Get on the Ground

Get on the Ground

I’ve never considered myself the “playful” type. It’s not that I’m particularly boring, but my “default” gear isn’t to step into a room wondering what kind of mischief I can stir up. I leave that to my wife.

For me, it is more of a mental shift I make – a decision that I’m not going to focus on getting things done, but just “play”. Sometimes this can be a hard shift because I feel like I am at my best when I am accomplishing things. Being task-oriented has helped me become more focused and productive, but sometimes it comes at a cost. My job has become more task oriented, and often that will follow me home.

So, when I walk in my home after a long work day my challenge is turning off my task list and re-orienting my priorities. You see, my kids don’t care about what I accomplished that day. All they want is to play. And I find the quickest way for me to switch from work to play mode is quite simple – lay down.

Oh, and I forgot the second part – prepare for the pain.

For a seven, four, and two year old there is nothing more thrilling than to see their daddy lay down on the ground for them to wrestle and jump on. Seriously – I compare the looks I see on their faces to Christmas morning sometimes. Maybe it is because I don’t do it enough – or maybe it’s because there is something else going on.

Adults fail to realize the simple idea of distance. Our world is “up here” and their’s is “down there”. They are always looking up to what we are doing. When we discipline or get upset at them, often it is from “up here”. Important conversations and decisions are made from “up there”. But, “down here” is where play, imagination, games, wrestling, and all the cool kid stuff happens.

The problem is – us adults spend way too much time “up there” and forget about “down here”. We get so consumed with adult things that we forget there is a whole other world just below our knees that looks nothing like ours. All we have to do to experience it is to lay down.

I have two big boys, and they like to hurt me when I’m down on the ground. I have a little girl who loves nothing more than to bounce on my back. It does hurt. But, for a brief moment I enter their world, and they get to share all of the cool things they are doing. They are in control. They call the shots. I don’t really have any authority on the ground.

This is “sacred space” that all adults who work with students should notice. It looks different the older people get – but that sacred space still exists. There is a world that teenagers live in where adults seldom venture. It’s a place where the shiny new tools of emotional development, society, culture, education, and the future collide. For those on the inside, it can be pretty overwhelming. If more adults would go into the world of a teenager with compassion and grace instead of advice and rules, we would know what it means to “get on the ground” with teenagers. They will open up. They will listen to you. They will trust you.

So, let’s change the way we approach teenagers. Instead of bringing adult thinking and culture to them, let’s leave all of that behind and “get on the ground” with them. It might hurt a little, but imagine what you will find……

How does this strike you? How do you “get on the ground” with the teenagers in your life? 

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s COO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
The 1% Principle

The 1% Principle

The points of my life where I am the most frustrated and discontent are the points where progress halts. I’ve never been a productivity guy, as in rigid schedule keeping or meeting long-term goals, but my general hope is that I am moving in a positive direction and improving various aspects of my life.

In so many ways, this is why I love my work with Teen Life as a Support Group leader. We get to sit with students week after week and talk about what could be better and challenge ourselves to go out and do the work it takes to make it happen. Often these gains are small, but they mean a lot.

Which is why I was struck by a productivity philosophy relatively unknown outside of business schools and self-help circles – The Kaizen Method. Roughly translated (from Japanese) it means “continuous slow improvement”.

The method came into western consciousness after World War II when American automobile makers visited a Toyota automobile plant to research why they were so efficient and error-free in their production lines. Up to this point, American automobile assembly lines were notoriously sloppy and wasteful.

What they found was surprising – essentially any worker on the assembly line had been given the authority to stop the production line if they saw a mistake or flaw in the work, address the issue, then start production again. And on top of that, any worker had the agency to point out flaws in the overall system or even minor details that would make things better.

This is no small deal. Traditionally, outsourcing feedback to assembly line workers was unheard of, and stopping a production line could be costly. Was it really necessary? Couldn’t these small changes be made in ways that kept the production line moving?

When you compare Japanese vehicles to American ones in that time period, the quality and vehicle output were not even close. By far, Japanese vehicles ran farther, had greater overall customer satisfaction, and held greater value than American cars.

And all of this was attributed to the Kaizen Method – the idea that quality products and healthy growth happens not from great individual leaps, but more from small, incremental growth – consistent over time.

When workers were given freedom to fix small problems, flaws in the system were noted in real time and fixed. In American factories, production lines never stopped so if there was a problem, they wouldn’t know until they had to strip down a car and start all over again. Problems were never fixed and the end result was a complete mess.

After this method was uncovered, productivity experts started to apply this principle to self-improvement. The idea manifested in several ways, but one way really stands out – the 1% improvement principle.

