Leadership Marriage Parenting Personal Growth

The Power of Presence in Relationships

Independence gone bad is selfishness. So we try to be selfless. Selflessness gone bad is enmeshment. So we try to be Independent. Do you feel cornered yet?


Amie Patrick has written about this as Self Care vs. Self Denial.

This is a tricky issue to balance. If you go wrong on the side of selfishness, you feel guilty (and rightly so). People in your life can also lay on the guilt when you set good boundaries.

If you go wrong on the side of selflessness, you get worn out. Few people in your life will push back against your selflessness.

The irony is that you’re no help to anyone when you are so tired that you look like the walking dead. You need to be more than just physically present. You also need to be mentally and emotionally present with the people you care about if you are going to be any good to them.

To stop wearing yourself out endlessly, and still live meaningfully with the people you care about, you need to set boundaries.

Physical Presence

The power of physical presence is that sometimes it is all that is needed to bring massive encouragement to someone.

The problem with physical presence is that you can only be in one place at a time. If you have trouble meeting your commitments and being where you say you’ll be, the problem is boundaries around who or what you spend time on.

You might have more people demanding your time than you actually have time to meet. Prioritize the people who are most important to you, and who you need to set better boundaries with. This will help you be more than just physically present with the people most important to you.

Mental Presence

The power of mental presence is that it empowers communication. You cannot communicate when you have no mental energy.

The problem with mental presence is that it is only slightly less limited than physical presence. You may be able to “multitask,” but you are not at your best when you’re multitasking. You can only be at your best when you are focused. If you struggle to stay focused, the problem is boundaries around what you think and talk about.

Sometimes juggling work and life is required; but when you try to juggle more balls than you can focus on, you’ll drop at least one ball, if not more.

You need mental energy in order to slow down the pace of a conversation enough to keep it a constructive conversation. If you have no mental energy because you’ve had no boundaries, you’re actually holding your best self back from the people you love.

You can’t think if you are too tired. If you can’t think, you can’t communicate. If you can’t communicate, you can’t have much of a relationship.

Emotional Presence

Just as mental presence is necessary for communication, emotional presence is necessary for two super important things:

  • Remembering times you have felt good
  • Resolving conflict in relationships

The power of emotional presence is that it drives empathy. The more emotionally present you are, the greater capacity you have for empathy.

The problem of emotional presence is that it is the first to go when we get tired and worn out. If you can’t even feel your own emotions, one problem is low emotional awareness, the other is lack of boundaries around what you will spend your emotional energy on.

Being emotionally present is more than just feeling your own emotions and being able to slow down a conversation. If you are emotionally present, you can feel your emotions, and you can think you feel the other person’s emotions. At a higher level, it might even allow you to feel another person’s emotions.

When you think you feel another person’s emotions, that is empathy. When you actually feel another person’s emotions, that is sympathy. You need emotional presence for both. You need to have a capacity for both empathy and sympathy to survive bad times and thrive in good times.

Empathy will allow you to resolve conflicts. Sympathy with positive and uplifting emotions will help you to solidify happy memories, like graduating from school, getting married, or having children.

“Top Down” Presence

Physical presence is the lowest level of being in another person’s company. Emotional presence is the highest. As we get tired, emotional presence goes first, and physical presence goes last.

I can’t help you have more energy, but I can help you to set better priorities and boundaries.

To help you set better priorities and boundaries, I’ve created a simple two page worksheet that you can download for free by clicking the red button below.

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Personal Growth

Back to Basics: Intentional Stewardship

Stewardship is about more than money. Time, relationships, energy, and talents also require stewardship. Last week I wrote about self care. Specifically, I wrote about optimizing your sleep, diet, exercise, and spirituality; I also confessed some of the things I need to do to improve in those areas.

Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Matthew 25:23

If you’re maximizing your self care, then you are maximally controlling the few things in life that you have the best chance of controlling at all. You are also maximizing your stewardship of your energy.

