Work Life Balance

How many times have you felt you were being pulled in too many directions?  In today’s tech-infused world it has become commonplace to see individuals working on their cellphones, tablets, and laptops while at airports, restaurants, libraries and even at the park.  This leaves very little time for family, friends, spirituality, personal growth, self-care, and other personal activities.  In addition, many of you have to squeeze military obligations into a schedule that is already filled to the brim.  According to Susan Heathfield, Human Resources, “work-life balance is a concept that describes the ideal of splitting one's time and energy between work and other important aspects of life”.

Work/life imbalance
    Symptoms:
o        Feeling overwhelmed with having too much to do
o        Frequently tired and getting inadequate amounts of sleep
o        Difficulty in finding time to spend with family and friends
o        Irritability 
o        No time for self-care
o        Struggling to focus
o        Unable to remember the last time you had fun

According to Mayo Clinic the following are consequences of poor work-life balance:

o    Fatigue. When you're tired, your ability to work productively and think clearly might suffer — which could take a toll on your professional reputation or lead to dangerous or costly mistakes. 
o    Poor health. Stress is associated with adverse effects on the immune system and can worsen the symptoms you experience from any medical condition. Stress also puts you at risk of substance abuse.
o    Lost time with friends and loved ones. If you're working too much, you might miss important family events or milestones. This can leave you feeling left out and might harm relationships with your loved ones. It's also difficult to nurture friendships if you're always working.
o    Increased expectations. If you regularly work extra hours, you might be given more responsibility — which could lead to additional concerns and challenges.

Restoring Balance
Juggling the demands of your career, military obligations and personal life will probably be an ongoing challenge. But if you can learn both to set limits and look after yourself, you can achieve the work-life balance that's best for you. Mayo Clinic suggests the following to help restore work-life balance:

o    Manage your time. Cut or delegate activities you don't enjoy or can't handle. Do what needs to be done and let the rest go.
o    Make a list. Put family events on a weekly calendar, and keep a daily to-do list at home and at work. Having a plan helps you maintain focus.  
o    Learn to say no. Whether it's a co-worker asking you to spearhead an extra project or your child's teacher asking you to organize a class party, remember that it's OK to respectfully say no. When you quit accepting tasks out of guilt or a false sense of obligation, you'll have more time for activities that are meaningful to you.
o    Leave work at work. With the technology to connect to anyone at any time from virtually anywhere, there might be no boundary between work and home — unless you create it.  
o    Reduce email access. Check emails no more than three times a day — late morning, early afternoon and late in the day. If you access email first thing in the morning, you tend to focus on and respond to other people's issues rather than being proactive about your own needs.
o    Ask your employer about flex hours, a compressed workweek, job sharing, telecommuting or other scheduling flexibility. The more control you have over your hours, the less stressed you're likely to be.
o    Take care of yourself.  Eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep and make time for fun and relaxation. Set aside time each day for an activity that you enjoy, such as practicing yoga or reading. Better yet, discover activities you can do with your partner, family or friends — such as hiking, dancing or taking cooking classes.

Remember, striking a healthy work-life balance isn't a one-shot deal. Creating work-life balance is a continuous process as your family, interests and work life change. Periodically examine your priorities — and make changes, if necessary.

Lastly, know when to seek professional help. We all need help from time to time. There may come a time when you just want to vent and have someone who is willing to listen. There may be a time when life feels too chaotic to manage and you're consumed with worry, talk with a professional — such as a counselor or other mental health provider. 
 

TEXAS STATE GUARD TOY DRIVE BRINGS JOY

Story by Chief Warrant Officer 3 Janet Schmelzer, Texas State Guard

Child getting a gift from a soldier In its 10th year, the Texas State Guard “Young Heroes of the Guard” Toy Drive 2018 brought joy and happiness to thousands of children across Texas by collecting and delivering 82,176 toys to pediatric hospitals, children’s homes, women’s shelters, schools, and Ronald McDonald Houses.  

Since the Texas State Guard launched the toy drive in 2009, guardsmen have delivered a total of 244,911 toys over the past ten years.  The toy drive has grown from the first collection that delivered 2,400 toys to children in hospitals in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex to delivering 82,176 toys to children across the state in 2018, which exceeded this year's goal of 75,000.

This year's successful drive meant more toys were delivered to more children in more cities and towns.  For the first time toys were delivered to children in the Rio Grande Valley. 
 
"Each year the Texas State Guard Young Heroes of the Guard Toy Drive collects more toys because of the generosity of our fellow Texans," said Sgt. 1st Class John Gately, Texas State Guard statewide coordinator. "The willingness of everyone to help make a child smile with a new toy is truly heartwarming.  We plan to continue to collect even more toys each year so that we can spread joy to more children in Texas."

The toy drive starts every November when guardsmen start placing toy drive collection boxes at stores, churches, and businesses. When the toy drive collection ends in early December, Texas State Guard units, at their local armories across the state, begin sorting toys by age groups and then start delivering toys throughout December and into early January.

For the last two years, Five Below has been a toy drive sponsor by making their stores available for collection boxes.  Walmart stores also had collection sites.  At these locations, store patrons can donate toys that they have just purchased at the stores.  Another corporate partner was Hess Corporation which has donated 7,000 Hess toy trucks to the Young Heroes of the Guard toy drive since 2017. 
 
