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Acknowledge – Accept – Let Go

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

This is part 5 in my series, “Focus on Your Responses to Life.”
Part 1: Is Your First Response to Problems Reactive or Proactive?
Part 2: 5 Constructive Ways to Respond When Your Anger is Triggered
Part 3: Acknowledge and Affirm Your Positive and Negative Sides
Part 4: Reframe and Make the Changes Needed


To make and meet our goals, we need a willingness to go beyond what we are currently doing. Here are three things to consider: acknowledge – accept – let go.

Acknowledge

If we don’t acknowledge what has happened or is happening, we will unconsciously keep repeating what isn’t working. Until we recognize how our responses to problems are helping or hurting us, we will be unable to make the best decisions moving forward.

  • Acknowledge your depth of pain.
  • Acknowledge your vulnerability.
  • Acknowledge your feelings of insecurity, anger, or fear.
  • Face your emotions and work with them.

Accept

Acceptance gives us permission to stop fighting with the reality that…

…My marriage is over.

…My child has died.

…My teen was arrested.

…My job is ending.

…My finances have run out.

…My life savings have been wiped away.

…I might have to give up my home.

…I might never walk again.

…I will have to live with this chronic illness for the rest of my life.

No more denials or resistance. It is a painful place, often full of unanswered questions, confusion, and doubts, but when we are ready to accept what’s happening, we can turn our frustration and anger into something productive.

If we run from pain, we remain stuck in an ongoing cycle of anger, resentment, or depression.

What acceptance does NOT mean

  • Acceptance does not mean giving up.
  • Acceptance does not mean becoming a passive participant in life.
  • Acceptance does not mean saying that what happened was unimportant.

What acceptance DOES mean

Acceptance is a way of thinking that can be applied to any circumstance.

It means acknowledging reality so we can evaluate new options.

It is where we stop fighting the inevitable and instead use our mind, intellect, and energy productively. We work with life by altering our attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs, allowing our energy to help us explore options.

Acceptance allows us to gain wisdom from our past. It is a pivotal point that takes us from what we can’t do to possibilities, options, and choices. It is where problem-solving begins.

Let Go

With acceptance, we can better define the problems we face. We don’t have to have all the answers or have it all together.

Letting go allows us to explore and determine what we really want.

eagle soaring

After the death of my husband, I wrote a piece titled, On Eagle’s Wings – Let Go and Soar! Here is part of what I wrote.

“Let go. Many times, I have watched eagles from my deck, their powerful outstretched wings riding the thermal air currents, soaring upward until they were mere specks in the sky. How incredible it would be to be an eagle – serenely floating above my world and circumstances. But I can’t soar if I hang on to what I had. I can’t soar unless I let go.”

“Let go and soar. They say eagles mate for life; so did my husband and I. Like the pairs of eagles around my home, we worked and played together. Now, I’m left to fly alone. To get through this sorrow, I need to believe my grief will end.”

“In order to fly you have to let go of your fear and free fall, spreading your arms to catch the wind.”

It was something I had written in my journals months earlier as I was coming to terms with death, hoping for a reprieve. Hope seemed like a two-edged sword cutting me to pieces. Yet without hope there is no purpose – no reason to believe in a future.

“In order to fly, you must have hope. Hope can energize me. Hope is the wings that will let me fly.”

I reclaim those words today.

“I close my eyes and become an eagle. As I let go of the branches of past security and comfort, I feel my wings spreading, catching the invisible air currents of God’s thermals. Rising higher and higher, I feel the ache in my heart and spirit melt away.”

Acknowledge where you are, accept the circumstances you will be required to work in, and let go of your fears and hesitation.


Author’s note: This was not a copy of the hymn and music by Michael Jancao, titled, “On Eagles Wings” but was inspired completely by the many eagles that fly around my home and community.

Reframe and Make the Changes Needed

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

This is part 4 in my series, “Focus on Your Responses to Life.”
Part 1: Is Your First Response to Problems Reactive or Proactive?
Part 2: 5 Constructive Ways to Respond When Your Anger is Triggered
Part 3: Acknowledge and Affirm Your Positive and Negative Sides


Life is full of challenges. Some are straightforward while others require major adjustment and “reframing” to meet the demands within them.

