Game + Movie night (Wadjda)


The weekends when we don’t happen to have Courageous Girls Club meetings, we have instead family Courageous Girls Club meetings. So last night, it was all about the games. I’ll share a couple, because it’s not easy to find fun games that everyone enjoys… so it’s good to have on your list for just in case. Both games came from the Anima Learning website.

Game 1 - Sound Ball

“Have the group stand in a circle. One person makes a sound—any sound—while also making a throwing gesture towards another person in the group. That second person then ‘receives’ the sound with a physical motion like catching a ball or a sack or a ray of light and—importantly—repeats the sound sent to them. Then, without hesitation, the first receiver sends a new sound with a new gesture to another person in the circle. Keep the sound moving quickly and boldly to get everyone involved.”


Game 2 - Knife and Fork

Divide group into pairs. Let each pair come up with two things that go together (such as peanut-butter and jelly, train and station, bee and flower,) and act it out obviously without talking, and the rest of the group has to guess what it is.


Peeling bananas, for apples and bananas.


The classic coatrack.


Kid-humor: throw-up.

Some other ones they came up with were: IPhone, sugar and salt, cupcake, etc. We may have bent the rules a bit, since we sometimes used words that were made up of two words, but it worked. And it was super funny.

Then onto the movie, Wadjda:

Image from  IMDb

Image from IMDb

This amazing movie is about a spunky girl from Saudi Arabia, and her dream is to get a bicycle, however girls are not allowed to ride bikes in Saudia Arabia. The movie explores the Muslim rules that both women and men have to adhere to… I won’t give it all away, but it’s so unique. The movie gives you so many things to discuss about different cultures and religions. And Wadjda is awesome, she has the best responses… you’ll see. The movie is probably for ages 8 and up (it works for younger siblings as well who can’t yet read fast, since it’s subtitled, so just don’t read some of the parts outloud that you don’t feel like is appropriate for their age.)

Girl(s) Rising


We made a connection to volunteer at a Cass Community soup kitchen in Detroit in December, so at our last meeting we met to prepare for our outing.

The first half of our session one of the Grandmas led, as this was one of her areas of expertise, and she did a great job leading us through the 4 basic needs humans have in order to live a fulfilling life, and how Cass Community is providing and targeting those exact 4 needs. Food, shelter, health, and jobs. We looked through their website in small groups, and each group presented on one of the areas they serve, which led to great questions and discussions on homelessness and poverty.

Next up, we watched 2 amazing videos from the movie, Girl Rising, which I highly recommend. (From their website, you can sign up and get a link to their Girl Rising Curriculum, which makes it easy to turn the short videos into great discussions.) We watched and discussed two girls’ stories - Wadley, from Haiti and Ruksana, from India.

Some of our leading up questions from the Girl Rising curriculum were:

1. Worldwide, how many girls do you think are out of school?

-13 million, 60 million, or 130 million?

2. Why is educating girls so important?

It has one of the highest returns on investment available in the developing world. When girls are educated:

-they get married later,

-have healthier children,

-and they value educating their own children.

A girl with even one extra year of education can earn 10-20% percent more as an adult.

3. Why aren’t some girls in school?

  • Educating girls is not valued in many parts of the world. In developing countries, young girls are often expected to work taking care of younger siblings, fetching water, earning income, or caring for sick family members.

  • Many times when families live in poverty, the parents will choose to send only their boys to school.

  • In more than 50 countries, an education is not free. Parents need to pay for school, books, and uniforms. Sometimes they need to pay for exams and report cards. Some families simply cannot afford the expense: often it is a choice between paying for school, or food.

These short movies brought up lots of great questions which was the perfect preparation for our outing next weekend.

We now schedule at least 3 hours for our meetings, so that girls can play together afterwards while the moms hang out. Some younger siblings were in attendance this week, since they’ll be joining us for volunteering next weekend, and from age 2-12 they played together beautifully at a cafe they invented…


So a week later we filled up two minivans and headed to Detroit! It was a remarkably hands-on volunteer experience, which is usually hard to find for this age group. But we all worked super hard for 2.5 hours cutting up chicken, husking corn, doing the dishes, and cleaning the kitchen.


Afterwards, we walked through the neighborhood looking at the tiny houses the Cass Community built as a new way to help low-income families. These four houses you see in this picture below on the left side are some of them…


And the mandatory group photo at the end… :-)





We have around 60,000 a day, but how many of those are we even aware of?

And yet your thoughts dictate everything… how you feel, what actions you take or don’t take, and what results you have or lack in your life.

If a “bad” event happens to you, such as your electricity is turned off because you forgot to pay your bills, someone makes fun of you, you lose your job, or even an accident…

It is NOT THE EVENT that then makes you feel a certain way such as sad or embarrassed, but rather YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THAT EVENT, immediately after.

How do we know that this is true?

Just look around and see how differently we can all react to the same event… be it small, such as having to speak in front of a group, or big, such as 9/11. Most of us felt that it was one of the worst tragedies. However, others, like terrorists, were cheering it on around the world. And some others may have been indifferent to it, especially if they lived far away from the US.

We all interpret events our own unique ways.

So, for our family Courageous Girls Club meeting we covered this concept again, as it is one of the most fundamental issues to remind them of as they mature throughout the years.

There are different models you can use, such as this one from GoZen:

EVENTS (lead to) THOUGHTS (which lead to) REACTIONS

Another one from The Life Coach School is this:

CIRCUMSTANCES (can trigger) THOUGHTS (which cause) FEELINGS (which cause) ACTIONS (creating) RESULTS

(Click on either link above to see a video on both models for much deeper explanation.)

Once you start understanding this concept, you realize that this is actually really powerful news.

If you know that it was your THOUGHTS that caused you to feel sad, and not the event, then you can make up your own mind about how you truly want to feel about it. This doesn’t mean that you may not want to feel deeply sad when someone dies. Of course that’s probably what you would choose in that event. However, do we really need to feel angry when someone cuts us off? And do we need to be sad, when a friend tells us we can’t play with them? Or is there a better way to feel in that moment and react in an assertive way?

Because everything you feel is a choice.

However, over our lifetime, our Mammalian brain has memorized how we usually react to things, (as well as how others react to similar events, and how the world tells us to react to circumstances.) So while you might be thinking that you are choosing your own reactions, most likely you are just repeating your past reactions, as your brain quickly fires up to tell you how you usually feel in similar circumstances. Yup, you usually don’t raise your hand in new situations, so definitely don’t raise it now either. It’s too scary. You might die in the process.

So you need to learn to separate yourself from your automatic thoughts and decide what you want to think ON PURPOSE.

To any event or circumstance, even if you didn’t have the greatest first reaction, you can always ask:

How do I really want to feel about this situation?

The point is not to not feel negative emotions, but rather to choose it on purpose, versus your brain guiding you there subconsciously. Is this emotion truly serving me, or would a different feeling help me more?

I find this idea, that I can create my own feelings so incredibly powerful. I’m not at the mercy of my brain to see how I’ll feel tomorrow. But I have true control over how I will feel tomorrow. You don’t have to wait for the world to change to get the feelings that you want.

If I need energy tomorrow to get things done, I can create through my thoughts feelings that give off energy… such as excitement, determination, commitment. Each of those emotions is based on a thought. In advance, I can create thoughts that I know will help me get to my goal the next day. It just takes a little prep work.

Questions for you:

  1. What are the 3 emotions you usually feel throughout your day?

2. And what 3 emotions would you rather feel?

The point to all of this is that you and your daughter(s) want to write the stories in your life on purpose. And you have much more power over that than you might imagine. So create it in a way that you are choosing your own actions and results, not based on how you’ve reacted in the past, but rather what serves you the most in the present moment and choose that on purpose.

While you might think this is a confusing topic to cover with our girls, we helped our discussion with this video series through GoStrengths (Chapter 2, GoAwareness.) It costs money, but we’ve found it very much to be worth it for our family. It goes through the E-T-R model, self-talk, and many other things.

So the photo on top is an illustration of the power of our thoughts. My eldest daughter had the idea to give most of her Halloween candy away to college students in our town. Her happy thoughts about it fueled her excitement, so much so that she decided to collect leftover Halloween candy from our neighbors the day after Halloween, in order to be able to give away even more. We talked through the different reactions that greeted her behind each door - which ranged from complete bafflement to sure, I’ll give you some candy - and in turn how those made her feel (from self-doubt to excited.) In the end, she had quite a few bags full of goodies. She really wanted to do this on her own with no sisters in attendance (at least for the first hour as a compromise), so her and Jonathan went to campus, and after a few trials, landed in the right spot at the Undergraduate Library.

She set up and waited for customers… I didn’t get there until later, so this picture is obviously from after her 1st hour alone.


