Fortress Mentality—How You Can Keep Negativity Away in Your Life

Fortress

Growing up, I enjoyed constructing blanket forts in the living room or playing under the deck with my siblings in our dirt-laden bunker. Something about forts invokes nostalgia. Security and strength also are words that immediately come to my mind when I think of fort [and fortresses].

Over the past few years, I have noticed an increased anxiety, not only from myself, but from society as a whole. Americans enjoy the pleasure of living in a wealthy and free society—privileges not afforded in other places and times.

My aim here in this post is not to analyze the causes for the increased angst. That I will leave to professionals in psychology, medicine, and psychiatry. Instead, I am going to share a couple reasons why retreating to my cerebral citadel as opposed to actively engaging the stress inducers has worked for me for the past month.

Note: Please be aware, that while this approach may work for me I am in no way endorsing a fortress mentality being a miracle-cure method to fending off fretfulness for everyone.

Offense vs. Defense

Defense beats offense

Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote,“Negativity can only feed on negativity.” From personal experience, I know that negativity only grows when you give attention to it, too much attention will lead to negativity consuming your life. Fighting negativity with an offensive attack does not work. I came across this anonymous quote that stuck a cord on this subject, “When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the fire department generally uses water.

Different approaches are necessary when battling stress and negativity in your life. An image of a faucet comes to mind when complaining controls my life. Last month, I allowed my emotions to get the better of me: both at home and work. Frustrations about unmet expectations caused grievances which poured out like water running from an open faucet.

To combat my weaknesses, I simply went to source—my words and shut off the valve of verbal complaints. This month instead of vocally sharing my grumbles aloud, I created a laconic lock for my tongue. According to James 3, the mouth and tongue act as a gateway for various despicable behaviors. Keeping our words bridled is key to stopping negativity.  The Apostle writes in James 3:2-5,

If anyone does not fall short in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body also.a 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide their whole bodies. 4It is the same with ships: even though they are so large and driven by fierce winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot’s inclination wishes. 5In the same way the tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions.

 

Albert Einstein Quote

Fortifying not fleeing

The brilliant Albert Einstein once declared, “Stay away from negative people. They have a problem for every solution.” Sometimes turning away from the stresses and negativity going on in life gets equated with running from your problems. Withstanding the temptations to give into the negativity that surrounds you displays strength.

Known as fortitude, courage is the foundation upon which virtue and the ability to withstand the assault of pessimism is built on. Author Maya Angelou succinctly states, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” Shifting my mindset toward stoicism and fortress-like greatly helped me weather the storms of stress.

Becoming more self-aware of my vocal complaints, grumbles, and murmurings prevented me from stumbling into the sea of stress. Distancing myself emotionally from the “bad” or “negative” experiences I faced in the workplace or at home helped me to move more quickly onto the next task or event of the day. The image of a fortress best represents for me the virtue of fortitude and ability to block negativity.

Questions for reflection

  • Are you currently in a negative environment?
  • What steps have you done to change your situation?
  • Think of three things you can do to take action in the next week to decrease negativity in your life.

Quotes for further reflection

“But you, O man of God, must flee from these things; and strive for uprightness, godliness, good faith, love, fortitude, and a forgiving temper.” –1 Timothy 6:11

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.2 Timothy 1:7

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3 Ways You Can Actually Get Rest through Play

According to Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” This weekend I found a temporary fountain of youth—at a pumpkin patch!  Celebrating the birthdays of two of my nieces and my daughter, we visited a small-town Nebraskan pumpkin patch on Saturday.  This experience was what I needed to infuse live into me.

Rest and play

My overnight work schedule has been challenging.  Getting naps throughout the day are hit or miss depending on how fussy or not my teething 8 month old daughter is on a a particular day. Balancing work and life has like trying to battle 16 monkey ninjas on your own. Our three year old has regressed over the past few weeks, meltdowns are on the rise, I only get to see my wife about 30 minutes most days, and the list of struggles goes on and on.

