we keep trying. The beauty about it is that love not only allows us to be in relationship with others but also makes us a-better-version-of-ourselves.

Improvement is hard-earned, and sometimes the hard part is simply pausing when you feel the familiar rush of irritation welling up inside.

And remember: Patience is a virtue!

And, practice makes perfect!

And other annoying axioms.

23 Reasons Why I Won’t Go Out with You—And 3 Reasons Why I Might

You know what I wish?

I wish dating played out in real life more like it does in my head . . .

You dress up; he arrives at seven and is all like, “Woah, you look incredible!” (and you’re like, “Yeah, I know”); you have a fun night out (including a delicious free meal); you say a sweet goodbye; he says he hopes to “see you again soon.” You later fall asleep smiling as you recall how nice the evening was.

But in my experience, that is often not how it goes.

And maybe it’s just me (it usually is), but dating just seems to have gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. Especially when you think of what it was in our parents’ or grandparents’ generations.

The mystery of getting to know someone in person, the loveliness of saying goodbye at the door followed by a swift kiss on the cheek, the courtesy and gallantry . . . I often feel like it has all been replaced by screens and swipes and snaps and we-should-hang-out-sometimes.

I’m sure there are myriad reasons for this shift and that only part of it has to do with technology, but in any case, I’ve set out to correct it —at least in my own dating life.

So guys, know this: women do want to go out with you. We really do. But sometimes we can’t. We can’t because we want to be treated a certain way. We value certain qualities in a potential mate. We want to have a good and healthy relationship, not one determinedly doomed for a direly disastrous demise.

Pretty good alliteration there, huh?

Perhaps you find this list entirely unrealistic. But I can think of a world where these “high standards” were just the norm.

For your sake as much as mine, I put together this list of twenty-three reasons why I won’t go out with you.

Read it and weep, gentlemen.

Or laugh hysterically because you think I’m crazy.

1. I won’t go out with you because, as it turns out, you’re seeing someone else . . .

2. Or you stopped seeing someone else way too recently . . .

3. And, as it also turns out, you treat sex with the same gravitas as trying on a pair of khakis.

4. I won’t go out with you because you asked me out via some form of social media or over text and refuse to pick up the phone or talk to me in person (I guess you never got your cooties immunization).

5. I won’t go out with you because you still haven’t asked me, and I can only text someone for so long before I get bored or forget to respond. (For the record, I honestly don’t enjoy texting.)

6. I won’t go out with you because you have a “socialism’s not that bad” type of perspective—I guess it seems pretty reasonable when you’re living out of your parents’ basement.

7. I won’t go out with you because you’re too busy watching Netflix to pick up a book.

8. I won’t go out with you because you watch porn and are unwilling to stop.

9. I won’t go out with you because you don’t get the door for me, or anyone else.

10. I won’t go out with you because you can’t decide where we should go to eat, much less what you’re looking for in a relationship. Seriously, just pick one already. (But don’t pick a place I don’t want to go to.)

11. I won’t go out with you because you talk about yourself way too much and take yourself much too seriously.

12. I won’t go out with you because you respond to my jokes with a blank stare (I’m funny okay?).

13. I won’t go out with you because you’re on your phone while we’re together.

14. I won’t go out with you because you think Parks and Rec is better than The Office. That’s just wrong. It’s science.

15. I won’t go out with you because you have the gall to tell me I look “nice.”

I want to be challenged to be the-best-version-of-myself by the people I surround myself with. I suspect you might appreciate someone who pushes you to be the best man you can be.

16. I won’t go out with you because you’re lazy. Do some yard work. It won’t kill you.

17. I won’t go out with you because you’re too scared to talk about topics that really matter or anything controversial. And I’m deep. Like the ocean.

18. I won’t go out with you because you don’t take initiative, and I won’t wait around.

19. I won’t go out with you because you’re “more of a tea person.” Unless you’re British, in which case this is acceptable.

20. I won’t go out with you because you stand for nothing—so you’ll fall for anything.

21. I won’t go out with you because you don’t take care of yourself. “Sexy slob” is not a thing.

22. I won’t go out with you because you expect love to be easy.

23. I won’t go out with you because you laughed hysterically at this list and now you think I’m crazy.

Perhaps you find this list entirely unrealistic. You wouldn’t be the first (my ex thinks so, too). But I can think of a world where these “high standards” were just the norm. A world where men lifted their hats when they greeted a woman, where “calling on someone” meant actually seeing them and talking to them in person, where courtship trumped “talking” and commitment conquered fear.

Additionally, I know men who meet my expectations—and then some. And just as I want to be challenged to be the-best-version-of-myself by the people I surround myself with, I suspect you might appreciate someone who pushes you to be the best man you can be.

And if you don’t, maybe you should.

That said, here are three reasons I would go out with you:

1. You’re a good man.

2. You challenge me to be a better woman.

3. You’re willing to give it (relationships, life) all you’ve got.

So I guess now might be a good time for you to come up with all the reasons you wouldn’t go out with me . . . because I really can’t think of any.

3 Simple and Surefire Ways to Be Happier (with Rebuttals to All Your Silly Objections)

If you don’t want to be happier, go ahead and stop reading. I don’t want to waste your time.

If you do want to be happier . . . well, I still don’t want to waste your time. So here they are—my three simple ways to be happier:

  1. Get Off Social Media
  2. Stop Watching the News
  3. Read this Article

Pretty simple, right? But, wait. What’s this? You have objections? Okay, then! Let’s talk about all those silly excuses that cause you to resist happiness.

1. Get Off Social Media

As an older millennial (though I identify as a Gen-Xer), I know the risks of disparaging social media. My pronouncement of “Get off the Instagram!” will sound more like an irrelevant old curmudgeon’s cry of “Get off my lawn!” But I don’t care. Get off the Instagram! And . . . you know what? Stay off my lawn!

If you want to change the world, get off your phone, go outside, and change the world!

For years we’ve known there is an association between social media and depression. But there was always that nagging little voice of dissension saying, “Correlation doesn’t mean causation!” Well, sometimes it does. And this is one of those times. A recent study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology doesn’t just reaffirm the link between the two. It definitely shows that people are actually happier when they are not using social media.

With that said, let’s hear those excuses.

Silly Objection #1: But it’s how I keep up with old friends . . .

One of my biggest issues with social media is what it has done to the word friend. When I was using Facebook many moons ago, I had a “Friends List,” at its peak, of about 670 people. What a farce! I didn’t have 670 friends—not even close!

This word has been so watered down by social media, I posit we need a new word for a real friend. A person that will help you at the drop of a hat, at two o’clock in the morning no questions asked. How about . . . uberfreund?

You aren’t getting on social media to keep up with old friends. At best, you’re clinging to nostalgia and the glory days (I can empathize with this, but life moves on—you should move on with it). At worst, you want to peek in on former acquaintances to see how much weight they’ve gained since college.

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When I was growing up, before cell phones, it was easy to know who your real friends were. They were the people whose home phone numbers you had memorized. Today, I don’t know what it would be. But if you want to keep up with these people, I suggest you stop showing your friendship by clicking a thumbs-up icon and pick up the phone instead!

Silly Objection #2: But I hardly ever get on there anyway . . .

Good. If you rarely use it, then it should be pretty easy to stop completely. (Also, you probably use it more than you think!)

Silly Objection #3: But I won’t be able to debate politics . . .

I can vividly remember the post that did it. The post that changed my mind. It was eloquently written and deeply profound. It went against everything I believed in but was expressed with so much passion and clarity that I had to take a personal day off work to reflect upon all its meaning and nuance—to reflect upon my own life and decisions. That Facebook post was a mirror, and I did not like what I saw. It changed my life.

Oh . . . wait. No, it didn’t. This has never happened once in the history of ever.

If you want to change the world, get off your phone, go outside, and change the world!

Silly Objection #4: But it’s a great way to share photos of my kids with my family . . .

First of all, how big is your family that a simple email won’t get this done?

Second of all, from my experience, when it comes to photos on social media, people fall into one of two camps:

  1. People who post photos to show the world how amazing their life is.
  2. People who look at photos to compare their own lives to the fake lives presented on social media by the people in the first camp.

Neither camp is all that great. My advice: get off the hamster wheel of jealousy—there are better ways to burn calories.

Silly Objection #5: But memes and gifs and cat videos and stuff . . .

I get it. There’s a lot of funny, inspiring, amazing content shared on social media. Maybe you even found this very article linked in your Facebook feed. If you weren’t using social media, you wouldn’t be reading this now.

I am oddly okay with this. If the price of you being happier my wit and wisdom going unread, I will gladly pay for it. If my wit and wisdom not being read is the price of you being happier, I will gladly pay it. Maybe you’ve visited this site before, maybe this is your first time . . . but take a look around. Notice anything different about this site compared to ones like it? No ads. You aren’t an impression here. You aren’t a view nor a click. You are a human being. You deserve to be happy. And that’s all I really want for you.

Just because you like something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t make you miserable. Oddly enough, the things we like most are often the things that bring us the most pain.

Plus, you can bookmark this site and come back whenever you want, without going through the middle man. Or sign up at the bottom of the page to receive more articles via email. We’d love to have you!

2. Stop Watching the News

News platforms are desperate for your attention. So desperate, in fact, they will do anything for it. Anything! Even convert three feet of molehills into an entire mountain range—twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

But once again, studies are discovering that watching the news regularly can have a negative impact on your mental health. People who see negative images or stories regularly (that is to say, anyone who watches cable news regularly) experience higher levels of stress, anxiety, and mood swings.

Why put yourself through that?

Silly Objection #1: But I need to know what’s going on in the world . . .


How does knowing what terrible thing happened in New York make you a happier person in New Mexico? They didn’t need to know these things one hundred years ago. Or five hundred years ago.

Now get this. The brain is actually wired to want to hear bad news. We seek out these perceived dangers because—as far as our brains are concerned—we need to know where danger is coming from in order to survive. It wants to detect threats, not ignore them. This is why it’s so tempting to watch the news. This is also why—along with a dash of schadenfreude—we like to seek out juicy, horrifying gossip.

You don’t need that kind of negativity! Plus, there’s nothing you’ll hear in the news that you can’t find in War and Peace or the Bible or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Shakespeare or The Great Gatsby.

Silly Objection #2: But I really, really like it . . .

Gonna be honest. You might have me on this one. If you can say you genuinely enjoy watching the news and it doesn’t cause stress or anxiety, then go for it.

However, I will say this: “But I really, really like it . . .” is the same excuse every addict in the history of the world has and will use. Just because you like something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t make you miserable. In fact, oddly enough, the things we like most are often the things that bring us the most pain. Don’t ask me. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Silly Objection #3: But I won’t be able to debate politics . . .

This again?! Did everyone take a debate course while I was in my second gym class senior year? Sheesh.

Look. I love a good debate. I will play devil’s advocate in any situation. In fact, in the Herbert Family, we can argue for hours before we realize we are all in agreement and arguing the same point. We even have a family motto: “He who is loudest is rightest!”

But what I don’t like about political debates is that 1) they are very shallow, and people don’t change their minds (and things get very personal, very quickly), and 2) we tend to condense beautiful, complex, lovely people into two camps (like I did just a few points ago in the social media section)—in this case, Left or Right.

Try having a real conversation with someone. Get to know them beyond Blue or Red. The news won’t tell you that your neighbor is a veteran who did two tours in Iraq, loves reading Harry Potter, breeds Guinea pigs, and is afraid of spiders. But a real conversation will.

Silly Objection #4: But I really only read or listen to the news . . .

Are we splitting hairs here? Fine. Instead of watching the news, just pretend I originally said consuming the news. Watching, listening to, reading, imbibing through osmosis, download it straight into your brain like in The Matrix, whatever!

Silly Objection #5: But, but, but . . .

Well, now you’re just embarrassing yourself.

3. Read this Article

Hey! You already did this one. Neat.

Be honest. You feel a little happier, don’t you?

Silly Objection #1: But I didn’t want to read this article . . .

Too late!

5 Kind of Fun Strategies to Stay Motivated at Work

When I was growing up, my mom often made us listen to one of her favorite bands, Pink Martini, as we drove around in our white minivan from one activity to the next.

They are an international jazzy sort of group that record songs in various languages: some originals, some classics, and all unlikely favorites of an eight-year-old who failed to realize this genre was too sophisticated for her.

One of my favorites was a French tune entitled “Sympathique” which translates to “Nice” or “Pleasurable.” This song taught me the only French phrase I know:

“Je ne veux pas travailler
Je ne veux pas déjeuner
Je veux seulement l'oublier
Et puis je fume.”

In English . . .

“I don’t want to work
I don’t want to eat breakfast
I only want to forget
And then smoke.”

In those days, I had little knowledge of what the words meant as I enthusiastically sang along . . . now I know better, and they often resonate with me.

Ultimately, motivation at work is something we can choose on any given day, including today!

There are definitely days I’d prefer not to go to work—although I don’t smoke, and I like to eat breakfast (or any meal, really).

I think we all have those days where we are unmotivated, don’t feel productive, or are just stuck in a work rut.

This doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you, that you should quit, or stay home and smoke. There are simple, actionable steps you can take toward finding motivation at work once again (and none of them involve starting an unhealthy, expensive habit . . . even if I still think it looks cool).

1. Mix It Up

Routines are good and fine but sometimes if we’re in a rut, we need to snap out of it. Some ideas:

  • Get up early and go to a cozy coffee shop to read before work.
  • Stop by a local bakery and start your day off with a delicious croissant or breakfast sandwich.
  • If you’re married, surprise your spouse with an early breakfast in bed. (If you’re not married, try having breakfast at your kitchen table for once instead of over the sink seconds before running out the door).
  • Ask some friends if they want to get drinks on a random weeknight (or try your hand at bartending and invite them to your house for a cocktail).
  • Find a trivia event at a local restaurant or bar and make a team with your co-workers.
  • Go to an exercise class you’ve never tried before (kickboxing, barre, yoga, pilates, etc.).

A simple change in your day-to-day rituals can bring a sense of freshness, inspire your work week, and help you rekindle your motivation to kill it at your job.

2. Invest in Your Coworkers.

How well do you know the people you work alongside day in and day out? You may engage in small talk in the breakroom or greet them in the hallway, but do you know anything about them other than their job title?

View your work as a mission you have chosen to accept: “I will find meaning in this difficult or menial job, and I will do it to the best of my ability.”

It is worth getting to know the people you work with. This also gives you a greater incentive to work hard (even if you’re feeling unmotivated in a specific task) and be proud of the company you are a part of.

Invite someone from work to lunch or to grab coffee this week, it’ll break up your workday in a pleasant way and give you something to look forward to.

Just don’t invite Peter . . . he’s weird.

3. Elevate Your Workflow

“Change your habits, change your life.”

- Matthew Kelly

Do your work habits need changing? There are ways you can get yourself in the mood to work and have a productive day. Try listening to an inspiring work-related podcast on your way to the office, or read a chapter in one of these books:

You can also switch up your work playlist by making a new one or choosing one already crafted on Spotify, Pandora, or Youtube. Consider trying a genre you’ve never listened to before or checking out a new artist (maybe Pink Martini!).

Make sure your office is clean, and if you don’t have any photos or decor you enjoy, bring one or two pieces in to brighten up your workspace.

If you can bring a sense of purpose into your possibly mundane job, you will work harder, become a better coworker, and even improve your workplace.

I find my photos of myself incredibly inspiring. 😉

Find a few inspirational quotes that speak to you and place them where you can see them often.

There are also a plethora of productivity hacks to try when you’re feeling particularly unmotivated or tempted to procrastinate. You may have to practice trial and error, finding what works for you.

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4. Challenge Yourself

I have the privilege of having a job I enjoy. I know many people don’t. If you find your job meaningless or even downright painful, take heart.

View your work as a mission you have chosen to accept: “I will find meaning in this difficult or menial job, and I will do it to the best of my ability.”

Sometimes motivation just means a change in mindset. It can feel a bit like lying to yourself (bending the truth possibly), but the reality is that we need work. We need work because we have financial responsibilities, and we need work because (as much as that French song may have said otherwise) too much downtime isn’t good for us—and neither is smoking. (For the record, I do not endorse smoking.)

Please don’t sue me.

Find meaning and a sense of achievement in doing things well, even if no one notices.

You have a choice: to make the most of where you are and the work entrusted to you, or to let the days slip by.

Find meaning in the fact that you are providing for yourself and your loved ones (or potentially your future self or family).

Find meaning in the fact that work is designed to make us better people.

If you can bring a sense of purpose into your possibly mundane job, you will work harder, become a better coworker, and even improve your workplace.

Challenge yourself today: Do your job, and do it well. Smile at the coworker you’re not crazy about (but not at Peter, because he’s the actual worst). Pay extra attention to the task at hand instead of letting your mind wander. Make a to-do list to start your day in an organized manner . . .

And then take pride in the fact that you went the extra mile today (or extra inch), and thereby took one small step toward becoming a-better-version-of-yourself.

5. Be grateful

If you’re reading this, I would assume that you have a job. Not everyone does. Work—as sometimes frustrating, tiring, or boring as it can be—is a gift. Even if you are not where you want to be, even if you know this isn’t a “good fit,” be grateful that you have a regular paycheck, something to do, and an opportunity to do it with distinction.

You have a choice: to make the most of where you are and the work entrusted to you, or to let the days slip by full of wistfulness and “if onlys.”

My mother instilled in me a love for Pink Martini, but as much as I will belt the song with enthusiasm, I most likely won’t stay home and smoke anytime soon . . . even though I may not feel like working. Ultimately, motivation at work is something we can choose on any given day, including today!

Playing Defense: 4 Invaluable Parenting Tips for Preventing Bad Behavior

There is a common saying (which I think I just made up right now). How do you prevent your kids from behaving badly?

You don’t have kids!

Okay. I know what you’re thinking: Har har, Peter. But your title is promising me tips to prevent bad behavior, and you just implied you cannot prevent bad behavior. Why must you turn this website into a house of lies?!

Well, dear reader, you can never truly prevent your toddler from misbehaving. He is going to act out, he is going to test boundaries, and he is definitely going to tinkle in places you don’t want him to tinkle. You can, however, do everything in your power to prevent some bad behavior, even if you cannot prevent it entirely.

Before I jump into these life-saving tips, I want to make an important distinction. There are no bad kids. There is only bad behavior. It is frustrating to be a kid, and it's natural to express this frustration. Imagine going to a country you’ve never visited, where they speak a language you do not know. Now, imagine that everyone there is ten times larger than you. That’s what it’s like. You cannot communicate your wishes. You cannot understand others. And you can be picked up and plopped wherever the giants want to plop you. You’d be frustrated, too.

With that said, let’s dive in. Here are the four tried-and-true tips to help you prevent your toddler from misbehaving.

1. Provide Options

Most human beings don’t like being told what to do. Some will even do the opposite, just because. That is the burden of free will.

Toddlers thrive when operating within boundaries and within the familiar.

When you take charge as a parent and force your will upon your little one—and it won’t matter what it is—you will invariably be met with resistance. Seriously. You could say, “Eat this ice cream for breakfast!” and depending on your toddler’s mood, you might get a “No! No! No!” in reply.

If you give options, though, your toddler is given some degree of agency. “It’s time for breakfast. Did you want your green plate or your yellow plate?” Even if the choice is superficial, that’s all people—including toddlers—really want: choice.


  • “It’s time to go upstairs for a bath; do you want me to carry you, or do you want to walk?”
  • “We’re going to eat lunch; did you want grapes or strawberries with your hotdog?”
  • “I need to change your diaper; do you want to do it now or in one minute?”

2. Don’t Ask, Do Tell

I know what you’re thinking: Wait. Didn’t you just ask, like, ten gazillion questions in the tip above?

Yes. But notice that these questions all follow a declarative statement: It’s time to go upstairs, we’re going to eat lunch; I need to change your diaper.

When you ask a question, you must be prepared to accept the answer—otherwise, it’s better to not ask at all. In other words, if you say something like, “Want to go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house?” and your toddler says, “No!” then you ideally wouldn’t go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. If you ask these types of leading question, expecting to get the answer you want, you should make every effort to follow through. Otherwise, your toddler will only be confused and frustrated when he answers differently, and you do the opposite anyway.

Lovingly teaching your child about consequences and how to make great decisions is the most important thing you can do as a parent.

My wife and I both suffer from a bad case of the “okays?” In some of our failed attempts at giving our toddler some autonomy in her life, we provide an option, but the worst kind—the kind that has an obvious answer we want and an obvious answer we do not want.

We are going to change your diaper now, okay?
We’re going to get dressed before we read a story, okay?
Don’t rub spaghetti into your hair like its dandruff shampoo, okay?

To break this habit, we are trying to replace “okay” with “understand.” The former can be confused with asking for permission, while the latter is just designed to help foster a dialogue with your little one (softening your commands).

“I am going to take away your toothbrush now, okay?”
“I am going to take away your toothbrush now, understand?”

See the difference? Words matter!

HOW TO APPLY: Get into the habit of telling your child what is going to happen—this part is not a choice: “We are going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house.” And then dress that up in some options: “Do you want to wear your white shoes or your pink shoes?”

3. Give a Heads Up

If I am busy writing in my office and my boss shows up unannounced telling me to stop what I’m doing and come to a meeting, I would feel a good amount of stress. If this happened all the time, I would be downright upset. It’s disrespectful.

Yet we do this to children all the time. They will be playing happily when BLAMMO! Mommy or Daddy will just up and announce that it’s time to go to bed or eat dinner. Just because you are bigger and older doesn’t mean you don’t have to respect your little one—in fact, it is precisely because you are bigger and older that you should be extra careful and respectful about how you interact with your toddler.

HOW TO APPLY: Warn your toddler of impending change. Say things like, “In one minute we’re going to go inside.” Or, “We are going to play for five more minutes.” It doesn’t matter if your little tike doesn’t have any concept of time . . . time is a construct anyway!

4. Establish Routines

Toddlers, like most adults, thrive when operating within boundaries and within the familiar. They are more comfortable at home, around people they know, and will act out much less frequently than when their environment is constantly changing. This is why it’s important to establish routines in your toddler’s life and that you try to stick to them—even if it means sacrificing your own fun.

We keep a very strict bedtime for our daughter and almost never keep her up past it. I think a lot of friends and family think we’re crazy how obsessive we are about it. But, again, imagine if you couldn’t control much in your own life and someone else decided that instead of going to bed tonight, you were going to go hang out at a strange house for a few hours.

In other words, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

HOW TO APPLY: When you find a routine that works for you and your little one, try to stick to it. If you do need to break the routine, be sure to give a heads up—and try not to change too much all at once. This will only cause extra stress for your little one.

Your kid needs discipline. Rules and boundaries—paradoxically—make life freer and more open and exciting. Lovingly teaching your child about consequences and how to make great decisions is the most important thing you can do as a parent.

It won’t be easy. But it is the hard path that leads to greatness. You can walk it. And you’re not walking it alone. May the wind be always at your back; may the sun shine warm upon your face; and may your toddler not try to eat your dog’s droppings like a brownie.

You’ve got this. Good luck!

If you like this article, you will love . . .

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Love Is Patient, but I'm Not

What to Do When You Feel Lost (and a Little Scared)

Do you know where you’re going?

There are days I feel full of purpose and drive, charging ahead and crossing off my to-do list with vigorous enthusiasm.

And then there are days that I feel . . . well, lost.

I’m hit with the cold truth that adulthood doesn’t exactly look like an episode of Friends (that show has a lot of false advertising to answer for).

I don’t know why I’m here, where I’m going, or even who I am. It’s during these days that I question just about everything. My job, the town I live in, my proclivity for ending clauses in prepositions, my friendships, and pretty much every major life decision I’ve ever made . . . not to mention where on earth I’m heading (other than to the closest happy hour—ASAP).

It is during these days that I’m overwhelmed by hopelessness. I long for the safety and comfort I had as a child, which I’ve left behind. I wish the weight of responsibility wasn’t quite so heavy, or at the very least, that I had a map which directed me to where I was meant to be, to safety.

It is ironic that, as young children, we are impatient for the days when we will finally be “free.” When we can finally go wherever we want, be whoever we want, and do whatever we want.

Allowing ourselves to dream is how we become inspired and find direction. Have you dreamt about what kind of person do you want to be?

Milestones like getting your license, turning eighteen, going to college, and turning twenty-one are often eagerly anticipated as glorious occasions.

Until, sooner or later, you are rudely awakened by all sorts of bills, the high cost of living, separation from loved ones, forty-hour work weeks (and no summer vacation whatsoever), car troubles, and the vast expanse that is the unknown.

On these days, I inwardly repeat over and over again: I just want to go home.

I think I understand how Dorothy felt.

The problem is that “home” as I knew it doesn’t really exist anymore. And I’m sure this is the case for most of us out in the adult world. Our siblings and friends have moved away. We can no longer depend on our parents to support us, and even they cannot protect us from the decisions we are faced with (although they may try).

If you’re having one of those days (or weeks or months) when you feel lost; or when you’re overwhelmed by responsibility and the enormity of life; or if you are unsure where to go from here, what you are supposed to do, or what you want . . . here is my advice.

Step 1: Embrace the Discomfort

You don’t feel good. You may be on the verge of snapping and trying desperately to keep your bubbling emotions under wraps. Well, don’t. Suppressing emotions is widely known to be unhelpful and detrimental to your emotional and mental health. Feel what you need to feel. The more you fight it, the harder it will be to move on in a healthy way. If you’re at work or in another public place, go for a walk, sit in your car, or head for any other space you can get five minutes alone.

Treat your emotions as a guest in your home. You can let them in, observe them, spend some time with them, and eventually, one way or another, they will head on out.

You may not be able to do this in five minutes. But you can, over time, explore these difficult feelings by spending time alone in the classroom of silence.

Emotions are like children. The more we ignore them, the louder they get. And if you feed them after midnight, they turn into gremlins. Wait, that’s not children or emotions.

Anyway, if you’re feeling especially anxious or overwhelmed in this stage of life, take time daily to spend time alone and in silence, giving these unpleasant emotions your full attention and seeking to understand why they exist. During this time, journaling can be especially helpful.

Step 2: Practice Present Moment Awareness

There is goodness where you are right now.

Look out! The goodness is right behind you!

It may not look or feel this way. The situation may seem dire from where you’re standing or your future may appear helplessly unplanned, however, I am certain that you have things you can be grateful for at this very moment.

We get ahead of ourselves thinking about an uncertain future, which is why we have to be grounded in what is reality—not fear about what could be.

Whether it’s simply the ability to breathe, a sunny day, an encouraging word from a friend, your favorite song, a good hug, a hot cup of coffee, an epic high five, a paycheck, a warm sweater . . . they may seem minute compared to whatever concerns you’re facing, but gratitude is an enormous factor to overall happiness and well-being. Practicing with the small things will make it easier to see all the good—big and small—that exists in your life.

If you are worried about what is going to happen (whether it’s with work, a relationship, a financial or health burden, or life in general), remind yourself of where you are right now.

Often we get ahead of ourselves thinking about an uncertain future, which is why we have to be grounded in what is reality—not fear about what could be. The more we practice present moment awareness, the more we are able to give our full attention to life as it is and not as we fear it might be.

Fear =/= reality.

Unless you’re living in a horror movie. And if you do live in a horror movie, for heaven’s sake, don’t go in there!

Step 3: Dream a Dream

It’s easy to get lost in the practicality of the everyday, and then suddenly it’s five years later and you find yourself dissatisfied and discontent with your life.

Allowing ourselves to dream is how we become inspired and find direction. What do you want to accomplish, personally or professionally? Where would you like to go? What kind of person do you want to be? What is quality would you like to develop?

If you need some inspiration, read a book, pick up a magazine, or think about someone you look up to. What about them speaks to you? What are you drawn to? What do you want your life to look like?

It can be as simple as learning how to cook (well) or as big as moving across the world, but our hearts yearn for the things that will bring us fulfillment and joy—and too often we don’t give these “heart things” a chance.

Make a list of things you would like to do, and pick one to begin with.

You can do this in a dream journal (a plain ol’ journal for your dreams and goals). Write them down, evaluate them, and pick one or two to pursue at any point in time. How can you get started? What is a small, simple step you can take today? When do you want to achieve this goal?

Whether it’s saving ten dollars a week for a trip to Europe or inviting a few friends over for a small dinner party, we can and should pursue things that bring joy and meaning into our lives. We may convince ourselves that we don’t “need” these sorts of things or that they are not “realistic,” but it is our ability to dream which has brought every necessary change and thing of beauty into this world.

If you have no idea where to start, begin with these four questions:

  1. Who am I?
  2. What am I here for?
  3. What matters most?
  4. What matters least?

Step 4: Seek Counsel

Sometimes you just need to talk to someone. Choose wisely, someone with more experience and similar values to you is important. Peers are great, but very often they are not the best source of helpful, trustworthy advice. Instead, it might be a mentor; a pastor; a hilarious, gorgeous, intelligent woman who writes awesome articles; or just a friend who is a little more versed in the matter than you. Ask this wise person to meet you for coffee.

