How Thankfulness Literally Changes Your Brain

Dr. Caroline Leaf is a Christian cognitive neuroscientist that has made discoveries that can literally change the composition of your brain and the quality of your life. In her book “Who Shut Off My Brain?” she explains how our thoughts and attitudes literally change the landscape of our brain.

She says that negative thoughts and negative interpretations of life events effect a chemical reaction in the brain. It is as thought chemical branches are formed that look for pathways to other negative thoughts. As they become connected they become strengthened and they contribute towards negative patterns of thinking. Fortunately, the opposite is true as well. When you choose to have a positive thought or interpret an event in a positive way you are setting off a similar chemical reaction in your brain. However, in this case, you are forming positive connections in the landscape of the brain.

This has implications on many levels of life, such as:

  • controlling your thought life
  • managing stress
  • eradicating toxic thoughts
  • overcoming mental, emotional and spiritual strongholds
  • understanding how you can maximize learning

Of course, this is simply a confirmation of what the Bible says about the importance of thankfulness, praise, speaking encouraging words and choosing to focus your mind on things that are good. After reading Leaf’s book over a year ago I began to apply what I had learned by implementing ‘thankfulness journaling’ into my quiet times with God. I wanted to see a marked improvement in my levels of peace, joy and contentment in life that sometimes gets lost once we leave the carefree days of youth!

A few times a week I would simply list everything I could think of that I may be able to thank God for. It could be something as simple as having food, shelter and clothing. It could be something that I was grateful for in my family or a material blessing that I enjoyed. It could be an answer to prayer. At first my lists were quite short because my mind had to be trained to think in terms of constantly searching for the good in life. I would force myself to sit quietly for a long time and not let myself get off the hook when I could only think of a few things to be thankful for.

As time went on my lists got longer and longer! I began reporting to my wife how many I ‘got’ that day. I also started experimenting with different kinds of lists, such as:

  • what I am thankful for in my wife
  • ways I have seen God’s goodness in my lifetime
  • ways I have seen God turn a bad experience into something good

Over time, I have found that I am regaining an optimistic outlook on life. I am realizing how blessed I really am. I am more attuned to the goodness of God that is expressed in big and small ways in my life. Most of all, I am learning how to not grow up to be a grumpy old man!

Try re-wiring your brain through thankfulness journaling and let me know how it goes (robparkman [at] live [dot] ca).

Oh, and don’t forget to thank God for Mexican food!

 

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Pain or Gain? 7 Steps To Making Transitions Positive

This week I had the opportunity to do lunch with a ‘transition guru’ in Ottawa. Glenn Taylor has been helping people and organizations navigate the turbulent waters of vocational transition longer than I have been alive! He knows that stress, periods of questioning and a sense of loss often accompanies a period of change.

When Glenn speaks- you listen. What I love about his approach is that he pushed me to move beyond ‘feel good’ comments about change to making the tough decision to go to the hard places and learn all that I can. Transitions are happening more rapidly than ever before as people make career changes up to ten times in their career, and you may also be facing other such changes as transitions in relationships, ministry roles, or places of residence… so you have to know how to best navigate and leverage that change!

Sit at Glenn’s feet and learn these points of wisdom that can turn the painful experience of change into a profitable experience (taken from Glenn’s book “Pastors in Transition: Navigating the Turbulence of Change”):

  1. View transition as a creative opportunity to clarify and renew your call and commitment- A healthy debriefing experience can result in a cleansing time that affirms your giftedness and brings greater focus to what your greatest life contributions will be. This is a tremendous opportunity to re-tool, identify new directions and leave behind old patterns.
  2. Accept that ‘necessary endings’ are sometimes necessary to the fulfillment of God’s purpose- Some situations will not change even after the best of efforts is given to them. Other situations are positive but need to be left in the past to pursue a better opportunity. That is OK. We can cling to or curse the pain of the past OR design and create the future we desire.
  3. Focus on what has been accomplished in the previous season and celebrate positive experiences- This helps mitigate against the natural sense of loss that comes from moving on.  Unravel the experience and reknit it with meaning and significance that comes from taking a reflective pause. Fill your mind with those experiences of God that nurture your confidence in his goodness and provision.
  4. Realize that anxiety over ‘starting over’ is normal- It helps to know that each transition has predictable stages that you go through practically and emotionally, namely: the leaving, the in-between time, entering a new role and belonging again. Honour the emotions that come naturally in times of upheaval. Confidence placed in the sovereignty and goodness of God will stabilize your soul.
  5. Explore the residual impact of the previous position that you will carry forward- Organizations and individuals tend to repeat their patterns and experiences when they enter a new season UNLESS the cycle is intentionally broken.  Readiness to create a new future is very dependent upon having effectively learned from the past and letting it go so that we are free to create a changed future. Forgiveness is an antidote to accumulated resentment from the past. Drain the cup of the past and all that it can teach you, then empty the dregs that remain by committing the rest to God’s sovereign justice.
  6. Assess your need for rest, recuperation and renewal- Put together a replenishment plan that will help refill your tank again. This can include many elements, such as: reading, time off, time with family and friends, events, courses, retreats, taking up a hobby, etc.
  7. Seek people who can help you through the transition period- You want supportive people around you who will actually be helpful and not just offer platitudes- whether it is an informal relationship or a more formal coaching relationship.

