Therapeutic Gratitude

On July 23, 2017, in Monday Motivator, The Pass It On Podcast, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
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I recently spent some time with Dacher Keltner, a perpetual student of the art and science of emotional wellbeing. He reminded me of one of its great prerequisites: Gratitude.

This came home to me in a powerful way the morning after. A brave friend who deals with clinical depression uses gratitude as a weapon to beat back the monster. “I’m really struggling with my anxiety and depression tonight,” she wrote to her Facebook family, “and even though asking for help is one of my least favorite things to do….here it goes. I need your help. And what makes me feel better is helping others, and making them feel good. So! Like this post, and I will tag you in a comment below and say something I admire about you. Let’s spread some positivity around, folks!”

The response was a shower of empathy and affection for her many positive qualities, not the least of which is courage. And it was an opportunity for her to ponder the beauty of her own existence and to write about the dimensions of these cherished friends that she’s grateful for.

Dacher invited us to do some deep breathing and to think about people we were grateful for. That was an easy exercise for me, my iWatch seems to know when I need to breathe and tells me to do so with regularity. I soon found myself texting a half dozen of these extraordinary people to let them know that when I closed my eyes to think about the good people in my life, theirs were among the faces I saw.

On the flip side, there are situations that trigger opposite emotions; memories of people who have hurt us, whom we have hurt and situations we wish we could have handled differently. These visceral bullets to the temple constrict our circulatory system, raise blood pressure to pour fuel into our fight or flight metabolism, and dump a generous shot of acid into our stomachs.

Spontaneously reliving of our disasters is a protective device left over from our hunter-gatherer days, when our higher brains were not quite so sophisticated. Manifesting empathy and forgiveness for all involved, especially ourselves, can be hard to do. But it’s a skill that can be learned through practice. Like the bubble meditation, we can encase dark past events in the protective shell of experiential wisdom and study them from the perspective of life experience for what they really are. Gratitude inevitably ensues.

Emerson wrote, “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

I would add that even the bad things that befall us can include silver linings for which we can be grateful. It’s the darkness in the valleys of our lives that gives us an appreciation for the view from the summit of our achievements.

The next time you’re afraid, depressed, angry or uncertain, try injecting some gratitude into your attitude. It’s prescription with few unpleasant side effects. And it can be contagious!

 

Trusting Your Gut

On July 2, 2017, in Monday Motivator, The Pass It On Podcast, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
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Have you ever had one of those nagging feelings that something just wasn’t right? Our subconscious has spent a lifetime filing and cataloging experience and perception. It can be a natural early warning system that’s worth listening to.

Dr. Susan Biali, who contributes to Psychology Today says that our first reactions are often prescient. “Be careful about glossing it over if it doesn’t make sense.”

Professional development coach, Hana Ayoub told Fast Company that your gut, “holds insights that aren’t immediately available to your conscious mind right now, but they’re all things that you’ve learned and felt. In the moment, we might not be readily able to access specific information, but our gut has it at the ready.”

Dr. Herbert Simon calls this “chunking”. Our mind stores knowledge in chunks. Over time, they are catalogued and pop up when we need them most, even though we may sometimes not know why.

Geil Browning, writing in Inc Magazine says that this kind of intuition can be sharpened. “It’s all about giving our brain more emotional information to work with through life experience to increase the probability of success for any given gut decision. Basically, the more we experience the more accurate our guts become.”

Remember when your parents told you to respect the advice of your elders. This is why that is often wise counsel.

In my experience, my best decisions have come from a combination of objective and subjective consideration. The process I use involves gathering all the objective information and feedback I can find and digesting it.  Then, I close my eyes and listen to what my heart is telling me to do. As M. Scott Peck writes in his classic, The Road Less Travelled, “If you suffer fully, you will make the right decision, although you may not know it at the time.”

But there isn’t always time for careful reflection. Life is fired at us point blank and we are sometimes forced to make decisions without the benefit of time for thought. This is where gut instinct is often most powerful.

Over time, you can learn the difference between the radar-like wisdom of intuition and the unrealistic fears that often block us from reaching beyond our self-imposed limitations. Taking calculated risks is a requirement for personal growth. The challenge is figuring out which voice is talking to you; your higher self or the dinosaur brain of irrational resistance.

“Listening to your instincts takes courage and practice,” Dr. Biali concludes. “After all, until you start paying attention to and acting on your instincts, you won’t have the opportunity to verify how accurate they are. In some cases, you may never find out what disaster it is that you averted.”

So the next time that little voice in your head is talking to you, it might make sense to listen.

 

By Scott Westerman
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Welcome home!