“Reframing” is expanding our scope of understanding of what we have to work with.

Flying Without Wings: Personal Reflections on Loss, Disability and Healing, by Arnold BeisserYears ago, when I was helping design and write a class on chronic illness, we reviewed a book by Arnold Beisser titled, Flying without Wings: Personal Reflections on Loss, Disability and Healing

Arnold was a young man ready to conquer the world. An athlete and tennis champion, he had just completed medical school when polio struck. He found himself in an iron lung, paralyzed from head to foot.

As he lay there unable to move, he asked himself, “Now what?”

It seemed his life was over. But at some point, he decided to take his life back and began to reframe his situation.

He asked himself, “What can I do while I lay here?”

He didn’t want to be a helpless victim; he wanted to take charge of his life.

He began to use his imagination to creatively look at things in a new way. He wrote that he began to experience “moments of great pleasure and satisfaction” when he became “absorbed” in whatever was going on around him, noticing small details and how they might change during the day. He became an “active observer, rather than a passive one.”

Over time, with the help of physical therapy, he was able to get out of the iron lung and into a wheelchair as a quadriplegic. But he did not stop there. He refused to let his tragedy disable him. He went on to become a psychiatrist, administrator, and author. He fell in love and married a woman he met while still in the hospital.

Arnold reframed his circumstances – he took what was given to him and began to look at it differently. He expanded his interpretation and vision and began taking those steps to reclaim his life.

Reframing: Seeing Alternatives

Whether your marriage is crumbling, your job is being outsourced, you’re coming to grips with health problems or are overwhelmed with what seems like never-ending challenges, reframing is seeing alternatives when you didn’t think there were any.

If our frames of reference are small, our lives will be restrictive, limiting, negative and inflexible.

If we enlarge our frames of reference, we see a bigger picture. We can meet the challenges, roll with the punches, and develop inner strength and resiliency.

Reframing is a skill we can apply to any situation.

In a continuing education workshop for therapists who work with aging populations, the psychologist leading the group told us a personal story about how he was able to engage a person with severe limitations.

At a nursing home he visited regularly, he met a woman who had a deteriorating condition that left her unable to move. But she still had a sharp mind. She would blink her eyes to indicate yes or no. Her spirits were as low as they could get. How could he help her find something of value and purpose for her life?

He asked her if she believed in prayer. She blinked her answer, “Yes.”

Then he asked if she would be willing to help him by praying for individuals who needed prayer. Again, she blinked “Yes.”

So, he gave her some people to pray for.

The following week, he noticed she had a sparkle in her eyes. When he asked her how she felt on a scale from 1 to 10, she indicated a 9. He was amazed at the difference in her outlook from the previous week.

By reframing her situation from one of total helplessness to one of, “There is something of importance I can do,” she once again felt worthwhile.

Over the next weeks, the psychologist continued to give the woman names and updates to the answers to prayers.

Reframing challenges a rigid and inflexible mindset.

Instead of seeing impossible roadblocks or stone walls, reframing expands our perceptions to help us see opportunities.

Reframing helps us transcend difficult or traumatic situations. As we show a willingness to change our focus from what we can’t do to what we can, we create new meaning and purpose for our lives.

Acknowledge and Affirm Your Positive and Negative Sides

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

This is part 3 in my series, “Focus on Your Responses to Life.”
Part 1: Is Your First Response to Problems Reactive or Proactive?
Part 2: 5 Constructive Ways to Respond When Your Anger is Triggered


“If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering.

Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death.

Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.”  

—Victor Frankl

When adversity and hardship hit, questions and doubts rush to the foreground:

“What will I do? How can I deal with this?”

At such times, we might experience a range of emotions such as shock, anger, fear, anxiety, and even panic. As comprehension reveals the depth of the problems we face, we may have misgivings about how we can resolve them.