The toy drive's success also meant that the hospitals, shelters, and other beneficiaries of the toy drive will have plenty of toys to surprise children with gifts for birthdays, holidays, and special occasions.  

"The toys that the Texas State Guard gives to children in the hospitals and shelters not only provide a happier holiday and Christmas, but the impact is also felt all through the year," Capt. Douglas Richardson, the chaplain for the 8th Regiment said.  "A toy lifts a child's spirit.  Parents and guardians see their children's faces brighten and the positive impact these toys have on the well-being of the children.   This is the finest mission of the Texas State Guard." 

For more information on the Texas State Guard “Young Heroes of the Guard” Toy Drive, please visit the toy drive website at http://www.txsgtoydrive.org/.  
 

Will My Marriage Survive?

Healthy Relationships

Do you ever wonder …?  “Will my marriage make it?  Will it survive?”  Considering that approximately 50% of all marriages in America end in divorce, this is a good question to contemplate.  

What if I told you there is a man who can observe you and your partner arguing for just a mere 15 minutes and with 85% accuracy predict whether the two of you two will divorce or stay married.  If he observes you for a longer period of time his prediction rate goes over 90%.  AMAZING right?  How does he do it?  Crystal Ball?  Tarot Cards? ESP?  All good guesses, but not correct.  

Dr. John Gottman, PhD and his colleagues observed thousands of couples and paired research techniques with mathematical calculations to devise a method to predict whether a couple would divorce or stay together. Lucky for us he published numerous studies, papers and created the Gottman Institute in order to teach couples how to stay happily married and avoid the pitfalls that often lead to divorce.
    
Through his research Dr. Gottman observed and noted several distinct negative behaviors that are destructive to a marriage and increased the likelihood of divorce. He also calculated positive behaviors that not only enriched the marriage but protected the couple from the impact of negative behaviors.

Dr. Gottman refers to the most destructive negative behaviors as The Four Horseman. (Yes, just like The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse in the New Testament.)  The Gottman Four Horseman consist of:

  • Criticism
  • Defensiveness
  • Contempt
  • Stonewalling

Recognize any of these?  Have you ever used one or two of them when in a heated argument?  Most likely the answer is yes.  According to Dr. Gottman all marriages use some negative behavior. “No relationship is negative free.”  It is also helpful to note that all couples argue. The key is to be aware of The Four Horseman, reduce the number of times you use them, learn to repair after the argument and increase the positive behaviors (also called the Antidotes) which can protect the marriage.

Let's talk about Criticism:

Criticism blames the partner.  It attacks their character.  When we criticize, we tend to use YOU statements and allude that YOU are the problem.  Criticism is different than a complaint.  A complaint is about an issue or a situation whereas a criticism attacks the person.

One of the Antidotes to Criticism is to use “I” statements, and express what you feel and need.  If you have a complaint, try to state it without blame.

Complaint:  “I was worried when you did not call me each night to check in while you were traveling.  I thought we had agreed on checking in nightly.”

Criticism:  “You never think about me.  You are so selfish.  You don't think of anyone except yourself.  What about me?  You were probably having a great time why I was at home worrying.”

Be aware of a pattern of criticizing (blaming the other spouse, and/or attacking their character) because criticizing can be habit forming and an invitation to the other Horseman to operate.

The Second Horseman is Defensiveness.  Many times when we feel criticized we react with defensiveness.  A defensive comeback a type of self-protection which promotes reversing the blame onto the other partner.  This type of communication can progress into finger pointing and very little resolution.

The Antidote for Defensiveness is taking responsibility.  Even if it is for a very small part of the conflict. When we take responsibility it is like pouring water on fire.  It puts out the burn of the conflict and the chance of escalation.  It also sets a tone for cooperation or creating some type of solution.

Question:  Did you make Lori’s dentist appointment today?

Defensiveness:  You know how busy I was today.  You could have made it?  Why didn’t you just pick up the phone at make the appointment for her yourself? 

Taking Responsibility:  No, I didn’t.  I told you I would handle it but I got busy today and forgot.  I will call right now.  


The Third Horseman is Contempt. This Horseman is the deadliest of all the Horseman and the biggest predictor of divorce. Contempt is stronger and meaner than criticism.  It involves sarcasm, disrespect, name calling, taking down to your partner, mockery, insults, eye rolling and hostile humor.  Contempt is both destructive and defeating and contains a level of moral superiority.  Contempt is fed by allowing yourself to think and ruminate about your partner in a negative manner for long periods of time. Pay attention when you are churning negative thoughts about your partner and bring the thoughts to a halt. Your partner or marriage doesn't have a chance against nonstop negative thoughts.  

REMEMBER, negative thoughts breed Contempt and Contempt is the biggest predictor of DIVORCE.  


The Antidote to Contempt is to create an environment of respect, gratitude, appreciation and fondness. Contempt cannot survive or thrive in an environment of respect. Make a habit of thinking kind thoughts about your partner. Make your eyes look for good in your partner’s actions and appearance.  Take time to notice how your spouse contributes to the marriage then compliment them and or say thank you. Making these positive changes to your pattern of thinking and responding positively can make a difference. Research states that healthy marriages have a ratio of 5 positive behaviors to every 1 negative behavior.  Whereas the marriages that end in divorce have a ratio of .8 positive behaviors to 1 negative behavior (meaning they have more negative behaviors than positive behaviors).  

