Friday, June 17, 2016

From the Soil of Fear (Ramblings On Fear as a Social Process)

Fear is a gift. Fear, as a physiological reaction to danger, is what has allowed humans to survive for thousands of years. Were it not for fear humans would have been eliminated from the face of the earth long ago. Fear is a response that is triggered from the deep part of the brain that energizes the body to run from danger, fight off threat, or try to be invisible until the environment is once again safe. In short, fear saves lives.

We should all be grateful that we have brains that, without even trying, protect us from all manner of danger with a fear response. However, if humans live only with that part of the brain funtioning, most of the brain remains neglected. The fear response is great when there is immediate danger, but what the brain has to do in order to effectively save us from danger is to turn off the rest of the brain for a while. In short, in order to have an effective fear response, thinking must be disabled. So, when the danger is gone, the brain must re-enable its thinking capacity in order to function in relation with others.

So, fear saves lives, but at the same time fear is no way to live.

Fear, once the immediate threat is gone, should also go away. Fear is simply an indicator of danger, not a way to live. Fear is an indicator to do something now and not a way operate all waking hours. Fear is no way to live as an individual. It is no way to live life in a marriage or family. It is no way to live life in a community. And it is no way to live life as a nation.

Wait a minute, what is an "immediate threat?" 

Gun to your head = immediate threat
Political views you disagree with = not immedaite threat
Grizzly bear chasing you = immediate threat
Person with different color skin = not immediate threat
Intruder in your house = immediate threat
The existance of refugees = not immediate threat
Tornado hitting your house = immediiate threat
Annoying Facebook post = not immidiate threat

Relational and communal fear as a social process rather than an individual situational necessity can debilitate a society.

Fear-based living can result in debilitating paranoia
Fear-based marriage can result in toxic suspicion, false accusationn adn endless blame
Fear-based parenting can result in parental over-protection and youth rebellion
Fear-based community life can result in isolation or rigid tribalism
Fear-based nationalism can result in soul-crushing discrimination and war

Fear in its place is good, but living in a constant fear state is possibly the most toxic way to live in relationship to oneself and to other people.

In order to live with other people there must be empathy, but fear disables empathy.
In order to live with other people there must be kindness, but fear disables kindness.
In order to live with other people there must be understanding, but fear disables understanding.
In order to  live with other people there must be vulnerability, but fear disables vulnerability.

From the soil of misplaced fear grow the poison berries of society. When fear is up and running all the time, everything looks like a threat. When fear is up and running, it is easy to be convinced that something, anything is a threat. Why? Becuase when the fear response part of the brain is up and running all it is capable of doing is 1) identifying threat and 2) shutting down all other parts of the brain that are trying to solve for other things (e.g. what is it like to be a refugee and what can I do to help?)

When the fear part of the brain is up and running, if someone says, "there is a threat," the individual is likely to agree, even if there is no logic to it. It can even feel like logic. Even if statistically the odds are almost zero, when fear is up and running, the threat claim seems plausible.

Let's be clear, it is not because the person with the fear part of the brain up and running is stupid. Instead it up because the rational part of the brain cannot run when the fear response is up and running. The fear response literally trumps the rational response.

More than any other appeal in the Bible, "Do not be afraid," is repeated over and over again. Why? It is not merely about having indiviudal peace and inner peace, although that is extremely important. "Do not be afraid" emerges from a deep wisdom about how fear plays out socially. Fear as social soil is bad soil and cannot grow anything good. "Do not be afraid" is a call to a social process as much as it is a call for inner peace.

The good news is that you do not have to be afraid. You do not HAVE to be afraid. Even when politicians, news stories, social media posts and all manner of conversation invite your fear response more than the thinking part of your brain - you do not have to be afraid.

Give that thinking part of your brain a chance to flex its muscle. Everyone will be better off for it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

What About The Kids?

What About The Kids?

The terror attack in Orlando has once again demonstrated that there is violence, horrific and lethal violence in this world. It has also demonstrated that we do not know where and when this violence will erupt. Night club, school, mall, movie theater – it could be anywhere.

