Things My Dog Taught Me: What I Love, Others May Find Disgusting

June 25, 2013

dog eating poop

I am sad to report to the blogosphere that we put our beloved dog, Ginger, to sleep recently.  It’s been very hard for me, a crushing grief envelops me much of the time.  To review Ginger’s story, four years ago this past May, she was diagnosed with terminal mast cell cancer and given 30 to 90 days to live.  She was a true fighter with an amazing spirit and she taught me much.  By the way, the cancer didn’t kill her.  She died of old age.  For 14 years she was part of my life.  So, I’ve written a whole series of blogs called “What My Dog Taught Me”, which eventually, I will turn into a book.

In honor of her passing, I am revisiting this series of blogs and adding more topics.  This is one that I have been thinking about for a while.  Ginger loved to eat cat poop, especially toward the end.  She could barely walk, yet, when we left the house, she barreled down our driveway to go across the street in order to sniff out the latest offerings from one of the neighborhood cats.

When it was cold outside, it was tolerable, because the cat poop turned into cat-sickles.  But when it was hot outside, the cat poop was not so easy to tolerate.  It was really stinky, and Ginger managed to get it all over her mouth.  The same mouth that I usually kissed.  Very Disgusting.

But the point is:  SHE LOVED CAT POOP!  Although I found it disgusting, she absolutely loved it.  It motivated her.  She fought for it, tugging on the leash for all that she was worth. So what is the lesson here?  I think it’s a lesson in empathy.  There are some things that others do or say or practice that I find less than acceptable, and in some cases, down right disgusting.  I don’t have to approve of what they do or condone it or promote it.  But I think it is incumbent on me as a human being to do my best to accept and honor the things that they love no matter how I feel about it as long as it doesn’t harm others in some way.

If we could all do that, I think the world would be a better place.


A Poem for our Dads

August 3, 2012

We buried our fathers (2012)

We buried our fathers,

Finally realizing what they taught us

through patient living

and stepping up to their responsibilities.

Mr. Smith, Mr. Heavern, my dad,

all heroes by not trying to be heroes;

working every single day,

providing all of the basic necessities

of food, clothing, shelter, and love.

They never really asked for much,

rarely complained

about life’s unfairness

or what they left behind;

young man dreams of

world travel, riches, fame,

world changing inventions,

that unwritten novel,

intentions of greatness,

lost in a life of unseen dreams.

They were made great by their plodding life

that left a legacy of

decent human beings

who now raise their children

and live their lives

in the same common,

yet, uncommon manner.

Things My Dog Taught Me: You Can Get Spoiled if You Don’t Watch Out

July 6, 2012

When we thought our dog, Ginger, was dying, when we thought death was imminent, we decided to give her whatever she wanted.  Now don’t get me wrong.  She was fairly spoiled before this.   But since April, since we have bowed down to her every whim and every command, she is spoiled beyond reason.  She barks at us until she gets her way.  If there is food out of her reach, say at the dinner table, she will stand at the table, look up, and bark until the food is dispensed into her tummy.  If we are not all together when one of us heads to bed, then she barks and herds us until we are all in the same room.  She barks to go out.  She barks to come back in.  She refused to eat her “dog” food and insists on cooked turkey now.  Note to self.  Dogs have their own timetable on their own deaths and it is probably good not to spoil the crap out of them.
The lesson for me was clear.  I realize that I am extremely spoiled.  Having my own business has its challenges, but is also has some great perks.  I work out of the house so I don’t have a commute.  I create my own schedule for the most part.  I try to take every Friday off along with my wife.  I don’t have kids so I have no sports to coach or view or college to pay for.  I usually take a few extra days when I am traveling to enjoy wherever I am.  I tell people that I am so spoiled I don’t think I could ever work for anyone again.  And that is true. What this reflection has given me is a whole new level or respect for the people I work with in these programs.  They have very tough, demanding jobs that require 50 to 80 hours per week.  They have families with children.  Sometimes many children.  They are involved in their churches and communities.  They coach their kid’s sports teams.  How in the world do they do all of that stuff?  It amazes me.  I bow down to them and their resilience, patience, stamina, and energy.
I wonder sometimes how they find the time to run errands, to have a hobby, or to have any time for themselves.  We always recommend that they find some reflection time for themselves every day, but I can’t imagine the difficulty in doing that consistently.   I talked last time about my dog being the Lance Armstrong in the canine world, miraculously surviving cancer the last three years.  I have to say that these folks that do all of these miraculous things every single day are the heroes in my book.  They keep going and they abide and they don’t really complain or wish for another life.  Not out loud anyway. So although I don’t have all of the answers for you or the people in my programs, I want everyone out this heroic situation to know that there is someone on this planet who puts them way up on the respect pedestal.  You are amazing.  Thank you for all that you do.
I talk more about this concept of life balance in my book, Stress Management, Time Management, and Life Balance for Tough Guys.  Check out my website for more info.
More on what my dog taught me next time.