It’s obvious that your relationships are points of overlap with other people’s lives, but so are your money and your time. Stewardship is not an issue of being stingy or high spending, it’s an issue of relationships. You can’t control other people, but you can control your investments in other people through stewardship.

Stewardship of Money

I am a big fan of Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Make Over. The basic principles are to work hard, stay out of debt, and be generous. His approach includes 7 “baby steps” to financial peace.

  1. Save $1,000 in a small emergency fund.
  2. Pay off all debt but your house by using a debt snowball (see the video below).
  3. Save 3 to 6 months of expenses in a full emergency fund.
  4. Invest 15% of your gross income into IRAs and pre-tax retirement accounts.
  5. Save for your kid’s college.
  6. Pay off your home.
  7. Enjoy and share your wealth.

I have to admit, Skylar and I have fluctuated between steps 1 and 2 for several years. This is largely because we haven’t been intentional about it. That lack of intentionality is also why I’m writing less on this topic than on time or relationships.

Stewardship does not happen by accident, it only happens intentionally. In order to help me be more intentional about financial stewardship, I am using a tool called Mint (made by the same people who make QuickBooks and TurboTax).

Stewardship of Time

I’m a pretty busy guy. I have my family and home, I am a full time graduate student, and I work 30-45 hours between 3 major projects. Part of my discussion last week was being honest that while juggling all of that, I have done a piss poor job of watching out for my own health.

Stewardship of time involves the basic things like using a calendar, to-do list, and a good appointment booking tool (I use Google Calendar, Evernote, and But there is more to it than that. Whether you’re hyper organized or more free spirited about your time, there are some basic skills that help you to prioritize what gets on your calendar or to do-list in the first place.

I recently heard a podcast interview with Rory Vaden about his book Procrastinate on Purpose: 5 Permissions to Multiply Your Time. I haven’t read the book yet, but you can bet it’s on my wishlist. One of the principles he discussed in that interview is something called the focus funnel.

To apply the focus funnel, ask yourself these questions about each task that comes your way:

  1. Does it have to be done? If no, eliminate it.
  2. Can something else do it? If yes, automate it (for example, using to automate appointment bookings).
  3. Can someone else do it? If yes, delegate it.
  4. When can it be done?
    1. If it can be done later, procrastinate on purpose (go back to 1).
    2. If it has to be done now, concentrate on it.
Rory Vaden's Focus Funnel
Image via Rory Vaden

Stewardship of Relationships

One of the implications of globalization and “social” media is that we all now “know” many more people than we used to. That is, “know” in the sense of being acquainted with, not in the sense of being familiar with, or personally close to.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2013 the median number of Facebook friends among millennials was 300, and 200 among Gen-Xers. But according to the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, the maximum number of stable social relationships any one person can handle is only around 150.

Facebook Friend Counts, Pew Research Center
Image via Pew Research Center

That means that we are in some way “connected” to between 33% and 100% of the number of people that we can have stable relationships with. How can we manage that number of connections in a way that is both authentic and mutually beneficial?

I don’t believe that the answer is “we can’t.” At the risk of sounding as if I approach my relationships in-authentically, I believe that the very technology that creates the problem can be part of the solution.

If I am connected to a person on Facebook, I know certain things about them. I know a bit more about them if I am connected to them on other networks, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, or Pinterest. The problem then is that all of that information that my “friend” has publicly displayed is fragmented. I need a tool to pull all of that information into one place.

That same tool also needs to work with my email, because a lot of conversations happen there too. It also needs to work with my phone, so that I can at least know when was the last time I called or texted someone.

Enter Nimble, the relationship management tool. Nimble is an automated contact database that pulls in data from each touch point and contact with a person. This may or may not sound appealing for your first 150 social connections. But it is absolutely critical for relationships 151+ (see, I knew that would sound in-authentic).

The point isn’t that people are numbers, the point is that we have a limited capacity to remember who we know and where we know them from. If we’re lucky enough to remember that much, we still have to remember our past conversations with them. A tool like Nimble won’t help those chance street encounters to be any less awkward, but it will help you to be more intentional about connecting, reconnecting, and following up with people.