Tragic events such as the one in Orlando can trigger anxieties and elevate fears. For those who are parents, the anxiety and fear can be multiplied because of the love we have for our children and the responsibility we have to keep our children safe.

Certainly Orlando deserves our compassion and our concern, but does it deserve our fear? Should we lock up our kids to keep them safe from the world?

The answer is a resounding, “no!”

Here are a few things to consider when dealing with yourself and your children in light of the Orlando terror attack.

Calm Presence. First, what you need from yourself is the same thing your children need from you – a calm presence. When you are calm it demonstrates to your children that they are safe, that there is nothing to worry about. Your calm presence lets your children know that even though there are bad things that happen in this world, nothing bad is going to happen to them. Right here; right now – they are safe.

Assess Exposure. Second, determine how much of this story your children have been exposed to. Have they watched hours of television news stories? Listened to repeated loops on the radio? Do they have access to other devices and social media? How much have they talked with their friends about this? Knowing your child’s exposure level to the story can help to guide how much to engage with them. The younger the child is the less likely they have had some exposure to the story. For example, if a young child (under the age of 6) has not had any exposure to the story, then let it pass. There is no real need to bring up such terrible things to a child so young.

Engage At Their Level. Third, if your do engage your child, make sure to engage at their level. When a three year old asks, “why did this happen?” it is a very different question than a 15 year old asking the same question. All a three year old may need to know is that “sometimes there are bad things that happen in the world, but the good news is that you are safe here with me and …. (list other safe adults).” A teenager may need a deeper and more developed conversation. But no matter the age of your child, when you have a calm presence with them it communicates safety. Your calm curiosity about what they know is a good soft start up for a conversation of this kind. A good rule of thumb is to say as little as you have to and as much as you need to. Overtalking the topic gives the story more power than it deserves and can create anxiety rather than resolve it.

Assess Symptoms. Fourth, sometimes events such as these can trigger anxiety in children. What parents need to be looking for is a change in pattern of the child’s behavior, not one off instances. For example, if the child indicates being afraid one time, that calls for attending to their concerns, but is not a mental health concern. If, however, the child begins a pattern of irritability, being withdrawn or has endless worrisome thoughts that cannot be resolved with calm attention over time, then that might be something to check into. Again, overreacting at this point only makes matters worse, not better. If your calm engagement over time and maintaining the normal and everyday routine does not resolve the new pattern of behavior, a check in with a family therapist would be worthwhile (for younger children a play therapist would be good).

Some parents might find their young children introducing some parts of the Orlando story into their own play. This is actually normal, not a symptom of anxiety. A child’s mother tongue is play, not words. Thus, how a conversation functions for an adult is how play functions for a child. In most cases, the tragic topic will enter into play and then exit as quickly as it entered – just like one conversation moves to the next with adults. Only if the content of the play persists over time and gets progressively more violent and does not resolve should there be any concern.

Boundaries. Finally, managing your own concern, anxieties, and fears is essential. Your child should not serve as your conversation partner about tragedies such as these. Using your child as a sounding board or conversation partner can result in the adultification or parentification of your children. In short, what this means is that you ask your child to perform an adult role with you for your benefit, not theirs. As a parent, it is your responsibility to have adult level conversations with adults and to relieve your anxieties with another adult who can meet them head on equipped with adult maturity. Children are not equipped to do that, even if they are fully willing to enter into it.

Even though the terror attack in Orlando is tragic and terrible and deserves our compassion, it does not mean we must become afraid. In fact, the most powerful response to terror is calmness, the kind of calmness that results in peace within yourself and peace between people. Terror is designed to remove calmness; therefore, calmness in the face of terror is the most powerful and subversive response. It is also the most healthy way to parent your children.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

An Anxious Heart Can Be Many Things

An anxious heart can be many things.

It can be a call to silence.
It can be a call to prayer.
It can be a call to creativity.
It can be a call to work.
It can be a call to come clean.
It can be a call to slow.
It can be a call to organize.
It can be a call to risk.
It can be a call to forgive.
It can be a call to stand up for yourself.
It can be a call to humility.
It can be a call to surrender.
It can be a call to rise up.

