ARE YOU AN UMBRELLA?

I love this picture. Two innocent children sharing an umbrella in a storm. As an adult we have an opportunity to share an umbrella every day. To take that thought further, we have a chance to be an umbrella. At this point you may be wondering if I know exactly what an umbrella is for or if I even know what an umbrella is. Why would anyone share an umbrella if it wasn’t raining? Even more absurd, how can a human being turn into an umbrella? Fair questions if I were the one reading this post and not the one writing it.

In its simplest terms an umbrella is an instrument for protecting us in a storm. It is the definition not of umbrella that should concern us here, but that of storm. In life there are many storms. Yes, there are thunderstorms when the winds are blowing fierce and the rain can seem unrelenting. It can be scary to be out in it. We may not want to risk driving if we don’t have to. We may want to stay inside our homes where we are safe.

What we may forget is there are many storms we face every day. There are health storms where the thunder of pain is louder than anyone can imagine. There are financial storms where the debt continues to rain down on us no matter how hard we work. There are the painful emotional storms when the winds of struggle and strife blow us off our path. There are many storms my friends. Storms of addiction, storms of loneliness, storms of depression. They say in life you are either on your way into a storm, in the middle of a storm, or coming out of a storm. As Eric Thomas said, “Storms are a part of life, but storms are not life.” All of us face storms each and every day.

As you can imagine, the umbrella for all of these storms can be a little different. It can be an umbrella of compassion for someone who has just been hurt or defeated. It can be the umbrella of encouragement for someone who has lost their way. It can be the umbrella of motivation and inspiration for those lost in a storm of negativity and pessimism. There are some umbrellas like love, friendship and listening that seem to work in every storm.

Just like you can walk with a smile on your face through the most intense storm, so can others. Daily, there are those of us who wake up and put a smile on our faces even when we are in the middle of a storm. Just because someone is smiling does not mean the rain is still not falling. Offer everyone you know an umbrella. When given the chance, be the umbrella they do not have. We are all going through storms and we can all use an umbrella.

WE HAVE IT ALL BACKWARDS!!!

When it comes to relationships I think we have it all backwards. It took me a while to realize this, and bless Margie’s heart, am still working on it to some degree. I will be the first person to tell you how important paying attention to your partner is. In my upcoming book I have 3 tips to accomplish this. Before all of this, there is something that we should focus on first – us.

Focus on yourself before your partner? What kind of great idea is that Neil? It sounded a little backwards to me at first too, so let us dive a little deeper. When you are entering a relationship, things always seem magical. Nothing your partner does seems to bother you at all. You find yourself doing all kinds of things you used to not enjoy. Some of that is a positive. I know especially when it comes to cooking, Margie is so talented she has me eating things I thought there was no way I could like. Those are good. The person we are with should expand our horizons.

Then there is the other side of the coin. When we are working hard to win someone’s affection we make sacrifices or even do things that go against our standards. The funny thing is later it will occur to us, “Hey I really do not enjoy these things.” Then when you stop doing them you appear to be doing less for your partner. They can rightfully end up thinking, “He/she used to do this for me and now they don’t. They must be loving or caring less.” Of course this is not the case, but taken from the other person’s perspective it can sure seem that way.

How can we fix such a tricky situation? By realizing the one person we can affect in the relationship is who we can work on, and that is ourselves. Before you get into your next relationship, be sure to know what your values are and what you are not willing to compromise on. There is always a good amount of give and take in any healthy relationship, but it helps to know what is too important to give on. The right person will not only be understanding of that but will share theirs as well.

There is a fun and important side to this and that is knowing what it is that brings you joy in life. Last post we talked about ‘doing you’ and this is yet another reason why that is important. When you know what it is that brings you joy you can share that with your partner. Plus, let us face it, being in a relationship with a happy person is a lot more enjoyable.

What if you are in a relationship that is not currently working so well? The answer is the same. Focus on you and only you. That really sounds backwards so allow me to explain. When things are rough we are quick to focus on our partners faults and how they should change. That will never help things and may only add more distance and separation in the relationship. Focus on what you can do to bring positive changes into the relationship. Is there a communication problem? Do you feel your partner doesn’t listen to you? Think of ways you could make listening to you more enjoyable and desirable for your partner. Is there a lack of intimacy? Think of what you can do to set a more romantic mood, or better yet, ask your partner to help you. Make sure you do this in a constructive and loving manner.

What if you are in a relationship where you truly are doing the best you can and your partner, for whatever reason, is not doing their part? This is the main reason to work on yourself. When a relationship comes to an end we are often left with two emotions – sadness and regret. If only I would have said this, or if only I had not said that. Knowing you worked as hard as can be to bring the best version of you to the relationship will not only eliminate a lot of the sadness and grief you feel from that relationship ending, but set you up for the best possible chances of success in your next relationship.

