Blog Posts - A Balanced Life
 
While out on a trail run one afternoon, I missed the trail I had taken and suddenly found myself engulfed in ferns, standing and puzzling over where the path had gone.  The trail I was on that day is not part of conservation land or a park so it is not maintained, and through the seasons it changes.  When the vegetation is thick the path is well defined, but when the trees are bare and the plants have withered away for the winter, it all seems to blend in a bit.  In early spring, the time of my run, plants were just starting to come back to life and the trail was littered with branches which had fallen during heavy winter snow.  It was easy to get confused.  


Realizing I'd missed my trail, I scanned the area all around me.  I seemed to be in a little gully.  I ran ahead downhill, stopped, and walked back.  I first felt embarrassed, but quickly realized I was alone, so nobody knew I was having trouble finding my way.  Standing on a mossy log I scanned the area around me, hoping height would give me a better view.  Height was no use, though, and a dizzying feeling of desperation came over me.  The very same woods that almost always seem to fuel me, felt like they were closing in on me.  It felt hard to breathe! A feeling of panic set in as I imagined how long it would be before my husband worried and how embarrassing it would be if people had to come look for me.


Never mind that I do not take my runs in the expansive forests of the Pacific Northwest, that it would be hard not to eventually encounter people where I was since it abuts recreational land and homes, and that I had my dog with me. Despite all of that, for a few minutes I felt completely powerless and out of control. I felt vulnerable and as if I had made a poor choice.  I pictured myself wandering around the woods for hours until night fall.  I felt raw fear.


Fear can come in healthy doses.  Curious creatures that we are, we humans probably would not have evolved too far if we had not feared some things.  Yet as you know, there is always a flip side.  The same healthy fear that keeps us alive can prevent us from achieving our own personal evolution.  We love the safety of familiarity, the feeling of control over our lives only attained from knowing what will happen next.  Why would we mess with that? Why purposefully risk security?


More recently than my trail run debacle, I decided to brave camping with my young sons.  To my surprise, this stirred up some concern and raised eyebrows from more than a few people.  I guess some people feared what could go wrong during a trip like that with two youngsters in tow.  When I left for our trip, I'd been thinking about the topic of fear for this post.  During the trip I realized what I would have missed if I had feared going, if I had never gone because of the "what ifs?" I'd have missed hearing two of my favorite sounds in the world at the same time: the sound of the waves at my feet and my baby's laughter as he played.  I'd have missed showing my little ones seals frolicking in the surf.  I'd have missed my sleeping children snuggled next to me in our tent.  I'd have missed realizing that I can pitch a tent, start a fire, grill a meal, and worm a hook (I'm working on the casting part).  I'd have missed moments that have enriched my life and the lives of my sons.


Truthfully, if I had never gone camping I would not have known I missed those things.  Who knows, maybe I would have experienced all of that on another occasion.  Yet in some situations, not only are we missing out on things due to our fear, but there are things in life we endure (when we deserve better) because we fear the change.  For whatever reason, at the suggestion of  change we feel the raw fear that I felt when I lost my way in the woods.  When presented with the idea of trying something new we feel the world closing in on us, our heads spinning, and our chests tighten.  Fear can be paralyzing.  For a brief moment in the woods- the day of my trail run- I did literally become paralyzed with fear.  It is mostly embarrassing now, since I quickly realized I needed to follow the gully down and pay attention to the direction my dog went, but for those few moments I was truly afraid.  I'll remember that fear in the future when I hit that trail, but I won't lose my way again.  It would be hard to with bright red trail markers every ten feet (you're welcome).  I do not suggest that you or I put ourselves in dangerous situations and ignore our healthy fears, but I do hope you will think twice about what holds you back from your own evolution.  Does your fear serve you, or are there beautiful adventures to be had if you can just move past the fear?

 
I’m reluctant to say so, as if saying so makes it so, but I feel the changing of the season.  There has been a break in the hot summer weather and the cooler, crisp air smells of early fall.  Perhaps one of the bigger signs of the onset of autumn is that the kids are reluctantly approaching their return to school.  I’m starting to wonder if we will be able to fit in all the summer fun I had hoped?  


Yet, the surest sign of late summer is not external.  In the same sort of mysterious way that furry animals begin to grow a longer coat or the leaves begin to change, my body senses the arrival of a new season.  Have you noticed it? I feel a little more sleepy in a certain way that I only do in the fall, as if a cozy warm bed is the right place to be.  I find myself craving pumpkin, acorn and butternut squashes, parsnips and beets.  I want hearty roasted vegetables, thick potato or pea soup and dense, rich, homemade bread of a variety of flavorful grains.  I look forward to a warm herbal tea.


