Taking A Pause for an Incredible Cause

To my wonderful blog followers,

I am going to be on a short hiatus from new posts until September 11th, 2014. I’m preparing for an amazing conference the 9-10th of September in Montgomery, Alabama called Gateway to Hope Breaking the Stigma of Moral Injury.

Gateway to Hope

Here’s what it’s all about:

Gateway To Hope seeks to educate all who care about our nation’s veterans about the consequences of the spiritual wounds of war and our responsibility to support their recovery.  Participants will learn about moral injury and its relationship to PTSD and sexual trauma, and about creating safe communities of support for veterans to tell their stories and reflect morally on them. They will also explore ways to reintegrate veterans into the civilian world, without leaving them to suffer invisibly and in silence.

I am so honored to be a part of this important conference. As many of  my readers know, I have a very personal experience with Post Traumatic Stress and Moral Injury, which I describe in detail in my book 166 Days My Journey Through the Darkness.

I need to focus my efforts in my preparation over the next twelve days! But not to worry! I’ll be back with some incredible insights to share!

For more information on Gateway to Hope Breaking the Stigma of Moral Injury, go to:

 http://gatewaytohope2014.wordpress.com/

What Jumping Out of a Plane Taught Me About Courage

Be Courageous“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” ~Nelson Mandela

I’m quite sure that what I did yesterday was easily the craziest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I jumped out of an airplane flying 10,000 feet in the air. It was tandem jump with a freefall that lasted about 45 seconds before we pulled the parachute.

The feeling was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Every second of the descent was invigorating, I honestly didn’t want it to end.  It was such an adrenaline rush, it took me at least 20 minutes to come down from it after we landed.

My husband Greg and I jumped together; it was something we both had on our “Bucket List” for several years.

As we watched the training video, suited up, and finally got on the plane, we looked at each other knowing how nervous the other one was. The ride up to the drop zone seemed like it was never going to end. I watched Greg’s goggles fog up and his hands get clammy as we got closer and closer to “Go Time.”  Before we knew it, the door opened and there was no turning back.  Greg was first out of the plane, and as I watched him jump, I felt my heart beating out of my chest.

Before I knew it, it was my turn. I put my left foot out on the tiny platform outside the door, followed by my right, my pilot counted to three, and we jumped! The rest is history! It was an incredible experience I would do over and over again. I absolutely loved it. I wouldn’t have been able to do it however, if I didn’t find the courage to make the jump.

The experience I had with skydiving is a great example of the importance of having courage in life. Skydiving was something I really wanted to do, but I had to overcome my fears and muster up the courage to just do it.  Often, we can let fear paralyze us from doing what we’re truly meant to do in life. We get caught up in what others might think, the idea of failure, and the fear of the unknown. Looking within and finding the courage to do what matters is vital to living a fulfilling life.

How to Find Courage When You Need it the Most

  • Face Your Fears Head On

We all have fears. Sometimes, those fears can be a good thing, they can actually serve as a motivator, or keep us away from doing something that could be harmful. What we have to be careful of, is letting them overwhelm us and prevent us from doing what matters.

One of the best ways to move past our fears is to face them head on. Don’t hide from them, learn what they are, where they come from, and why you have them. Once you understand them you can learn to overcome them.

  • Embrace Failure

Huh? Did you read that right? Yep, you did. We will all fail. It’s part of how we grow. Courage comes from learning from those failures. Embrace the mistakes you’ve made, and learn how to avoid making them again.

If you can come to embrace failure is a part of growth, you learn to handle life’s hiccups as they come. Sure, none of us set out to fail, but when we do, we have to be able to pick ourselves back up again. That’s where true courage really begins.

  • Begin With the End in Mind

Such a powerful thought by Stephen Covey. I lean to this time and time again in my own life. When I feel fear creeping in and starting to take over, I pause, think for a minute on what I’m working to accomplish, and I find I’m able to keep going. Keep the end result in the forefront of your mind, know you will have some trials and tribulations along the way…but keep going and eventually you’ll get there.

I look at life as an incredible adventure. Not just because I do crazy things like skydiving, but because I see how each moment we live helps us grow and develop into what we are meant to be. We have to make those moments count and get the most out of each of them. Be courageous in your life; don’t miss the adventure.

