5 Signs You’ve Been Doing Too Much for Too Long

5 SIGNS YOU’VE BEEN DOING TOO MUCH FOR TOO LONG

Marc Chernoff

When things aren’t adding up in your life, begin subtracting.

Busyness is an illness.

Think about your own life and the lives of those close to you. Most of us have a tendency to do as much as we possibly can—cramming every waking minute with events, extravagances, tasks and obligations.

We think doing more will get us more satisfaction, success, etc. When oftentimes the exact opposite is true.

Less can be far more rewarding in the long run. But we’re so set in our ways that we can’t see this.

And so…

  • When we work, we shift from one task to the next quickly and continuously, or we multi-task—juggling five things at once until the end of the day… and yet we still feel like we haven’t done enough of the right stuff.
  • When we finally break away for some healthy exercise, we tend to push ourselves as hard as we possibly can… until we’re exhausted and sore, and less likely to want to exercise tomorrow.
  • When we go to a nice restaurant, we want to try all the appetizers, drinks and entrees, indulging in as much deliciousness as we possibly can… and we leave feeling bloated, sometimes uncomfortably so, and then our waistlines stretch.
  • When we travel to a new city, we want to see it all—every landmark and every photo op—so we do as much as physically possible… and we return home from our trip utterly exhausted.

How can we tame our urge to do too much?

Simply focus more on doing less every step of the way.

Be mindful of the urge to over-do it.

It’s taken me awhile to get the hang of it, but I’m getting there…

  • When I’m working, I do just one thing at a time with full focus. And when I catch myself multi-tasking or feeling overwhelmed, I’ll clear everything off my plate and make a list of just one to three key tasks I absolutely need to complete by the end of the day. And yes, sometimes this list is just one thing long, because it helps me focus on what’s truly important and not feel overwhelmed.
  • When I went to the gym two days ago, I had the urge to push myself to my max. I noticed this and instead decided to let that urge go. I did a solid 45-minute workout, but left some fuel in my tank. Yesterday, I went back to the gym and I put in another 45 minutes at a similar pace. This morning, I would have been happy to do the same, but I decided to take a light jog instead. My exercise regimen is sustainable, and that’s why I rarely injure myself or miss a day.
  • When I sit down at a nice restaurant, I don’t try to taste and eat as much as possible. Instead, I leave the table satisfied, but not bloated. I eat less than I used to. This is something I still struggle with at times, because it isn’t easy. It takes practice. The result, however, is that I feel significantly better after each meal and my waistline thanks me.
  • When I travel to a new city, I don’t try to do it all. I choose a few things to do, and I take my time. I then leave the city knowing that there’s plenty to see on my next visit—I leave myself wanting more of a wonderful thing.

Anyway, I hope you will join me on this journey.

Let’s do a little less… and make the less we do count for even more.

Here are five signs now is the right time to do just that:

  1. You feel overwhelmed by all there is to do. – Remember, overcommitting is the single biggest mistake most people make that makes life stressful and overwhelming. It’s tempting to fill in every waking moment of the day with to-do list tasks, events, obligations and distractions. Don’t do this to yourself. You CANNOT do it all. You have to let some things GO!
  2. You’re actually trying (consciously or subconsciously) to do it all. – Another major issue that keeps so many of us stuck in a debilitating cycle of busyness is the fantasy in our minds that we can be everything to everyone, everywhere at once, and a hero on all fronts. But, of course, that’s not reality. The reality is we’re not Superman or Wonder Woman—we’re human, and we have limits. We have to let go of this idea of doing everything and pleasing everyone and being everywhere at once. You’re either going to do a few things well, or do everything poorly. That’s the truth. 
  3. You have no time to appreciate the space in your day. – Your life isn’t just about the things you do—it’s also about the open space between the things. That means the space itself is something to be appreciated as well. So, for example, if you spend your morning meditating and reading, the morning isn’t just valuable because of the meditation and reading—the space around those two activities is also incredible. The time spent walking over to your meditation mat, or finding your book, or turning the pages, or pouring a cup of tea, or sitting and watching the sunrise… these little open spaces are just as important as anything else. Pace yourself so you’re not hurrying from one thing to the next, but instead noticing and appreciating the spaces in between, too.
  4. You have lost track of your priorities. – Priorities don’t get done automatically. You have to make time for what’s important to you—time with your significant other, time with your kids, time for creating, time for learning, time for exercise, etc. Push everything else aside to make time. By saying no to more things that sound really exciting, you get to say yes to more of what’s truly important. 
  5. Your physical space is a cluttered mess. – If you don’t have enough time to keep your physical space organized, you’re doing too many of the wrong things. Period. And there’s a good chance you’re buying too many of the wrong things too. Decluttering your physical space can lead to a less cluttered mental space—needless clutter pulls on us and distracts us in more ways than we often realize. So remember, the question of what you want present in your physical space with you is essentially the question of how you want to live your life.