But, what was really cool is that she felt proud that “this was my idea - I didn’t read about it anywhere else.” This thought, as it turns out, was her fuel and compelling reason that got her through the many downs… of not having enough candy, some people laughing at her idea, many closed doors, and even not being able to find a good spot. But that thought gave her energy and determination to get over the obstacles.

One powerful thought that truly spoke to her.

So yes, you can create any feeling in your life, such as excitement, through your thoughts in your head which turn into actions in your life. The trick is, not to let self-doubt or other people’s opinion replace your excitement with fear and take you back to your comfort zone instead. So choose thoughts that fuel your actions, no matter what.


The quote of the day was:

“Free food is good. But free candy is even better.” -from one satisfied customer.

I think she may have found an annual tradition. :-)

We ended our family CGC meeting with 2 fun games. The first game was imported from my husband’s recent trip to France, and the other just came up from our kids, as they were reminded of a game they learned at school.

Game 1 - 5 animals

Stand in a circle, and you can be one of 5 animals. Fish, tiger, cobra, bunny, and dinosaur. You have a unique hand signal for each animal. On the count of 3, everyone picks one of the animals and shows it at the exact same time. Each time, one person is the IT, and if you do the exact same animal as that person, then you are out. (You basically just go around the circle and choose the IT that way. It helped when the IT is the one who counts to 3, so that we all knew who it was in each round.) The last one standing, wins. It’s a funny game, and you can also come up with your own animals and signals. But here are some of them…




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The last two are fairly obvious: the bunny is just making bunny ears. And the tiger is just as you’d imagine… rah!

Game 2 - Moo!

Stand in a circle once again, everyone looking down at the floor. At the count of 3 you all look up and choose to look at one specific person in the circle. If that one person is also looking at you, you say Moo, and whoever said it second loses and leaves the circle. It’s pretty simple and funny… Try it out!


From your Comfort Zone to your Growth Zone


Our first meeting of the new school year (besides a kick-off dinner just for the moms in September) was over a month ago, but we revisited friendship skills and practicing assertiveness - which I’ve already written about here before, when we did it just for our family. So I will now delve into our second meeting with the girls, which covered a very interesting idea…

Your comfort zone.

Your comfort zone is where your brain tries to keep you most of the time, as your brain has the job of keeping you safe and comfortable. Or in other words, your brain just wants to chill in the cave.

Your brain says, “you are safe now. Why risk it?”  

And a lot of it is based on past memories and habits. If I have the habit of raising my hand a lot in class, and not care about whether I get it right or not, I’m in my comfort zone when I’m doing that. But if I never raise my hand, and decide to do it once, my brain will feel like it’s a risk or unsafe to do, and will freak out accordingly.

“What are you doing? What if you get the answer wrong and everyone laughs at you?”

Your brain’s job is to ring the alarm bell and tell you exactly what could go wrong and outline all your obstacles, once it feels like you are leaving your comfort zone.

So once you feel like doing something that your brain thinks of as challenging, self-doubt will flood you within a split second… Most of the time you don’t even realize the thoughts that come up, but rather it’s a powerful feeling in your body, that says, “don’t do it! It’s too scary! It’s too hard!!“

Some of us feel it in our tummies, in our hearts, but some of us hear the actual words, it all depends on what the challenge or your goal is.

The point is, that being in your comfort zone is great, but you don’t grow there. So certain emotions are not possible to reach in your comfort zone, such as pride, a sense of achievement, learning from mistakes, enjoying a challenge, etc.

But this is the cool thing…

You know you’ve left your comfort zone when self-doubt appears and is trying to force you to turn around and go back - through feelings of nervousness in the pit of your stomach, or screaming in your head of what a bad idea this is. But once you feel these emotions in your body or hear these negative thoughts in your head, that’s when you know that you have just left your comfort zone and you are on your way to growth!! So it’s a great thing, actually! You are not vanilla anymore, but you are actually challenging yourself. Who knows how it will turn out, but if you keep going, and either ignore those thoughts or write down every obstacle your brain sputes out and address them, you can grow from this experience. And the more you do it, the more those challenging things turn into your comfort zone!

So “go out there, kill something, and drag it home” as I guess Dave Ramsey would say, whom I don’t know at all, but this quote was mentioned in a podcast I listen to, and thought it was a great image. The point is to go and get that sense of satisfaction of challenging yourself, and not turn back at the first sign of obstacles (in your head,) which will undoubtedly happen, as they happen to everyone human being.


So after this little Ted talk that I gave, as my daughters (I’m sure) affectionately refer to, we all closed our eyes, until too much giggling got us out of our flow, and tried to think of a challenge that scared us a little bit in order to see how our bodies felt, and what thoughts our brains started blurting out to us.

We then shared:

1. What is the challenge/goal you thought of?

2. And what's your brain telling you about it?  

I was surprised to hear that all the girls had something to share right away. Whether it was jumping off the block before a swim race, or sleeping over at someone’s house, making a mistake in front of the class and not knowing what to do once the mistake was made… whether to sit down, try again, or just laugh along with everyone else. It was an unexpectedly great discussion, and they knew exactly how their bodies and thoughts said and in return made them feel!

We also referred back to what we’ve learned about our brain so far through this handy-dandy high-tech looking poster I made… The point/reminder is that the quick thoughts/feelings you get upon leaving your comfort zone come from your subconscious brain (Mammalian + Reptilian), as they are stored in the memory bank through past experiences or habits. Now that we know to expect these self doubting thoughts upon taking up a challenging goal, it’s easier to override them through conscious positive thinking and keep heading towards the challenge, which ultimately leads us to growth.


Afterwards, as we had a couple new members to our club, we played some super fun games that had nothing to do with our theme, but which I still highly recommend. Part of our mission is just to have fun and be silly with one another, so these games were perfect for that.

Game 1

The first game involves putting on brand new pantyhose on our heads, with an apple or an orange dangling in one of its legs, and you set up empty cans or bottles to knock over in separate rows. The first one to get through their row wins!


Game 2

In the second game, two players competed against one another wearing a little box (such as a kleenex box), that has a big whole on it. We put 5 ping pong balls in each, wrapped it around our waists with a scarf, and to fun energetic music playing in the background had to jump/dance/whatever else in a way that the balls fall out. We limited it to a minute - because it can be pretty hard. But it’s super funny. Obviously the first one to get all the balls out wins.

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Afterwards we meant to discuss a book (The Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng) that dealt with issues of friendship which we covered at our last meeting, but they had so much energy after the game that we skipped it and instead went for a hike in the woods looking for pretty fall leaves to make art with.


Happy Fall!!!

Our Family Powers

Our first 2 meetings were spent figuring out how our brains have been pre-programmed through evolution and hunter-gatherer societies, but now it’s time to figure out how we actually want to program it for ourselves. There are so many ways, such as through better habits, acts of gratitude, or expanding our skill sets, but we wanted to lay a deep foundation first with our values. Except we didn’t call it values, but rather we called it our powers.

So we had this meeting as a family, and well… let the pictures speak for themselves. Our powers didn’t impress them as much as I had hoped.

(There is a child under that blanket.)

I almost quit and went upstairs right before we got to our 5th value of I am a problem solver. Then I felt like I could never recover if I quit right after saying that we are problem solvers.  

But what are values and why are they so important anyway? 

I finally got what it's all about, when Brené Brown in one of her talks or books mentioned her daughter's upcoming swim meet, at which the coach had asked her to swim her very worst event in order to get an official time. She didn't want to do it because she knew she would come in last. But after much back and forth, she showed up anyway. And she did come in last... by a lot. However, as Brené mentioned, their value wasn't that her daughter wins or does well in every event. Their value was courage. And she was courageous, and did something even when she was embarrassed by the potential outcome. So when her daughter finally came out of the pool, her daughter said something to the extent of: "That was absolutely horrible... but I feel really proud of myself." 

So this is what values/powers are all about.

They give you a roadmap to how best live life, according to your own values, and through repetitions and reminders you can program it into your subconscious for quick decision making. And not only that, it limits what you compare yourself to - her daughter could have come out of the pool feeling down and embarrassed, using her thoughts to keep comparing herself to all the others who came in before her… Or, as she did instead, come out of the pool feeling proud by the fact that she showed up and did her best. Which mindset do you think will serve her better in the long run?!

So based on this background, here is what we came up with through our blood, sweat and tears: 


1. I am present (in my body) - is what I'm doing serving me? 

2. I am positive - which also includes being grateful.

3. I am friendly.

4. I am courageous - expanding my comfort zone. 

5. I am a problem solver - what's the next best step?

6. I am curious - what do I want to learn about?

7. I am a hard worker - I define success for myself.  

8. I am creative.

Since our meeting, I check in with them regularly which power they used that day, if any. At first I thought they would just roll their eyes at me, but I was pleasantly surprised that they each have at least one thing to say each day. You also get unique insights into their days through these stories, and what challenges them, or how they turned something around. I also ask, did you see anyone use any of these powers today? I love their answers to this as well... who was friendly, courageous, etc. You start seeing their friends or classmates in a different light.