Here’s a quick overview video of Nimble aimed at business users. Even if you’re only considering it for personal use, you should still check out this video.

Add Your Voice (comment below)

  1. How can you be a better steward of your time, money, and relationships?
  2. Which of the tools that I mentioned might help you the most or least?

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Personal Growth

Back to Basics: Practicing What I Preach

Whatever you’re doing in business or ministry, your most impactful investment is yourself. It’s for the same reason that flight safety briefings tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others. If you’re unconscious or dead, you can’t help anyone.

Recognizing that, I have a confession: I am a hypocrite, I unhealthy. I am convicted by James 3:1, knowing that as someone in a teaching role (counseling and coaching are at least partly teaching), I am “judged with greater strictness.”

There are seasons of life when you have to make sacrifices to achieve your long term goals. Don’t let your health be one of those sacrifices.

Since January of 2013 I have been employed full time AND a full time graduate student. My priorities have been faith, family, and future. Fitness got squeezed out. Probably not coincidentally, it got squeezed out right when I had finally found a nutrition and exercise combination that was sustainable and enjoyable for me.

The last time that I was in the gym was April of 2013. Now, in May of 2015, my health reflects my choices (physically, that is).

Yet, with clients, I preach that whatever challenges life puts in front of you, you will have the most resilience by optimizing four areas of your life: Sleep, diet, exercise, and spiritual disciplines. I have purposefully left relationships off of the list, I’ll address the reason why next week (hint: it has to do with control).

Anyway, I’ve hit an inflection point. If I don’t change, my body is going to break. I can’t go back to what I was doing before, there just isn’t time. But I can go back to the basics. There really is no excuse not to do at least that much.

The Basics of Sleep

Sleep has been shown to impact literally EVERY health condition we know about. Good sleep has a positive impact. Poor sleep has a negative impact. Since I am a little bit of a podcast nerd, I have heard several interviews recently with Shawn Stevenson, who wrote a helpful little book called Sleep Smarter, which includes 21 specific changes that anyone can make to improve their sleep.

He also wrote a blog article with the same basic tips as the book. Of course, the book goes into much more detail about why each tip is beneficial for your sleep, and practical ways to implement each tip in your own life.

The basic changes that I need to make to improve my sleep are these (do any of these apply to you?):

  1. Get outside more: I work indoors, so “getting outside” for me has often been the time between the car, the house, and the office.
  2. Move more: Being in school involves a lot of sitting. So does my work. Burning more calories and getting some sort of exercise will help me fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.
  3. Caffeine Curfew: I have a bit of a coffee habit. I don’t have to give coffee up to sleep better. But I shouldn’t consume it any later than noon if I want it all out of my system by bedtime.

Lord Kelvin is supposed to have said “What gets measured gets done.” With that in mind, I will also be using a Sleep Tracking App to measure improvements in my sleep.

The Basics of Diet

Diets fail. Period. A nutritional lifestyle will produce results. The old saying isn’t “you are what you eat this week.” It’s “you are what you eat.” Thinking that a diet will work for you is like thinking you will win the lottery.

The nutritional lifestyle that I would like to live (I’m being honest enough to say that I’m not living it right now) is most informed by the book The Carb Nite Solution, by John Kiefer. Like any other lifestyle issue, people get religiously committed to their ideas about good or bad nutrition. There is a lot of nonsense and a lot of poorly researched garbage out there.

What I appreciate about Kiefer’s work is the quality of the research behind it. He researches the research, changing and updating his model as new information comes up. He doesn’t do one study and get personally invested in the results of that study (like, for example, Atkins).

No, by the way, I don’t buy the crap that calories burned minus calories consumed = weight loss. There is some truth in that. But the relationship between calorie deficit and fat loss isn’t so simple.

