Keep in mind that it’s Christmas Eve as I type this…

This morning as I drank my coffee, sitting at the dining room table, I looked into the family room at our Christmas tree and the gifts stacked under it. The idea of gift giving and what kinds of gifts we give began to churn through my barely caffeinated mind. The thoughts expanded to include the time of year, the pending New Year, resolutions people make and more.  Soon I realized I was thinking about the gifts that we should be giving… to others as well as to ourselves. The most interesting thing, I think, is that not a single one of them can be wrapped.

Gifts We Can Give To Others:

Let’s start out with friendship. All too often we use the word ‘friend’ to refer to anyone we know. Words like ‘tribe’ and ‘squad’ have come to replace the word ‘family.’ It’s interesting to me that the use of those terms seems to have grown as people try to differentiate between true friends and just acquaintances, workmates or others they run into day to day. I have a family. I have my wife, my four children, my grandchildren. I have my brothers and sisters. They are family. I have friends although not many of them. They are men and women I have been through life’s trials with; served with; shed blood beside; grown up with (I’ve known my best friend for almost 51 years as I type this). But if I were to count all my friends, I couldn’t fill the fingers on both hands. I have to think to get past five. Getting to ten just doesn’t happen. Now if I start to count acquaintances, workmates, etc. then you might as well just use the number on my Facebook account which is pushing 500. Those people aren’t all my friends (some of them are); they’re people I know. There’s a difference.

Friendship is a gift you can give. It requires a level of loyalty, a lack of criticism, a sense of empathy and something strong in common. It’s not a gift you always get in return and, once learning that, you need to throttle the friendship you give to protect yourself from being used. Being someone’s friend is something to be taken seriously and must be respected by both parties. If you can give friendship this year, it’s one of the greatest gifts you hold.

To those you give the gift of friendship you should also give the gift of support. I don’t mean financially, although my friends have certainly helped me financially (and vice versa) in the past. I mean emotionally. All of us go through times that aren’t easy; the trials and tribulations of life; the challenges of failing relationships, lost jobs, or even just overwhelming self-doubt. It happens. To your friends, give your support. Help them with kind words and reassurances even when they seem bound and determined to be negative. Offer them the kindness… the gift of positive words and the warmth of your friendship.

If your friend is welcoming of your statements and actions in support, then the next step is morphing those into gentle encouragement; into motivation. You can’t solve your friends’ problems. You CAN offer them advice and encouragement so that they can move forward and solve their own problem(s). You can help to motivate them to make improvements in their own outlook, actions and plans so that their days become ever more focused on the positive and improvement rather than the negative and self-pity or a sense of defeat. The gift of motivation is one that isn’t difficult to give but the person receiving it finally determines whether or not it’s appreciated.

Sometimes the best thing we can give a friend is a listening ear. Sometimes they just need to “let it out.” My wife comes home from work almost every day needing to vent. I know it. I do the same thing. A bad work day means I need to voice my frustrations whether they are with something or someone. She has the same needs. If she’s had a bad day at work, she just needs fifteen minutes to vocalize the frustrations. She doesn’t need (or want) me to offer advice on how to solve problems I hear, or what she should do about that particularly lazy employee. She just needs me to listen. Sometimes, that listening ear is the best thing we can give. The only limit I place is when the person venting decides to be obsessive about it. Vent. Get it out. Release those frustrations. “Come down” from work. Then move on. You’re not there. The rest of the day is yours. Don’t cling to that frustration. There comes a point where I saw, “Okay… you need to let this go.”

Gifts We Can Give To Ourselves:

One of the greatest, most empowering lessons of life we can learn is that the past is the past and it cannot be changed. The cool part is that it’s no longer reality either. It’s the past. It’s a memory. No, we can’t change it, but we are not chained by it either. It does not control our present and has very little impact on our future. The future, by the way, is our imagination. It’s not real either. If we live in the past, we’re focusing on what has been and that does us no good in shaping what will be (except for lessons learned which we’ll discuss in a moment). If we always think about the future, with no concern or recognition of the reality of the present, then we are living in dreams while making no real effort to change the dreams into goals. The challenge we face is balancing all of it. If we fail to make our dreams into goals, then when time passes we build regrets. Regrets focus either on what we didn’t do that we wanted to or what we did do that we wish we hadn’t. You can’t change either one… once they are past. What you can do is stop focusing on the regrets and instead, invest that energy into making the future you want. Plan and work toward your goals – which is making your dreams come true. Gift yourself the gift of having no regrets (or as few as possible).

One thing we can do to help in our planning and working toward our goals is learning from our mistakes. Life’s lessons shouldn’t be overlooked or forgotten. These are different from regrets. These are the times when life throws a challenge at you and your ability to handle it or overcome it isn’t as great as you’d like for it to be. In hindsight, with a critical and analytical thought process, you can learn from the mistakes you made as you attempted to overcome the challenge. Those lessons learned should be incorporated into your future plans as you continue to work toward your goals. Learning from your mistakes is one of the most beneficial self-improvement tasks you can complete. And we should all be doing it constantly. Give yourself the gift of honestly recognizing your mistakes and learning from them.

Why would we do any of that? Because we all have goals we want to achieve. Those goals – the dreams we want to make come true and are actively working toward achieving – are a large part of what drives us. That drive can come and go. Sometimes it’s high and sometimes it’s low and that throttle level is entirely dependent on your outlook. Give yourself the gift of a positive outlook to keep up your drive level so you can more efficiently work toward your goals.

Sometimes… on occasion… our drive just completely crashes. Our motivation seems to dissipate like smoke on a breezy morning. Those are the times we just want to pull the covers up over our head and pretend the world doesn’t exist. We just want to be lazy and do nothing. Unfortunately that only accomplishes two things: usually it ends up with us wallowing in self-pity and it definitely keeps us from working toward those goals. On the days or in the moments when you can’t find your motivation – your positive outlook – find your discipline. When motivation fails, discipline will see you through. The statement, “You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it,” definitely applies to the process of working toward achieving a goal. Not feeling motivated today but not wanting to sacrifice the work you’ve done toward a goal? Discipline yourself into doing what needs to be done. Give yourself the gift of discipline.

The good news is that if you give yourself those gifts, and you share your gifts with others, it is inevitable that you will grow steadily happier with the person you see in the mirror. Your emotional state, physical being and mental health will all gradually improve. Your clarity of thought and understanding of life around you will improve. Your motivation will feed your discipline and vice versa and your performance at tasks will improve (and get easier usually). The compound value of giving yourself all these gifts is the greatest gift you can give yourself at all: an improved quality of life. So, live a better life: give the gifts to your friends and yourself and alter the path of your life day by day.

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