Afterthoughts

I want to leave you with two quotes from our friend Joshua Becker’s book, The More of Less, because I just re-read it and absolutely love how his sentiment coincidentally compliments this blog post:

  • “Our excessive possessions (and obligations) are not making us happy. Even worse, they are taking us away from the things that do. Once we let go of the things that don’t matter, we are free to pursue all the things that really do matter.”
  • “Sometimes, minimizing possessions (and obligations) means a dream must die. But this is not always a bad thing. Sometimes, it takes giving up the person we wanted to be in order to fully appreciate the person we can actually become.”

Cheers to making life simple again! 🙂

Your turn…

In what way do you need to start doing less? Leave a comment and share your thoughts and stories with us.

2 Ways to Quiet the Negative Voice Inside YOU

2 WAYS TO QUIET THE NEGATIVE VOICE INSIDE YOU

Angel Chernoff

Why do we think negatively when we know better?

Because thinking negatively, expecting “the worst,” seeing the downside of positive situations, and even downright expecting failure, all convey a kind of backwards-thinking, emotional insurance policy. It goes something like, “If I expect a tragedy, then I won’t be disappointed when it takes place.”

Of course, this is NOT what we truly want or need in our lives. So how can we stop talking ourselves into these thinking traps? Let’s take a look at two powerful ways to quiet the negative inner voice that leads us astray:

1. Start focusing on the grey area between the extremes.

Life simply isn’t black or white – 100% of this or 100% of that – all or nothing. Thinking in extremes like this is a fast way to misery, because negative thinking tends to view any situation that’s less than perfect as being extremely bad. For example:

  • Rather than the rainstorm slowing down my commute home from work, instead “it wasted my whole evening and ruined my night!”
  • Rather than just accepting the nervousness of meeting a new group of people, “I know these people are not going to like me.”

Since 99.9% of all situations in life are less than perfect, black and white thinking tends to make us focus on the negative – the drama, the failures, and the worst case scenarios. Sure catastrophes occur on occasion, but contrary to what you may see on the evening news, most of life occurs in a grey area between the extremes of bliss and devastation.

2. Stop looking for negative signs from others.

Too often we jump to conclusions, only to cause ourselves and others unnecessary worry, hurt, and anger. If someone says one thing, don’t assume they mean something else. If they say nothing at all, don’t assume their silence has some hidden, negative connotation.

Thinking negatively will inevitably lead you to interpret everything another person does as being negative, especially when you are uncertain about what the other person is thinking. For instance, “He hasn’t called, so he must not want to talk to me,” or, “She only said that to be nice, but she doesn’t really mean it.”

Assigning meaning to a situation before you have the whole story makes you more likely to believe that the uncertainty you feel (based on lack of knowing) is a negative sign. On the flip-side, holding off on assigning meaning to an incomplete story is a primary key to overcoming negative thinking. When you think more positively, or simply more clearly about the facts, you’ll be able to evaluate all possible reasons you can think of, not just the negative ones. In other words, you’ll be doing more of: “I don’t know why he hasn’t called yet, but maybe… he’s actually extremely busy at work today.”

Being able to distinguish between what you imagine and what is actually happening in your life is an important step towards living a happier life.

And of course, if you’re struggling with any of this, know that you are not alone. Many of us are right there with you, working hard to feel better, think more clearly, and get our lives back on track.

How To Deal With Your Kid’s Annoying Habits

HOW TO DEAL WITH YOUR KID’S ANNOYING HABITS

Jacob Towery

You might want to nag or scold, but positive reinforcement is more effective.

As a child psychiatrist, I have spent eons in school studying developmental psychology and human behavior. Learning this, you might assume that I would know all the research on effective parenting techniques and be a perfect parent myself. You would be wrong on both counts.

There was a question that I wanted to answer, for me as a father as well as for the parents whom I counsel in my private practice: “If your child is doing something that is not harmful, but is also not especially adaptive or appropriate, when and how often should you correct her behavior?”