The purpose of this post is not to complain, but rather give a bit of context as to why my content has been irregular recently. I am thankfully for people providing guest posts in the midst of my chaotic schedule. I will be publishing more guest posts to help give me a break during this season. Rest. I did not appreciate sleep until I lacked it. This post will focus on a few ways I have been able to discover how to get rest during a grueling schedule. If you are in a similar or more serious situation than my family I hope you find value in these tips.

Play and Positivity

A common factoid you may have learned in school is that it takes less muscles to smile than it does to frown. If you never heard this amazing fact, please check out the link in the related resources section at the end of this post to read about the science behind smiling. This weekend I smiled.

Traveling on a zip line, sliding down the barn slide, pedaling a cart, and chasing my kids on the pumpkin patch playground incited smiles. We need playtime help reset our mindset. Going into work on Monday I was much more motivated and cheery. Playtime leads to positivity.

Observational Play is Still Fun

According to Angela Schwindt, “While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.” During the breaks between pumpkin patch activities I got the chance to watch my children caper with their cousins. The joy and excitement in their faces caused me to beam with gratitude. I rarely have the opportunity to simply rest and observe them in the middle of play.

Overcoming from a recent sinus infection and my continual job hunt for work from home opportunities has drained much of my energy the past few weeks. This weekend provided me the chance to pause and have fun watching my kids play!

Recapping the Day is Restful

Another way to fit in play during a busy schedule is to reflect on the revelry throughout the day. We had a three hour drive back home so I spent some time replaying the fun our family had in my mind. Next, my wife and I talked about our favorite moments. I asked each of my children which activity they enjoyed the best. “Pumpkin, I have a pumpkin daddy!” my three year old exclaimed from his car seat. Looking back, I saw a wide grin on his face and the orange vegetable proudly held in his hand.

Pumpkin Patch

Memory gave me the ability to play again while sitting down in the car. As I recapped the day, I regained my energy that was completely drained during the week.

Make it a priority to get daily playtime. It is necessary for a healthy body and mind. Play renewed my endurance. Rediscover joy in life by embracing playtime. A work and life balance is important. How do you plan on resting and playing this week?

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3 Rest Stops for Our Pilgrimage Towards Holiness

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According to the National Sleep Foundation, humans are considered the only mammal that willingly delays sleeps. For more interesting facts about sleep here is a link: https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/25-random-facts-about-sleep. Sleep is an issue that pervades all of human life. As a father to four young children, I oftentimes determine the success [or failure] of a day over whether my children successfully or unsuccessfully take their scheduled nap!

The stresses of life, dealing with sick family members, and limited sleep due to my new work schedule drain me on a daily basis. The exhaustion last week became so overwhelming that I almost gave up hope. But the thing about tiredness is that is oftentimes causes people to forgot and lose strength to continue.

On the verge of wallowing in a lake of lassitude, I suddenly remembered the words of Bishop Paul Swain that he said at a confirmation Mass. Specifically referring to the sacrament of confirmation, but I believe his words apply to the rest of the sacraments as well, the successor of St. Peter said, “Sacraments [the sacrament of confirmation] are not the end or graduation of the Catholic life, rather sacraments act as theological rest stops to give us strength.”

In the past, I associated the sacraments as offensive weapons against sin, however, recently I have come to view the sacramental system as a means to shield and sustain oneness from the endless assault of the Enemy’s attacks. Below I wish to explore my experience with how the sacraments of confession, Eucharist, and marriage help provide spiritual rest for my pilgrim journey.

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Confession Crossing

Growing up I remembered the summer vacations my family and I went on involved a ton of driving. If the rambunctious nature of sons is any indication of what I was like as a kid, I imagine my parents looked forward to taking a pause in the long drive to allow my siblings and I to run out our energy. As a parent, I learned that a periodic rest stop sometimes solves a fussy situation in the car. Pope Francis once declared, “Always remember this: life is a journey. It is a path, a journey to meet Jesus. At the end, and forever. A journey in which we do not encounter Jesus is not a Christian journey.”

