10 Reasons Why You Should Attend My Christian Mindfulness Retreat In Ireland

Can We Actually Get Smarter?

This article originally appeared here:

Do you remember how hard it was to learn how to tie your shoes?  For many of us, our initial experience with shoe-tying is buried under a heavy pile of childhood memories.  If you have young children, however, this challenge may be easier to recall.  How does it go....the rabbit hops around the tree and through the hole?  Something like that.  

For a child who's trying to make sense of the world, this seemingly simple task can overwhelm and frustrate the senses.  Over time, though, shoe-tying becomes less arduous.  By the time we reach adulthood, we're able to multitask while tying our shoes in the morning.  After years of practice, the process is automatic.  Our brains know what to do without thinking about it. 

This is how the brain learns.  With time and repetition, the brain gets better at doing just about anything.  Whether we're playing the violin, fielding ground balls, painting portraits, or solving complex math problems, our brains improve with practice.  Brain science has a name for this - neuroplasticity.  Basically, this means that our brains can strengthen based on our behavior.  Our habits alter the capacity of the conscious brain. 

I think it's easier to understand neuroplasticity by imagining a popular hiking trail.  This particular route gets lots of foot traffic throughout the year.  It is clear of fallen trees and other debris.  Hikers move swiftly along the trail without difficulty.  

Now picture a less popular hiking trail.  It is overgrown with shrubs and branches.  A hiker finds this trail more challenging, since he has to carefully maneuver around the impediments in his way.  It takes much longer to travel on this path.  

Here's the connection.  Information moves across the "hiking trails" of our brains.  With time and repetition, these hiking trails (known as "neural pathways") become stronger.  Every time you practice tying your shoes, for example, you hone the neural pathways involved in this activity.  Practice makes your brain more efficient and capable of tasks that used to be impossible.

So, because of neuroplasticity, effort is more important than natural ability.  Regardless of how talented (or not) you might be at birth, you can train your brain to make gains in any endeavor.  The human brain gets smarter as it learns how to read, drive a car, fish, book plane tickets, cook lasagna, and shoot free throws.  Also, we can boost creativity, critical thinking, and other intellectual abilities with practice.  Isn't that amazing?

Neuroplasticity is at the heart of the work I do as a "mental conditioning" coach.  I help parents and teens form habits for success in school and life.  With practice, parents improve in many areas including communication, patience, flexibility, and optimism.  Teens grow stronger in aspects such as self-discipline, managing conflict, perseverance, and emotional regulation.  Every minute spent on developing these habits cultivates the neural pathways of success.

We got better at tying our shoes with practice.  It wasn't easy when we started.  Now, however, shoe-tying is an automatic task.  Thanks to neuroplasticity, our brains can become more adept at doing anything if we devote enough time and repetition to the enterprise.  This even applies to our intellectual abilities.  The sky is the limit!

7 Ways To Help Your Child Through A Divorce

“What about the kids?”


This question is often the most important concern on the minds of parents involved in a divorce.  There’s a good reason for that. In many cases, divorce leads to dismal outcomes for children. From lower self-esteem and health problems to depression and anger issues, divorce can deal a heavy blow to kids.  However, divorce doesn’t have to impact children this way.


Mental health experts claim that parents can make divorce easier on their kids by following certain guidelines.  Some of these ideas include the following:


Never criticize your ex in front of your kids.  Regardless of how much suffering you’ve experienced, resist the temptation to put down your ex or your ex’s family.  Children love both parents, and they also love both sets of grandparents, aunts, and uncles. If you insult your ex or your ex’s family, you’re creating more confusion and hurt for your child.  Instead, try to think of something good to say about your ex, even if it’s really hard.


Don’t try to buy your child’s affection.   Sometimes parents will attempt to make their kids feel better by buying expensive clothes, gadgets, trips, and other items.  While parents may think that this will help, it can end up backfiring. Spoiling a child only leads to more complications in school and elsewhere.  Kids who are used to getting everything they want become less resilient and are more likely to struggle when the going gets tough. Make the most of your time together with enjoyable activities that don’t break the bank.    


Have patience and show composure when dealing with your kids.  Remember that your kids are innocent victims of your separation.  Despite your own frustrations and pain related to the divorce, do your best to avoid lashing out at the children.  In addition, ensure that your kids know that they aren’t the cause of the divorce. Tell them how much you love them.  The home situation will be different from now on, but your children will always enjoy the love and affection of their parents.  


If possible, don’t uproot your kids.  Maintaining routines helps kids get through tough times.  Taking your children away from their friends and familiar places and activities makes them more susceptible to mental anguish.  Work with your ex to establish as much continuity as you can.


Forge strong relationships with your children, especially your teens.  By improving your communication skills, you grow closer to your kids.  Listening, giving and receiving constructive feedback, and resolving conflicts peacefully are skills you should try to develop.  You want your children to know that your line of communication is always open and that they should feel comfortable coming to you for advice and guidance.  By becoming more effective in expressing your views and respecting those of your child, you will strengthen the bond.


