Looking back, I had many "what if" moments in Vietnam. For example, while on patrol, one of my fellow marines walked ten yards back over the same piece of terrain on which I had just traveled. He stepped on a land mine. It was only natural to ask, "What if it had been me instead of him?" It's a tough concept to understand, but over time I began to realize that there was something very powerful going on with "what if" questions. Some invoke fate, and others choose to say, "Shit happens." I was a different kind of thinker, and I chose to call it my "what if" moments. I believe that all things happen for a reason, a purpose, and that "what if" moments are no different. The big question, of course, is, "What is the purpose of these critical moments?" I've come to the conclusion that we aren't supposed to know the answer. However, I do believe that the value of the "what if" moments is that they teach us to have faith. If we live each moment to its fullest like we are expected to, life unfolds like a well-developed plan. Thoughts are important. But not all thoughts are equal. The quality of your thoughts matters the most. Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius said it best: "The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it." A quick look at our surroundings shows us that life is changing faster than ever. Jobs disappear, smartphones turn you into a zombie, education costs you thousands, the cost of living increases rapidly, salaries don't, you have less time for yourself, and so on. Life changes so fast that it seems like you wake up in a new world every day! What do your thoughts make of that? If you're anything like me, these developments cause a lot of thinking, aka worrying and uncertainty. How do I survive? How do I adapt my business to changing markets? How do I advance my career?

How do I not lose my mind? Mastering your thoughts is challenging. The desire to master our thoughts is as old as modern civilization. Ever since the fifth century BC, philosophers from all ages and regions agree on one thing: The human mind is an instrument that solves problems. And many philosophers argue that the quality of your thoughts determine the quality of your life. From Confucius to Socrates to Descartes to William James, they all talk about their method of thinking--a way to view the world. Do something active to get in touch with anger. Crashing old glass mason jars against a wall, buying a stuffed animal that represents someone in your life and beating it up, taking kickboxing lessons--all these things can help you find and express your anger in a tangible, real way. Look for something that fits you. You may have a little cleanup to do, but it can be incredibly cathartic. Yet you still may be waiting in the wings, not sure whether you're comfortable with or ready to make any changes that would be life altering. As you've read and written, you may have realized how restricted your life has been, governed by rules that weren't healthy when you began to follow them and certainly aren't now. You may recognize that the emotions you've allowed yourself to show have been carefully selected for their appropriateness and that the more powerful emotions, the ones that might've revealed more of your identity or your struggle, have been locked up tightly. But to totally risk a new way of being? One that doesn't look as neat or well put together? It's hard to trust that these changes will help. Perfectionism is the way you've survived. If you'd been thrown out of a boat into the ocean and I called out for you to unbuckle the life preserver you were wearing so that you'd be free to put on a stronger, better one that was coming your way, but just out of sight, would you do it? You'd look at me like I was crazy. How in the world are you supposed to trust that something better is coming?

How are you supposed to cope with the terror that will grip you as soon as you are battling the waves alone? It's very hard to believe, at least at first, that throwing out ingrained survival strategies and replacing them with new ones will actually lead to a greater sense of security and well-being. There's a specific battle going on inside of you between two voices. The evil wolf's voice demands more perfection and more covering up, while the good wolf's voice has been quietly building strength through the years. It's fighting for a fuller, freer life. It's saying, "Risk leaning into your fear of vulnerability." Sadly, letting others make our choices for us is a growth industry. The prospect of making a wrong choice can be so tough for some people, so frightening, that they will yield to other people their power to choose. Or, not realizing not choosing is a choice, they will sit idly by. There are plenty of people like Helen who, rather than turning to drugs as she did, forfeit their power to a gang or a religious cult, where all decisions are dictated by a single leader. Psychic hotlines and spirit mediums generate huge profits from people's fear of making decisions on their own. In a variation on the same theme, some people dread leaving the military because they are terrified of the new choices they would face in civilian life; they have developed a "comfort zone" that equates contentment with being told what to do. Other people seek help from counselors or clergy, but then say to them, in effect, "Tell me what to do with my life, and I will obey." And it will be no surprise to learn that lots of people look to marketers and advertisers to make their choices for them, from sunup to sundown--a job that those industries are more than happy to perform. What I am challenging you to do, instead, is take ownership of your own decision making. Step 1: You can't change what you don't acknowledge and acknowledging the most important choices that you've made so far in life is a crucial step toward positive change. Without this review, you will continue to make choices without any awareness of what is driving them or what you are setting yourself up for when you make the choice. This lack of awareness can only lead you still further from your authentic self, because it denies the priorities that you have within you. Without knowledge of what you are, and the choices that have led you to a fictional, world-defined, parent- or employer-defined existence, you are lost. By identifying your seven critical choices, understanding why you made them (that is, what needs drove those choices), and the results they led to in your life, you will gain important insight into who you have become in this life. Our spirits are always at the helm. When we nurture them lovingly, all things in and around us seem to fall into place.