The onset of new cravings and some worthwhile new reading about nutrition and diet has got me thinking lately about how and what we eat.  As someone who tends toward a diet low in animal protein, one of the things I love about my current reading is the emphasis on considering how different each individual is.  Our genetic makeup, our blood type, our ancestry- all of these things play a role in determining the best diet for us.  There is no “one size fits all” in the world of nutrition.  What to eat can be so confusing, especially when certain foods, diets, or lifestyles can be proven both healthy and unhealthy at the same time.  Milk is a great example of that and for years I wondered, what is the deal? I mean, why would something unhealthy be peddled as great for us? How else does one get calcium, but from milk?


Knowing that there is no one diet for everybody is comforting.  If your ancestors came from a place where no one drank milk, then perhaps it is not a food your body will tolerate well.  On the other hand, if milk was heavily consumed by the family that came long before you did, maybe you will do well to include it in your diet.  Personally, I’m convinced that some things will just not be great for us, but I’m not on a crusade to shut down the dairy farmers.  What I do feel needs some attention, however, is how far removed our eating habits are from those of the folks who came before us.  


The moment you walk into a grocery store you become a target.  I will even go as far as saying that you are being taken advantage of.  Items are placed strategically, packaging is bright, colorful and inviting.  A game of semantics is played out on each of the fun packages before you, leading you to conclude that the highly processed food you see is natural, nutritious, or healthy.  I realize this idea might worry some folks, because to tell you the truth it worried me.  I felt, at the suggestion that what I was buying for myself and my family was less than wholesome, a wall of defense arise within me.  I wanted to write the new information off since it clearly came from a bunch of crazy, crunchy tree huggers.


You are smarter than that, though.  You realize, as I came to, that we are constantly the target of advertising.  Companies of all types look to their bottom line and how to maximize profits.  Those selling us things want us to have an emotional connection to their product.  Someone will  buy sugar-coated, petroleum-based dye-filled toaster treats for her kids’ breakfast, because the company has craftily lead consumers to believe that they will meet the goal of every mother out there: she will have happy, cooperative kids eagerly joining her for breakfast in her harmonious, happy kitchen.  That same company also knows that her kids will beg her for it, because they will be totally hooked on the remarkable amount of sugar in the toaster treat... or the breakfast cereal... or the flavored oats... There is a science behind selling things to you and it happens wherever you go, even at the grocery store.


Before I start to sound too much like one of the raving, crazy, crunchy tree huggers I was so afraid of in the past, let me regroup a bit.  I do not aim to make you feel bad about what you might buy, no.  I hope to call to your attention to the fact that once not too long ago in the past sugar was hard to come by.  Meals did not come out of cardboard boxes or bags.  Once not so long ago, the foods people ate were not filled with so many unpronounceable additives, sugars, salts, or dyes.  Once upon a time, food looked more like it did when it came from the field or the farm, and that is what I hope to get you to consider.  Are the companies selling you smiling bear crackers for your tot concerned with his health and longevity, or their bottom line? Is a product so devoid of nutrients that it requires fortification really good for you, or is that tiger just too darned cute to push a cart past? Is it trickery to sell you a product which is truly a cookie, but in the shape of a bar with some works like, “sunny,” or “happy,” appearing on the box? You be the judge- but do me one favor and chew on it for a bit: is your health being stolen by the clever marketing of processed foods? Just look around and pay attention, how is food being sold to you and is what you are eating nurturing you, sustaining you, and keeping you healthy?

As always, I love to hear what you think.  Comments welcome!

 
I have always rooted for the underdog.  Maybe I have thought of myself as the “underdog” at various times.  I have also always thought that people should not be mistreated for things that they can not help.  Driving to work the other day, I heard a hip-hop song that moved me.  Looking it up later I was surprised to see that the song is by the same artist who brings us “Thrift Shop,” with lyrics explicit enough that my school-age step sons should not have learned them on the bus.

However, in his song “Same Love,”  the artist Macklemore raps:
“Gay is synonymous with the lesser

It's the same hate that's caused wars from religion

Gender to skin color, the complexion of your pigment

The same fight that led people to walk outs and sit ins

It's human rights for everybody, there is no difference!”