For example, your 5-year-old is eating peas with her fingers; she’s not hurting anyone, but the grandparents are coming over in two weeks and you’d like to show them that you’ve instilled some basic table manners. Or, when my 9-year-old greets an adult while staring at his shoes, when and how often should I remind him about the importance of eye contact to increase the chances that he’ll actually start attempting it? In my field, the consensus on certain parenting techniques is clear: Repeated studies have shown that spanking is damaging and ineffective, for example. The harmful effects of yelling and shaming, too, have been widely publicized. But what does the research have to say about the mild, low-level scolding and nagging that so many parents engage in?

[Read our field guide to taming tantrums in toddlers.]

After many hours spent reading studies on this topic and interviewing experts, I concluded that I was asking the wrong question. When I asked Alan Kazdin, the director of the Yale Parenting Center and the author of over 700 articles and books on child-rearing, when you should correct behavior you’d like your child to change, his answer was straightforward: “Never!” According to Dr. Kazdin, it is never helpful or effective to scold or nag a child about behavior that’s not harming anyone. “Don’t attend to the eating of peas with fingers,” Dr. Kazdin said. “If you give attention to something, the behavior you don’t want could actually increase.”

Hearing this, I was surprised and a little embarrassed. I can think of dozens of times that I have reprimanded my son (usually gently) for behaviors that were socially inappropriate or merely annoying. When I dug into the research on this topic, though, I learned that Dr. Kazdin was right: Not only is scolding ineffective for long-term behavior change, it can actually make certain behaviors worse.

Some small studies suggest that certain approaches — standing close to the child, maintaining eye contact and speaking softly — may increase the effectiveness of a scolding. But if you want permanent change in the behavior, the evidence is lacking for scolding as an effective technique.

So, if we are looking to decrease behaviors that are socially inappropriate, instead of asking when you should correct your child’s behavior, the better question is probably “How should you modify a child’s behavior to be more appropriate?” Daniel Bagner, a professor of psychology and the director of the Early Childhood Behavior Lab at Florida International University’s Center for Children and Families, told me that after identifying the behavior they want to change (a child looking down at her shoes when greeting an adult, for example), parents should “identify the positive opposite of the behavior, such as making eye contact, and consistently provide positive consequences, such as praise, when the child displays the positive behavior.

“Additionally, it is important for parents to implement the positive consequence immediately after the child’s behavior.”

This idea is also sometimes referred to as “catch them being good.” There is ample evidence that positive reinforcement — providing something positive right after a behavior — is very effective in increasing how often that behavior occurs. What Dr. Bagner is saying is that instead of focusing on the behavior you don’t want, find times when your child is exhibiting the behavior you do want and give that behavior lots of attention.

Dr. Kazdin gave me a very similar message, but I asked him, “What if your child never does the positive opposite behavior, such as making eye contact when greeting people?” Dr. Kazdin said that the secret in that case was to use something called “differential reinforcement.” This is where you find a behavior that is close to the behavior you are trying to get and positively reinforce that behavior. For example, Dr. Kazdin said, “In the example of your child avoiding eye contact, when you go in a room together, ask them to look up. Or say ‘I bet you can’t look up.’ Then, when they do look up, say something like ‘Nice job looking up, that was great’ and smile and give them a pat on the shoulder.” If you keep doing this every time your child looks up, Dr. Kazdin said, he will start to do so more often. And any time you “catch” him making eye contact, positively reinforce that, too. Eventually, you will have more eye contact and less looking at shoes.

Another technique that experts agree on is that, since children tend to enjoy games, it is possible to use games to improve behavior in a fun way that still gets results. In the example of a child eating peas with her fingers, Dr. Kazdin proposed turning it into a contest. “Tell them ‘we’re going to have a game. The winner is the person who can put one pea on their fork and put it up to their lips the slowest. I’ll show you.’

“Then playfully model slowly lifting a pea to your lips on the fork. As soon as your child does it, praise them to reinforce the behavior. Then after the game is over, don’t mention it the rest of dinner.”

I reached out to Jane McGonigal, a best-selling author, game designer, and the director of games research and development at the Institute for the Future. “As a parent, when I’m trying to influence my child’s behavior, I would leverage one of the phenomena we see in gaming, which is that kids love being better at their favorite video games than their parents,” she said.

“So, I would create a game where I would ask my kid to help me do the thing I want them to do. I would ask them to try to spot me not using my fork and eating with my fingers, or to notice if I’m not looking someone in the eye,” she added, “and I would enlist their cooperation in this way and turn it into a multiplayer game where they know more than me and they are helping me. This would give me the chance to model for them why the behavior matters, by thanking them and explaining why I want help remembering.