You’ve got this!

Do let me know if I can help with personal or organizational transitions/renewal at robparkman [at] live [dot] ca.

Blessings!

 

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Story-based Visioning: Tapping Into Your Deepest Passions and Callings

I had an AHA! moment when I was considering (with some trepidation) how I could best use my time with a group of amazing leaders. I wanted to help them find another gear as an organization. They were a vibrant international church in the heart of Winnipeg that had the audacious habit of asking Jesus what He had for them next! I had been exposed to a variety of approaches to vision development and clarification- but they tended to not really grab the hearts of people.

Then it hit me- I should walk them through a process of story-based visioning. When we finished our sessions for the day I had some of them share about the impact it had on them. I was happy to hear that people had tapped into their deepest desires- those things that they were self-motivated and passionate about doing. People made comments such as, “I have returned to my first love” and “I have new motivation to use my business for kingdom purposes.”

I knew that we had struck a cord because many of the people who shared their story-based vision wept as they spoke about their family, their ministry and their church. We had moved beyond your typical committee meeting. These people were world changers discovering their God-given destiny.

Story-based visioning helps you, your family or your organization:

  • Pursue your dreams rather than the dreams of others
  • Picture your desired future
  • Plan for concrete action steps in the direction of your vision
  • Tap into things you are willing to do even if no one is pushing you
  • Get to the heart of your calling
  • Build a customized vision that is unique to your strengths and positioning

Here’s how it works:

  1. Write down the story or testimony do you want to be sharing with people two years from now- I had the leaders write down what that conversation would look like. What do you most desire to see happen in your family, your job, your community, your church and your world. One woman who helped co-lead the young adult ministry in the church said, “I’m sitting at a cafe in Paris because we have been able to take our long awaited holiday. The young adults in the church have been raised up through our mentoring program and they are now taking the lead. We are marvelling at how they have picked up the torch and we are enjoying our cappuccino!” More than anything, they desired to see young adult leaders raised up and taking ownership of that ministry. This story provided the target that they should be aiming at.
  2. Share your story with others- There is power in verbalizing your vision to people who you trust. Sometimes hold a very ‘doable’ vision inside and do not pursue it because they are afraid to make the bold move of sharing the vision. When you share the vision with the right people you will find them nodding in agreement, letting you know that you can do it and perhaps even offering contacts/resources for you to access to fulfill the vision. When this is done in a leadership group context you begin to see themes emerge that lead you to the heart of what God has called the organization to accomplish. For example, one woman wept as she spoke of what it would be like as her loved ones made a decision to follow Christ. Her vocalization of that moment helped to crystallize the church’s commitment to impact those that were closest to them.
  3. Plan to make the vision a reality- I explained to the leaders that their budget planning, prayer strategy, professional development planning, etc. needed to focus on the the story-based vision they shared. Too often we are actually making daily decisions and setting priorities that lead us into the peripheral and away from what we truly want. The team had the job of filtering through their results and coming up with action steps that would position them to actually be telling the stories they want to tell in two years. Dare to dream. Plan to see the dream become a reality.

Take some time and try story-based visioning by yourself, with your spouse or with your team. Take a step closer to your dreams today!

As always, I am available to work with teams to guide this process. You can contact me at robparkman [at] live [dot] ca

Blessings!

 

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Making Better Leaders: Mastering the 6 Stages of Leadership Development

If you want to learn something- learn from the best. The Apostle Paul was one of the greatest developer of leaders of all time. In his lifetime he raised up hundreds of leaders that would be key to the global spread of the message of Christ. 

When we are not getting leadership development ‘right’, we are probably making a mistake in one of the six identifiable stages of development that Paul took people through.

