Category Archives: Relationships

Did You Know You Have the Tools for Great Self-Esteem?

“No man ever got very high by pulling other people down. The intelligent merchant does not knock his competitors. The sensible worker does not knock those who work with him. Don't knock your friends. Don't knock your enemies. Don't knock yourself.” - Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom during much of Queen Victoria's reign

Do you find it difficult to make decisions? When you get to know other people do you feel they are much more accomplished than you are? While several weeks ago I wrote about how being arrogant will hold you back from success, having a healthy, balanced self-image is a crucial component of mental fitness.

Did You Know You Have the Tools for Great Self-Esteem?

Have you met someone who no matter what positive thing you say about yourself he one-ups you? If you finally do a five-mile run his response is something like, “Oh that’s nothing. I ran a half-marathon last week.” I find people like that extremely annoying and avoid them whenever possible. They have chosen one of the two paths to building self-esteem: put others down so that by comparison they look and feel better. But,

One-upmanship is a Poor Self-Esteem Building Tool

The problem is even if people profess to be your friend such behavior does not build loyalty or intimacy. After a while, the only person who will tolerate consistent belittling is someone with a poor self-image. So the connection is based on destroying the person’s emotional soundness. How can this be called a relationship?

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The other path for raising self-esteem is self-improvement. When you reach a goal or overcome a hurdle in your life you are a different person as a result. You have evidence that you have developed some aspect of yourself be it your abilities or character. As important, your self-confidence is built on a solid foundation of accomplishments, brick by brick.

Achievement Builds Your Self-Esteem While Setting a Positive Example for Others

This is perhaps the best part. By choosing this tool for boosting your self-image, you can help others around you move up too.

But, most people do not pursue purely one or the other tool. They think they are building their self-esteem based only on accomplishment, but they have a blind spot or two. For example, many people disparage lawyers, politicians, or large companies. The message, unintended or not, is that they are better than the group they are criticizing. Yet there are many fine people in all of these groups.

You Must Guard Against Maligning a Group and One-Upping an Individual

The inability to acknowledge the worth of people in a group you dislike demonstrates weakness in your self-confidence. Evincing a sense of superiority to a group inhibits your develop. Paraphrasing Viktor Frankl,

There are only two types of people, decent and indecent

By hewing ever closer to building your self-image through accomplishment, you keep yourself firmly in the decent group.

Question – What is your plan for intentionally raising your self-esteem?

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When You Should Embrace Being Annoyed

Routine is nice. You get things done without expending a lot of mental energy. Isn’t it nice driving to work in the morning and having nothing exceptional happen? You can listen to your music or recorded book while your car is essentially on autopilot. I bet more of being annoyed by a car cutting you off comes from the interruption of your reverie than the danger. Yet for all its comfort, sometimes routine puts you in a rut. If you do not realize you are there it gets deeper and deeper until one day you wake up and wonder, “How did I end up in such a bottomless pit?” Climbing out may seem impossible.

When You Should Embrace Being Annoyed

Reflecting back on the Jewish High Holidays, I noted that at first I was frustrated. During the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the morning prayer liturgy is the same as the rest of the year except that four short verses are inserted at various places and twice one or three words are replaced by another word. Most vexing, if I forgot to replace one of the words I had to start over again.

At this point you might be thinking that G-d really does not care if I replace a word or not, it is the thought that counts. Indeed, you are probably right. But if so, why the requirement to repeat a lengthy prayer for the sake of one word?

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As I pondered this question, I thought about how sometimes I lack focus when praying. It is never fulfilling, in fact, I feel empty afterward. I realized the same is true about inattentive interactions with family and friends. Then it hit me. Not only does G-d want my full attention when I engage Him, He wants me to:

Having to repeat an entire prayer because of one word teaches me to be intentional in my relationships. In essence, the penance has to be as strict as it is easy to slip back into habit. Otherwise, there is insufficient incentive to change.

At least for now keep your drives on cruise control. But when it comes to your marriage, parenting, and friendships better to keep in mind that a misplaced word means a do-over. In those situations, hopefully the person will be as forgiving as the Lord.

Question – How do you stay intentional about your relationships?

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How You Can Benefit from Blurry Vision

Be tough on the problem and easy on the people.

    - Roger Dawson, Extraordinary Teacher of Negotiating

Most people would say wearing glasses is less than ideal. They indicate that you cannot see well, tend to get very uncomfortable especially after wearing them all day, and often are aggravating like when you cannot find them. Is there anything worse than looking for your seeing-aid when you cannot see well? As a glasses wearer, I am onboard with all of these or was until a few days ago.

How You Can Benefit from Blurry Vision

I had just finished running and was taking my usual cool-down walk around the little building that houses my office when I met two of the people who work upstairs from me. We started chatting and somehow the topic of eyesight came up. I mentioned that since I did not have my glasses on they looked a little blurry, sort of like the soft focus so common in classic black and white movies. They were quite pleased to be connected to such a setting, one in which flaws are obscured.