“Basically, instead of trying to directly change the behavior and telling them what to do, let them experience the fun of ‘owning’ the behavior and being in charge of telling me what to do.”

Since learning more about the science of behavior change, I have been hesitant to give up scolding because it’s easy for me and automatic. But I have been trying positive reinforcement more with my own children and have been thrilled with the results.

Following Dr. Kazdin’s advice, I made a game out of eye contact for my 9-year-old son. I said “I bet you can’t look me in the eye for 10 seconds straight.” He proudly proved me wrong. Now, each time he makes even two seconds of eye contact with me, I smile and touch his shoulder and say something like “Great job making eye contact!”

This approach takes a little more attention and self-discipline on my part, but my son’s ability to make eye contact has been steadily improving, with no more scolding or nagging from me.

A Fresh 60-Second Reminder that Will Change Your Mindset (and Spare Some Pain)

A FRESH 60-SECOND REMINDER THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR MINDSET (AND SPARE SOME PAIN)

Angel Chernoff

As you read these words, you are breathing. Stop for a moment and notice this breath. You can control this breath, and make it faster or slower, or make it behave as you like. Or you can simply let yourself inhale and exhale naturally. There is peace in just letting your lungs breathe, without having to control the situation or do anything about it. Now imagine letting other parts of your body breathe, like your tense shoulders. Just let them be, without having to tense them or control them.

Now look around the room you’re in and notice the objects around you. Pick one, and let it breathe. There are likely people in the room with you too, or in the same house or building, or in nearby houses or buildings. Visualize them in your mind, and let them breathe.

When you let everything and everyone breathe, you just let them be, exactly as they are. You don’t need to control them, worry about them, or change them. You just let them breathe, in peace, and you accept them as they are. This is what letting go is all about. It can be a life-changing practice.

At our annual conference, Think Better, Live Better, Marc and I guide attendees through this process of letting go—and breathing steadily through life’s twists and turns (you should get an HD recording of the event).

Truth be told, inner peace begins the moment you take a new breath and choose not to allow an uncontrollable event to dominate you in the long-term. You are not what happened to you. You are what you choose to become in this moment. Let go, breathe, and begin again…

1 Insanely Popular Way to Wreck the Next Year of Your Life

1 INSANELY POPULAR WAY TO WRECK THE NEXT YEAR OF YOUR LIFE

Angel Chernoff

Remind yourself: It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

And yet so often, against our better judgment, we make the wrong choices.

Our pride has us holding on when we need to let go.

Pressure from peers sways us left when we mean to go right.

Negative thoughts provoke frowning on otherwise beautiful days.

And so it goes…

One choice at a time, one moment at a time, we ruin the most promising days of our lives.

If you can relate at all, it’s time to answer your wake-up call!

How many times have you thought “this isn’t working” or “something is not right” or “things have to change”? – those thoughts and words are from your inner voice. It’s your wake-up call calling.

You really don’t need some scary, life-threatening diagnosis or major crisis to wake you up. And no one needs to tell you because you already know. Your inner voice has been trying to tell you for a while now, but in case it’s been a challenge to find time and space to listen through the chaos, maybe you’ll resonate with one of these situations:

  • If your life is on auto-pilot and you’re always feeling worn down and stressed out, this is your wake-up call.
  • If you never put yourself first, this is your wake-up call.
  • If you are constantly numbing out with food, shopping, booze, TV, or other distractions, this is your wake-up call.

Getting your wake-up call is not the hard part. Answering the call is. Choosing to answer the call instead of ignoring it is HARD! Right now, it may feel much easier to keep going, and going, and going. But you know if you don’t find a way out of the endless cycle you’re in, it’s going to get worse…

Remind yourself that a big part of your life is a result of the choices you make. And if you don’t like your life it’s time to start making changes and better choices.

Based on over a decade of one-on-one coaching sessions with hundreds of students from around the world, and hearing dozens of personal stories every year from attendees at our live annual events, here is the #1 way we as human beings gradually wreck our own lives, and some clear ideas on how to make better choices going forward:

Decide YOU ARE STUCK!

Seriously, that’s the most popular way we as human beings hurt ourselves! Take a moment to reflect on evidence of this in your own life…

Think about ONE self-limiting belief you have—one area of your life where you believe you absolutely CANNOT make progress. It can be about any part of your life you hope to change—your health, your weight, your career, your relationships – anything at all. What’s one thing you’ve essentially decided is a fact about your place on Earth?