These stages are the most apparent in his training relationship with his young apprentice Timothy:

  1. SELECTION- Too often we are so desperate to find people to take positions that we become careless in the selection process. In Acts 16:1-2 we see that Timothy was a disciple and that he was spoken well of by people who knew him well. Paul saw in this young man qualities that he could build on. In the selection process, always look carefully for someone who is: teachable, eager to learn, and dedicated. Also, check in with the people who know them best to find out if they are trustworthy, motivated, and willing to maintain good relationships. A careful selection process can save a lot of headaches and heartaches in the later stages! The best tool to employ in this process is the Grip-Birkman assessment tool.
  2. PREPARATION- Once the selection is made, the prodigy needs to be prepared in a fitting way for their assigned tasks. A common mistake here is to simply throw the person into their role and hope that they can swim! Careful thought needs to be given to the experiences and training that will fill in the gaps in the person’s knowledge and skill base. In the case of Timothy, part of his ‘spiritual preparation’ was the prophetic words spoken to him about the gifts and strengths that God had placed within him (1 Tim. 4:14 & 2 Tim. 1:6). Timothy also required what may be called ‘cultural preparation’. These were uncomfortable steps he took that helped him adapt to the culture of the people he would reach (Acts 16:3). Effective preparation needs to be customized to the individual or team and the context they are working in.
  3. ACCOMPANIMENT- As the young Timothy travelled with Paul in adventurous missionary journeys, he had first row seat from which to observe the seasoned leadership veteran. He learned about starting churches, appointing leaders, receiving divine direction, using missional strategy and engaging in supernatural ministry (see Acts 16). Timothy’s training was personal in that he learned in the presence of his mentor. It was experiential in that he learned about ministry while being engaged in ministry. It was practical in that he learned praxis rather than just theory. We tend to learn the best when we see values and proficiencies modelled for us rather than just explained to us!
  4. RELEASE- Timothy was given increasing responsibility and freedom over the time of his apprenticeship. First, he was sent to check up on and encourage the Thessalonian church (1 Thess. 3:2). Second, he is sent with some trepidation to the difficult church at Corinth to help them drop their political approach to church life and get on with their God-given mission (1 Cor. 16:10-11; 1 Cor. 4:14-17). Later, he is sent to Ephesus with with full authority to provide local leadership (1 Tim. 1:1-3). As you entrust people gradually, you will learn to utilize keen discernment as to the person’s level of maturity and readiness at any given time. If you release people into responsibility too soon it can go to their head and if you release them too slowly you can exasperate them. This is more of an art than a science.
  5. OVERSIGHT- In this stage of the leadership development process, Paul was not present physically but he was still actively encouraging and supporting Timothy through letters. Timothy has the space to grow and develop but at the same time he had a trusted leader and friend to tap into as a resource. My readings of 1 and 2 Timothy show that Paul’s primary concerns at this stage were: reminding him of his central purpose/assignment, challenging him to use the gifts/strengths God gave him, instructing him in practical matters that would lead the church to health, challenging him to be self motivated (now that his mentor was not physically present), and offering him encouragement in the his areas of weakness. In this stage the role moves from field training to the equally important roles of coach, moral supporter and confidant.
  6. MULTIPLICATION- The ultimate goal is that those that are developed in leadership will in turn repeat the cycle with others who will then continue on the process with others. In 2 Tim. 2:2 this principle is encapsulated: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will be able to teach others.” The word for ‘teach’ that Paul uses here is a word that indicates a certain type of learning- on that emphasizes the learner following both the teaching and the way of life of the teacher. When leadership development is has personal, practical and purpose-driven aspects to it the results are explosive because you are not raising just one leader, but generations of leaders! When you have been led effectively through each of these stages you gain a mindset of multiplication and continue to be on the look-out for others to invest in!

May God bless you in your leadership development efforts and, as always, let us know how we can be a resource to you!

Sincerely,

Rob

 

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The Power of Composure

I have been thinking a lot lately about how the quality of my life and the lives of others around me hinge on the the ‘composure factor’.  Have you ever regretted moments when you have reacted hastily in your personal, family and vocational life?  Here are some common triggers that cause us to lose our composure:

  • The boss makes you mad
  • Your spouse hits a nerve
  • Another driver fails to see you
  • Your child does not listen
  • Your friend makes a snide comment
  • Your job is in jeapardy
  • You buy a faulty product

Just reading that list may cause your blood pressure to increase! When we react hastily we are in danger of digging pits for ourselves that are hard to get out of, such as:

  • saying harsh words that are difficult to retract
  • escalating a situation that could have been difussed
  • moving from one bad situation into another
  • limiting future opportunities for advancement and promotion

No wonder the Bible warns that “Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way” (Prov. 19:2).  When (not if) something triggers you, God wants you to pause, gain your composure and gather the information you need so that you can make the best decision moving forward. The elder apostle Paul said to the younger Timothy, As for you, be calm and cool and steady, accept and suffer unflinchingly every hardship” (2 Tim. 4:5a AMP).

