7 Takeaways from the 12 Days of Fitness Challenge

As I wrote in my guest post for the American Heart Association’s #BreakUpWithSalt initiative, about six in ten caregivers in a national survey by the National Alliance for Caregiving reported that their eating (63%) and exercising (58%) habits are worse than before. I am among those six in ten.

When I stopped running in early October because my rapid heart rate kept breaking through despite taking a beta blocker before exercising, I stopped other exercise activities too. The “reasons” mushroomed easily: once my son was able to drive himself, he was able to stay out after school finished, hanging out with his friends (or whatever). Going to an early morning class so that I could be home before my husband left for work involved an early wakeup that felt increasingly impossible to do. I was embarrassed about my weight gain.

Then the 12 Days of Fitness Challenge happened.

In December, BA Fitness posted on their Facebook page that there would be a “12 Days of Fitness” challenge. The challenge was set to begin the next day, so I had to make a quick decision regarding whether I was “in” or not. I decided! I was in! The basics: Do 12 classes within an abbreviated period of time (15 days). Don’t miss any classes you signed up for (or the clock would start over). In return? More fitness and a lovely custom workout towel (plus a chance to be entered in a drawing for free classes and other goodies.

Fitness Goals

Fast forward to the end. I *did* earn my towel (yay) and gathered a few insights along the way:

Why A Challenge Made a Difference

The Towel

Having done many efforts such as Relay for Life and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, I have always been *amazed* at how hard people will work to earn a tshirt that may cost $5 to make. How many hundreds and thousands of dollars they’ll raise. That was me with the reward towel. Granted, it was exclusive to participants of the challenge who met the 12-class minimum, but in the end it was “just a towel.” But I wanted it! Like Joe, the swag was calling my name!

Fitness GoalsThe Finite Time Line

Because the Challenge had a specific begin and end date, I had to fit my 12 classes in within a specified period of time. That short-circuited any “I’ll get to it eventually” thoughts in my head and made me overcome barriers I had been allowing to stop me from showing up.

Detailed, Transparent Updates

The challenge scoreboard was posted on Facebook at least once a day. Why did that matter? For starters, we could see each other’s progress? A perfect recipe for lots of support sharing (and a tiny quantity of good natured prods (as in, I’m getting up at 4:30 am to make the 5 am class — you can too, friend!)). Since the towels were limited to the first 25 people to complete the challenge, seeing a line of people ahead of us who were closer to hitting the 12-class mark than we were was motivation to step up our efforts and get our butts to class.

Accountability Matters

I had gotten out of touch with the fact that the best thing people and fitness lovers can do for one another is hold each other accountable. I stopped being on “active status” with my team (although my incredible coach still goes way above and beyond to track my workouts). I wasn’t racing so there was no “let’s get some runs in so we are prepared for the next 5K” type activity going on. When I knew my fellow challenge participants would be expecting me in class, and that my NOT going was stealing a spot from someone who needed it (it got pretty hard to find space in classes as the challenge proceeded), I showed up. 

Planning Ahead is Your Friend

Like I mentioned above, as the challenge progressed, it got harder and harder to find space in class. I missed an opportunity to check off one (or two, if I had been willing to do a double) class of my list on a premium Saturday when I actually could go, because I waited too late to sign up. If you have a goal, plan ahead in order to execute it.

Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone Is Good

Because I had to take whatever classes were available, I took some classes I would not have traditionally picked. I got to exercise different muscles (literally), meet new people, and explore exercise alternatives I would not have tried before.

Excuses Hurt Only Ourselves

After I had to get carted back to the start area a mile into a walked 5K in October, something in my willpower deflated. Years of consistent exercise (some of those years with rockingly consistent nutrition (some not so much) felt like a waste of time. I know they weren’t a waste of time, but I was feeling sorry for myself. I was afraid to work out in the event my tachycardia acted up, afraid I would “cause a problem” for the staff or fellow students at the studio if I had an episode, just AFRAID.

Thanks to the challenge, though, for all the morning classes I did as part of a challenge, I drank only decaf before class, took my beta blocker, tried not to feel self conscious about bedhead or wearing colors that didn’t match, and DID IT. If I felt like something was pushing me too hard, I took a break. It was hard to stop worrying about what others thought (lazy/out of shape/unmotivated) but it was an important reminder that not everyone knows our stories.

THE HAPPY ENDING

Yes, I got the towel. More importantly, I got the push I needed to look those excuses, the extra pounds, the logistical challenges, and the health issues in the face and recommit to taking care of myself.

Fitness Goals

My bedhead and I earned my towel after my 12th class, an Indorow class. Pictured here with David Griffin, instructor.

Looks like I am going to need a few MORE towels.

10 Lessons From Lumosity

In July 2014, when Tenley and I were in NYC, we were discussing how to get to Dylan’s Candy Bar, which is located at 3rd Avenue and 60th Street in NYC. Because we had to figure out where to get off of the bus, we had already discussed the cross street once while we were planning our day, within an hour of when we were discussing it again. I said “which cross street again?” She looked at me incredulously and said “sometimes I worry about you.” I said “I do too.”