 
The Fourth Horseman is Stonewalling.  Stonewalling involves emotionally withdrawing from your partner, looking uninterested in their communication, or no longer responding verbally... to name just a few.  Imagine someone walking out of the discussion, or crossing their arms and acting like they are no longer listening.  Or turning to their phone, while you are talking, and checking their e-mails.  All these are a type of Stonewalling.  The Fourth Horseman may show up when a partner becomes overwhelmed and begins to shutdown physically and emotionally.  
 
The Antidote for Stonewalling is a Time-Out period.  Research states that it takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes for a person who is overwhelmed to begin to regulate (or calm) their emotional state.  When we get overwhelmed (and it does happen) it is difficult to think straight, to listen well or respond appropriately.  When we feel overwhelmed it is best to verbalize that you are overwhelmed or agitated and need a little time to calm down.  An agreement by both partners to return to the conversation after the time-out makes the time-out period more productive.  During your time-out period choose an activity that helps calm you or soothe you:  reading, exercising, stretching, breathing, watching tv, meditating, doing a simple chore etc.  Remember, watch your thoughts.  Try not to have thoughts of “I’m right.”  Or “Why does she always do this to me?  These thoughts will not calm you down.  They will keep you in a state of agitation. The key is to take the time to calm down so the two of you can think clearly and listen to each other.   

Dr. Gottman noted that one way to protect your relationship is to strengthen your friendship. Knowing and being interested in your partner develops friendship and a deeper level of intimacy.  What does he or she love?  What's important to him/her?  What stresses her/him out?  What are their dreams? Taking time to really know them, understand them, and enjoy them increases the friendship and protects your marriage.  

So to review…..  To increase your odds of remaining together in a happy marriage and reduce your chances of getting a divorce…. Avoid using The Four Horseman (Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling) and increase your Appreciation, Fondness and Respect for each other on a daily basis.   

        
For more information on the Gottman Institute go to https://www.gottman.com/
 

Staff Sgt Gregory Illich and Sgt Miranda Leal are the Outstanding Enlisted Members of the Texas State Guard for 2018

Story by Chief Warrant Officer 3 Janet Schmelzer, Texas State Guard

Texas State Guard Staff Sgt. Gregory Illich, 8th Regiment, Army Component, was recognized as  the Texas State Guard Outstanding Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year 2018 and awarded the Texas Outstanding Service Medal by Texas State Guard Commander Maj. Gen. Robert Bodisch, and Command Sgt. Maj. Bryan Becknel during a ceremony held at the Texas State Guard holiday gala in San Marcos, Texas, December 8, 2018.  He was also recognized as the Texas State Guard Army Component Outstanding Non-Commissioned Officer of 2018 and received “Sgt. Maj. Hiram J. Williamson Award for Service Excellence.”  (Texas State Guard photo by Cpl. Shawn Dromgoole)
Texas State Guard Staff Sgt. Gregory Illich, 8th Regiment, Army Component, was recognized as  the Texas State Guard Outstanding Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year 2018 and awarded the Texas Outstanding Service Medal by Texas State Guard Commander Maj. Gen. Robert Bodisch, and Command Sgt. Maj. Bryan Becknel during a ceremony held at the Texas State Guard holiday gala in San Marcos, Texas, December 8, 2018.  He was also recognized as the Texas State Guard Army Component Outstanding Non-Commissioned Officer of 2018 and received “Sgt. Maj. Hiram J. Williamson Award for Service Excellence.”  (Texas State Guard photo by Cpl. Shawn Dromgoole)

AUSTIN, Texas—The Texas State Guard recognized Staff Sgt. Gregory Illich, 8th Regiment, and Sgt. Miranda Leal, 2nd Regiment, as the outstanding enlisted members of the Texas State Guard for 2018 during the Texas State Guard holiday gala in San Marcos, Texas, December 8, 2018.

Staff Sgt. Illich was recognized as the Texas State Guard Outstanding Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year for 2018 and received the Texas Outstanding Service Medal, which is awarded to a service member of the military forces of this state, another state, or the United States who has performed service in a superior and clearly outstanding manner. Illich was also recognized as the Texas State Guard Army Component’s Outstanding Non-commissioned Officer of 2018 and received the “Sgt. Maj. Hiram J. Williamson Award for Service Excellence.” 

“I am humbled and honored to be recognized as the Texas State Guard Outstanding Non-commissioned Officer for 2018 and as the Army Component’s Outstanding Non-commissioned Officer for 2018 and receive the Texas Outstanding Service Medal and the “Sgt. Maj. Hiram J. Williamson Award for Service Excellence. It is through the support and leadership of those around me that my achievements are possible.  It is a great honor to be recognized in this way. I am honored to serve Texas and I appreciate the opportunity given me by the Texas State Guard,” stated Staff Sgt. Illich.

Illich joined the Texas State Guard in 2012.  He serves as the 8th Regiment Public Affairs Officer, the non-commissioned officer in charge of the 8th Regiment Honor Guard, a trainer for Texas State Guard shelter management, WEBEOC, and the Emergency Tracking Network mission skills, a Texas State Guard lead evaluator and instructor for the Ground Search and Rescue training and certification program of the National Association for Search and Rescue, a member of the Texas State Guard Band and a band recruiter in the Houston area.  He previously served as the non-commissioned officer for communications and information technology, 1st Battalion, 8th Regiment and a Unit Public Affairs Representative, providing superior support to recruiting and social media.  During Hurricane Harvey in 2017 he was a member of the Texas Military Department Public Affairs pool and was deployed in the disaster zone to cover the story. 
 