The process of unloading your struggles and talking through what you’re experiencing can be highly therapeutic in and of itself. You may also get some much-needed wisdom and perspective for what you are going through.

If you are experiencing severe unhappiness and anxiety, it might be worth seeking professional help in the form of a counselor or therapist. While there is a stigma around therapy, it is one of the most helpful and healthy things you can do (at least that’s what my therapist tells me).

As highly relational beings, we shouldn’t close ourselves off from the world when we’re going through something. It’s important to stay open and get help when we need it. A listening ear and a gentle word from someone who is looking out for you can go a long way.

Step 5: Challenge Your Mindset

“An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.”

- Gilbert Chesterton

This quote has stuck with me and is one I bring to mind often when faced with the frustrating, tedious, and uncertain parts of life. Life is an adventure. It’s not an easy drive that you can mindlessly cruise through. It’s full of highs and lows, challenges, beauty, goodness, and heartbreak.

You’ll never have it all figured out—none of us do. But you do have the ability to choose. To choose what kind of person you want to be, and what you would like to do with this short, precious life. You also have a calling, should you choose to accept it (though this calling won’t self-destruct in five seconds, probably). A mission you were specifically created for that will make you a-better-version-of-yourself, bring you joy and fulfillment, and make the world a better place (cliché, but true).

Even if you’re facing something particularly difficult or simply feel at a loss for why you’re here, find comfort in this truth: you were made for a purpose, and no one else can fulfill it.

The world needs you and all you have to offer. You have immense value in who you are—brokenness and all. Don’t let fear and discouragement rob you of this fact. It’s okay to be down, just know that the moment will come for you to get back up. The world needs you to.

Mo Money, Mo Problems: How to Make a Budget for Beginners

A few months ago I had a rude awakening, which led me to discover the importance of making a budget.

Basically, I was making more money than I ever had before in my life, yet a vast majority of it was mysteriously disappearing.

To my surprise, it wasn’t a lawless bandit getting away with my earnings. I was the guilty one. Me and my craft-beer-drinking, trend-adhering, no-expense-sparing self.

Like I said, it was a rude awakening.

I had never given budgeting much thought other than when my family (or certain *ahem* coworkers) brought it up, insisting it was necessary—to which I would roll my eyes and then hastily change the subject.

Having finally come to the conclusion myself the hard way (ah, how the mighty have fallen), I realized I had no idea where to start.

After doing a tiny bit of research of my own and then asking for a lot of help, I was able to break down into the following simple steps the seemingly scary process of creating a personal budget. I tried to make it as straightforward and even fun as possible (fun might be a strong word . . . fun-ish, perhaps).

First and foremost: A budget is a tool designed to save you money, not merely to observe where all your money went last month. In other words, you are in charge of where your money goes.

Choice. It’s a thing, and you have it.

Having said that, here are some tips for getting started with your monthly budget:

1. Audit

Spend one to two months recording what you spend your money on. Try to break it down into categories. The most common are savings, emergency fund, groceries, gas and transportation, mortgage or rent, car payment, charitable giving, entertainment, personal, clothing, saving for vacation, debt and student loans, bills (cable, internet, garbage, water, electricity, gas, phone, etc.), and miscellaneous.

Make it easy: This should be simple enough if your bank has an app, which most do. Look it up in the app store if you don’t have it already. Download it, and then log in. It will keep track of every single transaction you make. All you have to do is pull it up on your phone at the end of the month!

2. Savings come first—period

This money (savings means “retirement”) is untouchable. It’s ideally 15 percent of your salary.

Make it easy: Start small (e.g., 3 to 5 percent) and increase by 1 or 2 percent every year (or more often, if you can). Simply talk to your HR person about how to allocate a certain percentage of each paycheck to a different account (this would be your savings). They can walk you through the process if you’re not sure how to set this up . . . yay Toby!

Make it fun: Saving can feel like a pain in the derriere. A good way to build this crucial habit of setting aside money is to celebrate! When you’ve achieved a certain milestone in your savings account (you can decide this number ahead of time), pop open a bottle of champagne with a few friends and raise a glass to financial freedom.

3. Build your emergency fund

You need to have a solid emergency fund in place. Only you can determine what you are comfortable with, but let’s just say three months’ salary in liquid cash. That means not only saving for your retirement, but also for your safety net. This will ensure a safety net when your car breaks down, your fridge stops working, or a health problem crops up.

Talking about finances is never fun, and keeping track of them can be even less so. But it will be infinitely worth it.

Make it easy: This should be your priority if you don’t have an emergency fund already. Decide how much you feel comfortable with for this purpose and then create an account just for emergencies. Set aside money in your monthly budget for this account, and then when you’ve reached the allotted amount, you don’t have to worry about what you’re going to do if your car breaks down somewhere down the line.

After you’ve finished building your emergency fund (huge accomplishment, by the way), you can put that money toward your retirement fund.

4. Pick a software

Mint and EveryDollar have good free options. Find a budgeting app you like and start setting up the categories you determined in your audit. Some premium (paid) features allow you to connect directly to credit cards and bank accounts. This is probably not worth it, especially if you are looking to save money. The point of the app is to keep track of how much you’re spending and how much you have left in your budget. It can feel like a nuisance when every time you make a purchase you have to type it in, but it is well worth the small trouble, and it makes it a lot easier to stay in your budget.

5. Create your budget.

Determine how much you bring in per month. This might vary based on how you are paid (usually either twice a month or every two weeks.) This is your pool of money to work with. Now, break it down into your categories. Be realistic. If you spent $500 on groceries during your audit months, don’t commit to a $200 budget on groceries. You are only setting yourself up to fail.

Make it easy: I used this excel document (download or PDF) which made it easy peasy for me, I just had to plug in the numbers!

Make it fun: This doesn’t have to be as boring or painful as it sounds. Get your comfy clothes on, pour yourself a beer (although beware of the pricey craft selection), turn on some tunes, and get started. You can also have a gathering of a few friends if you all are in need of getting your finances in order.

6. Report your spendings

Get in the habit of entering any purchase into your budgeting app immediately after it happens so things don’t get ignored or missed.

You’re setting yourself up for success financially and becoming truly independent.

Another way of doing this is to take twenty minutes a week (Saturday or Sunday evening, for example) to look through all your spendings and physically write them down in a notebook. It may sound tedious, but with music and a glass of wine, it won’t feel as painful. This process will help you keep a close eye on your finances and develop intentionality about your budget.

Make it fun: Every time you do this, you can do your happy dance or listen to your favorite song because you’re killing it.

7. Pause before you pay

Really hold yourself accountable to the budget you made by learning to do without. Get in the habit of checking your budget before making purchases. As restricting as this sounds, I promise that you’re really freeing yourself from the slavery of immediate gratification and clutter. You’re setting yourself up for success financially and becoming truly independent.

Make it fun: Challenge yourself and a group of friends to a no-new-purchase month. During this time, don’t buy anything you don’t strictly need (i.e. food, gas . . .). If you feel tempted, shoot one of these friends a text to hold yourself accountable—a little encouragement can go a long way. After the thirty days are up, treat yourselves to a fun night out!

8. Keep it up

You will need to do a budget every month because you will have different needs every month. I know, I know it may feel like drudgery at times, but I swear it’s so worth it. Too many people experience the fallout of poor financial planning and suffer a lot of strain and discontent because of it. This doesn’t have to be you.

9. Pick yourself back up

When you fail (you will probably fail at some point or another), strive to do better next month. Constantly review where you are going over budget and how you can do better.


  • For large purchases, save in advance for them by budgeting small amounts leading up to the purchase. If you need to buy a couch, do not use the emergency fund (there are very few couch emergencies!). Instead, do with a Goodwill couch and save $50 a month for several months—and then buy a new couch.
  • Use cash whenever possible. If you have a $100 a month for entertainment, take out $100 from the ATM on the first of the month and that is that. When you run out of that money, you have to wait until next month. Credit cards make it disastrously easy to cheat.
  • If you finish paying off a debt, like a car payment, continue making those “payments” into a separate account for when you’ll need to buy a new car years from now. This way you aren’t paying interest on another car loan in the future (interest is a killer). It is tempting to enjoy the new amount of money each month . . . but it’s a trap!
  • Talking about finances is never fun, and keeping track of them can be even less so. But take it from someone who sorely needed this advice six months ago . . . it’s dead useful and will be infinitely worth it.

A Guide to Nontoxic Masculinity: How to Be a Good Guy, Starting Today

Don’t grope people!

As of writing this, men, this sentiment seems to be the bar we have set for ourselves. As long as you can manage to keep your hands to yourself, you’re considered a decent guy. If a male celebrity can get through his career without a sex scandal, it feels nothing short of a miracle. What happened?

Guys, this was going to be my intro (and, I guess, technically it still is). But then I thought about all the men in my life. Strong men of faith. Amazing fathers and loving husbands. Veterans and farmers and teachers. Men with beards and muscles. Men who wear skinny jeans and write poetry. Laconic men and garrulous men. Men who drink only Budweiser and men who drink nothing but craft beer. Serious men and hilarious men. Great thinking men and great feeling men. All of them good men.

Despite what the media and culture say, the great majority of men already know how to be good. Being a good guy is the same as being a good human—i.e., you avoid being a jerkwad. You do what you learned in kindergarten and follow the Ten Commandments. Not perfect, but good.

Maybe I am just lucky, but most of the men I know are not rapists, gropers, or cat-callers. The problem is, there seems to be a philosophy out there gaining traction that says you cannot be manly and good at the same time.

A real man loves with everything he’s got.

This is why I don’t care to discuss how to be a good guy. But instead, how to be a good guy—how to be a good man. Or, in other words, how to be good at being a man.


What does it mean to be strong? It means that you beat up nerds and stuff them in lockers every chance you get. Duh.

This, I hope, is obviously a joke. Because strength does not mean violence or rage—and it never did. A violent storm can be considered strong. So can a mild current. A storm’s impact is brief and fleeting; the slow current moves mountains and shapes the planet.

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A good man is a strong man. He is not afraid nor ashamed of his strength. And this doesn’t have to mean only physical strength (though it certainly does mean that, too); it can also mean strong beliefs, strong principles, and the strength and courage to defend these beliefs and principles.

A good man uses his strength, not to push down the weak, but to carry the weak on his shoulders—like Atlas carries the world, or like Christ carries his cross. A good man is strong.


  1. Read books written by strong men (e.g., J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Fulton Sheen, Robert Penn Warren) or read books about strong men (Louis Zamperini, Winston Churchill, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Oskar Schindler). The Bible is another great place to start to see the best (and worst) of men. St. Paul did much of his writing from prison. That’s pretty manly.
  2. Hit up the gym. Or do push-ups each night. You don’t have to be built like The Rock to be a good man, but you should treat your body well and take your physical health seriously.


If it helps, there is another word for disciplined . . . “free.”

A good guy is free—free from addiction, free from fear, free from impulsivity.

Most of the sins of men—and I will not deny that history is painted black with too many of them—come down to one simple reality: A man was not in control of himself. He lacked discipline. He was a slave to his impulses. And an impulsive man is a dangerous man.

Self-mastery is the key to being a good man. Denying yourself certain worldly pleasures is not an idea you will hear championed very often. In fact, the media and culture—the same media and culture that tell us how scummy men are—will tell you, “If it feels good, do it.” But a good man is a disciplined man.

A man’s will and his word are everything. Do whatever you can to never break either.


  1. Fast. Pick a day of the week and, if you’re healthy enough, don’t eat that day. Or, don’t snack between meals. Or, don’t have sweets on weekdays. The discipline you gain from fasting will spill over into all areas of your life.
  2. Take cold showers. It’s terrible—believe me—but it is one of the ultimate examples of self-denial. You are proving to yourself that you are in control, not your senses or desires.


Good men are kind. Good men rewind. (If you do not understand this reference, ask your dad about his Blockbuster card.)

Kindness is not weakness. I know what you’re thinking: “Nice guys finish last” or “Girls don’t like nice guys!”

The problem here is confusing “nice” with “kind” . . . they are not the same thing. We have too many nice guys and not nearly enough good guys. Nice guys still ogle. Nice guys still “ask for nudes.” Nice guys still look at pornography. Nice guys still grope.

Niceness is a façade. It is an outward presentation—for the sake of the self. Kindness, on the other hand, comes from the heart—for the sake of the other. How can you tell the difference?

A nice man will act a certain way when he knows he is being watched and another way when he knows he isn’t.

A kind man will act the same, virtuous way whether he is being observed or not.


  1. Practice patience. Understanding that everyone is dealing with their own “stuff” is one of the best things you can do. Give the benefit of the doubt and relax!
  2. Practice humility. One way to do this is to give generously and volunteer often. Another great way to do this is to not let your career or title define who you are. Let your relationships matter most in life, not the horsepower of your car or the square footage of your house—because have you ever met a humble jerk? Yeah. Me neither.


There are jars to be opened and bugs to be squashed! Get your shining suit of armor out of storage; it’s time to mount up!

Chivalry has become a bit of a dirty word these days, hasn’t it? Opening the door for a woman is perceived as Bond villain levels of madness. But chivalry, at its most basic, is just the idea that it is man's duty to protect women and children—at all costs.

A loving man is kind, even to his enemies. And the loving man is chivalrous to the point of absurdity.

This ruffles feathers. But think about it. A female wolf can sure as heck take care of herself. But that doesn’t mean the alpha male won’t put his life on the line to defend her (and her pups). It’s not that the woman can’t do it herself; it’s that the man should do it for her.

It’s common sense! Men were designed to protect women and children. It is our role. It is why we are shaped the way we are, it is why we are wired the way we are, and it is why testosterone courses through our bodies.

When a man hurts a woman, when he uses his strength to take advantage of a woman, he is going against nature. He is going against manhood itself.


  1. Stop looking at porn. We are just now learning all the negative side effects of porn and what it can do to a man’s brain. But we both know that the man watching that stuff in the dark, by himself, behind a locked door . . . he is not the-best-version-of-himself.
  2. Call, don’t text. If you want to ask out a girl, pick up the phone and call her. Have the courage to get rejected. Be bold! Be chivalrous!


Love is the manliest thing you can do.

You were put here to love. Love your wife, love your daughter, love your son, love your friends, love your neighbor, love your co-workers . . .

It is love, above all else, that makes a man a man.

We need more real men, not fewer. Strong men. Disciplined men. Courageous men. Honorable men. Honest men. Loving men.

A loving man has the strength to do the right thing, even when that’s the hard thing. A loving man has the discipline to deny himself the things he knows will bring him (or others) misery. A loving man is kind, even to his enemies. And the loving man is chivalrous to the point of absurdity.

A real man loves with everything he’s got.


  1. Practice romance. Write poetry or love letters. Cook your wife or girlfriend dinner. Surprise your beloved without an agenda. And if you are single, love your future wife by being the best man you can be.
  2. Die for your family. Each day. It is your duty to serve your wife and kids. Even after a 10-hour day and a 7-day week of work—this is your purpose. There is no “what’s in it for me” . . . your wife and kids come before you (and your career). Be present. Listen. Sacrifice.

We need more real men, not fewer. Strong men. Disciplined men. Kind men. Chivalrous men. Courageous men. Honorable men. Honest men. Manly men. Loving men. These are the qualities of a good man. These are the qualities of a man you’d want your daughter to marry.

Basically, what I am saying is this:

If you want to be a good man . . . BE A MAN!

What You Can Learn from My Month Without Wi-Fi

It started out of laziness. I didn’t want to call the internet company.

And so a week went by.

Finally, I did call. I spoke with a kind woman from somewhere across the ocean who informed me that my address wasn’t showing up in their system.

So I gave up.

I could have investigated further, but after the first few days of living without internet, I wondered if maybe I didn’t really need it after all.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t.

My biggest hesitation about getting Wi-Fi was that I knew I would be tempted to stay at my new place enjoying the thousands of ways you can entertain and distract yourself online—instead of, you know, actually living.

Moving is hard. Starting over is hard. Meeting people is hard. Starting a new job is hard.

You know what’s easy? Watching The Office for three hours.

I have an unfortunate tendency of using technology as a crutch: When I’m sad, there are funny YouTube videos of old Saturday Night Live skits to watch. When I’m annoyed or frustrated, I can scroll through Facebook and read other people’s rants about politics to distract myself from my own woes. When I’m lonely, I can choose from a plethora of cheesy rom-coms to escape the discomfort of an aching heart.

It’s so darn easy.

So I decided—only partially motivated by laziness—to cut the cord (pun intended) and take a little sabbatical from my technological ways (at least while I was at home).

It was honestly one of the most freeing things in the world.

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In a way, it kind of felt like being a kid again . . . when you’re only allowed to watch TV at certain times, and your parents urge you to “go play outside.” You act as if they are exiling you to Siberia—and then go outside and have an absolute ball.

That’s what it felt like.

I realized there was a whole wide world out there—unknown and a little scary, yes—but also incredibly wonderful. I ventured so many places I otherwise wouldn’t have. Just knowing I couldn’t go home and watch Michael Scott’s antics until I fell asleep motivated me to stay out and spend my afternoon exploring.

I walked the city streets, found my favorite restaurant, went to the park, sought out live music, made new friends, wrote, read, called my family, attended events where I knew next to no one, finally made some headway on that stack of books that’s been guilting me, had fruitful conversations with my roommate, chatted with strangers, went on a couple of impromptu dates, learned to sit alone in the silence . . . I lived.

Technology is a good thing. But it’s not the best thing.

Of course, there were also a lot of difficulties that came from the absence of a faithful crutch. I experienced more discomfort during those days than I had in a while. I had to face head-on all the feelings I had been hiding from behind a screen. It was not pleasant, but it was real.

The great thing, too, is that during what was roughly a month and a half of no Wi-Fi, I discovered the beauty of spending time away from screens. Which means that, even now that we do have Wi-Fi (thanks to my much more responsible roommate), I have been able to resist the temptation to fall back into my wireless habits.

Technology is a good thing. But it’s not the best thing.

The best things in life are a good kiss, a long hug, an honest conversation, a sunrise, an act of forgiveness, a hard run, a loud laugh, a loving gaze . . . those are the moments. And you don’t need Wi-Fi to experience them. In fact, Wi-Fi may prevent you from experiencing them.

If you take away anything from my time without Wi-Fi, know that your best life—the-best-version-of-yourself—exists off the web. It is not your curated photos or clever captions. It will not come in an Amazon box or make an appearance in a funny skit. This is it—and while you’re scrolling through pictures of people you hardly know and watching shows you’ve seen ten times, time is passing you by and gently bending your spine.

Life is short, friends.

I know it seems like a harmless, trivial thing, but I fear that I am losing my zest for life and opting to hide in the virtual world instead. As pretty and perfect and convenient as it may be, this world is just not real.

I also realize the irony that you are reading this online (and I’m writing this on my computer). Again, my message is not to condemn technology, but rather to encourage using it appropriately instead of excessively. In any case, I’d rather you never read another article from me again if it means you are enjoying your life and being present to each and every precious moment.

This week, I invite you into your own home, with your family and friends. Enjoy your time with them and make the most of it—you don’t have as much of it as you think you do.

The-best-version-of-yourself exists off the web. Enjoy your life and be present to each and every precious moment.

You probably have Wi-Fi, and getting rid of it may not be a feasible option. So, here are some ideas to unplug without having to call the kind woman from somewhere across the ocean to cancel your internet service.

  • After my W-iFi sabbatical, I changed my phone settings so that everything displayed in black and white. This has been super helpful in my attempt to use my phone less. The chemical reaction isn’t as strong and makes it less addictive.
  • During the week, I strive to leave my work computer at work. It’s one less screen to worry about, and it decreases the temptation to do things online—including “finishing up” work things that can wait.
  • When I’m out with friends, I try to just leave my phone in my bag. I might take it out to take some pictures (of course everyone wants to know my every move), but I don’t just leave it out on the table if we’re eating out or getting coffee. Even facedown, it’s still a distraction. To be completely honest, this one is still pretty difficult for me—but I want to keep working on it.
  • I have a designated chair in my living room and another in my bedroom with blankets and a lamp that I use for reading. Having cozy spots like this make opening a book feel more inviting and relaxing, thereby decreasing the temptation to watch a show instead.
  • This may seem a bit extreme but we don’t have a television at all. I have no plans of getting one, either. We have a lovely piece of artwork on the mantle over the fireplace, and it makes me so happy every time I look at it. I wanted our living room to be a place for heartfelt conversations, hearty laughter, and shared memories—not Netflix marathons. I know this could be asking a lot . . . just think about it.

I want to live a life brimming with moments—ordinary moments with none of the curated perfection and all of the beauty this broken world has to offer. During my time without Wi-Fi, I was reminded that these moments are waiting for me, just beyond the screen in front of my face—and I suspect they there are waiting for you, too.

25 Inspirational Quotes to Keep You Motivated with Your New Year’s Resolutions

New year, new you!

Until it’s mid-January and you realize that training for a 10K wasn’t as exciting as you thought it would be. In fact, running for more than twenty minutes is downright torture, if you ask me.

It’s become a common phenomenon to set resolutions for the New Year; to view January 1 as a fresh start, a new leaf.

Personally, I love beginnings. A new season, year, month, week . . . sponge (it’s so exciting when you get to wash dishes with one that is bright yellow instead of slightly brown).

I love new beginnings, as most people do, because of the hope they inspire. Things don’t have to stay the way they were; there is a time for change, an opportunity for growth, and endless possibilities. And the biggest, brightest possibility is the change you can make toward becoming the best-version-of-yourself.

Often, the challenge is that we may have every intention of seizing these fresh starts, but soon after, we drop the ball in one way or another. We set goals and fail to accomplish them, maybe fail to even come close.

For this reason, it’s pretty easy to develop a healthy skepticism toward New Year’s resolutions (at least if you’re like me and prone to cynicism).

You may have been let down one too many times to partake in this annual ritual, and I certainly hesitated before writing down 2019 goals, but I think New Year’s resolutions can “work.” There are things you can do to help you along the way such as . . .

  • setting goals that are realistic for you, e.g., eating one serving of veggies per day if right now you’re not eating any.
  • setting goals that are more or less enjoyable, e.g., if you hate running, don’t force yourself to be a runner—try a different type of exercise! There’s a whole wide world out there of ways you can stay active: pilates, yoga, swimming, kickboxing . . .
  • setting goals that are actionable, e.g., I will exercise two times per week, instead of I will get into shape.

Additionally, it is important to stay inspired. Inspiration can play a large role in the way we lead our lives, especially when it comes to doing things that are challenging.

“People don’t do anything until they’re inspired, but once they’re inspired, there is almost nothing they can’t do.”

To help you keep the inspiration going in 2019, I’ve pulled together a list of some beautiful, inspirational quotes. I tried to find them a bit off the beaten path, so hopefully you haven’t heard them a million times before. Read them, read them again, and maybe even write your favorite one down and place it somewhere you can see it often.

The more we are regularly flooded with inspiration, the more we will find ourselves willing to be pushed outside of our comfort zones to accomplish great things (even if that great thing is eating a serving of green beans tonight).

Here are twenty-five inspirational quotes to keep you motivated as you work toward your goals for the coming year. And remember, our lives change when our habits change.

“Don’t ever be afraid of things. It’s such a dreadful slavery. Let’s be daring and adventurous and expectant. Let’s dance to meet life and all it can bring to us, even if it brings scads of trouble and typhoid and twins!”

“I found it is the small, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay . . . small acts of kindness and love.”

“A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”

“We are what we believe we are.”

“We’ve all got both light and dark inside of us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”

“The future starts today, not tomorrow.”

“Perhaps I am stronger than I think.”

“You have been chosen. Therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.”

“Accepting oneself does not preclude an attempt to become better.”

“Let us come alive to the splendor that is all around us and see the beauty in ordinary things.”

“Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.”

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

“Life is an opportunity, benefit from it. Life is beauty, admire it. Life is a dream, realize it.”

“The way get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

“Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

“It is time to dare and to endure.”

“I figure life’s a gift, and I don’t intend on wasting it.”

“Not all that is gold glitters, not all who wander are lost.”

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

“Even miracles take a little time.”

When life gives you lemons give them back and tell them you want coffee.

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go.”

“Press forward, and fear nothing.”

It is a new year, and we are given a new day every twenty-four hours—pretty cool, huh? New beginnings are provided continually; therefore, let us not grow weary or give up on our resolutions simply because we feel tired or because we already dropped the ball.

The world needs you to be fully alive and inspired to the brim. Take a few minutes to look over those New Year’s resolutions again, and remind yourself why you set them in the first place. Change is healthy, necessary, and always possible.

Here’s to a year full of beauty, wonder, and growth ahead.

Life is choices. What choices will you make this year?

16 Things That Make My Daily Life Better

Most mornings, I’m not exactly thrilled when my alarm goes off.

I don’t jump up and down in excitement when something else gets added to my plate at work or it’s time to pay bills or someone bails on me. Things happen on a daily basis that get on my nerves . . . even if they are the smallest of offenses.

The ensuing anxiety and frustration can blind me from all the goodness, beauty, and wonder that surrounds me daily, and they ultimately rob me of my life—the life I want to live. The life that is good and joyful and chock-full of countless opportunities to practice gratitude.

Gratitude is the reality check that the sullen, angsty teenager living inside of me needs.

In this moment of gratitude, we are surrounded by good things. We only need to pause long enough to make note of them.

I know I often need help remembering this. Maybe you do, too. If so, here is a list of things you and I can be grateful for right now (even if you’re having a really annoying day).

1. Music

There really is nothing so wonderful as a good song. I mean songs that somehow understand what you’re experiencing and can convey that beautifully. How does that even happen?! There are songs I’ve listened to probably hundreds of times . . . because I can (and because they’re amazing). A couple of my current favorites are “Farther Along” by Josh Garrels and “The Storehouse” by Gray Havens.

2. Sunshine

Walking outside and feeling the warmth on your face . . . it’s incredible. Especially after a few days of rain (which happen often here in Cincinnati where I live and work). The shining sun is something I hope I never take for granted again.

3. Laughter

A good laugh is a cure for even the most tiresome of days. When a coworker makes me genuinely laugh, my whole day is vastly improved. I am very blessed that I am presented with countless opportunities to laugh daily. Even on the days where it’s more difficult to find those opportunities for mirth, I spend a few minutes looking at memes and suddenly everything’s okay again. Example: I enjoyed writing this article a thousand times more when I decided to incorporate GIFs (#bestjobever).

4. Words

Have you ever read something that resonated with you at a deep level? It doesn’t really matter who wrote them or when, words have a way of nourishing and inspiring us that I can’t help but be in awe of. There are quotes and passages from books that I can confidently say have changed my life for the better. Example: Sometimes I’ll look up quotes by some of my favorite authors for a little inspiration. A recent find is the following from author C. S. Lewis:

“Each day we are becoming a creature of splendid glory or one of unthinkable horror.”

5. Wonder

When was the last time you were in awe of something? It’s so easy for us (at least for me) to become jaded as adults. We rarely let ourselves be awestruck—it’s not “cool.” But being truly in awe of something—the stars, a mountain, a beautiful song or story—is actually the appropriate response to the wondrous things in life . . . and it’s so freeing.

6. Green space

Wide open spaces just make my soul happy. Parks, the countryside, backyards . . . somehow I can’t help but be more relaxed and carefree when I’m surrounded by green. Science has proven that green space improves our mood, satisfaction, and personal sense of peace. Example: Yesterday I picked up some donuts and went to a park with an incredible view—my roommate and I made the most of an incredibly beautiful fall evening, and it was just what I needed.

7. Mornings

Yes, it’s hard to get out of bed (like, really hard), especially if it’s still dark out—but it’s so worth it. The brisk air, the mysterious colors, the peaceful silence, and the infinite possibilities. It is so worth it. Starting my day earlier has really set me up to make the most out of my week and appreciate every moment we’re given.

8. Blankets

They are the best thing, aren’t they? So warm, so cozy, so lovely. Every cold morning that I snuggle up with my biggest blanket and a mug of hot coffee . . . I can’t help but feel overwhelmingly content.

9. Affirmations

Kind, honest words are like a blanket for the heart. They provide warmth and comfort that I can hold on to. A genuine compliment is something I treasure and make an effort to give out often.

10. Walks

Moving is so good. It is so darn easy and comfortable to sit for long hours at my desk . . . a little too comfortable. Getting up and going for a walk helps wake me up, clear my head, and come back with a little more clarity and focus (plus it’s a healthy habit to get into).