Oh this anxious heart,
So honestly undone,
Speaks the way it knows,
Unignorable voice,
Anxiety, like fire to the touch,
Communicates, talks, SCREAMS like Jagger
And you cannot be the same,
With a voice like that,
Committed to you.

Try, try to quiet the voice,
Try to smother in mud,
Try to suffocate it with pill-ohs
It will scream ever louder,
Until you hear nothing else,

Oh anxious heart,
Never forsake or abandon,
For without you,
How would we know?

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

It's Just Politics

It’s Just Politics

When the ocean mocked the desert's thirst, 
When the mountain taunted the flat prairie,
When the tree dismissed the flower,
When all creation turned on itself,
In self-preservation,
The planet slowly went dark and cold,
Slowly slipping into eternal night,

And then 
          Blizzardmidnight! allatonce,
Stopping clocks,
Stopping Seraphim,
Stopping meaning,

Everyone found a way to be alone
And forgetful
And terribly busy

          Oh for a dash of purpose,
Sandpounders whimpered.
But from somewhere big,


Shouted some light,
And that was it,
But that was enough,
The Lightvoice echoed,
Like the universe was a canyon,
One word broke a hole,
In the dark.
And the dark was beyond repair.
The dark now riven, 
Gashed mercilessly by Mercy
Gushing Light of Mercy
          Gosh I needed Mercy

Can't stop blinking
We again 
Finally, we again

Chris J. Gonzalez
31 May 16

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Class of 2016: Congratulations: I hope you fail (and a little advice for when you do)

Class of 2016: Congratulations: I hope you fail (and a little advice for when you do)

Dear Class of 2016, you graduate high school in a few days and will walk across that stage and receive that diploma you have earned. You will be cheered. You will be freed. You will gain greater access to this great big world than you have ever had before. This is the one and only time in your life that you will do this exact thing and let’s be honest – it is amazing!

You are eager to launch out in this world and be free. This is normal. At the same time there may be a hidden anxiousness about the unknown that you don’t wear on your face, but it lurks somewhere in your heart. This is also normal. Having two seemingly opposing feelings at once is not new to you, but having these specific feelings in these specific ways is probably new to you. Again, it is normal. Having the “I can’t wait to get out there and do whatever it is I am going to do even though I have no idea what it is” feeling is normal. Transitions in life end up being like jigsaw puzzles where there is a picture you are putting together, but you can’t see it yet.

If you feel excited and anxious, ready and not ready, eager and apprehensive, this is all normal. Engaging the complexity of life is part of what it means to be an adult. You won’t know everything before it happens. Life has its way of providing surprises despite the best planning. Still plan, sure, but also leave some room for surprises. 

The freedom you so greatly desire and will now grasp more fully than ever before is exciting to be sure, but it also comes with some high expectations. Really high. This world expects a lot of you. And let’s be honest, you expect a lot of yourselves as well.  And sometimes those expectations can seem overwhelming. You want to do well. You don’t want to disappoint. You don’t want to come up short. You don’t ever want to fail.

Well, I hope you do fail.

And I hope that when you fail, as you most certainly will, that you will do something constructive with it. Do! Not! Quit! Deciding that failure is a reason to quit is the one failure you will not recover from. When you fail it feels like the end of the world. It feels like there is no sense moving forward. It can lead you to believe that perhaps you’re not good at doing this, or you’re not good enough for that or that you can’t do anything right. Failure can lead to feeling like quitting. Don’t quit.

How? How do you not quit after failure?

Here are ten things to do when you fail:

1.      Let it hurt for a moment. You’re human.
2.      Decide that failure does not require quitting.
3.      Convert that hurt of failure into meaning (e.g. failure is your teacher, not your enemy)
4.      Seek out a mentor who is both where you want to be and at the same time has failed more than you.
5.      Invite feedback from people smarter than you are (relax, we are all well acquainted with failure and do not expect you will be the first person ever to avoid failure).
6.      Be prepared to have that feedback create discomfort (and then repeat #1).
7.      Gather all that failure and your mentor have taught you and try again.
8.      Understand that failure is the only true way to rule out bad ideas you could not have anticipated.
9.      Come to embrace the reality that failure builds endurance.
10.  Your current failure is the going to be the much needed and desired grace you give to someone else someday who is counting on you to be a great mentor.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

One Brutal Baptism

One Brutal Baptism

Limping down the bank
Into the current
With one brutal baptism
Standing between here
And the other side
Drowning possible?
Drowning required!