Incorporate happiness habits into your home life.  A branch of psychology known as the “science of happiness” has revealed certain behaviors and ways of thinking that make us happier.  By teaching and practicing happiness habits with your children, you get them on track for better lives while elevating your mood at the same time.  For ideas on how to have a happier home, check out my “Happy Family” Challenge.


Take care of yourself.  Your kids need you now more than ever.  Make sure you eat, sleep, and exercise well.  Spend time with supportive friends and family members.  Also, mindfulness meditations can help you manage your stress and find meaning during this traumatic period.  If you become emotionally overwhelmed, realize that this is a completely normal outcome for many people. Be willing to reach out for help.  There’s no shame in it!



Why Your Sports Team's Loss Is Bad For You

We love our sports teams, but sometimes our passion can have a negative impact on us.  Here's an article I wrote about the ways that your favorite team's loss is bad for you.

5 Ways To Teach Happiness To Kids




If you're like most parents, you want your kids to find happiness in life more than anything else. Despite the craziness of growing up (chores, sports practices, piano recitals, science projects, sibling rivalry, and on and on.....) parents want their kids to have adulthoods of meaning, purpose, and low stress. Is there anything we can do to help our children achieve this dream, or do we have to hope that happiness will descend from the heavens?


As it turns out, parents have a road map for guiding children towards emotional wellbeing. Over decades of research, the "science of happiness" has identified several habits that make happiness a more likely outcome for our kids. By teaching these happiness habits at home, we can help our children get on track for less stress, more resiliency, and more success at school and beyond.


Here are five tips for teaching happiness to kids:


1. Build a gratitude wall. Since gratitude makes us happier and healthier, it's a good idea to encourage kids to spend more time being grateful. Even if your kid is "wired to whine," he can get better at gratitude with practice. Try making a gratitude wall with Post-It notes. Every day, write down or draw a picture of two things for which you're grateful. Do this in the kitchen or another room where you spend a lot of time. This way you'll be reminded visually of the good things in your life, and you'll become more grateful as a result.


2. Say "screens are dessert." Want your kids to be happy and healthy? Think S.A.D. - "screens are dessert." Research has shown that excessive screen time leads to an unsettled and less focused brain. Point out the connection between "diet" and health. Is it OK for your child to eat ice cream and brownies all the time? Of course not! We should think the same way about screen time. Encourage a healthy "main course" of reading and exercise, preferably outside.


3. Bake cookies for a neighbor. Since kindness makes us happier and improves the quality of our social connections (an important predictor of emotional wellbeing), bake some cookies and bring them to a neighbor totally at random. Your kids (especially the younger ones) will love helping out in the kitchen. They will probably want to do this again and again, especially if they can sample some cookies along the way!


4. Create something. People who spend a lot of time being creative tend to be happier and less stressed. Encourage your child to use her imagination to create short stories, skits with neighborhood kids, silly songs, and works of art. Building a fort in the woods is a wonderful way to bond with friends while being creative.


5. Be curious. We're happier when we're learning new things and growing as people. Plus, the more you learn, the more creative you become. Pick a different state (or country) each week and learn as much as you can about it. You can include aspects of culture such as food, music, dance, and sports in meals and other family activities.


 Want to learn more ways to teach happiness habits, mindfulness, and creativity to your children while enjoying the rugged beauty of the west coast of Ireland?  You would love my Christian Mindfulness Retreat In Ireland!  It's the perfect way to become a better parent while treating yourself to a romantic getaway with your spouse. 



5 Fascinating Facts You Might Not Know About Ireland

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, people around the world are celebrating their Irish heritage (or they're pretending to be Irish for the moment).  Rivers are being dyed green, parades are filling city streets, and Irish music and dancing are entertaining the masses.  To help you get in the spirit, I'd like to share some fascinating facts you may not know about Ireland.   


1.  The highest mountain range in Ireland has the coolest name - Macgillycuddy's Reeks!


2.  There are no snakes in Ireland.  Legend has it that St. Patrick drove them out of the country.


3.  Ireland's population before the potato famine of the 1840s was larger than the country's population is today (it was around 8 million back then, and it's around 5 million now).


4.  During the 16th century, a legendary female pirate named Grace O'Malley ran raids off the west coast of Ireland.


5.  My sixth grade students love learning about one of Ireland's most popular sports, Gaelic football.  It is a blend of soccer, basketball, and rugby.  Here's a video that shows you what the game looks like -


Anxious Kid? How To Calm Your Child

The classroom buzzes with tension on a test day.  Many students handle the situation serenely, but others are absolutely freaking out.  Nervous kids tend to trigger a chain reaction of anxiety, and sometimes even the calmest children can be drawn into the vortex of negative energy. 


If you're a teacher, you know what I'm talking about.  Maybe you've experienced a similar situation as a parent of an anxious kid.  Of course, we all feel stressed and overwhelmed at times.  Perhaps you've had moments when your plate seems impossibly full with responsibilities, schedule demands, and chaos.  Any parent of a young child has likely lived through this scenario!


Let me suggest a strategy for helping your child and yourself manage a stressful situation.  This is a mindfulness activity I use in the classroom.  I also share this with the attendees of my Christian Mindfulness Retreat In Ireland.