And then I want you to shift gears and think about ONE time, one fleeting moment, in which the opposite of that ‘fact’ was true for you. I don’t care how tiny of a victory it was, or even if it was a partial victory. What’s one moment in time you can look back on and say, “Hey, that was totally unlike ‘me’—but I did it!”? Because once you identify the cracks in the wall of a self-limiting belief, you can start attacking it. You can start taking steps forward every day that go against it—positive daily rituals that create tiny victories, more confidence, gradual momentum, bigger victories, even more confidence, and so on.

And yes, I also understand that we all face our share of incredibly difficult circumstances, many of which are not the results of anything we’ve done. But we still have choices when it comes to how we’ll respond to these seemingly-random tragedies that afflict us.

The choice is as simple as it is universal:

  • Grit our teeth and try to move the immovable object, and become frustrated and bitter when we realize we can’t.
  • Answer our wake-up call. Let it be. Let go.

Paradoxically, the first choice is easier because it’s our default action. We want full control because feeling out of control is utterly terrifying.

It’s essential to know how to let go—how to understand the difference between what you can control and what you can’t.

Empowering yourself to relinquish control of the wrong attachments is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself—the ability to exist peacefully and productively amidst the chaos of life.

If you feel yourself slowly collapsing under the weight of life and circumstances, we have a proven path to a more peaceful and productive life. We’d love to share it with you.

French philosopher François-Marie Arouet once said:

“We are free at the instant we wish to be.”

Choose to be free in the midst of life’s uncertainties, so YOU CAN make progress again.

And of course, if you’re struggling with any of this, know that you are not alone. Many of us are right there with you, working hard to think more clearly, respond to life more effectively, and get ourselves back on track. 

Why Temptation Is Like Ice Cream

WHY TEMPTATION IS LIKE ICE CREAM

Richard Innes

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”1

Nelson Searcy tells of a study that was conducted about the best tasting ice cream. Members of the control group were blindfolded and given all kinds of vanilla ice cream to taste—quality brand ice cream, gourmet ice cream, homemade ice cream, cheap ice cream and everything in between.

It didn’t matter if it was gourmet, brand name, or homemade ice cream, “The number one determining factor was the percentage of fat in the ice cream. In other words, the more fat that was in the ice cream, the more people liked it.”

As Searcy stated, “Now, isn’t that one of the ironies of life? Why can’t fried chicken, which happens to be my favorite food, be as good for you as an apple?  I have never heard a doctor say—’A fried chicken leg a day will keep the doctor away.’ The reason they say that is because if you had fried chicken every morning for breakfast, it would probably keep the doctor nearby because your cholesterol would shoot up. I guess I’ll have to settle for apples.”2

And who doesn’t like a good fatty ice cream? As a kid we even used to pour pure cream over our ice cream. Yum! Yum! We had no idea how unhealthy that was.

Temptation, too, can have an overpowering attraction and appeal. It can look fabulous and at first taste very inviting—but in the long run its effects are deadly. It reminds me of an extremely beautiful fish that is found on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It’s only very small but its sting is incredibly painful. It needs to be avoided at all cost. Same with sin. Regardless how attractive it appears, its end result is deadly so it needs to be avoided at all costs. As Searcy said, “When we give in to temptation, we always regret it because in the long run we always give up something greater for instant gratification right now.”3

Suggested Prayer: “Dear God, please help me to remember that while sin’s temptation can be very appealing, it always pays self-destructive dividends. Through Your Spirit please give me the strength to resist the lures of the evil one—and the good sense to always depend on You and not try to fight it in my own strength. Thank You for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus’s name, amen.”

11 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV).
2. Nelson Searcy. Source: KneEmailkneemail-subscribe@welovegod.org.
3. Ibid.

Discipline vs. Punishment

DISCIPLINE VS. PUNISHMENT

Richard Innes

1956, London, England, UK — Seretse Khama, later the first President of Botswana when it gained independence, with his wife Ruth, and children in the garden of their Croydon home. — Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

God said, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.” – Revelation 3:19, NIV

Nine-year-old Al had disobeyed his father who, as a strict disciplinarian, sent him with a note to a police station in London. When Al came in late after curfew, his father met him at the door and handed him a note and said, “Take it to the jailhouse.”

Al was terrified.

“The officer, a friend of his father, opens the note, reads it, and nods,. ‘Follow me.’ He leads the wide-eyed youngster to a jail cell, opens the door, and tells him to enter. The officer clangs the door shut. ‘This is what we do to naughty boys,’ he explains and walks away…. The jail sentence lasts only five minutes. But those five minutes felt like five months. Al never forgot that day. The sound of the clanging door, he often told people, stayed with him the rest of his life.