This is certainly a hot topic right now, but I’m not sharing my thoughts about this to begin a debate.  I love to see someone speak out against discrimination, to root for the underdog, and to spread a loving message.  In A Balanced Life I write about living wholly and healthfully.  From atop my digital soapbox I can share my ideas about living with integrity and in alignment with your core values.  Living in that way is impossible if you harbor hate, insecurity, intolerance, or fear within you. No matter what spiritual path one takes, most of us will agree that love is part of it.  I love that this message of love flies across the airwaves. 
 
“No matter what you do in your life work, your success ultimately depends on who you have around you- on who’s got your back.”

This advice comes from the self-proclaimed “skinny,white, Southern Oprah,” Ms. Rita Davenport.  Davenport is joking when she says that (she jests often), though did host a daytime talk show for some time.  In her book, “Funny Side Up,” Rita tells readers all about her life and lessons learned.  


Growing up, Rita’s family was extremely poor and expectations for what she should do with her life were very low.  For some reason Rita never considered her circumstances in life permanent and when people told her no, or that she could not do something, she went right on ahead and did it.  This attitude led her to college, to several successful careers, to a family of her own, and it led her to help many people and spread love in our world.


On a few occasions I crossed paths with Rita during her career as a public speaker and as President of a major network marketing company.  As a public speaker she gives a true gift to her audience, as she does in her book, captivating people with stories of her journey through life and offering lessons of a lifetime sprinkled with side-splitting hilarity.  If you hear Rita speak, she will absolutely have you laughing to tears.  Her knack for balancing her stories with experience, wisdom and laughter is amazing! When “Funny Side Up,” came out it was immediately on my “to-read” list and well worth it.


You know me and quotes, so there were dozens of Funny Side Up quotes I might have picked to share with you, but of all of my favorites there is a reason I wanted you to give thought to this one.  “No matter what you do in your life work, your success ultimately depends on who you have around you- on who’s got your back.”  Rita provides a great deal of examples of instances when she was told she could not, but then she did.  So many times she heard, “don’t get your hopes up,” but she did anyway.  What she came to believe is that the company she keeps is so important.  It is not the first time I have heard this and I, too, have grown to believe its validity.


Have you ever been with a few people who are having a great time, laughing and joking? Can you help but laugh along with them? What about being around someone miserable? Do you mute your own mood so as not to appear too cheery? Does their attitude seep into your pores? Moods, attitudes, thoughts and beliefs are all contagious.  Someone who is told he cannot most likely begins to believe he cannot.  Someone who is told she is not good enough, most likely begins to believe she is not good enough.  Conversely, those who are lifted upon the shoulders of others reach for the stars.  Rita’s advice is to surround yourself with the ones who lift you up.


It does not end there.  You can choose to stop there, or you can pay it forward.  I do not need to tell you what Rita advises.  A kind word, a hug, encouragement, mentorship- there is an abundance of love and support we can give one another. That alone is a lesson of a lifetime, but “Funny Side Up” is chock full of those. One thing is for sure: if you need some lifting up, you can pick dozens of mentors by reading their books.  I hope that those around you inspire you and support you.  Whether that is true or is not necessarily the case for you (and you should give thought to that), look to some accomplished, positive, leaders who share the lessons of their lives and provide motivation in their books.  Borrow their belief, enthusiasm and passion.  Then, be like Rita and do not accept anyone telling you, “you can’t.”


Who inspires you in your life, friend or author? Leave a short note on my blog or A Balanced Life’s Facebook page and I will enter you in a drawing to win my copy of Funny Side Up by Ms. Rita Davenport.  Like Rita says, “Love ya!”



 
Facebook.  Love it or hate it, sometimes you happen upon interesting ideas.  I happened to “like” Kim Kiyosaki’s Facebook Page and one of her recent posts said, “If you want more in life, you have to give more first.” Her comment was, “Think about it; there are so many ways this takes shape. If you're so inclined, I'd like to hear some examples of this in your life.”  I did not comment or even stop to read what other people had posted as comments, but I did have an immediate response to her prompt for an example: friendship.  


Giving in friendship does not necessarily mean giving material things or compromising yourself in any way, but it does mean being willing to listen without demanding to be listened to, it means giving the benefit of the doubt and not judging harshly, it means giving time, and it means giving your true self or being vulnerable.  If you want to have a relationship with someone, these things matter. If you want to build better relationships, then you have to give more of these things first.