 

Here are some ways that in my own life that I have learned the power of composure:

  1. Remember that you always have options- Oftentimes we lose our composure when we feel trapped or that we do not have options. When that happens, you need to take time on your own or with at trusted friend and do some brainstorming.  If you are hitting a snag vocationally, list 20 ways that you could earn an living or provide another income stream for your family. At first you may only think of one or two, but if you force yourself to be creative and think through every option you will find that your situation is not limitting you- your way of thinking about the situation is limitting you.
  2. Pause before you react to naysayers- You can waste a lot of time in life trying to defend yourself rather than allowing the Lord to defend you. Often the best answer to a critic is no answer. If you must answer, gain your composure first and react with calm and grace. If they have some grain of truth in what they are saying, take it into consideration. However, you want your best energies to be flowing towards your most valued life goals rather than doing image management with people that may never see things your way. When you react in haste you are reacting like a cornered animal- and things are going to get messy. Do not remain a victim. Gain your dignity and power back by following the words of Christ to forgive, pray for and bless your enemies- in so doing you can literally feel a difference in your emotional state and your outlook on like. You are back in the drivers seat. You are being guided by wise choices and not by emotional reactions- and that makes you more powerful.
  3.  Take the long view of success (or progress towards life/organizational goals)- Choose options that will best serve you in the long haul. I am talking about the difference between latching on to the nearest low-paying job and steadily working your way towards a certification that will pay you ten times the amount a year from now. It is the difference between venting and losing the relationship or humbling yourself so that the relationship has a chance in the future.  I am naturally impatient, so I have had to learn the hard way that the best decision in the long-term is the best decision.
  4. Talk to yourself about all of the good reasons you have to keep your composure- Our motivations in life vary, so the things you may talk to yourself about may be different than mine. If someone it pushing your buttons, you may talk to yourself (yes, healthy people do this!) by saying “God loves me so I won’t let this person get me upset” or “I won’t react because I am going to protect my long-term career path and income possibilities” or “I am changing my family’s story so I am choosing to react to this situation in a calm manner”.
  5. Go daily to the Word of God to increase your composure- I am not exaggerating when I say this, but I find reasons to gain and keep my composure everyday when I read God’s Word. I learn how to respond to people. I learn how to find my security in Christ. I discover how to be gain God’s comfort and peace. Reading a chapter of Proverbs a day keeps ‘stupid’ away!

Why don’t you post a quick comment below and let me know what some of your strategies are for keeping your composure?!

 

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Keeping Your Tank Full: Staying Replenished as a Leader

This summer I have an amazing opportunity to help leaders put together a replenishment strategy that will help them get through periods of weariness, vision drain and frustration. I will be speaking at a national event in Ottawa, ON with the CMA (see title link) on the subject of:

How To Keep Your Tank Full- Staying Replenished as a Leader

Healthy leaders produce healthy organizations. Find out what you need to do to combat the draining effects of difficult people, ministry pressures and unmet expectations.  Don’t become a statistic.  Discover do-able strategies that help you find new levels of health, satisfaction and effectiveness as a leader.

Every leader and every organization needs a plan to stay refreshed and effective for the long haul!

I am available for consulting and teaching across Canada in the areas of: leadership health and replenishment, vision development, passionate spirituality, effective outreach and church revitalization. I have spoke recently at leadership gatherings in Santo Domingo (DR), Winnipeg (MB), Saskatoon (SK), Calgary (AB) and Vancouver (BC).

Drop me a note at robparkman [at] live [dot] ca.

Blessings!

 

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Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe

You’ve been there. Your leader(s) either made you feel safe or unsafe and the quality of your work (and ultimately the quality of your life) was affected. I am more convinced than ever that it is worth the effort of moving heaven and earth to position yourself to work with good leaders!