This really does help, even for myself, to cut down on all the back and forth, pros and cons when trying to make a decision, and to overrule a subconscious decision that my Mammalian brain tells me to do. 

Next up we'll be sharing our family powers at our Courageous Girls Club meeting, where every mother-daughter pair will also share their values that they came up with. You can write these in any way that speaks to you, such as through a motto, a mission statement, family purpose, or a best possible self... This article from the Atlantic should give a good start.

The point, however, is to slowly and consciously program our powerful subconscious, which can be so helpful to us, with powers/values that point us in the right direction and help us write the stories we want to write with our lives. 

Humanity Preprogrammed - Hunter Gatherers


With our meetings 2 and 3 (which were 3 weeks apart,) the goal was to set the foundation for understanding that while we might think that we are writing our authentic stories, we have been pre-programmed in some very deep ways. And understanding how our brains work can give us control over how we write the stories we want to write in our lives.

So we started our meeting with recapping our previous meeting of how our brains evolved - from our Reptilian brain that still has the job of keeping our bodies alive, then came our Mammalian brain which gave us more complex emotions, and a memory storage for our experiences, attitudes, habits, from which it makes quick decisions for us.

This quick decision making process is one of the most important aspects of understanding how our brains work, and how our brains can automatically write the different stories in our lives, most often just repeating past responses. 

We usually cruise along our days with our Reptilian and Mammalian brains doing our work for us subconsciously around 85% of the time. However, with the help of our newest brain, our Neocortex, we have access to conscious thought, logic and decision making, and the capability to overwrite our Mammalian brain's automatic responses. So the power is in our own hands.

But, there is another way that we have been pre-programmed. For 90% of the time that we have been Homo Sapiens, our ancestors lived as Hunter Gatherers, from around 200,000 years ago, to 10,000 years ago. And while it may seem like a long time ago, it's really only a blip in our human timeline. So our brains are still wired to solve the problems that our Hunter Gatherer ancestors faced.  

So what are those problems? We focused on 3.

1. Scanning for Danger + Negativity bias

"Our ancestors survived by approaching pleasant stimuli, like a carrot, and avoiding unpleasant stimuli, like an incoming stick. They eventually began to discern that avoiding a stick, and subsequent injury or death, was far more important than picking a carrot. As this bias for negative stimuli developed, our brain structure slowly adapted and eventually, we became wired to pay more attention to negative information." -Positive Psychology Program

In short, a hundred things might be going right in our lives, but that 1 criticism we received we cannot let go of. Thank your ancestors for that.

2. Fitting in - comparing/judging

Our Hunter Gatherer ancestors lived in small groups, between 25-100 people, for their whole lives. Getting along was not optional, as your life or death literally depended on it. If you were kicked out of the group, joining another one wasn't really an option, and living in the wild alone was very dangerous. Therefore, fitting in, getting along, comparing yourself to others to make sure you measure up with how much you are contributing, are very important traits to have for your survival. Also, since your life depended on everyone else working just as hard as you at getting food, helping with the babies, etc, judging others who might be contributing less was important in order to remove them from your group if they were weighing you down.

3. Need more / better

Yes, the latest iPhone is already out, and once again, your Hunter Gatherer ancestors are the ones to be thanked for wanting it. Or a second helping at dinner. Or a new toy, when you already have a 100. Need more, need better. Why? Because the more food they had, the longer they could survive. The food gave them energy to walk, hunt, gather, and defend themselves, as well as improve on their weapons, shelter, and hunting practices. The better those developed, the better chances they had of surviving from the elements, predators, and finally, to reproduce!

Here is a wonderful 3-minute video overview of these concepts, by Dr. Russ Harris.



Next up, in order to experience what it must have been like to live as Hunter Gatherers and get a better insight into how our brains are programmed, we actually went to the woods...

We had to hunt, and work together to build shelter. (Note to self, in the future we could also learn to make weapons, learn about edible plants to survive on, etc.) 

So we went hunting with our phones, and had to take as close a picture of a wild animal as possible (mainly squirrels.) The closer we got to them, the more it meant that if we really were hunting, we could have actually caught one. However, none of us got very close... and no, we could not use zoom. See the squirrel in this picture below? It's the best one we've got... I'm not sure how long our group would've survived. 


However, our approach was, that if we can't catch an animal to eat, then at least don't get eaten. So next up came building a shelter in order to survive the roaming tigers and wild animals in our neck of the woods. All the while constantly scanning our surroundings for predators - we took a stuffed unicorn dressed up as a tiger who would periodically come around (held by someone in our group) - in order to keep us on our toes. It really was interesting how the shelter, and everyone working together did give the sense that together we could actually survive an attack. When the "tiger" came around, we were all on top of our shelter, working together, making ourselves look bigger with our sticks, and it reminded me of us becoming a 9-headed dragon. We did seem intimidating - although I don't have the picture to prove it. I was too busy fighting off the predators to take pictures, but here is us from right before the attack... 


After all of the hard work came a very modern ending of walking home for snacks and scrapbook journaling about our experiences... which on second thought, should've probably been carved into stone instead.

Hmm, maybe next time.  


However, our last discussion around the table involved the same conclusion as at our last meeting: our conscious Prefrontal Cortex can override any subconscious programming, as long as we use awareness in our day-to-day interactions, and learn to pause. What's going on inside of me right now? What's beneath my reaction? No need to judge ourselves, just investigate, learn from it, and take the next best step.

One step at a time.

Humanity Preprogrammed - The Evolution of our Brains

Upon much research, I realized that since our goal is to move our girls to be the authors of the stories in their lives, the first step of this process should be to go back to the very beginning and see how we come into life pre-programmed... in some very basic ways. We can't write our authentic stories as effectively without knowing how our brains work, and especially where our brains comes from evolutionarily speaking. We are animals, after all, and to really understand and grasp that, it helps to see the story of our human evolution.

So before we even met, everyone watched this amazing 45 minute long video called Mankind Rising, which follows our incredible journey to Homo Sapiens from the first cell on Earth 3.5 billion years ago. 

So for our meeting, I took screen shots from the movie and printed out the different species that we were over our evolution as well as major milestones that we reached - such as leaving the water for land, becoming a mammal, standing up, etc - and we had to put them in proper timeline, from our very beginning to now. I also printed out the pictures of the different challenges that we faced - ice age, meteor, dinosaurs, etc - since they all played very important roles in our journey to becoming Homo Sapiens. 


Putting our history in order wasn't as easy as we thought, as you can see on the picture. We faced a lot of ups and downs over our evolution, as well as very close calls... 

Step 2 was then to apply this evolution to our brain, since that's our control center for all we do, and for all the life stories we write. In addition, "earlier, simpler brains were not replaced; rather, as the brain’s capacities developed, new brain evolutions wrapped themselves around earlier stages, which continued to function, and learned to interact with them." This quote is from this great overview of the different roles our 3 brains play in our lives.   


Our brains developed over time from bottom to top, and our brain #1 is our Reptilian brain from our lizard ancestors, and it's all about the physical survival and maintenance of the body. Next up, literally, is our Limbic System or Mammalian brain from when we were cute mouse-like creatures during the age of dinosaurs, and emotions as well as seeking pleasure and avoiding pain developed. The last part, which developed just about 200,000 years ago from our Primate ancestors, is the Neocortex, and this gave us access to language, logic, reasoning, among other things.   

And now comes the really interesting part... Brain 1 and 2, so the reptilian and our limbic system work subconsciously, meaning we are unaware of what's happening there most of the time. Brain 3, however, which is our Neocortex, we use consciously, but conscious thinking takes a lot of fuel to use and is super tiring and slow. Think of when you do math problems, how tired and hungry you feel afterwards. So about 85% of the time it's our subconscious part of our brain that makes quick decisions about our lives, based on past experiences, memories and emotions, all in order to save energy and time.

"The mammalian brain stores our emotional memories. When confronted by a situation, it “searches” its stockpile of past experiences for information on how to react. Going back to the earliest time we experienced a similar situation, it checks what the response was at the time and responds similarly. In other words, our current reaction replicates the response and emotional age of the response triggered by the earlier situation." -From Integrated Wellness

And this works amazing... most of the time.  

But in order to write the authentic stories we want to write with our lives, and not just keep replicating past responses, we need sometimes to override the subconscious, and take a new consciously courageous action.  