11. Photographs

I know today we just snap a million photos with our smartphones and then never look at them again, so pictures aren’t really a big deal. But a candid, beautiful photo of a loved one is something I treasure. Photographs allow us to capture sacred moments with friends and family and revisit them as often as we’d like, something I am infinitely grateful for.

12. Colorful leaves

As I write this, the tree outside my window bears some of the prettiest leaves I’ve possibly ever seen. The shades of gold and red take my breath away each time I glance out the window. My work day is improved one thousand percent because of this natural phenomenon that occurs in the fall.

13. Good listeners

Those people who make you feel important and valued, who not only hear what you are saying but also what you’re not saying . . . I am so lucky to have people like that in my life. We all want to be seen, heard . . . known. It’s easy to think about ten other things when someone is talking to us, but I know that when we put all our focus on who is in front of us it makes a world a difference.

14. Children

Every time I see a child or get to spend time with one, I am so appreciative. Children are such wonderful teachers for us grown-ups. They show us how to be, as opposed to just do things all the time. They are naturally inclined to authenticity and purity. I love kids and am grateful for every second I have with them.

15. Stories

Reading, in general, makes me so happy, but recently I’ve felt especially grateful for those great storybooks that never get old. Reading Gone with the Wind has reminded me of all the goodness and beauty that exists within the imagination of creatives such as Margaret Mitchell (and many, many others) who took the time to write these classic novels. Perhaps the most incredible part is how much truth these pieces of fiction reveal.

16. Generosity

The only reason I’m here (alive and well) is because of the generosity of others. My parents, my friends, my coworkers, the gifts of others (time, money, advice) have sustained me since the beginning of my precious life. Just this morning, I had to get a ride to work from my roommate. Yesterday evening, my friend’s father dropped off a couch they no longer needed. There are thousands of instances I could recall that have gotten me to where I am today, and they all include the lavish generosity of others.

You get the point. There is so, so much to be grateful for in this short life that it's mind-numbing. So, even if you are having a quite frustrating day, take a second to say the one thing we all need to say more often: thank you.

7 Things to Avoid When Raising a Toddler

I do not play a father on TV, but I am one in real life.

Am I an expert? I don’t know . . . ask me again in thirty years. But I have been given a lot of parenting advice (from books, online, family and friends, or even unsolicited from complete strangers). Most of the advice I’ve gotten is great. Some of it has been not so great.

And just so we’re clear. I have tried (whether deliberately or accidentally) all the things on this list. They didn’t work for us, and I doubt they’ll work for you—especially considering that parenting is a marathon and not a sprint.

Here are the seven things I would advise you to avoid when raising a toddler.

1. Distracting

You see the shoulders lift and the hands clench. A tantrum is imminent. “Quick! Look at that butterfly! Wow!” Crisis averted.

I see this offered as advice all over the place—and my wife and I are fairly guilty of it ourselves—but distracting your toddler right before or even while he’s having a meltdown solves approximately nothing. It is a temporary fix at best. Avoiding conflict is almost never the correct course of action.

Instead, use these meltdowns as an opportunity to teach your toddler. Let him feel what he needs to feel, and let him express what he needs to express—and then explain your position to him. If you’re setting expectations, it should be easy: “I said you only get one cookie. I know you’re upset you can’t have another, but I am not going to let you.”

If you’re in public, it’s an opportunity to work on your “parent shrug.” I’ve perfected mine.

2. Giving In

Sometimes this advice is dressed up as “pick your battles,” but it boils down to caving and letting your child have their way.

Parenting is hard. But when you are really struggling, find comfort in this thought: If this isn’t the hardest thing you’ve ever done, you’re doing it wrong.

When you give in, what you are really doing is avoiding conflict. You say, “No! You cannot have another cookie.” And then your toddler cries and cries and—OMG! Look at that pouty face!—and your heart melts, and you have a headache anyway . . . what harm can one more cookie do? A lot of harm, actually. Kids, even toddlers, will learn how to manipulate you to get their way from a very early age. Giving in is a short-sighted solution. Stay strong!

3. Doing “Whatever It Takes”

I hear this one thrown out a lot, and I think it—like most parenting advice—comes from a good place. Basically, the advice is to “survive.” Being a new parent (especially a mom) is incredibly difficult. So, in an attempt to empathize, you’ll hear someone say, “Just do whatever it takes to get by.” This usually means using phones, tablets, and TVs to distract your child, or giving in to a tantrum for a moment of peace, or even keeping your baby out past her bedtime so you can enjoy some social time.

This concept of “doing whatever it takes to get by” is only true and good to a point. If by it, we mean “Don’t sweat the small stuff” and “Give yourself a break” and “Nobody is perfect,” then I think it’s great advice. The house can go to ruins and the to-do list can wait while you are looking after a toddler and your new baby (remember that parent shrug?). But the danger arises when “Do whatever it takes” transforms (as it often does) into “Do whatever is easiest.”

Parenting is not about doing whatever is easiest. It is about doing whatever is best for your child. This is usually—so it goes—whatever is most difficult. Sitting your kid in front of the TV for eight hours a day would be an amazing break, but at what cost? Feeding your kid chicken nuggets and M&Ms will stop her crying, but is that really what you want fueling your little one’s growth?

Parenting is hard. But when you are really struggling, find comfort in this thought: If this isn’t the hardest thing you’ve ever done, you’re doing it wrong.

4. Helping Too Much

I absolutely love helping my daughter. Sometimes, when I watch her try something new, I secretly hope she fails just so I can help her. It doesn’t make me a bad dad; it makes me a human. Because for that small moment, I get to be Super Dad and save the day. I am needed. I am a hero.

Your son or daughter needs to know—deep in his or her bones—how great a person he or she can truly be. Learning to succeed as well as to fail is part of that process.

But do you know what’s truly heroic? Letting your child fail.

It’s so hard watching while you could be helping, but you should generally never do for your kid what your kid can do for himself. Otherwise, you are only stunting his ability to grow into a person of possibility. Your son or daughter needs to know—deep in his or her bones—how great a person he or she can truly be. And learning to succeed as well as to fail helps that process. This can never happen if you are doing everything for them.

5. Bargaining with Sugar

In our house, sweets are never used as a reward or as a punishment. We believe doing so puts too much emphasis on the treat instead of the behavior. Sweets become forbidden fruit. Or, maybe, forbidden Fruit Roll-Ups? Best case scenario, your toddler will behave how you want them to only for the reward (i.e., no reward, no good behavior). Worst case scenario . . . diabetes (okay, maybe that’s a bit histrionic, but consuming too much sugar is a nasty, unhealthy habit).

I know it can be tempting to use something your kid loves to encourage (or discourage) behavior, but in the long run, it’s just another form of conflict avoidance. Instead of using conflict as a chance to teach your child about how to behave and why, you avoid the conflict and teach your kid how to act in order to get a lollipop or piece of chocolate.

Reassure your toddler by showing you are in control. This will comfort your child.

6. Getting Angry

“Put the fear of God in them.” (You would be God in this metaphor.)

Maybe I should rephrase this to “Showing Anger.” You are probably going to get angry, but you should never, ever act out of anger. You must remember that your toddler is learning about, well . . . everything! One of the ways to learn is to push the envelope, to test you. But when your toddler throws that open-fisted haymaker or tosses food onto the ground, what he is really asking is, “Are you in control here?”

Reassure your toddler by showing you are in control—of the situation and of your emotions. This will comfort your child. And though he will definitely test you again, he needs to know that you are in control and that you aren’t going to flip out at a moment’s notice.

7. Disciplining Retroactively

When disciplining your child, you have to make sure the perceived consequence is directly connected with the undesirable behavior. This means that if you didn’t catch your toddler in the act, then you just have to let it go and try again next time. Here’s an example:

Little Jessica is coloring with her markers. The rice on the stovetop boils over and you hear the sizzle. You run over to turn the heat down, but when you return, you notice little Jessica has drawn a rainbow on your nice white living room walls. You absolutely lose it. “No, Jessica!” you scold. You are beside yourself with anger. “You need a time out!”

Flash forward to the next day. Little Jessica is coloring with her markers. Your phone chimes. You’ve got a new text. You go check your phone, but when you return, you notice little Jessica has drawn a horse on the wall. “Jessica!” you shout, thinking to yourself how in the world she could do this again one day later.

Grinning, she replies, “You did not like the rainbow, so this time I drew a horse.”

See what happened? Because you were distracted and unable to catch her in the act of drawing on the walls, she might mistake what she is being punished for. The mom in this example thought she was scolding her child for drawing on the walls; the little girl thought she was being punished for drawing a rainbow.

Act immediately. If the moment passes and you missed it, then . . . oh well. Just shrug your shoulders and move on. You’ll get plenty of other opportunities soon.

So what do you think? Agree? Disagree? What is some of the worst parenting advice you’ve heard? Let us know in the comments!

And, if you’ll indulge me with one final word of encouragement, I’ll say this. You are going to fail. You are going to fail hard and majestically and often. That’s okay. Parenting isn’t about perfection, it’s about progress. Be better than yesterday today; be better than today tomorrow.

If you like this article, you will love . . .

Building Better Families
Good Night Jesus

When It’s Time to Say Goodbye: How to Get Over Someone

You know what’s fun?


You know why?

Because even after the pain of ending a meaningful relationship subsides, the memories you made, the experiences you shared, the intimacy you had . . . still linger for a while.

Wait. Did I say fun?

Terrible. I meant terrible.

There’s simply no way around the fact that breakups are incredibly painful, especially since the relationship can’t be undone. You can’t forget the person overnight; the feelings you have for them don’t disappear into thin air.

And just when you’re starting to feel okay again, his favorite song comes on the radio and slaps you in the face. Or a social media platform kindly reminds you about “this day a year ago.” Or your office hires one of his best friends . . .

And somehow you’re back to where you started—a heavy heart and the troubling question:

Will I ever get over him?

Early on, I tried a few things: frequent (un)happy hour cocktails, angry music, a new haircut, impulse purchases . . . They were rather childish, feeble attempts to cope with the pain and forget the person who had—until recently—been such an important part of my life.

None of it worked, of course. They were merely distractions that were neither helpful nor healthy (although I stand by my hair cut).

I wish—for your sake as much as mine—that getting over someone were something I could break down into a few, simple, actionable steps: “How to Get Over Someone in 8 Easy Steps.”

I can’t. Because if those steps do exist, I haven’t found them—and I can assure you it’s not for lack of trying.

I write this, not as someone who has won the “getting over and moving on” battle, but as a soldier on the frontline, wondering if there’s a better way to hold the gun and if it’s possible that I missed a few crucial lessons in military training.

First of all, what does it mean to be “over” someone?

I’ve tossed around this rather vague phrase in my head and come to the tentative conclusion that it can’t mean you never think about the person—or even that the feelings you once had for them are now completely gone. This would be so unrealistic and entirely unfair for someone with a remotely human heart and the ability to remember.

This pain is evidence that you loved—the most important thing you’ll ever do.

I still think of him when I use the term peach to describe a cute kid, something he did all the time. I think of him when I listen to certain songs or artists he introduced me to. I still think of him when I use the wine charms he gave me or arrange the armchair pillow he bought for me. I think of him when I wear the socks his grandma gave me or drink out of the mug his mom gave me. I still think of him when I talk to my friends back home or drive by his old apartment complex . . .

I could stop saying peach. I could stop listening to any of the music he introduced me to. I could throw away the pillow, the wine charms, the socks, and the mug. I could even stop talking to my friends back home. But I think to do so would be a lie. It would be trying to convince myself that the relationship never took place by eradicating anything that would or could possibly remind me of him.

The people we meet, the people we get to know, and most especially the people we love, change our lives.

We did love them. We are different because of that—and often, even if the relationship itself was a fiasco, we are typically better off because of it. We grew, we learned, we loved.

This is why I hang on to much of what came from that relationship. Whether it’s things or habits or whatever else. They are keepsakes from an important period of my life and additions that still serve me and make my life better today.

And what I’ve come to slowly realize is that, over time, the associations between those things and the person lessen—or at least don’t affect me as much.

He may momentarily cross my mind, but then I let the thought go. I repurpose those things to create new memories in new places with new people—the past is allowed to stay in the past, while not being diminished or resented.

A broken heart is a fresh start, an opportunity to look difficulty in the eye and come out a stronger person.

Having said all of that, here are some things that have helped me get over an ex and heal from a breakup.

Try New Things

Kickboxing, swimming, tennis, a new bar or restaurant, a different show, a new recipe, writing, drawing, a haircut . . . Whether it’s something you’ve never tried before or something you just haven’t done in a while, it helps to bring some freshness into your life and switch gears. In any case, it is always healthy to have something that is “yours,” an outlet that is independent of anyone else.


It doesn’t have to be across the world or even across the country. Shortly after the breakup, I visited some friends who lived a couple hours away and members of my family who also were somewhat close by. If you can go somewhere you’ve never been before, even better. Nothing quite gets you out of your head and provides you with a breath of fresh air like a new place. The world is a big place; sometimes we need to be reminded of that.

Re-evaluate Your Life

This may sound dramatic, but really it’s just taking stock of where you are and where you want to go. A breakup may throw your life plan for a loop, so now is a good time to consider how you’re doing in regard to the kind of person you want to be and what you would like to accomplish in the near and distant future. This could be as simple as taking some time to write down one hundred things you want to accomplish over the course of your life and picking one to start on today. You could divide your life into various areas—physical, emotional, financial, spiritual—and set goals in each of these areas. You could recall your greatest accomplishments so far this year and take a moment to feel grateful and proud.

This kind of process reminds you that, while you cannot control other people, you do have a say in the way you live your life and the kind of person you become. A broken heart is a fresh start, an opportunity to look difficulty in the eye and come out a stronger person.

Through it all, remember this: more than anything, getting over someone requires acceptance.

Get Perspective

This isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to a person. We all experience pain and difficulty in our lives. We may not understand it (and much less desire it), but it is inevitable and often helps us become more compassionate people. Think of all those before you who have experienced their own share of heartbreak, some in rather horrid ways. Whether you find yourself at the end of a relationship, in a broken marriage, or worse (dealing with war, death, poverty), sometimes it helps to remember that the human spirit is incredibly resilient. If we are suffering, we’re in good company, and our sufferings may not be quite as extreme as we originally thought or felt.

Be Patient

It may take longer than you expect to stop thinking about him (or her) often, to stop wondering if they’ll ever change their mind, to stop wishing things had gone differently. This doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. It is an indication of the depth with which you loved and how much you cared for the person. The fact that you loved well and deeply means that you have the capacity to love well and deeply. What a great gift to be able to offer the world.

Through it all, remember this: more than anything, getting over someone requires acceptance—accepting that they are no longer yours, accepting that they really weren’t yours to begin with, and accepting that you will find peace and healing. People don’t belong to us the way a car or a house does. They may walk with us for a while—sometimes even for the rest of our lives—but often it is only for a certain amount of time. After that, we take a deep breath, wish them the best, and let them go.

Breakups are brutal, they really are. I can’t tell you exactly how long it will take you to get over an ex, or even to start feeling okay again. But I can tell you that you will and that this pain is evidence that you loved—the most important thing you’ll ever do.

This House Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us (Or Is It?): How to Prepare Your Toddler for a Sibling

I have ruined four lives.

As the youngest of five boys, I was the fifth baby to come home from the hospital—ruining the perfect little world and lives my four brothers had built before me. Things were fine! they thought. Why add one more dweebus to the mix?

As the youngest of five boys, I also know two things for sure: 1) I have never had to experience my parents bringing home a new member of the family, and 2) My parents stopped having kids once they finally “got it right” (or, they had just given up trying; the phrase “quit while you’re ahead” comes to mind).

Now, as a father—despite never having to experience it as a kid myself—I find myself having to navigate this delicate situation. One month ago, my two-year-old daughter’s world came crashing down.

After countless hours of research, here’s how we prepared our little girl for her new sibling.

Waiting for Baby

1. Read Books

While my daughter loves “the choo choo book” (The Little Engine That Could) and “the Christmas book” (Twas the Night Before Christmas) and even “cheeka cheeka” (Chicka Chicka Boom Boom), we made a concerted effort to check out books from the library specifically about families adding a new member to their ranks. I don’t know how many times we read I’m a Big Sister and Hello, Baby! and The New Baby.

2. Show Pictures

Some of the new baby picture books you’ll get (if you heed number one above) will have illustrations of pregnant mothers, new babies, and even babies in utero. However, we also wanted to give our daughter a more scientific perspective on what is happening to her mother. This means tons of pictures of storks . . .

Just kidding. It really means magazines and internet printouts of actual images inside a mother’s womb throughout development. These amazing photographs help a young toddler realize that “there’s a baby in Mommy’s tummy” is more than just a fun, abstract concept. There actually is a baby in there!

3. Set (Low) Expectations

In an attempt to prepare a toddler for a new sibling, it is tempting to overhype the new baby. Saying things like, “You are going to have a new play buddy,” and, “You are going to have so much fun with the new baby,” mean well, but they might set unrealistic expectations.

The more you talk to baby, instead of just about baby, the more real things become for your toddler.

Instead, we made sure our daughter knew that the new baby wouldn’t be all that fun at first. We reiterated the fact that the new baby will be very small and wouldn’t be able to walk and talk and play like our daughter can. Not yet anyway.

4. Reminisce

Showing photographs and videos of your toddler when he or she was a baby is another great way to help your little one make the connection between Mama’s burgeoning belly and the new baby that will be entering your lives soon. Make sure you keep everything positive (i.e., try to not talk about how difficult newborns are or how difficult the pregnancy has been for Mommy). This also helps with number three above, as it shows just how small and frail a newborn baby is.

5. Talk to the Baby

We said prayers every night with our daughter, thanking God for the new baby and asking for help keeping the baby safe and healthy.

Our daughter loved hugging and kissing her mom’s tummy. If you’ve already picked out a name, you can help your toddler prepare by using it whenever possible. The more you talk to baby, instead of just about baby, the more real things become for your toddler.

6. Doll Toys

We already had a few dolls that our daughter played with, but if you’re expecting and don’t have a doll, I would recommend getting one (and yes, even boys can play with baby dolls). Our daughter just loves swaddling her dolls and even changing their diapers.

7. The Little Helper: Part 1

Let your toddler help prepare for the baby as much as a possible. Giving your toddler the chance to choose decorations and outfits and toys will help him or her feel involved. This will also be good practice for when baby comes!

Welcoming the Baby

1. Giving Gifts

Following the advice of just about every website I googled and every person I’ve ever met, we had a gift prepared for when the new baby came (a stuffed hippo!). This gift was from the new baby to our toddler. “Look what your new sister got you!”

You can also let your toddler pick out a gift to give to her new sibling. You might be surprised for just how long your toddler talks about these gifts!

2. Hospital Visit

If you can make it happen, have someone bring your toddler to the hospital to meet the new baby. If you do, be intentional with the timing. Ideally, the baby would be asleep in the bassinet (and not in Mama’s arms) so that both Mommy and Daddy can dote upon their toddler. Make the toddler a “bigger deal” than the baby.

This is a good time to give your toddler the gift from the baby as well.

3. Bringing Baby Home

Make sure you have the support available (for Mom and for new baby) to give your toddler a lot of attention on the day the baby comes home. Mom and Dad are going to be tired, and the new baby is going to be very demanding. These first few moments can make a big difference to your toddler’s perception on how “life is going to be from now on.”

Involving your toddler as much as you can will make him or her feel important.

Also, a newborn usually sleeps in the parents’ room for at least a few weeks (we didn’t move our daughter into her nursery until she was six months old), so you can ease your toddler into additional changes. Let your toddler keep her room for a bit. Maybe transition your toddler from the crib to a “big kid bed” a month or two after the new baby comes (if you haven’t already). Try to make changes as exciting as possible (and not “because the baby”), but spread it out.

Adjusting to the Baby

1. The Little Helper: Part 2

Involving your toddler as much as you can will make him or her feel important, and it will also make sure you are spending enough time with both children. “Helping” with diaper changes and bottle feedings and picking out clothes go a long way.

Quality time is the most important. Try to carve out some time to spend time with just your toddler.

2. Not Just the Helper

On the other hand, it’s important that you don’t overdo it here. You don’t want to focus too much on your toddler’s role as little helper. This can cause him or her to have some negative ideas about the new baby and how everything revolves around the baby.

3. Quality Time

This is the most important. Try to carve out some time to spend time with just your toddler. Moms should try to get as much sleep as they can while baby is napping, so this is a great time for dads to hang with the toddler. But when the baby is awake, dads need to step up and let Mama and toddler get plenty of cuddle time. Work out a schedule and keep at it.

It took a lot of planning and conversations, but we got very intentional with how we prepared our first child for the coming of our second child. Because that’s what it takes. Your little one is always watching and always listening. Always. And they remember everything. You’ve got to be mindful and diligent and consistent.

Bringing home a new person is world-shattering—but it doesn’t have to be. You can do this. And remember, all your little one really wants is to be loved.

Let It Go: 5 Reasons to Give Up Your Grudges and Forgive Everyone

It had been eating at her for days. How could he? How could he?! Barbed wire squeezed her heart. Her shoulders and neck ached. Anger blurred her vision. It was too much—too much! She knew she was going to have to do something.

She took a deep breath. It’s now or never. So, she did it. She went right up to her husband and said, “I forgive you.”

“For what, pooky-pants?” I said without looking up from my book.

She just shook her head and walked away. But you know what? She felt better. Loads better.

What’s my point? Forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself. Holding a grudge torments no one more than it torments you. It punishes no one more than it punishes you.

Don’t believe me? Here are five life-changing reasons why you should forgive quickly, forgive freely, and forgive indiscriminately.

1. You’ll Feel Better

“Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.”

– Oscar Wilde

My opening example with my wife wasn’t a metaphor to make a point. It’s a fact. When you let go of your grudges, you feel it. And it feels good.

Forgiveness leads to improved mental health, lowered levels of stress and anxiety, fewer symptoms of depression, and improved self-esteem. That’s right. When you forgive others, you actually feel better about yourself. You feel stronger and freer and more at peace.

You’ll have healthier relationships, too. Obviously, the relationships with people you easily forgive will be stronger, but this applies to all your relationships. This is because anger, bitterness, and resentment are almost never contained. Your negative emotions with one individual will seep—like black, poisonous smoke—into every relationship you have, including your relationship with yourself.

2. You’ll Be Healthier

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

– Anonymous

Physiologically speaking, forgiveness is great for your health. It has been studied time and time again. The more you forgive, the healthier you’ll be. The other side of this coin is the damage that holding onto grudges can cause, which includes increased blood pressure, a weakened immune system, and decreased heart health.

This is because your brain is incapable of determining between real and imaginary threats. When you hold onto a grudge, as far as your brain is concerned, the event that led to your grudge-holding is still happening.

What does this mean? Let’s say a loved one betrays you. If you forgive him or her, your brain moves on. The event is done, in the past. The stress of that event is gone, and your body is relaxed and able to produce feel-good hormones like serotonin and oxytocin. There is no threat—no fight or flight stimuli. If you do not forgive, if you hold onto that grudge, it is as if at every moment of every day that betrayal is happening. A literal living hell. After all, a burn wound cannot heal in a fire.

3. Grudges Inhibit Your Awesomeness

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

– Gandhi

It is impossible to be the-best-version-of-yourself while holding a grudge. It just is.

What does this mean? It means that as long as you’re clinging onto that grudge, you’re sprinting in sandals. You’re rowing with just one paddle. You’re social-media-ing without hashtags (#TheHorror!).

The emotional stress caused by holding onto a grudge actually causes you to make poorer decisions—which means things can snowball for you fairly quickly. Bad goes to worse and you may not even realize why.

Parts of your life that have nothing to do with your grudge will be impacted. Maybe you’ll attribute it to bad luck, but it has nothing to do with luck. It’s a choice.

You are choosing a-second-rate-version-of-yourself over the-best-version-of-yourself. You are choosing misery over happiness.

4. You’re Going to Mess Up, Too

“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.”

– Bruce Lee

For those who know me (or at least have been in the car with me while I was driving) know that I have a bit of a road rage issue. When someone takes their jolly sweet time turning at a left arrow—because they were probably selfishly texting!—I get pretty rancorous. White-knuckled and blood pressure surging, I may even let fly a choice word or two that best not be repeated here. But if I am distracted at a light (it doesn’t happen often, but it does happen) and I am the problem, I am quick with an apologetic wave. If other drivers are upset at me, they are clearly overreacting at my minor snafu.

This is a weird phenomenon. When we are trespassed against, the trespasser is an absolute monster and must be stopped at all costs. When we do the trespassing, it’s just an honest mistake. Oopsy-daisy, my bad! Carry on. We judge others by their actions; we prefer to judge ourselves by our intentions.

This is called the Curse of Knowledge. When you take an obscene amount of time at the register because you’re paying for that latte with nickels (seriously!?), you give yourself the benefit of the doubt. You know the whole story because . . . well, it’s your story. When you’re in line behind someone doing the exact same thing, you are miffed. It’s obnoxious to you, because—from your limited perspective—the inconvenience is arbitrary and inexcusable. You don’t have the whole story.

There are some people who are able to see the big picture. They forgive quickly. They understand that everybody is dealing with something—that life is messy. And they always give others the benefit of the doubt, almost to a fault.

You know what they call these people? Happy.

5. You Are Influential!

“Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

This one is so important and so overlooked, the title demanded an exclamation mark. You know what? No. It demands three exclamation marks. Let’s try this again . . .

5. You Are Influential!!!

Yep. That feels right.

Because people notice what you are doing. Yes . . . you!

You have more influence on those around you than you think, especially if you have kids. If you are slow to forgive or if you hold onto grudges, it’s contagious. Others will not only be more likely to hold onto grudges toward you, but also do so with others as well.

On the other hand, if you forgive quickly and openly, people notice. They will see how you’re healthier and happier—even if they can’t quite articulate why—and they will be attracted to it. They will try to emulate it.

You matter. I encourage you to act like it.

6. Forgiveness =/= Condoning

“Forgiving means to pardon that which is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all."

– G.K. Chesterton

Many people struggle with this concept. They think that if they forgive someone for their heinous shenanigans, they are condoning said shenanigans. That’s not true.

Forgiveness, at its core, is simply the act of acknowledging another’s humanity. We are all flawed. Wonderfully imperfect. Sometimes maddeningly imperfect. Some of us are more maddeningly, imperfectly flawed than others (just ask my wife). But nothing is unforgivable. You don’t have to approve of the wrongdoing to show kindness and love toward the wrongdoer.

Oops. Looks like that was actually six life-changing reasons to forgive quickly, to forgive freely, and to forgive indiscriminately—not five.

I hope you’ll forgive me.

“To err is human; to forgive, divine.”

– Alexander Pope

How to Be More Honest in the Age of Social Media (And Why It’s Good for You)

I don’t think I’m the only person to have a love-hate relationship with social media.

I’ve honestly found a lot of inspiration through social media. Mainly beautiful quotes, but also ideas for outfits, home decor, organization . . .

I’ve learned about new restaurants, coffee shops, bars and breweries in my city, events going on near me, brands that I love, and I’ve even made some new friends and stayed in touch with old ones.

Oh, also, social media led me to my current job . . . but that’s a story for another time.

That’s all the love part.

The part I don’t like is the FOMO, envy, resentment, and feelings of inadequacy that often arise.

There’s this disconnect between who I am and what people see.

Recently I’ve been challenged to be more honest. I’ve found profound honesty to be refreshingly attractive and inviting, as well as incredibly freeing and healthy.

I’ve started to get more and more annoyed with myself when I say something I don’t mean, laugh when I’m not amused, write something that’s not authentic, or post something that encourages this image of a perfect, fun, photogenic, exciting, and just-so-gosh-darn-wonderful life.

My life is good. It is all of those things, but it’s not only those things. It’s also hard, painful, boring, exhausting, not photogenic (what’s the opposite of photogenic?), and entirely imperfect.

I even considered switching over to a flip phone (can you imagine?). I haven’t completely ruled it out yet, but there are reasons smartphones can be important (part of it is definitely my 100 percent reliance on my GPS).

You don’t have to worry too much about how many likes you get, being seen as the most profound person on the planet, or having the perfectly curated photo. Have fun with it.

I also love photography and believe we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Social media is, in itself, a neutral thing that can be used for good. Having said that, here are some “rules” I will be following to aid me in my pursuit of honesty in an age of pretty pictures and clever captions.

1. Be sad

I know there are times you feel sad (just call me Oprah). Instead of looking through old photos and posting something cheerful and upbeat (because being sad is bad and illegal), just post something that kind of matches your mood. It doesn’t have to be a photo of you crying (please don’t do that), or a long sob story about why you’re down (I won’t read it), but you can post a photo that’s a bit nostalgic or a caption that is honest without being dramatic or long-winded. If you’re going to post about the happy, fun, exciting things, it’s okay to post about the less amazing times, too.