Illich is an Honor Graduate of the Texas State Guard Advanced Non-Commissioned Course and has earned the Basic Military Emergency Management Specialist Badge from the State Guard Association of the United States. 

Illich volunteers as a member of the Patriot Guard Riders to honor veterans at funerals and as a member of “Cos-Play for Kids,” where costumed superheroes visit children in Houston area hospitals and serves as the as the master of ceremonies for a Houston and Galveston literacy program. He is a Tai Chi Teacher and Massage Therapist.

Sgt. Miranda Leal was recognized as the Texas State Guard Outstanding Junior Enlisted of the Year for 2018 and received Texas State Guard Jonathan Clutts Award for Selfless Service for 2018, an award named for Texas State Guard Petty Officer 2 Jonathan Clutts for his selfless service during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.  She was also recognized as the Texas State Guard Army Component’s Outstanding Junior Enlisted of Year 2018 and received the “Sgt. Maj. Hiram J. Williamson Award for Service Excellence.”  

“I am honored to be recognized as the Texas State Guard Outstanding Junior Enlisted of the Year and receive the Sgt. Maj. Hiram J. Williamson Award for the Outstanding Junior Enlisted of the Year in the Army Component. I am very honored to receive the first Jonathan Clutts award and hope to live up to his example of selfless service.  I would like to thank those who believed in me and shaped me into the soldier that I am today. It is a great privilege to serve with such a great group of men and women who share a passion for giving back to their community and serving the Great State of Texas," stated Leal.

Leal joined the Texas State Guard in 2015.  She serves as a squad leader and assistant Platoon Sergeant for G Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Regiment, an Emergency Tracking Network trainer, and a member of the Texas State Guard Band.  She is certified in American Red Cross First Aid and Shelter Management, WEBEOC, and the Emergency Tracking Network operations. 
 
She has completed the Texas State Guard Professional Leadership Development Course and Federal Emergency Management Agency courses. 
 
Leal is a senior at Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas, majoring in Exercise and Sports Science and Pre-Rehabilitation Science.  She volunteers at Hays Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, San Marcos, Texas, and Guadalupe Regional Medical Center in Sequin, Texas.  

“These two Texas State Guard members represent the best of the enlisted in the guard. Staff Sgt. Illich has demonstrated the best qualities, skills, knowledge and service of a non-commissioned officer and exemplifies the meaning of volunteerism, selfless service, and giving back to his state and community. His superiors and subordinates recognize his unmatched depth of doctrinal knowledge and the ability to relay that knowledge to others.   Sgt. Miranda Leal exemplifies the highest attributes of a junior enlisted member.  She has assumed leadership positions and duties and performed at a level beyond what is required of her rank and is dedicated to encouraging her fellow members to exceed in their professional growth and development and to sharpen their skills and knowledge necessary to perform their duties,” stated Command Sgt. Maj. Barton Williams, Army Component, Texas State Guard.
 

Texas State Guard Gonzales Cup Challenges the Best of the Best of the Army Component

Texas State Guard Gonzales Cup Challenges the Best of the Best of the Army Component
Story by Chief Warrant Officer 3 Janet Schmelzer, Army Component, Texas State Guard

The 1st Regiment Army Component Texas State Guard team won the Gonzales Cup during the competition held in Stephenville, Texas, October 12-14, 2018.  Brig. Gen. Robert Hastings, Commander, Army Component, presented the Gonzales Cup to the team.  1st Regiment team members are Spc. Jorge Ramirez, Pvt. Alberto Sanchez, Pvt. Jason Perez, Pfc. Kevin Stepherson, Pvt. Ruben Garza, Pfc. Emilio Trevino, and Spc. Ruben Lopez. (Texas State Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer 3 Janet Schmelzer)
The 1st Regiment Army Component Texas State Guard team won the Gonzales Cup during the competition held in Stephenville, Texas, October 12-14, 2018.  Brig. Gen. Robert Hastings, Commander, Army Component, presented the Gonzales Cup to the team.  1st Regiment team members are Spc. Jorge Ramirez, Pvt. Alberto Sanchez, Pvt. Jason Perez, Pfc. Kevin Stepherson, Pvt. Ruben Garza, Pfc. Emilio Trevino, and Spc. Ruben Lopez. (Texas State Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer 3 Janet Schmelzer)

STEPHENVILLE, Texas - The Texas State Guard Army Component’s 1st Regiment won the Gonzales Cup and the 19th Regiment’s Pfc. Brandon McVean won the Top Individual Award following the three-day competition held Oct. 12-14, 2018.  Twenty-nine members representing the 1st, 4th, 8th, and 19th Regiments of the Texas State Guard accepted the challenge to become the Army Component's best of the best and take home the coveted Gonzales Cup.
 
"The Gonzales Cup competition is important as a meaningful and purposeful training for our members.  It builds comradery and teamwork, challenges perseverance in the most adverse conditions, tests skills that we need to be mission ready, and creates a spirit to achieve to be the best," commented Command Sgt. Maj. Barton Williams, senior enlisted advisor, Army Component, who organized this year's competition.