Too many times I forget that life is more of a pilgrimage—toward Heaven. Life is not simply a tourist attraction for me to amass as much pleasurable and exciting experiences as possible.

Without Jesus as the focus of my journey I lean toward being a tourist of the world instead of a pilgrim in the world. Confession is the sacrament that provides me an opportunity to rest and receive God’s graces. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “This sacrament reconciles us with the Church. Sin damages or even breaks fraternal communion. The sacrament of Penance repairs or restores it” (CCC 1469.

Recently, I received the sacramental graces of the medicine box. I felt a large burden lifted from me and have the strength to be able to encounter the busyness of life with a calm assurance that God will sustain me even during tough situations.

jesus-bread-of-life (1)

Eucharist— Fuel for the Road Ahead

While Confession heals the wounds of my sins, the sacrament of the Eucharist provides me nourishment and strength for the journey for the rest of the week. In the book of Exodus, God listened to the plea of his people, traveling in the wilderness, a plea for food to sustain them during the tumultuous journey. As amazing and unmerited the gift of manna in the Old Testament, Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist as a fulfillment of this prefiguration in Exodus. Jesus decisively teaches us in John 6,

Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.48I am the bread of life.49Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;z50this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.51I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.

After receiving the body and blood of Jesus Christ every Sunday Mass, I gain the strength to make it through the trials of this world. According to the Catechism paragraph 1391, “The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus. Indeed, the Lord said: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”226 Life in Christ has its foundation in the Eucharistic banquet: “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.”

Reading this passage makes me reflect on the popular adage, “you are what you eat”—receiving Jesus in this sacraments helps transform us into the best [i.e. most Christ-like] versions of ourselves!

Matrimony—Momentum for the Journey

G.K. Chesterton is considered a king of wit and satire—especially among Catholics. His quotes on marriage frequent social media. Ironically, I actually shared the below memes on Instagram recently!

chesterton marriage meme1.jpg chesteron marriage meme2.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wait! “I thought this article was about theological REST STOPS for our pilgrim journey—not holy hand grenades,” one might say. I agree with Chesterton, oftentimes marriage is like going to war—sins of pride, impatience, anger, lust, greed, and sloth [to name just a few]—become casualties. However, war does not always involve active or constant movement. Rather, a large part of war entails strategizing against the enemy—and that involves resting and planning. The sacrament of marriage is a gift from God that allows spouses to acquire the graces of rest and perseverance.

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Marriage as a sacrament involves total commitment towards one’s spouse. Husband and wife do not split responsibilities as in a 50/50 contract. Instead, marriage is a covenant—an oath that involves 100/100 dedication of the husband toward the wife and vice versa. Honestly, I sometimes struggle to view marriage this way. Throughout periods in my wife and I’s marriage either she or I would have to “more time and effort” than the other “put in”. Keeping a tally sheet and IOUs does not lead to a fruitful marriage. Only by donning a servant mentality did I truly receive the sacramental graces of matrimony to acquire true peace and rest.

Rely on the Sacraments for Rest!

To close, I wish to again ponder the words of Bishop Paul Swain, “Sacraments [the sacrament of confirmation] are not the end or graduation of the Catholic life, rather sacraments act as theological rest stops to give us strength.” Do you take advantage God’s oasis’ for holiness? If you are married do you take time to see God work in your spouse? Is there any ways you may be able to deepen your participation in the sacrifice of the Mass? Let us use the rest of Lent as a time to grow in holiness and thank God for the gifts of the sacraments—theological rest stops for our pilgrim journey!

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Why the Best Writing Rarely Develops as You Originally Planned

I am the dictionary definition of a Type A personality. Order, preparation, planning, scheduling, and structure are my addiction. I thrive on a rigid schedule and always need a contingency plan in place just in case the first 37 plans fail.

Benjamin Franklin spoke of the importance of planning, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” You May be worried that the title of this post is a sign I might be abandoning my priority on order and organization. Have no fear! That is not going to happen.