I never really thought much about it, until I started to see one day who my own really good friends are.  Without being sure of why (actually it might have had something to do with a dead car battery and being stranded with a toddler) I began to trace the history of my best friendships and think about how I got to be so close to some people.  In a truly enlightening moment, I began to realize that I gave something of myself, without expectation, and really got more in return.  


The idea that relationships are investments is not new to me.  In fact, it has always seemed like a no-brainer, true in one’s personal life and in business. Stating the importance of relationships is almost like stating that water is a necessity.  Yes, of course it is, we all agree and move on without further thought. Relationships seem, after reflection, as important as water.  When you can give freely of yourself to others, it may one day be something that sustains you.  


Do you agree? What else does it take to build a relationship? And what do you think about Kim’s question, what are your examples of giving more to get more? Don’t let me hog the soap box- your comments are welcome!

 
As I was in the checkout line at the grocery store, a magazine cover caught my eye.  Sorry to disappoint you if you’re hoping for juicy entertainment, it had nothing to do with the Kardashians, royal babies or Jennifer Aniston.  I was in Whole Foods and in fact the magazine was Psychology Today with a feature story called, "What Happy People Do Differently."  There was a little teaser following the title, "#1 They Seek Risk, Not Reward."


On that day I figured I qualified as happy, after all I was risking a nearly two hour long car ride with my car-loathing toddler to visit my Mom, so that seemed risk enough to qualify by that standard.  Often I consider myself happy.  There was a day recently that just being with my own little children, and  peacefully playing with them at home on the kitchen floor gave me a feeling of such joy and contentment that I almost had to laugh at how little it took to inspire such feelings.  Yet one must wonder, considering how often I'm in that scenario, why am I not bursting at the seams with pure elation?


I was too curious to pass the article up despite wondering if the entire magazine was worth the newsstand price, but we'll take that as more evidence of my happiness since I risked it.  To tell the truth, the entire article didn't make such a huge impression on me, but one small section of a page remained in my memory because it got me thinking.  It stated, "People who place a premium on being on being happy report being more lonely... craving happiness is a slippery slope."


That information got me wondering if I might place a premium on happiness and I began to mull over how I would define what it is I am looking for in life.  Am I just chasing that feeling of happiness- that rush of endorphins- or is it more? One can not expect to be happy all the time, but it does seem that a person has to come to the conclusion on her own that sadness is temporary and perspective matters. Do happy people take a different approach to life when times are tough? And if it is not just happiness I am after, what is it?


Do I need to feel "up" all the time? No, after honest reflection I can say that is not what I am seeking.  I do not mean to say that I want to feel sadness, but I have finally learned that by staying positive more often, when I do feel sad, I am better able to tell myself it is only temporary.  Perhaps something I might not have sought out in the past while feeling sad, like a good laugh with a friend or a run, is something I would now seek out to boost my spirits.  Perspective has become important to me, as what I tell myself influences how I feel.  If I repeatedly tell myself that things are awful, then am I influencing my own belief? I think so.  What if instead I tell myself that this too, shall pass?


The authors, who state that they are researchers, conclude that the "good life" includes not only happiness, but sadness, purpose, playfulness, mental flexibility, autonomy, mastery, and belonging.  I suppose this could be argued with, yet I think there is something to it.  I cannot argue against wanting the preceding things in any part of my life.  Perhaps then, saying I am looking for happiness is not enough.  I am looking to feel challenged in a way that inspires growth, I am looking for gratitude, contentment, abundance, and love.  I am not depending on feeling these things from others, but I want to be able to give love, feel abundance, show gratitude and push myself to grow so that I feel content.  Perhaps then, when one does not feel happiness, the ability to work on something that matters to them, or to feel like they still fit in somewhere, or to be flexible with perspective, to understand their own value or purpose, or to remain playful and optimistic- really does decide whether she can see the silver lining and lead a life that one might describe as happy or truly fulfilling.


What do you think? As always, I love your comments on the blog or at my Facebook Page! Don’t forget to “like” A Balanced Life for updates.
 
For years I wanted to improve the way I nourished myself.  Before I started to understand that there were (are) better ways to feed myself and my loved ones, I lived in a place of ignorance for fear of overwhelm.  Breakfast couldn’t get better than a warm, steaming pile of pancakes topped with melting butter and thick, gooey (not from a tree) syrup.  What was wrong with that kind of eating? Or toaster pastries, or gatorade, or breakfast cereals, or any other yummy modern day American foods? At any rate, learning how to do better felt overwhelming.  If there’s one true statement about us as human beings, it is that we do not like an abundance of choice, even if we like to think we do.  We prefer our options to be narrowed down for us, and if you google search for a better diet, you’re bound to be overwhelmed (or sold something unhealthy).  What’s more, no one likes the idea of a total-diet makeover, it’s shocking to the stomach (which is connected to the brain).  