Flesh awashed on shore
Breath of life

Awaken in wimsy
Animated in wonder
Imagination sprung free
All familiar
All new
"I've never been here"
"I've always belonged here"
"Finally! Finally! Finally!
I know what to do"

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

3 Layers Deep: An Essay

3 Layers Deep

Humans are complex creatures. We are full consistencies and inconsistencies; predictabilities, and surprises; logic and paradox. We experience tremendous joys and horrific suffering, sometimes at the very same time. We long to live and fight to survive while griping about the manner in which we must live and survive. We long to be good, but often find ourselves acting with selfishness or contempt toward others. We long for people to judge us as good while fearing all the while that they judge us otherwise. The desire to appear good presses us toward complex and intricate strategies to manage the impressions others have of us while trying desperately to crush, hide, or deny that part of us that we believe deserves the kind of  self-loathing our hedonism or self-condemnation indicate. In short, we have a hard time being whoever it is we were meant to be and can’t stop trying to figure it out.

We all seek to manage the impressions others have of us; furthermore we seek to manage them such that it is advantageous to ourselves. This isn’t always selfish. There are ways to manage impressions altruistically, but in the end, even in altruism we manage the impressions of others toward our own advantage.

Somewhere deep down we know what we are doing. We know that we have to perform for people. We must do the task at work, show up to class at school, appear productive or smart when we are not. We want people to think the best of us in the context we live. Or, if not the best, then some other thing. The dark Goth teen is managing impressions showing only the dark. The hipster is managing impression hoping for sophisticated status and their denial of it is their best perpetuation of it – and they know it. The professor must be professorly even when everything within screams otherwise.

We want people to have a particular understanding of us and there is the fashion industry, political narratives, and all manner of ways of being seen and understood to back up the sense that we want control over the beliefs others have of us. The person who says, “I don’t care what people think,” lives within a secret from whom no one is excluded knowing the truth – that they too are managing impressions.

Some people are more honest about their self-loathing than others, but mostly we are all dishonest about it. We try hard to conceal it. This self-loathing is our reaction to ourselves and that collection of parts about ourselves that we wish were not real or true. Stupid. Ugly. Failure. Rejection-worthy.

We “know” these things about us are true. Or we “know” that the meaning we assign to them is true. And these things are undesirable. Some of them are just physical characteristics (I’m short or my nose is too big) while others are potentially humiliating. We will do whatever we can to conceal or hide and misdirect such that these undesirable characteristics cannot be seen or given a value by anyone else. With self-loathing comes fear and with fear comes an inability to love.

We manage impressions in a particular way that people will both see what we want them to see while not see what we wish to hide from them. We bury underneath the surface these things and they become secrets. Secrets just left to rest untouched or covered up rot and spread to everything else around them. We get sick with secrets as the infections spreads within. Usually, the answer to the sickness of our secrets is greater effort invested into impression management. With so many secrets, there is so much more to manage.

Layer 3: IMAGO DEI
Buried beneath years and decades of impression management and self-loathing is one more layer of complexity – and innocence. It is the Imago Dei. It is the image of God. Humans are not God, but are in so many ways like God. We are daughters and sons of God. What this means is that we have the impulse within us to create, to appreciate beauty, to reach for infinity. We are capable of love through compassion, peace-making, justice, mercy, grace, and all manner of virtue. There is an endless impulse within us to sacrifice for others, to improve whatever it is we come across in this life, to declare “good” that which is good.

The divine impulse within each person is always alive in the person.  Even when the seduction of impression management and the tyranny of self-loathing pile on layer after layer, this impulse to make all manner of good burst forth is always alive. It may be buried with some, but it is alive, free-willed, and ready to unleash goodness, redemption, and relief.