“The fear of losing a father’s love exacts a high toll. Al spent the rest of his life hearing the clanging door. That early taste of terror contributed to his lifelong devotion to creating the same in others. For Al—Alfred Hitchcock—made a career out of scaring people.” (From UpWords from Max Lucado, www.maxlucado.com)

True, discipline is important, but it always needs to fit the crime. Some children are impaired for life because of severe punishment as a child. Others are left terrified if they were beaten severely or abused. It is imperative that parents never discipline out of anger because that is punishment, not discipline. Discipline always needs to be in love. 

Those whom God loves, he disciplines in love—not punishes in anger. We need to do the same with our children.

Suggested Prayer:

“Dear God, thank You that when You discipline me it is always out of Your love for me and for my good. Help me to do the same when disciplining my children. May it always be in love and never out of anger. Thank You for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully in Jesus’ name, amen.”

1 Little Thing to Think About Before You Give Up

1 LITTLE THING TO THINK ABOUT BEFORE YOU GIVE UP

Angel Chernoff

If you feel like you’re completely stuck in life right now with nowhere to go, realize you are lying to yourself. You have imprisoned yourself in your own mind by telling self-defeating stories — stories about what your life should be like, what should or should not have happened, and so on and so forth. By doing this you’ve created a tiny space in your mind and you’ve begun to believe you are actually living in it.

But you are NOT. You are alive in a vast world with infinite destinations. Take a moment to remind yourself of this. Go outside. Look at the sky and the clouds. THIS is the space in which you really live. Breathe it in. Then look at your current situation again.

When someone younger than me (or someone who simply has far less life experience) asks me about how to overcome the pain and frustration associated with life’s unexpected setbacks, this is how I explain it to them (Please note that I’m not suggesting YOU are younger than me or have less life experience. This is just an example.):

Life Experience Chart

Look at the circles above. The black circles represent our relative life experiences. Mine is larger because I am older than you and have experienced more in my lifetime. The smaller red circles represent a negative event that has taken place in our lives. Assume we both experienced the same exact event, whatever the nature. Notice that the negative event circles are the same size for each of us; but also notice what percentage of the area they occupy in each of the black circles. Your negative event seems much larger to you because it is a greater percentage of your total life experiences. I am not diminishing the importance of this event; I simply have a different perspective on it.

What you need to understand is that an overwhelmingly painful and frustrating event in your life right now will one day be part of your much larger past (and pool of experience) and not nearly as significant as it seems in this moment.

Hopefully knowing this changes your perspective and gives you a good reason to NOT give up. And truthfully, this is just one small example of how you can shift your thinking and renew your sense of hope. The bottom line is that you can make many small, internal adjustments starting today that will help you feel better, think more clearly, and grow beyond life’s painful setbacks when they happen.

Demonstrate Love

DEMONSTRATE LOVE

Family Life Radio

Victoria’s heart hurt. She’d just received news, a few days before, that the marriage of her best friend, Callie, had unexpectedly hit a breaking point. Although they were a part of her church family, few people really knew what was going on.

When she walked in to teach her Sunday school class, she could see the pain on the faces of Callie’s two youngest children. She silently prayed, “Lord, what can I do?”
 
She stepped up and greeted the kids in a different way. She said, “I am sad today. And it’s okay to be sad. Lots of times we put on a smile for everyone to see on the outside, but inside we hurt. You wouldn’t know that I was sad today, except that I told you.”
 
She then asked the children for a hug. “When our hearts hurt, we can share the love that God puts in our hearts with one another, and it helps us feel better. Would anyone want to give me a hug, today?” Immediately all of the children lined up. As she hugged each child, some of them admitted to her that they needed a hug too, including Callie’s children.
 
The atmosphere in the room changed. Her simple demonstration of honesty and love had turned things around for her entire classroom. She encouraged her children to ask for a hug from others if they felt they needed one during the next week.

Today’s One Thing

Demonstrate God’s love to someone in a special way today. If you’re not sure how, ask God to show you. There are times in our lives where our authenticity can open the door for our friends or family to share with us things they may be facing or even encourage them to know that no one has a perfect life. We are all struggling together and can lean on one another and God for help in our time of need!

What to Know Before Adopting a Child

WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE ADOPTING A CHILD

David Dodge

There are three main paths to adopting. The route you choose will be based on personal, legal and financial factors.