What has worked for me in finding better ways to nourish myself and my family, is to take baby steps- small changes over time.  It makes no sense to me to rush into major changes which prove to be unsustainable, versus taking time and tweaking things, adjusting to new ways, and then, well, adjusting the diet again, and repeat!

I was thinking about what advice I would offer if I could create a beginner’s guide for my past self.  Here are the first steps I came up with:


1. Open Your Mind

Keeping an open mind about food options is a must.  People sometimes rule out things that look different.  How many times have you commented, or heard someone comment, “Eww, gross!” at first sight of a new food.  Trust me, if you begin to analyze some common foods we already eat, you might be turning your nose up to some things most of us call “normal.”  It’s all about keeping an open mind, and trying new things.  When getting my kids to try things, they follow my example and at times they have to try something many, many, MANY times before deciding they liked it.  We always put a new food we hope they will try right on their plates, even if they refuse to try it.  Just a small bite-size portion as an option, and over the years our kids have tried (and some have liked) things like beets, quinoa, hummus, asparagus, brussels sprouts, lima beans and other foods some view as “non kid-friendly.”


2.  Go Back To What Gives You Life: Water

Often, I think that we should celebrate water more than we do.  If Columbus gets a day (and his heroism is arguable) how about a Water Celebration Day? Well, we can chew on that for a while, but possibly what should be considered sooner is your water intake.  Water is truly the basis for your life, so are you getting enough of it? Do you start your day with hydration and continue to drink water throughout the day? Try it!

Find out more:

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/water/NU00283


3. Know Where Sugar Is Sneaking In

I challenge you to look at where sugar is creeping into your diet.  Do you fall into line with the average american? Statistics vary on how much sugar the average American consumes from “52 teaspoons of added sugars per person per day in 2000?” to “22 teaspoons of sugar each day,” with the average being 10 grams higher for teens.  

(http://www.usda.gov/factbook/chapter2.pdf) (http://www.nbcnews.com/id/32543288/ns/health-diet_and_nutrition/t/cut-back-way-back-sugar-says-heart-group/#.Ud4AqNJwrpI)

Instead of water, people commonly drink sodas, sports drinks, artificially flavored drinks, and juices.  If you cut down on these drinks, with the goal of drinking more water, you can do so by considering these methods: cut your juice with water- try juice with 25% water or seltzer, then 50-50, and then water with a hint of juice.  Try drinking water ice cold or through a straw.  Switch to drinking water or seltzer with lemon, lime or orange slices.  Switch from sweet iced teas, to home brewed sugar-free green or herbal iced tea.  

Sugar is, in my opinion, a sneaky tool used by manufacturers to keep you coming back to their brand.  Beyond drinking sugar in our beverages, sugar lurks in a lot of cereals, oatmeal, breads, snacks, tomato sauces, yogurts, and condiments (think jellies and jams, dressings and sauces).  Sugar is especially infused in things we like to give our kids: canned fruits, flavored milks, fun-packaged yogurts, apple sauces, “fruit” snacks (where’s the fruit?), granola bars... I bet if you look for it, you can add many things to my list.  

Experiment by tracking your eating and calculate the sugar you consume.  4 grams of sugar equals approximately 1 teaspoon.  You might be surprised at your sugar intake, but don’t be overwhelmed! Steadily made small changes result in big improvements over time.

Find out more:

http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/sugar-shockers-foods-surprisingly-high-in-sugar

http://www.fatburningman.com/michael-fishman-how-to-beat-sugar-addiction/


4. Go Green

When I started to pay attention to how many vegetables I was eating each day, I was surprised that I ate less than I liked to think I did.  Fresh raw veggies are an essential part of our nutrition.  If you can’t eat certain things raw, then cooking is, of course, the next best choice.  We are lucky that a variety of vegetables are at our fingertips all year round, and I’ve discovered some ways to ensure that I’m getting more veggies onto my plate- or in my cup, as that’s my favorite way!