The first day's challenge was a written test which covered the Texas State Guard Army Component mission essential skills which included shelter management operations, emergency tracking network operations, military customs and history, and ground search and rescue.  

That evening in the midst of a torrential rainstorm, four teams went out on a search and rescue task to find missing persons who were lost following a simulated disaster at Hunewell Ranch in Erath County, Texas.  The darkness, bad weather, mud, and rain-soaked terrain added to the realism of what state guardsmen might face during search and rescue missions. 
 
Teams had to follow clues to find the missing persons within a time limit of three and a half hours.  Each team was scored on how proficient they were at finding the person, evaluating the condition of the person, providing first aid, fashioning a litter, and evacuating the person back to the starting point. 

Pfc. Laura Peck, 8th Regiment, was one of three female state guardsmen to participate in the competition.  “I never pictured myself doing things like slogging through mud and water on a six-kilometer hike with a 35-pound knapsack on my back,” said Peck who has been in the Texas State Guard 10 months.  “The search and rescue challenge was an awesome experience.”  

The second day opened with the Army Physical Fitness test of sit-ups, pushups, and a two-mile run.  This challenge supports the Texas State Guard Health and Fitness program which emphasizes exercise, strength and a healthy lifestyle.  

Teams then moved to the Leadership Challenge Course at Tarleton State University.   This challenge required each team to work together and make decisions on how to complete a series of rope course challenges.  

The afternoon mission was a land navigation challenge course back at Hunewell Ranch.   Teams had to locate 20 sites using maps, protractors, and compasses.

McVean found the Gonzales Cup challenge to be a “unique opportunity to demonstrate and sharpen my mission essential skills.  I liked the land navigation challenge as it strengthened my confidence to find a specific spot with maps, coordinates, protractor, and compass.  I am honored to have been a competitor and a member of a great 19th Regiment team.”

On the last day, the final challenge for each team was to create a team movement order for a simulated deployment to assist with the evacuation of 5,000 people from Lake Jackson as a category five hurricane approached the Texas coast.  Teams had to avoid crossing rivers, lakes, and contraflow evacuation routes, in addition to planning for rest stops and gas refueling.   

The Gonzales Cup is named for the famous 1835 Battle of Gonzales, near Gonzales, Texas, where brave and courageous Texians refused to return a cannon to the Mexican Army and told them to “Come and Take It,” which is the motto of the competition.    
 

Give Gratitude a Shot

By: Tiffanie Hampton, LCSW

Gratitude is a topic that often comes up when Thanksgiving rolls around, but it’s a worthwhile topic to talk about all year round. I want gratitude to be part of who I am rather than something I just conjure up during the holidays or whenever something good happens in my life.  Why do I want to practice gratitude?  Well, there is a ton of research that shows it can improve our physical health, increase our mental strength, and can help us sleep better.   Don’t we all want to be stronger, smarter, faster, and well rested?  

Physical Health
Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and they report feeling healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences. Not surprisingly, grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health.  They exercise more often and are more likely to attend regular check-ups with their doctors, which is likely to contribute to further longevity.

Increase Mental Strength
A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War Veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11.  Recognizing all you have to be thankful for – even during the worst times of your life – fosters resilience.

Sleep Better 
Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you will fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

We all have the ability and opportunity to cultivate gratitude. Confession: Practicing gratitude used to sound like a bunch of psychobabble to me.  But hey, what did I have to lose?  Simply take a few moments to focus on all that you have – rather than complain about all the things you think you deserve.  Developing an “attitude of gratitude” is one of the simplest ways to improve your satisfaction with life.  So how do you do this?  Here are some practical ideas.

  1. Share gratitude each day by posting a tweet, Facebook post or Pinterest.
  2. Make a gratitude collage, cut out pictures of all the things that you are grateful for
  3. Reward effort, if someone does something nice for you, do something nice for them.  Try to take note when people do a good job and give recognition when it’s due at work.
  4. Post quotes and images that remind you to be grateful around your house.  You can make it fun and buy dry erase markers to write on your mirrors or fridge!
  5. Say thank you at least once a day. You can do this text message, e-mail, or face to face.  Saying thank you to the barista who makes your coffee can help you both have a better day.
  6. Pause and savor something once a day.  Stop eating while standing up and really taste your food.  Literally stop and smell the flowers outside your office.  Take time to drink your coffee and reflect on the present. 
  7. Write down 3 good things about your day every day for 21 days and keep a gratitude journal. You can journal every day after your gratitude practice of noticing and savoring things.   There is something about writing it down that helps me to consciously think about what is positive in my life.
  8. Volunteer-giving back to others helps us to appreciate what we have.
  9. Spend time with loved ones- Not only will it help you grow closer to them and strengthen your relationship, but it will also give you a chance to practice your acts of gratitude on people that you care about. 
  10. Call your Mom every Sunday and call your grandparents to tell them you love them and express gratitude for a positive memory you have!

Practicing gratitude may not have turned me into some happy-go-lucky person I was never meant to be (or, frankly, wanted to be). But I developed a fundamentally different way of thinking and moving through life, one in which I stopped taking for granted all the tiny good moments that were already part of it. I stopped looking for happiness out there and learned to find it right here. I felt more connected to friends, family, and my colleagues, and even on the toughest days, I managed my stress better (which research shows is a long-lasting effect of practicing gratitude).