The idea is if you really want to develop a habit or get better at something, you need to do so at a very slow pace. Basically, you aim to get 1% better or more regular at doing something each day. And, it actually starts that way if you are starting from scratch.

For example, if you don’t read regularly and you want to, you would start by reading 1 minute a day, then 2 minutes the next, and so on. You are allowing your brain to feel small successes while also building habits over time. So often we want to start a healthier lifestyle by radically changing what we do or going “cold turkey”. But with this principle, we prevent our brain from getting overloaded and stressed – allowing for healthy change over a long period of time.

This works in our support groups with teenagers and my guess is it can work for you. Here are some tips:

  • Choose one thing you want to do differently or better in the coming month. Only choose one thing.
  • Start day one with a small expression of what you want to be doing well in a month. An example would be if you want to save more money than you spend, spend one less dollar on something you normally would. Or, go on a one minute walk.
  • Make sure you schedule that minute or small activity. Even though it is small, it needs to be scheduled so you do it.
  • Add small increments on top of it. Map it out over a month so you can see your progress.
  • Finally, don’t feel guilty for such small steps. You are working on life change, not just trying something new. These things take time, and any time you give is a step in a positive direction.
Chris Robey, Teen Life’s COO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
Trading One Set of Good Things for Another

Trading One Set of Good Things for Another

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from one of my best friends regarding marriage. This one stuck in my memory for some reason I can’t explain. The advice was prompted by some of my anxieties revolving around leaving the “single life” – something at which I had become adept by virtue of the many years of practice. I was obviously excited about marrying the girl who had become my best friend in life, but I wasn’t really sure what it was going to be like sharing a life with someone else.

The thing is, when we do something new, old things have to pass away. This is a really hard truth as revealed by the millions of broken “resolutions” we find scattered amongst the first few months of the year. We all want to do things better and become better people, but in our efforts we forget my friend’s incredible advice:

“You have to trade one good set of things for another set of good things.” 

This advice was ringing in my ears when I read a recent blog post by Dr. Tim Elmore about some encouraging and discouraging statistics on teenagers. You can read it here. Dr. Elmore outlines some great news on teenagers balanced out with some bad news.

Smoking is down.

Junk food consumption is up.

Sexual activity is down.

So is condom use.

Drinking and driving is down.

Texting while driving is up.

Think if you were a charity or non-profit who worked diligently on the issue of drunk driving and seeing the stats fall, only to see traffic fatalities rise for essentially the same problem – impaired driving. Or if you worked tirelessly on educating youth that smoking kills only to see them eating potato chips for dinner?

Teenagers, like adults, tend to find things to help us cope with life. We all have them. Life is stressful and difficult, and we can’t always be on our “A” game. So, we justify certain behaviors so we can “get by”. After a while, we see the error in this thinking and try to change our unhealthy habits.

The problem is, changing an unhealthy behavior has to be followed with something good. We have to trade one set of things for another set of things. The only caveat is, what are we replacing it with?

I found this idea to be true in my own life recently. Since the beginning of the year I’ve tried to lose some weight (which I have) and clean up my eating (which I….kind of have), and found myself eating good during the day but eating unhealthy before bedtime. It’s like I undo all of the good I’ve done throughout the day with a poor eating choice at night.

And because of that, I struggle to meet my goals. I haven’t really traded anything.

As we walk alongside teenagers, we can’t just tell them to “stop doing things” and offer no real alternative or better path. Human beings tend to cope. And if we can’t find healthier ways to cope, we will only find other unhealthy ways.

We can’t get mad at teenagers or disparage an entire generation because they kind of act like us sometimes. Let’s help teenagers find ways to exchange an unhealthy set of behaviors for something good, sustainable, and life-bringing.

For more on this, I’d encourage you to read Dr. Elmore’s brief post about how we use these findings to bring about healthy change with our teenage friends. 

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s COO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
Loving Your Neighbor Can Save the World

Loving Your Neighbor Can Save the World

Doesn’t it seem like the world is literally falling apart?

Hurricanes.

Wildfires.

Earthquakes.

Nuclear war.

Political upheaval.

Racial tensions.

We live in what seems like really strange times. I’ve heard it said over and over again that we live in a time unlike any other – that things have never been worse than they are now.

And the evidence we see on the news and social media would seem to back that up. But, there is a problem we need to acknowledge before we sign off on these times being the worst ever.

What seems to be hidden in all of these stories and posts is the fact that we know about all of them – not only that we have access, but that it comes so quickly. And, this seems to be one of those years where all of the bad stories seem to come “rapid fire”.