When our spirits are nurtured, issues we face that once seemed extremely complex can all of a sudden become clearer to understand and simpler to resolve. Hurries or worries that once seemed insurmountable can be illuminated and present themselves for transformation. We are in this life together, learning, growing and changing. We can support ourselves and each other to practise true self-care and self-love and, in doing so, find our sparkles. Some kinds of stress are natural, necessary, motivating and even positive, such as the mounting adrenaline we feel before we take a test or run a race. Positive stress helps us leap into action and perform at our best. Yet acute or what can become constant underlying negative stress can debilitate us, diminishing our glow and affecting us in ways we might not even appreciate. Learning to meet, greet and manage our stress is truly empowering. Rather than seeing stress as something we should eliminate altogether (as this is not humanly possible), we can learn to identify and understand our stress. We can draw on simple, savvy ways to manage it before it manages us! These are my core beliefs, which I gained in large measure from my experiences in Vietnam. After the marines shaped me into the man I am today, I realized that we as parents, teachers, and leaders must start expecting more from those whom we influence. If we do not expect, we will not achieve---no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Think about your own life. Who in your life set the expectations? I'm constantly making decisions and processing them, so when I act upon them, I try to be focused on the process and evaluate everything and prioritizing tasks. If you become skilled at prioritizing and understanding what is truly important, then you can make important decisions based on all the relevant factors. I've learned you have to think rapidly but efficiently if you are to optimize each second of the day. I've always had a positive mindset, and I credit faith for being a huge part of my optimistic outlook. This is not just faith in God, but also those around me and in myself.

That fact is particularly important because we have to trust in ourselves and the decisions we make, and we must believe they are the right ones based on the information we have in our minds at that time. Thanks to faith, I've always had a good attitude, which yields positive results. I've treasured the philosophy "I refuse to lose,"---not regarding winning or losing, but the importance of refusing to let negativity or fear rule my thought processes. If I miss something, then to me, that is losing. That goes back to living moment to moment. It even irritates me when I don't learn from an experience. I equate losing to not learning something and missing out on an experience, because learning has always been experiencing the moments that add up to make hours, days, weeks, months, and years---in other words, life! Everything is always about learning. Most of us know the Socratic method of questioning everything, even yourself. "I know one thing: That I know nothing," is what Socrates famously told the Oracle of Delphi when Socrates was declared the wisest man on earth. The fact that he thinks that he knows nothing makes him wise. That's a way of thinking. French philosopher Rene Descartes, who lived in the 17th century, took it one step further. He questioned everything in life, even his own existence. Because how do you know you're not dreaming or living in The Matrix? That's why he famously said: "Cogito ergo sum." Popularly translated to, "I think, therefore I am." Descartes concluded that he must exist because he's able to think. No matter how crazy your thoughts are, it's safe to say that you do exist. So why not make your existence a little more practical, lighthearted, fun, and useful? Have you ever observed or written down your thoughts? I challenge you, try it for a day.