ONE WORD CAN TRANSFORM ANY RELATIONSHIP

Valentine’s day is coming up and if you are anything like me you find yourself trying to think of the perfect gift. Who doesn’t want to get a gift we know the receiver will just love? It doesn’t have to be Valentine’s day. It can be a birthday or any other special holiday. What if I told you one word can help you find the perfect gift? It doesn’t matter who you are buying the gift for, or what the occasion is. Would you like to know what one word this is?

One of the greatest gifts we can give each other is the gift of happiness. To do and say things that not only bring joy to spouses, friends, family and coworkers, but quite often truly touch their heart. What if I told you this magic word would allow you to know just the right things to say and do, and perhaps just as important, what things to avoid saying and doing, would you be interested?

How can one word unlock the key to making people happy as well as avoiding making them upset? How can that same one word help us pick out the perfect gift that we will know that they will love? This word can do all that and more! It can also show this person their feelings are important to us. It can show them we pay attention to what they say and we value them as a part of our life.

“Wait a minute Neil! You are telling me one word can do all of this?” Yes it can. I personally use this word daily in all of my relationships. I have to thank Margie. It was a trip to the grocery store that began my use of this powerful word. I was at a local co-op shopping for produce and other such fun things. At the time Margie was at home creating one of those cakes that look so good you cannot believe it is edible. Considering how hard she was working and how much I was loving her, I wanted to bring her home something to surprise her and let her know how much I love her and was thinking about her. Then it hit me, I had no clue what that was. I began to push the shopping cart up and down the aisles one by one. My head was spinning. To be honest, I cannot even remember what I settled on that day.

Fast forward a few weeks later. Both of us were at this same store and I was about to tell her how frustrated I was last time I was here looking for that little surprise for her. (Men if you know something you could bring your lady home from the grocery store that makes her feel loved, you are far ahead of most) Right before the words were going to leave my lips a voice in my head spoke to me. Generally these consist of urging me to do things I shouldn’t like eat another slice of pizza or hit the snooze one more time. This time was different, it was a eureka moment. I discovered the magic word and since then I have used it to not only transform my relationship with my beautiful Margie, but virtually everyone in my life and now you can use it too.

What is this magic word? Before I share it with you, a few words of caution, do not dismiss this word based on its simplicity. I promise if you utilize this word in the way described in this post you too will experience a great increase in the quality of your relationships. The word is LISTEN.

When we say listen we mean active listening. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Wikipedia defines active listening as “It requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said.” Read that definition once more slowly. Read it out loud. You may even wish to write that down somewhere. Active listening is most commonly used in conflict resolution. Can you imagine how much difference your disagreements would be if you used active listening? If we are completely honest, we often listen with the intent of responding and not understanding. This is especially true during a disagreement. As the other party is explaining why they are upset we are already busy in our minds composing our rebuttal or how we can prove their point wrong. Changing that to concentrating, understanding and maybe repeating what they said to make sure it is understood as well as remembering what they said to avoid the disagreement in the future would certainly improve your relationship.

Although helpful, so much so I thought I should include it, this is not about disagreements. Let us go back to that day in the grocery store. Instead of sharing my previous frustration with Margie, I decided to watch and listen to her very carefully that day, making mental notes of items she looked at and what she said she liked and did not like. Yes, this kind of listening requires both your ears and your eyes. Up to 90% of communication is nonverbal. Watching her eyes light up with this product, or wrinkling her nose at that product helped me learn a lot more about the wonderful woman I share my life with. I learned more about Margie in that one grocery shopping trip than I normally learn in a month.

The next time I found myself at that grocery store I gleefully picked out several items (little oatie, peach rose) and was confident they would bring her joy when I returned home. I was correct and it filled me with a sense of confidence and accomplishment. I made the woman I love truly happy. It also showed Margie I had listened and paid attention to what she enjoyed. It showed her that her, and her likes and dislikes were very important to me. I began to practice this kind of listening with her more often. I watched and listened to what made her smile, what made her laugh. Even when I make mistakes, I notice what makes her upset. I do my best to practice the active listening mentioned above.

If this sounds like a lot of work, or that you may freak out the one you love by watching their every move, rest assured this is not what we are talking about. Try doing this a couple of times a week. If you are out to dinner notice what sides she likes, how she orders her steak. This is not just about food or even picking out gifts you know they will love.

If we listen long enough people will share with us what makes them happy as well as what makes them unhappy. They will tell us what they enjoy and what they do not. Next time you are out having coffee with a friend, notice what they like to talk about. Notice what interests them. Do they like to talk about history? Maybe a book on Ancient Egypt would make a good birthday gift.

