How Aware Are You?

How Aware Are You?

Recently my husband and I were watching Brain Games on Netflix. The episode we were watching was called “Focus Pocus”, and it was about attention. It gave several tests for viewers such as counting the number of passes in a scene and watching a pickpocket in action before selecting him out of a lineup. Despite considering myself someone who pays attention to details and despite knowing I was playing a brain game, I was amazed at all the things I missed. It led me to contemplate what am I missing in other people, and even what am I missing in myself.

Then, I heard a presenter speak on Mindful Awareness. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines “Mindful Awareness” as:

Paying attention; on purpose; in the present moment; while being non-judgmental.

Sounds simple, but we all know it’s not. Listening isn’t intuitive. It’s something we talk about in our Teen Life Facilitator Training. Many of us aren’t even aware of how poorly we listen.

To get a better idea of how mindful you are as a listener, ask yourself a few questions:

  1. How often are you solving a problem before the person talking to you has finished telling you the problem?
  2. How often do you catch yourself planning your next words and missing the end of a conversation?
  3. How often do you steer a conversation to or away from a topic?
  4. How often are you “fine” until that one sensitive topic gets mentioned?

During the presentation, it also discussed how our awareness of our own thoughts, feelings, and situations impacts our ability to pay attention to others.

A few self-awareness questions to consider:

  1. What do I bring to this situation/conversation from my own personal story?
  2. Has anything taken place recently that might be influencing this situation/my decision making?
  3. What is going on just below the surface that might result in a negative outcome in this discussion?
  4. Am I taking the time to meet my own needs in order to be available to meet the needs of others?

Having “Mindful Awareness” is not easy and takes practice, especially when working with teens. It requires stopping, taking a few deep breaths, truly listening, observing the situation, being aware of your own feelings, and then proceeding toward the goal.

But it’s worth it! The more aware we are of ourselves, the bigger impact we can make when interacting with others. And we might even get better at life’s brain games while we are working on it!

Beth Nichols is Teen Life’s Program Manager. With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, her perspective is invaluable.
Fix Your Focus

Fix Your Focus

In our Volunteer Facilitator Training, we talk about the importance of not using the “Why?” question; however, when we’re thinking about things that are important and impactful in our lives, we should think about the “why” of the things we focus on. By thinking about “why,” we are focused on particular things, and it helps us to dig deeper into what is really important about that topic or issue.


This thought has been on my mind a lot lately because of social media. I feel like there is a lot of focus on negative things, or maybe just controversial ones – from bathrooms, to LGBT, to the presidential candidates. There is a lot of negative going through my social media feeds. That got me wondering about why we are drawn to those things and how that affects our ability to actually make a difference on those issues.


Those thoughts have led me to work on how I think about these issues and many others. My focus has shifted from the presenting issue to what might be behind those things. What is the surface issue, front and center and big and loud, keeping me from seeing under the surface or behind the scenes? That background issue is what really needs to be addressed!


I found this article on Why We Love Bad News that points to research showing that our human brains are drawn to negative things because of our natural survival instinct. This can play out in several ways. Either it is seen as a challenge to be accepted, an enemy or barrier to be overcome, or a possible a distraction to keep the focus off of us. Any of these options make sense to me, but it is only when we recognize them for what they are that we can even begin to move in a direction toward positive work and relationships.


As we raise awareness about these things for teens and parents, we can begin to shift the focus off of the surface issue (or distraction) to the deeper, more meaningful need that we as human beings have. What I see in the teens we work with is that their is a desire to defend their side of the issue or simply debate any issue that is brought up exists so that vulnerability can be avoided.


So many of these underlying issues are things we all as humans face, but as long as we have something else to argue about, we don’t have to be honest about our core issues and desires. Instead, we can appear to be fighting for a cause or group that needs defending. The truth may be that what really needs to happen is a real, meaningful conversation between both sides so that an understanding is gained on both sides and a resolution and collaboration is able to be agreed upon.


As an example, I had the privilege to visit Honduras a few years ago. As an American, I looked at things through that lense. I saw the lack of electricity and people walking and no street lights. But someone said something that got me thinking. What if not having electricity just means you wind down and go to bed when the sun goes down? What if walking means you stay healthier than you would if you drove to work every day? What if no street lights means you really don’t have a choice but to spend time as a family in the evenings? Should that be so bad? Some people I was with felt strongly that we should “fix” all of these issues, but I wondered what “fixing” these issues really meant.


This shouldn’t lead us to do nothing. We live in the digital age where we have so much information, it is hard to process it all. that should be empowering, not defeating.  We should still share our ides, ask good questions, influence, serve people and vote! But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that making noise about an issue is what will solve it.


Let’s teach a new generation how to invite conversation in a way that is safe and welcoming. Let’s focus on the real issue faster rather than wasting time trying to be right about things we truthfully know little about. Facts may be available, but they can change and they can also be wrong. What is never wrong is listening and helping people in a way that they want to be helped. Not projecting on them what we think their rights should be or defending how we think they have been wronged. Let’s join together to really make a difference and work together to make this world the best place to live that it can be in the here and now.


It’s very possible this post will get to you in one of two ways. Either it helps you think through what you should be focusing on or you pushback, not wanting to think about the importance of focusing on the right things. I hope that if it is the latter, you will still give some thought and even share your input to help us better each other. If it is the former, I hope you take time to share this with someone you have influence over or maybe someone you disagree with.

So, what do you think? Is there something you’re focused on that needs to be re-focused on the right thing? How have you failed at this or do have a great idea? Let us know!

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 4, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
On Free Solo Climbing and Perspective

On Free Solo Climbing and Perspective

On free solo climbing and perspective 
Over the last few months I have periodically shown a video to my groups about a rock climber named Alex Honnold. The first time I watched this video, I squirmed in my chair, just like I suspect you will. This climber climbs without ropes, and does so on the most difficult routes in the world. Sometimes I will show this video to students to get the conversation started about choices, support, and relationships. Really, this video will get people talking.
Inevitably, another topic comes up with students as we discuss this video, and usually I have to point it out. The sheer magnitude of what this guy is doing tends to overshadow a quote he makes between the 9:06 and 9:45 mark as the interviewer challenged his mindset as he takes these incredible risks. What is interesting is how he confidently states that he knows what he is doing while also admitting that he might not have the ability to know how dangerous his actions are because he is “too close”.