What is the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?

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How to Get Back on the Wagon of Wellness

There’s no shame in falling off the wagon. The shame is in not having the courage to get back on it. ~Adam Hance

 

800px-Covered_Wagon_In_Scotts_Bluff_National_Monument,_NebraskaWise words spoken by my friend Adam who understands them well. He went running with us last night, which was his first time running in over 8 months. He told us he’d really fallen back into his old habits of not taking care of himself and it was time to make a change.

We invited him to run with us last week, and I was happily surprised to find out yesterday that he was coming.  Unfortunately, we had a longer day than expected at work, forcing him to wait over an hour on us. He could’ve easily given up out of frustration, but he didn’t. In fact, he was the first one out there when we finally made it to the park.

The run was for 40 minutes, and it was hot.  It was painful for him. Heck, it was painful for me too! By the end of it his legs and knees were on fire and he was physically spent. He could’ve easily gotten in his truck and said “See ya! Never doing that again!” but he didn’t. Instead his words were “See ya next week guys!”

When I got home I got a text from him saying:  “There’s no shame in falling off the wagon. The shame is in not having the courage to get back on it. Here it is in a text so you can call me out when I need it…Day 1 Transformation.”

His words really resonated with me. We all struggle with staying motivated. Whether it’s with fitness, health, or goals in general. That temptation to take the easy way instead of the road less traveled can get the best of us. It’s easier to fall back into a bad habit than to make a positive change.

So, how do you get back on that wagon once you fall off it?

  • Surround Yourself with What Motivates You

As simple as it sounds, it’s incredibly effective. One of my biggest motivators is hearing other people’s stories. When I see people with unthinkable challenges and adversity who’ve done what I’m trying to do, I’m able to dig deep and find the strength to push through. Put me in front of the Ironman documentary, which outlines the stories of the participants in the Kona Ironman, you better have a box of Kleenex waiting for me! I get so emotional watching the amazing character these people have. Their stories are some of the most inspirational I’ve heard.

I also look to my husband. He’s such an example of a healthy lifestyle. When I feel myself slipping, I think of him and how dedicated he is. The point is, get rid of the stuff that brings you down. Replace it with what motivates you to dig deep and surround yourself with it.

  • Eliminate the Potential Temptations

If it’s a weakness, remove it from the equation. I, for one, have a problem with sweets. I absolutely love them! I could eat a whole family size bag of M&Ms if I had a chance. So, I don’t buy them. I don’t even give myself the chance to go M&M crazy.

If sitting on the couch watching TV is a weakness, don’t turn it on. If bad habits like smoking, drinking too much, or overeating are the problem, cut those things from your world. Avoid situations that tempt you to do them. Don’t stop at the drive-thru on the way home. If driving past it is a temptation, find another route.  Instead, take the money you spend on your bad habits and start saving it for something you’ve always wanted to do.

  • Remind Yourself of the Why

What are you trying to accomplish? Where do you want to go? What is it about your life right now that you want to change in a positive way? Why?

When you can answer the why, it gives you more buy-in. When someone tells you to do something, your likely first inclination is to ask why. We innately to ask this question. When we understand the reason, we then agree or disagree to do something.

The same goes with keeping yourself motivated. Understand and lean on the Why.

That wagon can be extremely difficult to stay on. Especially when it starts traveling down the bumpy roads and it gets harder and harder to hold on. When that happens, remember to fill your life with what motivates you, eliminate the temptations that bring you down, and always remember the Why.

What helps keep you motivated when times get tough?

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How to Be More than What They Think

Be More than What They ThinkIf you had to guess, who in this picture would you think has completed multiple triathlons; to include a 1/2 Ironman? In case you aren’t familiar, the 1/2 Ironman consists of a 1.1 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride, and 13.1 mile run. This same person also became a hero to me on this day. Her name was Grace, and I couldn’t think of a more fitting word to describe her. She’s the lady standing in the middle.

My friend Tonya and I are training for our first triathlon in September. We have come such a long way, but the swim has by far been the biggest challenge. We had to forget everything we thought we knew about how to swim and learn to be more efficient. We’ve spent hours in the pool getting rid of our bad habits.