Family Smackdown: Using the Social Aspect to Create Lasting Change

October 5, 2011

I just read a great book called Change Anything by 5 different people.  It’s an empirical study of how people create change.  What are the factors involved?  They narrowed it down to three:

1.  Personal

2.  Environmental

3.  Social

Each one has a  motivational component and an ability component.  You have to be motivated to change, then attain the ability to do so.  You have to take personal responsibility. Jesus asked one person, “Do you want to be healed?”  Then you have to create the environment for change.  Don’t buy a bunch of snacks at the grocery store and think that you can use your will power to not eat them.  The last part, and I think likely the most important part, is the social aspect of change.  Let people in your life know what you are trying to do.  Build in the accountability, connection, and encouragement.  We have found that we get much better results with groups than we do with individuals.

We work not only with emotional intelligence, but mental and physical peak performance.  It all works together to create amazing, lasting changes personally and professionally.  One recent group of 21 top leaders lost over 200 pounds as a group and significantly increased their emotional competence, especially their interpersonal skills.

A couple of the guys decided to bring their family in on the fun.  As a family, they decided on some goals and put them into a spread sheet. One of the guys called it The Family Smackdown.  It was a competition.  The family members who did the most activities over an eight week period won cash prizes.

The items were:

Sleep (7 hours)

Water (8 glasses)

No sugar

No junk food

Fruits and vegetables (2 servings each)


Scriptures (15 minutes) and two prayers

No eating after 9 pm

Act of kindness

It energized the family and helped the participant and his family members to make those positive changes.  And these initiatives tend to linger long after the end of the program.

There is a friend of mine on Facebook who I have known for 30 years.  One day, she put on Facebook that she was going to start walking.  She wrote every single day after she finished her morning walk and created quite a following.  Some days, there were more than 50 comments, encouraging her and reinforcing that behavior.  And she kept walking.  At the one year mark, there were over dozens of people who commented on her status, encouraging her and congratulating her.  One person gave her a very expensive pair of walking shoes as a gift for making the one year mark.  She is up to 459 days and she has now lost  60 pounds and her outlook has totally changed.  Would she have attained these results without that social aspect?  Perhaps.  But it is a powerful testament to adding the social into any change endeavor that you have.  She has inspired many others to walk.  And another friend who has encouraged her has put on Facebook that he is going to quit smoking.

Change is hard.  Period.  And we need all the help and encouragement we can get.  So accept the personal responsibility, create that environment for change, and get as many people in on the process as possible!

For all of you Tough Guys out there: How to knock off the rough edges.

August 31, 2011

Many of you know about my “Tough Guy” series of books:

Communication and Presentation Skills for Tough Guys

Relationship Skills for Tough Guys:  The 12 Steps to Great Relationships

Stress Management, Time Management, and Life Balance for Tough Guys

And make not mistake.  The term “guy” is gender neutral.  There are plenty of female tough guys out there.

I am now combining these into one book called The Tough Guy Survival Kit and hope to have it out by Christmas.

These books were written especially for all of those tough guys out there.  I work mainly in the construction industry and help contractors, architects, and engineers with their social competence and “soft” skills.  But there is nothing soft about these skills.  They are essential for success in life and work.  Is there a tough guy in your life?

Here are the top 10 Tough Guy Tips for knocking off the rough edges and becoming better with communication and relationships:

1.  Avoid the use of I and me in your conversations.  This forces you to make it all about the other person.

2.  Avoid starting questions with the word “why”.  It sounds like an interrogation, and the other person will likely be put on the defensive.  Find a way to ask the same question with the other reporter questions:  what, where, when, how.  And “What the hell were you thinking?” doesn’t count.

3.  Smile.  I know it’s tough.  But it puts people at ease and opens them up.  It also reduces your stress.

4.  It’s not about the information.  It’s about making a connection with others.  Instead of a transaction, try to create a positive emotional experience.  Whether it is your spouse, your kids, or the person at the grocery store, this makes your encounters with others much more meaningful.

5.  Try this empathy exercise:  Get rid of the kids for a while, sit your spouse down and ask them to tell you about their day.  You can’t offer any suggestions, comments, or criticisms.  You can’t tell them what they should have done.  All you have to do is listen and try to determine what emotions they were feeling throughout their day.  And that is the only comment you can offer:  “That must have made you feel . . . ”

6.  An old man told me before my wedding a sage piece of advice:  “You can be right or you can be happy.  And the choice is yours.”  Think about this one.

7.  Whenever anyone gives you advice or a comment or criticism, just say thanks.  Nothing else.  Just thanks.

8.  Build in personal reflection time EVERY DAY!  This can be prayer time, meditation time, quiet time, vision time or whatever you want to call it.  It doesn’t have to be long, but it has to be consistent.

