Make 2020 Great Again

Sure, you may have had some challenges this year. It may have been one of the most difficult, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t finish it in a way that makes it still one of the best.

It’s all about stress.

We have a negative relationship with stress but stress is neither good nor bad, it is what we do with it that gives it meaning. We can either experience it as distress or eustress.

Stress that creates distress, manifests in extreme anxiety, sorrow or pain – this it the stress that we try to avoid because it is uncomfortable. Examples of things that people often refer to as distress are things like a failing grade, or a family illness or a global pandemic.  

On the other hand, stress that creates eustress comes from seeing situations or experiences as a challenge to be met and an opportunity to grow. It is a positive response to the stressor. Often people give examples of this happening through travelling somewhere new, significant life changes like getting married or moving house, or learning something new like a language or an instrument.

The remarkable thing is that it is not the event that dictates whether we experience it as distress or eustress, but it is how the event is perceived. If an experience is seen as a threat, this it will create distress, if it is seen as a challenge then it will create eustress.

The key to making something eustressful, is finding a way to create meaning, hope and energy out of the challenge.

If you have had too many distressful experiences in 2020, let me help you create a eustressful one, through finding meaning, hope and energy through a generous act. This is one of the simplest and most effective way to create that positive experience that 2020 needs.

Make a donation to Opportunity International Australia, and help end poverty one family and one community at a time,

…or some other organisation that you like. It will make your 2020 great again.

‘Tis The Season

It is the season for giving.

Why is it just one season? Why is it only restricted to one part of the year?

Christmas is a joyful time (in most cases) and it’s made even better because we think about others and what to give them and how to bring them joy. Which brings us joy. So why do we restrict it to just one time of the year? (Maybe two if birthdays are a thing for you).

We know that the best way to find joy is to give to others. When we do that, when we look outside of ourselves, we receive in return. It results in us feeling better about ourselves and our world. It creates a positive experience for all involved.

If you want to be joyful all year-round, and not just in December, then think about presents that people would like to receive when it is not ‘in season’. Think about things that would put a smile on someone’s face.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for Christmas and celebrating this season, but I’m encouraging you to bring joy all throughout the year. Be that person.

Dealing with Disappointment

It’s the little things that can take the wind out of your sails.

The most devastated I have felt was after breaking my leg during a game of football. It was one of those nasty breaks, you know, when the bone comes through the skin. After emergency surgery and an insertion of a metal rod, I spent over a week in hospital. The day came when it was time to go home. I was itching to get out of there and just before I was about to leave a doctor entered to look over my leg. I had never seen him before, but he took one look and showed concern over how the wound was healing, “Sorry, you won’t be going home today”.

I was devastated. I had been through so much in the previous week, away from family, friends and my home, and on the brink of being able to return to some form of normality, it was all ripped away.

I never saw that doctor again and I went home the very next day with no issues to report. That doctor will always be a jerk in my mind because that was the hardest 24 hours I have experienced.

There is something incredibly challenging about being so close to a goal and then having the finish line moved further away. It can deplete the strongest will.

I faced a similar feeling last weekend. No broken legs to report, but broken plans…again. After 222 days of having a hard border in Western Australia, travel was opened up which made it possible to visit family and my two eldest children in South Australia. With tickets booked and plans made, the border between WA & SA stayed open for less than two days before it shut tight again because of a Coronavirus outbreak in Adelaide.

I am devastated. I will cancel my trip to Adelaide, for the second time this year. We have all been through so much in the last 7 months, away from family, friends and homes, and on the brink of being able to return to some form of normality it has all been ripped away. So close, yet so far.

So what do I do with this disappointment? How can I ensure that the next few weeks and months are not the hardest that I will experience?

Something that I’ve learned since I had that sporting injury almost ten years ago – gratitude will keep you going. I will have times when I feel sad, and that’s okay, but it’s important that I don’t stay there because I have so much to be grateful for: my wife, my two younger children, our health and safety, the fact my two older children are also healthy, our lifestyle here in Perth, coffee (I could go on). The more I can keep those things front of mind the better my experience of the next few months will be, and I will be more enjoyable to be around. We will get there, this is not forever, just another momentary challenge.