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So in order to grasp this concept, we talked through the above image of how our brain is like an iceberg - thank you, Freud, for giving us such a great metaphor. So brains 1 & 2 are the subconscious part of the brain - or the much larger part of the iceberg that we usually cannot see which is under water - and our newest conscious Neocortex brain is the part of the iceberg that is visible. The subconscious part houses our long-term memory storage - from birth to present day - and this churns our memories, beliefs, habits, attitudes, values, cultural norms, experiences and knowledge to give us a quick response to something that's currently happening in our lives. Should I go up to the new girl and introduce myself? Your subconscious will quickly give you a yes or no, in a split second (all based on past experiences, beliefs, or your core values). Your subconscious is a million times faster at making decisions than your conscious brain is, and often you won't even know why it tells you to do what it does.

In order to demonstrate how our subconscious makes these super quick decisions (which obviously most of the time work to our advantage), I read some examples to which the girls had to quickly reply to.

What would you do or how would you feel? 

  • You are walking around your block, and you see a cute friendly dog with it's owner just a few feet ahead of you - what do you do? 
  • Picture you are by the sea, beautiful sunny day, and there is a cliff, 5 meters high. People are jumping off it, and now it’s your turn!
  • Your sibling takes your favorite toy/stuffy
  • Your teacher asked you to sing by yourself in front of the whole class today a song that your whole class has been practicing
  • It’s the weekend - time for church or synagogue, etc. Do you go and how do you feel?
  • We are off to the dentist for your check-up!
  • Someone throws trash on the floor in front of you. How do you feel, do you pick it up? Do you even care?
  • You are in class, and the teacher just asked a hard question. Maybe you know the answer maybe you don’t. Do you raise your hand?
  • It’s time for your annual flu shot! How do you feel? 
  • An older kid who you don’t know was just super mean to your friend and told her that she is stupid…

So in our meeting, the answers came quickly! Yes, I would definitely do it, or no, there is no way I would. It was all very personal, and the girls were very into answering the questions. But then we tried to explore the different reasons why they felt the way they did. It was interesting how long it took to go beneath each question and try and give an answer to "why" they feel the way they do... and some of the answers took a while to come to light, and there were so many reasons to each question. It was never just one. "Well, I like to sing, and I feel like my class has a safe atmosphere so that noone would laugh at me, and my teacher is really friendly and positive, so even if I did make a mistake or sound bad, she wouldn't care. I'm sure I would also have been practicing at home, so I would feel confident I could sing the song..." The conscious mind takes a while to unwrap all the reasons, but the subconscious does it in a split second. Amazing.      

However, the point to all of this is that your subconscious brain will write the stories for you if you let it... it'll help your body keep alive with the help of your Reptilian brain (thank you and keep at it!!!), and it will direct you to respond to situations as your Mammalian brain thinks best, based on past experiences.

But, with 3 things, you can write the stories you actually want to write using your Neocortex and step in if you need to:

1. Awareness - PAUSE. Being aware how your body wants you to respond to something, or how it makes you feel when you already did. (Such as not raise your hand in class; lashing out at your friend/sibling; etc.) Can you figure out why this may be, or what memories this might be based on? What's going on inside of me right now? What's in the undercurrent?

2. Conscious Thought - what would you rather do? How would you rather be?

3. Choose your Action - take any little action you can toward your goal. This is vital. You can't just think it. You have to actually take action towards it, no matter how small it may be. Little actions can add up to ultimately becoming a habit, which then the subconscious can automatically maintain and direct you towards. 

This video by Sentis helped us solidify some of these ideas at the end. 

So your subconscious can be a great force for you, as long as you keep on top of it, and program things in there that are important to you, such as your values, gratitude, courage, etc. The more you understand how it works, the more power you have over it. And while this is obviously a fairly difficult concept to explain to our girls, I do think it's the first step in understanding how they can best write the stories they want to write with their lives. Also, the power of the Courageous Girls Club is that Mom is present in the meeting as well, so you take these concepts home with you where you can revisit it, further explain it or research it, and apply it to your everyday lives together.

Every meeting now ends with the girls writing/drawing the things they found interesting or important into their scrapbooking journals, which has been a huge hit... I guess creativity is stored in the Mammalian brain, so this picture shows their subconscious communicating with their Neocortex, hence the deep in thought nature of the picture.  


We followed the intense discussion by a light game of Capture the Flag in the woods, with all the Courageous moms and girls. Only one person, my daughter, was a little injured when a branch hit her eye - but luckily one of the moms is an eye doctor, so she was in good hands. However, good to know - the eye usually heals even faster than skin. Thank you, reptilian brain, for healing my daughter. Within a day she was fine! 


First Meeting Ever

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The day finally arrived when we met as a Courageous Girls Club, with moms and daughters present! It was an exciting day, as it was the first time that we’ve met altogether. Beforehand, I’ve met with just the moms 3 times - on an October, November, and January Sunday evenings at a restaurant. But this marked the first time that we all met with our daughters… 

I had 3 goals: 

  1. Introduce what the Courageous Girls Club is about.
  2. Get to know each other.
  3. Have fun together to grow connection + establish that moms do everything girls do. 

Our agenda for the first meeting:

1.  Welcome! 

2. Introduce ourselves

3. Talk about why we are here...

The name of the club is Courageous Girls Club: What is courage? What does being courageous mean?

-It is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. 

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” -e.e. cummings

What do you think this means? Talk it through.

4. Talk about what the CGC is about and what we plan to do together

5. Olympic Ice-breaker

The meeting happened to be during the 2018 Winter Olympics, so we took advantage and put together a fun Olympic style competition that included 4 events for our 3 teams + opening & closing ceremonies.

Opening ceremony: lighting candles, one for each competitor to the dramatic music of the "Olympic Fanfare" by John Williams.

Closing ceremony: blowing out our own candles to "We are the Champions" by Queen. 

  •       SPEED SKATING RELAY - skate around the cones on paper plates, one team member at a time, and pass the baton to your teammate after each round. 
  •       CENTIPEDE SPEED SKATING - in 3 groups, competing against each other at the same time. Everyone was wearing their skates (paper plates) and had balloons between team members. First to the wall won the race. 
  •       CURLING - tennis ball + broomstick. One team member rolled the ball, and another team member with one touch of the broomstick had to land the ball onto the highest number possible. 
  •      CROSS COUNTRY SKIING - first to travel to the wall on two planks of wood won. This was harder and funnier than previously imagined. 

6. Art activity - I can't imagine life without...

It's a great art activity that helps everyone get to know each other better, and you can make it as simple or as fancy as you like. We drew our own pictures, and filled it in with our own ideas, but look here for a template if you need it. Everyone shared their creation afterwards. 


It was an awesome start to our story together... so excited that we have officially begun!!!



The New York Times Well section just published an all-encompassing article titled Mindfulness for Children, with links and information for each specific age-group. A quick read or scroll-through and you are hit by all the benefits of mindfulness, and what a useful tool it is for "decreasing anxiety and promoting happiness." I feel like I've been a bucket for the past few years, collecting bits and pieces about mindfulness/meditation, even ordered some books at some point, but after having read this article my bucket finally spilled over, and I feel like it's time to take action. 

However, for me it's never as easy as it sounds, because it order to begin anything, I need to fully understand it first. This can get annoying - or just take me years to get to the point of acting on something.

So while mindfulness is considered a "simple technique that emphasizes paying attention to the present moment in an accepting, nonjudgmental manner," it takes a little time to truly understand what it is.

But first off, the reason I'd like to instill it in our family's life is because of two things:

1. I want my daughters to be the drivers of their own lives and make conscious decisions based on being self-aware (as opposed to just reacting to things on auto-pilot.) 

2. Learn to deal with big emotions in a more productive/self-reflective way.

According to Happify, meditation and mindfulness are the "next big public health revolution, and join the pantheons of no brainers like brushing teeth, eating well, and taking meds prescribed by your doctors." They also have the best definition I've found so far:

"mindfulness is the ability to know what's happening in your head at any given moment without getting carried away by it."

"The proposition is that you learn how to respond wisely to things that happen to you, rather than just reacting blindly... You are breaking a lifetime's habit of walking around in a fog of projection and rumination, and you are actually focusing on what's happening right now."

According to Mind the Bump, "the opposite of mindfulness is mindlessness or auto-pilot, kind of like taking the back-seat and letting your thoughts and emotions drive your decisions and actions. Mindfulness works because it allows us to step out of our auto-pilot mode and get into the driver seat. So instead of reacting, thinking in circles or repeating old habits, we are able to respond to the events in life with greater empowerment and choice."

"Mindfulness is able to bring this calm and clear perspectives to all of our moments. It helps to create space between us and our thoughts. It allows us to notice our thoughts, emotions and our surroundings, and choose what we attach ourselves to, and what we let pass by, like clouds on the sky floating by. Over time, this can allow us to be less stressed, less reactive, and more focused and connected." 