THE GIST

  • There are two main ways to adopt a newborn within the United States: through an agency or a private attorney. The latter is referred to as an “independent” or “private” adoption. 
  • International adoption is becoming less common and more difficult, but an accredited adoption agency or professional can help you navigate the process. 
  • Adopting through foster care is essentially free and comes with support — but make sure you have the capacity to help a foster child succeed.  
  • If you are exploring the possibility of adopting a child with a different background from your own, educate yourself on the nuances involved in forming a transracial or transcultural family.  
  • All adoptive parents must complete a “home study,” the process that will clear your way to being able to legally adopt.  
  • Most adoptions today have some degree of contact between birth and adoptive families. Just how “open” your arrangement is will be determined via a negotiated process.  
  • Adoption can cost as much as $50,000 — but resources exist to help offset some expenses. 

The process of adopting can be a long, complicated and emotional ride, with far more legal and financial roadblocks than many people assume. But, as most adoptive parents will tell you, it’s also a deeply fulfilling journey.  

There are three main paths to adopting in the United States: through the foster care system, with the help of a local adoption agency or private attorney, and internationally. The route you choose will ultimately be based on a number of personal, legal and financial factors.  

Know your reasons for adopting — and accept your limits.

Before embarking on an adoption process, you should be clear about your motivations for doing so. “This is a lifelong decision you’re making,” said Rita Soronen, president and C.E.O. of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, so it’s important to be honest about any specific needs you may have. Any limit you identify should not be construed as a “failure,” Soronen clarified. “It’s an honest personal assessment.” Below are some of the more common questions adoption experts suggest you explore to help identify whether and which kind of adoption is right for you:  

  • Is it important to you to parent a newborn, or are you open to adopting an older child? How about a sibling group? 
  • Would your home be an appropriate fit for a child with special needs? Or an infant who was exposed prenatally to drugs and alcohol?  
  • If you are matched with a child of another race or background, are you prepared to educate yourself on the nuances of forming an interracial or intercultural family? 
  • How much contact are you comfortable having between you and your adopted child, and his or her birth family? 

There are tons of resources available online to explore these and many other issues related to adoption. The federal government’s Child Welfare Information Gateway provides free resources on a wide variety of topics and is a good place to start your research. A number of well-regarded non-profit resources exist as well, including: AdoptUsKidsCreating a Family, the National Council for Adoption, and the North American Council on Adoptable Children. 

Decide which adoption path is right for you.

  • Foster-adopt: According to the United States Children’s Bureau, there are over 440,000 children in the foster care system, over a quarter of who have been legally “freed” for adoption. This makes foster care “a very real option” for prospective adoptive parents, said Laurie Goldheim, Adoption Director for the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys (A.A.A.A.). While children who have not been legally “freed” may eventually become eligible for adoption, Goldheim stresses that the government’s primary goal in these instances is to reunite the children with their biological families. 

“These children are in foster care for a reason,” said Soronen of the Dave Thomas Foundation. Most are school-aged children over the age of 8 who have suffered some form of trauma or neglect. The Child Welfare Information Gateway has some resources to help prepare foster-adopt parents for the realities of parenting a child who has experienced grief. 

But the best training you’ll receive, according to Soronen, comes once you’ve begun the certification process. “Every parent is required to complete a home study and 20 to 30 hours of training,” she said. “It’s time-consuming, but very educational.” Soronen says this process can also serves as a “reality check” for parents, meaning you’ll have “plenty of opportunities to decide whether foster-adopt is right for you.” As a first step, she recommends simply making a call to a certified foster care agency to begin the conversation. 

  • Domestic infant adoption: If you hope to parent a newborn, there are two main paths to doing so: through an adoption agency or a private adoption lawyer—the latter is often referred to as an “independent” or “private” adoption. “Which you choose will really just depend on how involved you want to be in the process,” said Deborah E. Guston, former Director of the A.A.A.A. An adoption agency, she explained, typically manages all aspects of the adoption process for you, from start to finish. 

If you adopt independently, you will be responsible for aspects an agency would normally handle, like finding a prospective birth parent through advertising, and hiring an agency to conduct your home study. “Independent adoptions are usually good for people who want to be deeply involved in the process,” Guston said. “Those who don’t mind ceding control may prefer the comfort of an agency.” Independent adoption isn’t legal in all states, and even where available, restrictions often apply. Consult an experienced adoption lawyer for help navigating the laws in your state. 