Try things raw that you might not have considered before: I always thought zucchini had to be cooked, since I had always had it that way, but I discovered it’s one more dippable for my hummus.  Try keeping a container or platter of pre-cut veggies in the fridge with your favorite dip- fresh hummus, bean dip, guacamole or salsa.  Better yet to me, blend veggies into fresh smoothies! I learned all about smoothie making from Kris Carr (check her out!) and I now stock certain frozen fruits and vegetables in my freezer all the time for cool, refreshing smoothies.  I keep pineapple, kale, spinach, berries and more at my disposal.  With plant milk such as unsweetened vanilla almond or rice milk, I can blend a frozen drink that even my kids will enjoy.  My summer favorite is one whole ripe peach (minus the pit, of course), about ⅓ cup frozen pineapple, about ½ cup spinach-kale mixture, and about 2 cups unsweetened vanilla rice milk.  Blend until smooth and enjoy! I have developed a taste for low-sugar treats, if something does not work for you then experiment! It is fun.  Blend in a ripe banana for sweetness.  If you like a creamier texture, throw in a slice or two of avocado- puts the smooth in your smoothie!

Find out More:

http://kriscarr.com/about/


5. Try Out “Meatless Monday”

I have found that this statement is about as offensive to some as a four-letter word.  I lost them at “meatless.”  Yet, diets rich in meat are of concern- ask your physician for more information.  I’m not advocating that everyone become vegan, though beyond the health benefits of diets low in animal-based protein are benefits such as lowering your carbon footprint.  At any rate, you don’t have to give up meat, but you can ease your way into eating less of it, and a great way is to designate one day as “meatless.”  On such days try breakfast quinoa (see my favorite recipe below), nut butters or sunflower seed butter on toast or celery (mmm, ants on a log), soups such as meatless black bean or lentil, hummus, or pasta made creamy with cashews.

My favorite breakfast quinoa recipe:

1 cup rinsed quinoa, cooked in 2 cups unsweetened vanilla rice, almond or coconut milk.  Add ¼ cup shredded unsweetened coconut and a mashed ripe banana to the cooked quinoa.  Add more milk to your bowl, like one might with oatmeal, if desired.  Mmm! Yarm, protein-filled goodness!

Find Out More:

My Favorite vegan penne pasta dish:

http://kriscarr.com/best-of-kris-carr/how-to-make-vegan-penne-a-la-vodka/

http://kriscarr.com/products/crazy-sexy-kitchen-book/

http://recipes.howstuffworks.com/vegetarian-diet-carbon-footprint.htm


Please remember, these are my opinions after having made changes over time to my own eating habits.  Anyone making changes to their diet should probably work with their physician to ensure the changes are advisable.  I am not a doctor, but I know what it is like to be overwhelmed by information and choices.  Each meal is a choice, and each meal brings opportunity to nourish yourself for better energy, longevity and overall good health.
 
I started that day with a strange energy about me.  I had worked late the night before and probably was not as rested as I would have liked, yet I was determined not to let the day slip away before leaving for my next shift, and after my coffee I got right to work clearing the floor of toys, vacuuming and mopping.  As I moved from one task to the next I found myself struggling with my mood, attitude and outlook.  Particularly, my little “storm cloud” kept creeping back into position over my head.

You know what I mean, the storm cloud is that negative, nagging, even toxic thought that creeps into our brains and blocks positivity, productivity and even happiness.  It’s different for everyone.  For some, it involves thoughts of self-defeat or unworthiness; perhaps it is about envy, work, money or a relationship; maybe it is about a situation or circumstance.  Whatever it is about, that rain cloud is a thief.  It blocks your sunshine and takes the place of thoughts which lead to your success.  

Armed with that knowledge, I attempted to lead my brain to a more peaceful, productive place.  The nagging persisted like it had a life of its own, pushing its way into the back of my mind and bringing with it an annoyed, hot feeling.  There is a great deal out there on how to tend the garden of your thoughts, or “mind your mind,” as I have heard.  You can find advice from the best of the best in personal development: Tony Robbins, Mastin Kipp and Martha Beck are a few of my favorite experts who teach methods for positive thinking.  But, you might be surprised to learn now that the answer on that particular day had little to do with what sort of thinking I used.

The important thing to remember about how I felt on that day, was that I started out feeling charged like lightening, unsettled, preoccupied, edgy and perhaps even a bit restless.  Tension throughout my body was the physical mirroring the mental.  It has taken me time and practice to identify while it is happening this kind of thinking and feeling.  With effort, one can train herself to  snap out of a little funk like that, I am learning.  Standing at the sink, moodily scrubbing dishes a little longer than necessary to get the food off, I asked myself, “What is this mood really about?” I knew there was a reason I was dwelling on something so negative it was unworthy of a second of my time.