Memory is a Muscle

As I wrote in a recent post for Weaving Influence, when I read the book Deep Work, I was reminded that the mind is like a muscle. There are things I can try to do to keep it in shape. (I mean …. I want to be able to find the candy stores in this world after all!). I signed up for a year’s worth of Lumosity and got started.

Brain health

Improving Memory

Lumosity is an online tool that helps people train their core cognitive abilities (great explanation of core cognitive abilities here).

The five core cognitive abilities Lumosity focuses on are speed, memory, attention, flexibility, and problem solving.

  • Speed – according to Cognifit, speed is “the time it takes a person to do a mental task” and is related to “the speed in which a person can understand and react to the information they receive.”
  • Memory – according to The Human Memory, memory is “our ability to encode, store, retain and subsequently recall information and past experiences in the human brain.”
  • Attention – Cognifit defines attention as “the cognitive process that allows us to concentrate on a stimuli or activity in order to process it more thoroughly later.”
  • Flexibility – flexibility, an executive function, is “the capacity for quickly switching to the appropriate mental mode,” explains Cognifit.
  • Problem Solving – another executive function, problem solving is “defining the problem in the right way to then generate solutions and pick the right one” according to Cognifit.

Lessons from Lumosity

As I have played the Lumosity games in an attempt to improve my cognitive abilities, I have improved my LPI (Lumosity Performance Index) from 624 to 1141 (yay!). Along the way, I have made the following observations:

Some Games Are Much More Likable Than Others

My least favorite game is Tidal Treasures, which exercises working memory. As the game progresses, you have to choose an item on a “beach” that you have not chosen before. It is the game that takes the longest to play and is so very hard to conquer (but I am experimenting with mind tricks to be better, which I guess is the point of it being an “exercise.”).

Although Lumosity gives me the option to change games when Tidal Treasures comes up, I don’t. This goes in the category of “you have to take on the big challenges to improve.”

You can’t get a perfect score every time.

After each game you are shown whether or not your score that time fit in the top five of your scores in that game. It is so tempting to keep retrying if it happens to be a day you didn’t score in the top five.

It’s short sighted to not just get on with your life when you can’t get perfection every time.

Things Go Better If You Take a Split Second to Get an Overview

One of the games, Train of Thought, addresses divided attention, the ability to simultaneously respond to multiple tasks or task demands. As you increase your level of play, there are more trains going more places, and some trains look very similar to other trains (like the green train that has a BLACK top, compared to the all-green train). I’ve learned to take a split second before re-routing tracks to try to figure out where all the stations are — it makes a difference.

It doesn’t work to start playing a game right away if you don’t take a moment to figure out what field you are on.

Don’t Make Things Harder on Yourself

In the game Speedpack, which exercises visualization, the ability to manipulate or imagine the interaction of objects in your mind, the player has to “move” a camera to a certain compartment of a suitcase and try to put it in a compartment that won’t be full once the suitcase is closed. It reminds me of how much I hated those “what shape will this paper be when it is folded?” kinds of exercises we had when we took the ASVAB back in high school (is the ASVAB still a thing?). Sometimes, I can sit there trying to figure out which compartment to put the camera in when there is a whole row empty that involves no hard decisions.

When an easy option presents itself, take it!

Some Distractions Have Nothing To Do With The Route You Should Take

In Pinball Recall, a working memory game, the goal is to figure out where a ball is going to go based on its starting point and various bumpers in the way. Newsflash: some of those bumpers can’t change the direction of your ball no matter what. They are just there to make things look more complicated than they are!

Don’t assume every barrier is actually going to get in your way.

Don’t Paralyze Yourself By Lack of Confidence

Every single boss I have ever had (that took the time and effort to evaluate me) has said “if only you were more confident in your decisions.” SIGHHHH. So true but trust me never has that been said to me that I then walked out of that office and proceeded to automatically exude more confidence. Lack of confidence is a pretty deeply ingrained challenge. Lumosity to the rescue! At least for the ten minutes I am playing every morning. Success at some games, especially the ones which work on speed, depend on quick reflexes. I can either just make the confidence choice or get a lower score because I questioned myself.

Confidence often pays off. 

Everything in Your Field of Vision DOES Matter Sometimes

The Eagle Eye game tests “field of view” – the “area over which you can absorb visual information without moving your eyes.” (Quotes from Lumosity.) There is a piece of information in the center of the screen (like a number) and a “bird” elsewhere on the screen. The player has to remember the center item while recalling where the bird was.

This game always feels like life itself – you have to remember what is at the center and often be able to take care of important items “on the side.”

We Are Not Always The Best Judges of Our Strengths

hate to admit this (and please don’t tell any future editing or otherwise communications-based clients) but “Word Bubbles Rising” is not (give me just a moment here ….) the game at which I score the best. It is a flexibility game and I score best at problem solving games. Hmmm.