Unfortunately for us, the race doesn’t take place in the pool; it’s in the beautiful waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The waters are an amazing sight, but they’re also home to many different species of sharks and things that bite and sting.

Because of this, I’ve been struggling with my fears.  Getting comfortable swimming in the open water has been a real challenge for me. This day was no exception. In fact, it’s probably the hardest day I’ve had in the ocean. Perhaps watching way too much Shark Week on the Discovery Channel didn’t help. The crazy guy that was on the beach that day telling shark stories right before we swam didn’t either.

Tonya and I decided to meet up with a group of people who were going to be doing a swim that day. We felt like the more people, the safer we’d be. As soon as we got started, I felt myself begin to panic. I started thinking about the likelihood  a shark was swimming close by, and I began to struggle. It seemed like each breath I took, I swallowed salt water instead.  Several times I had to stop to regain my composure. Each time I did, so did Grace and Tonya. They encouraged me to keep going.

Grace was so kind to this crazy lady she’d never met before. She shared with me how she’s overcome her own fears, she made me laugh, and most importantly, she motivated me to keep going. We ended up swimming close to a mile that day, and the second half was much easier, all because of her kindness. I have to say, what I will remember much more than the accomplishment of completing the swim, is Grace.

I was beyond impressed with her, both by her attitude and athleticism. I never would’ve guessed if I’d met her on the street. This brings me to the point of this post: Judgment and preconceived notions.

We’re all guilty of having them, and we’re also all victims of them. There are too many times to count that I’ve been judged because of being a woman, the way I looked, where I was from, etc. So how do we move past them?

Be More Than What They Think You Are

  • Be Confident

When I arrived at the firebase when I deployed to Afghanistan with a team of Green Berets, I knew I’d have to prove myself. As soon as I stepped off the Chinook, all eyes were on me. I felt them sizing me up, wondering if I could handle being there. It was intimidating to say the least.I got through the initial, and short-lived judgments by being confident in my abilities. I knew I could do the job, and I did.

Be confident in who you are and what you bring to the table. We can all learn from each other. You have so much to offer, a unique perspective, experience, and mindset. Don’t let other’s ideas of what you appear to be suppress who you really are.

  • Be Kind

Hands down, one of the easiest ways to win someone over is to be kind. Grace is a shining example of this. She didn’t have to take the time to reassure me and help me along. She could’ve easily continued swimming, never saying a word. Her kindness showed me so much more of who she was.

  • Be The Unexpected

Over time you can begin to anticipate what people will automatically assume about you. If that assumption is accurate, great! But if it’s not, then it’s your job to prove them wrong. Be what they don’t expect. If they assume you’re weak, be strong. If they think you aren’t going to stay the course, be the last one to leave. Know what they assume, and be intentional about being the opposite of what they expected.

  • Be Genuine

Know who you are and be proud of it! We’re all unique. We all have our flaws, as well as the things that make us special. Embrace what makes you individual.

Be genuine. Don’t try to be something you’re not. People may or may not like you…and that’s ok. All you can be is yourself. Be the authentic you.

What is something great about you most people would find surprising?

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Why Sometimes It’s Ok to Eat a Humility Cheeseburger

Be HumbleThis is me eating a cheeseburger. A sight most people that know me would never expect to see.  Here’s the thing, I don’t eat beef.  With the exception of some crazy pregnancy cravings years ago, I haven’t since 1999.

I quit eating beef in an effort to be healthier after I gained a lot of weight in college.  It wasn’t like I gained  the “Freshman 15,”  it was more like the “Sophomore 35!” When I gained all of that weight, I knew I had to make some changes, and one of them was to eliminate beef.

Over the years, I’ve gotten quite accustomed to not eating beef. So, trust me when I say that this did not happen by choice! In fact, I dreaded it up until the moment it happened.

So, why on Earth did I do it you ask?

I lost a bet. My husband Greg and I play a game every time we go to the movies, where we try to guess which celebrities are going to be in the previews beforehand. We’ve created a lot of rules and we tend to take it very seriously.