NOTE: Don’t post because you think it’ll make you feel better—it won’t. You can express yourself for the sake of honesty, but seeking consolation in the arms of likes is unadvised.

Example: When you’re homesick and a little lonely, post a photo with friends or family back home and mention something about missing them.

It’s honest, to the point, and relatable—and channels your emotions in a healthy way!

2. Share the love

Whether it’s a song lyric or quote you feel particularly strongly about, reveal a little of your heart. Allow your followers a glimpse into what you’re really about. It might feel vulnerable or cheesy, but life’s too short to play it cool anyway. Regardless, I’ve often been inspired by a cool quote or caption I’ve seen on social media. It can be a good way to practice authenticity while also sharing a little goodness and beauty in the virtual world.

Example: I recently posted a photo of a toddler I’ve babysat a few times. The caption read, “It just takes some time,” a line from “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World.

3. Latergram

To be honest and live an honest life, you have to be. I am the queen of documenting every moment as it’s happening. But, recently I’ve been better about either posting something quickly and then putting away my phone, or snapping a few photos and saving them for later. This allows me to enjoy the moment more while still having something to commemorate the fun outing, party, sunset, etc.

Life—especially the absolute highs and lows—is meant to be lived, not posted about.

Example: A few days ago, I posted a picture I took about a year ago of my sister and her boyfriend. The caption was, “Kiddos – (can’t wait to be back with them in ONE WEEK!).”

4. Save the best (and worst) for RL

A little sad, frustrated, lonely, happy, excited . . . that’s okay. But if you’re experiencing something truly meaningful (whether good or bad) take a break. Social media isn’t meant to be a platform for you to share the absolute best and worst days of your life. I mean, if you get engaged, awesome! So happy for you! But make sure to enjoy the moment. Don’t grab the ring and immediately post a pic—just be. Same goes for really hard things. If you are legitimately experiencing a deep hardship, don’t wallow or avoid it by endless scrolling in social media. Sit with it, and seek good counsel offline. Life—especially the absolute highs and lows—is meant to be lived, not posted about.

Example: After a bad breakup earlier this year I deleted the social media apps off my phone for a few weeks - it helped a lot.

5. Lighten up

It’s not your autobiography or obituary; you don’t have to evaluate your posts from every angle to see how they will be received. Your identity does not lie in your Instagram quilt. As long as you’re doing it for the right reasons (see below), you don’t have to worry too much about how many likes you get, being seen as the most profound person on the planet, or having the perfectly curated photo. Have fun with it. You can be goofy, post the quote or lyric that maybe others won’t get or will read too much into . . . you can’t control how they’re going to interpret it anyway. Take the opportunity to express yourself while realizing that it is just a small (itsy bitsy) reflection of who you are.

Example: I used to nanny a baby girl, and one time I caught her on camera digging into my purse. I posted the photo with the caption “attempted robbery.”

6. Pause before you post

Motives play a big role in whether something is good or bad. Posting on social media might seem like a good thing, but if the motive is disordered it becomes unhealthy. Before you press Share, ask yourself why you are posting this—and why now.

Good reasons to post:

  • You want to express yourself (this is a good thing, but must be moderated—review number three and number one).
  • You want to inspire.
  • You want to encourage.
  • You want to inform.

Bad reasons to post:

  • You want attention (in general or from someone specific).
  • You want to bash someone.
  • You feel insecure.
  • You want to vent.

It can be difficult to be honest with yourself about why you’re doing something, and even harder to practice self-control when you really want to do it (even if you know it’s not the best).

I recommend you try, mainly because it’s healthier. Again, social media is a neutral thing. But, it can be used inappropriately, which isn’t good for anyone. It isn’t good for you (or me) because social media isn’t a therapist, a reliable source of self-esteem, a close friend, wise grandma, or anything else other than a platform that allows you to connect with others and share a glimpse of your authentic self with them.

If you’re looking for anything else, you’ll only be disappointed (speaking as someone with experience).

I want to be more honest—I think life is too short to be anything other than the-best-version-of-yourself (not a false image of that person).

I also like pretty pictures and clever captions—here’s to hoping there’s room for both.

. . . unphotogenic? Antiphotogenic?

Playing Offense: 4 Invaluable Parenting Tips for Disciplining Toddlers

Pop quiz: Your two-year-old rodeo star hops onto your German shepherd and tries to hang on for eight seconds. What do you do?

a) Freak out and yell, “Get off the doggy!”
b) Ignore it and let your kid “learn the hard way.”
c) Cheer and encourage your kid to beat her previous record.
d) Let your spouse deal with it.

Truth be told—regardless of the situation—you’ll probably try each of these reactions during the course of parenthood. Why? Because disciplining your toddler isn’t easy. Communication between you is still limited, and your toddler’s decision-making skills are still forming (read: terrible). Plus, all toddlers are different and might react to parenting strategies differently.

A lot of what you do will be a guess-and-check approach, but there are some things you can do no matter the disposition of the kid and the details of the situation. Here are four great, universal tips for disciplining your toddler.

1. Take Time-Outs Together

“Time-out with Daddy” in the Herbert household is not a punishment. It is a chance to calm down and learn. When our little girl is being difficult or stubborn, we do not let her “think about what she did” alone in her room or in a chair in the corner. Instead, I set her in my lap—usually with the lights off—and I talk to her. I tell her why her behavior was not acceptable (see number three below), and, more importantly, I let her be frustrated.

Every single punishment should have a reason behind it, which you should explain to your toddler in as much detail as you can.

I tell her I understand why she is frustrated. I tell her that I am not going to let her do <INSERT BEHAVIOR> because <INSERT REASON>. She needs to know that crying is not bad, expressing your feelings and frustrations isn’t punishable, she needs to feel heard, and she also needs to know that when she is frustrated, I will not abandon her.

2. Be Consistent

When you laugh at a certain behavior one day and go off the handle the next day in response to the same behavior, your young one will be confused. She will lose confidence in your ability to raise her (even if she can’t articulate it . . . or articulate the ABCs). Young kids are incredibly perceptive, and they absorb much more than we often think.

It’s also important that you remain consistent with your punishments—whatever they are. If you have more than one kid, it’s important you are consistent in your punishments between them (or have a good reason ready for why you aren’t).

And it is also important that you are consistent with your spouse. Discuss this with your husband or wife. The more united you two are when it comes to discipline, the better off everyone will be.

3. Always Explain

If you were assigned some really weird project at work and you questioned your boss about the merits of said project and your boss replied with, “Because I said so . . .,” how would you feel?

Every single punishment should have a reason behind it, which you should explain to your toddler in as much detail as you can. He’ll understand more than you think. Instead of, “Don’t hit your sister!” Say something like, “I am not going to let you hit your sister because it hurts her.”

When doing this, avoid using sarcasm or trying to use guilt as a way to motivate behavior. You want to be as matter of fact as possible. This is what happened, this is what we are going to do about it, and this is why.

4. Stay Calm

Another pop quiz: Your kid just grabbed your piping hot coffee out of your hands and it spilled onto your lap. Do you . . .

a) Scream in pain, and then scold your child?
b) Put on an Oscar-worthy acting performance and show no reaction?

Trick question! The real answer is c) You should never have put a piping hot mug of coffee within reach of your child in the first place.

What’s my point? You are the adult. Your kid is a kid. Kids do dumb things. They are still learning how the world works. Getting mad at a child when they do something stupid—especially when you could have prevented it as a parent—is like getting mad at water for running downhill.

Every time your little one behaves poorly, it is an opportunity for you to show just how much you love him.

You cannot reason with kids, and you cannot appeal to logic. Logic has nothing to do with it. They are going to be an emotional mess—fact. You need to be as even-keeled as a Vulcan. You need to be as emotional as a rock. Firm and steady, and confident and unmovable. It is your responsibility to rise above the situation and throw on your poker face—at all times.

Reacting to a strong emotional outburst with a strong emotional outburst does little in the way of preventing strong emotional outbursts in the future (in fact, it teaches your child that getting angry and yelling are normal responses to undesirable situations).

Remember: You are the adult. Try to act like it.

There were two pop quizzes mentioned in jest above, but your toddler is going to test you. She is going to test your patience and your resolve and your ability to stay cool and calm no matter what.

At times, you are probably going to fail these tests. You are going to make decisions that, in hindsight, you are ashamed of. But rest assured, you’ll get another opportunity (oh, you will!). You’ll get plenty more tests. And you can promise yourself you’ll do better next time. Just think of it like this: every time your little one behaves poorly, it is an opportunity for you to show just how much you love him.

And with that, I’ll leave you with one last pop quiz.

Fill in the blank. Parenting is ____________.

a) More difficult than herding feral cats.
b) The reason my hair has turned grey.
c) The most amazing, rewarding, life-giving experience I will ever have the good fortune of experiencing.
d) All of the above.

If you like this article, you will love . . .

Mission of the Family
BLESSED Songs for the Young at Heart

7 Incredibly Creative, Cheap, and Cozy Winter Date Ideas

December 26 and the days following are kind of a bummer.

Now that all the excitement of Christmas has passed, the upcoming months can feel mighty dreary and boring (if only we had a stack of presents awaiting us every morning).

Even in our relationships, we may be tempted to get complacent, letting one day blur into the next until the warmer weather comes to lift our spirits.

I think there are ways we can make the most of the post-Christmas season and even deepen our relationships during these cold months.

How? Glad you asked.

The point of winter is that not all the time has to be “busy.” Try enjoying each other’s company without necessarily doing something together.

When you think of going on a date, you most likely think of going to do something. The movies, dinner, a leisurely walk around the park . . . The warmer, prettier months are understandably more conducive to these types of activites; however, I think winter offers us something different—but just as important (and romantic).

And no, I’m not talking about “Netflix and chill.”

The winter months graciously provide a quieter, slower time of year, which can help us nurture our relationships and achieve a deeper level of intimacy.

To show you how winter can help us grow in our relationships, here are some cheap and cozy winter date and activity ideas that will help you keep your relationship fresh and fun—even if the “weather outside is frightful.”

1. Start a journal

It’s more fun than it sounds . . . literally.

I was introduced to the idea of a “lark journal” a couple of years ago and loved it. Lark is an old-fashioned word for fun. And a Lark Journal is a notebook (you can buy a small, basic one for a few dollars from pretty much any grocery store) you use only to keep the highlights from various outing and times together. Next time you spend a day together, go out to dinner, etc., take a few extra minutes to write each of your favorite parts of the day or night.

The fun yet difficult part is trying to not read each other’s entries right away. Instead, hang on to them for a particularly cold, dark day, and bring the journal out when you’re not sure what else to do together or need some cheering up from the winter blues. It is a beautiful way to recall some of the special times you’ve had together, and can come in handy when things get tough or you’re stuck in a rut.

Sharing dreams is one of the most beautiful parts of getting to know someone.

It is really cool to experience things this way (including yourself) from your loved one’s perspective, and it’s a good exercise in gratitude.

2. Have a coffee shop day

The point of winter is that not all the time has to be “busy.” Yes, excursions and activities are fun and good, but so is just sitting in a coffee shop.

Whether it’s an old favorite or a recently-opened one that you’ve been wanting to try, you can bring your favorite books, your journals, or a crossword puzzle and spend a few hours in a cozy coffee shop enjoying each other’s company without necessarily doing something together.

This time together—while still intentional—allows for a more “realistic” or full picture of what a relationship can look like over the course of a lifetime (it’s not all movie and dinner dates, people).

And don’t forget to espresso your love for each other!

. . . Too much?

1,000,000 bonus points if you don’t take out your phone or computer during this time!

3. A film festival for two

Choose a classic movie to watch together. Nothing Marvel and no chick-flicks. There are many beautiful, enriching films out there that will inspire you, give you some important perspective, and encourage meaningful conversation.

Treat it like a true movie night. Popcorn, hot chocolate . . . and no texting during the movie, please.

Some excellent, influential movies you and your loved one can enjoy on a cozy night in are:

  • Gone with the Wind
  • Casablanca
  • Psycho
  • Schindler’s List
  • Modern Times
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • Citizen Kane
  • Bonnie and Clyde

4. Practice your prose

Poetry can be daunting and potentially boring. The reality is that there are a lot of really beautiful poems out there that will inspire us with their beauty—and it can be a good literary exercise for us to decipher them.

Dating is so much more than jumping from one activity to the next. It’s a continual unveiling of the other.

Grab a blanket and some coffee and maybe turn on some classical music—or something jazzy. Start with something simple (see below) and take turns reading it out loud. Take a stab at analyzing it together. You may be surprised as you each give your own interpretation of the piece. Understanding a poem can be hard work, but it allows you to learn patience and can teach you how to problem solve together—while also taking off the pressure that one of you needs to be “right.”

If poetry feels too foreign, try a short story. The point is to take part in a form of entertainment that is slightly more active than merely watching a show or a movie. Furthermore, attempting to decipher the meaning and morals behind these types of works can be another starting point for meaningful conversations and growing in understanding of each other.

Simple and short poems for beginners:

5. Test your teamwork

Puzzles are so cozy and fun. This is something you can easily do with another couple and that provides a low-pressure environment to host. My parents are notorious for turning down dinner invitations in order to stay in and finish the puzzle they had started. You can turn on some music (nothing too upbeat), have a snack or two, and pour some wine. Boom! Fun date night in—plus the incredible feeling of accomplishment when it’s all finished.

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6. Cards ’n’ Kegs

Choose a low-key brewery in your area. Show up with a deck of cards, and play a round or two of some games for two while sipping on your favorite craft beer. This is another one you could make into a double date. And if you’re not a fan of cards, you can also try Scrabble or Checkers!

Some fun card games for two you can try:

If all else fails, have another beer and use the cards to build a tower instead.

7. Go on a dream date

Sharing dreams is one of the most beautiful parts of getting to know someone. Whether it’s together or individually, it’s good for you to have dreams and to know what your loved one is hoping to achieve in life. Set aside an evening or afternoon to write down and read aloud some dreams you would each like to see come true. You can start with some common areas: finance, physical wellbeing, travel, career . . . you could even challenge each other to pick one that you begin working toward today—this way you have some built-in accountability as well.

There is a lot of good that can come out of these dreary days. Be present to each other and get to know our loved one in an intentional way.

BONUS: 8. Channel your inner fancy man (or woman)

Take advantage of this chilly time of year to check out some of the indoor attractions in your town or a nearby city. If you’re visiting an art museum, go the extra mile and dress up to feel more sophisticated (ooh la la). Go to a local library or bookstore and pick out a book you would like the other to read (can you tell I’m a bookworm?). Choose a country and make a traditional meal from there—you could keep the theme going and watch a foreign film from the same country!

Don’t let the winter months pass you by. There is a lot of good that can come out of these dreary days. Most importantly, it gives us the opportunity to be present to each other and get to know our loved one in an intentional way.

Dating is so much more than jumping from one activity to the next. It’s a continual unveiling of the other—something that requires slowing down and a lot of patience, especially when circumstances (ex: weather) aren’t ideal.

For so long we had something to look forward to. Even though December 25 has come and gone, it doesn’t mean we don’t have anything else to look forward to until spring.

Suggest one of these ideas to your loved one and enjoy this time of getting to know each other just a little better—and love them just a little more every (dreary) day.

How to Choose The-Best-Version-of-Yourself

Wearing his cap and gown, Shawn steps up to the podium in front of family and friends. He’s barely a C-student, but the valedictorian let him speak in her place. This is how he ends his speech:

“I was thinking about how much this place has been my home, and how many times I screwed up while I was here. And how I could have done better. I could have done better. That’s how I feel. I’m sorry. I could have done better. Congratulations to those who did . . .”

This is Cory, Shawn, and Topanga’s graduation scene of the 1990s hit sitcom Boy Meets World (if you know one thing about me, it’s that I love Boy Meets World). It aired in 1998, but this speech has always stuck with me (I would have been fourteen at the time). Granted, I’ve since seen the episode dozens of times (did I mention I love Boy Meets World?), but still . . .

Five words: I could have done better. What an awful—yet relatable—sentiment to experience at the end of something: school, a job, a relationship, your kids’ childhood, or even life.

All too often, it is at the end when I realize that I could have done better. In the moment, I am focusing on anything and everything else. In my pursuit for happiness, I choose momentary pleasure over lasting joy—time and time again. I choose a-second-rate-version-of-myself instead of the-best-version-of-myself because it’s easier or because I lie to myself or because I’m afraid.

I hope you never have to look back and admit, “I could have done better.” But how? You have to consistently choose the-best-version-of-yourself so that, when the end does come you aren’t saying “I could have done better” but instead, “I did my best.”

If you put 100% of your effort into being more kind, patient, generous, courageous, disciplined, and humble. This is your best self.

If you’d like to avoid saying those five little words at the end of every day (I could have done better), if you’d like to begin learning how to better yourself, how to be the best you, understand that it is a decision you need to make each day. Here’s how to become the-best-version-of-yourself.

Two Important Notes:

Note #1: Choice

I spent about fifteen minutes coming up with the title for this article. It went from “How to Be . . .” to “How to Become . . .” to “Tips for becoming . . .” when I finally landed on the current version: How to Choose The-Best-Version-of-Yourself” [emphasis obviously added].

Choice is the key. Generally speaking, Americans have relinquished the responsibility of our choices. We’ve given this responsibility to whomever will take it so we can be the spotless victim. It’s safer in that role. We choose to believe we are just a product of circumstance and not the author of our own happiness. It’s a lie.

With each decision, you are making a choice between the-best-version-of-yourself or a-second-rate-version-of-yourself. You choose. Nobody else chooses for you. You are the author. Take up your pen, and write your greatness.

Note #2: Never Finished

The second point is this: you are never finished. You never wake up one day and go, “Boom! Best-version-of-myself . . . I’mma make myself an omelet.” You are a work in progress, until the day you die.

Each day you are making decisions that move you toward or away from the-best-version-of-yourself. Some days will be more challenging than others. Some decisions will be more obviously black and white than others. But you’re never finished. Your goal is progress, not perfection. Today, make better decisions than yesterday. Tomorrow, make better decisions than today.

Right. So . . . how do you know what to choose? How do you know when and how you can choose the-best-version-of-yourself? To answer this, you will have to ask yourself three big questions.

Three Big Questions:

1. Who Is Your Best Self?

If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know which direction to go and how will you know when you get there?

Likewise, if you don’t know who you want to be, if you don’t know who you are truly capable of being, it makes it pretty difficult to become that person. You can’t even take the first step toward bettering yourself.

Success is this: becoming the best version of yourself.

First, think about the best people you know. Not the happiest or most successful, though they may be happy and successful. But the best people. What do they have in common? Are they courageous or cowardly? Patient or impatient? Humble or prideful? Selfish or generous? Are they strong leaders who value hard work, or do they get by with the least amount of effort possible? Write down the characteristics they have in common.

Now think about your best self. Close your eyes and try to imagine that person. Not who you want to be, but the best person you are capable of being if you put 100 percent of your effort into being more kind, patient, generous, courageous, disciplined, and humble. This is your best self. Success is this: becoming the best-version-of-yourself.

What does she look like? What does he sound like? What does she do on weekends? How does he spend his free time? What does she do for a living? What are his friends like? What is her family life like? Write all this down if it helps you; it’ll be helpful to be able to go back and reference it when you’re struggling with a decision.

Okay! Target acquired. You’ve got your destination. You have met the-best-version-of-yourself. Now you need your compass . . .

2. What Is Your Best Self’s Purpose?

I have a purpose. You have a purpose. We all have a purpose.

You were made for something.

So, how do you know when you’re doing what you were made for? If you’re currently miserable, there’s a good chance you’re not fulfilling your purpose.

Your purpose is your North Star. It is your compass. Each decision you make should be guided by your purpose.

All too often we associate our job with our purpose, but this is dangerous. Your purpose can be your job, but it doesn’t have to be (and I would argue that more often than not, it’s not). Maybe it’s to be the best father and husband you can be. Maybe it’s to be a great teacher, or doctor, or nurse, or project manager. Maybe it’s to volunteer on weekends or to write about traveling or to be a positive influence in a young person’s life or to be a stay-at-home-mom and raise amazing children. Whatever it is, you need to find it.

Spend some time in silence this week and ask yourself: “Why am I here?”

Other questions that can guide you are:

  • “What makes me truly happy?”
  • “If I could do one thing and know I wouldn’t fail, what would it be?”
  • “What am I doing when I feel like I am at my best—emotionally, physically, intellectually, and spiritually?”
  • “When was the last time I experienced real joy?”
  • “When do I feel most at peace?”
  • “If I knew I was going to die exactly one year from today, what would I stop doing right now?”

If you spend a good amount of time reflecting on these questions, your best self’s purpose will come into focus.

Your purpose is your North Star. It is your compass. It might change over the course of your life—because life changes—but that’s Okay as long as you are regularly spending time with yourself in silence to ask yourself these big questions.

Each decision you make should be guided by your purpose. You can then strive to avoid anything that takes you off your purpose’s path. Ask yourself, “Does this help fulfill my best self’s purpose?” You’ll know the answer.

Okay. So now you know where you’re going, and you’ve got your compass to keep you on track. Now it’s time to clear your path of obstacles . . .

3. What Prevents You from Being Your Best Self?

Nobody wants to be a-second-rate-version-of-themselves. I have never met anyone who has consciously said, “Today, I am going to make bad choices that hurt myself and everyone I love.”

You design your life with the choices you make. You are the builder; your choices are the bricks.

Yet, when faced with choosing the-best-version-of-ourselves and a-second-rate-version-of-ourselves, how often do we choose the latter? While many things in life are out of your control, who you are and how you react to the world is your choice. You design your life with the choices you make. You are the builder; your choices are the bricks.

I make the wrong choice all the time, whether it’s saying the wrong thing to my wife (and knowing full well beforehand), or getting upset when driving (“Hi. My name is Peter and I have road rage”), or choosing Cheez-Its instead of an apple (Italian Four Cheese, if you’re wondering).

So what is it for you? Take some time and really think about it. What is it that you consistently choose that prevents you from being the-best-version-of-yourself? Unhealthy foods, pornography, debt and impulsive spending, jealousy, laziness, social media, gossip, anger, negativity, procrastinating, doubt and self-image issues?

Once you recognize the enemy, once you give the enemy its name, once you accept that you are choosing to put these obstacles between you and your best self, you can fight back. How? Virtue.

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Every vice that leads to a-second-rate-version-of-yourself has an opposite virtue that leads to the-best-version-of-yourself. Struggling with selfishness? Practice generosity. Is pride preventing your best self from shining forth? Practice humility. Are you battling an addiction? Practice self-mastery and discipline.

Notice the word I used three times there? Practice.

Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes better. Better is your goal.

Rid yourself of obstacles. If pornography is getting in the way of you being
the-best-version-of-yourself, get rid of your computer. If social media is getting in the way, delete your account. If impulsive spending and debt are crippling your best self, get rid of your credit cards and create a budget. Take control of your life.

When you’re struggling, say this to yourself:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

So where do you go from here? It all feels so unattainable, doesn’t it? It seems so difficult and complex. But it doesn’t have to be.

The trick is just doing the next right thing. Not the ten or one hundred next right things. Just the next right thing—one at a time—on the path to the-best-version-of-yourself.

You know what the-best-version-of-yourself looks like (and what it doesn’t look like).

You know why your best self exists and what you should be doing to fulfill your best self’s purpose.

And you know what might get in your best-self’s way and how to rid yourself of obstacles by practicing virtue.

There’s only one thing left to do:

The next right thing.

If you like this article, you will love . . .

Resisting Happiness
Becoming the Best Version of Yourself (CD)

3 Parenting Styles for Raising Happy, Healthy Children

Let’s begin with a role-play exercise. You are a level 78 paladin wearing the Helm of Justice… oh, wait. Not that kind of roleplaying? Okay. Let’s try again . . .

You arrive at a toy store with your four-year-old daughter. Before heading into the store, you set the expectation for the visit (note: setting expectations with your kids is just as important as remembering to wear pants before retrieving the mail).

“Inside, there are going to be a lot of things you want,” you say. “But we are here for just one thing. Not two or three or one hundred. Just one. Understand?”

Excited for her new toy, she nods so enthusiastically that you’re afraid she might have whiplash. When you get inside, she practically teleports to the doll section. She spends the next twenty minutes searching, inspecting, holding, and shaking every doll. It gets down to the final two and she simply cannot decide.

“Can I have . . . both?” She looks at you for the answer. You can see it in her eyes—she’s willing to go full tantrum on this one.

And your brain sets off the alarm:


How do you respond?

Your answer indicates which of the three different types of parenting styles you naturally gravitate toward: Authoritative, Controlling (also called Strict or Authoritarian), or Permissive.

It will be tempting to want to give in or to threaten punishment . . . but it is in moments like this where great parents are made.

Each of the three styles would respond differently to this situation. As you read the examples below, consider which one you gravitate toward and which one you think is most effective. The two might be different.

1. Authoritative

“Can I have . . . both?”

You respond, “Remember what we talked about before we came inside, sweet pea? You can only have one. How can I help you decide?”

She asks again for both. But you hold your ground and shake your head no. She plops herself on the ground and starts yelling, “I want both!”

Calmly, you bend down to your crying daughter’s eye level. In a firm but friendly tone, you say, “Sweetheart, you have a choice. You can stop crying, put one of the dolls back, and be thankful for the one you’re getting. Or we can leave the store right now with nothing. What would you like to do?”

She looks at you defiantly. “Both!”

“It looks like you are choosing to leave.” You take the dolls out of your screaming daughter’s hands, pick her up, and calmly walk out of the store. You may or may not give the “kids, amiright?” shoulder shrug to a fellow parent watching sympathetically as you go.

You didn’t yell. Instead, you simply had a conversation, and there was no need to threaten her. You set clear expectations at the outset, reminded your daughter of her choice, clearly articulated the consequences for both decisions, let your daughter decide, and then followed through with the consequences.

If this sounds like what you would have done, you are an Authoritative Parent.

Parents who adopt this style pair high expectations with understanding and support to foster a healthy parent-child dynamic. This is style is all about a “parent first, friend second” philosophy.

Take the long view. Being an authoritative parent is about going to a place of strength to become a parent dedicated to helping your child live a great life.

Kids who grow up with authoritative parents generally become happy, confident, successful adults. Research has consistently demonstrated that they are more likely to be independent, self-reliant, and well-adjusted, and have a higher likelihood of experiencing academic success.

2. Controlling

“Can I have . . . both?”

“I said only one.” There is an edge to your voice. Your tone warns your daughter: Do not cross the line.

“Both!” she screams.

“I said no!” You match your daughter’s volume and tone. “This is not how we behave! Keep crying and you don’t get any desserts for a week!”

Your daughter thinks for a moment before planting herself on the ground, continuing her tantrum, yelling, “I want them both!”

You rip the dolls out of her hands, pick her up, and walk out of the store. No doll. No desserts. No way!

In this example, you did yell. You set clear expectations at the outset, then demanded obedience by threatening punishment. You did not explain why she could not have the second toy, and then followed through with the punishment.

The lack of open communication of the why behind the rules often makes it difficult for the child to make decisions on her own in the future.

These are the strategies of the Controlling Parent(and, come to think of it, Lord Voldemort).

Parents who adopt this style rely on threats and punishment to elicit good behavior. The lack of open communication of the why behind the rules often makes it difficult for the child to make decisions on her own in the future. This tends to stifle independence, risk-taking, and expressiveness. Ultimately, over time, this causes a drop in self-esteem and often leads to resentment in adulthood.

3. Permissive

“Can I have . . . both?”

“I’m sorry sweet pea, but you can only have one. Which one do you want?”

“Both!” she screams.

“Oh, please don’t get upset.” You drop to your knees to try to calm her down. “Remember how Mommy said just one?”

She clings to the dolls, squeezing them possessively against her chest. “I want them both!”


“Just one,” you say again.

“Both!” She starts yelling louder and louder, and people start to look at her.

“Okay, Okay. You can have both. Now, stop crying please!”

Your daughter immediately stops crying and leaps into your arms.

You didn’t yell. And you didn’t threaten punishment or offer consequences for misbehavior. You had set clear expectations at the outset, but then failed to keep those expectations. In the end, you rewarded your daughter’s bad behavior. And you established that your expectations are flexible and negotiable.

This type of parenting is called Permissive Parenting.

Parents who adopt this style pursue friendship at the expense of respect. Research has shown that permissive parenting can lead to a number of negative outcomes with children often lacking self-discipline, possessing poor social skills, and harboring insecurities due to lack of guidance.

This lack of expectations and guidelines from parents often leads to low achievement and poor decision-making. Ultimately, this frequently results in a self-involved, demanding adult who struggles with self-control.

Authoritative parenting has been shown to be the most effective style for producing independent, well-adjusted adults. But it can also be the most difficult style to implement as well.

It is in moments like this where great parents are made.