Gratitude aside for a moment, Coronavirus will always be a jerk in my mind.

Compound

I love a good spreadsheet. It helps me keep my life in order by tracking the important numbers. As a number gets changed in one cell, the total is impacted by the exact amount of that change. It is neat and tidy, and precise.

Not everything in life is measured by numbers. You can’t calculate the importance of a specific relationship that you have by allocating a number to it, or a regular activity that you are involved in, or even someone’s presence. Well, I guess you could try, but it would be completely arbitrary and cold. Much of our life is not neat and tidy, and most definitely not precise. (Which is bad news for my spreadsheet.)

Generosity is one such area. We can try and calculate the cost of giving money away in light of how much less we now have, compared to the tax deduction that it has given, but that is an arbitrary and cold process. That is not how generosity works.

Generosity is when you give something away, instead of seeing it as a financial loss for you and a financial gain for someone else, it becomes a compounding transaction creating a positive impact for everyone involved, those who are close to it and not involved, and those who hear about it later. It increases exponentially.

Generosity breeds generosity. It is not possible to run out if it. It is not a finite resource. It is one of a very few things that increase every time you use it. You will never reach the end of generosity because when you think you are there, you will discover more generosity.

Try it out. No spreadsheet required.

Generosity in Action

Thoughts are incredibly important. What and how we think create the foundations of how we see and approach the world. Our thoughts shape the way we live. So, positive thoughts are much better than negative thoughts because they have the power to create positive experiences.

Generous thoughts are amazing. Thinking about someone through a framework of generosity is one of the most positive things we can do with our mind.

But only if it leads to action.

Generous thoughts are not generosity. Generosity can only be achieved through actions.

A great theologian once said,

Suppose you see someone who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

A generous person is not generous by their thinking alone, but ultimately by their actions.

How can you tell if you are being generous? Your behaviour will show you.

Purpose

I am sure it doesn’t just happen to me. Other people must think the same questions that seem to come out of the blue, in idle moments, and shock you.

Mostly it’s:

‘what is the point of all this?’

‘What does it all mean anyway?’

‘Isn’t it just a waste of time, we are all going to die anyway?’

Maybe that last one is just my own darkness, but it drives me to find the purpose in my actions. It drives me to take the things that I do daily and connect with them with a greater purpose outside of myself, otherwise I would just stop doing the little things that I consider important. (Although these questions can help you re-define what is considered ‘important’).

As I have refined my thinking over the last few years, each time these questions come, I add a little more to my philosophical outlook on life and create more of my purpose.

Historically, my purpose is to “speak words that bring life”. It has been for 15 years. But what else, what does that actually mean?

Lately my thinking has been along the lines of “creating a better world through creating better people”.

This isn’t the final edit though. There is more refining to come, but the theme is clear. I find my purpose in bringing life and growth. I find my purpose in giving. I find my purpose in generosity.

I don’t have the language nailed yet, but aren’t we all just a work in progress?

The Generosity of Perspective

We know that other people see things differently from us. There are many different opinions about food, weather, raising children, pets, politics, movies, clothes, ice cream – everything.

We have no control over someone else’s perspective on life. We are unable to change their perspective, no matter how much we might want to.

What we do have control over is how we respond to their perspective and opinion.

We can do this well by asking one question – where do my own opinions come from?

As we begin to unpack that question and realise that our perspectives and opinions grow out of every single life experience we have ever had, then we can start to understand a little of how someone else can be so different from us. Their life journey has taken them down different paths, they have different values, they see things through different filters.

What is more challenging is when someone we know shares many of the same opinions that we do, except for one or two major issues in life. This can lead to strained relationships because ‘how can someone that is so much like me, think like this?’.

Someone once told me that the best way to approach marriage is to find the most optimistic reason why your spouse does the things that they do. In doing so, you don’t end up creating a mystical, negative narrative about someone you love, and it gives you the opportunity to discover more about them. This philosophy is not just for marriage relationships – it is helpful for all human interaction.