The last thing I had to clear up that I didn't understand, is how does listening to your breathing and clearing your head, actually make you more self-aware, since usually the goal is to try and think of absolutely nothing? This took me a little while, but I finally found the answer in a new book I just ordered called Mindful Games: 

"When children and teenagers focus on an experience in the present moment (the feeling of breathing, perhaps, or the sounds in a room), their minds tend to quiet, and a space opens up in their heads that allows them to see what's going on more clearly. As they become aware of what's happening in their minds and bodies, kids learn to use sense impressions (I'm feeling restless, for instance) as cues to stop and reflect before speaking or acting. Through this process they become less reactive and more conscious of what's going on within and around them. Rather than focusing on the result, they focus on responding to the situation with wisdom and compassion."

I'm finally sold. Now what?

The bad news from the NYTimes article is that “learning mindfulness isn’t like piano lessons, where you can have someone else teach it to your children, you have to learn it yourself.”

I'll take that on as a challenge, as I could definitely apply all those benefits to my own life.


So here is our intro into Mindfulness...

1. What is a thought?

Ask Courageous Girls first to explain, and then show video by Cosmic Kids Zen Den. (I started it at 1:45)

Excerpts from video:

"It's good to know what thoughts are, so we can sort them out when our heads feel really busy.

They are like bubbles, they pop up in your brain, and sometimes there can be quite a few all at once. They don't hang around for long. The funny thing about thoughts is that they join up to a feeling - some thoughts make us happy, some make us worry. 

Remember, you can always choose which thoughts to believe and realize which ones aren't helping you. And the secret to helping ourselves when our brains get too busy is super easy - it's breathing!"

2. How Mindfulness empowers us

Ask Courageous Girls if anyone knows what mindfulness is. How is it related to your breathing? 

Then show this video by Happify. 

"Mindfulness allows us to see our thoughts and feelings as they are beginning... It's very powerful to know what we are feeling as we are feeling it or know what we are thinking, as we are thinking it. With mindfulness we can choose what will strengthen, and bring into action, and we will choose to gently let go of. We don't have to be at the mercy of old habits, or old ways of thinking or old ways of being. We are empowered. It just takes practice." 

3. Kids explain mindfulness

Watch this video. Then ask - what does PBS stand for? (Pause, Breathe and Smile.) When do kids you use this strategy? Why do you think it works?

4. Why mindfulness is a superpower

Another awesome video explanation by Happify. (By the way, watch them all first and see which ones work for you.)

"The proposition is that you learn how to respond wisely to things that happen to you, rather than just reacting blindly."

5. Just breathe...

Last video to show and discuss. In what situations you think you can implement mindfulness in your own life? Can you think of some triggers at school or at home, or with your friends or family?  

6. Create a Glitter Jar activity

Wonderful activity from Mindful, where the glitter jar represents the mind settling. It's a great way for children to visualize their busy minds, and what happens when they take the time to breathe, and let their thoughts settle.


A big step forward...


While the ultimate dream for the Courageous Girls Club is for it to reach Courageous moms and their daughters around the world, my first goal, however, has always been to establish it for my own daughters. 

This fall, I read the book The Mother-Daughter Project, and wow. It gave me the final push to reach out and actually start our own Courageous Girls Club with other moms and their daughters (besides just meeting as a family.) This book is wonderful and describes a similar idea where they formed a mother-daughter group in 1997, and stayed together through monthly meetings for 10 years, until the girls graduated from high school. The book chronicles how they tackled the different issues that are relevant to the different ages (from age 8-18), and how they dealt with some of the challenges over the adolescent years.  

For me, what was truly amazing about reading it, is that it works

And not only does it work, the sooner you can establish such a community with other moms and daughters, the better. Not only for your daughter, but also for yourself.

So I mustered up some courage, and sent out an e-mail to a few moms I thought would be fun to start this journey with. I sent it out to 4 moms, and 2 were game! Then 1 mom invited another mom, so altogether we are now 4! 

(By the way, the book recommends having between 4-6 moms/daughters in the group + starting between the ages of 7-10, well before puberty hits. My eldest is 10, so I couldn't dilly-dally any longer.)

So on a beautiful fall Sunday night we met at a restaurant (which was founded by a hard-working immigrant girl from Albania who grew it into this amazing restaurant called Sava's in Ann Arbor, MI), and in short, we were off! 

(The reason I'm writing this all down here is that so you can get a feel for how to start your own CGC in case you are interested, and learn from my own experiences of what worked, and what didn't.)


So I had an agenda... 

1. Welcome and short introductions of ourselves (name, kids, and who and how we know each other in the group.) 

2. I talk about why I want to start a Courageous Girls Club  - for me this was a passionate and vulnerable talk in 3 long points. I put it all in there.

3. Overview of what the Courageous Girls Club is, and what we would do

4. Idea of safe space - the hope is that what we share between us is considered a gift and is well-respected, and obviously not gossiped around. 

5. Take a time-travel probably to the 80s, where we meet our younger selves, who is around our daughter's age between 7-10. (This wonderful activity is from The Mother-Daughter Project.)

Ask of yourself some of these questions: What was I like back then? What did I love to do? When did I feel the best? Whom did I love to be with? 

(In our meeting, the first mom who started sharing realized that she can't really discuss herself as an 8 year-old without giving us context about her amazing life story as an immigrant, so from then on we all shared about the different contexts that shaped us into that 8 year-old child - so it ended up being a combo of parents, where we lived, how we lived, family dynamics, siblings, etc.)  

6. Remembering your mother when you were young...  

Some questions to ask: What are some of my favorite memories with my mother? What did I love to do with her? How was she with me back then? What did I need from her as a child? What did I miss that I feel like I didn't get, or get enough of?

The point of this activity is to reconnect with our younger selves which is our daughter's age, and try and feel what our moms were good at giving us that we can replicate, and think about what other things they may have missed that we feel like we needed, which we can then implement in our own parenting.

7. How was gender viewed at your household, what did you learn from your parents about how girls/women behave, etc.?

8.  What is your goal or reasons for wanting to be in the Courageous Girls Club? And/or what would you like to get out of it? 


Questions for Logistics:

-Do we want/need more members for our club? Who are we looking for? Do you know of anyone?

-How often should we meet (every other week or once a month)? Where should we meet? When should we meet? When should our first meeting be?

-Should we meet as mom’s once a month? If so, when and where?



Our first meeting together absolutely blew me away. I don't know what it was, but for me the true beauty in it were three things: 

1. We were all vulnerable with the things we shared; 

2. There was real depth to the conversations as we discussed our lives and experiences being a daughter, wife, mom, professional; 

3. Everything was relevant and interesting as we are all on the same path to try and raise courageous girls.  

These were not surface conversations. We are all in this together. We are all trying to do our best. And it’s not just about parenting. In order to best raise courageous girls, we ourselves have to be role-models, we ourselves have to be self-aware and figure ourselves out, plus learn about the different issues we want our daughters to know and to become.

So our next step is meeting just as moms again in 2 weeks, same time, same place, but armed with a great overview book in hand: 9 Ways We Are Screwing Up Our Girls And How We Can Stop - A guide to helping girls reach their highest potential. I think it's a perfect book with which to launch our mission.

When I got home after our 4 hour-long meeting, I told my husband that it felt like CGC is really just as much for moms as it is for our daughters, which was a new concept for me. I think we all realized that we have a lot to share with one another, learn from each other, and so many issues to cover and educate ourselves on. So meeting once a month with a new book in hand to discuss issues, ideas and experiences felt natural I think for all of us.  

What a gift. 

Who am I?

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If there is one thing I'd like for Courageous Girls to get from being in the club is the concept that they are the authors of their own life. Nora Ephron so wonderfully said:

"Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim."

Precisely. If our Courageous Girls could get just this one concept down, we have succeeded. Why? Because this means that they take full ownership of the way they direct their lives, and how they respond to challenges.

Let's say a Courageous Girl is called stupid at the playground. Not so hard to imagine, right? And let's just say that she gets sad, starts crying, and even believes it. This is just one of the ways that this story can unfold. There are obviously other ways as well, and that choice is in her hands.

How do you want this story to be written?

And even more importantly,

How do you want this story to end? 

Instead of crying or being passive, she could instead reply: "You're wrong... It's pronounced, AWESOME!!" Which is probably the best reply I've read to this common predicament in Laura Clydesdale's wonderful blog.   

We've changed the CGC tagline recently to try and encourage Courageous Girls to view themselves as the heroine in the book that they write with their choices and actions each and every day.