Adversity and hardship turn our world upside down and inside out. In this unfamiliar territory, our vulnerabilities are exposed and our capabilities are questioned.

If we have never examined and accepted the problematic and less pleasant parts of our personality, difficult times will amplify and exaggerate them. Instead of resolve and determination, our focus remains on defeat and failure or anger and blame.

We are not perfect.

While it is important to recognize and affirm our assets, qualities, and strengths, it is equally as important to acknowledge what is not easy. After we accept and affirm both, our weaknesses become less of an issue. Then, after the first shock of harsh reality, we can use our mind and energy to problem-solve.

Being aware of our weaknesses provides a harmonious and emotional balance between what we can do and what we can’t.

It stabilizes and grounds us and provides a balancing pole between two opposing forces. It reminds us we are not all-powerful, all-capable, or all-encompassing. We need others and we need God. Just as we need to know our strengths, we also need to know our vulnerabilities.

Pride can also be a problem because it leads to arrogance.

Arrogance has an aura of superiority, which leads to overconfidence, haughtiness, and egotism. Adversity will reveal this in unpleasant ways.

Humility is a quantifying scale against pride and arrogance.

In the grand scheme of things there will be areas where we excel and areas where we do poorly. One does not outweigh the other. When we recognize both, we are able to ask for help and take on the responsibility of finding solutions as well as stepping out with confidence.

Humility brings us back to what is important in life and what we believe in. Humility says, “It is not about me – it is about what I have been given to work with and a God who leads, guides, and directs.”

We don’t always have to be right; we need to be willing to learn.

Tough times can be either debilitating events or opportunities to become more than we were. If we play the “blame game” or continue to beat ourselves up, we will spend an enormous amount of energy and time going nowhere. If we ask God for guidance, assurance, strength, faith, and hope, we will find we have the tools to handle the worst adversity.

What is difficult for you?

What are you denying that needs to be addressed?

  • Perhaps you are afraid of making mistakes or of appearing incapable or stupid.
  • Perhaps you fear rejection and isolation.

When we accept that we will make mistakes, that we will appear stupid at times, and that we won’t always be capable, these won’t become such huge obstacles. We can’t learn unless we are willing to take risks.

To make good choices, we need to acknowledge both our positive side and our negative side.

We need to review our past, put it behind us, and focus on the here and now. As we take away valuable lessons learned from our past, we can let go of our need to always be right.

Become honest with yourself.

You can laugh and cry and feel pain. You can ask for help. It’s okay.

Spend time discovering the real you.

Then focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t do.

When you believe you can, you can soar like an eagle, and make the choices that are right for you.               

5 Constructive Ways to Respond When Your Anger is Triggered

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

This is part 2 in my series, “Focus on Your Responses to Life.”
Part 1: Is Your First Response to Problems Reactive or Proactive?


Does your first response to conflict resolve that conflict or create more conflict?

When anger is our first response to everything that doesn’t go our way, the roots may lie in our childhood. Children who haven’t been taught to find appropriate ways to express anger often bottle it up inside.

Expressing anger as kids does not mean you are allowed to shout or act out. It means that you are taught constructive ways to deal with your emotions. When we nurse the belief that the only way to defend ourselves or to be heard is to use anger, we are in trouble.

Over time, untamed anger fuels resentment. Resentment becomes a “grievance story” that we repeat until it dominates our thinking. As resentment becomes our predominant attitude, we’re robbed of joy, pleasure, and peace.

Angry responses do not resolve conflicts. Venting or acting out might release some of anger’s energy in the short term, but it will not take away your anger.

5 things to consider when your anger is triggered

1. Recognize when you are feeling angry.

Denying or pushing it away will only cause it to resurface again. Ask yourself:

  • Why am I getting so angry?
  • Does the situation warrant that feeling?
  • What can I do – what is under my control and what isn’t?

2. Find a healthy way to release the immediate tension of anger.

Run. Go for a walk. Go to the gym and work out. Move until the anger energy is released or reduced.