This takes a little effort, but the returns are worth their weight in gold. Do this long enough and you will be the best spouse, friend, or coworker. Picking out gifts will be easier than ever and they will be received with more joy than ever before. The conflicts in your life will be reduced. You will find people will want to spend time around you and enjoy doing so. So remember the magic word LISTEN. Use it daily and your relationships will be better than ever.

SHHH….

Today is valentine’s day. Some call it a hallmark holiday and in many ways I do suppose it is. Much like Christmas,Easter and several other holidays the true meaning makes way for commercial interests. Just like the aforementioned holidays, we do not have to fall victim to this mentality and can focus on the meaning behind the day. 

In the case of today it is love. The cynical may say it is foolish and you should love everyday. This is one time I may be inclined to partially agree with the cynic. While it is true you should celebrate love each and every day (and I am sure that those of you that know my lady Margie and I realize we do) but having a day specifically set aside to remind us of the important role love plays in all of our lives can be very healthy. 

Above is a picture of the couple my lady and I are going to spend the evening with,  our friends Heidi and Bret. This couple, like all couples, have had their share of challenges. Still here they are back, and dare I say, better than they were a year ago. 

What is their secret to love? Well as we all know love is a very complex subject that has filled countless books and inspired even more movies and songs. To say there is one key to love would be selling ourselves short. 

However, because this is a blog and we should be brief i am going to share a secret Heidi and Bret, Margie and myself and countless other couples use to grow their love. Not in a relationship? That’s fine this one thing can unlock the secrets to capturing the heart of anyone you are interested in. 

These are all big claims but can all be achieved by doing one simple thing – listening. Before you dismiss this idea let’s take a look. The kind of listening I am talking about involves listening to learn. 

Let’s take a look at disagreements. When passions run high we can all too often listen just to contradict what our partner is saying. Come on, we have all done it. I know I have. Have you ever found yourself in this situation, you are arguing so intensely and for so long you actually forget what the argument is about? Even worse have you been in a disagreement only to discover you and the other party were totally disagreeing about two different things? These are all things that can happen when we don’t listen to understand what is upsetting our partner. 

When we actively listen which includes asking questions such as “what is truly upsetting you?” And “what can I do to make it better?” can shorten the duration and lessen the intensity of any disagreement. It will also show your partner you can and want to find a solution and not just who is to blame. 

Let’s not be all doom and gloom here. Listening has a very fun and exciting side. Don’t you wish you could always give the one you love the perfect gift or situation to light up their heart regardless of the funds you have available? Listening to the rescue! When I shop with Margie I listen closely  (ok most of the time). This has allowed me to learn what her favorite flowers are, what meat she likes the best, her taste in fashion. Even the conversations we have while doing the simplest things have given me clues as to what she likes and also what she dislikes. By paying attention and taking mental notes it has kept me in the first category. 

So this valentine’s day give your spouse the gift of truly listening to them. It can not only be a great gift for them  (who doesn’t enjoy really being heard and feeling important) and you (they will tell you lots of secrets if you pay attention) but also a great gift for your relationship (it will give you opportunities to grow love and limit upsets). 

*the author would also like to note listening will work in any relationship, friend coworker and clients. 

LISTENING CAN BE YOUR SECRET WEAPON

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Recently my amazing lady outdid herself by throwing me what you can see was one fun surprise birthday party. That by itself is sweet and impressive. In addition to writing this blog to express my sincere gratitude for her doing so, there is another reason. I am sure many of you have had parties thrown for you in your life and if not I sure hope you do. It is a great way to show those in your life that you care. Here is what I feel makes the lady in my life even more impressive. This party was thrown for me at my favorite place, the Wisconsin state fair. It actually happened while the fair was going on. She managed to speak to the owner of my favorite stand there which has a tropical theme with sand and a reggae band and rum. She even managed to get a hold of a lot of my close friends and family as you can see. She managed to go there and decorate without me knowing. This is hard to do because I am there every day. She did all of this without me knowing. Which, both of us working in the bar business is extremely hard to do.

Other than informing you what an amazing lady I have, what does any of this have to do with you? What is the lesson we can take away from all of this and apply to our lives? That is a great question. Here is what really impressed me about my lady and this party. She listened. She knew I loved the fair, which is not a great secret, but she also learned where my favorite place was at the fair. She listened to people I spoke about that I considered friends and made sure they received an invite. She put all of what she learned into action by reserving the both and decorating and even making very delicious cupcakes. All of these things made this a lifetime memory.

So here is my suggestion. If you want to have an amazing life, and if you want to blow your spouse, friends, boss or anyone else in your life away; listen. Not just before the event, but all of the time. That is what my wonderful woman did. She listens whenever I talk. Anyone who knows me can understand that is a lot of listening. By doing so she was able to discern a lot of information and used that to make me feel very special. So listen to everyone you come in contact with. You never know what you can learn and how you can use it to help them or make them feel good.

Once more, thank you Margie my love for an amazing party and a memory that will last a lifetime.