Tag Archives: habits

Chew on this!

I was recently reminded of the power of criticism when two diametrically opposed viewpoints hit my email inbox on the same day. I will spare you the details, but one was highly complimentary of a website I maintain. The second was not so much so. While expressed as a concern, the uncomplimentary message evoked some pretty strong emotion from me. Frankly, it took me several hours to calm down enough to poll several folks I respect regarding the validity of the criticism. I was assured it was, in fact, baseless.

But here’s an interesting phenomena. While I was ultimately able to “chuckle” over the criticism, guess which one of those emails I spent the most mental and emotional energy on? If you guessed “the negative one,” you’d be correct.

Ironically (unless you believe in fate), a few days later I happened to listen to an inspiring TED talk. The speaker introduced the concept of “mental hygiene” noting that while we take care of our bodies with healthy practices, most people do not have a regimen that addresses mental health. One point that particularly hit home was that we human beings have a tendency to “ruminate” over incidents and conditions in our lives. (In animal terms, “chew over and over.”) His challenge was that we might do well to consider what we are consuming and chewing over and over. Our choices affect not only our mental state, but also how and what we communicate. And, of course, what we communicate dramatically impacts those we are around.

If you're going to get trapped by your own thinking, it might as well be positive.

If you’re going to get trapped by your own thinking, it might as well be positive.

There’s both a personal and an organizational lesson for us in this. Chewing on the negative isn’t going to make it positive. Sometimes we have to spit it out and find something better to chew on. That is a choice we can make.

I substitute taught kindergarten recently. One of the things I love about five year olds is they haven’t get figured out why things can’t be done—they try stuff. One of my best moments was when a young lady came up and tugged on my sleeve. “Mr. Boomsma, I want to tell you about something nice (another student) just did for me…” We work really hard to create a positive learning environment at school. There are official positions assigned every day: class messenger (delivers notes to the office) and cubby inspector (makes sure no one has forgotten anything at the end of the day) are two. But my personal favorite is the kindness reporter. A different student each day is challenged to spot and report kindnesses happening in the classroom.

I wonder how our lives would change if we decided to be a “Kindness Reporter.” We could simply do it personally and randomly or we could self-appoint ourselves to the position with our family, our workplace, or organizations we’ve joined. Maybe we also could be a “Thinking Monitor”—someone who decides to point out negative thinking and try to stop others from chewing on it.

If you’re not willing to do it for others, at least do it for yourself. Monitor how you’re thinking and how much kindness you’re doling out. Chew on the positive possibilities. It will improve your digestion!

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2014 — A Year in Review

Wh2015_crush_2014ile writing Christmas cards, I found myself sitting with pen poised and brow furrowed, pondering whether or not it was truly possible to condense a full year into a few short sentences. Several friends and I exchange annual greetings that qualify as very short updates of how the year has passed. Unfortunately, contemplating how to do that didn’t mean getting the job done, so I ultimately selected a few key words and activities and scribbled my note.

The activity left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied, so I decided to look back through an entire year of posts on this site. Here are some that represented important events this year. (Click the title to read the entire post.)

Mr. Boomsma, I Really Love You! tells a short story of a five year old who helped me learn an important lesson as she learned about balancing love and respect.

In the post titled Yesterday  I confessed to “fooling” some kindergarteners regarding my abilities. The experience reminded of why I feel so lucky that I get to work with them. No, it’s not because they are easily fooled.

“Gotcha!” marked one of the more meaningful days of the year… “Johnny” has enjoyed pulling one over on me since second grade. He got me again (he was in sixth grade last spring) and reminded me that the line between teacher and student is supposed to be fuzzy.

This Is Important suggested we can find comfort in the truth that “Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.”

On Going Amish was written in the middle of a battle with technology. I’m still not sure if I’ve won.

When Teachers Go Fishing was about process (fishing) and results (catching); teaching and learning. “You can’t say you haven’t caught any until you’ve quit fishing.” In non-fishing terms I tell the kids I work with, “You haven’t failed until you’ve given up.”

Before the Birds Start Singing suggests that writing rituals and thinking rituals are closely aligned and worthy of consideration. I confessed to considering some writing rituals that might be considered “odd” so I develop a writer’s reputation as a “character.”

Gee! Haw! One very little girl named Julia reminds us that it’s way too easy to underestimate kids.