In the same way that a 360 degree evaluation in the workplace gives you insight you don’t expect, opening yourself up to an evaluation of your brain capacity strengths and weaknesses can surprise you.

Mood and Sleep Matter

Every time I start playing, Lumosity asks first what kind of mood I am in and how much sleep I got. Chronic stress can create long-lasting brain changes and depression can contribute to memory problems (uh-oh). Sleep deprivation can lead to problems with memory, concentration, optimism (gasp!), sociability, creativity, and innovation. I can see why Lumosity asks, and having to “report in” every morning is making me think about how I can improve my mood and enhance my sleep hygiene.

Mental Fitness Is a Gift

I’ve been worried ever since I read Still Alice about early brain deterioration. Living with an in-law with short-term memory disorder leads me to be terrified, daily, of what the future might hold. Playing Lumosity may not be the key to staying supple in the brain forever, but hopefully it’s a step in the right direction.

Just like exercise may keep our physical bodies stronger, our brains deserve a chance too.

Inauguration Day and Beyond: #One20

It’s no secret at all that my candidate did not win the US Presidency. The election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency makes me sad, angry, and terrified for the impact his policy choices will have on my fellow Americans, on me, and on the world at large.

But he did win, he is being inaugurated on January 20, and I have a choice to make regarding how I respond.

I am inspired by One20: A Day for Doing Good, a call to do good in our communities on January 20, 2017 (Inauguration Day).

Although One20 is focusing on January 20 to begin with, I anticipate that start will create ripple effects long into the future. One20 has inspired the structure of this post: 20 things I, as ONE single person, can do and say in response to the establishment of the Trump Administration.

1. I am not using the #NotMyPresident hashtag.

The day after the election, my daughter and I were discussing the election’s outcome and the reactions of people around us. “Is it that bad?” was her question. While I do believe it is, indeed, that bad, I am choosing not to use the #NotMyPresident hashtag.

I am choosing not to use the #NotMyPresident hashtag because, like it or not, he is what I am getting. However, in the same way that I went to the Grads Made Good breakfast at Florida State year after year and refused to clap for Dr. Stephen Winters (RIP) who groped me in Dodd Hall when I was a freshman, the professor a higher-up administrator basically looked the other way about when I shared the information, I will not be applauding our new President.

2. An Addition to My White House Selfies

Every time I go to DC, I take the obligatory “here I am in front of the White House picture,” like this one from last September.

Political Activism

When I go to the Shot at Life Champions Summit next month, though, the picture may still have a green pen in it (I mean, that’s the norm now, right?) BUT I will also feature a safety pin prominently in the picture. I have seen so many individuals and groups deeply hurt by the reinvigorated spirit of hatred and divisiveness in our country, it is imperative to me that people know I, like @IBexWeBex, am a safe place.

3. I will participate in the Tallahassee Women’s March on January 21.

Organized by the Florida Planned Parenthood Alliance, the event is “a 100% inclusive event and all genders, races, ages, religions, sexual orientations – everyone! – is invited to participate.”

4. Involvement in local, state, and federal politics.

I will redouble my efforts to be personally familiar with the choices my local, state, and federal leaders are making, and to make my positions clear with them.

5. My Profile Picture on January 20

I am not changing my profile picture to one of President Obama on January 20, as many people I know are planning. This relates to the fact that I am not using the #notmypresident hashtag. I am beyond grateful to President Obama and his family. He has been a singularly outstanding President, and I am so excited about how he can apply his intellect and passions once he no longer has the constraints of the Presidency.

I really can’t explain why this choice doesn’t sit right for me. When Beyonce did an impromptu (and very well performed) rendition of the Star Spangled Banner to prove that she could, indeed, sing the song without a lip syncing, I hated the song being used as some sort of “revenge” song. Somehow using President Obama’s image feels the same way to me. (But I support everyone making that choice.)

6. Helping Homeless Women With Personal Hygiene Needs

In keeping with the idea that we can collectively make big impacts when many people do small things, I am adding feminine products to the non perishables I purchase for local food drives. For more on this topic, visit Bustle.

7. Making an Impact in Person, not just Online

I read a great post on Facebook about how we should attend to seeing how we can positively impact the people within five feet of us. I can’t find the initial post, but the concept is true. It is so easy to get wrapped up in our virtual communities that we forget what we can do for the people right next to us. Let’s do it.

8. Read, Dialogue, Read and Dialogue Some More

I am continuing to read books like Debby Irvings’s Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race and Susan Kuklin’s Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out in order to be better informed then finding a way to act on what I’ve learned and be a part of respectful dialogue in order to bring people closer to one another.

9. I am refusing to stay silent in the face of racist, anti-semitic, or other hate jokes.

When a national rental car company picked me up to take me to pick up a car right after the election, the driver, commenting on how safe my neighborhood appeared, went on to remark, “be glad you’re not in California where those Muslims are lying down in the streets.” When I responded that they had something to say, he went on to explain how we can never get along with “them,” and  how I would “figure that out someday.”