"Power Up your Heroine's Journey" is our new tagline, and by "power up" we mean giving her knowledge, skills, and access to the different options from which she can choose to write her own story.   

So at today's meeting we delved into the first concept of a heroine, which is to know herself and to take the time to think about who she wants to be, because... 

"The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be." -Ralph Waldo Emerson



1. Our tagline is "Power Up your Heroine's Journey." What is a heroine? 

A heroine is the principal female character in a book - she is not a superhero, but a regular person who is in charge of her journey and writes her own story. 

Do you have a favorite heroine, or can you give examples from stories or books? 

Moana, Hermione Granger (Harry Potter), Laura Ingalls (Little House on the Prairie), Pippi Longstocking, Jane Eyre, Jo March (Little Women)...

For ideas, here are 50 of the best heroines from middle grade books.

Are the lives of heroines easy?

Think of how boring any of these books would be if for example all Moana did was practice sailing in nice weather all day. We need challenges in order to learn and grow from, and through which we can explore our world. 

What are some characteristics that these heroines' have?

Adventurous, courageous, kind, perseveres, funny, etc.


2. "I Am..." activity

The point of this activity is to think about who they are as their own heroines. The beauty of it is that as they think it through, they discover more and more strengths that they each possess, in the end filling the whole page, giving them a visual of the many things that they are. We framed this activity based on this Brave Girls Club project. We ended up printing out the sheets, but the older girls mostly drew their own pictures and came up with their own words to describe themselves, while for the younger ones it was helpful to pick and choose and cut and tape from the different options. Whichever way you do it, the point is to take the time to think through who you are, discover your strengths, and who you would like to be.

“The more girls know who they are, the more they can believe in themselves, and trust in the power of their own intellect and intuition. This self-trust is the foundation of self-confidence, the foundation girls need to assert their voice and remain resilient, to rise up as leaders - and to keep rising.” -Elizabeth Perlman, The Intuitive Writing Project (as mentioned on How to Unlock your Strength blog post)
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Elephant Power

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For the last couple of weeks, we've been using the Bully-Proof Children Curriculum from Kids Empowered, which has been awesome. I ordered it online, and they sent it to me in the mail. You can do the same from here. Here are some of the issues we've tackled so far:

1. How you can increase your bubble power - which is a visual to see how one can increase their self-esteem, confidence and power, which bubble membrane then acts as a buffer or a layer of protection between you and the outside world (such as a mean friend.) (Positive self-talk, your strengths, being healthy, how you feel about yourself, etc.) 

2. How to calm ourselves and why it’s important. (You seriously can’t cover and practice this enough times.)

3. Girls demonstrated what is confident body language + tone.

4. Who are our allies - friendly classmates, who don’t have to be a friend, but someone who is friendly and approachable. How can you be an ally? 

5. Tattling vs Reporting - tattling is when children tell adults about something someone is not supposed to do, but noone is getting hurt or property is not getting destroyed. Reporting is when children or property are being hurt - this is when adult help is needed. (They’ve realized that maybe sometimes they tattle too much, and soon after our meeting I heard from a distance “Nori, stop, you are about to go and tattle!) And I think she did stop, because I never heard about it again... 

6. And the 3-time strategy - try to deal with a problem 3 times and then get help if needed, because assertiveness takes practice. Love this, and this really helps my daughters to help figure out how to deal with certain issues. 

7. How to use your voice - aggressive (shark), passive (sheep/lamb), passive-aggressive (chameleon), assertive (elephant.) "Assertive people express their feelings without being mean about it. They know there is more than one way to solve a problem. They will try and find a win win, compromise or agree to disagree. (The elephant is the symbol for this style because it is big and strong, and rarely uses its force unprovoked. The elephant defends is territory, uses its wits to get things done, and has compassion.)" -from the Kids Empowered curriculum


Interesting points from our CGC meeting: 

Kriszti (8) led this meeting for the first time and what an amazing opportunity it is for her and ultimately them. (Previously they would lead the art activity or an exercise, but not the whole thing.) Of course there was drama, because then they all wanted to lead it, but how great it is to have that problem versus noone wanting to lead. Realized to fully harness this desire to lead and fly with it - they learn so much from the process. Public speaking, asking questions, how to reply to answers, etc. The added bonus is that whoever leads it learns to know the issues inside out, because of course we practice it beforehand. 

Their thoughts on friendships and what really is assertiveness - which can sometimes be hard to find in between aggressive and passive. For example - "you are not the boss of me," is too aggressive. "I can make my own decisions" is much more assertive and less inflaming. They shared different experiences from their own lives, and it was great to practice what to say. You also get an insight into how they deal with these things at school, sometimes maybe a bit too aggressive, or even too passive. For example, my daughter has a friend who always seems to want to lead and make the decisions about the games they play. (Even if my daughter is her own character in their Harry Potter game, the friend dictates what color hair my daughter can have, etc.) "Fine, have it your way" in a passive-aggressive way is sometimes my daughter's response, or just an aggressive "not playing with you anymore" type of reply. During our CGC meeting we talked about this and told my daughter that her friend may not realize that she is like this. So we practiced her saying something more assertive instead, such as: "Listen, I’ve offered 3 things I’d like to do and you’ve said no to all 3 of them. It’s not fun to play with someone who makes all the rules. So either you’ll let me make some of my own decisions, or I’ll go play with someone else." 

The biggest take-away from all of this is how much my husband and I are learning from all of this. This morning I overheard my husband asking Kriszti (whose favorite animal is the elephant), "Kriszti, can I borrow an elephant to take to work with me and leave on my desk? I'd like it to remind me to be assertive at work."

"Sure, Papi."

Growing Gratitude


You know the Thanksgiving tradition that many American families have, to go around the table and say what each person is grateful for? We’ve done it on and off in my own family, but then at some point it hit me that we can all say the words… I’m thankful for my family or I’m thankful for the house we live in… but how can we teach our children (and ourselves) to actually mean it? 

So I’ve researched and researched gratitude. The answer to this was surprisingly hard to find. 

It’s fairly easy to find the benefits for gratitude. They are abundant and seems to be one of the most foundational elements of a happy life...

"Gratitude has one of the strongest links to mental health and satisfaction with life of any personality trait - more so than even optimism, hope, or compassion. Grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism, and gratitude as a discipline protects us from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness. People who experience gratitude can cope more effectively with everyday stress, show increased resilience in the face of trauma-induced stress, recover more quickly from illness and enjoy more robust physical health." -Robert Emmons, Gratitude Works!

...just to name a few of the benefits. But it really is mind-blowing how beneficial gratitude is. The Science of Happiness course does an amazing job of outlining all the scientific aspects of gratitude - how it effects your health, your mind, what it's challenges are, and what are some of the best gratitude practices. Highly recommend this course to any parent through Berkeley online, and it's free! It really is amazing.  

But I finally found my answer to this question in Robert Emmons' book, Gratitude Works!. He is a gratitude researcher from UC Davis.

First and foremost it is about "growing gratitude," writes Robert Emmons. So if you are the most ungrateful person - no worries. All you need to do is start practicing it. To me, the best way seems to be through a gratitude journal, where you put about 3 things down each day that you are grateful for.

The point is, it's okay if at first you are not fully and deeply feeling the gratefulness for each of those 3 things. But if you keep at it, looking for 3 good things a day, your brain will start to adapt to help you look, even when you are not consciously searching. Since your brain will begin to know that at the end of the day it'll need 3 good things to write about, it'll start picking up on happy things on it's own throughout your day... Wow, that tree is beautiful! Wow, I love our little house. Look at my daughter's smile! How nice is this person who held the door open for me?! 

The point is that at some point you'll start noticing more and more things throughout your day. By writing them down (as opposed to just thinking it), it gives it depth: "The act of writing down your blessings translates your thoughts into words, as well as organizes them, facilitates integration, and helps you accept your own experiences and puts them in context." 

Some other quotes from Robert Emmons' book:

"Gratitude is important not only because it helps us feel good but also because it inspires us to do good."

"Because it is a virtue, gratitude, at least initially, requires mental discipline.... (But) you will find that each time you make the choice for gratitude, the next choice will be a little easier, a little more automatic, a little freer."

"At the core of these practices is memory. Gratitude is about remembering... A French proverb states that gratitude is the memory of the heart." 



So putting it all together, what I really needed answer to was how exactly to grow in gratitude, and this is where this book helped me the most. So I will now make a list of questions that helps my daughters and I when writing down our 3 things at night... since it is not only about things that made us happy that day.

Overall, it is about developing skills of noticing, appreciating, and communicating. So be very specific - the truth is in the details. Complete sentences, with as much detail as possible. In addition, consider the benefits that you are grateful for and are receiving as "gifts." 