Just like that, my body answered.  It occurred to me that a week had passed since my last run.  Okay, hear me out, because I know some of you are saying to yourselves that you would only run if something were chasing you!  I find some of what my friends post on Facebook about running to be hilarious, the latest I saw states, “I never run with scissors.  The last two words were unnecessary.”  This sarcastic humor makes me chuckle, and I get you, I’m not arguing that you take up running.  It’s arguable if my leisurely jog can even be called running, but regardless, I get moving and here is why you should too:

You are worth it, loved and needed.

Let me say it again, so you can let it sink in.  You are worth it, loved and needed.  Those are the number one, two and three reasons you should get moving, but if that’s not enough for you, then (you know me) I have some textbook reasons.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states, “the benefits of regular physical activity [are] weight control, reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease [stroke and heart attack, not a joke], reduce your risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome, reduce your risk of some cancers, strengthen muscles and bones, improve your mental health and mood, improve your ability to do daily activities and prevent falls (if you’re an older adult) and increase your chances of living longer.”- http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/health/

Other benefits are a stronger immune system, lower diastolic blood pressure, increased cognitive capacity* and better sleep at night.^  A researcher from Tufts compared older adult women who had not previously exercised.  Those who began regular physical activity gained bone density and better balance, versus those who stayed sedentary and lost both bone density and balance.  One in three women will suffer a hip fracture before age 90 and many will die from this event.*  

After I received the message loud and clear from my body, that it was time to get moving, I made exercise my next priority.  Running allows me some serene time to myself to soak in the beauty around me and free my body of stress and tension.  A good run around my neighborhood cleared my storm cloud and almost magically my thoughts changed.  The nagging, unproductive thoughts I had clung to earlier were released, and I freed my mind for better thinking.  I realize that running is not for everyone, but exercise can be accomplished in so many other ways.  How will you get moving?


* The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

^ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-michael-j-breus/sleep-and-exercise_b_3071100.html
 
​Greetings from the beautiful, waveless shore of Scusset Beach on Massachusetts' prided Cape Cod! I'm blessed with some R&R time with my family this week and I'm reminded of a recent conversation with one of my good friends who is Columbian.  She was describing to me how in her native country, people take a slower approach to life than here in Los Estados Unidos.  At her comparison, I mused that I stand to learn a great deal from the Columbian people.  The school year just came to a close here, and it left me to reflect on the schedule I've kept: daily school drop-offs and pick-ups, homework and extra-curriculars, grocery shopping, meal planning, chores, work, relationships.... The list goes on.  If I've ever been tense trying to leave my house with four little ones in tow, it is because I've literally scheduled my life down to minutes in some cases and, well, there is often not a minute to spare.

​I might be embarrassed to admit the way I pack most of my days full, but I'm no different than most people I know.  Honestly, I've been aware of this tendency to go, go, go long before the conversation with my friend.  Several years ago, I was not at all surprised when my step sons asked, at the dawn of summer vacation, not to go to any camps.  When I was a child, summer camp looked like a privilege. I thought that if I could send my kids to camp, I'd be giving them something I never had and something I coveted.  Yet when my oldest step son told me, "I just want to stay home," I realized that he could be craving the opportunity to just spontaneously play with his own toys at a relaxed pace.  Out of the mouths of babes, as they say.  I theorize that since children aren't as driven as adults to make a social impression, they have an easier time expressing and going after what they truly need.  In this case, my kiddos made a point about something we all need: down time.

Frankly, I think we are all craving down time in a way that we sometimes don't even realize.  It is common for people to feel guilty about taking time away from their work.  Some company cultures make time off seem frivolous, but many experts argue that time away from work is actually beneficial not only for the individual, but also for the company.  We are not the only country tending to work too much, either.  As I learned from one of my favorite authors and speakers, Tony Robbins, the Japanese actually have a word for people who die from over-work, "karoshi."  Lesson: take advantage of your paid time off, it is good for you! As a society under pressures, time constraints being just one of those, I think it is entirely possible that our repressed desire for a slower pace erupts in ways we should be embarrassed about, like road rage.