Perhaps the highest compliment I have ever received is a leader is that I created space for good people to be safe. What they seemed to be communicating was that:

  • they were protected from unhealthy elements in the organization
  • their legitimate concerns were heard and acted on
  • they were free to be in a mode of experimenting and exploring without fear of being reprimanded for failure
  • they had the encouragement and the means to discover and grow in their strengths
  • they had the assurance that the person at the top of the organizational chart would have both their best interests and the best interests of the organization in mind

I have made my fair share of leadership mistakes, but one of the things that is most gratifying to date in my leadership experience is providing safe spaces for good people to thrive.

May God bless you in the journey of both becoming the leader that God has called you to be and positioning yourself under great leaders!

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3 Keys To a SOFT Landing In Your Vocational Transition

When I have sensed a need for a change in my work I have made moves that have resulted in HARD landings and others that have resulted in SOFT landings!  I like the soft landings better. I found out that hard landings are overated!! Hard landings are the ones where you:

  • react rashly and quit without having a solid plan in place
  • scramble for any type of work without considering what you are designed for and what you enjoy
  • end up in a similar or worse work situation

No job lasts forever, so when it is time to move on it is helpful to think through carefully how and when you will exit. The way that we exit says a lot about our maturity level and our preparedness for the next level of opportunity. Even when you are leaving the worst job imaginable, it is still possible to do so with dignity, composure and a sure-fire plan of action.

When you need to make a vocational change or a vocational upgrade, be sure that you transition well by being sure to:

Build Your Ramp.  Once when I was realizing that my work context was not good for me I went to a man of God for advice.  He said to me with prophetic insight, “Build your ramp!”  There is a lifetime worth of wisdom in those words.  Essentially he was telling me not to make a hasty move now that I had realized a change needed to be made.  He was telling me not to be reactionary, but to take a planned approach to the transition. As a result of his advice I made plans to move on, but not before I took months to carefully prepare (in evenings and on days off while I was in my former employment) so that I had a soft landing.  Each week I took a number of steps that prepared me to launch higher and further off of my ramp. I took time to understand my giftings and callings so that I landed in work that was closer to my sweet spot rather than further from it. The steps I took  included networking, skill development and education, building strategic partnerships, considering how my skill set may be employed in innovative ways, planning out the first year of our new venture with my wife, etc.

“The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” (Prov. 21:5)

 

Consider Your Timing.  “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Eccl. 3:1). Often people leave a job prematurely before they have gleaned everything they could have gleaned.  On the other hand, it is possible to stay longer than you should in an unhealthy situation.  This requires counsel.  If and when you feel it is time to transition out of your current role it is crucial that you surround yourself with people whose counsel you trust implicitly and ask them to speak into your life.

“For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.” (Prov. 11:14)

Maintain PeaceIt is normal to hit points of frustration in your work life, and there are times that you need to move on to something that is a better fit for you.  However, far too often people take shots at the organization, or the people they were working with (read the boss), as they are on their way out the door.  In our thirst for vengeance we burn the bridge and close the door to relationships and opportunities with those people.  This is shooting yourself in the foot!  Remember that you may need a reference from that company.  You do not want to brand yourself as a malcontent.   Additionally, some people end up wanting to return to the organization at a later date.  You do not want that to be an awkward conversation.  Even if there were outstanding issues or concerns, be sure that you exit with grace and take the high road.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Rom 12:18 emphasis mine)

I have learned the hard way about how to transition well. You either learn through WISDOM or EXPERIENCE. I want to help you learn through wisdom so that you land softer!

God has GOOD plans for you and a way for you to land SOFT!

If you feel it is time for transition in your career tap into the wisdom around you and let us know if vocational coaching would serve you at robparkman [at] live [dot] ca.

Blessings!

 

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Situations themselves do not cause stress; it is our reaction to the situation that is the real problem.”   -Joyce Meyer in 21 Ways to Finding Peace and Happiness

Leadership is not about being nice and definitely not about avoiding conflict; rather it inolves creating dissent and managing the created dissent. This dissent results from the necessity of changing the present situation, which always provokes the resistance of those who are not - or not yet – willing to take such a step. Leadership is not to be confused with maintaining the status quo. Its essence is the initiation of a change process that results in a new and better status quo.

An essential part of leadership is decision making, and the purpose of decisions is not to make people happy… if everyone is content with a decision that has been made, you can be almost certain that it was not the best decision possible. General acceptance is not a wise criterion for a good decision.

Every decision attracts criticsm from those who have a different point of view. If the leader strives to make decisions so that everyone will be in agreement, he or she is pre-programming the group or organization to continue to live far below its God-given potential.  Why do so many groups never reach their potential? Because they don’t have a leader who dares to make bold moves.”

-Leadership expert Christian Schwartz in “The 3 Colors of Leadership”