I doubt my attempt to defend Muslims registered with him AT ALL, but maybe, just maybe, he will think in the future before spouting his hatred. It mattered to try.

10. I am not moving to Costa Rica, Canada, or anywhere off of US soil.*

I am not going to let this President and his administration run me off. I love my country, think it is great already, and plan to stay put.

11. Voting Matters Now More Than Ever*

I will support efforts to get out the vote, to encourage people to register to vote, and to make it easy for my fellow citizens to vote.

12. Supporting Equity and Safety for Black Students

I am grateful to have met Kelly Wickham-Hurst, creator of Being Black at School. I have made a donation and will continue to support her work advocating for equity and safety for Black students.*

13. Kindness > Sarcasm

Inspired by Caitie Whelan’s Lightning Notes about The Kindness Impulse, I will strengthen my kindness impulse so it is stronger than my sarcasm impulse. For the record, it would probably be easier to move to Canada!

14. You’re Never Too Young to Learn to Make a Difference

I will believe in the capacity for our the youngest among us to embrace diversity, to make an impact, and to positively influence their peers. A great place to start is by sharing one of the books featured in this #MomsReading blog from Moms Rising.

15. None of Us Can Afford to Be Single Issue Voters

I will continue to educate myself about issues that affect my fellow women and Americans, even if they don’t directly affect me. It started with We Won’t Wait 2016 and will only grow in the face of closed-mindedness and hatred from our newly elected leaders.

16. I will support the LGBTQIA+ Community

I joined Equality Florida in order to stay informed about issues important to Florida’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community (as well as Floridians at large) including Discrimination, Adoption, Family Recognition, Safe and Healthy Schools, Hate Crimes, Voter Mobilization, Marriage, Transaction, and Gun Violence Prevention.

17. I Will Advocate Tirelessly for Banned Books

I will continue to advocate passionately against censorship and other types of limitations to the freedom to read. Learn more about Banned Books Week.

18. Climate Change Is Bigger To Me Now

Although it has not been one of my “top” issues, I will redouble my efforts to track climate change issues and make a personal impact (ten good ideas in this article).

19. The World Beyond Our National Borders Deserves My Support

I will continue to be involved in international issues and in the lives of individuals in other countries for whom my access to freedom, resources, and security can be a help, such as the three children we sponsor in Guatemala and El Salvador through Unbound.

20. I Will Respect The Lessons of History

At the wise recommendation of Steve Schale, I read Rep. John Lewis’s letter of forgiveness to Governor George Wallace today. In one passage, he said, “Much of the bloodshed in Alabama occurred on Governor Wallace’s watch. Although he never pulled a trigger or threw a bomb, he created the climate of fear and intimidation in which those acts were deemed acceptable.” In the letter, Rep. Lewis forgave Governor Wallace, who in his view “grew to see that we as human beings are joined by a common bond.”

President Elect Trump will probably never pull a trigger or throw a bomb himself, but until he is proven otherwise, I stand ready to be one of the many Americans doing my part to mitigate the climate of fear and intimidation I see infiltrating the 2017 version of America which should know so much better by now.

As my friend Mary Schaefer quoted in a recent blog post:

We tell people who we are with every breath we breathe. (Source Unknown)

Mary’s unknown source is so right.

I can’t change who is going to be sworn in on January 20, but I can be a part of keeping America great …. for all Americans … until I run out of breath.

*Items with asterisks were inspired by “my commitments to protecting our democracy,” a reflection on President Obama’s farewell address by Leah Jones. Thank you, Leah, for helping me fill out my list of 20 actions/observations in such a substantive way.

More Ideas For How To Continue Advocacy Beyond 1/20/17

Political Activism

 

Make Your Initial Investments Wisely

This post is sponsored by the Florida Prepaid College Board, through my role as a Believer Blogger. All thoughts are my own.

Monograms: They are enormously popular here in North Florida.

I see monograms on ANYTHING that will fit three letters these days: dresses, athletic tanks, headbands, thermal mugs, boots, umbrellas, Yeti coolers, pacifier holders, burp cloths, blankets, license plates, windshield decals, iPhone home buttons (?), Chuck Taylors … the list is infinite.

Back in the year 2000, when Tenley was 3, monogramming was quite popular among other moms (and kids) but not to the extent it is now. Still, I spent a disproportionately large amount of money on a monogrammed dress for her. The company, which did shows in people’s homes, had compelling arguments: it was well made (true), stylish (true), individual to her because of the personalization (true), and had a deep enough hem that I could continue letting it out as she grew.

The only thing I have left of that dress is a picture.

College Financing

Although some families are flush enough income-wise to spend liberally on children’s clothing and invest in a future beyond preschool, we really weren’t able to do both at the time. It would have been wiser to put that money toward her college education instead and eliminate the need for our family and Tenley to incur student loan debt as we are doing now..