We make our picks before arriving at the movie theatre, (eliminating the chance of either one of us seeing the movie posters to give an unfair advantage), and we also make a wager on what we want if we win.

When we first started playing, we were cordial and considerate of each other, but over the years the bets have become brutal. This time…Greg came with the Big Guns. If he won, I had to eat a cheeseburger….the ultimate price to pay in our silly little game.

Well, as you can see, the night didn’t go my way. Yep…it was  a pretty devastating loss for Team Jenn.   It took me two days to muster up the courage to take on the burger, but much to Greg’s delight, I made good on my promise. Of course, he’s been gloating and laughing about it since.

As awful as it was for me, I kept my word. Therein, lies the lesson.

Sure, this is a silly story, but it’s a great example of how life doesn’t always happen in your favor.

Sometimes,  it forces you to eat a big, fat humility cheeseburger. How many times have you been faced with a situation where you’ve had to eat your words or own a mistake or bad decision? Or maybe it was keeping a commitment you really had no desire to keep.

We all want to win all the time. We want to be right. We want to be the hero. It’s hard to swallow your pride. To be humble. To make good on a promise. To keep your word.

As difficult as they can be, doing all of these things builds character. Character is such an important part of living a healthy and fulfilling life. It builds strength and helps you preserver in difficult times. It validates what you do and how you live your life. Character serves as a compass when things don’t seem to make sense.

I still don’t like cheeseburgers, and I still hated every bite of the one I had to eat…but I’m glad I did. As easy as it would have been to back out of the deal, I kept my promise.  Next time however, I’ll be much more cautious with what bets I agree to!

Can you share a time in your life that was a big character building moment?

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A 3 Year Old’s Lesson on How to Embrace Being Yourself

Do you ever find yourself worried about what others may think of you? Do you ever let that worry stop you from really being yourself? Princess Zurg

I know a little someone who doesn’t. She proved it the day she walked around Disney World with her face painted like Zurg from the movie Toy Story.

At the time my daughter Ayla was really in to Toy Story. Buzz Lightyear was her hero. When we entered the park, she noticed a station where she could get her favorite character painted on her face.  Greg and I thought for sure she would get Buzz Lightyear, but we were wrong.

She looked at the options and quickly decided Zurg, Buzz Lightyear’s nemesis,  was what she wanted. We pointed out the picture of Buzz and some princesses, but she was adamant; she wanted Zurg.

We stood in line waiting for almost an hour.  I watched the other little girls in front of us get their faces painted with fairies, butterflies, and princesses. I watched Ayla react to them and thought for sure she would change her mind.

When it was her turn, Ayla marched up to the chair, plopped down, and said “I want Zurg.” The face painter looked up at Greg as if to say “Are you sure?” and he nodded with a smile. As soon as she was finished all the little girls around her stared in disbelief as Ayla walked by them with a huge smile on her monster Zurg face.

She ran up to me and squealed in delight, “Mom! I’m Princess Zurg! I’m sooo beautiful!” The rest of the day she walked around with her head held high and quickly became the coolest girl around in the eyes of all the little boys we met.

That day Ayla had no problem being herself. She set an example we could all learn from.

 Three Keys to Being Yourself:

1. Be Courageous in Who You Are:

We all have something unique about us that makes us special. Be confident in what you have to offer. Don’t let the fear of what others might think about you stop you from being who you are. Be Courageous. Be You.

2. Do What Makes You Happy:

Joy is one of the most important things to have in your life. Find what brings it to you and spend a lot of time doing it. Have fun. Smile. Fill your days with what makes you happy.

3. Spend Your Time with People Who Love You for You:

No matter how hard you try, there will always be someone out there who doesn’t like you. That’s ok. Focus on those that do. Surround yourself with people who bring value to your life. Find ways to bring value to them.

Thanks Princess Zurg for setting a great example for us all.

What is your most unique attribute?

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5 Ways to Stay Motivated With Fitness

How to Stay MotivatedAre you like me and struggle sometimes when it comes to staying motivated with exercise?

Last night I went for a run. It was one of those times I had to fight to keep going. It was hot and humid;  the temperature outside was still just under 90 degrees at 7pm. I’d eaten a turkey meatball sub about an hour prior to starting, so imagine my surprise when I started to feel a “You REALLY shouldn’t have eaten that” sensation in my stomach about 20 minutes into the run.