Every parent will, at times, be in a similar described similar to the one above. It will be tempting to want to give in or to threaten punishment just to end the conversation as quickly as possible.

But it is in moments like this where great parents are made. You won’t get any medals from the people around you, and you certainly won’t receive any applause from your child. But the long-term gain of seeing your child become a confident, self-reliant adult far outweighs the short term pain of the current situation of conflict.

In that moment, it will take courage to ignore the looks of those around you (practice that shoulder shrug!). Take the long view. Being an authoritative parent is about going to a place of strength to become a parent dedicated to helping your child live a great life.

Bouncing Back from a Bad Day at Work

Let me start off by saying that I love my job. And I’m not just saying that because my boss will (most likely) read this. Hi, boss.

Even if you love your job (like me), you’ve probably had at least a few bad days at work (also like me).

It doesn’t even have to be about work; it could be something in your family causing you stress. It could be car trouble, sleep deprivation, or . . . on and on. Life has a frustrating habit of throwing things your way even when you have quite a bit on your plate already, thankyouverymuch.

Sometimes things at work can be frustrating, too: difficult co-workers, demanding deadlines, projects that aren’t going smoothly, bad coffee, etc.

Distance yourself from the negative thought train which may be largely responsible for your gloominess.

Whether it’s work-related or not, whatever is affecting you doesn’t have to monopolize your mood. A bad day doesn’t have to be . . . a bad day.

Here’s how to bounce back when you’re having a hard day at work.

Get out of your head

In my experience, typically one percent of whatever problem I face at any given time is a real-life challenge, while ninety-nine percent is made up in my head and vastly inaccurate.

Sometimes we need to take a step outside of ourselves to realize that whatever is bothering us, most likely isn’t the end of the world.

Take a walk, read an uplifting article, strike up a conversation in the breakroom, make a coffee run, take a few deep breaths, listen to one of your favorite songs . . . whatever it takes to distance yourself from the negative thought train which may be largely responsible for your gloominess.


A good chuckle will most certainly cheer you up. Sometimes I’ll search for quotes from some of my favorite television shows (The Office, Gilmore Girls, Arrested Development) to help me get out of a funk—or even find inspiration. Humor is one of the best tools for getting and remaining in good spirits.

A short YouTube video (I love listening to some of comedian Jim Gaffigan’s bits), a clever meme, an entertaining read . . . there are countless ways to lighten up during the work day. (Feel free to send it on and share the joy.)

Get Perspective

Some people are internal processors and some are external processors. Depending on which you may be, talking to someone or writing about what is frustrating you can be helpful.

Little acts of self-care can do a lot to improve your mood when you’re having a bad day.

The caveat with this is that you want to make sure you’re not merely complaining. While venting is often seen as therapeutic, it has been proven to not be as beneficial as people think. The trick is to speak about difficulty in a constructive way. Instead of “I need to get this off my chest,” start with “Can I get your advice about something?”

Ensure you are not gossiping about someone—even if they are really getting on your nerves— by asking yourself “What is my motive behind bringing this person up?” If it is only to talk about the negative ways they are affecting you, it is probably not the healthiest conversation to have.

Processing is an important part of dealing with various challenges that come our way. Seeking counsel on how to proceed from a trusted friend or colleague can be a healthy way to inspire hope about the situation. If that isn’t an option, writing a few sentences on the matter and how you’re feeling can help get perspective, too.


  • Have you . . .
  • Had a drink of water (at least one)?
  • Eaten a healthy meal?
  • Exercised recently (a hard workout may not be an option but a long walk can work wonders)?
  • Read, seen, or listened to something beautiful?
  • Expressed gratitude (you do have a job, after all)?
  • Cleaned out your car (easy enough to do during your lunch break)?
  • Straightened up your office?

Little acts of self-care can do a lot to improve your mood when you’re having a bad day. You may not realize it, but being hungry or thirsty, having a messy environment, remaining inactive for too long . . . all these things can add to whatever stress you may be feeling. Addressing your human needs is vital to your overall well-being and certainly will help you feel better. Plus, you’ll be better at what you do and more pleasant to work with).

The next best thing

Growing up, whenever I felt overwhelmed, my mom always told me to just do one thing. One thing to get me closer to where I want to be, one thing to help me feel better, one thing I can cross off my to-do list.

We all have struggles, inside and outside of work, but that doesn’t mean your day is ruined.

No matter how small or insignificant it may seem, the beauty of the “one thing” rule is that successfully completing that one thing fuels you to do one more thing . . . and soon enough, you’ve done several “one things.”

And so, even if you’re having a rough day at the office and feeling hopeless about today—even if you’re tempted to give up on it and try again tomorrow—just do one thing that will help, directly or indirectly. We all have struggles, inside and outside of work, but that doesn’t mean your day is ruined. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a good day at work. It just means you’re alive and human. Take a deep breath, sit up, and just do the next best thing (even if that is looking at memes for the next five minutes).

And then get back to work. Right, boss?

PS: My boss added this meme in response to the article:

Dare I Say “Forever”? On Fear of Commitment

If I were to ask you what you’re afraid of, you’d probably rattle off things like snakes or spiders or high interest rates (eek).

I’m definitely scared of those things. But the most anxious I’ve ever been wasn’t when I had to kill an enormous spider with my biology textbook (finally put that thing to use), or when I watched my credit card debt increase EVER so slightly . . . again (ugh).

The most anxious I’ve ever been was when I was in a committed relationship with a man I loved.

Not exactly the plot of a horror movie, I know.

Whenever things are casual and I have no expectation about a future together—that’s my sweet spot. I can handle that. The moment there’s a real possibility of a relationship that’s going somewhere . . . for me it might as well be another episode of American Horror Story.

So if you were to ask me what I’m scared of and I responded honestly . . . I’d have to say I have a fear of commitment.

And if I were to ask you . . . well, you might say the same thing.

Before we go into it, though, it could be helpful to define commitment. Commitment is simply being dedicated to something or someone. Whether that’s dedication to one person, dedication to the plans you make or the values you have . . . it’s a choice you make.

With commitment comes excellence, growth, and—most importantly—love.

While the word commitment may feel daunting and restrictive, it is actually the only way to attain what we want for our lives—especially the important things.

Commitment is the freedom to choose. You see, as long as you don’t commit to anything, you’re really choosing nothing and no one. If you resist committing to anything or anyone over the course of your life, you may try many things, but you will never experience anything deeply—that is to say, in a truly meaningful way.

Instead of harnessing the power of free will, you are completely disregarding it and therefore submitting yourself to a life of coasting. Coasting can be presented as glamorous, but committing is infinitely more rewarding. With commitment comes excellence, growth, and—most importantly—love.

More simply put, if you don’t know—if you don’t decide—where you’re going, you’ll never get there; you’ll never get anywhere.

Commitment—in all of its pain and glory—is where real life is. Real beauty, real goodness, real love.

Think about your favorite film or TV show, your favorite book or band. The fruit of the these works which you enjoy did not come without a continuous decision to create and improve—in spite of difficulty, frustrations and countless distractions. Can you imagine life without Harry Potter? Or The Titanic? Or Google? Or Lebron James?

What would have happened if Martin Luther King Jr. had decided a few years into his career that civil rights was no longer worth his time and effort? What if, in your early teens, your parents decided that you were more trouble than they cared to deal with?

Without commitment nothing would be mastered, nothing would change, no one would flourish, and we would all be quite lonely. Commitment—in all of its pain and glory—is where real life is. Real beauty, real goodness, real love.

Signs of commitment issues

  • You avoid making concrete plans of any sort.
  • You struggle to say “yes” or “no” definitively.
  • You date the same person for several years without desiring to discuss marriage.
  • You have yet to stay at the same job for longer than a year.
  • You fear missing out (whether that be a fun night out or a person who could be a “better fit”).
  • You choose to date people you don’t see a future with or know are wrong for you.
  • You avoid dating at all and are skeptical of your friends who are in relationships.
  • You’ve been wanting to invest but can’t bring yourself to pull the trigger.
  • You text someone for way too long before going on a date.
  • You “ghost” (stop responding to) people often.

If you find yourself nodding at several of these items, learning to be comfortable with commitment might be something for you to work on.

Often the best place to start is understanding. Why is this difficult for you? Why have millennials especially become so reluctant to interact with anything which necessitates responsibility or obligation?

We gripe about this a lot—millennials and our noncommittal ways. But maybe more than pointing out the obvious, it matters that we go deeper.

Why do I have commitment issues?

The reality is that there is probably more than one reason for each of us and they all will vary. However, I think there are at least a few underlying causes which resonate with many of us to some degree and they are worth noting:

Fear of failure

There are very few things in this life meant to be permanent, marriage being one of them. However, we’ve seen too many of them (often including our parents’ or even our own) end—or be carried out horrendously. We, therefore, as individuals and as a culture have developed a skepticism toward the institution itself. Anything resembling marriage (such as serious relationships) scares us because we have no faith except in its inevitable and painful demise.

Fear of getting hurt

Broken homes, previous relationships, jobs we’ve been let go from . . . we all have experienced pain and remember it vividly. Pain is—somewhat unfortunately—one of the most effective teachers. In some cases, pain can be a good friend—but not always. Depending on our ability to bounce back and the amount of time that has lapsed since, we may hold on to old wounds and do just about anything to avoid experiencing that sort of hurt again. And so we don’t date (or we date casually), we don’t apply for that new opening or promotion, we don’t put ourselves out there and we certainly don’t put all our eggs in one basket . . . #safetyfirst.

To be loved requires being known for who we are—the more we prevent ourselves from being seen, the less we are able to be loved by others.

Fear of making the wrong choice

Indecision cripples us regularly. We can’t decide where to go out to eat on a Friday night . . . much less who we should marry. We are terrified of missing out, of making a mistake. Having seen people fail—or experienced it ourselves—and the suffering that often accompanied it, we tell ourselves that if we make the “right” choice, we can successfully avoid any sort of fallout that we’ve seen before.

This is delusional—nothing and nobody is “perfect.” When it comes to a lot of the big things in life, it isn’t a decision of right versus wrong, it’s often a decision between two goods. We are given free will and meant to use it. The answer won’t be written in the clouds or on a sticky note. We have to decide, understanding that there will be ramifications—good and bad.

Fear of intimacy or rejection

Fear of commitment often goes hand in hand with fear of being known. Fear that if someone sees us, they will find us to be bad or lacking in some way. This specific fear is incredibly painful and destructive. What often happens to those of us who have this fear is a keeping of friends and loved ones at arm’s length—withdrawing when we feel vulnerable. To be loved requires being known for who we are—the more we prevent ourselves from being seen, the less we are able to be loved by others. Where this fear comes from is hard to say, but often it’s related to formative relationships gone awry.

Our flaky tendencies, our absolute refusal to make and stick to a decision . . . it’s all very unfortunate. What is happening as a result is an embarrassingly large number of adult “children” who can’t say “yes” to a simple invite—much less embark on the goodness and beauty of love. Love demands permanency and we aren’t equipped for it.

However, I do have hope. I have hope that—starting with awareness, and then understanding—we can undo these subversive habits which have so aptly robbed us of the good things in life.

I have hope we can change this course we are on one person at a time . . . starting with ourselves.

Conquering fear of commitment: how to fix commitment issues

Firstly, we have to come to the realization that all that is good, noble, beautiful, and life-giving isn’t necessarily comfy. The more we accustom ourselves to being open to difficulty, the more we will be able to rise to the occasion when the opportunity for commitment appears. For me this means spending a little more time alone, going for walks (even when it’s cold and grey), resisting the temptation to splurge . . . all these little things are hard, uncomfortable. Yet the good that comes out of them is undeniable. Commitment works the same way. As much as it may be difficult to say “yes,” to be open to someone, to show up when we don’t feel like it . . . a committed life is ultimately much more rewarding than one that is mindless and susceptible to every fear and mood swing.

Refuse to live a life run by fear. Choose to believe that good that lies on the other side!

Something else that has helped me is taking a step back. It’s easy to spread ourselves thin today and do a lot mediocrely instead of just a few things well. Deleting some of the social media apps off my phone has helped immensely with this. I also am learning to say “no” to some things in order to be able to respond “yes” enthusiastically to others. We can’t do it all, give yourself a break and consider how you really want to spend your time.

Finally, as stated earlier, understanding the “why” is crucial. If commitment is something that very much scares you, it may be worth exploring the issue with a therapist. It can be daunting (and pricey), but truly a worthy investment of your time and money. The self-awareness and healing which often results from therapy will allow you to live a more authentic, free, and full life.

Fear of commitment has become so prevalent that often I worry people will no longer view it as a problem. The new “norm” could become one “maybe” after another, relationships going nowhere and the demise of anything which requires a steadfast spirit.

I hope this isn’t the case. I know in my own life I will continue to wrestle with this fear as long as I need to. Not only because I know the good that lies on the other side, but also because I refuse to live a life run by fear.

What kind of life is that, anyway?

Here’s to one day saying and meaning the f-word many of us have run away from for so long: forever.

Considering Divorce? Why Love Is Enough

I hear people say they “fell out of love.”

Couples lament that it “didn’t work out.”

I have heard some say they decided to “lovingly separate as a couple.”

Some realized they were “only staying together for the kids.”

Most often, “we just weren’t happy anymore.”

How awful that must be. To be in a marriage that no longer brings you joy—to feel that the love you once had is no longer enough.

It may not always feel like it, but love is enough.

From where I’m standing, marriage looks like a heroic challenge—nothing short of a miracle.

I’m not exactly what you would call an expert in relationships, especially when it comes to marriage. I’m a single twenty-three-year-old with a rickety relationship history and not much to offer when it comes to marital advice.

On the other hand, if you are looking for help with using “literally” incorrectly, spending too much money on craft beer, or avoiding commitment like the plague, I’m your girl.

Regarding marital challenges, I can imagine what it must be like to not feel in love with your spouse anymore. How painful it must be to slowly become more distant, to feel as though the person you married is a stranger. How difficult it must be to love someone for a lifetime—someone who is inevitably broken and who has undoubtedly hurt you.

If you have made it this far in the great Odyssey that is lifelong commitment, I commend you, honestly. And there is one thing I would like to tell you (married couples); one thing I hope you know (and fear many don’t); one thing many of us seem to forget, or never learned in the first place; one thing that scares me from taking marriage too lightly or a Hollywood romance too seriously.

I say this not as someone with great insight or noteworthy experience (did I mention I’m single?), but as someone who has experienced the ramifications of a love that was lost, vows that were broken.

Love is enough.

It may not always feel like it, but love is enough. It’s not what our culture tells us, but love is enough. You may have never been taught it, but love is enough. It may not be what you want to hear, but love is enough.

Feelings aren’t enough, money isn’t enough, children aren’t enough, jobs aren’t enough, time isn’t enough . . . but love is.

It’s enough because it’s a choice you make . . .

In good times and in bad,
In sickness and in health,
to love and to honor,
all the days of your life.

I know. How cheesy, how tired, how predictable of me to say that—not to mention a little “much” coming from a girl who can’t even commit to a gym membership.

But I learned, I felt it, I saw it: what happens when couples treat their marriage as something less than permanent, an empty promise. I can say that it was devastating. I can assure you the effects are long-lasting. I can attest to the grief that comes when “love isn’t enough.”

But it is. Feelings aren’t enough, money isn’t enough, children aren’t enough, jobs aren’t enough, time isn’t enough . . . but love is.

The decision to love is the only thing that is enough. That is why marriage is a commitment. Because when nothing else is keeping you there, the decision to love—the vow you made—demands that you stay.

I can’t pretend to fully understand the difficulty of marriage. I’m sure that to some of you, this is borderline laughable coming from me. What do I know?

I just know what happens when you leave.

As much as divorce has been trivialized and rationalized beyond belief, I can tell you from experience:

  • Your kids don’t just “want you to be happy”—we want our family.
  • We aren’t “resilient”—although we will survive, because we have no other choice.
  • Two homes are not better than one.
  • Nothing will be the same.
  • No one will be “better off.”

I understand there are circumstances beyond your control. I know that marriage is unexpectedly difficult.

I also know that there are couples who do it. There are people who make it. Marriages that survive countless hardships, changes, and a lifetime of messiness. It is possible. And truly, it isn’t because they got lucky or because it was somehow easy for them. It was their decision; their steadfastness in the face of all the garbage life threw at them and in spite of the brokenness they saw in each other.

They chose to love and kept on choosing—there is never a time when you can’t choose love anymore.

Love doesn’t run out on us, and divorce is rarely the answer. Choose love. Choose your marriage.

I can’t tell you how to love, especially in the context of marriage. I can’t give you “10 Strategies for Saving Your Marriage” or “7 Ways to Be a Better Spouse.” I won’t pretend that I am remotely qualified to give you advice on those matters. But I do want to encourage you, to urge, that if you are struggling, if it has been difficult (maybe for a while) . . . you don’t give up.

Do one thing today to love your spouse: write them a letter, make a mental list of what you admire about them, take a minute to recall the day you met . . . just one thing.

Love doesn’t run out on us, and divorce is rarely the answer. Choose love. Choose your marriage. Choose your spouse, just like you did that day of celebration in front of your friends and family.

There are a plethora of people out there who are better suited than me to tell you how to make your marriage work. I can’t. I can only tell you that love is enough.

And I can ask of you what I asked of my own parents at the age of twelve.


Getting to the Bottom of a Fake Smile

What if we never fake-smiled?

The thought came to me while I was walking up the stairs at work, having just “smiled” and greeted the receptionist.

It’s such a normal and automatic thing that you may never think about it; but how many times do we shoot a smile at someone without meaning it at all?

For me, it’s pretty often.

What is a fake smile?

While we may not stop to consider it much, I suspect most of us can spot a fake smile when we see one. This isn’t that surprising since there is a real, physical difference between a genuine “Duchenne” smile and its imposter. A real smile uses the facial muscle orbicularis oculi (catchy, I know) which contracts and forms wrinkles on the outer edge of your eyes (aka crow’s feet). Basically, your eyes close some as your cheeks move upwards. You may have heard the phrase “smile with your eyes”—turns out it’s a real thing (and not one you can force)!

Slow down during the day, spend time alone in the classroom of silence, and practice mindful awareness of the present moment as much as you can.

A fake smile, on the other hand, doesn’t use the OO muscle. Instead, our face uses the risorius muscle—one muscle in each cheek (and sounds like a dinosaur)—to pull our lips into the right shape, but the eye muscles don’t contract.

Real smiles happen naturally and are prompted by positive thoughts and feelings. Fake smiles require a conscious effort. A fake smile, therefore, allows for a disconnect between what is going on in us interiorly and what we express exteriorly.

Why do people fake-smile?

Smiling is seen as a social survival strategy. Studies done with various animal species have determined that, once seen as a sign of aggression, smiling is an indicator of fear, and ultimately “non-hostility.”

So basically we smile to indicate we come in peace . . . “Please like me; don’t hurt me.” That is why you smile at your coworker in the hall, even if you don’t particularly care for them or feel happy. That is why you smile at the barista taking your coffee order, even if you’re tired and entirely under-caffeinated. That is why you smile at the joke you didn’t find particularly funny, or why you smile even though you’re feeling a myriad of emotions—none of which make you want to grin.

We fake-smile to avoid conflict, fit in, and to be perceived positively. Not great reasons to do something, wouldn’t you say?

Why fake smiles aren’t healthy

Studies that examined photos of people with real or artificial smiles in their college yearbook photos found that those individuals with real smiles in their portraits married earlier, were more satisfied with their lives, and reported having better relationships than those whose smiles weren’t as genuine.

Ditch the fake smile and replace it with the real thing.

Because genuine smiles result from positive thoughts and emotions, those who carry them tend to have rosier outlooks on life than those who don’t. Having a sunny disposition leads us to see new connections, better integrate information, and solve problems in unique ways. Those who are generally more positive tend to be more engaged socially and intellectually throughout their lives.

Fake smiles aren’t a true expression of positivity—they are a poor imitation of a happier version of ourselves. This is why it’s important to ditch the falsie and replace it with the real thing.

How to replace your fake smile

1. Get in touch with your true feelings

It’s preferable to not smile than it is to fake a smile. Why? Because it’s honest and demonstrates that a person is self-aware. Try to get in the habit of allowing your facial expressions to reveal what you are feeling, and not what you think you “should” feel in a given moment. This requires understanding what you are actually feeling, so make an effort to pay attention to your emotional life. This may mean slowing down during the day, spending time alone in the classroom of silence, and practicing mindful awareness of the present moment as much as you can.

2. Embrace your “normal” face

This may come as news, but you don’t actually have to smile when you don’t feel like it. You may be in the habit now of “smiling” every time someone walks by you or you bid someone good afternoon, regardless of whether you mean it or not. Try to be intentional about how you greet others. Practice awareness of the present moment: when the opportunity arises to smile and it doesn’t come naturally, opt for a nod or wave instead. You can kindly say “good morning,” or ask someone how they’re doing, even if a genuine smile doesn’t make an appearance. Your resting face isn’t a bad or wrong thing—as long as you behave respectfully toward others, a smile isn’t always necessary.

3. Give your smile meaning

Ultimately, a polite or cordial smile can offer encouragement and kindness—even if we have to make a little effort. But the real thing is even better.

Authentic happiness is found in giving ourselves to others.

If you reserve your smile for the moments when you truly mean it, suddenly your smile becomes so much more than an empty gesture. Instead, your smile can be a gift, an act of love. Even if you aren’t “feeling” it, a natural smile can happen if you decide to have a joyful disposition and do your best to leave every person a little better than how you found them. Being genuinely interested in how the person is, giving a true compliment, doing your best to be warm . . . if this becomes your mission throughout the day, you may find your natural smile making an appearance much more often. After all, it is in giving ourselves away that authentic happiness is found.

Someone recently told me that I needed to stop thinking about myself so much. As harsh as this advice may sound, I think they were right—and that taking to heart what they said is actually the recipe for a life that is more joyful, peaceful, and meaningful.

If we start thinking about how we can be a gift to others instead of clinging to the “what’s in it for me” mentality, I think we’ll find our fake smiles turning into real ones much more often.

How to Decide Where to Spend the Holidays this Year

Jingle bells, check hotels
Book the cheapest place to stay.
Oh what fun it is to choose
Where to spend the holidays. Hey!

The holidays are upon us! And with the holidays comes the inevitable choice of where to spend them. If you’re single, God bless you—this should be easy. If you’re dating, it’s going to be a bit harder to choose, depending on the seriousness of that relationship. If you’re married, you are probably standing in a minefield of pressure and guilt and anxiety. One wrong step and KAPOW!

For couples, it’s a tough decision—where to spend the holidays—and it doesn’t really get any easier until both your parents are dead (not the jolliest of thoughts, I’ll admit). However, there are a few ways to make the decision a little easier.

So, before I break out into another song, here are the best ways to choose where to spend the holidays this year.

The “Every Other” Fallacy

You just got married. You’re planning your first Christmas as Mr. and Mrs. Awww.

One of you, it doesn’t matter which, brightly suggests, “We will just alternate.” Awwwwww!

You poor, beautiful, naïve idiots.

The problem with trying to do the whole “every other” thing (and don’t worry, every young couple thinks this will work at first) is that life will always get in the way. Always.

You’ll have a child on December 18 and won’t be able to travel for Christmas—but this is the year you’re supposed to travel! Your hemp-wearing, soul-searching brother will come back from Nepal or Machu Picchu unannounced for a two-day visit and you’ll have to change your plans to see him (or you’ll never hear the end of it!).

Plus, the bigger your family gets (and as more of your siblings get married and have families of their own), the harder “every other” becomes. You don’t want to get stuck with your “on” year being the rest of your family’s “off” year. Sooner or later, all couples learn that “every other” is an illusion.

Rock-Paper-Silver Bells

One, two, three, shoot!

Deciding where to spend the holidays this year with a friendly game of rock-paper-scissors might seem crazy, but if you want to avoid arguments (and have a little fun at the same time) then it might be your best option. I recommend you do best out of three.

The holidays are stressful enough without the pressure of trying to make everyone else happy. Give yourself a break and do what’s best for your relationship!

Last year, my family spent a lovely week in Michigan for the holidays. What my in-laws don’t know (until now, I guess) is that the reason we were in Michigan is because I stupidly chose paper two times in a row.

Never choose paper two times in a row!

Consult the Coins

Heads you go to her family’s for Christmas. Tails you go to yours.

The best argument for using coins is plausible deniability. There cannot be any discussion or fights if you leave it up to fate. And, if everything (read: the only thing) I learned in Intro to Statistics is true, over a lifetime it should even out fairly close to 50/50.

A word to the wise, though. There is a 0.0977% chance that it will turn up Heads ten times in a row. That’s a decade of drinking your in-laws’ brandy-free eggnog while choking down their questionably edible fruitcake (since when are gummy worms considered a fruit?).

Follow Your Stomach

Speaking of questionably edible things, you can always choose based on the menu.

The Herbert Family—my two parents, four brothers, and their wives and kids—generally stick to the standard American diet (SAD). That is to say, if it was ever alive and can be cooked in butter, we will eat it. My wife’s family, however, is a veritable whos-who of millennial New Age diets. Every one of her siblings (she is the oldest of eight) has a slightly different dietary need. Gluten, for example, has been christened the Protein-That-Must-Not-Be-Named. There are vegans, and there are those who seem to eat exclusively meat. I can’t keep it all straight.

However, both my mother and my mother-in-law are more than capable cooks, and I would be remiss to leave you with the impression that spending the holidays with either family doesn’t yield the same results: me eating myself stupid and being quite fat and content. But then again, that is how l like to spend every day!

Regardless, if you are on the fence about where to spend the holidays, choose the place with the better food. Choosing between two groups of people you love is difficult. Choosing between a traditional turkey dinner and tofu in fish sauce is easy.

Let Your Wallet Decide

Get out that old school calculator and crunch the numbers. Whichever destination has the smaller price tag wins.

Cost is not only a great way to decide where to spend the holidays, but it is also a great excuse. Maybe you can afford it just fine, but that doesn’t mean your in-laws need to know that. You can either buy five plane tickets to the frozen tundra of Minnesota, or you can stay home and buy yourself an extra Christmas present.

Not so hard to decide now, is it?

Do Ample Recon

To make a hard decision, you need to make an informed decision. How can you do your due diligence here? Simple reconnaissance.

Sometimes for big families, the stars align and everyone can make it home for Christmas. When this happens, you don’t want to be the one family that doesn’t make it.

There is something oddly appealing and romantic about a huge family holiday party.

This means you need to find out who will be at each family’s holiday gathering. If your family is anything like ours, this will take a few thousand texts. And for the first five or six weeks, you’ll be at a stalemate. The more married siblings you have in your family, the longer it will take for someone to finally choose. But once someone does choose, the dominoes will fall.

If you’re feeling bold, make the first move. Declare where you will be spending the holidays (after flipping a coin or not choosing paper twice in a row) and watch how your siblings respond.

Do Both?

If you really hate yourself and your family, try to do both.

I’m kidding (kind of). This is of course much easier if both of your families are local. But if both your families are local, then why are you reading this?

Another option is to advocate for the delay of your Christmas celebration with one of your families. If enough of your siblings are not going to be able to attend on the December 25, you can coordinate a time to get together and have your typical celebration then. My family is local; my wife’s family is not. We almost always make it up to see her family sometime in the month of December, even if we spend Christmas Eve and Chrstmas Day with my family.


Host It Yourself?

If you really hate yourself and your family, you can just host both your families at your house this year.

Again, I’m mostly kidding (kind of)—though, I must admit visions of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation are dancing in my head.

I would not advise hosting every year, but if you want to mix things up and if your house is big enough, then I say go for it! While I wouldn’t dream of doing anything like this right now, there is something oddly appealing and romantic about a huge family holiday party. Maybe someday!

No matter how you choose where to spend the holidays (or how you choose to choose), it’s important to keep things in perspective. Sometimes, you need to compromise. When there is conflict, try to put yourself in your significant other’s shoes. This decision should be made together. The decision on how to decide should also be made together.

And remember, you can’t please everyone all the time. The holidays are stressful enough without the pressure of trying to make everyone else happy. Give yourself a break and do what’s best for your relationship!

Good luck choosing. I hope—

Oh no . . . I feel another song coming . . . Get out while you still can!

This decision’s so depressing
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
’Tis the reason to be stressing
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
Gosh, this choice is making me queasy
Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la
Next year we’ll just go to Fiji
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la

How I’m Learning to Love Patience

I’m waiting for my time to come.
Waiting for the curtain to fall.
I could lose my cool like a restless fool, but I’m waiting for my time to come.

– Colony House

I was first approached about the job opportunity at the end of January. My interview didn’t take place until the first week of May.

Around that same time, my boyfriend and I were deciding whether or not to continue our relationship. And when I say “we,” I really mean I was waiting for him to make a decision about us.