3. Talk about it.

Find a supportive friend, pastor, trained therapist, or other nonjudgmental person who will listen as you share your feelings, give feedback for clarification, and validate what you are feeling. Oftentimes talking it through is sufficient. Coming to terms with senselessness, unfairness, and injustice can help us channel our energy in positive ways to make a better world.

4. Challenge and change your thinking.

While we need to talk about our anger, we also need to challenge and change our thinking about it. If our anger is directed at God, bring it to Him. Talk to Him.

Consider the Psalms. The Psalmists brought to God all their honest expressions of pain, anger, and questions. The Psalms reveal not only a loving God, but one who is compassionate and understands our foibles and frailties. So, talk to God, even if you are angry with Him. Tell Him how you feel and why. I believe you will be met with love, grace, understanding, and healing. It will also be a revealing and clarifying experience.

5. Plan the first thing you will do.

If your first response creates more conflict or an ongoing argument, ask yourself, “What is the first thing I’ll do to change that?”

It might be as simple as stopping, taking a deep breath, and letting go of the anger for a moment as you think of a more constructive way to respond.

3 things to remember about anger

  1. It is okay to be angry.
  2. It is NOT okay to hurt yourself, someone else, or anyone’s property.
  3. You are responsible for what you do with your anger.

Is Your First Response to Problems Reactive or Proactive?

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

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Stop. Think. Act.

Our reactions to circumstances can be negative or positive, reactive or proactive. We can experience a range of emotions: anger, fear, anxiety, curiosity, worry, hate, joy, betrayal, rejection, shame, inadequacy… and the list goes on.

Reactive responses

When we are reactive, our decisions are often hasty and impulsive because we don’t consider how our response might affect us or others.

  • When we focus solely on our differences, disagreements turn into ongoing conflicts.
  • Resentments turn into grievance stories that we repeat over and over in our minds.
  • When it seems that everything is going wrong or badly, we remain angry, strike back, attack, and go on the defensive.

Responses based only on the emotions in the moment lack judgment, clarity, and discretion. We can quickly become aggressive because we believe it is the only way we have control over our lives. Before long, we become jaded and cynical. We become like a piece of laundry hanging on a clothesline that is whipped round and round by whatever wind is blowing through.

We become victims.

Proactive responses

When we are proactive, we take charge of our emotional reactions, even those that are painful or offensive, and choose how to respond.

  • We proceed with caution when we sense danger.
  • We relax and enjoy moments of happiness with laughter and contentment.
  • We look beyond the troubles and find kernels of joy, satisfaction, and contentment.

Being proactive means focusing not on how we feel in the moment, but on we want and can do, and then moving towards purposeful decision-making and problem-solving.

Being proactive does not mean we won’t experience anger or aggressive emotions. All emotions are important and give us information we need to make judgments. It is what we do with that emotional information that helps us defend, protect, and define ourselves.

When we are proactive, we choose a response that reflects our point of view and maintains our dignity, integrity, and sense of worth, while simultaneously respecting the other person.

How do you respond to difficult situations?

Reflect on your typical way of responding to difficult situations:

  1. Do I respond based more on what has happened to me in the past or what is happening right now?
  2. Is my response based on a low sense of esteem?
  3. Is there a typical negative pattern that is hurting versus helping my responses to problems?
  4. Is my response doing more harm than good?
  5. How can I respond proactively, in a self-directed manner?
  6. How can I replace attitudes, thinking, and behavior problems that create conflict with ones that look for ways to respect and share?
  7. How can I set and maintain boundaries?
  8. How can I be firm without becoming aggressive?

As we learn more about ourselves, patterns of behavior soon become evident. Behind those behaviors are the emotions, thoughts, and beliefs that drive them.

We can take charge of them!

Yes, I Can Develop a New Perspective

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

This is part 4 in my series, “Focus on Your Self-Evaluation.”
Part 1: A Guide to Developing Character and Wisdom
Part 2: You Will Become What You Focus On
Part 3: Step Out. Risk!


Life’s opportunities

Opportunities come in unexpected ways. Once we decide to look for them, we find ourselves surprised and excited to discover them.