My advice? Give gratitude a shot.
 

Building Healthy Habits

When it comes to taking care of ourselves, we often focus more on our physical body.  However, maintaining your mind is just as important, and there are habits we can do every day to improve our mental health.  Just like our body needs to get into a routine, so does our brain.  Focusing on your mental health can build confidence and hope, improve your immune system, increase productivity, and even help you live longer.  What better way than to start off small and add in little activities each day?  To boost your overall happiness, lower stress, and even improve your physical health, do these things daily.

Sustaining hope and well-being takes work.  Listed below are exercises that, when practiced frequently, can build genuine and lasting happiness.

Gratitude:  Write down three things for which you are grateful for every day.  Don’t worry if they seem simple or mundane- just get something down on paper. This simple exercise will help you identify positive aspects of even the worst days, and develop and more hopeful perspective.

Acts of Kindness: Make a conscious effort to do something nice for no reason other than to help.  You might be surprised how a simple act of kindness can turn around the day for both you and the kindness recipient.  

Exercise:  The positive effects of exercise are astounding.  Physically active people have increased energy, superior immune systems, and a frequent sense of accomplishment.  Exercise can reduce insomnia, stimulate brain growth, and even act as an anti-depressant.  Beginning an exercise plan doesn’t have to be difficult.  Walking for as little as 30 minutes, 3 times a week, has been found to be beneficial.  If you’re crunched for time, two 15 minute walks work just as well as one 30 minute walk. Don’t worry too much about what exercise you choose.  Aerobic and anaerobic exercises are both effective at improving mental health.
 
Here are some more tips to help:

  • Need to make a phone call?  Walk and talk.
  • Get an exercise partner to hold you accountable.
  • Park at the back of the parking lot and walk.
  • Do an activity you enjoy, and it won’t be a chore.
  • Skip the elevator and take the stairs.
  • Head outside for 10 minutes during lunch.
  • Set an alarm to remind you when to exercise.  If you’re using your phone alarm, set it to automatically repeat every day at the same time.
  • Get into a routine by exercising at the same time every day.  
  • Reward yourself for a job well done.  Treat yourself to something you enjoy when you exercise.  

Sleep: Establish a regular sleep schedule every day of the week. Don’t sleep in more than an hour, even on your days off.  If you haven’t fallen asleep after 20 minutes, get up and do something calming.  Read a book, draw, or write in a journal.  Avoid computer, TV, and phone screens, or anything else that’s stimulating and could lead to becoming more awake.  Consuming caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine can affect your ability to fall asleep and the quality of your sleep, even if they’re used earlier in the day.  Remember caffeine can stay in your body for up to 12 hours, and even decaf coffee has some caffeine.  Napping during the day will make sleep more difficult at night.  Naps that are over an hour long, or those that are later in the day, are especially harmful to sleep hygiene.
 
Meditation:  Research has linked meditation with reduced anxiety and more positive emotions.  Those who meditate regularly may even permanently restructure their brains to create sustained happiness. For some, meditation might be doing yoga.  For others, it is the stillness that comes through prayer.  Whatever your practice, find what works for you to get still, and begin raising the volume of your own inner voice.

Positive journaling: Take some time to write about positive events in your life.  Write about a fun day spent with friends, a good movie, or an activity you enjoyed.  Positive journaling will get you into the habit of focusing on the positive and maintain hope.

Fostering relationships: Strong social connections are thought to be one of the most powerful influences on our mood.  Those who are dedicated to spending time with friends and family show the highest levels of happiness.  If you can’t see your loved ones every day you can still send an email or make a phone call.

Spend time outside: Even just spending 10 minutes in nature can boost not only your mood, but your self-esteem as well.  Sun exposure helps your brain release the hormone serotonin, which is a natural mood enhancer.  

Sit up straight: If you’re someone who slouches, you may want to work on your posture.  A study published in the Journal of Health Psychology found that sitting in a slumped position makes you feel more sluggish, fearful, quiet, and hostile than sitting up straight, which instead elicits more happy and powerful emotions.

Learn something new: Keep your mind fresh by picking up a new hobby or reading about a topic you don’t know about.  As we age, we narrow down our learning based on career choices, but it is essential to expand our knowledge to keep a positive outlook on life and continue to grow.  People who spend their time learning new things show greater overall wellbeing and better abilities coping with stress.

Smile:  Smiling can trick your brain into happiness and boost your health.  A smile spurs a powerful chemical reaction in the brain that can make you feel happier.  The physical act of smiling can make a difference in building your immunity.  When you smile, the brain sees the muscle activity and assumes that humor is happening.  The brain doesn’t bother to sort out whether you’re smiling because you’re genuinely joyous, or because you’re just pretending. Even forcing a fake smile can reduce stress and lower your heart rate.  One study found that people who could not frown due to Botox injections were happier on average that those who could frown.  

Each of these habits are things you can start implementing daily.  At first, change takes focused attention to become a habit.  Once a habit is formed, it will give the budding change momentum and add a helpful inertia that makes it easier and easier to maintain the change.  Soon then, the change will take root, transforming into a healthy new habit and hopeful perspective.