Mr. Boomsma Makes Mag celebrates an honor this year—being featured in Maine Seniors Magazine. The photo section created a fun opportunity to work with my (then) third grade future pop star friend. I also ended up being called a “hunk” by some seniors after the article was released. I briefly considered adopting a tag line “working with people from eight to eighty…”

What’s in the Gift You Give? Simple gifts really can be the best, but it still depends on what’s in the package.

Happy Holiday Wishes was my attempt to resolve the debate about how we greet each other in December. While many responses were complimentary, I managed to give at least one person the fodder necessary to become very angry with me, proving once again that in spite of the writer’s best efforts, readers read words and then read meaning into those words that is sometimes way off the intended mark!

Of course there are other posts—some regarding classes, some shared articles and videos by others. A quick analysis of site activity showed that the most popular posts were those with information about activities at school: the PCES Winter Concert and the SAD 4 Veteran’s Celebration. Since I think that’s pretty awesome, I’m planning to give some thought this year to some site redesign that will make that sort of information even more accessible.

And therein lies a final lesson of the year. While it’s true that nothing is ever really lost as long as we remember it, we shouldn’t forget that our future memories aren’t simply a matter of fate and chance. Our choices will greatly influence what we experience.

I don’t tend to make resolutions, but I do try to keep my priorities in order and stay focused. I expect if I spend a lot of time fishing I will catch some fish. Since I do actually go fishing, that’s not just an analogy. But it might be a metaphor. I may not know the specifics, but I do know what I’ll be writing about and remembering this year. Do you?

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Filed under Big Brains, Big Hearts, Just for Fun, Personal Growth, School Programs, Small People, Writing Skills

Happy Holiday Wishes!

Again this year, I have watched the debates rage regarding what phrases we should use when greeting each other. It is interesting that folks enter the debate from so many different perspectives. Some are worried about political correctness, some worried about theological implications, some worried about the social aspect.

But words are ultimately just words. We can, of course, talk about connotations and entomology, but ultimately it is the listener who gives meaning to what is read and said. So please understand, my choice of headline is not a political, theological, or social commentary. The reality is there are at least two holidays approaching–Christmas (with it’s many variations) and New Year’s Day. Therefore, it would seem wishing folks “happy holidays” is fairly accurate from a communications perspective–unless you choose to see it some other way.

And my headline choice doesn’t mean you can’t have a “Merry Christmas” (or some version of it). There are no hidden agendas or meanings in my greeting of choice. Well, maybe there is one.

Of late, as a society we are placing an extremely high value on diversity–one reason the “Happy Holidays” greeting is gaining in popularity. But when we obsess on encouraging diversity we omit half of the formula. Diversity requires tolerance.

A seasonal example might be found in snowflakes. Supposedly there are no two alike–how’s that for diversity?! When they bond together they create beauty and, in some cases, inconvenience and danger. But they don’t fight about it. There aren’t “bad” snowflakes and “good” snowflakes. There are just snowflakes. What can we learn from those snowflakes? What can we accomplish when we bond together in spite of our differences?

Perhaps the hidden meaning in this wish is that you enjoy the diversity and experience the tolerance that our unique design requires. We are, after all, just people trying to make our way through life as happily (or merrily) as possible. Let’s enjoy the trip!

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Just How Busy Are You?

“Between the great things we cannot do and the small things we will not do, the danger is that we shall do nothing.

–Adolphe Monod

climbing_up_folders_400_clr_9727Lately I seem to be hearing a lot of people complaining about how busy they are. I’m probably guilty myself. I can whine with the best of them–I have plenty of opportunities to learn the skill from the kids at school.

When I was actively involved in human resource consulting, one of the phenomena we often discussed was something called “ritualistic complaining.” In short, ritualistic complaining happens when individuals complain somewhat automatically–without deliberate thought– because it’s an unstated expectation. To watch it happen, get ten people together and ask them about their job. The majority are not likely to announce their job is wonderful, fulfilling and pays great. The societal norm is quite the contrary and we are left rightfully wondering if the complaints we are hearing are, in fact, accurate. Managers need to learn to ignore ritualistic complaining.