Needless to say, my motivation to keep going was hard to reach, and there were times I felt the urge to stop. It would’ve been so easy to walk for just a few minutes, or even cut the run short.  It’s weird how your mind can sometimes take off down a rabbit hole of excuses for why it’s ok to give up.

Despite the temptation, I didn’t quit and finished the run. It felt great to complete what I started.

When it comes to staying motivated with fitness, no matter how fit you are, we can all hit a wall. So what can you do to stay motivated to keep going?

5 Ways to Stay Motivated with Fitness

1. Have a Goal

One of the biggest motivators for me has been having a goal. It’s much harder to get out and exercise if you’re not working toward something.

My current goal is training for my first triathlon. This is a pretty lofty goal, and somewhat intimidating….but man! I can’t wait for that sense of accomplishment when I complete it!

When you have a goal, you have direction and something to work towards. It gives you a bigger reason to exercise.

2. Remind Yourself of What You Don’t Want to Be

I don’t want my health to go downhill. I don’t want to become obese. I don’t want to become someone who hides behind my own excuses. When I remind myself of these things, I know that means I have to continue on.

3. Find an Accountability Buddy

I can’t tell you how helpful this has been to me. Last night, I wasn’t running alone. I’m not training for the triathlon alone either. I have a great friend that is doing the event with me. We train together every week. Knowing I have to meet her and I need to show up for her helps. The sense of not wanting to let someone else down is powerful motivation.

An accountability buddy not only helps you keep your commitment, but also challenges you to push harder. Last night, as I struggled with my indigestion, Tonya ran with ease. She made me want to push through it. When we ride our bikes and swim, if she’s faster than me it makes me work harder.

My husband is also training for the same event. He is way more fit than I am; seeing his motivation and dedication is a huge inspiration to me.

 4. Appreciate the Value of Your Time

We all have the same 24 hours in a day. How you spend them is up to you. My days are jam-packed with being a mom, wife, and having a career. Because of how busy I am, I’ve come to really appreciate the value of my time. When I have an extra hour, I look at it as an opportunity.

I could spend that hour watching a TV show that I will likely forget about tomorrow, or I can use it to better myself. When I weigh those options, the decision is pretty easy. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy sitting and relaxing as much as anyone, but I also make sure that I take some of that precious time in my day and devote it to improving my quality of life.

5. Recognize the Gift of Your Ability

We take so much for granted. Yesterday I met a lady only 4 months older than me, who had been through over a dozen surgeries and an eventual amputation of her leg and finger because of her poor circulation. I can’t imagine the pain she’s had to overcome, and how she continues to endure such a debilitating medical condition.

When I meet people like her, who have such an incredible strength and positive attitude, I’m so humbled. What a gift it is to be able to use both of my arms and legs. Sometimes just recognizing what you have can be all it takes to get off your butt and make it count!

Staying active takes work. Sometimes it means you have to dig deep to the find motivation within to keep going. But, know that you can. You will. When you hit that wall, take these tips and find that motivation to push through.

What is your biggest motivator to stay active?

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Why Do We Take Better Care of Our Cars than Ourselves?

carWhat do you take better care of? Your car or yourself?

Recently we took a road trip to Houston to surprise my mother-in-law for her birthday. It’s a long trip, but the look on her face when she saw her grandkids was worth all 12 hours of driving.

One day, we planned  a fun family picnic. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as we thought. We all loaded up into the vehicles, and headed out. As soon as I pulled up to the first stoplight I started to hear a funny noise in the car. The more I drove, the louder and more frequent the noise became.

Knowing we had a 12 hour drive home, we quickly made our way to the mechanic and spent the better part of two hours waiting to hear what was wrong. Apparently the wheels were out of balance and thankfully, it was an easy fix. As much of a hassle as it was to take it in, we were all relieved to know we would have a safe trip home.

As I sat and waited for the car, I wondered why we’re so good about taking care of our vehicles, but not ourselves. We take our cars for regular maintenance; an oil change, tire rotation, etc. We know when something doesn’t sound right, we have to take it in to get checked out. When it comes to ourselves though, we’re often not so disciplined to maintain our health and wellbeing.