  • International adoption: Adopting abroad has been steadily declining in recent years, thanks to the closure of several countries’ international adoption programs. Still, thousands of parents successfully adopt children from abroad each year. The process for doing so can vary considerably by country. “Some restrict who can adopt based on marital status, sexual orientation, or age,” said Goldheim of the A.A.A.A. “Even your body mass index can play a role.” You can visit the U.S. Department of State’s page on intercountry adoption to familiarize yourself with individual countries’ adoption laws — be sure to keep checking back since laws can change rapidly. An accredited provider will be necessary to guide you through the process. 

Choose your adoption professionals carefully.

Finding an adoption agency or lawyer can be a daunting prospect. As a first step, Becky Fawcett of HelpUsAdopt.org suggests tapping your own network. “Just start talking about it with people you trust,” said Fawcett. “Sometimes you’ll be surprised by who has a good recommendation — you never know who may have been touched by adoption in some way.” 

You can also search online. The Child Welfare Information Gateway maintains a directory of all state-certified adoption and foster care agencies. If adopting independently, the Academy of Adoption & Assisted Reproduction Attorneys is generally regarded as the best resource for finding a lawyer. If looking abroad, you can find professionals who are licensed to conduct international adoptions through the Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity

The relationship that exists between prospective adoptive parents and their professionals is an “intimate” one, says Guston of the A.A.A.A. “So it really is important to not make your decision lightly — call several agencies and lawyers and ask lots of questions.” 

Prepare for the home study.

No matter which adoption path you choose, you will be required to complete a home study, the process that clears the way for you to legally adopt. “A good home study will have two parts: evaluation and education,” said Dawn Davenport, Executive Director of the non-profit group, Creating a Family. “Your case worker should be assessing your fitness to serve as an adoptive parent, as well as educating you and providing you with resources.” 

Though it varies by state and by agency, home studies generally take anywhere from three to six months to complete and include: several visits to your home by a case worker, health exams, proof of income and health coverage, a criminal background check, and the names of several people close to you who can serve as references. For more detailed information on what to expect from and how to prepare for the home study process, explore resources made available by the Child Welfare Information Gateway and Creating a Family.

Decide how “open” you want your adoption to be.

There is a clear trend in the United States towards maintaining some degree of contact between birth and adoptive families, thanks in part to ongoing research that has found benefits for all involved. Just how “open” your arrangement is will be the result of a negotiated process between you and your child’s birth family. “It can range anywhere from letters being exchanged once a year on the child’s birthday, to frequent in person visits,” said Davenport of Creating a Family. 

Even in the case of a “closed” adoption, Davenport notes that children will still be able to access some identifying information about their birth parents when they turn 18. The popularity of commercially available DNA testing services, like Ancestry.com and 23andMe, has also made the process of finding birth relatives so easy that the notion of an entirely “closed adoption” is now all but obsolete. Creating a Family dedicates several resources on its website to open adoption as does the Child Welfare Information Gateway

Know the costs.

Adopting through foster care is essentially free and often comes with subsidies. But the costs associated with other paths can be considerable. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, an agency adoption generally ranges from $20,000 to $45,000, an independent adoption from $15,000 to $40,000, and an international adoption from $20,000 to $50,000. 

“With so many children needing good homes, cost should never be the reason people don’t adopt,” said Fawcett, whose organization, HelpUsAdopt.org, provides donations of up to $15,000 to help offset the costs of adoption. A number of additional grant and loan opportunities are also available. “Also be sure to check with your employer,” Fawcett said, as many offer adoption benefits or assistance programs. Also, check to see if you qualify for the adoption tax credit

A note for single, unmarried, and LGBTQ prospective adoptive parents.

Some states have enacted bills that allow state welfare agencies to legally discriminate against people on the basis of religion: this has complicated the efforts of some prospective adoptive parents who identify as LGBTQ, are single, or are part of an unmarried couple. If adopting through an agency, choose one listed on the Human Rights Campaign’s All Children – All Families database of agencies committed to nondiscriminatory policies. The LGBT Bar Association’s Family Law Institute also maintains a directory of lawyers committed to diversity.

SOURCES

Becky Fawcett, Founder and Director, HelpUsAdopt, December 20, 2018  

Deborah E. Guston, Esq. Immediate Past President, Adoption & Assisted Reproduction Attorneys (A.A.A.A.), January 9, 2019. 

Laurie Goldheim, Esq., Adoption Director, Adoption & Assisted Reproduction Attorneys (A.A.A.A.), January 8, 2019. 

Dawn Davenport, Executive Director, Creating a Family, January 14, 2018. Rita Soronen, President and C.E.O., the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, January 16, 2019.