(Note: if you’ve been reading my Believer Blogger posts for a while, you know my parents were more farsighted than I was and bought my kids prepaid plans when they were newborns (thanks, parents!) but if they had not done that, it would have been on my husband and me. I also believe I should have invested in 529 plans to pay for expenses beyond tuition such as books, fees, and housing.)

If you are still on the fence about investing in the Florida Prepaid Plan for your child or a child you care about, consider this before Open Enrollment ends on February 28.

Calculating the Cost of College

I used the Florida Prepaid Cost of Waiting College Savings Calculator to see what parents of a 3 year old today should anticipate regarding college savings:

College Financing

According to the “results” chart below:

  • Based on these inputs, the cost of waiting just one year to start saving for your college goal is estimated to be $79 per month
  • Every year you delay, it costs you more to save the same amount of money for college
  • Four years of college could cost you over $206,000 fifteen years from now. You could save 100% of the projected cost by putting aside $774 a month, if you earn a 5% annual return for fourteen years.
  • If you wait just one year to start saving, the monthly cost goes up to $853 to save the same amount of money over 15 years.

College Financing

All Those Facts and Figures. What is the Bottom Line?

The bottom line is this: the things you think matter so much now may be a lot less important down the road.

The Florida Prepaid College program, with more options than ever including a one-year Florida university plan, a 2+2 Florida plan taking advantage of our fabulous community college system, and a dormitory plan, is something to think about now. Even putting it off until next year could be costly.

Take it from me; what I should have had monogrammed was a bank, not a dress.

College Financing

A Head Start

With the code BLOG1617, you can save 50% off of the $50 application fee!

College Financing

For More Information

Visit the Florida Prepaid College Plan by clicking here for information. If you prefer to speak with someone by phone, please call 800-552-GRAD (4723).

College Financing

The Gift of the Present Moment: A Book Excerpt

Dr. John Izzo’s new book, The Five Thieves of Happiness, defines insidious mental patterns that steal happiness. The five thieves are control, conceit, consumption, coveting, and comfort. I appreciate Dr. Izzo sharing this excerpt from his book, concentrating on the thief of control.

Focused Mindset

The Monkey with the Clenched Fist

The thief of control makes us like the monkeys of Southeast Asia who were captured at one time by locals through a simple yet cruel trick. Sweets were placed all around a tree, and a coconut was hollowed out, leaving a hole just large enough for a monkey to slip his hand through. Inside was placed a sweet. The other side of the coconut had a bolt that was chained to a tree. When the monkeys came and ate the sweets spread around the tree, one monkey would inevitably pick up the coconut, reach inside, and grab the treat. But the hole was not big enough to get the clenched fist out.

The monkey would often try desperately to carry off the coconut, but, try as he might, the coconut could never be taken nor the sweet removed from its shell. The only thing  the monkey had to do to be free was unclench his fist and let go of the sweet. Yet most monkeys fought until utterly exhausted. The islanders would simply capture the monkey in that exhausted state. The monkey’s undoing was his own attachment and inability to let go.

Attention Without Attachment

Happiness is knowing what we can control and accepting what we cannot control. At the most basic level, happiness comes from understanding that we can control our actions and our responses to things external to us, but we cannot control the results of our actions. Focusing on our actions brings happiness; focusing on the result of our actions brings unhappiness.

The Buddha and Jesus often appear to the casual reader to be very different in their approaches to enlightenment or salvation (the two terms used in each tradition). In fact, the more one examines the teachings of each, the more one sees the way that both teachers emphasize the need to surrender to that which is at any moment. This is why the Buddhist Thích Nhâ’t Hanh has written extensively about the similarities of each teacher.

When Jesus encouraged his followers to look to the flowers of the field as role models because they did not seek, he was making a very important spiritual point. When he said, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?”¹ he was making the same point. It is not the lack of control that brings suffering but the desire for control, which keeps us from lasting happiness and peace.

One of the big moments in my own life was when I first understood the distinction between attention and attachment. Attention is the energy and choices I make, whereas attachment is an inner desire to control what is inherently uncontrollable. Another way to think about this is to see it as intention without tension. Having goals in life, or even desires of what we want to happen in any particular situation, is not a problem in terms of our happiness. It is when we become attached to controlling an outcome that the thief starts to rob us. The theft of our happiness rarely comes from our intentions but from the tension we feel when attached to the outcomes of things.

How do we know the difference between attention and attachment? Attention is about taking action in the present moment toward hoped-for ends, whereas attachment is becoming wed to a particular outcome’s being the source of our happiness.

I play a great deal of tennis, and this point can be illustrated easily there. Happiness on the tennis court is found in the experience of the body playing the game, the joy of experiencing the way the body, the racquet, and the ball all become one. In my most sublime moments playing tennis, my focus is simply on being fully present in the game, attentive to how I am hitting the ball and moving my feet. The moment I become focused primarily on whether I am going to win a point is the very moment when tennis becomes a source of unhappiness. Of course, I have the intention of winning a point and even the match, but this is an outcome I cannot control. What I can control is my intention to be as fully in the game as possible at every moment.