To live and work within walking distance of the sights and sounds of my formative years at Michigan State University constantly triggers a treasure trove of memories. I cherish every opportunity to tread amidst this ever evolving, living Time Machine, always pointing towards the future, but brilliantly reflecting riches of knowledge discovered along the way.

It’s a common experience we all share whenever we come home to campus. From the sweet aroma inside the MSU dairy store, to the silent splendor of the Spartan statue, to the laughing tumble of the Red Cedar as it dances along the rapids by the administration building, the sensations that abound across campus spur reminders of the people, places, events and attitudes that contributed to the unique individuals we have become.

From its inception, Michigan State University has been a living, breathing entity. And each of us has contributed to MSU’s life story. With the wisdom that comes from the seasoning of our years, we know that every story has its ups and downs, a mixture of progress and setbacks that are part and parcel of every authentic institution.

Having served the 500,000 strong Spartan alumni family for nearly 8 years, I can tell you that our land-grant vision of changing the world while helping each other define and pursue our individual definitions of happiness has never been stronger. Every day I cross paths with extraordinary Spartans who feed the world, alleviate suffering and model the behaviors of inquisitiveness, inclusiveness, and the tenacious work ethic that have always defined who we are.

We know that the road to achievement is filled with obstacles that would break the spirit of lesser souls. But Spartans will always push through to absolute victory.

We know that the greatness of our institution is defined by the goodness of the many and not the misdeeds of a few.

And we know that our fundamental dedication to advancing knowledge, solving the world’s toughest problems, standing up for the less fortunate and leaving a legacy for future generations is the essence of every Spartans will.

As you celebrate this half-century milestone in your Spartan lives, we who steward this great university salute you. You have defined Michigan State for your generation. And we couldn’t be prouder of that definition.

Thank you very much!

Scott Westerman is Associate Vice President for Alumni Relations and Executive Director of the Michigan State University Alumni Association.

 

It’s Never Too late

On June 26, 2017, in Monday Motivator, The Pass It On Podcast, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
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I’ve been thinking about the number of people I know who have decided that purpose, passion and happiness are within their grasp and have chosen to do something about it.

It’s easy to throw obstacles in our way. We’re too old, too young, to inexperienced, to uneducated, too poor, to entrenched in our current reality. These are the voices of what American author, entrepreneur, marketer, and public speaker, Seth Godin calls “resistance”, that little troublemaker inside of our heads that is constantly telling us all the reasons we can’t have what we want.

The truth is that it’s never too late to rethink our priorities, to reorient our goals and to take steps in the direction of significant, positive life change.

Berkeley Breathed, the cartoonist who brought us Bloom County, says, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” Whenever I see so called grown ups indulging their inner child at Disney World, I’m reminded that whatever age you are, whatever your past pain, you can rise above it and create the life you want.

“Don’t focus on what was taken away,” writes actress Drew Barrymore. “Find something to replace it, and acknowledge the blessing you have.”

There is a wonderful old maxim that gratitude turns grief into joy. And you always have something to be grateful for. Take some time to create your own gratitude list. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your outlook changes.

And speaking about chasing purpose and passion, American screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski, says, “It’s never too late to become what you always wanted to be in the first place.”

Reed Hastings started Netflix at 37. J.K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter series as a middle aged single mom. McDonalds, Coca Cola and Kentucky Fried Chicken were all founded by people in their 60s. FDR had his biggest political success after being debilitated by polio. Research tells us that people who marry later in life often have happier and more successful partnerships. At commencement this year, I shook the hand of a woman who was earning her undergraduate degree in her 70s.

What do all these people have in common? They made the decision that they could live life differently. They clearly articulated a goal and started down the road in it’s direction.

Henry David Thoreau said, “It is never too late to give up our prejudices.” I would add, especially those prejudices we have about our own limitations.

It’s never too late to apologize for something you’ve done wrong.

It’s never too late to say thank you, to tell someone you love that you care, to get healthier, to visit new places and expand your horizons.

And it’s always a good day to perform a random act of kindness.

“I’m convinced of this,” writes the prolific poet and philosopher Maya Angelou. “Good done anywhere is good done everywhere. As long as you’re breathing, it’s never too late to do some good.”

Reinvention, adding new knowledge to your brain’s portfolio, investing in productive relationships while gently deprioritizing what no longer works for you will not be easy. It may have taken years to get where you are and anything truly worth earning requires significant personal investment.

But our brains have an infinite capacity to learn new things and the formula for success in every corner of your life can be applied at any age, in any situation. In time the law of cause and effect always prevails.