Those few months (which felt like a few hundred years) held quite a bit of anxiety and suspense as I faced a great deal of uncertainty in two of the most important areas of my life.

It was a long four months.

We learn early on that waiting is just part of life.

Waiting until you’re old enough to do the things you can’t as a child. Waiting for him to text . . . and then to ask you out. Waiting to hear back from the colleges you applied to. Waiting to graduate. Waiting to hear back from the job you interviewed for. Waiting to find the right person. Waiting for a child to be born . . .

Patience means you are free from the burden of fear or worry about the future.

Waiting in line at the grocery store. Waiting to save up for a car or a house or a vacation. Waiting for your nails to dry. Waiting for the light to turn green. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting for me to make my point (I’m getting there I promise).

Waiting can be mildly annoying (ex: traffic) to downright excruciating (ex: waiting for someone to break up with you).

But waiting doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, it shouldn’t. Because waiting is such a big part of life, we want to not only come to terms with it but also experience peace and even experience joy there in the wait.


Patience. The practice of accepting delay, suffering, or trouble gracefully—without getting angry or upset.

I know, “patience is a virtue” and whatnot—you already know this.

But what is the point? Why do we care about this? What does a virtue (like patience) do?

I could say it makes you a better person, which is nice, but when you’re sick and tired and frustrated beyond belief, this may not bring you much comfort.

I don’t blame you.

The reality is that patience does make you a better person (employee, friend, spouse, parent, driver . . . ), but patience also enables you to enjoy life, despite uncertainty, fears, and the increasingly long list of ‘“not now’s” we face day in and day out.

Patience means accepting that you are not in control of everything—most especially other people.
Patience means you are free from the burden of fear or worry about the future.
Patience means you can live in the moment, you can live for today.
Patience means you can be hopeful even in uncertainty.
Patience means you can embrace the adventure that life is.
Patience allows you to love mystery and live fully: you don’t know, you’re not “there” yet, and that’s okay.

Life, in a very real way, is waiting for one thing or another. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. You can love the wait!

Theoretically, patience sounds like a good thing. But how do you live it? Most of us are familiar with the concept of patience but don’t actually know how to be more patient.

Like any good thing, it takes practice.

. . . Bet you didn’t see that one coming.

JK, you probably did . . . #predictable

Here are some ways I practice patience:

Still mornings

Getting up early and taking time to read, pray, and reflect has helped me immensely. I can carry that stillness with me into the rest of my day, even when the hours seem to be crawling by.

Painting my nails

When I manage to wait long enough for them to dry completely, I am giddy from the small victory.


I want to have it done already, but I strive to pay attention to the pretty leaves, the music I’m listening to, or my breathing, instead of how much I want the run to be over. (Walks work for this, too.)


It’s a great discipline that feeds into every area of your life. Giving up solid foods every once in a while has taught me a lot about the strength that lies in denying yourself something you really want right now.

Putting off purchases

There are so many things I want. Blankets, wall decorations, frames, clothes, shoes . . . I limit myself to only a couple of these types of “miscellaneous” purchases each month. Holding off buying that really cute or cozy or impractical [fill in the blank] can be frustrating, but it’s definitely easier on my wallet. And ultimately, I know I can live without it (at least until next month).


When I first started to read more frequently, my inclination was to get frustrated with how long it takes me to get through one book. As I continue to persevere, I’m learning to be okay with the fact that Gone with the Wind is most likely going to take me until Christmas to finish. And I will love every second of it.


I aim to do one mindfulness meditation each day (hopefully that will increase eventually). Sitting still trying to think of nothing for ten minutes is possibly one of the most difficult things I’ll ever do, but it is essential to the art of being present. If you’re not sure where to start, you can use this resource to begin learning how to practice mindfulness.

Here’s the thing, I don’t want to wait my life away. I don’t want to spend my days just trying to make it to 5:00 p.m. I don’t want to spend my weeks daydreaming about the weekend. I don’t want to wish away my single life. I don’t want to hate my commute or stare at my phone hoping for a response. I want to live now.

I want to live patiently, savoring every second.

Those four months were dreadful. My career and relationship were hanging in the balance and there was nothing I could do . . . except wait.

And wait I did. And I’m still waiting. Because even though I eventually lost the boy and got the job, the wait isn’t over.

Those four months taught me that life, in a very real way, is waiting for one thing or another. But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it. I can love the wait.

I’m waiting for 5:00 p.m., I’m waiting for Friday, I’m waiting to go home and see my family again, I’m waiting to meet someone . . .

Waiting doesn’t mean worrying. As much as I can, I want to be #carefree—and patience is helping me get there, one moment at a time.

Prioritizing Your To-Do List

Lynette, make me a dentist appointment, cut my grass, dust the blinds, finish writing my article about online dating profiles, take my daughter to the zoo, make dinner, stain the deck, read this book for work and give me the high-level notes, go to this meeting, go to that meeting, go to all my meetings, buy my wife flowers, start a load of laundry, and get my car’s oil changed. Thanks!

This is what I would tell Lynette (my imaginary personal assistant) if she existed. She doesn’t exist. There is no Lynette. Which means . . . I’m on my own with all these tasks. And, Lynette or not, they need to get done.

If you’ve got a pulse, you’ve got a to-do List. You might not have it all written down, but you do have responsibilities that need to get done. If you try to do everything at once, you will fail. If you pick and choose the easiest things on the list, important stuff is going to fall through the cracks. What you need to do is prioritize . . . or hire Lynette.

But with tons of tasks and no Lynette, how do you prioritize your to-do List?

I’m glad you asked! Here are eight simple steps that will help all of your to-dos get to-done.

1. Write It Down

The first step to prioritizing your to-do list is to actually create your to-do list. Try not to let your list rattle around in your head. Write every task—big or small—down. There are a few reasons why you want to do this: 1) You’re less likely to forget a task if it’s written down; 2) Your success becomes measurable (i.e., you can track what you’ve done and what you need to do); and 3) Any shared list (say, with a spouse) makes it easier for things to get assigned and finished, without miscommunication.

One of the Herbert Family mottos is “If it’s written down, it’s gettin’ done.”

2. Assign Importance

Now that everything is written down, you can start assigning importance. Knowing the importance of a task will ultimately help you determine if you need to get it done today, tomorrow, next week, next month, or never. This is another reason why writing down your list is so crucial. Something might seem important, that is, until you compare it to other things on your list.

Assigning importance is all about consequences. With any item on your list, ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that will happen if this doesn’t get done?”

Only you can determine what is important and what isn’t, but I recommend that you write a number between 1 and 4 next to every item on your list, 1 for the highest importance (like studying for tomorrow’s test), and 4 for the lowest (like dusting the blinds).

3. Assign Urgency

Importance is not the only thing that drives prioritization. You could have ten hugely important tasks, but none of them “due” for another year. This is called urgency. Obviously, if something needs to get done today, it gets bumped up higher than something that seems far more important but isn’t due for a bit.

Your to-do list is a living, breathing document. It will—and should—change over time.

For example, if you are choosing between cutting the grass and preparing for your big interview in two weeks, cutting the grass—which is not nearly as “important”—will be prioritized higher than preparing for the interview. If the interview is tomorrow, on the other hand, you could live with raking some grass clippings.

Now, with your list handy, put a star next to anything that is super urgent (due today or in the next couple days), put a dot or circle next to anything that is kind of urgent (due within a week or two), and leave the rest blank (due in months or there’s no clear due date at all).

Feel free to come up with your own numbering or symbol system, but the important thing is to have a quick visual reference of what is important and what is urgent. You can now prioritize your tasks (i.e., put them in order from highest priority to lowest priority) based on importance and urgency.

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4. Plan Your Attack

Now that you have your list written down, you know what’s most important, and you know what’s most urgent—now that you have your list prioritized—you can start planning your attack for the day or the week. In other words, you can start gettin’ stuff done.

I recommend you plan your week (both for home and for work) on Sunday evening or Monday morning, and then you plan your attack for each day of the week in the morning. A daily plan is a to-do list within a to-do list. A daily plan is putting a stake in the ground and claiming, “I will get these done today!”

When something has been on your list for a really, really long time, it’s usually a pretty good sign that it’s not important. It’s not urgent.

It’s important to be realistic here, and not too ambitious (or, conversely, too conservative). If you were to just look at your list of 45 bajillion things to do, you could easily get overwhelmed and paralyzed. Being overly ambitious leads to procrastination. But if you pick just four or five things per day, you can start whittling away.

Which brings us to our next point . . .

5. Make Progress

Most of the advice I’ve read about prioritizing your to-do list boils down to this: “Find the most important and urgent things on your list, and do those first.” These would probably be the 1★, 2★, and 1● items on your list.

I disagree with this advice. If it were that simple, you wouldn’t be reading this now.

Instead of picking today’s three most important or urgent tasks, I suggest that you pick one high priority task, two medium priority tasks, and three with lower priorities (unless deadlines dictate otherwise).

There will always be something “important” and “urgent” waiting to get done. But if you’re only doing the most important and urgent things, the little stuff will never get done. These smaller tasks will start to pile up.

Further, just focusing on the “important stuff” can lead to stalemates. Some bigger tasks might take weeks or months to accomplish. It’s important to still be crossing things off the list during this time. Nothing feels better than crossing off a completed task.

6. Tasks within Tasks

Another way to help you progress through your list is by creating tasks within tasks. With your larger tasks, it’s a good idea to break them into smaller tasks whenever possible. Each of these tasks can then have their own importance and urgency assigned to them.

For example, my wife really, really wants me to dust the blinds. Instead of creating a huge, daunting task (like “dust the blinds”), you break the task down into smaller tasks (like “dust the kitchen window blinds”). These subtasks can then be broken down even more if need be (like “dust a single slat of the kitchen window blinds”).

7. Be Flexible

When something has been on your list for a really, really long time, it’s usually a pretty good sign that it’s not important, it’s not urgent, and it can be removed from your list. That’s okay. Your to-do list is a living, breathing document. It will—and should—change over time. Tasks will move up and down in priority, new tasks will arise, and some tasks will need to be dropped completely.

8. Prioritizing “Non-Tasks”

Being fully present with your family. Reading a good book. Spending time in silence. Exercising. If these things aren’t written on your to-do list, they will rarely get done. The reason you might not make time for these types of “non-tasks” is because of the illusion of non-urgency (because you know they’re important). But I assure you, you do have a deadline—even if you have no idea what that deadline is. Kids grow up, life takes unexpected turns. You have deadlines.

Try to do at least one “non-task” every day (which means writing it down, assigning importance and urgency, making time for it, and then crossing it off your daily plan of attack).

Using the above tips myself, I really blasted through my to-do list today. Lynette would be proud.

And now that I’ve finished writing this article, I can move on to the next important, urgent, awesome task on my to-do list. Let’s see . . . that would be . . .

Either write my next article, “What To Do When Your Priorities Don’t Align with Your Spouse’s” (Or: “How Finally Dusting the Blinds Saved My Marriage”) . . . or watch cat videos on YouTube.

YouTube it is!

The 6 Kinds of Friends You Should Have in Your Life

Friendships are one of God’s greatest gifts and necessary for a meaningful and happy life. Studies show that people without friends are more likely to die early and be much less content. While some friends remain in our lives forever and others just for a season, each enriches our life and makes us a better person. Here are six kinds of friends everyone should have:

There’s nothing like someone who just “gets” you, who is wired the same way you are and shares the same world view.

1. The Confidante

This is the friend you can trust with your deepest secrets and problems. An excellent listener, the confidante is always supportive and can be counted on to be available and discreet.

2. The Mentor

Each of us needs a friend who inspires us to be our best selves without belittling us or making us feel inadequate. A mentor friend is a wise person who calls you to be and do more, and who is willing to share expertise, experience, and advice when you need it.

3. The Kindred Spirit

There’s nothing like someone who just “gets” you, who is wired the same way you are and shares the same world view. Kindred spirits make us feel understood, accepted, and less alone in the world. Even if you rarely see this friend in person, when you do, it’s like no time has passed.

4. The Loyal Bestie

We all need a friend who will stand by us no matter what, who loves us no matter our mistakes or shortcomings. This is the loyal best friend – always there, cheering us one, ready to accept us for who we are and who we can be.

5. The Challenger

It’s not always fun to be challenged, but having someone in our lives who will speak the truth, who will kick us in the pants when we need it and invite us to take risks, is a great gift. This is the friend who will help you get out of your comfort zone and reach higher.

Good friends who love, respect, challenge, support, understand, and stand by us are one of life’s greatest joys!

6. The Fun Bud

We all need a friend we can call up last minute for a movie, a drink, or a quick visit. Always up for an adventure, this is the friend who makes you smile and helps you to relax and rejuvenate. Who doesn’t need that?

Many of these “friend types” can often be found in more than one person, but one thing’s for sure – good friends who love, respect, challenge, support, understand, and stand by us are one of life’s greatest joys. Cherish and nurture these friendships and be a great friend in return.

6 Ways to Spend Meaningful Time With Your Spouse Without Leaving the House

While it’s important to make time to get out on a date with your spouse, it’s also crucial to build in special time together regularly, right at home. It may seem impossible, given the busyness of life, but it can happen if you get a little creative. Here are six ways to spend meaningful time with your spouse without ever leaving the house…

1. Happy Hour

Use the time right before dinner (or after) as a chance to connect–pour a special cocktail, glass of wine, or favorite beverage and catch up on your days while preparing dinner. Who ever gets home first can serve up the drinks! It’s a nice way to be welcomed home and gives you both a touch-stone after a long work day.

Making time for each other isn’t that difficult if you think about how to anchor the time around already established routines at home.

2. His-and-her Massages

After the kids are in bed, set aside some time to unwind and take turns giving each other a massage – back, feet, head, or hands. It’s a simple way to reconnect physically and emotionally and allows you to do something healing for each other.

3. Morning prayer

There’s nothing that gets the day off to a better start than prayer before your feet even hit the ground. Before you even rise, pray with your spouse – either a set prayer you both know or something spontaneous. It doesn’t have to be long. Give your day to God and ask him to bless your marriage and your family and all the tasks ahead of you. Praying together strengthens a relationship and fosters a strong sense of togetherness.

4. Tea Time

After dinner, or once the kids are in bed, sit down together for some tea – non-caffeinated, is best before bed, of course! There are many tea varieties that facilitate calm and relaxation and “tea time” can be a meaningful daily ritual. It’s no coincidence that tea time is an important tradition in so many cultures.

5. Date Night at Home

A special evening doesn’t need to always happen outside the walls of your home. Hire a babysitter or wait until the kids are in bed, order some favorite take-out, open a bottle of wine, turn off the digital devices, and pay attention to one another.

6. Saturday Mornings

If your kids have a favorite show or movie they watch each week, why not use that time for your spouse? Saturday mornings are often a time in the week when parents don’t have to get up for work and kids don’t have homework to do so find a quiet spot while the kids are being entertained and spend some time together.

Making time for each other isn’t that difficult if you think about how to anchor the time around already established routines at home. Even just ten minutes of focused time on one another will go a very long way.

Dealing with Difficult Family During the Holidays

Every time I anticipate being with family again, I envision it as one of the many, many holiday commercials that begin to crop up this time of year: hot morning cups of coffee in an updated, generic looking kitchen; matching pajamas; cozy smiles; soft music playing in the background; corny jokes and hearty laughs to boot.

Every year I go home and am sorely disappointed.

Family is—in my opinion—one of the most beautiful things we experience in this life. But it is not one long “’tis the season” Starbucks ad.

It can be not only difficult to come to terms with the family we were given—rather than the one we think we should have—but also painfully challenging to deal with the unhealthy dynamics and at-times-unpleasant individuals in a loving way.

Family is made up of broken people who are typically trying their best, just like the rest of the world.

The differences are, in our own families, we are made privy to exactly how broken these people are, and we’re inevitably affected by their various wounds and problematic behaviors: annoying relatives, controlling family members, family drama . . . take your pick. At the same time, we don’t see ourselves as broken or our behavior as problematic, adding another level of difficulty to the mix.

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It’s easy in friendships or casual relationships to romanticize the other person, because we don’t see their true depth—good and bad. We usually see only what they want to present. This idealization is especially prevalent in the age of social media, where everyone puts their best, most photogenic, perfectly manicured foot forward.

Because of this, we find ourselves wondering what on earth is wrong with us and why our families are so dysfunctional.

Maybe your family is more dysfunctional than mine (although mine does feel pretty darn dysfunctional sometimes). The point is, every single family has its problems, because every single person has problems; and families are simply people who have been brought together and who choose to love.

Just because my time at home won’t look like a delightful holiday season commercial, it doesn’t mean I should avoid family gatherings.

Just because we know our families are broken, it doesn’t mean we can’t love them.

All this being said, here is how to deal with difficult family members, avoid (or at least reduce) family conflicts, and love your dysfunctional family this holiday season.

Mentally Prepare

No, I don’t mean you should embrace the dread you may be feeling, because it’s going to be terrible. That can be there, but you should also consider how you want to feel during the holidays. Joyful, excited, peaceful? I know it may seem too good to be true, but you do have a choice in the matter. Your emotions don’t have to be at the mercy of your siblings’ sarcastic remarks or parents’ evident disapproval. Remember that, though an emotion may surface quickly and dangerously after a rude comment or uncomfortable question (“So, are you seeing anyone?”), you don’t have to act on it or let it simmer indefinitely.

The more you are investing in yourself and meeting your own needs, the calmer and more equipped you will feel despite the chaos you may be immersed in.

Consider the biases you may have toward your family members. Aunt Soandso is stuck up, or Grandma is disappointed I’m not married yet. Let your family surprise you. Maybe your aunt can be down to earth if you give her a chance and chat with her over dinner. Maybe Grandma isn’t disappointed, only curious. Really strive to see the good instead of only the bad. The more you go into it determined to see the best in people, the more you’ll be able to enjoy the time with your family, instead of merely tolerating it.


In preparation for your trip and time at home, take extra good care of yourself. Make sure you get your exercise in, maybe even a few more workouts than normal. Do your best to eat well (I know this is super hard during the holidays) in the weeks before. You can also consider splurging on a massage, manicure, or facial (or extra meetings with your therapist). Read a good book that inspires you, or make time for morning walks. Additionally, spending extra time in the classroom of silence can help you feel calmer about the unpleasant situations you may be anticipating.

The more you are investing in yourself and meeting your own needs (physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual), the calmer and more equipped you will feel despite the chaos and potential (but hopefully not) family drama you may be immersed in. Step up your self-care beforehand, and do your best to at least maintain these rituals throughout your time with family.


Sometimes loving people means establishing boundaries. In fact, boundaries can help us love our friends and family more. There are boundaries regarding what you can do (when you’re available and when you’re unavailable), and boundaries regarding what the relationship is.

Life is short, and the holidays fly by. Be present to your, seek to understand and to love.

You should be clear on the nature of the relationship: you are not your parents’ marital counselor or your sibling’s emotional punching bag. If you’re not establishing the boundary and taking time to recharge—that’s not on the other person, that’s on you. You may not be able to control what someone else does, but you can control what they get away with.

If a relative makes a snide remark—even if it is delivered as a “joke”—you can call them out, calmly and respectfully. If your parents start confiding in you about their marital troubles or speaking ill of the other, it’s okay for you to say “Mom (or Dad), I love you, but I don’t think we should be having this conversation.”

Take heed of warning signs: anger, resentment, low energy. Allow yourself time to separate from the group to take a breather and come back once you’re in a healthier mind space.


Walk a mile in their shoes. Your uncle who’s a little pretentious, your mom who’s a little critical, your brother who states his opinions as fact, your cousin who drinks a little too much . . . each and every one of them is fighting a battle you may have no idea about. They all have hurts and past experiences that have shaped them into who they are today—there’s more to them than what you’re seeing. Try, to the extent that you can, to see things from their point of view. Ask questions, listen, step into their person for a moment. As you come to really know someone, it becomes a lot harder not to love them.

As painful and frustrating and difficult as these people can be, for whatever reason, we were chosen to love them. As their family, we have a huge responsibility to remind them that they are loved—no matter how much we want to strangle them at times.

Life is short, and the holidays fly by. Don’t waste this time texting your friends about how crazy your family is making you (even if it’s true). Do your best to be present to them, seek to understand and to love. It’s easy to forget that the family is the school of love—and it can be incredibly powerful (for better or for worse).

No, the holidays aren’t going to be the picture-perfect scene I was promised by Folgers or JCPenney, but I’ll take real over perfect any day.

“Life itself is a messy, untidy, haphazard affair.”

- Dorothy Day

Up and at ‘em: 9 Strategies to Wake Up Earlier

“All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendor, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!”

- Excerpt from “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge”
by William Wordsworth (1802)

Yeah. I’m opening this piece about waking up earlier with a sunrise poem. Deal with it.

Sunsets get all the glory (and most of the poems, too, I suspect), but I much prefer sunrises. Sunsets are public affairs; they belong to everyone with eyes and five minutes to spare. Sunrises are private affairs; in the grey quiet of the morning, they belong only to me.

I absolutely cannot wait to wake up. Right now, as I write this, it’s a little before noon and all I can think about is waking up tomorrow at 4:30 a.m.

This may sound bizarre to you, to be that excited about waking up earlier, but I was not born a morning person. There’s nothing in my DNA that makes me different than anyone else. I don’t come from a long line of morning people. I chose to become a morning person. I continue to choose it each morning. It is an act of the will.

You can choose to be a morning person, too. It’ll take some grit, but you can do it. If you want to enjoy the majesty of a silent morning, here are nine ways to start waking up earlier.

1. Take Baby Steps

Rome wasn’t built in a day. But Rome was built by people who could wake up early!

If you’re waking up foggy-headed and bleary-eyed at 6:45 a.m. right now, I would advise against trying to change that to a 4:30 a.m. rise-and-shine time. Instead, wake up fifteen minutes earlier than you’re used to for one whole week. If you’re still really, really struggling by the end of the week, keep that wakeup time for another week. Then, when you’re feeling comfortable, keep waking up fifteen minutes earlier than the week before and—voila!—in a matter of months, you’ll be waking up a few hours earlier than you did before, and the morning shall be yours!

The best thing about doing something once is that you know you can do it again.

2. Fall in Love with Feeling Tired

It’s still dark. Most everyone in your hemisphere is still asleep. It’s early! When that alarm clock sounds at 4:30 a.m., you’re going to feel tired. This will never go away. Expect it, accept it, fall in love with it, and know this: you’ll feel awake and energized fairly quickly as long as you get up and get after it!

I’ve been waking up at 4:30 (almost) every day for the last three years, and I am still tired every single morning. Many mornings, my first thought is, “Go back to sleep, ya doofus!” Even on mornings that I feel especially inspired to get up and get after it, it’s not like I wake up whistling “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” while cartoon squirrels and birds dress me. It’s hard. But I’ve done it.

You know the best thing about doing something once? You know you can do it again.

3. Go to Bed Earlier

Obvious? Yes. Easy? No.

Being committed to waking up earlier without being committed to going to bed earlier is like being committed to losing weight without being committed to not eating McDonald’s Big Macs for every meal.

If you’re following the baby steps idea in the first point above, then you should also be walking your bedtime back more and more as well.

The only thing standing in the way is yourself. There is only you and your desire to get the most out of your life.

If you’re struggling with falling asleep early, try a few of these tips:

  • No caffeinated drinks after 3:00 p.m. (coffee, sodas, energy drinks)
  • No TV or video games right before bed
  • No working out before bed
  • Try taking a warm shower before bed
  • Keep your phone out of arm’s reach while in bed—better yet, leave it in another room
  • Drink one small glass of wine before bed; if you don’t like alcohol, try a warm glass of milk
  • Try playing white noise (get a white noise machine instead of using your phone, which is in another room, right? Right?)

4. Absolutely No Snoozing

Admittedly, this one is easy for me. If my alarm went off more than once at the wee hours of the morning, my wife would not be very pleased with me. I don’t want to sleep on the couch, so I don’t hit snooze. Easy.

It might not be that easy for you. So as far as you’re concerned, there is no such thing as the “snooze” feature. It doesn’t exist. It’s science fiction. Or, if it helps, pretend that every time you hit the snooze button a kitten dies. Whatever you need to do to understand that you never hit the snooze button for any reason.

Not just this once. Not every once in a while. Not every blue moon. Never.

Got it? Good!

5. Drink Coffee First Thing

Mmmmmmm, wakey juice.

If you don’t already have a coffee maker with a scheduled brew feature, then do yourself a favor and get one. Knowing that there is a hot, fresh carafe of coffee waiting for me downstairs helps me pop out of bed so much easier. And coffee does more than just wake you up. It actually helps your brain function better.

Waking up early is a war. It is a battle against the self. You are your enemy. And there is only one way to win the war: Discipline.

If you don’t like coffee, take a shower right away or do a quick workout to get your blood flowing. The routine here is just as important as the wakeup technique.

6. Get an Accountability Buddy

Find a coworker or friend who is also struggling to wake up early (from my experience, this won’t be hard). Your buddy can help keep you honest. Agree to a quick phone call first thing in the morning (after you pour your coffee, of course). If you sleep alone and your phone isn’t on silent, your buddy’s call can also be a backup wakeup call.

If nothing else, it’s always easier to struggle through a habit change with someone else going through the same thing!

7. Wake Up at the Same Time Each Day (Yes, Even Weekends)

Imagine a person addicted to nicotine trying to quit smoking, but they still smoked on weekends. Imagine an alcoholic giving up the bottle . . . except on Saturday and Sunday.

It wouldn’t work.

If you spend the week waking up early, then relapse into bad sleeping habits on the weekends, your new habit won’t stick. I promise you. Now, if unforeseen circumstances keep me up later than I was expecting, I will occasionally sleep in. But remember, I’ve been doing this nearly three years. When you are establishing your habit, it is imperative that you wake up early each day, for at least a month.

You’ve got to have a reason to get up early. You need a Why. You need something that excites you.

You’ll see some research showing that it takes twenty-one days to form a habit, but that’s not entirely true. Maybe for something simple like flossing or taking a walk during your lunch break. But the more difficult the habit is for you, the longer it will take to establish. If waking up early is really, really hard for you, I would suggest trying ninety days of waking up early (still adhering to the baby steps outlined above).

8. Fast

Wait. What?

You read that right. Fast!

Waking up early is a war. It is a battle against the self. You are your enemy. And there is only one way to win the war: Discipline.

Discipline is a skill, just like drawing or singing or playing the piano. The more you practice discipline, the more disciplined you will be. So if you’re struggling with the discipline necessary to wake up early, try practicing discipline in other parts of your life. This is why fasting can be so effective. Fast from sugar in your coffee. Fast by not snacking between meals. Fast by not eating desserts. Get your will into the weight room and beef up your discipline.

9. Have a Reason

This is the big one. You’ve got to have a reason to get up early. You need a Why.
The reason I wake up every day is for my wife and kids. The reason I wake up early is for myself.

I write. I love writing. When I am writing, I am incredibly happy. When I am not writing, I am thinking about writing. I can’t wait to wake up at 4:30 a.m. tomorrow to write some more. When the alarm goes off, I know the keyboard is downstairs waiting for me to start creating—worlds and characters and stories. Writing is my thing.

So what’s your thing? It might be reading or cooking or creating a board game or developing a new app or drawing or praying or journaling or learning a new language or working on that awesome business idea or writing letters to your family or just reading the paper as the sun crests the horizon. Find something that excites you. Search for that thing you find yourself daydreaming about all day. That thing you always say, “I’d love to do _______ if only I had more time.” The morning is your time. Claim it.

Find your Why, then wake up early and do it.

You can do this. The only thing standing in the way is yourself. There is no boogeyman who sneaks into your room and makes sure you stay asleep. There are no laws about waking up early. There is no secret organization of sandmen working to make sure you skip the mornings. There is only you and your desire to get the most out of your life.

Good luck! And if ever we meet, let me know what you think of the sunrise.

If you like this article, you will love . . .

Rhythm of Life
Resisting Happiness

The Benefits of Being the Best You

Laura is a mother of three. Her fifteen-year-old daughter tells her she’s pregnant. Her mind is screaming. She wants to explode in rage. But she keeps her cool and tells her daughter that everything will be okay and that she loves her. And the world is changed forever.

Amanda is in the eighth grade. She is at a sleepover at Tina’s house with six other girls. Tina has “cool parents” who let them put on an R-rated movie. Amanda, embarrassed and knowing what this means for her social life, calls her parents to pick her up. And the world is changed forever.

Mike is a husband and father. His marriage of twenty-five years has been struggling. On a business trip, an attractive coworker sends him a provocative text. He deletes the text and goes to bed. And the world is changed forever.

When you choose to be the-best-version-of-yourself, when you exercise virtue and strength of character, you impact the world more than you will ever know.