Since I’ve yet to discover an objective scale for measuring busy, let’s set the question of how busy we are aside for a moment. A better question might be “what are we accomplishing and are we having fun?” See, I happen to think that “being busy” can be addictive–it’s easy to forget that we make choices. While a little ritualistic complaining about how busy we are is probably okay, unless we’ve totally given up control of our lives and schedule there’s no logic to complaining about the choices we make to do or not do things.

The concern always should be that it’s easy to substitute activity (being busy) with accomplishment. I know at least one person who tries to attend as many community meetings as possible. This allows her to report how busy she is in the hope people will assume she’s accomplishing great things for all the organizations she claims to be working with. I also chuckle over the number of people who apologize for failing to get things done because they haven’t had time. A quick check of Facebook reveals they’ve spent most of the morning posting inspirational messages and pictures of cute puppies and kittens. In what must be the ultimate irony, I recently had some frustration with some folks who were too busy to reply that they were too busy to help with a project!

But let’s not forget; that claiming “busy” is one’s right. I just wish we could be honest–if not with others, at least with ourselves. While I have difficulty feeling sympathy for someone who is busy, I do regret that he or she has given up control of time and purpose.

One person I often work with IS busy by my standard. If I email her at 5 AM I can pretty much guarantee I’ll get an immediate reply–we both start our days early. She always walks rapidly with purpose in her step, rarely complains about being busy and I do not ever recall asking her if she’s “got a minute?” and hearing her say no because she’s too busy. She is not the victim of her schedule; she makes choices and accepts that she has.

We may not like admitting it, but when all is said and done, we tend to become victims of ourselves and our choices. One thing that separates us from the lower life forms is our ability to rationalize, but it’s both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing when we use it to manage our time and purpose. It’s a curse when we use that ability to rationalize our choices and our failures because it diminishes the power we have available to us.

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Ten Mindful Minutes

Here’s an enjoyable way to spend ten minutes learning how to spend ten minutes that are “mindful” of the present moment. You’ll enjoy both!

I seem to be having trouble getting this video to embed, so here is the link:

 http://www.ted.com/talks/andy_puddicombe_all_it_takes_is_10_mindful_minutes.html

 

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There’s Still Time!

The instructor stood before his time management class with some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

So the instructor picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The instructor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up even more space. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous “yes.”

The instructor then produced two cans of beer from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the instructor as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things–your family, your children, your health, your friends, your favorite passions–things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

“The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else; the small stuff. If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house, and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the beer represented.

The instructor smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of beers.”

Note: I think I first heard this story nearly 20 years ago–unfortunately, the original author’s identity has been long lost… it’s making the rounds on the Internet and definitely is worthy of consideration!

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The Enemy Called “Good”

“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically – to say ‘no’ to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside. The enemy of the ‘best’ is often the ‘good.’”

– Dr. Stephen Covey

This quote appeared in my inbox this morning as a “thought starter.” How appropriate to start the day thinking about priorities! There are two very important thoughts in these few sentences.

The idea of being almost obsessive with our priorities is not, of course, new. Tom Peters coined a descriptive term some years ago–a “monomaniac with a mission.” In just a few words we see the accomplishment value of one person with one mission. We’ve all seen it in action. You get one person who has real passion and purpose, get her focused and there’s really no stopping her. These people become the heroes of our society–assuming, of course, their mission is positive!

The second thought in this quote is the idea that the enemy of “best” is often “good.” How many times have we found ourselves saying something is “good enough” or “close enough?” In Maine we have a rather colorful expression to describe it.

“A blind man on a galloping horse will never notice…”

I suppose it creates perspective. But at the same time it’s really saying “that’s pretty bad. The only person who won’t notice is blind and going by pretty fast.”

While any project or passion requires practicality, we really ought to guard against the “good enough” mentality because Covey is right. Good can be the enemy of best.

Occasionally I’ll encounter an adult student who seems to merit a nickname and some gentle teasing at the start of class. “And how is my little overachiever today?” But that student knows it’s not such a bad label and it’s a bit unfortunate that our system implies over-achievers are placing too much stress on themselves. There is a balance in all of this, but I’ll take a class of over-achievers before a class of “how can I squeak by” students any day.

So we need to think about our “yes’s” and our “no’s.” And we need to be careful when we start saying “yes” to good because it might mean we are saying “no” to our best.

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Filed under Classes and Courses, Learning, Personal Growth