Sink or Swim?

I’ve been reading a lot of content in the public mental health conversation lately that’s so focused on defending, telling other people what not to do, and complaining. This frame of reference isn’t helpful. Most situations get the best results when we focus on what we can control…ourselves. When we point fingers we don’t get anywhere; it’s that simple. I’ve written about this topic before, but lately I’ve been struck my the constant complaining, even by leaders in mental health advocacy. We can sink, or swim. We can rise and empower ourselves, or we can continue to focus on the problems around us and keep our head just above water.

I’m guilty of complaining about all kinds of things. I relentlessly practice catching myself in a cycle of complaining to ask myself; What’s the validity, usefulness, and frame of reference I’m in when I’m complaining. I always find that no matter what, it’s never optimal to complain. 100% of the time there are better responses to my situation.

“What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.”
― Maya Angelou

It most cases the best thing for me to do is change the way I think about it. When I’m resistant to doing this, it’s because I’m stuck in self-centredness. I don’t want to put in the effort of working on changing. The person who’s hurt deep down inside is angry, resentful, sad, hopeless and feels defeated. Whining about things I didn’t like was so strong in me, and it’s taken a lot of work to replace it with more constructive responses. I no longer need to complain, because I can empower. When I embraced the gift of self-awareness and responsibility, I had a chance to live the life I’d always wanted to live.

“Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won’t make us happier.”
― Randy Pausch

I still complain all the time, my first reaction is often to complain. About the traffic, about my wife, about my kids, about whatever is in front of my face. Today my new pattern is to empower myself. If we want to change things, we’d better be damned sure we start with our actions. By doing this, we can empower those around us. A gift given to me by all the amazing people I look up to and learn from. They say the only way you can keep something is to give it away. So I hope to share these experiences with others in the never-ending cycle of learning and teaching.

What are you complaining about?
Can you bring self-awareness into your patterns of whining and blaming and finger pointing?
Can you start by changing your perspective to the situation?
How can you empower yourself through this change?

How can we provide better mental health support for our youth?

When I look at this picture, I am curious about what was going through my mind? It is difficult for me to relate to who I was then. I have a hard time remembering how I felt and why I behaved the way I did. The ONE thing that’s clear to me is how uncomfortable I was in my skin. I was hooked the second I experienced the euphoria and relief from marijuana use. I had no coping skills, nor anyone to teach me how to understand my emotions, thoughts, and behaviours. Today, it is clear to me that I did not learn these things, because around this time, the 1990s, western society clearly didn’t value the importance of emotional intelligence and mindfulness. My teachers, parents and community leaders did not have an understanding of how to teach these skills. The exciting thing today is that we are learning how powerful emotional intelligence and mindfulness-based practices are for our wellbeing. I know how crucial these skills are for me today in maintaining my well-being, and that is why it is exciting for me to be learning how to implement them in the mental health work I am doing with youth.

Work by incredible organizations like CASELCollaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning is exciting. Here is a brief description and graphic for their model.


These skills are imperative for humanity to learn. If we want a healthier world, then we had better get our heads out of our #$& and start teaching our kids these skills as equally, if not more important that traditional, math, science, English and other core subjects.

“Children deserve to experience life positively, and society has
a duty to provide them with the skills and strategies to manage life’s more challenging moments. Mindfulness may be one way to provide this.” (Kim D. Rempel 2012, Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy)

The opportunities for change and a healthier happier world exist everywhere because these opportunities lie in each and every human. People often get caught up in the trap of saying things like “tell me what this magical cure for all our problems is?” Alternatively, people get lost in trying to picture or define what a healthier and happier world would be.

This perspective is not helpful, nor will it get us anywhere. I believe that we are incapable of describing what it looks like because we have not transformed ourselves. Once we change the way we feel, think, and behave, the healthier and happier world will create itself as an expression of our collective growth and wellbeing.

Can you imagine how improving our individual state of being will bring about the world we want? I surely can, because I’ve experienced it within myself. The more I heal and create a sense of wellness and contentment inside myself, the more I can bring love and positivity to my daily life. The possibilities of how we can change the world are endless. I hope you can find a little space within yourself to embrace this opportunity.

Raising Resilient Kids

“When children grow up knowing they can live through sadness and frustration, they become capable of tremendous resourcefulness and resolve”. – Susan Stiffelman

Today, this quote speaks to me loud and clear. I am at a point where my wife and I are carving out boundaries for our three-year-old son to learn that life is not always easy, and mommy and daddy are not always going to solve his problems. For the most part, we’ve done a good job, but in some areas we have not. We are in the midst of caring for our second child and daughter of 5.5 months; we’ve slipped a little in allowing our son to learn how to care for himself in appropriate ways for a three-year-old. Things like getting himself dressed and general daily disciplines that are important in developing character, self-care, and responsibility for one’s life. In one of the most famous parenting books that I am aware of, and one that I loved reading, “Kids Are Worth It – giving your child the gift of inner discipline” by Barbara Coloroso, she mentions the importance of not doing for your kids what they can do for themselves. I am proud of the way my wife and I have mindfully taken responsibility for our part in our son’s behaviours and focused on what we can do to help him and for our family to enjoy a more harmonious and joyful home.

One thing I’ve learnt and thoroughly enjoyed in my recovery from mental health problems, and in developing well-being and emotional resilience is; I am always %100 responsible for my thoughts, behaviours, and emotions. In this context, when my son is misbehaving, the way I respond to him is always my responsibility. When he has a meltdown over not getting a treat, or what Eckhart Tolle refers to as “thwarted wanting.” How I help him through those moments is my responsibility as a parent. I occasionally will get caught up in the… “Oliver, you are frustrating me”, or “if you’d just do this instead of that, then I would not be irritated right now”. The famous one I often catch myself saying “STOP” doing that.

The language I’ve learnt to be most effective through honest self-appraisal, research and extensive reading on parenting is along the lines of

“Oliver you are choosing not to get dressed, I’ve asked you twice already. It is not helpful for mommy and daddy when you are not a good team player”.

The parenting experts I’ve learnt from suggest stating facts, or descriptions of the situation rather than personalising or blaming our kids for what’s happening. I’ve found it helpful to put the responsibility in his hands. When I feel he is capable of handling it himself, I try my best to give him the “gift of inner discipline” and allow him to learn that he possesses the abilities to take care of his situation.

I see way too many parents trying to save their kids from the simplest of frustrations or bumps and bruises in the park. Allowing our kids to experience discomfort, pain, and irritation is crucial for them to develop resilience and character. From my experience, the excitement is in the strength and confidence I gain from being mindful that pain is temporary and remembering I always come out the other side better off.  Building these skills is essential for our kids and will enable them to get off to a good start in their mental health and lifestyle habits.

I challenge you to be honest with yourself. See if you can be mindful of the moments where you are either blaming your kids or telling them “NO” or to “STOP” doing what they are doing. I am not saying that we should not say “NO” or “STOP”. I am saying that we use them too often and don’t take the time to learn more effective ways of addressing the moments we pull them out to quickly.

Can you respond in a helpful manner? Can you be creative in your approach to those situations? Can you be open to interpreting the moment differently?

Check out Barbara Coloroso

Check out Susan Stiffelman
uote above from her book “Parenting Without Power Struggles” Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Calm, Cool and Connected.