Purpose and Motivation

Sustaining hope on the road of life can be extremely challenging.  When life presents curves, obstacles and road-blocks, it can be tempting to stop and give up hope.  Sometimes the way ahead seems mostly up hill and we’re not sure if we can continue the climb.  Who among us hasn’t taken a detour, short-cut or turned around completely rather than carry on?  And yet, we can move forward if we protect hope by maintaining our motivation.
Okay, one last road metaphor…What drives us when life gets challenging?  Here are a few effective tools for fostering confidence, a sense of purpose, and motivation:
1.    Stop for a moment and consider your vision.  What do you really want to accomplish?  What is your over-riding goal?  Write it down clearly and succinctly.  This step fits with the philosophy of Dr. Stephen Covey, “If you don't make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life, then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default.” Begin with the end in mind.  What’s your vision?

2.    Make a plan with SMART objectives.  To reap large rewards we often have to delay our gratification by taking small steps in the right direction.  For instance, if your vision is to obtain a master’s degree by 2022, you will need to accomplish a multitude of lesser objectives in order to accomplish the main goal. This is where SMART objectives can be really effective.  SMART objectives are: 

•    Specific – the objective is written in clear language and fully defines what you are going to do (who, what, where, how)
•    Measurable – the outcome is quantifiable, observable and defines how you will know you have achieved what you set out to accomplish
•    Attainable – the objective is challenging, but also practical and achievable
•    Relevant – the objective aligns well with your overall vision
•    Time limited – provides a reasonable target date for completion to create accountability
Using the master’s degree example above, some SMART objectives might be:
•    “Research relevant master’s programs available at 8 local colleges by December 31st.”
•    “Select 3 colleges and apply by February 28th.”
•    “Study for GRE exam 3 nights a week for the next month, utilizing Kaplan GRE Prep.”
For extra motivation, it can help to post your objectives where you can see them and/or share them with others for increased accountability.

3.     Remember to Ask for Help.  For some, asking for help can be difficult, but perhaps we can shift our perspective a bit?  Although we like to appear that we have everything entirely under control – parenting, relationships, career, etc., the truth is we need other people.  Asking for help often means reaching goals faster and can sometimes be the decisive factor in realizing a vision. 

According to Krista Rizzo of Forbes, changing our mindset means understanding that doing everything without help is an attempt to control and leads to frustration and burnout.  Allowing others to help fosters trust, appreciation, hope – and sanity for you!

4.    Be Flexible – Remember that while you may have set a brilliant plan in motion, the road of life is full of other drivers and unexpected turns (sorry, I couldn’t resist).   There are times when circumstances outside your control may delay or frustrate your progress.  In times like these, it can be helpful to sit down with your objective, consider what you can and can not control and revise accordingly.  One of the most important principles for success is persistence, you can change your approach without giving up your vision. 

5.    Consider how you define failure.  Nelson Mandela said it well, “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”  Failure is refusing to get up and keep striving, to give up.  While we may be thwarted in our objectives, often our vision is still entirely possible.  We have only to stop, regroup, learn and chart a new path.

6.    Reward yourself.  This is the best part!  Celebrate your accomplishments, even the small steps!  Why?  Rewarding yourself in the moment, elicits powerfully positive emotions in the brain.  This is a simple tenet of conditioned response.  We do more of what we find rewarding.  According to Tony Robbins, rewarding yourself for victories, even small ones, leads to increased productivity and success.  You can also increase motivation by simply acknowledging your hard work, dedication and for doing your best.  Additionally, having something to look forward to can also drive you to stick with an objective when motivation lags.

What are the best ways to reward yourself?  The best rewards bring you a sense of  joy, fulfillment, connection or relaxation. Visit www.developinggoodhabits.com for a list of “155 Ways to Reward Yourself for Completing a Goal or Task.” Examples include:  Visit a museum or art gallery, enjoy a night out with friends, get a massage, take a cooking/pottery/photography class, buy yourself a sweet treat, or perhaps take a break on the porch with a glass of iced tea.
No matter where you’re headed on the road of life, there are likely to be unexpected surprises.  Just yesterday it rained all the way home during my rush hour commute, but the four rainbows that lit up the sky lifted my spirit and motivated me to keep going.  There will be obstacles, sunshine, bumps, and wide open spaces, we have little control over many aspects of the journey.  We can set our vision in motion with reasonable objectives, be flexible, persist and stop at Buckee’s for a $.79 Sweet Tea along the way.  Your vision gives you purpose, and these tools can develop motivation and foster hope. Happy Trails!
 

Agents back to the border

National Guard Troops filling crucial support roles for U.S. Border Patrol

By Maj. Mike Perry, Operation Guardian Support Public Affairs

EDINBURG, Texas – U.S. Border Patrol agents in South Texas are returning to assigned patrol areas along the Mexico border thanks to Texas National Guard personnel assigned to Operation Guardian Support.

Since the Texas National Guard was mobilized to the Southwest border in April, the Rio Grande Valley sector Border Patrol has returned over 20 percent of its ground support law enforcement operations personnel back to patrol.

“Border Patrol operations are continually assessed in various ways to include apprehensions, seizures and turn backs,” said Casey Marchmont, Assistant Operations Officer, USBP Rio Grande Valley Sector. “The return of additional experienced agents to line-watch duties increases efficiency by placing the much-needed boots back on the ground.”