What’s stopping you from creating the life, the career, the friendships and the healthy outlook you’ve always dreamed of. Whatever it is, examine it closely. You’ll likely find that the voice of Resistance is all that’s stopping you from becoming the person you’ve always wanted to be.

Resolve not to listen to that voice. Instead, paint a vivid picture of the person you want to be in your mind. And start now to act in that very role. Since practice makes perfect and repetition evolves into habit, you’ll eventually become that person.

Start today, right now. It’s never too late.

 

The Father Factor

On June 15, 2017, in The Pass It On Podcast, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
The “Real” Scott Westerman will be 92 on July 10th. I’m the third in a line that started with his dad back in 1895. I’ve always felt richly blessed to have been born into a family with a pair of extraordinary parents. And since Sunday is Father’s Day, decided to look back over a conversation I had with dad a couple of years back about what lessons he learned from his father. I present them here, not necessarily as recommendations, but solely for your consideration.

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Kindness & Respect

On February 26, 2017, in Monday Motivator, The Pass It On Podcast, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
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I believe that we could mitigate our most challenging problems if we could inculcate two magic words into everything we do: Kindness and Respect

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On Leadership

On February 18, 2017, in Scott's Speeches, Spartanology, The Pass It On Podcast, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
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Why choose leadership? That was the question I spoke about this weekend to a conference of student leaders at Michigan State.

I decided early on to aspire to lead for one reason: I prefer to influence the course of my own destiny. “Build your own dreams,” writes the young Chicago born entrepreneur, Farrah Gray, “or someone else will hire you to build theirs.”

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Life Lessons From the Red Cedar

On February 11, 2017, in Monday Motivator, Spartanology, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
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Of all the natural wonders that caress our beautiful campus, the Red Cedar River is, perhaps, most symbolic.

Its waters  flow inexorably toward the west, reminding us that we must continuously expand our own horizons of thought and explore new vistas beyond our comfort zones. It is a combination of gently undulating currents and explosive rapids, much like the course of our own adventures, which inevitably reveal both calm and calamity.

The Red Cedar, in its time, has been both abused and renewed. Past pollution is still evident; even as we can once again safely probe its depths for fish and dangle our toes in its often-icy embrace.

It sometimes presses beyond its boundaries. Those of us who are “seasoned Spartans” remember how it flooded parts of campus, reminding us that paradigms surrounding ourselves create limitations that are meant to be broken.

The Red Cedar is beautiful in every season, reflecting the deep greens of summer, the fiery colors of fall and the dancing diamonds of a noontime sun. Its sights and sounds attract us in moments when our souls need refreshment. It gives us constant comfort that it will always be at the center of our campus existence, a spiritual place to be studied and admired with a mindfulness that defines every true Spartan’s being.

And what is the fundamental component that makes our beloved Red Cedar the magical thing that it is? Water. A simple combination of two biological elements that are essential to our very existence.

Whenever I have the privilege of considering the Red Cedar, I think about the water that is its essence. From the beginning, water has been a central point of study at Michigan State. We’ve never forgotten its importance. We try to treat it with endless fascination and deep respect. And we work very hard to make certain that there is enough of it for all on the planet who need it.

And so it is with all the elements that make up this ever evolving experiment that is higher education. Transformational knowledge; life-changing experiences; celebrations of our rich diversity of culture, ideas and opportunity; and the promotion of universal understanding and peace.

Now as ever, we recommit ourselves to work toward the day when there are enough of these things for everyone. And like the relentless Red Cedar, we will never give up—until we succeed.

 

MSUAA’s Top Resources for Job Seekers

On February 6, 2017, in Spartanology, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
Sooner or later, we’re all thrust into the job market. Whether you’re about to graduate or are considering a change, here are some of The MSU Alumni Association‘s most requested resources for job seekers.

First and foremost, you don’t have to undertake the journey alone. Hire a career coach. We seek out coaches to help us become stronger and healthier. Why not engage a resource to help you maximize the effectiveness of your personal brand? MSUAA’s Spartans Helping Spartans website has a great list of career coaches who are ready to help you right now.

MSUAA also has a rich library of webinars and live streams where extraordinary alumni share their secrets. Here are a few of the best that touch on careers.

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We’re all in this together

On January 29, 2017, in The Pass It On Podcast, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman

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So many challenges compete for our attention these days that it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling that something is not a real problem.. until it affects us personally.

Some call this “privilege”. Others argue we have only so much capacity to process, only so much time, talent and treasure to distribute. So we feel we must prioritize that which is close to us.

The danger lies in minimizing painful life experiences we are lucky enough not to have to endure.

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