Life is much like that tennis game. We are happiest when we are simply fully present in each moment, expressing our intention through our focus and unattached to the outcome as the source of happiness.

Often we discover that the outcome—the goal we have become attached to—turns out to be less rewarding than the striving (the intention). My partner, Janice, tried out for the national baseball team in Canada for 18 years! For almost two decades, she worked hard, played hard, and practiced hard, and every year she tried to win a spot on the roster. Every year she failed to make it until finally, after all those years, she was given a spot. You would think, of course, that the outcome would have been the highlight of all that struggle. The opposite turned out to be the case. Getting on the team was anticlimactic compared with the present-moment focus, year after year, of trying to be the best player she could possibly be, both on the field and in the inner mental game. Besides, she could not control the outcome, so the more she focused on the process, the happier she was.

In order to center yourself with present-moment focus and deter the thief of control, I recommend this mantra, which has worked beautifully for me:

Focused Mindset

Dr. John Izzo is a corporate advisor, a frequent speaker and the bestselling author of seven books including the international bestsellers Awakening Corporate SoulValues ShiftThe Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die, and Stepping Up. His latest book is The Five Thieves of Happiness.

Over the last twenty years he has spoken to over one million people, taught at two major universities, advised over 500 organizations and is frequently featured in the media by the likes of Fast Company, PBS, CBC, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, and INC Magazine.

Connect with him via his website, on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

¹Luke 12:25 (New International Version).

 

4 Good Luck Foods to Welcome 2017

There are not that many things I am superstitious about. The superstitions I do hold, however, maintain a powerful grip on me, and although my outward observance of them may be shrouded in me saying “what could it hurt to [insert fulfillment of superstition here]”? but my inner self is screaming “please please let this one be more than a superstition!”.

The traditional southern New Year’s Day meal, for example. Today I will travel to my hometown to share the traditional New Year’s foods. When I haven’t been able to go to Lake Butler, I’ve always visited a local restaurant for the necessary “good luck foods.”

A Traditional Southern Good Luck Meal

Although I’ve read that the tradition is pork, black eyed peas, and greens, the pork part has always been sort of an optional part of the good luck triad for me.

But let’s give it its due.

PORK

Here’s Southern Living’s take on the role of pork:

The more pork and ham in your meal, the more luck you will have. Because of the amount of fat in pork, it is a symbol of wealth and prosperity. Some people also say that because a pig uses its snout to dig in the ground while moving forward, eating pork on New Year’s signifies progress and moving forward. So don’t just use ham hock and fatback to flavor your veggies; eat a baked ham or pork chops as a main dish.

My parents have always insisted on seasoning the New Year’s greens with pork (hog jowl to be specific) but having pork as the meat has never felt that critical to me.

Moving forward, though, sounds like an intention I can definitely embrace, so my snout is now engaged with this idea!

GREENS

I did not appreciate greens (turnips, collards, etc.) as a kid. I really started to like them during my teenage eating disorder phase, when anything with minimal calories was attractive because it was something I could put in my mouth (this was also my tab and carrots phase …).

Once I started liking greens, I really liked greens. That affinity has lasted long beyond the point at which I was looking for zero calorie foods.

I think one component of my love for greens is understanding how much work they involve. It takes a LOT of greens to turn into a yummy bowl of greens deliciousness. They have to be picked, washed, prepped. It’s a process. I’ve seen my mom do it countless times — I’ve heard her excitement when she mentioned how a relative unexpectedly left a bag of greens at the front door. Greens are affection in the south, and a delicious affection it is (especially if you add hot sauce — the kind where peppers have soaked in vinegar). YUM.

Anyway, what greens are supposed to represent is prosperity (green, like money…). The truest prosperity representative is apparently cabbage, but all the southerners I know do collards. This piece describes the cabbage/collards evolution in detail.

I’ve been alive 52 years and can’t say I’ve ever had a positive financial development and said this must be because I ate greens on January 1 but I’m all for giving fate any assist it needs in bringing more monetary green into my life!

BLACK-EYED PEAS

Black-eyed peas are a must for New Year’s Day as well. As this article explains, black-eyed peas represent coins whereas greens represent paper money.

Black-eyed peas also take me back to so many hours spent on the porch of my maternal grandparents, shelling peas. Back then, I didn’t see the point, but a lot more was exposed than delicious peas as we sat around freeing the peas from their hulls. It was a time for telling stories, intergenerationally. Shelling the peas also gave us an appreciation for the work that goes into the food we eat.

CORNBREAD

The more I read articles about traditional southern New Year’s food, the more I knew I needed to include cornbread. However, cornbread doesn’t touch a sentimental or superstitious cord for me.

Apparently, cornbread represents gold.

Therefore, why have I been ignoring you, cornbread? Welcome to my New Year’s Day plate!