When humans are at their best, they have given up on the high cost of impression management and have faced their fears concerning that which seems to deserve self-loathing. When humans go to the third layer deep and reach past their base desires and deep fears, there is something there it is beautiful and infinite.

Where is God? Well, if humans are an image of God, then I suppose God is partially within each of us. If God dwells in a temple and that temple is human flesh and blood, then God is in you.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

What Little Sky

Redemption unignorable
Reaches to what little sky it sees
Drawn to the light
From the bottom
Of an open grave
Again again again
Reaching reaching reaching
Unobserved, unseen, unremarkable
Without reward
Besides the hope to reach the light
Without reward
Besides another day to live
Without reward
Besides now
Accumulated moments
Gather into a history
Reaching forever upward
Toward a future
That was never intended to inspire
But can't do anything else
No pride
No pretense
No ego
Just reaching for the light
(Photo Cred Jonathan White)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

An Open Letter To Governor Haslam

Dear Governor Haslam,

First I want to thank you for your service to the state of Tennessee in your role as governor. You have done great things in your term as governor including making education accessible to so many more Tennesseans who thought it was out of reach. You have been a model for the nation on how to make meaningful and significant changes in areas of great concern. I am proud of your work and proud to live in the great state of Tennessee.

As a loyal Tennessean, I have the privilege of praising your good work, but also the obligation to share my concerns for decisions that I see as running counter to the best interest of the state and running counter to the very core of who we are as a nation.

I recently learned that you have asked the Obama Administration to stop taking in Syrian refugees until a better vetting process can be established and consequently have decided not to take any of the 200-500 Syrian refugees who were slated to be resettled in Tennessee. With my greatest respect, this is a mistake.

It is a political mistake. 
This is a political mistake because we are in a real and sustained war and, whether we like it or not, this is a war of ideas as much or more than it is a war of bullets and bombs. Governor Haslam, although we have better bullets and better bombs, our much better weapons are our better ideas. This nation is nothing without its refugees and immigrants, as the vast majority of people whose feet are on US soil can trace their lineage back to a people whose feet once stood on other soil, whether that be a year ago or five generations ago.

We must decide whether these words remain true:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Governor Haslam, we have better ideas. Our founding documents are guiding collection of ideas for the best government that has ever existed since the beginning of civilization. We are a nation of freedom and justice and we are ruled by the people, not a dictator or warlord. We have an opportunity to live out these ideas with people who have never had such an opportunity to do the same. We have the powerful weapons of better ideas embedded into the DNA of this nation and there is no better way to demonstrate to a people that our ideas are better than showing them through our actions of welcome and hospitality. Let’s participate in giving these people a taste of our better ideas.

It is a strategic mistake.  
The fear is that some terrorists posing as refugees will get through the refugee resettlement process. Although it is impossible to guarantee 100% that this will not happen, the refugee resettlement process is not the gaping hole that some people fear that it is.

  • There is no evidence that resettling refugees in the US has ever brought a flood or even a trickle of terrorists into the country.
  • Refugees who resettle in the United States are at a lower risk for becoming radicalized than if they settle elsewhere. We have to think with a broad vision. We are not simply resettling people, we are engaging in a cultural intervention for a people who are having to decide who they will be from here on out. The worse the refugee resettlement situation is for the refugees, the higher the chance of people turning against us – especially if they thought they were going to be welcomed here and then were not.
  • Waiting until a better vetting process can be established will function as a way permanently block Syrian refugees from entering the US. It may not be intended that way, but it will function that way. While they wait, they will resettle elsewhere in much worse and more dangerous situations. Waiting is tantamount to rejecting regardless of intention.
  • The way we respond to the Syrian refugees is a communication to the world about the kind of people we are. Will the wealthiest nation in the history of the world be stingy? Will we respond out of fear that is more contained in a propaganda-like fear narrative than it is legitimate threat? The world is watching and everything we do defines who we are. Let’s show the world that we are a shining city on a hill and that the light we shine shines for all.