12 Questions to help guide your thoughts:

1.  Did anyone help you today or do anything for you that cost them their time, energy, or money? What was it, what did it cost them, and how did it make you feel?

2.  Think about the people to whom you are grateful, and why. Who deserves your thanks? What have you received or are receiving from them?

3.  Surprises create more gratitude, because they are unexpected. What unanticipated or novel surprises have showed up in your life? 

4.  How have others helped you intentionally today? Did anyone go out of their way to help you on purpose? 

5.  What can you savor today? Becoming aware that a very pleasant experience (such as vacation) is about to end enhances feelings of gratefulness associated with it. So focus on savoring vs. worrying.

6.  What were you dreading that did not happen? 

7.  Think about people who are helping or have helped those whom you love. 

8.  Think about the absence of something positive in your life. (If you did not live in your neighborhood, meet a friend, have a sister, how would you feel?)

9.  Recall a breakthrough you had in what was once an insurmountable problem, whether this was just last week or 10 years ago. 

10.  Who are the people who have made a significant difference in your life? In what ways did they shape your life? 

11.  Think of a time when someone went out of their way to help you. How have you benefited from that person's help?  

12.  If you are currently going through a difficult situation, or are trying to overcome an obstacle, what are some things that you are learning from this experience? What are some positive things that you wouldn't have discovered any other way?



If for some reason none of these questions speak to you one night, and you possibly have gratitude fatigue, here is a final twist that can still help you gain a positive boost on your day:

What were some things that you achieved today, no matter how small? 

While our brains naturally love to focus on things that are going wrong, highlighting to ourselves our little achievements gives us energy to continue down a productive path.

“Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run." -Rebecca Beris

Let your actions define you...

(From early December, 2016... but even more relevant today.)

You know when in middle or high school, when you were sitting in history class learning about World War II, and in between the horror and disbelief of how something like that could ever happen, the question ultimately arose, whether just in your head or as an actual class discussion: What would YOU have done?

Would you have gone along with the persecution and turn a blind eye? Or would you have stood up against the injustice and fight with every fiber of your being? Would you have even recognized the little bits of propaganda of turning against each other? Or would it have been too late? Would you have helped your Jewish, Roma, minority, disabled, gay or lesbian neighbors and friends? Or would you have just watched on in a helpless way?

Think back: 

How did you answer that question to yourself, way back when? 

I am sure you asked it.

And did you wonder back then, like I did, and maybe you even raised your hand in class and asked your teacher about it: how could the masses go along with such a hateful message? How could so many people be convinced to turn against each other?

It used to make no sense.

But who would have thought back then when you asked it, and even just a couple of months ago, that all of a sudden we could be transported back in time, and feel bits and pieces of what they must have felt like almost 80 years ago...  

But this time around we know from history, that one day, our children will ultimately ask us the same question, if they haven't already: 

Mom, Dad, Aunt or Uncle, Teacher or Professor, what did YOU do to fight the injustice?  

Wouldn't it be nice to be able to say:

I took action.

After a brief pause for sadness and anger, I dusted myself off, and used those emotions to fuel me to find an action I could take, every step of the way. 

Let your actions define you, and find some organizations to support, causes to fight for, and let your voice be heard by your senators/congress(wo)men. 


In case you need some direction, here are some options:


314 Action

314 Action is a nonprofit that was founded by members of the STEM community, grassroots supporters and political activists.  Why 314 Action?  Pi is everywhere. It’s the most widely known mathematical ratio both inside and out of the scientific community. It is used in virtually everything we encounter in our daily lives.

314 Action is concerned that STEM education in the United States is falling further and further behind the rest of the world, that our political leaders continue to deny scientific facts and that Congress fails to fully fund scientific research so we can solve pressing environmental issues like climate change and social problems like gun violence.


Brand New Congress

Congress is broken. 80% of Americans agree. Both major parties have chosen big donors over the American people. We are going to recruit and run hundreds outstanding candidates in a single, national campaign for Congress in 2018. Together, they will pass a practical plan to significantly increase wages, remove corruption, and protect the rights of all Americans.


Emily's List

Our vision is a government that reflects the people it serves, and decision makers who genuinely and enthusiastically fight for greater opportunity and better lives for the Americans they represent. We will work for larger leadership roles for pro-choice Democratic women in our legislative bodies and executive seats so that our families can benefit from the open-minded, productive contributions that women have consistently made in office.

Emily's List counts Diversity & Inclusion as a key goal of our organization — for our candidates, membership, partners, board of directors and staff. We are committed to creating a space where people are valued regardless of sex, age, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, national origin or religious affiliation — and we celebrate the diverse geographic, economic, and family perspectives that help a movement meet the needs of the people it seeks to serve.

Setting the groundwork for Emotional Literacy

According to Brené Brown, from her online class The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting, when asked, people on average are only able to name 3 emotions: happy, sad, or angry. However, in order to correctly identify our own emotions, as well as be able to successfully read others, takes knowing around 30. This first video in her blog post is a great explanation of this. Why is this so important? Because "if you can't articulate, identify, and name an emotion, you can't move through it," says Brené Brown. And only by moving through it can we process and possibly learn from it. 

Even though I've known about the importance of emotional literacy for a while, it's taken till now to truly realize the significance of actually teaching my Courageous Girls all these 30 emotions. It really hit me when asking my 5 year-old a few times over last week, when she happened to look frustrated or when something unjust happened to her, what she was feeling. And she always would just say: I feel sad. 

Or ask many adults coming home from work in the evening who say: "I am stressed." Well, are you stressed because you feel overwhelmed with work, or are you stressed because you are not doing the type of work you thought you should be doing by now, or are you stressed because you feel like you are not being treated fairly at work? (Here I'm paraphrasing Susan David talk about this issue while discussing her book, Emotional Agility in this Robcast.)

Here is a poignant explanation by Brené Brown, once again from her online class, The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting:

"Imagine you have an excruciating pain in your right shoulder. You get to the doctor's office, and you are ready to tell her what's wrong. But your mouth is taped shut, and your arm is tied behind your back. So she looks at you and says "tell me what's going on." And she can see that you are crying, and she can see that you are suffering, and she can see that you are struggling. But you cannot articulate, name or point to what's happening. How frustrating, frightening, and scary that is. Plus, the bottom line is, we can't fix it. We can't help. And the same thing is true with emotions... Because if you can't name it, then you can't find the right intervention to move through it to heal it and change it."  

Learning about emotions is just like learning another language. You have to define each one, and help them identify with our help the correct one that happens to match their emotion in each event... over and over again. 

From all I've seen and read, this seems to be the foundational skill that underscores assertiveness and confidence for girls (and boys.) Just having finished Peggy Orenstein's book, Girls & Sex, it is mind-boggling what an important skill it is to know what one is feeling at a given moment, be able to interpret it, and assert oneself based on that emotion. The younger a girl starts to assert herself with friends, the more successful she will be asserting herself in relationships. If you think about it, the younger you start being able to say "no" to things that you don't want to do, the easier it is to do that later on in life, especially during the peer-pressure filled adolescence.


So let's begin! 

(This lesson is between 25-60 minutes long, depending on the discussion.)

1. Why do we have emotions and feelings, and why are they important to us?

KEY POINTS: Emotions guide us, and color our lives. Without emotions, we wouldn't be passionate about anything, and life would be fairly bland. Plus, we would probably die young, as emotions also help us survive. Every emotion focuses our attention and motivates us, and there is usually a MESSAGE in there somewhere. Also it's E-MOTION, meaning it moves through you, and doesn't last forever. Your thoughts then turn it into feelings, which can last much much longer.

(If your Courageous Girls are old enough and want to know the difference between emotions and feelings, show this to them.)


2. Show me how you look when... 

You are angry, surprised, disappointed, jealous, proud, excited, regretful, disgusted, etc. (Here are a list of feelings to choose from. Or in this first video, you'll also be introduced to Brené Brown's top 30 emotions/feelings.)

Show me how your face looks, tell me how your body feels (energy, no energy, butterflies), and tell me what you do in that mood (curl up on your bed, want to hit someone, tell a friend, etc.) 

PROCESSING: Even when we don't quite know what we are feeling, clues from our bodies can help us figure it out. Our feelings and emotions affect our whole body. In addition, each of us may show different feelings and emotions in different ways. I may act out in anger and attack, while others may start blaming or just shutdown, and curl up in a ball. It's important to realize that we may have our own unique ways of showing our emotions, so let's explore what that is! 