The next time you feel a great deal of stress or anxiety, close your eyes.  Picture a television remote control.  Pick it up, and "change the channel" to one of three channels you have created in your mind.  Each channel represents something that is peaceful, meaningful, funny, supportive, or inspiring.  Spend a few minutes watching this new channel.  Allow yourself to be completely immersed in what you see and hear.  In time, you will feel your mood completely change.  Your mind will relax, allowing you to ace that test or conquer the challenge before you. 




5 Ways To Make Your Teen Happier

Pimples.  Hormonal changes.  Emotional extremes.  Argumentativeness.  Romantic relationships.  If you have an adolescent son or daughter, you may be living through these and other aspects of the teen years.  It's a period of great upheaval, for kids and parents (not to mention the teachers who never escape the drama of middle and high school).


Adolescence has always been hard, but today's teens are having an especially difficult time.  For a variety of reasons, teens are suffering from higher rates of stress, anxiety, and depression than ever before.  Consider this statistic:

- 17% of high school students seriously consider suicide (22.4% of girls)

That's unbelievable!  Unfortunately, the trend continues into the college years:

- 54% of college students have extreme anxiety

- 30% of college students suffer from severe depression


As parents, there are some strategies we can employ to help our teenage children endure this rough patch and emerge stronger in young adulthood.  We can practice these "protective factors" at home to boost our kids' emotional immune systems. 


Here are five ways to make teens happier and to promote long-term positive mental health:


1.  Have a consistent home or family routine.  I know how tough this can be.  My wife and I have four kids, and managing their sports schedules and social calendars seems harder than running a minor federal agency.        

A Risk-Free Fundraising Idea For Your Charity Or Nonprofit

Whether feeding the hungry, sheltering homeless animals, or providing other valuable services, charities and nonprofits impact society in many ways.  However, charities and nonprofits can't serve their communities without the funding that keeps them afloat.  Are you affiliated with a charity or nonprofit that requires donations?  If so, I have an idea that could help you raise money for your organization without spending a dime. 

When charities and nonprofits host in-person fundraisers, they often spend so much on speakers, bands, food, and other costs that they barely break even.  That's not the case with the project I have in mind.  As a speaker and the author of Teaching Happiness And Innovation, I would like to collaborate with you to create a different kind of fundraising event.

Here's the process I suggest:

1.  Reach out to your fans and supporters via social media, your website, and your email list.  Say something like this: "If you're a parent, you're probably interested helping your kids achieve happiness and success in school and life.  Well, we have a way for you to learn this valuable information while supporting our charity at the same time.  We're excited to announce that Mike Ferry, internationally-known speaker and author of Teaching Happiness And Innovation, will be our featured speaker on (choose a date and time).  He'll be talking about ways that parents can teach the art of happiness to their children.     

5 Tips For Getting A Raise

Would you like a raise?  Are you worried that your job might go to a robot someday?  Do you want to lower your stress level and improve your happiness?  


By boosting your creativity, you make yourself more valuable on the job.  This is even more important now, since 47% of jobs might be automated within the next 20 years.  Creativity also lowers your stress, giving you more energy and making you healthier as well.


Am I telling you that you can actually become more creative?  Yes!  While you may think that creativity is an innate ability you either do or don't have, research suggests otherwise.  We can train our brains to improve in many different ways, including creativity.


Creativity has never been more important in the history of the world.  We face challenges in commerce, medicine, public policy, ethics, and education.  Creative people will bring us to a brighter future.  Plus, creativity can help individuals who feel "stuck" and less happy than they did in previous years. 


Below are five simple things anyone can do to boost creativity.  These ideas come from my Creativity Retreat In Ireland.  At this event, I help people boost their creativity while practicing mindfulness and happiness habits on the gorgeous coast of County Donegal, Ireland.  This retreat benefits parents at home, in the workplace, and beyond.  While I can't promise that you'll get a raise, I know that these tips will lighten your mood and get those creative juices flowing.


1.  Read more.  Treat yourself to at least 15 minutes of pleasure reading every day.  The more we read, the more we learn.  The more we learn, the more creative we become.  Reading also exercises our imagination and lowers our stress.


2.   Laugh!  Laughter is great for your health.  It's been shown to improve your heart health, immune system, and energy level.  Plus, laughter can boost creativity by elevating your dopamine levels and getting your brain into a more relaxed state of being.  Check out a funny video on YouTube, read some jokes, or think back to a hilarious memory to get into a humorous mood.     


3.  Go for a walk.  Research shows that walking can make us more creative.  Resist the urge to multitask, though.  Leave the phone at home or at your desk and just enjoy the opportunity to get some exercise while your brain is making new connections and breakthroughs. 


4.  Avoid processed foods.  Diets rich in processed foods are associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression, and an unhappy mind can't be creative.  Focus on eating more fruits and vegetables to make your brain relaxed and ready to create.


5.  Listen to music.  When we hear music, our brains enter "mind-wandering mode."  During this time, it's much easier for us to think critically and creatively.  The effect is even stronger if you play a musical instrument.  Albert Einstein once said that he was able to do his best thinking after playing his violin for a few minutes.








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