It is a cultural mistake. 
One of the greatest parts of Tennessee culture is its special brand of Southern Hospitality. Tennessee specializes in delicious and diverse food, the best and most diverse music in the world, and a particular set of manners and kindness that is unique. Being a native Minnesotan, but in my 6th year living here in Middle Tennessee, I have been a non-stop beneficiary of the great Southern Hospitality of Tennessee. It would be hard to find another place that does hospitality better than Tennessee.

Therefore, the move to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Tennessee sounds like a dark and dissonant chord, out of tune with the prevailing cultural norms.

What I love best about the culture of hospitality is that is assumes risk. Having someone in your home assumes risk, always – even if you know them well. When I was new here in Tennessee, lots of people assumed the risk of getting to know the new family in town. What I have learned living here for over half a decade is that people are willing to assume the risk as well as the cost of hospitality in order to enjoy the sharing of their food, time, and stories – the sharing of lives is worth the risk.

Furthermore, Tennessee hospitality is contagious. Once you have been on the receiving end of it, it is natural to want to be on the giving end of it. You open your house, kitchen, and life to me and I want to do the same for you and for others who are new and uncertain about their place here.

And though it is out of place to address a politician with religion (my apologies in advance), it is also a theological mistake.  

The driving theme in the Jewish and Christian scriptures is to welcome the refugee and treat them with kindness as opposed to reject or delay them until we have 100% eliminated all risk.

Governor Haslam, I understand that it would come at a political cost for you to reverse your request to President Obama to halt the flow of Syrian refugees into the US. To express the immediate welcome of Syrian refugees would not be a politically popular move right now with many of your constituents. At the same time, you have time and time again demonstrated your willingness to take political risks to do the right thing. Your persistence with health care coverage is obvious evidence for your political courage. You have a track record of doing good things over defaulting to that which only earns political gain. You are a wise and strong politician precisely because you do not simply make decisions based on making political gains, but rather on making good choices no matter the cost.

My encouragement to you is to do it again.

Please reconsider your position on Syrian refugees and let them have a taste of American ideas of freedom and justice now.  Let them feel the great acceptance of the unique and wonderful brand of Southern hospitality only Tennessee can offer.

You have the power to help the world see who we really are.


Chris Gonzalez, Ph.D.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Mental Health Fitness

How do you take care of your health?  Your body that is.  What do you either do or know to do in order to have a healthy body? We all know how it works, don’t we? Eat lots of vegetables and some fruit and then take it easy on the carbs, meats and dairy – right? Do 30 minutes of exercise daily, even if it is just walking – right? We have systems set up just for this purpose. From Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig to Curves and Cross Fit, there are many onramps to helping you with your physical health.

But what about mental health? What are the obvious ways to take care of your mind? Your emotional health? How do you manage your moods?

When people talk about dealing with mental health care, usually the first thought is a remedial mental health approach. You know, going to a therapist, counselor or psychologist. But that is more like going to a medical doctor when you are sick as opposed to the gym to make a healthy body even healthier. That is sick care. That is important and necessary, but what is healthy mental health care? What maintains already good mental health that buffers against a dive into anxiety or depression? What is the mental health equivalent to pushups, Pilates and planks?

Just like there are scores of physical exercises for the body, there are scores of mental health exercises for the mind. The remainder of this article is a small sampling of good mental health fitness practices that can improve and maintain good mental health and even turn around some aching mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. For significant anxiety and depression it is best to see a therapist just like when the body has high blood pressure it is best to see a medical doctor.

Physical Health: To some this may seem ironic or counterintuitive; however, the link between physical health and mental health is firmly established in science. Daily exercise and eating right is a powerful influence on the thoughts and emotions of a person. A daily diet of Swiss Cake Rolls and pizza is going to result in weight gain, but it also increases the chances of anxiety and depressed mood. Plus, what regular exercise and healthy eating also does is provide some order to one’s schedule and some restraint to one’s appetites.