The operational payoff for Texas Guardsmen in supporting roles is not limited to returning agents back to patrol duties. In the early months of the operation, guardsmen monitoring USBP cameras in the RGV sector assisted in more than 2,600 apprehensions and the seizure of almost 6,500 pounds of marijuana. 

Guardsmen assigned to Operation Guardian Support have taken on various supporting roles such as maintaining and repairing infrastructure, clearing vegetation, unloading and loading trucks at ports of entry, repairing emergency beacons, conducting aerial detection and providing logistical support. This varied support, in turn, allows USBP to focus on patrolling the border and enforcing immigration law.

“Our guardsmen’s work in support of this mission is instrumental to the Department of Homeland Security’s goal of enhancing border security and increasing the physical presence of Border Patrol agents along the entire southwest border,” said Col. Rodrigo R. Gonzalez III, Operation Guardian Support Commander. “Our firsthand knowledge of the operating area and our long-standing relationships with federal, state and local law enforcement demonstrates to the nation that our force is ready and trained for any mission at hand.”

Operation Guardian Support consists of Task Forces Anzio, Salerno, Defender and Aviation, which also includes Operation Secure Texas, a separately funded border mission launched in 2014 to coordinate efforts between the Texas Department of Public Safety with Texas National Guard and federal law enforcement to secure Texas’ border with Mexico.
 

 

Texas National Guard conducts border mission Transfer of Authority

Story by Capt. Maria Mengrone, Texas Military Department

MCALLEN, Texas-- After a few weeks of training, Texas National Guard Soldiers began work in their sectors fulfilling administrative, surveillance and maintenance tasks in order to free up agents and assist in border mission efforts as part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive of “putting badges back to the border,” Tuesday, May 1, 2018.  (Photos by Army 1st. Lt. Nadine Wiley De Moura, 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment/Released)
MCALLEN, Texas-- After a few weeks of training, Texas National Guard Soldiers began work in their sectors fulfilling administrative, surveillance and maintenance tasks in order to free up agents and assist in border mission efforts as part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive of “putting badges back to the border,” Tuesday, May 1, 2018.  (Photos by Army 1st. Lt. Nadine Wiley De Moura, 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment/Released)

AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas National Guard conducted a transfer of authority on July 12, 2018, for Operation Guardian Support, the ongoing border mission prompted by the president’s call to enhance security along the U.S. southwestern border.

The 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, based in Round Rock, relinquished its authority of the border mission, as part of Operation Guardian Support, to the 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division based in Houston. 
 
The 136th MEB was the first headquarter element tasked to provide operational oversight and implementation of logistical and administrative support to Guardsmen deployed along the 1,254-mile Texas-Mexico border.
 
“As a standing Joint Task Force, the 136th MEB was able to respond to the rapid mobilization and deployment requirements,” said Texas Army National Guard Col. Scott M. MacLeod, commander of the136th MEB.  “Our authorities granted by the U.S. Constitution, combined with our unique military capabilities, make the National Guard the perfect force to bridge the gap between the military and law enforcement.” 
Operation Guardian Support officially kicked off on April 6, 2018, when Gov. Greg Abbott activated 250 Texas National Guardsmen.

Even in the face of challenges with manning, equipment and training Soldiers from across Texas, the 136th MEB was able to successfully establish requirements of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
    
“Our experience in the 2014 border mobilization and previous mobilizations enabled us to anticipate the requirements for the operational environment in which we’d be operating,” said MacLeod. “Both Hurricane Harvey, as well as this recent mobilization, have reminded us that we must be prepared to deploy with no notice in support of our state and nation.”

Guardsmen assigned to Operation Guardian Support are activated under Title 32 duty status, allowing the governor to maintain command and control of the Guard force.  

The troops are assigned to the five CBP sectors in El Paso, Big Bend, Del Rio, Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley.

The border mission has steadily grown to include 1,100 deployed troops, with personnel and aviation assets from other states, including South Carolina, Oklahoma, Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Mississippi. 
  
The 72nd IBCT leadership is prepared and committed to continue the success of the 136th MEB.

“I am truly looking forward to this great opportunity for myself and the 72nd IBCT along with all the units supporting OGS. Any time the 72nd IBCT is selected to conduct a challenging mission, it is a great honor which we will make happen,” said Texas Army National Guard Col. Rodrigo R. Gonzalez, Commander, 72nd IBCT, 36th Infantry Division.  

Guardsmen assigned to Operation Guardian Support have taken on various support roles maintaining and repairing infrastructure, clearing vegetation, unloading and loading trucks at ports of entry, fixing emergency beacons, conducting aerial detection and providing logistical support, while CBP focuses on enforcing immigration law.

The 72nd IBCT’s commander has set forth a clear vision for his Guardsmen as the unit assumes control of the OGS mission, which is currently funded until September 30, 2018.

“My three priorities are to conduct and accomplish the mission to support CBP throughout the Texas border areas, provide support to the three OGS Task Forces so they can execute the mission and improve Soldier readiness and collective training readiness while Soldiers and units are on mission,” said Gonzalez.

Operation Guardian Support consists of Task Force Anzio, Task Force Salerno, Task Force Defender and Task Force Aviation, which also includes Operation Secure Texas, a separately funded Title 32 border mission that launched in 2014 as a coordinated effort between the Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas National Guard and federal law enforcement to secure Texas’ border with Mexico.