We don’t have the luxury of a “check engine” light to alert us when we’re starting to have problems; so we have to rely on ourselves to perform routine maintenance.

A great way to do that is to devote time to yourself daily to get a sense of how things are running. Here are some key service points to check:

1. Mindset

How is your attitude and motivation? Are you feeling engaged? Sometimes it’s good to take inventory on how you’re handling the world around you. By doing so, you can make adjustments to how you deal with what comes your way.

Be intentional with your mindset. We all have bad days, but don’t let negativity consume you and become the norm.

2. Balance

Someone once told me it’s impossible to balance all areas of your life perfectly. You will always have an uneven distribution of your time and energy. I think that’s true to a point. The key is, being in tune with what is in need of your attention. Make sure you have a good handle on what is most important to you.

Don’t let your career overshadow your family. Don’t let your social life get in the way of your responsibilities. Make sure you are prioritizing your energy in the most healthy and beneficial ways.

3.  Health

Our health seems to be the easiest thing to let go by the wayside. We find all kinds of excuses to avoid taking care of ourselves. We are too busy with career, taking care of others, or numerous other things to take care of ourselves.

Take the time to evaluate how you’re feeling daily. Are you getting enough exercise? How is your energy level? How are you eating? How controlled are your medical conditions? How is your spiritual health? There’s so much we can do to maintain good health if we can learn to engage.

The great thing about a car is that you can replace it when it eventually goes caput. Not the case when it comes to you. Your body, your mind, your spirit are the one and only you’ve got. Take care of them.

What is the biggest thing that gets in your way when it comes to taking care of yourself?

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4 Keys to Effective Communication

Ever feel like you’re talking to a wall?

Communication…effective communication…is a challenge that we face on an everyday basis. Let’s face it, people are different. We have unique personalities which influence the way we give and receive information. My daughter Ayla is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.

She has quite the independent streak and we often struggle to reel her in. Her “all-knowing” four year old mind seems to go into overdrive at times and it’s hard to get her to follow directions. Earlier this year she came home from school with a project. Looking at it, I had a hard time trying to figure out what it was exactly, but then I saw the point of the exercise. The teacher had them make an octopus from a piece of construction paper by cutting eight strips and labeling them with numbers. They were to put the same number of stickers on the respective leg, write their name, and draw the face.

ayla picture

As you can see, Ayla’s stickers were all over the place and there was very little “cutting of legs” that happened for her poor paper octopus. After looking at the failed project we were confused; we knew Ayla could follow directions. So, her Grandma decided to try it again. She mimicked the exercise at home and you can see there is a clear difference in what Ayla created.

ayla pic 3

This is not to say that her teacher communicated the lesson incorrectly; but Ayla just didn’t receive the information as her teacher intended. I can relate to the poor lady! Not just with my family, but at work, with my friends, my husband, and even when I deliver a message to a large group of people. Sometimes what you intend to say is just not what’s relayed.

So how on Earth do you communicate effectively? I think that’s the million dollar question!

Here are Four Key Tips to Effective Communication:

  • Know Who You’re Communicating With:

Understand how that person gives and receives information, and adjust the way you communicate accordingly. The important part of what I just said is you adjust, not them. People are who they are, and they will process a message in their own way, being aware of that is vital. If you give someone who can’t stand details a long drawn out dissertation, you’ve lost them. Or if you’re direct and to the point with a sensitive person, you can easily offend them and shut them down from listening to any more of what you had to say.

  • Understand Your Message:

Have you ever been on the other end of a conversation with someone who clearly didn’t know what they were talking about? Or better yet, have you ever been that person yourself and watched the look of confusion and disinterest on the person’s face you were talking to? Miserable for both parties right? Make sure you have a clear understanding of what it is you are trying to say and why it’s important to the person you are speaking to.

  • Know The Impact of Your Message:

If you understand how you want your message to impact someone, i.e. move them to change, inspire trust, motivate or teach them, you can deliver it in a way that will foster that goal.