Instead of blaming others for your problems and nurturing grievances and resentments that keep you from seeing a new perspective, ask yourself:

What choices will move me toward new opportunities?

A new perspective

Years ago, I worked for a company that helped injured workers in chronic pain recover and re-enter the workplace. Some had been injured on the job, even with all the safety precautions.

As part of their rehabilitation and recovery program, they were required to attend a two-week all-day class. Most were not happy to be there; in fact, some were downright hostile.

Some didn’t let go of what had happened to them. They were angry at the injustice and did not want to hear about ways they could re-frame their circumstances. They hung on to their grievances and left with the same bitterness they were generating when they arrived.

Others began to transform their attitudes and mindset. It was amazing to watch this metamorphosis from hopelessness, despondency, and anger to one of possibility, hope, and motivation.

One woman in particular resonated with me. Her injury left her unable to continue in her job. She would have to be retrained in some other line of work. Her benefits would soon run out. She was a single mom living in a tiny one-bedroom house and the enormity of her losses was severe. Life seemed grim and hopeless.

After the first week of class, she returned the following Monday, glowing. She was not the same person who left on Friday. She shared with the class what had happened to change her outlook. She had gone home and thought about the information we offered and decided to apply it to her situation. The first thing she did was “re-frame” how she looked at her current situation.

She went through her cramped house room by room, looking at it with a new perspective. She decided to give that one tiny bedroom to her children and make the living room her bedroom.

During the day it was a living room, but at night it became a cozy, spacious bedroom. She positioned the sofa bed in front of the fireplace, and when she crawled into her “bed” at night, she lit a fire in the fireplace.

As she snuggled down to watch the flames, she thought, “How many people do I know who have a fireplace in their bedroom?”

She helped her children convert her old bedroom into their special space. They were happy and she was happy. She told us that, for the first time in years, she slept soundly.

What had changed?

Her perspective.

During the remainder of that week in class, she actively sought out information about re-training and potential jobs. She was excited about the potential of a new job that paid more than her previous job.

Was she going to struggle?

Yes.

Would it take hard work?

Yes.

Would she still have to live with limiting conditions?

Yes.

But she would be bringing into that space a new outlook – a new perspective – that held possibility, options, and renewed energy.

We may experience events that seem catastrophic, limiting, and hopeless. But within each of us is the ability to take what we have and create something new from it.

Out of the ashes of one disaster we can create the promise of a new beginning – a new opportunity – if we are willing to grow and change.

Yes, I can, and I want to!

The greatest obstacle we may face is ourselves.

When faced with losses, conflict, or unexpected tragedies, what do you say to yourself?

Do you look at these times as opportunities to advance?

Or do you respond, “Oh, no. Here we go again,” and sink into depression and anxiety?

When things go bad, we rarely think of the circumstances as an opportunity. And yet, this is the very place where we can explore what has worked for us in the past and what new options might make our lives soar.

Determining how you will respond to circumstances may be the biggest and most important lifestyle change you ever make.

Do this quick inventory:

  1. How have you handled difficulties in the past?
  2. What did you do?
  3. What worked and what didn’t work?
  4. How did you feel?
  5. What would you do differently?
  6. What would you do again?
  7. How can you turn that challenge into a new opportunity?

Step Out. Risk!

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

This is part 3 in my series, “Focus on Your Self-Evaluation.”
Part 1: A Guide to Developing Character and Wisdom
Part 2: You Will Become What You Focus On


Are you at a crossroads in life where what you are doing is not satisfying and drains your energy?

Do you think you are too tired or old to start something new or to redirect your life, even if it is something you have always wanted to do?

It is never too late to enhance your life or become more of who you are.

Let’s do some quick, fun reflective thinking.

If you could do anything you wanted without worrying about money, what would you be doing?

Brainstorm all the possibilities.

My story

Here’s how I went from being a classroom teacher to finding other ways to share my training and do what I love:

When my husband and I took early retirement from our teaching careers, we moved to northern Washington to build our dream home and spend time sailing in the San Juan Islands. But we also wanted to continue doing the work we loved. For my husband it was music. For me it was teaching.