Rushing from one place to another doesn't seem to allow me to enjoy myself much, either.  More often than not I am focusing on the time constraints I face or the next task at hand.  Some of the best and most memorable days are those with very few planned activities, or no plans at all.  These are the sort of days that leave room for spontaneity, like swinging by my best friend's house for an impromptu visit, playing with the kids, hunting for yard sales with my husband, or not worrying about how long I go our jogging.  Or, maybe most important, down-time allows for rest and recuperation.  I have to remind myself often to leave time for these things.  With the pace of life what it is, sometimes it's worth it to just stay home and rest- or go to the beach and rest. Cheers!

 
My Dad was telling me, in great detail, about grass.  That’s not code for anything else.  I’m talking sod, lawn, cut it with a mower: grass.  He was trying to tell me something about the variety of grass he was going to put down in his yard- I think.  Clearly I was listening challenged on that day, because the only message I received was, “grass.”  Don’t worry.  My Dad is not going to be surprised if he reads my blog, I told him I was having trouble listening that day.  Thankfully, he understood and it was his turn to listen.  


On a regular basis, we are bombarded by information of all varieties.  Our senses are constantly receiving a stream of information be it visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory or olfactory.  It’s not surprising to me that listening can be so challenging for some of us.  Let’s now make an important distinction: there is hearing, and then there is listening.  We hear things, “...grass..lots of it...roots...” but then after hearing we systematically process what we have heard.  There is work involved and to improve upon it takes some conscious effort.  No wonder it’s not a natural super-ability! Plus, for many of us (who, me?) talking can be so much more instantly gratifying!


When we are actually listening, we receive a message (the hearing part), understand it, remember things, evaluate what we’re hearing and respond.  This can go wrong in some ways, for example when someone wants to talk about his lawn and someone else has other matters on her mind (for the record, my Dad will be one of the first people I call when I’m blessed with the opportunity to do home improvement and I will be ALL ears).  Aside from mental distractions, there are physical.  I’m certain none of these will ring a bell with you, but some barriers to listening present themselves in the form of Celebrity Apprentice, Red Sox vs. Yankees, Candy Crush Saga, Facebook, and text messages, to name a few.  Without a doubt, if you are not 100% focused on the speaker, you are less likely to receive their message- and there’s no fooling them.  In fact, my kids have taught me that the younger the speaker is, the easier it is for him to tell how well you are listening!


Sometimes, we also think we know what a person is going to say before they say it. We’ll conclude that if our best friend is complaining about some frenemy, she’s not likely to finish the story with how much Frenemy surprised her by doing something nice and selfless.  Yet, it pays not to finish the story for your friend.  If you’re focused on the outcome, you probably aren’t fully engaged in listening.  And also, give Frenemy the benefit of the doubt- keep in mind that what your Besty tells you may or may not be fact, you’re simply hearing her perspective.  Further, you’ll only remember what you internalize from that story.  Simply put, you’ll tell it like you saw it, or like you heard it, as the case may be.  


The deeper I delve into this whole listening thing, the more I begin to think that listening is a practice like yoga or meditation.  Good listening requires some recognition about yourself like how you might be biased or tend to prejudge or filter whatever you do and do not want to hear.  You have to stay present and focus on your speaker.  In that way, you can catch the specific words he selects, all of what he says, or even what he does not say.  If you’re truly listening, you’ll be able to show that speaker.  It probably would have been nicer of me, when speaking with my Dad, to say, “Wow, you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you with that grass, but I can tell you did your research.”  I would have been able to confirm my interest and not challenge him- to actively listen.  If you’re not sure what I mean by not challenging the speaker, I mean not using the response my fifteen year old self would have given: “Dad, it’s grass, get over it- how hard can planting grass be?”


Listening, however, gets deeper than this.  Like I said, it’s a practice.  Have you ever considered how we listen to ourselves? The July issue of one of my favorite magazines, Success, has an article by Amy Anderson about one of the “best-known” life coaches in the country- a woman named Martha Beck.  She discusses her latest book and the concept of listening to one’s own inner compass.  Beck advises others “to spend more time in silence,” the goal being “peace and equilibrium within.”  She teaches people that all of the answers they need in life are within them, and that if one listens to herself, she will live her purpose.  


I really hadn’t thought of listening in that way before and once I considered the idea I was intrigued- and excited to share it.  Of course I want to be a great listener for others, because I think listening well strengthens relationships and allows one to learn from others.  Yet, in considering how and how often I listen to myself, I can’t help but wonder- if we listen to ourselves more, will we listen to others better?

    Jennifer Loebel

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