9.  Lighten up.  Don’t take things so seriously.  This too shall pass.  In the movie Stripes, there is a soldier who tells everyone he will kill them for any minor infraction.  The Sergeant tells him,  “Lighten up, Francis!”

10.  Spend more time with your spouse, kids, and pets.  Check in with them often.  Don’t sacrifice you or your family for work.  Remember, when most people are on your death bed, they rarely if ever say, “Gosh, I wish I could have worked a little more!”

There will be more tough guy tips to come.  And tough guys, once they get it, really do make the positive changes in their lives.  So for all of those with tough guys in their lives, hang in there!

How to increase your oxytocin and boost the quality of your relationships

August 30, 2011

Oxytocin is an amazing hormone.  It is called the “cuddle” hormone and is secreted by mothers and babies when mothers are breastfeeding.  It is also released during orgasm and when we have basic human contact with others.  From handshakes to pats on the back to massage, that human touch starts the production of oxytocin.  It gives us that feeling of warmth and connection.  We naturally mirror the emotions of the person sitting across from us.  Mirror neurons in our brains fire without any conscious thought.  Emotions are, indeed, contagious from a  physiological point of view.  Try this experiment.  Get a partner and try not to show any emotion.  Then ask them to put a great big, genuine smile on their face.  What happens? Your mirror neurons kick in and you WANT to smile.  It’s involuntary and automatic.  Can you look at the following photo and not smile?

Think of the power of that connection and what you can do to affect it during your next encounter with another human being.

There was a study done where men sorted pictures of angry faces.  Normally this triggers a response in the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain.  These negative faces trigger a negative emotional response.  But they took half the men and had them inhale oxytocin.  The other half  inhaled a placebo.  The men who inhaled the oxytocin showed far less activity in the amygdala and far less negative emotions.

So, short of breastfeeding, how do we boost our own levels of oxytocin? There are no supplements or foods that naturally boost this amazing hormone.  But there are some things we can do.

1.  Smile.  Smiling not only releases lots of good hormones in your body, including oxytocin, it will excite the mirror neurons of the person sitting across from you.  They will be much more likely to “catch” your emotion that you are sending them.

2.  Make an emotional connection.  Ask the person how they are truly feeling.  Try to empathize with their situation.  Show real concern.  Remember, treat everyone kindly because we are all fighting epic battles.  This concern for another human being starts the oxytocin pumping.

3.  Reach out and touch someone.  What do they do every two hours to premature babies?  They hold them and feed them.  Humans need human touch.  One story from a Romanian orphanage tells of a child that survived in a room full of kids because he was near the door.  As the attendant turned out the light and shut the door, she touched the kid on her way out.  He was the only one that made it out alive and owes his life to human touch.  So look for appropriate ways to impart touch to someone else.  Ken Blanchard talks about the literal pat on the back.  Take every opportunity to give a good, warm, open, inviting handshake (and it won’t hurt to smile while you do it).  Hugs are also great things and I find myself hugging more, even in business settings.

4.  Send love.  I know this sounds a little esoteric, but emotions create energy and that energy will affect the outcome of any situation. So if you put yourself in a good emotional state of love or even a state of positive thinking, the people across from you will pick up on that energy and it will affect them and the outcome.  I have found that this works even with the most hard boiled people and the most contentious situations.

If you try these ways to increase oxytocin and improve your relationships, you will find that people will be much more receptive and open.  I would love to hear about your experiments with this approach.  Post here or let me know via email.


Thursday’s BDI Buzz: Primal Safety Coloring Book

August 18, 2011

This week’s “Buzz Book” is such a neat concept! There’s no trickery—it’s exactly what it sounds like, a coloring book. But read on, there is a connection between construction work and coloring books that makes a lot of sense.

Brent’s not implying that construction workers should be picking this up on their lunch hour with a box of crayons. Instead, this book is intended to facilitate the very important conversation about work safety with your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

There’s no arguing that technical careers hold a daily safety risk unparalleled to any other job. And just as much as it’s important for the workers to know and practice good safety habits, it’s equally as important that the youth in their life begin to understand these same habits from an early age. Whether they follow in their family’s footsteps and continue a career in the construction industry, or are simply in a car that drives by a construction site one day, the lessons learned in this book are important. These safety skills are applicable to any career and help to foster a mindset of safety and caution. Furthermore, when a worker shares this with someone close to them, they’re going to remember these same principles the next day on the job and the importance they carry in keeping them safe and bringing them back home to their family.

The best part about this book isn’t just the great graphics, fun captions or that it’s written in both English and Spanish—it’s that all proceeds of this coloring book goes to help the families of those who have been injured on construction projects in the memory of Brent’s father, Bob A. Darnell.

Buy it here!