I commented it was equally pleasant to be able to engage with people and not see any imperfections or faults. It was a Navy Rabbi moment. As I headed to the shower I thought about whether flawed vision is better. My conclusion – most of the time:

View People as if You Are Not Wearing Glasses

During everyday situations, it is much better to overlook people’s shortcomings. This is particularly true about your family and friends. Are your spouse’s foibles going to change just because you point them out yet again? Will your child suddenly see the light when you address his inadequacies one more time?

Even with strangers, what is the point of seeing all of their defects? Better to view them through the fog of indistinct vision.

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When is visual acuity required? If you are entering into a significant relationship with someone you need to clearly see his faults before committing. Whether it is a marriage or a business partnership, overlook reality at your peril. However, the goal is to understand the challenges these faults will create rather than searching for someone without shortcomings. This leads to concept number 2:

Keep Your Glasses on When Looking at Situations

You cannot go through life with blinders on. Challenges, be they physical, mental, or spiritual, rarely improve through a less than candid assessment or a fantasy plan to address them. Better to see difficulties clearly and map out a well-defined strategy to handle them.

Roger Dawson is right about more than just negotiating. His philosophy of being easy on people and tough on problems is a recipe for living successfully and intentionally.

Question – What benefits or detriments do you think there are to flawed vision?

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Why You Are Attracted to Opposites

Common belief is that when a couple hates each other divorce is around the corner. But think a second time. When you loath someone how easy is it to get the person out of your mind? Try as you might your thoughts keep coming back to the object of hate. If only you could just divorce the person, at least from inside your head.

Why You Are Attracted to Opposites

While speaking with a sailor about his marital problems he stated he hated his wife. When I replied that was a good thing he was surprised. But then I pointed out that love and hate are not opposites. He was intrigued. Both entail intense emotions. They are closely related, two sides of the same coin. At their root both evidence a powerful connection between two people. Think about how much energy it takes to truly love and hate. Rather,

Once a couple has gotten to the point where one of them is unmoved by the other the marriage is in trouble. Dispassion destroys any incentive to work issues through. Like physical fatigue, it saps the strength needed to confront difficulties.  They fester to the point where the aggravation of their presence is greater than the turmoil of divorce.

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Similar to the love-indifference dichotomy, attraction and revulsion are not opposites. Again, both are strong responses to another person.

This is why people rubberneck at automobile accidents and other gruesome sights and delight at horror movies. Irresistibility and repulsion evoke often uncontrollable emotional and physical responses.

When developing self-discipline, mental acuity, and relationships an important key is being able to respond rather than react. Respond means your words and actions are in harmony with your values and the image of yourself you are creating. React communicates a lack of self-control and generally does more damage than good.

Knowing that the opposite of a strong emotional response is not a different strong emotional response means you can defuse a situation.  You'll stay on the love side of the love-hate coin. If your child or spouse screams hateful words you can view them as a temporary inability to express powerful, loving emotions since both grow from the same root. Admittedly this is easier with your child.

Ironically, the key to preventing love and attraction from becoming indifference and coolness is using the latter two to gently bring the other person back to the same, strong emotion you feel. Mastering this technique will help you live harmoniously, which in all likelihood is part of your plan for living intentionally.

Question – What is your view of the connection between love, hate, and indifference?

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How to Make Sure You Will Not Be Like Your Parents

Submariners know there is something worse than being broke. While there has not been a major submarine mishap in more than 50 years, they live with the reality that while deeply submerged the emergency klaxon could sound and the 150 or so of them on the boat may not be able to save it. Fatalistic though they may be, most are equally focused on their life direction.

How to Make Sure You Will Not Be Like Your Parents

Among the most common issues I hear about from the people I counsel is that they do not want to be like their parents. Does any child of the Baby Boomer and later generations want to copy his parents? It seems not. But when I examined this issue I realized my desire to not be my father (may he be remembered for blessing) was holding me back. Further, my dad had many admirable qualities, chief among them loyalty. He was positive that there is not an admiral who is a better officer than his junior officer son. I would argue the point but it would be disrespectful to my father.

The drawback of not wanting to be like someone or not wanting to be something is that such a desire only excludes a small group of options. A multiplicity of other alternatives remains. As well, merely wanting to avoid a particular character trait or behavior does not make you immune from others that are worse.

The behavior you want to shun is the center point of a circle. In which direction are you going to go to get away? Will all of them lead you to a positive alternative?

If you had an alcoholic parent, is rejecting liquor going to make you the person you want to be?

Alternatives to not being broke include being wealthy but also, G-d forbid, being sick and penniless.

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From a spiritual perspective, if you have not taken the time and made the effort to plot a positive course you are not engaging with G-d as the junior partner in running your life. Would you let your work supervisor have that much control without your input? You may say you have faith that G-d will direct your life where it should go. But G-d wants to have an adult relationship with you. That includes letting Him know what you want out of life, while leaving open the possibility that He may decide you are not ready yet.

Living intentionally: have an overarching mission and purpose, a comprehensive plan, and goals to strive toward, requires that you take whatever negatives you want to avoid and use them as a guide to determine the positives you want to achieve.

Question – How do you turn avoiding certain behaviors or character traits into positive goals?

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