After a rough phone call with a friend the other day, after hanging up I realized all of a sudden I had no energy, and thought about getting coffee. But then I realized, wow, actually I'm just really sad. Sadness zaps your energy, so that you would sit down, and have time to reflect on what just happened. (Hence the reason we learn more from failure than from success. Failure leads to sadness, which in turn leads to introspection.) Pride, on the other hand is a social emotion, and urges you to tell someone what made you proud. Anger gives you energy to fight off injustice. Excitement gives you energy as well, but in a different way. Disgust, on the other hand, scrunches up your nose, so that you would not smell that pungent smell. Happiness is also a feeling that makes one reach out to others, be more creative, and gives off more energy.

The point is, that each emotion/feeling tells your body something about yourself, so encourage your Courageous Girls to start looking for that MESSAGE, as the message is there to get to know ourselves better - what we like, don't like, what we fear, what our values are, what we perceive as injustice, what our reactions are when we feel powerless, etc. Because only once you understand what you are feeling, can you then correctly choose your action in return.


3. You are in control...

DISCUSSION: The idea is that once there is an EVENT (which could be a fight with your sibling, or a mean word from a friend, etc.), to create space between our EVENT and our REACTION. So instead of being on automatic pilot, and reacting to something without even thinking about it (think: event - scream at sister, event - hit brother), to try and pause and put some space in between and think about what we are feeling and why, and what our choices are in order to figure out how best to react. We were introduced to this EVENT - THOUGHT - RESPONSE model at GoStrengths!, and here is a great quick explanation of why thoughts matter so much.

While other organizations have different models that deal with this idea, my family put together our own model that works for us, and helps us better deal with big emotions. So you are welcome to use the GoSrenghts! model, the 6Seconds model of FEELINGS + OPTIONS + GOALS, or this model below, or make one of your own! The key is to somehow put space between the EVENT and the REACTION, and consciously choose the best choice possible.  

So let me go through our model for you: 

Our model for big emotions - image.001.jpeg

1. BREATHE - often, when we automatically react to something with big emotion, it's because that emotion got stuck in our Amygdala part of our brain, and we react without using our logical/thinking part of our brain (the Pre-Frontal Cortex.) Every emotion first passes through the Amygdala in order for it to check whether it's an emergency. However, the Amygdala can be dramatic and overly-cautious, and may think you are in danger, when all you are is just mad. So it blocks the emotion, and instead of passing it down to the thinking part of your brain, it instead gets your body ready to fight (or run or freeze.) This is awesome when a bear is attacking you, but not so much when you just need to figure out how to deal with your sister who borrowed your roller-blades without asking. So, a long story short, the best way to move that emotion to your Pre-Frontal Cortex is by giving your brain some extra oxygen with some deep tummy breaths. Here are a couple of examples for better breathing techniques: 4 Square Breathing Exercise and 4-7-8 Exercise by GoZen. However, as I've witnessed on myself and my daughters, breathing can be super helpful, but will not automatically solve your issues. If all we are thinking about during our breathing is how best to get revenge, or we are just ruminating on all of our negative thoughts, breathing will not help. That is why our next step is super helpful when combined with curiosity, and think of ourselves as Detectives.

2. EMOTIONS DETECTIVE - So after or even during deep breathing, instead of focusing on how we were wronged, thinking about what exactly we are feeling and why is crucial. What exactly is beneath our anger? Did we feel helpless, unjustly treated, or shame? For me, a helpful concept I learned once again from The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting, is that if you think of an iceberg, what you can see jetting out of the ocean is usually anger or stress. Beneath it, however, in the hidden depths is the rest of the iceberg that hides our painful feelings, such as loneliness, jealousy, shame, guilt, humiliation. So diving in is crucial, because only once you identify the true emotion/feeling, can you then think of your choices. This is when you would then use I statements (I feel..., when..., because. I would like...). More information on these powerful I statements here

3. CHOICES - We've been using this word a lot lately. Choices. You always have a choice. And just that idea can be empowering. No matter what anyone did to upset you or even hurt you, you always have a choice in how you reply. Maybe you just want to get even. Okay, that's your choice. Maybe not your best choice, but at least you know you picked that one out of the many. And next time you might realize that another choice in a similar situation might serve you better. So when we go through our choices, we usually write down even our negative choices, such as screaming at our friend, getting even, etc. It's important to realize that yes, that's a choice. But what are some other ones? Another word that might also be useful here is Problem Solving. Or come on, you are a Problem Solver, how can we solve this problem? What are some of our options? Similar idea, whichever fits your Courageous Girls best.

4. BEST SELF - I read this somewhere, I'll try and find it where, but it immediately spoke to me. This may or may not be too advanced for your Courageous Girls, we are still figuring it out with them. But I love it for adults. In my mind, when dealing with big emotions, a flash of my best self appears in a split second, for just a split second. And that flash gives me energy to try and stay calm in the midst of putting out the fire, whatever that fire may be, and helps me choose the best choice in dealing with that situation. My flash of best self is a 3-word phrase for me, and it's an image for my husband. It's obviously different for everyone, but what do you think, can you find yours?? 



  • Make your own model for dealing with big emotions.
  • What is your Best Self? Can you put it into a quick phrase, sentence, or an image that you can then retrieve in your mind as you like? 
  • Learn about different emotions by matching them to different scenarios
  • Watch Inside Out. Here is a good video that helps guide parents what to pay attention to when watching the movie together. 


Our meeting this weekend was inspired by the Girls Leadership blog post - Williams sisters get beyond the zero-sum game.  So for our meeting this weekend, I wanted to expand on this idea, as it's very relevant in our lives... how to foster, instead of a win-lose attitude, a mindset of enjoying and exploring that space in between. Since watching a few University of Michigan women's gymnastics meets, many of our nights entail gymnastics competitions in our basement between the 4 girls. As my husband, Jonathan, judges each apparatus, the final winner is then pronounced at the end, at which point both happiness (by the winner) and sadness (by the losers) ensue.

The Williams sisters are an awesome inspiration, how you can both compete and push each other's limits, but at the same time keep the love and admiration for one other. And this isn't just about bettering sisterly/sibling competition, but as the Girls Leadership blog post explains, it's also about how you look at any other competition in your life:

"Competing against one another in sports, running for office against friends, or trying out for the same part in a play doesn’t have to be about winning or losing. We tend to think of our achievements as a zero-sum game when we are most insecure, or when we are scared. What if we push past our insecurity and explore the possibility that we can compete against each other, respect each other, and make each other better in the process? Even if the situation is, like tennis, one where someone needs to win and someone needs to lose, we will only get better, have more fun, and discover our potential if we take the risk to get beyond zero-sum."

-Simone Marean, Executive Director of Girls Leadership


So let's introduce this concept to our Courageous Girls:

(This lesson is about 10 minutes long + game)

1. Introduce who the Williams Sisters are. (If you are not into tennis, you may not know that Serena, the younger sister, actually has more Grand Slam Women's Single titles than her big sister, Venus. 23 vs. 7. This in itself should be fun to explore with siblings.) I might also show some videos of them playing tennis. 

2. We will then discuss that they've competed against each other for many years, and yet they are the best of sisters off court. Here is Serena's recent victory speech after winning the Australian Open against Venus, praising her sister. And here is Venus' graceful speech as well, "your win has always been my win," says big sister to little sister. This real-life sisterly bond is so much better than Frozen... 

             Possible questions to help with exploring this issue: 

1. What did you think of the videos? What did Serena/Venus say?

2. What does it mean when Venus says: "your win has always been my win?"

3. How would you feel if your younger/older/twin sibling (or best friend, neighbor, etc.) beat you at your favorite sport on many occasions? 

4. How do you think Venus felt immediately after she lost? (Discuss how feeling disappointed and sad about losing is completely normal. However, at some point Venus made room for other emotions as well, once she was ready to recover from the loss.)

4. What are some things that you enjoy about competing?

5. How can we demonstrate good sportsmanship, whether it's in sports or trying out for a theater part, science olympiad, etc?


ACTIVITY: The journey to the end of the game

Write "Start a Competition" on one side of the board, and "Win/Lose" on the other. Draw a curvy path between these two. Ask: What are some things that happen from the moment you start playing/competing against each other, until the end, when you either win or lose? 

Let Courageous Girls come up with the words for the space in between, and write them in on the path (such as they have fun, they push each other's limits, they improve, they laugh, they make mistakes, they learn new things, etc.) Each time they compete, whether against a sibling or schoolmates, they gain from that experience, and ultimately get better with each game. So instead of looking at something as successful if won, and failure if we lose, looking at all the things we have gained in the process is a better way to view it.  

In fact, "we always learn more from the losing than the winning," (Yani Tseng) because it can make you introspective and go through the things you may need to work on. Plus, you also learn how to dust yourself off and keep going.   

ACTIVITY #2: Play a game!

Any game! (Board game, card game, sports, karaoke, etc.) And practice competing hard, and losing/winning gracefully. At the end, explore how the winner feels, as well as how the people who lost feel, and how the journey in between went!