The basic dietary changes that I need to make are these (right now, I’m living the exact opposite):

  1. Fats first: Fats are the fuel for most of our daily activities, and we get 9 time released calories per gram of fat (think of that as 9 miles to the gallon).
  2. Proteins Second: Proteins are the construction materials. When we need to burn protein for energy, we only get 4 calories per gram.
  3. Carbs Last: At 4 instant calories per gram, carbs are an important energy source when used correctly.
  4. Drink More Water: We all know that water is necessary to life. But the right amount of water will send fats, proteins, carbs, and vitamins and minerals straight to where they’re needed. Even relatively inactive people like me should be drinking at least 1 gallon of water per day.

Measuring it to get it done: I’ll be using My Fitness Pal to track progress here.

The Basics of Exercise

Exercise programs, like diets, have religious followings. I am a weightlifter. You might be a walker, a runner, a cyclist, or a cross fitter.

As much as I want there to be, there just is not time for me to train 10 hours a week as a power lifter any more (which is what I was doing before I went back to school). Since I am a weight lifter, my ultimate goal is to get back in the gym and to be moving barbells again. Until there is time in my week, this is my plan.

  1. 10k steps a day: Ten thousand steps doesn’t seem like much from a weight lifter’s point of view. But honestly, it’s more than I’m doing now.
  2. Morning Calisthenics: 6 minutes of burpees, 20 seconds on, 40 seconds resting, every morning.
  3. Strong Lifts 5×5: (Starting in September, when my school load goes down) Strong Lifts is a 3 hour/week workout regimen for Average Joes that is built around the three basic exercises of power lifting (squat, bench press, and deadlift). When I was training 10 hours a week, this was my gateway drug.

Tracking: Google Fit and the Strong Lifts App. Maybe I’ll eventually buy a FitBit Surge.

The Basics of Spiritual Disciplines

There are tons of books about spiritual disciplines. The only two that I have ever actually finished were Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas and Living Prayer by Dennis Fuqua.

I recently heard an interview with Hal Elrod (who is either Buddhist or very new age) where he used the acronym SAVERS to summarize his book, the Miracle Morning. Even though it comes from a worldview very different from my own, the acronym is helpful for providing structure to some abstract ideas from Thomas and Fuqua.

To synthesize those books in a Christ-honoring manner, here is the series of six morning disciplines that I want to build into my life. The order doesn’t matter so much as that they’re all there.

  1. Silence (prayer): praying through the Lord’s prayer as talked about in Living Prayer.
  2. Affirmations: A series of simple, encouraging “I am…” or “I exist to…” statements.
  3. Visualizations: Just like an athlete visualizes a good play, I’ll be visualizing myself completing the goals of the day.
  4. Exercise: I’ve already addressed this component above (morning calisthenics).
  5. Reading: Namely, scripture reading, following a 1 year bible reading plan.
  6. Scribing (writing): for now, I’ll use the prompt question “What would make today great?”

Tracking: HabbitBull (Android) Habbitlist (iOS).

The Basics of Sustainable Change

Baby Steps

I’ve listed out 16 individual goals above. If I try to implement all of those at once, I will flat out FAIL. But one or two at a time should be manageable.

Over the next 16 weeks, I will add one individual goal each week. I’ll use HabbitBull for my overall goal tracking.


The order of these goals is important. I’ll go from easiest to hardest so that I get to feel success early on, and have momentum to carry me through the harder changes.

Getting 10k steps and drinking a gallon of water per day are the easiest, because I have already started on those goals. Putting carbs at the end of my day will be the hardest, so I’ll add that one in week 16.

Find Synergies

I’ve written about synergies before. All of these goals work together in ways that reinforce the other goals. They are mutually supportive. They don’t compete with each other.

Add Your Voice (comment below)

  1. What small changes can you make to improve your sleep?
  2. … Your diet?
  3. … Your exercise?
  4. … Your spiritual disciplines?

Disclaimer: The book links above are all “affiliate links.” This means that if you happen to purchase anything from Amazon after using one of these links, I will receive a 4% to 6% commission.