My husband started a band with a group of talented musicians, and I started teaching part time at Chapman University Extension Center. However, classes were in the evening, and after teaching for four hours, I was tired when I started my long drive home. I decided this wasn’t going to work for me and I left the formal classroom for good.

But I still loved teaching and working with people in groups. After some thought and exploring the interests of my potential audience, I started leading my own workshops.

Because I had an extensive background in psychology and human behavior, I offered classes on topics such as parenting, pain management, stress management, and couples communication. Classes were two hours, once a week for eight weeks, and included giving and explaining material, take-home exercises, and discussions.

Sometimes I led one-day workshops or spoke at retreats. While I could have done other things, sharing useful information enriched my life.

Step Out. Risk!

We get stuck doing things a certain way. Even when those things are no longer satisfying, we hesitate to explore other options.

If you’re feeling stuck, ask yourself, “What would I love to do that I haven’t given myself permission to explore doing?”

Life involves change that sometimes occurs when we least expect it, such as the loss of a loved one, an unexpected divorce, the impact of a chronic illness, the loss of a job, or the end of a career. Whenever change happens, new choices are required that take us out of our comfort zone.

Change is necessary.

Change, whether initiated or thrust upon us, gives us an opportunity to try something new. Stepping away from what was familiar requires an adjustment that can make us feel vulnerable and anxious. But change is part of life. Knowing how best to take advantage of that can become the opportunity of a lifetime.

As you explore options, consider the following:

1. Remain strong.

The Oregon and Washington coast has huge rocks with trees growing out of crevices.

Seeds had fallen into these crevices and sprouted, and their roots kept digging deeper into the rock. As they grew stronger, the trees continued to withstand winter storms and high winds. They are shaped and molded by their circumstances and with roots sunk deep, they remain strong.

When reflecting on options, consider the pros and cons of each. As you do, sink your internal roots into God’s promises, think positively, and nurture an “I can do” attitude.

2. Develop an adventurous spirit.

I would never have had the wonderful life-expanding experiences I have enjoyed without considering “why not” instead of just “impossible.”

3. Be prepared.

When you go on a trip, you first service your car, check the route on a map and make reservations. With all your preparations, however, you may be required to go to plan B or C or take a detour. Plan for the unexpected ahead of time as you step out and take that risk.

4. Check your attitude.

Be flexible. Life isn’t perfect. It will have lots of detours, mountains, and deep ravines. Look at unexpected changes as opportunities, even if they don’t seem advantageous in the moment.

Ask yourself:

  • “What can I learn from this?”
  • “How can I benefit from going through this difficult time?”
  • “What might I have not discovered about myself if this hadn’t happened?”
  • “What jewel of understanding can I take with me as a result of this unexpected change?”

5. Challenge the way you respond to life’s unexpected changes.

Changes can become the best thing that happens if you look at it as the possibility to grow and become more than you were.

It takes courage to leave what you are accustomed to and step into the unknown. It takes courage to expand your world. Are you willing to try?

You Will Become What You Focus On

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

This is part 2 in my series, “Focus on Your Self-Evaluation.”
Part 1: A Guide to Developing Character and Wisdom


A personal story of why our FOCUS is so important

Years ago, when our kids were in school, I began attending attended classes at a community college as a returning adult. My husband was head of the music department there. The college was in its infancy and the department heads were active in recruiting and developing curriculum and programs.

It was an exciting time and I enjoyed taking different classes that stretched my mind. At some point, however, I decided I needed to focus on where I wanted all this to take me, and began taking classes that would direct me into a career.

I loved music and singing, and it seemed natural to make music my major and become a music teacher. However, I soon realized it would take an extraordinary amount of intense work and skill-building, as I had no background in music.

While I loved to sing, music wasn’t my only passion. I asked myself, “What else do I love to do and could spend hours doing?”

My answer: Working with people.

I loved science and was fascinated with how body and mind worked together. I wanted to know why we did the things we did. I could study for hours in the subject of human nature and soon realized that I wanted to be involved in the science of psychology.