Financial Prosperity is Great, But Emotional and Health Prosperity is Even Better

I would love for the pork, the greens, the collards, and the cornbread to transform themselves into more income and less debt for 2017. We are facing big decisions as my 403B dwindles, another child graduates from high school, and my father in law’s health declines.

But honestly, I crave continued abundance in the quality of friendships I am lucky to have. I would love to see the people I care about be free of cancer, chronic health issues, and mental health challenges that no amount of money will fix. I want to be rich in courage: the courage to more confidently state what I need, in my marriage, in my professional life, to my own deepest self.

I suppose the start of all of that begins when I pick up my fork at lunch tomorrow … and dig into that pork, those greens, the black-eyed peas, and the cornbread.

What could it hurt to try?

Holiday Traditions

New Year’s Day 2016 – New Times Country Buffet

Christmas 2016

As I was addressing Christmas cards this year I was laughing at my younger self.

At how I would coordinate every piece of the process: the photo session at a studio, the card design itself, a special sharpie to sign the cards with (one year was all silvers and blues), holiday stamps that matched the theme, return address labels which coordinated with everything else, a special little note pad I could use to add a personal note, and even little coordinating seals to put over the envelope flaps.

This is not that year. My return address labels have only my name (and “The Big Green Pen”); the stamps were a mixture — some happened to be holiday stamps; others were generic. I did use a green pen to address them with (that was a no-brainer). But in no way was this year’s effort the coordinated, expensive, meticulous equivalent of years past.

I suppose in my progression from perfectionist to realist there is an allegory for life itself.

I just know I am grateful for this gift of family, imperfections and all.

Christmas 2016

I am also grateful for those of you who have read my blog, commented, shared, and encouraged me, whether you have been with me since 2009, are just reading me for the first time, or something in between. Looking forward to a perspicacious 2017!

Six Lessons From Six Years

When I read “Six Lessons Learned From Six Years of Life,” part of a tribute Aaron Sherinian paid to Rakan Stormer back in October, it moved me in its profound simplicity.

Rakan was born on April 20, 2010, and died in September 2016 from a Wilms Tumor, a rare pediatric cancer that currently has no cure. (Several of the children who have I Run for Michael buddies have Wilms Tumors and their families help inform those of us in the group about this disease.) Rakan’s mom is part of the incredible United Nations Foundation communications team, so I knew of Rakan because of my affiliation with Shot at Life, a UN Foundation program.

These lessons are timeless, compact thought packets to tuck away for those times when you feel like you may be losing your way.

Six Lessons Learned from Six Years of Life

Life is great when you are accompanied by that person you look for first thing in the morning, the person who you know and who knows you best. If that person is your big brother, even better.

Even little people have the power to do hard things.

Embrace your many heritages. They are what make you- and us- who we are.

It feels great to help people, and to be helped by loving friends, family and community. We all need each other.

Great things come in small packages, sometimes with giant, light-up-the-world smiles. Like Minions.

Our work here is unfinished. We are all still writing the pages in Rakan Stormer’s life.

~ Aaron Sherinian

Pediatric Cancer

Write a Page in Rakan’s Book

You don’t have to have known Rakan to help fill the pages of his life that are still to be written. Here are a few ways to help:

Follow his website here.

Make a contribution to support Wilms tumor research at the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s National in Rakan’s name.

Register to become a marrow donor through this link, which tracks people who got matched in memory of Rakan.

Pediatric Cancer

As Aaron said in his tribute, little people do have the power to do hard things. Whether you are “big” or “little,” let these six lessons from six years empower you to make a difference today.

Photos Courtesy of Zain Habboo, Rakan’s mom.

More Fitness, Less Sodium, More Health

I am 52 now, so I have been through my share of exercise plans, food management programs, and lifestyle modification efforts. Some were “one-hit wonders” that weren’t actually so wonderful (anyone remember Tab? Take it from me: a Tab and carrots meal plan is not much of a meal plan).

I am happy to have been invited to share a guest post at the American Heart Association #BreakUpWithSalt initiative. There are so many interesting posts there from my fellow #BreakUpWithSalt bloggers, such as Mary Makes Good’s post about discovering a low sodium diet and Working Daughter’s 6 Ways to Lower Sodium for Caregivers and Parents.

My post is about my personal journey as I navigated the territory of caregiving and came to terms with the fact that caregiving can have destructive effects on the health of caregivers. I explore the role too much sodium may be playing in my health challenges.

To read the other guest posts and explore resources to manage your sodium intake and improve your cardiac health,, please visit the #BreakUpWithSalt sodium reduction initiative page.

Cardiac Health

Photo Credit: Morguefile

Note: I was compensated for my post which will appear on the American Heart Association Sodium Breakup website. All opinions (especially the one about Tab and carrots) are my own.

My Caregiver Wish List

This year, my children’s Christmas lists were, like my children, very different from each other. My daughter’s list was detailed, with a key explaining which items needed to be ordered online and which could be purchased in town. She started the list with a lovely statement about her gratitude to us as parents and helpfully provided direct links to products to save me time (and make sure I ordered the right thing).