This is not to downplay the horrors we see in front of us. What needs to be recognized is the effect all of these news events have on our psyche and how we respond.

We cannot deny what is going on around us. But we also should not deny what it is doing to us. Think about it – when you hear about all of the things I listed above, what is your natural response?

Fear? Denial? Anxiety? Defensiveness?

It could be many things, but usually when we get overloaded with story after story about suffering in the world, we become paralyzed. We don’t know what to do, how to help, or even where to start if we did want to help. This is a big world with many difficulties.

Some call it information overload or compassion fatigue. We want to help and care, but there is too much to help and care about!

Teenagers are growing up in this world, and likely are handling it better than adults like me who remember a time when information wasn’t as readily or as quickly available. But even so, we must help teenagers (and ourselves for that matter) overcome these overloads to see the needs and hurts in their own communities. While what is going on in other parts of the world seems overwhelming and needs help, so do many of the issues and problems facing our own communities.

Let us be people whose hearts go out to the suffering and needy in the world, but also making room for our neighbors and friends in the same situations. Let us be self-aware – with a willingness to step back and realize when we are feeling overwhelmed – to do the things we need to be available to serve our neighbors. This might mean shutting the laptop, deleting the social media account, or creating strict boundaries on what we consume.

The world might seem like it is crumbling, but let us not become overwhelmed to the point we fail to act on behalf of our neighbors.

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s COO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
About the Solar Eclipse and Distraction

About the Solar Eclipse and Distraction

Before you read any further, understand that I am not “anti-eclipse”.. Now that I have written that line, I don’t think it matters if I am.. It was probably going to happen anyways….

I realize when this blog is posted our recent solar eclipse will be a far distant memory – seemingly gone as quickly as the event itself.. Me, having not planned well and not desiring vision loss briefly walked outside, noticed how dim it was in the middle afternoon, honestly got a little freaked out, and went back inside to my air conditioning.. This is not to reduce the genuine interest people had in this event with some traveling across the nation to crowd into a 70-mile wide swath of land from Oregon to South Carolina – or watching the event streaming online for the entire day.

People were really into this thing.. And, why not? Natural events like this only happen periodically on different areas of the planet and it is rare for an entire nation to share in the spectacle.

But man, was it over fast.. I tried to imagine what it would feel like to be a person who traveled a really long way to view this thing a few minutes after it was over..To me, it would have to feel like a bit of a let down.. We drove all these miles for that?

Now what? 

And that is what has gotten me thinking about the eclipse, what kinds of behaviors are drawn out with these kinds of events, and how quickly they are forgotten..Seriously, the fact this blog posts on Thursday when the event was Monday will feel like such old news.. If so, do you remember we had an eclipse on Monday? Of course you don’t.

Events like the eclipse highlight a trend we see in culture.. Everything is the biggest deal ever, until it is not.. Think about it all of the happenings in a given news cycle, how big a deal we make of it, and how quickly we move on to the next thing.. Controversies happen, people demand recourse, feelings are hurt, it feels like the world is going to end, then we get distracted by something else and we forget about it.

We crave distraction.. It’s an easy thing to come by, and in abundant supply.. And, it isn’t always bad.. Sometimes life is genuinely difficult and a good distraction can help us clear our minds and give our soul the needed rest to better face challenges.. This is healthy distraction.

Our problem comes when distraction becomes habit.. Constant social media, news, alerts, emails, texts, controversies, politics, and so much more that listing them all would be distracting in and of itself – create ample room for distraction as habit.. It just becomes what we do.

And just like the eclipse, these distractions come and go quickly – assuming that another will follow.. But deep in our souls, we long for something more real.. We know eventually these distractions will just lead to another distraction, leaving us with the question – “now what?”

Distractions as habits will always lead us to a dead end.. Nothing new was learned.. We aren’t any better.. We just got better at being distracted.

But all the while, life is happening all around us.. Imagine all of the amazing things that were going on around us while we were burning our retinas staring at the eclipse.. Imagine all of the things we might have been missing when, at the end of the eclipse were asking “now what?”

Now what? Now, let’s get to the business of real things – relationships, feeling and doing, risking, confronting, crafting and creating.. Let’s be about the things that – at the end of the day – make us and those around us better.. Let’s make habits out of enduring things, investments in a better life to come.. Pop culture and at-large opinion makers will always tempt us towards the shallow and easily consumed aspects of our world.. But the less traveled road will take us slowly away from these things into the wild of real life.

What do you think? How have distractions become habits for you? 

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s Program Director, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.