Your life is the product of your decisions. Great decisions create a great life. Poor decisions create a troubled life. But your decisions affect more than just you personally. Your decisions affect everyone you come in contact with. Each great decision you make changes the world forever.

This is why consistently choosing to be the-best-version-of-yourself—like Laura, Amanda, and Mike—is so vital. When you choose to be the-best-version-of-yourself, when you exercise virtue and strength of character, you impact the world more than you will ever know. From your immediate family to complete strangers, you will influence people with your decisions.

Here are four ways the people around you benefit from your great decisions.

1. How Your Family Benefits

When you choose to be a-second-rate-version-of-yourself, you are actively choosing to hinder your family’s ability to succeed and thrive. When you put something else first-—your pride, money, a certain vice—you are declaring that those things are more important than your family. And your family intuitively feels this lesser-version-of-you affecting their lives. And they are diminished because of it.

Can you remember being a kid? So much of your mood and attitude were tied up in how your parents were feeling or behaving. When my dad was upset, I was much more easily upset. When my mom was angry, I responded with anger. On the other hand, when my dad was calm and relaxed, nothing could phase me. When my mom was peaceful and laughing, I felt like I could do anything in the world.

When you make a great decision, your parents, your siblings, your kids, and your spouse are all better for it.

Now that I’m the parent, it’s hard for me to keep this concept in mind regarding my own mood, behavior, and choices. It might be obvious to you that choosing the-best-version-of-yourself as a mom or dad has an immediate and lasting effect on your kids. But obvious doesn’t mean easy. It takes daily, conscious effort. The impact you have on the world by raising great kids is infinite.

As a husband or wife, each decision you make affects your marriage and your spouse. Even seemingly little “victimless” decisions—staying late at work or telling a white lie or spending too much time on social media—all have a lasting impact on your spouse’s life.

If you don’t have a wife or kids, don’t think you’re off the hook. As a child, even if you’re in your teens, you have more influence on your parents than you think. When a boy makes poor decisions, his parents are devastated. Moms and dads live in a constant state of worry, hoping and praying their children make great decisions and live great lives and surround themselves with great friends. Even if you’re in your fities, your elderly parents are constantly thinking about you and worrying over you.

When you make a great decision, your parents, your siblings, your kids, and your spouse are all better for it.

2. How Your Friends Benefit

What makes someone a great friend? Ask 10,000 people across all continents and cultures and you’ll get the same characteristics: loyal, honest, trustworthy, generous, and kind. You will also get some variation of this idea: “They bring out the best in me.”

When you are at your best, your friends thrive.

It’s interesting that most of the qualities we find endearing in a great friend are not those championed by popular culture. Modern culture tells us to “seize the day” and “take what’s yours” and “do what feels good.” It tells you that if you must be loyal, be loyal to 1) yourself and 2) your favorite brands. It undercuts honesty by constantly lying to you. It tells you to be generous with your opinion and beliefs but to spend your money on things you think will make you happy. Culture doesn’t want you to be a great friend; culture wants you to be a great consumer.

We all know what makes a good friend. But do we embody these qualities ourselves? Sometimes, sure. But many times, we buy into the culture’s lies. We are much more concerned with ourselves and our own desires, focusing inward instead of outward. We choose a-second-rate-version-of-ourselves and our friends suffer for it, all the while we’re still expecting our friends to choose the-best-version-of-themselves so we can benefit from their friendship.

When you are at your best, your friends thrive. When you make great decisions, your friends will make great decisions. When you make great decisions, you are able to stop worrying about your own needs and you can start tending to others’ needs.

It is impossible to be the-best-version-of-yourself and not be a great friend.

3. How Your Coworkers Benefit

There is an episode of The Office where one of the quirkiest characters, Dwight, leaves the small Midwest paper company to work at Staples. Once he’s gone, Michael Scott, his former boss, notices things aren’t running as smoothly. The entire sales team is swamped with work in his absence, the office plants are dying, and even Michael’s desk toys don’t look right to him!

What Michael didn’t realize was just how much Dwight did for the company (he was rearranging the toys every night and watering the plants, among other things). He was a great, if eccentric, salesman, but his performance was just the tip of the iceberg on how he was impacting the business and his coworkers. He was more than his title.

You are so much more than the work you do, too. Granted, performing with excellence is definitely a part of being the-best-version-of-yourself. You can’t phone it in at work and be the-best-version-of-yourself at the same time. But your character—who you are—has an immediate and lasting effect on your coworkers.

Think about it. In most cases, the average 40-hours-a-week employee is spending more time with fellow coworkers than his own family. Your coworkers might be interacting with you more than they are reading books or watching TV. And the higher up you are in an organization, you are inherently more influential to your colleagues.

Small, awesome decisions, made consistently and deliberately over the course of a career, will change your coworkers’ lives and the world. Showing up early for meetings, staying positive (especially when working with people below your “pay-grade”), staying off your phone during meetings, giving credit where credit is due, avoid blaming others even when you feel it is just to assign blame, passing up a promotion because you know the money isn’t worth the lost time with your family, avoiding gossip, or even calling people out for talking poorly about colleagues behind their backs—these things might seem trivial (or, to some, like poor choices). But your peers notice them.

Your coworkers will see you at your best and think: “She’s got it figured out. I want what she has . . .”

4. How Complete Strangers Benefit

By now, I hope you’re nodding along as you read this or even saying: Of course my decisions impact those people closest to me! This section, however, might strike you as a little more far-fetched and unbelievable.

How can choosing the-best-version-of-myself affect complete strangers?

Easy. Because there is no such thing as a purely personal act.

How many times have you heard this one: “I’m not hurting anybody! What’s the big deal?”
Have you said this before? I know I have. Even if I never say it out loud, I’ve said it to myself. It’s the ultimate rationalization.

But it’s a lie. (And it is worth mentioning that no one ever says this about the things they know are good.)

Everything you do affects the people around you and the world—not just today, but for generations to come. And not just big stuff, but everyday private acts as well. Not getting enough sleep, drinking too much, spending too much time on social media, viewing pornography, not exercising, or gossiping. These small “private” acts pick away at your character. They prevent you from being the-best-version-of-yourself. And when you are a-second-rate-version-of-yourself, it affects your spouse, kids, parents, friends, and coworkers.

Choose greatness. Choose the-best-version-of-yourself. And the world will be changed forever.

Your small, “private” decision ripples outward through time, affecting every single life it touches. It doesn’t end.

When you’re the-best-version-of-yourself, your good deeds echo through time as well. Use this chain reaction for good. Make great decisions and change the world.

What’s the scariest thing about all this? You matter.

What’s the awesome thing about all this is? YOU MATTER!

The decisions you make and the person you choose to be matter—it matters to your family and your friends and your coworkers and the entire world.

It’s not a question of what difference can you make in the world, but what difference will you make? Choose greatness. Choose the-best-version-of-yourself. And the world will be changed forever.

Dads: Here’s How You Can Ensure Your Daughter Will Marry a Good Man

She looked so beautiful in white. My sweet baby girl. Holding back tears, I watched my daughter walk down the aisle. I remember thinking to myself, “There goes my little girl. Gosh, I sure hope she doesn’t poop herself.”

At just 21-months-old, she was, of course, the flower girl, and not the bride. But still, I proudly watched her going down that aisle toward her mommy. And then I had another thought, “Someday she is going to be the bride.”

And then, with that new thought, I hoped that I wouldn’t poop myself . . .

All fathers with daughters realize it eventually. Our little girls are going to grow up. They are going to start dating. They are going to fall in love, get their hearts broken, make bad decisions, make good decisions, and—eventually—get married.

When it comes to her choice in a husband, it’s easy to relinquish the responsibility. “She’s an adult,” you’ll tell yourself. “I did the best I could. I can’t choose for her.”

This is only true to a point. For at least the first eighteen years of her life, you are (or should be) the sole model of manhood and masculine love for your daughter. I’m not saying that if you have a mustache, she’ll marry a man with a mustache, but I am saying that you have a responsibility to help your daughter navigate her future romantic endeavors.

The best way you can honor your daughter is by being there for her.

Think of it like this. You are going to influence her romantic life no matter what (even if you run out—especially if you run out). Everything you say and do is impacting her ideas and beliefs about love, sex, and romance. Want to be a positive influence? Follow these five simple (but far from easy) tips.

1. Honor Her

The best way you can honor your daughter is by being there for her. This means spending quality time together. And by quality, I mean quantity—a quantity of quality time! This means showing her (not just telling her) that she is more important to you than the title on your business card, your golf score, and the car you drive. It means regularly doing things with her that she enjoys and wants to do (even if you hate doing those things). It means undivided attention. It ultimately means sacrificing for her, over and over and over.

Honoring your daughter also means striving to choose the-best-version-of-yourself each day. When you are at your best, your daughter reaps the benefits. She will see how a man should act. She will see how a man should speak to her. She will know what it means to be cared for and precious. Your best self is her best defense against bad men.

2. Protect & Defend Her

You are her daddy. From inside the womb, she becomes familiar with your deep voice. As a baby and toddler, she is in awe of your size and strength. When you fail to protect her, it’s confusing for her. Protecting her doesn’t necessarily mean fighting off predators (though it might —so stay in shape!), but it does mean teaching her about drugs and alcohol. It means having awkward conversations about sex. It means cutting through the lies of modern culture and telling her the truth. It’s about being counter-cultural because you know the culture is against her, you know the culture doesn’t want her to be happy. The culture wants her to be pretty—and to spare no expense to accomplish it.

When you held your baby girl for the first time, I hope you realized your life was no longer your own.

Protecting her also means setting rules she will not like. It means disciplining her and enforcing boundaries that will infuriate her. It means saying no and teaching her the beauty of modesty. When you set rules, when you put her safety and sanctity above her current opinion of you, you are telling her that you love her and that she is worth it. And she will understand this . . . eventually.

You must be involved in her life—even if it’s embarrassing for either her or you. It’s about knowing where she is going, what she is doing, what music she’s listening to, what movies she’s watching, and who she is spending her time with. It means teaching her how to make great decisions. But it also means not exploding when she makes a poor decision. It means hugging her and telling her you love her before lecturing her. It means comforting her when a boy breaks her heart. It means trusting her enough to make some decisions, and loving her enough to make some decisions for her.

It also means getting to know the men in her life. When your daughter starts dating, don’t let these boys off easy. Make them come to the house to pick up your daughter—no honking from the car. Shake their hands. Ask them what time they will be bringing your little girl home. And if they fail to keep their word, let them know you are disappointed. Even if it doesn’t seem like it, your approval of any guy will mean the world to your daughter. It will mean more than her friends’ or even her mother’s approval. If you disapprove of a man, tell her, but have reasons ready. If you like a boy or man in her life, tell her that, too!

Your daughter will largely form her sense of body image from you. Reinforce that she is just right. That she is beautiful and worthy of love.

3. Uplift Her

Girls are more verbal than boys. While you could probably get away with watching the game silently with a son, your daughter needs more than that. She needs you to constantly uplift and affirm her. She needs to hear that you love her. She needs to hear you say it, and she might even need to hear you say why you love her. And she needs you to do so joyfully and, ideally, without solicitation. If she does ask, try not to respond begrudgingly. Your body language can uplift (or disappoint) just as much as your words.

Your daughter will largely form her sense of body image from you. Reinforce that she is just right. That she is beautiful and worthy of love. Hearing it from you matters a lot in terms of how she views herself and, subsequently, what she will seek in a mate.

You can get in trouble here, so be careful. If you are only ever telling her how pretty she is—or if you focus on only how good she is at sports or how smart she is—there’s a good chance she’ll latch onto these parts of her life (looks, athletics, or academics) and put an unhealthy focus on them to impress you. Instead, uplift her character. Avoid putting too much emphasis on just a few superficial qualities.

4. Love Her

Your daughter needs your affection. She needs you to kiss her and hug her. She needs you to go out of your way to love her—to prove it regularly. As a teenager, when she acts out, she is really saying, “Do you love me, daddy? Do you love me enough to fight for me?”

If you make her feel special, like she’s the only girl in your life . . . she will want that in a future husband.

If you don’t provide her the love she’s craving, she will go out (when she’s old enough) and find some man who will. You probably won’t like the man she chooses. Our culture is incredibly hostile for girls. Young boys and girls are inundated with sexual advertisements and television programs from a very early age. Movies depicting a very distorted version of love can have PG ratings. If you think this has no effect on them, you’re wrong.

If you love her completely and unconditionally. If you pay attention when she speaks. If you really listen to her, without getting angry and without trying to fix everything. If you make her feel special, like she’s the only girl in your life . . . she will want that in a future husband. In fact, anything less than that won’t be good enough.

5. Honor, Protect, Defend, Uplift, and Love Her Mother

Before your daughter can speak, she is observing how you interact with her mother. She is understanding and learning more about love and husband-wife relationships than you know. How you treat your wife will “tint” your daughter’s romance goggles as she grows older. For the rest of her life, she will view romantic relationships—including her own—with those tinted goggles. The filter you’re creating by your interactions with her mother will color her own perceptions of love. So be affectionate toward your wife. Try not to fight in front of your daughter. And avoid making petty, snide, or sarcastic comments to each other. Kids pick up on these things.

If your marriage is struggling, I urge you to try to make it work. Divorce is hardly ever the answer, and it is almost always not what is best for the kids. You have a culture screaming at you, “Do whatever makes you happy!” But divorce is devastating on kids. Are they doomed to a life of misery and pain? No. But they will face challenges that they wouldn’t have if you stayed together—every study confirms this. If you are already divorced, be as involved as possible. You can still be a positive force in her life.

When you held your baby girl for the first time, I hope you realized your life was no longer your own. This is your time to sacrifice for your daughter. Love her mother. Make it work. Be involved. And never give up.

When you get married, you make solemn vows. When you have kids, you are given this little person without any vows or promises or even instructions. That’s weird, isn’t it? You don’t have to make a single promise to be a parent. But here’s my suggestion. Make vows anyways. Tonight, take some time to make vows to your daughter—whether she’s five weeks old, five years old, or fifty years old. Promise to honor, protect, defend, uplift, and love her, through good times and through bad, for the rest of your life.

Because what’s the surest way to guarantee your daughter will marry a great man?

Be one.

Work Hard. Stay Humble.

They had taken him off the respirator. He lay in his hospital bed staring up at familiar faces, each one streaked with tears. This was it. His wife, his children, even his grandchildren, all here to say goodbye. He swallowed and opened his lips to speak. Everyone in the room leaned forward to hear his last words.

“I wish . . .” he hesitated. “I wish . . . I wouldn’t have spent so much time with y’all. I coulda bought a boat.” And then he breathed his last.

This has never happened. This will never happen. Deathbed regrets never involve spending too much time with loved ones. Yet, how many of us focus on our work and our title and our salary more than our own family? We rationalize that it’s all for them. You are putting in 70-hour weeks so you can afford to give your children a life of comfort that your own parents couldn’t afford to give you.

It’s a lie. Your family wants you, not more stuff. And at the end of the day, if we’re being really honest with ourselves, we know that our ambitions are often not for the good of our family, but driven by our own pride and vanity.

Working hard is admirable. Work is good. It’s not our punishment for Adam’s little mishap in the garden. Good work gives us purpose and meaning. We are meant to work, we’re made for it. But when pride motivates your work, when you work hard without humility, that's when you get into trouble. That’s when your priorities can get all twisted up.

Because when hard work is divorced from humility, ambition becomes obsession.

Humility helps you see the things that might threaten your success and prevents you from thinking you’re “too big to fail.”

Likewise, true humility cannot exist without the desire to work hard and succeed, otherwise it is a false humility. It is self-doubt dressed up as humility, and it can be used as an excuse to avoid trying for fear of failing.

All this is exactly why “Work hard. Stay humble.” is such a great phrase. In fact, it is without a doubt the best career advice that can fit into a fortune cookie.

It applies to young employees who are just starting their careers—enthusiastic and full of energy. It applies to middle management folks, who now have experience but might feel jaded or unheard. And it applies to CEOs. Shoot, it even applies to elementary school students and retirees.

So, why do you need to work hard and stay humble?

. . . Because success is fleeting.

Here today, gone tomorrow. Nothing gold can stay. Oh, how the mighty fall. This is the main reason why the CEO should practice the same humility as the shoe shiner-if not more.

No matter how hard you work, no matter how quickly or how high you rise, there are no guarantees that your success will last forever—or for more than a few weeks.

Pride can drive you to the top, but it won’t keep you there. Just think of all the Bond villains that had 007 captured but, in their prideful arrogance, divulged their entire diabolical scheme while giving James plenty of time to work out an escape.

Humility, on the other hand, will keep you from making mistakes that could stretch you too thin. It helps you see the things that might threaten your success and prevents you from thinking you’re “too big to fail.”

WORK HARD TIP: Work hard so that your team succeeds. Work hard so that everyone around you looks good, not so you look good.

STAY HUMBLE TIP: Treat your coworkers with respect, no matter how old they are and what their title is. This gets more and more important the higher you climb.

. . . Because there is no such thing as overnight success.

You hear these kinds of stories all the time. The “overnight successes” that took ten years of sacrifice and hard work. A band that spends nights and weekends together in a garage and then dive bars—or years—playing for peanuts until their big break. The writer who “comes out of nowhere” with a bestseller while the average reader has no idea this was actually his eighth novel, just the first to be published.

The danger here is listening to these stories and thinking that it was all luck which led to their success. If you are lacking in humility, you might tell yourself that you are just unlucky. That the universe is against you (a thought no humble person could ever have).

A humble person knows hard work is the only way to succeed. There are no shortcuts. Seeing others’ success inspires the humble person to work harder. The humble person makes his own luck. The humble person does not quit. The humble person smiles to himself when the TV reporter mentions the phrase “overnight success” during his big interview.

There’s a common phrase in the writer’s world that goes something like this: What do you call a writer who never gives up? Published.

WORK HARD TIP: Create daily goals. Write them down. And then do them.

STAY HUMBLE TIP: Feeling jealous about others’ success is normal. What you do with those feelings is what matters. Try congratulating others and asking for tips from those who have achieved what you want.

. . . Because it’s a big world.

This might be hard to hear, but as far as the world is concerned, you aren’t special. There are more than 7.442 billion people on earth. Let me write it out:


That’s a lot of people. You are special in God’s eyes, and you’re special to your parents and friends and family. But the chances that you are having an original thought right now are practically zero. Further, you are probably not the “most” anything. While you can and should work hard, there is probably someone out there working harder. There is someone smarter, someone funnier, someone more talented, someone faster, someone who is better looking . . .

Does this all make you feel small? Good. Humility is about feeling small. Feeling small will help you keep your feet on the ground and your head out of the clouds.

G. K. Chesterton once wrote: “Humility is the mother of giants. One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.”

When you achieve greatness, your vision narrows. You no longer appreciate the little things because you can no longer see the little things. Without humility, your view from the mountain distorts your vision. You see yourself as large, and everything—and everyone—else as small. It is a false perception.

And, might I add, success is fleeting. The fall from the mountaintop hurts a heck of a lot more than the fall from the valley.

WORK HARD TIP: Don’t worry about working harder than anyone else. Just work harder than you did yesterday.

STAY HUMBLE TIP: Do one kind act of service for another person each day.

. . . Because you gotta fail early, fail often, and fail spectacularly.

I would have a PhD in failing if it weren’t for the fact that I wasn’t accepted into the program . . .

I have failed a lot. Having played baseball from T-ball through college, I know what it’s like to step up to the plate after an intentional walk loads the bases, only to strikeout; I know what it’s like to give up seven runs in the first inning and get yanked before making three outs; I know what it’s like to come into the game in relief and give up a bomb.

I have failed a lot. But I am not a failure. Why? Because I didn’t let those failures define me.

The first novel I wrote right out of college was rejected by every agent I sent it to. Numerous short stories are rotting away on my hard drive, none of them published by a literary magazine. Over a span of three years in my twenties, I applied to twenty-five creative writing graduate programs and was rejected by every single one. I’ve been given a fake phone number by a girl I asked out. And my brothers and I starred in a reality TV show for a major cable network that ended up getting canceled before a single episode aired.

I have failed a lot. But I am not a failure. Why? Because I didn’t let those failures define me. Instead, I let them teach me. I let them drive me even harder. I worked hard. I gave it my all. There is no shame in not succeeding when you give it your all. When you work hard and fail, there’s only one solution: work harder.

Humility saves you from failure. The prideful feel failure much worse than the humble. When pride is driving your motivations, your identity becomes entwined with success. You can’t bear to fail because you see a person’s worth in their material success. In fact, the fear of failure can paralyze you if you let pride take the wheel.

WORK HARD TIP: Whenever you fail, get into the habit of reflecting on why or how you failed. It’s only true failure if you learn nothing from it.

STAY HUMBLE TIP: Do something you might fail at once per week. You’ll survive, I promise.

. . . Because you are going to die.

Real talk. You are not immortal. None of us are. Life is terminal. No one is getting out alive. We are all going to die one day. If that isn’t humbling, I don’t know what is.

Humility is not going to save you from this reality. But pride will hide it from you.

Too often we live like we’re going to live forever. In our vanity, we put off certain things and people, thinking we have plenty of time in the future to invest in these things and people.

Humility reminds us that, like success, life is fleeting. That time is precious.

But I do have slightly different advice than what you might be familiar with regarding your mortality.

Instead of living every day as if it’s your last (because you would never get any sleep and you would probably cry a lot), live every day like it’s your first—when you were small and everything was filled with magic and wonder.

WORK HARD TIP: Start thinking about your legacy. How do you want to be remembered? What can you do to make this happen?

STAY HUMBLE TIP: Face your mortality. Ask yourself, “If I knew I was going to die one year from today, what would I try to accomplish?”

Welp. There’s really nothing else to say but this . . .

Work hard. Stay humble.

30 Ways to Reduce Stress—Right Now

Imagine a one-year-old retriever-mix mutt cowering in the corner of a kennel in the back of the local animal shelter. Tail between his legs, ears drawn back, eyes wide and darting. Drowning in the ruckus that ensues every time someone walks into the room. Waiting, unsure if someone is finally going to take him home or if he’ll be taken out back to be killed.

That’s pretty much how I feel when I get stressed.

Stress is unavoidable. As great as I am at compartmentalizing things—and trust me, I could teach a MasterClass in compartmentalization—there comes a time when the levee breaks and the waves of stress flood the streets.

Then what?

Many of the stress-relieving techniques I’ve been offered left me thinking, “Yes, if I had developed that habit of x, y, or z three months ago, it would certainly bear a more stress-free Dominick today. But guess what? I didn’t. I need a right-now solution to
my right-now stress problem.”

So if you are feeling stressed, here are thirty things you can do right now to relieve some of the stress you might be feeling.

1. Breathe

In for a slow count of four, out for a slow count of four. Close your eyes. In through your nose, out through your mouth. Do this for at least two minutes.

2. Do one small thing

Find something on your to-do list that you can cross off in five minutes or less: Finally change that lightbulb in the garage. Send that quick email you’ve been meaning to get around to. Whatever it is, just do one small thing to get that burst of “I’ve accomplished something!” endorphins.

3. Ask someone to pray for you

Or think about you. Or send good vibes your way. Sometimes we need to share our burdens with others.

4. Take a walk

Ten minutes. Brisk pace. Not a stroll. Not a jaunt. Go for a consistent long stride, and raise your heart rate a little bit in the process.

5. Write for five minutes about everything you are feeling

Don’t think, just write. Dump your feelings on the page. You can shred it after if you want. Let your fears, worries, and anger out of your heart.

Gratitude eradicates stress!

6. Read something encouraging for five minutes

Don’t have anything to read? Try Reader's Digest’s website, or Either one will yield dozens of uplifting quick reads to put you in a more positive state.

7. Make a list of ten things you are grateful for

Gratitude eradicates stress.
Plain and simple. Don’t do this as a mental exercise. Write them down. Say them out loud. “I’m thankful for my loving family.” “I’m thankful for my good health.”

Want to receive daily inspirational quotes like this?

Get Inspired

8. Watch a funny video

Youtube is filled with cats, funny home videos, and clips from late night talk shows. Take advantage and watch a four-minute clip that makes you giggle.

9. Do a Sudoku

Or a quick crossword, or a word search. They’re all over the internet. Just choose the beginner level. Something you can do in five minutes or less. It will make you feel accomplished, smart, and capable.

10. Smell something good.

Open a fresh pack of notecards and flip through them. Find an old book and breathe it in. Grab a handful of grass, or an apple from the break room. Brew a fresh pot of coffee. Take a few moments, and breathe in deeply an aroma that you love.

When you’re feeling stressed, you need something that’s going to help you right now.

11. Switch to decaf

Lay off the caffeine. It hypes you up, and stress does not need to be hyped up.

12. Stretch

Get limbered up. You can do it anywhere. Even in a crowded coffee shop you can pull one arm across your body, then the other. If you have more privacy, get your full on I’m-about-to-run-the-100-meter-hurdles stretch on.

13. Chew a piece of gum

Get the tension out by chomping down on that piece of gum! Don’t hold it in with a clenched jaw. Really lay into it.

14. Set three goals for the rest of the day

Grab a piece of paper, and write down three important but simple things you want to do today. Goals animate us and make us feel excited and powerful. They don’t have to be anything major. In fact, the simpler and more achievable, the better.

15. Call your mom and tell her you love her

Or your dad. Or your grandma. Or your best friend. Or your sister. They all need to hear it, and none of us tell them enough. Plus, you probably can’t even imagine the amount of stress you have caused in your mom’s life. She deserves to hear it.

16. Say no to something

Few things in life are more empowering than saying no. You probably have some outstanding invitations or requests or obligations filling your calendar or email inbox. Take a moment right now, and tell your colleague you can’t make the happy hour this Thursday, or your neighbor’s book club tomorrow night, or whatever it is.

17. Put on a good-vibes song

Don’t worry, I won’t judge. If you want to do the “Single Ladies” dance alone in your office or have a good cry to “The Christmas Shoes,” that’s just fine with me. Put on something that makes you feel good, and immerse yourself in the tune for just a few minutes.

18. Do ten jumping jacks, ten sit-ups, and ten push-ups

Who cares if your cubicle mates think you’re weird? Who cares if you can only do six? It’s even better if you feel a little silly doing it. A quick little workout will release some endorphins, and feeling a little whimsical doesn’t hurt either.

19. Pray the Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

It’s worked for millions of alcoholics; it will likely work for your stress, too.

20. Have a healthy snack

Or a small snack. Find something to munch on. Carrot sticks, or an apple. A small bag of nuts. Don’t have anything healthy? Just one piece of chocolate is okay.

21. Spend five minutes learning something

Download Duolingo, and spend five minutes completing a couple of lessons. You’ll feel smart and the accomplishment will make you feel good.

22. Spend Time in Quiet Reflection

A little bit of time in the classroom of silence or a quick guided meditation just might help you clear your mind and escape the whirlwind of stress.

This free book, A Quiet Place, can help you learn practical tips for combatting everyday distractions.

23. Doodle

Take five minutes and do some doodling. It will get your mind off things. Pick something around you and try to recreate it on paper. Or just imagine something and get creative. Or get weird and go abstract.

Recall a great memory. Close your eyes, and immerse yourself in the memory. Re-live it.

24. Write down three self-affirmations

I’m talented and skilled at my work.
I love others, and I’m loved by others.
I have value and deserve good things.

Or anything else you need to hear. Write them down.

25. Listen to classical music

Google “Yo-Yo Ma” playing the cello. It’s soothing.

26. Wash your hands and face

Give your hands and face a good scrub with soap and hot water. Rinse, and repeat. Take time with it. Really get in there. Wash away the stress. It will refresh you and wake you up.

27. Recall a great memory

The best vacation you ever took. Your wedding day. The day your kids were born. That time you went bungee jumping. The night the Cubs finally won the World Series. Doesn’t matter what it is. Close your eyes, and immerse yourself in the memory. Re-live it.

28. Squeeze something

Don’t have a stress ball? Turn that book into a stress book, or that pen into a stress pen. Give it ten good squeezes. Squeeze as hard as you can, counting to three. Let go, relax, and repeat. Ten times.

29. Write down ten dreams

Dreaming brings us back to life. Grab a piece of paper and write down ten dreams for your life. Remind yourself that you have bigger and better things in store for yourself than whatever you’re going through right now.

30. Write a thank you note

Email or handwritten. Send it or don’t—but if you do, it’ll brighten your day knowing you are brightening someone else’s.

When you’re feeling stressed, you need something that’s going to help you right now. Try one—or a couple—of the ideas above and watch the stress ease up.

Let us know in the comments which ones work for you, and any other ideas you have for a right-now stress solution.

Here’s to a more stress-free you!

If you like this article, you will love . . .

Praying with a Pen
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11 Things You Should Get Your Wife’s Permission to Do

I can feel it. I can literally feel your eyes rolling right now.