  • Be Aware of How Your Message is Being Interpreted:

Watch the person’s body language you are talking to. If they appear confused, tense, bored, withdrawn, guess what? They are! Not only do you need to be aware of this, but act on it! Take a moment, regroup, and change your delivery.

These are four key pieces to the very large and intimidating puzzle of communication. When all else fails, just remember…what do you want that octopus to look like?

What’s your biggest challenge with communication?

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Why You Cant Let Fear Paralyze You

One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do. ~Henry Ford

I’m training for my first triathlon in September this year. By far the most intimidating part of the event is the swim. It’s intimidating on so many different levels. I’ve had to relearn how to swim efficiently, in order to prevent feeling completely exhausted after swimming only a couple of laps. It’s taken a lot of refocus and drills in the pool, but I’ve finally learned the technique I need to accomplish efficiency.

My next, and much more daunting task, is getting over my fear of swimming in the open water. The event starts with swimming in the water of the Gulf of Mexico. For several months I’ve been working myself up mentally to get in the water, something so many other people do with ease, but seems enormous to me.

Over the 4th of July I attempted a quick swim on a beautiful day where the water was clear and calm. After only a few minutes of being in the water, I heard the shrill of my sister’s voice as she screamed “Jenn!! Get out of the water!! There’s a SHARK!!” Much to my disappointment, my reaction was not one I’m too proud of. I proceeded to scream, stomp up and down, and flail my arms around and as I ran out of the water. As I stood on the shoreline in my state of panic, I looked in the water, and sure enough, a six-foot shark swam by, un-phased by my embarrassing display.

Several weeks later, I tried again, this time I swam in the bay with my husband Greg at my side. We were both nervous. We finally mustered up the courage to do it, and we were off. At first, I was ok, seeing the bottom was comforting, but that was short-lived. Before I knew it, I entered into deeper water, and my view of the bottom turned into a pitch black abyss.

The darkness and cooler temperature of the water got into my head. I felt myself start to panic at the thought of the unknown. I couldn’t see what was below me. I started to think of my recent close encounter with “Jaws” and I began to breath faster. I popped my head out of the water, and saw just a few feet away my husband treading water waiting for me, and encouraging me to keep going. So, I took a deep breath, and pushed on.

Eventually we made it to the halfway point, and I was beyond relieved. As we swam back, I was still nervous about the dark waters, but not nearly as much. I had a new nemesis to struggle with; the current. I would stick my head up, and expecting to see that I was closer to the shore, I found I was facing completely 180 degrees in the opposite direction. I’d been completely oblivious while the current had spun me completely around.  I quickly had to adjust and keep pushing towards the shore.

Several more times the same thing happened. At one point, I looked up and saw Greg swimming in the completely wrong direction as well. It was so crazy! But! Finally, after what felt like a never-ending swim in my fears, we made it. I couldn’t get out of the water fast enough!

jenn beachAfter the swim was over, I thought about some important insights I was reminded of during the experience.

  • Sometimes Our Fear is Much Bigger than What We’re Scared Of

My encounter with the shark is a great example of  the “idea” of the shark, was much more scary then the shark itself. I realized as I watched him swim by, I’d let my own perceptions and fears completely fill my mind which in turn, caused me to act like a crazy woman.

In life, we can build things up to much more than they really are. We can’t let our perceptions and opinions stop us from doing what matters.

  • We Have to Keep Going, Even If It’s Into the Unknown

My swim in the bay is a great analogy to life and doing something outside of our comfort zone. When we take a chance, as long as we can “see the bottom” and have some idea of what we’re dealing with, it’s much easier to take the next step. It’s when you can’t see what’s in front of you, that fear starts to take over.

The reality is that we can’t always see what’s next. Sometimes we have to take a leap of faith. It’s faith and perseverance are what push us forward to accomplish what we never thought possible.

  • Expect to Redirect in the Current of Life

Just like my swim, sometimes life can have an underlying current that can take us in the complete opposite direction of what we intended. Stay the course. Keep your focus on where you’re heading, and eventually you’ll get there.

Be patient, be positive, and be profound.

My swim, and many more moments in my life have served as a perspective meter for me as I continue on my journey. Life is an amazing gift, don’t let your fears paralyze you from experiencing it.