Just because people think or behave (or vote) differently to us, it doesn’t mean that they are evil, it means we don’t understand them yet.

We don’t have to agree with someone’s opinion to understand them.

The Dangers of Honesty

There is an old saying,

“Do not cast your pearls before swine.”

For the longest time I didn’t understand it, as I tried to imagine what pigs would do with a bunch of pearls. Until one day I opened up to someone about an emotional challenge that I had, and they threw it back in my face.

It was in that moment that I realised I had given someone one of the most precious things that I had, part of myself, and they treated it like scraps. They stomped all over it and eventually consumed it, spat it back out and then consumed it again (that’s what it felt like anyway). As I witnessed this take place, horrified, I realised that this person mistreated my treasure, not because they wanted to but because they couldn’t treat it any other way. They simply didn’t know how to. Just like pigs would treat pearls.

I quickly learned who I could trust with that which was most precious to me, and who I couldn’t.

Honesty and transparency can be gifts of great worth that we give to other people, but not everyone will treat them with the respect and care that they require. So we need to be cautious with who we give these gifts to, or be confident enough in ourselves and our own worth, that it won’t matter how people respond to being presented with this treasure.

Generosity is risky. It is dangerous. But the depth of relationship and intimacy that can be created through honesty and transparency are worth taking the risks and facing the dangers.

The Generosity of Honesty

I am trying to figure out if I am especially untrusting, or if everyone has trouble believing someone when they say something nice about them. It’s probably just me, but whenever I get a hint that a person is not being honest with me then I struggle to take anything that they say as truthful.

Dishonesty, or a lack of transparency, ruins relationships. Both relationships that already exist and ones that are yet to.

On the flip side, honesty and transparency give relationships depth. When you are open with others around you it creates a foundation of trust. Trust that you are an honest person and therefore wont dupe or rip people off. That you are a safe person that they can be honest with too. That you will do what you say you will do. That you genuinely care.

When you are open and honest, you also let other people into your world so they can see behind the curtain to your inner workings. This is a gift and for those who are capable of treating this gift with respect, it makes them feel special and welcome. This sort of intimacy is rare but incredibly valuable as it builds strong, deep relationships which last.

Honesty it innately generous.

It does come with risks though…

The Generosity of Encouragement

Praise the good. Ignore the bad. – James Clear

When someone encourages you, it has to be one of the best feelings possible. A kind word that uplifts can shift the trajectory of someone’s life. The most significant memories that we have can be a time when someone we respect spoke words that brought life to us.

At the same time, we know that saying something negative to someone can carry much more weight than an encouraging word. The anecdotal reflection of it taking nine encouraging comments to overcome one negative comment certainly rings true. Which makes encouragement all the more important.

So how do we do it?

Be Genuine

You can’t just make up stuff that you don’t mean and expect it to land well. People can tell if you are being genuine or not and building someone up only works if what you are saying about them is true. If you are struggling to find something to be encouraging about, that’s on you to figure out. Every person around us has something worthwhile to recognize and are providing value to our lives. It just takes a moment to stop and find it sometimes.

Be Meaningful

“You look nice today” is nice to hear but that is not encouragement. There is no depth to that. Come up with something that carries meaning to the person.

“I like the way that you think” – is more about who the person is over what they do. This is a fundamental way to encourage people just for being them.

“You have made two really great decisions this week, and this is what they are…” – Recognising great behaviour is an easy way to encourage. The more specific the better.

“I am really grateful for your positive attitude. Knowing that I can rely on you makes my day easier” – Showing how someone’s behaviour or attitude makes a positive impact on you highlights how important they are.

Be Timely

Don’t wait. When someone does something worth noticing, do it in the moment or shortly afterwards. It’s a little difficult to feel encouraged about something that happened 10 years ago. In saying that, it’s never too late, so if that’s all that you have, feel free to encourage someone about something that they did 10 years ago.

Be Consistent

Don’t save it up to give it all in a once off overload of encouragement. Plant small seeds of encouragement consistently which will create a culture of encouragement around you.

Encouragement is an amazing act of generosity. It costs you nothing, apart from some brain energy, and the benefits to all involved are significant.