Life includes Curved Roads

While preparation sets you best for daily and lifelong success, it is still important to remind your that life does not always follow a straight path. How I wished it were that “straightforward” and simple!

Sometimes situations get complex. You may forget something or other people may slow our progress. Sometimes things outside our control run into our sights like a deer running across the interstate unexpectedly. We might notice in time to avoid collision. More often than not we will hit these unexpected situations.

We Can’t Plan for Everything

These are the times are best efforts to plan ahead seem to be in vain. This morning started that way for me. Coming off little sleep, Monday hit me. Hit me hard! Initially, I reacted poorly, I am ashamed to admit. All my hopes for the day appeared to be dashed. Pessimism overwhelmed me.

Through the help of my amazing wife, my stress-induced slide stopped. I took action and wrote about my struggles. Giving little thought about structure, I just wrote from the heart. I wrote how I was feeling.

Suddenly, after a minutes I had a few paragraphs. A few minutes later more and paragraphs. I did not originally intend on writing this post today. I had a “grander”, a “better”, and a “more prepared”?topic to discuss. What I came to realize is that I was writing for myself–selfishly. I wanted to have a perfect post. A planned and perfectly executed article. What I definitely was not thinking about earlier was my audience. You!

Allow Yourself to Show in Your Writing

The reason I believe my best writing is the least planned is because it includes the following:

  • Lots of heart
  • My vulnerability
  • Strong desire to help others

I am not immune from hurt. This really is no surprise anymore.

Because of my hubris, I am quick to forget the reason I write. I write to help others. To help you. I want to give hope at the beginning of a stressful week. I want to give hope to new writers that it is okay if your posts are not perfect. Why do I fail so miserably sometimes?  I am merely human. You are too.

Learn from Challenges

Planning your day and weekly schedule is still important. Learn from my mistakes. Don’t let rigid structure control your life. Allow it to guide you.

If you found this post helpful please share it with a someone you know it can help as well. Please also tell me your current struggles in the comments section. I would love to listen and encourage you in any way possible!

Thank you for sharing!

My First Podcast Interview Just Aired!!

Last month I had the pleasure of recording an episode for The Catholic Servant Podcast discussing the importance of empathy at work, home, and in the spiritual life. Today that episode aired.

Here is the link:

https://thecatholicservant.com/matthew-chicoine

The article of mine that initiated this collaborative meeting can be found by going to this link: https://thesimplecatholic.blog/2019/07/01/the-power-of-empathy-2/

Hope you find it a useful and informative podcast discussion! Please leave any feedback in the comments section. 🙂

Thank you for sharing!

3 Reasons the Worst Monday Ever Failed to Stop My Joy

its monday again meme

Mondays normally suck. This Monday is different. Today, I encountered the most confusing situations and the most livid of customers.

One word. Penultimate. Confused? Let me explain.

Perspective

Penultimate—this amazing word means second to last.

Example: Today is my penultimate day working at my current job.

See today is my second to last day of working at my current job. One Wednesday I start an amazingly frightful and exhilarating journey of being a full-time freelance writer. This has been my dream since 2015.

Helen Keller wrote, “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.” Shifting your perspective allows you to overcome negativity. The entire day I kept my focus on the sun—the light of the Son Jesus Christ and also the sunlight of my new career opportunities.

Live with Purpose

In hindsight, this dream of being a writer probably began when I was a 1st grader. Collecting the complete series of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps I developed a deep love for reading. Reading opened up a love for storytelling for me. Every day since I was an elementary student I have at least 2 books in tote. Stories are a part of my life.