Permission? PERMISSION?! I don’t need my wife’s permission. I am a MAN. I do what I want! Beer, cigars, sports! Tim Allen grunting! Monster trucks!!!

You do whatever you want? Really? Really? Because that is the very definition of a bad husband. Think about it. What makes a bad husband? Everyone reading this right now might come up with a different list, but all these bad-husband qualities boil down to one thing: a husband who does whatever he wants.

Freedom isn’t doing whatever you want. Freedom is choosing to do what you know is right—not because it’s easy or feels good or because you can.

Even if you don’t ask permission for every instance of a particular behavior (like going out with your buddies), that’s because you already asked for (and received) permission while establishing boundaries with your wife throughout your relationship. No. You haven’t been neutered. This is a good thing. It is how a healthy marriage functions.

Think of it like this: she isn’t your boss—which is where most people’s heads go when you start throwing around the word “permission.” She’s your business partner; you’re a team. And if you’re hoping to run a successful business (or marriage), there’s actually very little you should do without running it by and getting sign-off from your business partner.

So what should you run by your partner? Here are the top eleven things that you should share before you do them.

1. Making Large Purchases

If you are among the “I do what I want” crowd, do me a favor and go buy yourself a motorcycle tomorrow without telling your wife. Just drive that hog right up to the front door and rev the engine. Let me know how it goes in the comments.

My wife and I keep a budget. Each month, we each get personal money (fifty bucks in a good month). I can do whatever I want with this money. If I want to spend it (my wife would say “waste it”) on video games, I can. It’s my money. Beyond that, any purchases we make are budgeted for. If there is an unexpected expense, we discuss it together.

Peter’s Personal Policy: If it’s more than $50, I gotta get permission.

2. Making Major Life Decisions

In the same vein as large purchases, huge life decisions that affect both of you (and your kids if you have them) should always be talked about first. You can call it “agreeing” if your masculinity is threatened by the P-Word, but that’s just another way to say “ask for permission.”

If you’re changing jobs, taking a promotion, moving (across the country or down the road), or taking on a side hustle . . . you’ve absolutely got to get permission first.

If it would interfere with other plans or with time I would normally spend with my wife, I ask for permission.

Peter’s Personal Policy: If it’s something I would call my mom to tell her, then I need to ask my wife permission before doing it.

3. Making Drastic Physical Changes

Guys . . . I have gotten pre-approval to grow out my beard! Some co-workers thought this was funny, but I am excited! I haven’t had a really thick beard since I got married.

Okay. Now I might be triggering some folks. Yes. I asked permission to grow out my beard. You might say, “It’s my body. I can do what I want.”

Here’s how I approach it. If my wife were going to shave her head and get Erik Estrada’s face tattooed to her cheek, I would probably want her to run it by me first. I love Erik Estrada as much as the next well-adjusted guy who watched CHiPS reruns on Florida vacations when he was twelve, but I don’t care to see the man inked on my wife’s face (I mean . . . I see her face more than she does!).

Peter’s Personal Policy: If the change is so drastic it would make a TSA agent need a second form of ID, or if it is permanent (like a tattoo), I will ask for permission.

4. Selling Things You Both Own or Use

Just like with buying things, selling things also requires getting a nod of approval before pulling the trigger. If your wife sold your 65-inch TV while you were at work, you’d probably be a bit miffed. If it’s your old ball glove, have at it! If it’s your wedding album or car, ask for permission.

So, before you fire up that eBay account and make some extra personal spending money for the month, make sure you get expressed written consent from your wife.

Peter’s Personal Policy: Have yard sales and go over your inventory together before selling.

5. Throwing Things Away

This one is similar to the one above. One husband’s piece of junk is another wife’s family heirloom. If your wife is a hoarder this can be especially difficult, but you still need to ask permission first.

Before that ratty old quilt takes a permanent vacation to the landfill, you might want to ask the Mrs. first.

Peter’s Personal Policy: When dejunking your house, go through everything together so there are no mistakes.

6. Lending money

“Hey, honey! How was work?”
“Great. I ran into Steve while I was out at lunch.”
“That’s nice. How’s he doing?”
“Good. Good . . . I lent him ten thousand dollars to start a children’s tattoo parlor.”

By now I hope you are realizing that there are many, many things you should be getting permission from your wife before doing. If not . . . keep reading.

At the end of the day, it comes down to respect. Honor her by honoring your wedding vows and making most of your decisions as a team.

Peter’s Personal Policy: Same as large purchases. If it’s more than $50, ask!

7. Inviting Company Over

I know you love your college buddy Gassy Joe—he can burp the National Anthem and that “pull my finger” bit never gets old—but that doesn’t mean your wife or your kids love him, too. Plus, if your wife were going to invite her mother over to stay for a day or two or twelve, you would want veto power.

Peter’s Personal Policy: If the stay is longer than one hour or involves a meal, ask for permission.

8. Volunteering Your Family for Something

You think sitting in a dunk-tank wearing a lobster costume is great fun. Your wife and kids might not. Before you gleefully volunteer their time, you need to ask permission first. It’s just common sense.

Peter’s Personal Policy: I use my family as an excuse to never feel pressured to agree to anything on the spot. “I’ve got to run that by my wife,” can be a godsend.

9. Getting a Pet

You bring home a stray alligator one time and you never live it down!

Pets are a huge responsibility. They cost money to keep fed and healthy. They make messes. They make traveling more difficult. And when you share a home with someone, it’s only a matter of time before your wife is going to have to help out with the animal in some way.

Anything that requires this much of a commitment should require permission from your wife.

Peter’s Personal Policy: Unless we’re going to eat it, if it has a heartbeat I don’t bring it home without approval.

10. Hanging Out with an Ex

In sitcoms it seems like a group of characters can all sleep with each other and still remain the best of friends. Real life doesn’t really work like this. Feelings are hard. Jealousy is ugly. Sex complicates everything. If you’re going to hang out with a past flame—no matter how extinguished you think that flame is—please run it by your wife first.

Peter’s Personal Policy: Just don’t do it. Don’t ask. Don’t text with these women. Don’t chat on Facebook. Just. Don’t.

11. Hanging Out with the Guys

You knew it was coming. Sorry, boys.

If it helps, you can remove all question marks from the equation, as well as question-sounding inflection from your voice. Instead of saying, “Can I go out with my friends, honey?” try, “I am going to hang out with my friends.” She can still say no (and you better believe, if she does, you should listen to her reasons why), but it might help make you feel better.

Peter’s Personal Policy: If it would interfere with other plans or with time I would normally spend with my wife, I ask for permission.

If you haven’t noticed a common theme here, I’ll spell it out. Whatever you would want your wife to ask you permission for before doing is a good litmus test on whether you should ask her for permission before you do it.

At the end of the day, it comes down to respect. You either respect your wife or you don’t. I hope you do. I hope that you honor her by honoring your wedding vows and making most of your decisions—big and small—together, as a team.

Be a man. Just ask for permission first.

How to Make Work Fun When Management Isn’t

The daily grind. Mondays, am I right? Back in the squirrel cage. The slog. Drudgery . . . Work.

You’ve heard the saying: “Work isn’t supposed to be fun. That’s why it’s called work.”

I have had several jobs in my life now, with varying degrees of fun (testing video games, ironically, was one of the least fun jobs I’ve had), but with many of them, there was this sneaking, never-said-out-loud-but-always-there feeling that fun equals bad. Even at places that claimed to have “great cultures.” There’d be moments of levity, but when the boss was around, you could feel it, like mice towing the line the moment the scary (and bell-less) cat shows up.

You’re going to spend most of your adult life working. Play is how you balance this out.

For me, every job that scored lower on the “fun spectrum” also got the least out of me. My productivity and the quality of my output were adequate, but they weren’t great. When given the chance to play and have fun, I excelled. This isn’t a coincidence, and it isn’t true for just me. We were born to work. But we were also born to play. You’re going to spend most of your adult life working. Play is how you balance this out. Play is how you can come home from a long day of work and still be able to give your family your best.

Some organizations (read: managers) don’t seem to get it. They make me feel like this:

All work and no play makes Peter a dull boy.
All work and no play makes Peter a dull boy.
All work and no play makes Peter a dull boy.
All work and no play makes Peter a dull boy.

It doesn’t have to be like this. You can make work fun. But if you’re sitting around waiting for someone else to make work fun, you might be sitting for a while. If you want to start looking forward to Mondays (and every day of the week), here are some ideas to get things going.


The first thing you need to do to create a fun work environment is find allies. There’s only so much you can do by yourself, especially if the “big dogs” aren’t very playful. These allies don’t have to be friends, per se. You may never hang out with them outside of work, but you can recognize their joie de vivre and their je ne sais quoi and any of their other french-sounding qualities. You’ll know them when you see them.

The first thing you need to do to create a fun work environment is find allies. This is your army. Fun is your weapon.

Allies will naturally present themselves after you’ve been at any organization for a while. These are the “funzos” (as I like to call them). These men and women are going to be your allies. They are usually loud, charming, friendly, warm, inviting, and only slightly obnoxious. People tend to gravitate toward their desks. They delightfully derail meetings, but generally no one seems to care.

This is your army. Fun is your weapon.


When I was working out in California for a dot-com (which are supposed to be fun, right!?!?!), the culture there reminded me of an aviary filled with sad birds. It was sad. Management didn’t care. In fact, this was the old-school style of management that thought fun was the natural predator of profitability.

So what did I do? I started a grassroots organization called The Donut Club. I sent a company-wide email (without permission—take that!) to test the waters and see who would be interested. About half the company signed up! I collected five dollars a month from everyone in the club, and every Monday I personally bought donuts for everyone in the club. Someone even made me a badge: Donut Sheriff (which I wore because I ain’t too cool for school).

If too many folks are gluten-free in your office, then organize other things. Have a monthly potluck. Start a baking club and take turns bringing in sweets. Have fancy coffee tasting parties. Start a food-themed book club. Find your thing, and people will follow!


Another grassroots initiative I personally started at the dot-com in Cali was Western Wednesdays. I wore a cowboy hat and cowboy boots every Wednesday and encouraged others to do the same. I also invited anyone who wanted to join me to a Western-themed restaurant down the road in Hollywood. They had great fried pickle chips.

I carried on the Western Wednesdays tradition at my ad agency in downtown Cincinnati . . . but it didn’t catch on, and after eight weeks I hung up my boots. Some people just don’t know how to have fun!


I’m a nester. While a lot of my coworkers like to get up and work at different, cozy places around the office during the day—in shared areas with couches and high-tops—I prefer my office. This means I spend at least seven hours per day at my desk—35 hours per week; 1,680 hours per year; 75,600 hours in a lifetime (that’s almost nine straight years of my life spent at my desk!). Needless to say, it’s important to have a fun, vibrant desk that reflects who you are. Personally, I believe that as long as everything is family-friendly, a desk cannot be over-decorated.

Desk-decorating contests are another great way to mix things up with your coworkers. A few times per year (and especially for Christmas), you can encourage your colleagues to decorate their desks with certain themes, and then give out fun prizes to the best (and worst) desks.

At the end of the day, a job is only as fun as its people. If you have people who are willing to make the office fun, then the office will be fun.


I can’t take credit for this one, but I can say that I am a two-time champion (and I only participated in three tournaments). I can also say that in the year that I lost (my first year participating), my attempts to alter my Hot Wheel resulted in some sweeping rule changes—which I am almost more proud of than my victories. Almost.

Basically, you set up those little orange tracks for a straight downhill run—two of them, side by side. You use a ruler (or something straight and flat) to hold the cars in place at the top, then lift the ruler so the cars start at the same time. By our third year, we had a photographer at the finish line taking video so we could check the footage for photo-finishes . . .

Want to make things more interesting? Race for pink slips like we did. This meant that when you won a face-off in this single-elimination bracket-style tourney, you kept the Hot Wheel that you defeated. My third year (and second championship), I scoured the Internet and found what most believed to be the best downhill Hot Wheel racer, then bought it on eBay for seven bucks. I play to win!


Music is a great way to liven up a boring office environment. The problem is, everyone has such differing tastes. This usually leads to headphone mania. When everyone’s got headphones on, interaction only happens occasionally and predictably. There is no more spontaneity. Relationships are at the core of fun at the office—shared experiences—which cannot thrive when everyone is in their own little world of pop rock, jazz, rap, or heavy metal.

Relationships are at the core of fun at the office. Shared experiences bring us together.

One way around this is to let everyone in earshot have a say in what gets played. Let everyone pick one Pandora station, and then shuffle all of them together and let the algorithm decide. Or, let everyone pick their thirty favorite songs and create a Spotify playlist.

On Fridays, rotate “Guest DJ” and let that person play whatever they want. Trolling is strongly encouraged (e.g., I played nothing but Collective Soul songs for three straight hours . . .).


I’ve been at jobs that encourage taking breaks (or even force them), but the cultures in each of these offices made it feel like you have to sit at your desk silently during your break or go outside. But . . . there is a lot you can do in a 15-minute break.

I recommend Uno. You can usually play a lively game of Uno in fifteen minutes or less. You can also play a longer game and just “pause” when the break is over and come back to it later or tomorrow or the next day. You could even play the game of Risk over months!


At the very least, you can make your lunch break as fantastic as possible. This is the one hour per day that your boss probably can’t do much about how much fun you’re having. Watch a movie with coworkers (spreading it out over a few days like when you were in high school!). Watch a Netflix series together. Play board games or video games. Go to a park. Start a band. Learn to crochet.

Usually, people spend their lunches with their own department-based cliques or they fend for themselves—eating at their desk, out, or even use the time to exercise and grab a bite while working later. Coordinating a lunch club will take some effort. Get your funzo allies involved and recruit others. Try to avoid sending an email. Emails are too easy to ignore or respond with a lukewarm “maybe” or “tentative.” Instead, ask people about joining your hour of fun face-to-face. You can also try a fun flyer. Once you have a few people on board and others see how much fun you’re having, it will snowball!


Another thing you can try is to actually convince your management to join the “Dark Side.” There are plenty of studies that show levity in the workplace actually increases productivity and quality of work and profits (just Google ‘em). But, if you get your management involved, they might be open to piloting a Fun Committee to keep things light around the office.

If your management is against the idea, start a Super-Secret Fun Committee (SSFC) with your fellow funzos and make it a grassroots thing. As long as you aren’t breaking any company policies, you should be able to get enough people onboard to start making weekly, monthly, and yearly things that make work a fun place to be.

At the end of the day, a job is only as fun as its people. If you have people who are willing to make the office fun, then the office will be fun. If not, then . . . get a yo-yo?

What I’m trying to say is that, sometimes, it’s up to you. When your managers start wondering why their turnover is decreasing, why their profits are increasing, why company morale is up, and why productivity is up . . . well, then you can ask him or her to join your SSFC.

How to Make the Absolute Most of Fall on a Budget

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

– L. M. Montgomery

It’s fall.

Pumpkin spiced everything dominates the aisles at local grocery stores, the leaves are changing and starting to fall, burnt orange flowers are set on the neighbors’ front porches, and Halloween decorations are starting to crop up around town.

You know who loves fall? The five thousand marketing firms across the United States who push all the seasonal “necessities” on us. Which is why you end up at your house with pumpkin spiced cookies, granola, beer, coffee, and popcorn . . . not that I’ve ever had that experience.

There’s nothing wrong with these marketing gimmicks we buy into, but they can be a little hard on our wallet—and they’re not necessarily the best parts about fall anyway.

If you’re looking to have a memorable and joyful fall season this year, here are some ideas that aren’t sponsored by Target or Starbucks (although I still plan on enjoying a pumpkin spiced latte or two):

Have a Bonfire

“If a year was tucked inside of a clock, then autumn would be the magic hour.”

– Victoria Erickson

I’m not sure what it is about bonfires that makes them so magical, but they really are one of my favorite parts about fall. If you don’t already have a fire pit, they’re not expensive (the cheapest one I’ve seen is $30). You can also ask your friends in case any of them already has a fire pit and would be interested in helping you host. Bonfires are an excellent excuse to have some people over and drink hot chocolate (which can but doesn’t have to be spiked with peppermint schnapps), and they are often conducive to meaningful discussions and great stories. Another perk about bonfires is that you don’t have to have a big home or worry about everything being perfect for your guests—just lead them straight to the backyard, no vacuuming necessary.

Go on a Picnic

“. . . I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house. So I have spent almost all the daylight hours in the open air."

– Nathaniel Hawthorne

Before the winter comes, my goal is to spend as much time outside as I can, soaking up the sun and pleasant weather before the cold and darkness (and low-key depression) hit.
Picnics offer an easy, inexpensive alternative to going out to eat and allow you to enjoy the beautiful fall weather. Pack a couple of sandwiches, some fruit (if you’re into that sort of thing), brownies, and maybe a few cans of that fall-flavored beer you bought on an impulse. Get a few friends or your significant other (or a book), and pull up a piece of grass at a nearby park. Bonus points if you can find a place with live music playing nearby (Spotify works, too).

Morning Coffee Dates

“Autumn mornings: sunshine and crisp air, birds and calmness, year's end and day's beginnings.”

– Terri Guillemets

There is nothing like crisp, bright mornings in the fall. As much as I love sleeping in as late as possible, there’s something so lovely about starting your day a little earlier during these cooler months. Set an alarm (or two or three), put on a sweater, and watch the sunrise from your front porch—mug in hand—or even agree to meet up with a friend at a local coffee shop or park with a view. It may require a bit of self-discipline, but the breathtaking colors and morning light will absolutely be worth it, in my opinion (coming from sleep’s number one fan).

Scary Movie Night

“During the day, I don't believe in ghosts. At night, I'm a little more open-minded.”

– Unknown

I’m not necessarily an advocate of horror movies. But there are some classic “scary” movies that can be worth re-watching this time of year. It’s another good reason to have people over, and it’s not much work on your part. Pick one of the oldies (Beetlejuice, Hocus Pocus, Bewitched, The Addams Family . . . ) to enjoy together. You can also try a good suspense film, too, if you want to be spooked without gore (anything Alfred Hitchcock will work). Bonus points if everyone wears their pajamas.

Apple Picking

“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the Earth seeking the successive autumns.”

– George Eliot

This one may require a little more time and effort, such as looking up an orchard close by, picking a day that works for a group of people, and making the trip out there. It’s a great mini-adventure to go on with friends or family, and you come home with some delicious apples (which can go into a much more delicious pie)! Win, win, win.


“People that love fall, they go crazy for the foliage: ‘The foliage! Let's drive by the foliage. It's so beautiful the way the leaves die. They're so pretty right before they fall to their death.’ We think it's beautiful. It's the leaves' hospice. It also helps that the leaves can't talk. If they could talk, they'd be like, ‘Aaaahhhhh! Get me chlorophyll! Why are these people driving by and smiling at me? You monsters!’ We're rather insensitive to the leaves' tragedy. They die, they fall to the ground, we just rake them up. ‘Kids, you want to jump on this pile of dead leaves? No? All right, I'll just light them on fire.’”

– Jim Gaffigan

Hiking is great. You get a workout, you get to explore, you can check out the foliage (people love foliage), and you can breathe fresh air. . . and you don’t feel so guilty about eating several pieces of apple pie (see above) afterward. Oh, and it’s free! You may need to spend some time looking up trails near you, just remember this doesn’t have to be the climb up Everest—a bigger park with walking trails will do.

Pick up a Book

“There is something incredibly nostalgic and significant about the annual cascade of autumn leaves.”

– Joe L. Wheeler

I know you have a thousand books you’ve been wanting to read but just “haven’t had time,” because that is exactly where I am. Finding time to read seems to be one of those things we always want but never really achieve. It is difficult since we have a thousand other (often easier) entertainment options, not to mention limited downtime. That being said, I encourage you to join me in spending less time on Netflix and more time with our noses in a book. It really is so enriching and, I believe, makes you a more interesting person. It doesn’t have to be something by Shakespeare or Aristotle—although I would be impressed. Just pick something that’s been sitting on your shelf for a while and sit down in a comfy spot wrapped in a blanket.

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald

We are so lucky to have the different seasons and the goodness and beauty that each of them brings in their own, unique way. It is something I think I take for granted. It’s also easy to get caught up in the marketing schemes that fill our homes with the right colors and flavors but fail to bring true joy or warmth to our hearts. So this fall, I challenge you to slow down, pick one (or all) of these ideas, and ask some friends or your family to join you. This is what life’s about anyway, the memories with loved ones, not the pumpkin spiced latte.

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How to Gamify Your Life

Fighting off intergalactic threats. Saving the princess. Firing a rocket launcher. Slaying the dragon. Fighting off the zombie hoard. A hairpin turn at 160 mph. A walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the World Series . . .

Who doesn’t love a great video game?

A great game draws you out of the vapid events of your day-to-day to step into a world of imagination, excitement, and adventure.

What if you could take all the best reasons we escape into the virtual world of video games, and bring them into your everyday life?

You can be anyone. You can do anything. As far as entertainment goes, it’s not a bad way to kill a few hours.

But what if you could take all the best reasons we escape into the virtual world of video games, and bring them into your everyday life? What if you could live your real life like a video game?

Here is your step-by-step guide to gamify your life. Follow these steps and you’ll know yourself a little better, have an exciting way to improve your life, and finally find the motivation to go out and have a little adventure!

Step 1: Create Your Avatar

Seeing yourself with honesty and objectivity—including your strengths, weaknesses, potential for improvement, etc.—can be really difficult. Seeing your character in a game with objectivity and honesty? That’s super easy.

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Being honest about those is really tough. So don’t think of yourself as a person, think of yourself as an avatar.

You have four main areas of health:

  • Physical health (HP - Health Points)
  • Emotional health (EP - Emotion Points)
  • Intellectual health (IP - Intellect Points)
  • Spiritual health (SP - Spirit Points)

Assign a number rating to your four areas of health. Use a ten-point scale. You don’t need to get super scientific with this. You know if you are a 2, and you know if you are an 8. You might not know if you are a 6.785, but don’t let that stop you.

Here are my ratings:
HP: 5
EP: 7
IP: 8
SP: 6

Next, figure out your character type. Different character types have different strengths and weaknesses in relation to your four areas of health.

For example, a Healer type might be more helpful, caring, and focused on emotions, relationships, and spirituality, but competition and feats of strength aren’t really their strong suit. A Warrior type might be highly physical, love a good challenge, and adventurous, but struggle with tact and maintaining strong relationships.

Here are some other examples of names and traits of different character types:

WARRIOR Strength, power, competition
SCOUT Endurance
RANGER Jack of all trades, adaptable
ASSASSIN light-weight, agile, unassuming
MONK Agile, dextrous, fast, hidden strength
DRUID Purpose of movement, intellect
REBEL Undecided

Determine your type, and decide your avatar’s strengths and weaknesses. You can choose one of the above, or make up your own! Don’t overthink this. Have fun with it, and pick something that you feel has some reflection of who you are.

Turn your dreams and goals into quests.

I choose to call myself a Ranger type. I’m adventurous and kind of a loner. I see myself as a jack of all trades, and I like to help other people. I’m pretty balanced in all four areas, but I’m a little stronger in EP and IP compared to HP or SP. Being a balanced character type, there are a lot of other character types that far exceed me in one particular area, but while my strengths aren’t as strong, my weaknesses aren’t as weak.

Okay. If you’ve followed these steps then you have your avatar mapped out. You know who you are. Now it’s time to start leveling up.

Step 2: Level Up

Starting is frustrating. You don’t have any items, and your character is weak. You lack skills. It’s time to go adventuring and level up!

Pick one area, and resolve to move up one number in your ratings.

I’m going to work on moving my HP rating from a 5 to a 6. I’m not going to try to do all ratings at once, and I’m not going to try to jump from a 5 to a 7. I’m just going to focus on getting that 5 to a 6 in that one area.

Here is the problem with leveling up. When you focus on one area, the others naturally decrease because you aren’t focusing on them. They need time and attention, too! It takes a balanced approach to each of the four areas of life. You’ll see how this plays out later on in the steps, but just know that you have to pay attention to each of the four areas of health.

You should be wondering: How do I know if I’ve gotten from a 5 to a 6? Great question. And it leads us to the next step in gamifying your life . . .

Step 3: Complete Quests

Quests are the main point of every role-playing game.

The goals in a game are clear and specific, you know when you have achieved them—and you get rewards. In life, we tend to be ambiguous about what we want to do, our goals, and what it means to achieve them. Questing will change that.

Spend a little time dreaming about the things you’d love to do, try to come up with quests and then give each quest a reward.

You turn your dreams and goals into quests, and you assign each quest a corresponding reward.

Let’s stick with my example of moving from a 5 to a 6 in HP to see how this works. Say there is a 5K race coming up six weeks from now.

My quest: Run 5K
My reward: +1 HP


Get creative with your quests and rewards, and make sure they are personal to your avatar.

Perhaps your HP is a 7, so running a 5K isn’t a big deal for you. Instead, your quest could be to run a marathon. Great. Perhaps you rated yourself low in EP and IP because you are a bit shy, have trouble making friends, and tend to stay in and binge watch Netflix. Your quest could be to join a group of coworkers for their weekly trivia night. Your reward is +1 EP and +1 IP.

Spend a little time dreaming about the things you’d love to do within the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual areas of your life. Try to come up with at least ten quests in each area, with a good balance of easy and difficult quests. Then, give each quest a reward. Rewards can be subjective, too. Maybe visiting a new park this weekend with your friends gets you +1 EP, but traveling to New Zealand with that group gets you +4 EP. Perfect! The more challenging the quest, the greater the reward.

Your goal is to complete one quest per month. Once you have written down your quests lists, you’ll want to map out the year ahead and plan for the different quests you want to achieve. The last thing you’ll need . . .

Step 4: Keep Your Game Log

Every game keeps a game log. It tells you which quests you have completed, which ones you are working on, and which ones are waiting in the wing. It tells you what you have achieved, where you have been, and how long you’ve played. The game log is like your avatar’s roadmap of life.

You need a game log for your life, too.

Get a journal. On the first page, write down your avatar, your character type, a description of your character type (including strengths and weaknesses), and your ratings.

The game log is like the roadmap of your life.

Write “Physical Quests,” “Emotional Quests,” “Intellectual Quests,” and “Spiritual Quests” as headings on each of the next four pages. This is where you should write down your ten quests for each of the four areas. You’ll replenish this page as necessary, or whenever a new quest strikes you.

Use the rest of the journal to track your progress. Write down your ratings at the top of the page, the quest you are trying to achieve, and your plan to win the quest. When you have completed your quest, note that in the journal, and adjust your ratings according to your quest reward.

Every month, write down a new active quest, your ratings, and your plan to complete your quest. But here is the catch:

Every month that you don’t complete a quest in a particular health area, that area goes down by one point.

So my ratings at the start of the month were:
HP: 5
EP: 7
IP: 8
SP: 6

I’ve completed my 5K quest, so HP is up to 6, but the others dropped down one spot each. Now I’ve got decisions to make. I’m getting pretty uncomfortable with SP being at a 5, so I’m going to pick a Spiritual quest this month that gives me a +2 SP reward.

Keep your constantly changing health ratings—and the rewards for doing harder quests versus easier quests—in mind as you plan out which quests you will achieve in which months. It makes it really easy to see any areas of your life you have been neglecting as the numbers drop lower and lower. And, of course, if you don’t complete your quest, there are real consequences! You’ll drop one point in each of the four areas and really have your work cut out for you.

Why do people love playing video games? You know exactly what you are trying to do, how to do it, you see yourself improve over time, and you get to go on incredible adventures.

Why can’t your life be like that?

Create your avatar, level up, complete quests, and keep your game log.

Four steps to turning your life into the coolest video game ever.

The Plague of Helicopter Parents

“The one to whom nothing was refused, whose tears were always wiped away by an anxious mother, will not abide being offended.”

- Seneca, Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero

One of the rules in Catholic Youth Organization golf is:

“Spectators should stay at least fifteen yards from the players while playing each hole. A two-stroke penalty will be issued if it seems apparent to a scorer or coach or another parent that a parent or scorekeeper is assisting a child with club selection or choice, putt breaks, rule choices, or if said adult is giving aid in any way to his or her son or daughter or team member.”

Yet, there we all were, watching this doting mother walking side-by-side with her son for every shot. Thinking it could not get any more obnoxious, I was slightly amazed when she began to fan him from the heat, allow him to ride in her golf cart, and make us all wait far beyond the permitted three minutes to look for an errant shot by her young Tiger Woods.

At the end of the match, I was saying my goodbye to a couple of the parents when one commented on the excessive heat of the day. I simply could not help myself by leaving them with this consolation, “Well, at least we had the wind from that Helicopter Parent!”

To be fair, parenting is hard work. As parents, we spend a great deal of time working on ways to help our kids succeed. With all of that hard work, there hardly seems time for what may be one of the most important things we can do for our kids . . . Let them fail.