It was one of the best decisions I made. It became my focus. That focus has taken me into many arenas, from teaching to counseling to facilitating groups to creating curriculum to speaking and writing.

I’m passionate about sharing the many ways we can grow and become who we were meant to be.

Because I love working with people, I wanted to extend the workshops I had developed. It seemed expedient to work under a company name. What should I call this “company” of one (me)?

One name kept coming up:  FOCUS.

It represented what I believe in: that your focus in life will determine what you do, who you are, and who you can become.

Energy is generated by what we focus on

  • If you focus on anger, resentment, and grievances, your life will continually be in chaos.
  • If you focus on learning new and better ways to communicate and interact, problem solve, manage your emotions, and become proactive instead of reactive, you will learn to direct your energy towards living a more productive and rewarding life.

Where is your focus?

What do you focus on most of the time? Is your focus helpful or unhelpful to your life overall?

As we learn more about who we are and what is important to us, we will have a greater opportunity to determine how we want to move forward. The more we can live by predetermined principles based on wisdom and understanding, the more meaningful our lives will be.

We can choose how we will respond to life; in fact, we cannot not choose.

Man's Search for MeaningIn Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl wrote that the last thing anyone can ever take away from us is our ability to choose our responses to whatever is happening in life.

“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”

—Viktor Frankl

As a survivor of the concentration camps during the Second World War, he could speak to that with authority.

My focus begins every day with prayer and God. I ask for wisdom, direction, humility, strength, and courage. Do not dismiss the need for a spiritual life. Focus first on Him and then on building a better life.

A Guide to Developing Character and Wisdom

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

  • During January, we focused on building confidence.
  • During February, we focused on where we want to go and ways to get there.
  • During March, we focused on how to recognize and overcome pervasive anxiety.
  • During April, we’ll focus on self-evaluating our skills, weaknesses, and strengths.

Developing Character

What is character and why is it important?

Do I need to spend time and energy to develop it?

Won’t I develop character and acquire wisdom simply by living?

Well, yes and no. We do gain wisdom by learning through our mistakes. However, gaining it in that way alone can be risky. Mistakes can be costly, with lifelong consequences. Drink and drive and you risk killing someone or yourself.

Wisdom would say, “If I am going to drink, I’d better not drive.”

Wisdom also reminds us that momentary pleasure without thinking about costs could have disastrous consequences.

The life we lead is often a result of routines we put in place as we’re growing up. It’s often a haphazard string of reactive decisions to whatever is happening in the moment. We seldom give thought to what we want, what is important and how to maximize our efforts.

Developing character and wisdom means becoming proactive versus reactive. It means evaluating our choices before we act so we can make the best possible decisions. It means taking charge of our life.

Character is the set of qualities that makes us distinct

Character identifies and defines who we are:

  • Am I trustworthy?
  • Do I follow through with what I say I am going to do?
  • Am I honest and loyal?
  • Do I make decisions based on common sense, discretion, and forethought?
  • Do I consider the consequences before acting and make tough choices rather than simply choosing an easy way?
  • Do I know what I believe and value? Do I act on those principles?

Choices guided by wisdom and character vs. what feels good in the moment can make the difference between a fulfilling life and a lifetime of repairing a broken one.

Character defines who we are to others

  • How do I interact with others?
  • Am I reliable and true to my word?
  • Do I choose friends who share the same values that I have?

Character development helps turn dreams into reality. It enables us to risk time and energy in the pursuit of achieving our goals.

Take time to develop your character

As we grow up, we learn the basics of right and wrong. But when we become adults, we need to expand our understanding of what is right and wrong so we can live it.

This understanding guides everything we do.

  • It helps us set and maintain personal boundaries.
  • It helps us to associate with others with similar values.
  • It helps us live a principled life.

But maybe even more importantly, it answers the question, “Who am I? Who am I to others and to myself?”

At any point in life, you can evaluate the qualities that define who you are and adjust your thinking when you have strayed.

The following can help put together a better picture of who you are, your values, and the qualities that make you, “you.” It can help you establish a baseline.