The seed for the love and passion for writing was planted over 2 decades ago. It will finally poke through the soil of time and work this Wednesday. No annoyance, irritation, confusion, or complex situation will lessen my gratitude and joy at this opportunity.

live purposefully

My Catholic faith motivates me and provides me stability during the storm. According to Jeremiah 1:5 God tells us, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” This verse is not merely a pious platitude. It reveals the truth about life. Life contains purpose. Life is not meaningless. Trust me. I endured the hell of losing a job I loved and the loss of several unborn children due to miscarriage. I was broken in 2015. Despair surrounded me. But the light of the Holy Spirit never left me. I almost allowed my suffering to kill me. Instead, I choose to let it define me.

response to suffering defines you

God allowed me to suffer in order to open myself up to others. St. Ignatius of Loyola declared, “If God sends you many sufferings it is a sign that He has great plans for you, and certainly wants to make you a saint.” While I am not even close to being close to a saint, I am going to trust the great Jesuit’s wisdom. To embrace suffering allows you to unite closer with Jesus Christ. I will do anything to unite closer to Him. Losing the security of a full-time job to pursue my purpose freelancing is scary, but will allow me to cleave to God more. Depend on Him more. That makes any cross sent my way endurable today.

Grateful Guarantee

Along taking perspective and living with purpose, the third way the “worst” Monday ever failed to defeat me was because of my attitude of gratitude. The first customer I spoke with started cursing and yelling. It is easy to respond to fire with fire. A surety to keep even-keeled during the stress storm is thankfulness. Building a solid foundation of gratitude helped me withstand incendiary language.

gratitude and joy

According to G.K. Chesterton, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” Nothing heightens your ability to sense the divine action in your life or unite yourself to fellow humans as gratitude. I made a focused effort to be thankful throughout the day. Every hour. Every minute. I thanked God for everything. The nice customers. The choleric customers. Thanksgiving acted as a buoyed at first and then later an iron to prevent any negativity from penetrating.

No matter what throws at you it will be overcome it when you prepared. Be grateful. Not just once. Not twice. Not even 2,000 times. Always be thankful. Shift your perspective on your destination. Don’t let the minor circumstances of one awful day throw your overboard in the ship of life. Live will purpose. No matter how terrible life get it is always worth living. Trust me. I survived. And I will survive the future storms.

I just wanted to share to brighten your Monday!

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The Power of Empathy in 2019

Oprah Winfrey stated, “Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives.” Empathy has become a primary focus for life in the 21st century.

Power of Empathy

Don’t Be Afraid of Feelings

Humans are composed of body and spirit. Fact and feelings. The old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” does not apply anymore. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines empathy as the following: “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”

Recognizing the importance of feelings and acknowledging a person’s emotion(s), especially in times of distress does not lead to pampering them. Nor it is a sign of weakness. Actually, displaying empathy is a sign of strength. Obviously, facts are still important.

Empathy is Here to Stay

While can never dismiss concrete situations, acknowledging one’s emotions are essential for moving forward. The increased focus on mental health in recent years definitely shows the trend of empathy will stay. Empathy is not a mere passing fad!

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According to author Kendra Cherry in her article Importance and Benefits of Empathy, “Empathy leads to helping behavior, which benefits social relationships. We are naturally social creatures. Things that aid in our relationships with other people benefits us as well.” I have discovered that the most difficult customer interactions remain tough in the situations where I failed to demonstrate empathy. Becoming more aware of the importance to acknowledge emotions, without discounting them, I have been better able to develop rapport.

Acknowledgment of emotion with a supporting statement acts as a bridge between yourself and others. People start to develop more trust when you are willing to LISTEN to their unique situations. Phrases such as “That would have hurt my feelings also” or “Tell me what you see as your choices here” are just a couple things to say or write aiming at empathy with a client, coworker, spouse, or neighbor. For a more extensive list of empathetic statements please check out the link in the resources section below.

“In a very real sense we have two minds, one that thinks and one that feels,” writes Daniel Goleman in Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.  Use both your mind and heart when interacting with other. Be empathetic. Be reasonable. Encourage someone in a tough situation this week!

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Related Sources:

https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-empathy-2795562

https://www.couples-thrive.com/blog/couples-therapy-fort-lauderdale/44-empathy-statements-that-will-make-you-the-greatest-listener/

Thank you for sharing!