Contemplative Practice: Ok, you lost me. Before you quit reading or just skip this one, humor me. All this means is taking time to be alone and pondering something intentional and meaningful. And it can take less than ten minutes. Some people use mindfulness, some use contemplative prayer, some use breath prayer, some use mediation and some use relaxation exercises - there are so very many ways to do this. All of them are good and backed by science. Some of them have a religious or spiritual bent to them ranging from Christian to Buddhist, but many of them have no spiritual impetus whatsoever. What this is NOT is sitting and ruminating on everything going wrong or a special time devoted to worry. That is the OPPOSITE of contemplative practice. What happens in contemplative practice is the breathing becomes deeper and healthier, providing rich supplies of oxygen to the blood. It also calms tense muscles that you didn’t even know were tense. Those muscles might stay tense all day long and go undetected. That’s tiring. Contemplative practices bring rapid calm to the body and mind.

Highlight Strengths. Knowing what you are good at, what your positive characteristics are and what you have that is valuable to the world is incredibly important. An honest awareness of your own assets is neither boastful nor is it narcissistic. How you communicate with and engage with the rest of the world is what makes for pride when it comes to abilities and assets. Some people downplay their strengths and assume that everyone is as intelligent, strong, attractive, funny etc. as they are or that their asset doesn’t count. Often times they do this because they fear being boastful so much that they overcompensate and by default tear themselves down. They interject a constant dose of negative to inoculate themselves against pride. Ironically, that is another more sinister and stealthier kind of pride – false humility. Here are three ways to highlight your strengths without being boastful:
1.       Write them down in short sentences: I am hilarious. Then in your contemplative time just review them and be glad you are the way you are.
2.       Use your strengths often.
3.       In certain settings, when your strength would help, humbly offer to do that task that no one else knows how to do, wants to do, or is not any good at.

Appreciation. This is one of the healthiest things you can do. There are two major categories of appreciation that can really help with mental health fitness. The first is to tell someone how much you appreciate them. When someone does something that benefitted you or when someone is simply just a wonderful person, tell them. From small things to large things, initiating a genuine expression of gratitude means a lot to that person and usually it turns around and means a lot to you. If you can bring a smile to someone’s face because of what they did that made your life better, then you will likely also smile. Endorphins for all. Also, and this one is hard, telling someone you do not like what good you see in them is good for you. It accesses the empathy that soothes angry and bitter soul sores. The second form of appreciation comes when you are actually tempted to compare yourself to someone else. She’s so pretty and doesn’t even try or I wish I was an all-star dad like he is. When this temptation hits, convert the comparison into appreciation. Be glad for the other person and the assets they have. What this does is gets you outside yourself and allows for people to have the advantages they have without it being a threat to your value, meaning or purpose.

Play Inbounds. Life happens and sometimes it is really hard. Frankly, some things about life are impossible. When people are overwhelmed, it can seem like all of life is one ginormous blob of responsibility and knowing where to begin can make a person want to just crawl in bed until the return of Haley’s Comet. Whether life is overwhelming or not, sorting life into two specific categories is a really healthy thing to do. One category is, “Things I have the power to do something about” and the other category is “things I do not have the power to do anything about.” Yes, it is that simple. After doing that, start working on what falls in the category of “things I have the power to do something about.” And to get started, do an easy one first. Take out the trash. Go to the store. Wash the dishes. Just do something you can get done quickly and start the momentum. What to do about the the things that fall into the other category? Some people use that to populate their prayers while other people freely let those things go. Investing energy into something you can't do anything about will wear a person out - fast.

Playing inbounds also applies to what you agree to do. The word, NO, is so hard for some people to say. They like the affirmation they get for being wanted. The problem comes when there is no place to put another responsibility. They have committed to something they may have the ability to do, but not the time. The result is converting some other previous YES into a NO, which inevitably increases stress and anxiety and can even form resentment or regret.

Mental Health Fitness is easily as important as physical fitness. However, we do not live in a culture that values mental health fitness. Mental health is assumed and if it deteriorates, then usually we wait a really long time, until crisis, and then get help - maybe. Many people just suffer in silence. Using mental health fitness practices can create more capacity in your life, help you be better at the things you are already good at and help to maintain and nurture your boundaries. These mental health fitness practices are very introductory, but are a good place to start.