Spend time thinking about the following:

  • List your strengths (name at least 10).
  • List the talents you believe you have.
  • List your weaknesses. We all have them.
  • List your values and beliefs.
  • How would you describe your physical appearance and condition?
  • How would you describe your social traits (friendly, shy, aloof, talkative, etc.)
  • How would you describe your intellectual capacity (curious, poor reader, good at math, enthusiastic student, etc.)
  • What are you passionate about? If you could do anything you wanted without worrying about career, family, or money, what would you be doing?
  • What motivates you?
  • What moods or feelings best characterize you on a day-to-day basis (cheerful, optimistic, depressed, etc.)

This exercise might seem like a waste of time. Yet, it is only when we ask and answer direct questions of ourselves that we discover who we are.

It is here we define the characteristics and principles that we live by and the ones we want to live by. It is here where we can be honest and genuine, accepting and building on what we have.

7 Questions to Ask Yourself When You Feel Fearful

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.


This is part 4 in my series, “Focus on Reducing Anxiety and Fear.”
Part 1: The Cost of Obsessive Anxiety
Part 2: What is the Root Cause of Your Anxiety and Fear?
Part 3: 5 Ways to Prevent Fear from Paralyzing You


“Truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it. Ignorance may deride it. Malice may distort it. But there it is.”

—Winston Churchill

Fear can be our friend or our enemy. It can prepare us, instruct us, and keep us safe. Or it can become a huge, threatening shadow that locks us in anxiety, worry, doubt, uncertainty, and helplessness.

Don’t let your fears control you!

Unrealistic and exaggerated fears are paper dragons that have grown fat on negative thoughts and core beliefs that undermine our worth.

  • Recognize the fears that have become paper dragons.
  • Deflate them.
  • Challenge negative self-talk.
  • Reframe situations so you are not held captive by them.

Fear can be a great motivator

Sometimes there are valid reasons to fear. After all, fear is a survival mechanism that tells us to stop, be careful, and proceed with caution.

Yet, we spend too much time paying attention to the emotional response of fear and not enough time identifying what we are afraid of. We can spend hours worrying about the “what ifs” that our mind creates when held in the grip of fear.

7 questions to ask yourself when your fear and anxiety buttons are triggered

1. What valuable information is this fear giving me?

Is this a reasonable fear based on identifiable facts and circumstances? Or is this an irrational fear based on past experiences that have no bearing on what is happening now?

Challenge the fear’s validity. What is the thinking associated with it? Is it valid or old garbage from the past? How can you eliminate or reduce the threat?

2. Am I potentially in physical danger?

If your gut is telling you that you may be in a dangerous situation, stop and look around. Don’t just automatically dismiss the fear. People have been carjacked or assaulted in parking garages because they were too dismissive of that gut feeling.

3. Is this fear protecting me from doing something foolish or careless?

If you are engaging in risky behavior, pay attention to the reasonable side of your brain.

For example, don’t go off marked hiking trails because it looks like fun to go a riskier way.

Don’t spend money on risky investments because someone has told you that you might be able to make lots of money.

If you have a sense of danger, stop and think before acting.

4. Is this fear revealing an insecurity?

Fear of failure reveals your insecurities. Don’t allow the fear of failure to control you, but face it and use it to help you grow in confidence.

5. Is this fear leading me to God?

We have an Almighty God who is in control of the universe – we are not the end-all. A healthy fear of God recognizes this and is both respectful and humbled. God loves you!

6. Is this fear making me feel isolated?

We need support from others. Allow them into your sphere.

7. Is this fear challenging me to get out of my comfort zone?

Perhaps you have been asked to speak at a business function and your palms get sweaty and your stomach turns flip-flops just thinking about it.

Yet, each time you allow yourself to be challenged, you become stronger and more efficient.

If you have a fear of speaking, join a local Toastmaster’s group where you can get the training and experience you need within a comfortable setting and with others who are learning.

Tip of the day

Fears are not good when they keep us from taking the next step out of an unwanted change, loss, or adversity.

Fears are good when they keep us safe and challenge us to grow.