My son? I’m still waiting for any kind of list. There have been a few verbal requests, and he has put two items in my Amazon cart, but that’s it.

Caregiving Challenges

Me? If I were to get an opportunity to tell Santa what I really want, my request would probably focus on what I really need as a caregiver:

A Game Plan

When dad moved in with us at the end of May 2014, everything happened rapidly. He had been living by himself (with significant help from us in the form of multiple visits daily to ensure medication compliance, etc.), he sustained a subdural hematoma from a fall and Wayne felt it was critical for him to live with us. He threatened to sign himself out of the rehab hospital, and next thing we knew it he was living with us.

Santa, it’s a little late for us, but if you run across any families who may be on the verge of taking on the task of caregiving, tell them to pour some hot cocoa and get on the same page. They won’t regret it. Caregiving works best when it is a joint family decision, not a situation you back into by necessity.

A Housekeeper

As I have written about here, and as anyone who steps foot in my house knows, housekeeping is not my forte. I am not proud of this, and am always trying to improve, but it doesn’t get any easier when you add the component of an elderly relative with self care challenges. In addition, we are almost always home; the wear and tear on the house is brutal.

If you really want to delight me, Santa, tuck a housekeeper or two in that sleigh and deploy them weekly (or even monthly), at least to the one bathroom in the house none of us can bear to go into anymore.

An Elf Who Specializes in Home Mobility Adaptations

There are so many of our home components that need to be adapted for Dad to be safer (and us to have more peace of mind): the toilet seat needs to be raised, the throw rugs need to be removed (because they are tripping hazards), there need to be grab bars multiple places in the bathroom. We need a shower chair. Some of these things are easy to do (and affordable enough). Some are “bigger” modifications. But they all take time and planning.

Santa, a grab bar may not be very festive but the prospect of peace of mind from less worry of falls is pretty darn merry.

A Train of Thought

While a trip on the Polar Express sounds charming, what I really need this year is for my own personal train of thought to make it from the home station to the destination depot without multiple unplanned detours along the way. Without a sprint to the bathroom when I hear the sounds I’ve come to know as impending instability. Without a request to turn the tv up (again).

Santa, all I want for Christmas is to to be able to remember where I put the ………

The Ability to Go to the Bathroom Worry-Free

You know how infants always seem to get fussy when you sit down to eat? There’s a similar principle with the elderly: close the bathroom door to do your business and the “get up too fast/get dizzy/find yourself at risk of falling” cycle activates. It’s UNCANNY. I’m not sure what the cumulative effects are of always being worried, but I know they aren’t health boosters.

Four minutes, Santa. Four. Worry. Free. Minutes so I don’t have to ho ho hold it.

Infinite Copies of the Meds List

I have written the Dad’s meds list by hand approximately 2,435 times in 2.5 years. Okay, maybe not that many but it feels like it! I do know that there are apps for this kind of thing, but I haven’t started using one yet. You would think, in this era of Electronic Health Information, that this would all be in the cloud. Right? I can attest that the last thing on your mind when you arrive at the ER after a fall is having a hard copy of the meds list.

In addition to these infinite meds list copies, Santa, they need to magically revise themselves when something changes. While we’re at it, this magical nothing-critical-is-ever-forgotten world will also make his insurance cards, social security card, and ID card magically appear when needed, rather than being at home where they are not helping anyone.

A Visit by the Mobile DMV

Spoiler: There isn’t a mobile DMV. But this is my list and Santa’s my benevolent all-giving fantasy guy right now so let me go with it. It didn’t seem like a big deal when Dad’s driver’s license expired, but then there was the document we needed to have notarized, with an ID for proof of identity, there was voting (he voted absentee but in general, it could have been requested at the polls), and there will be other life events.

Santa, if there isn’t a mobile DMV, can you and the elves come over and help with the arduous process of getting him dressed, to the car safely, out of the car at the DMV, tolerating the line, understanding the instructions he is being given in order to have a valid State of Florida ID. Please?

Unlimited Legal Assistance

Growing old, even if your life is relatively uncomplicated, brings with it the need to get legal affairs in order. Power of attorney, a medical representative, DNR orders (if you choose to have a DNR order), a will, and a host of other legal matters that need to be put in place. That doesn’t happen for free, and it is not always straightforward.

Santa, I imagine in today’s litigious society your attorneys may be busy putting warning labels on toys and all, but aren’t they free about ten months out of the year? Could they help a caregiver out? (And while we’re at it, an accountant as a stocking stuffer would be a plus.)

More Health Professionals Who Care About The Family

As I mentioned in this post, Dr. Daniel Bower, an oral surgeon who saw dad when he had a dental emergency, is the only dentist, doctor, nurse, or other health professional in the past 2.5 years who has looked at Wayne and me and said, “and how are you doing?” It’s not that we would have flooded him with the whole story or a litany of our challenges, but honestly the fact that he acknowledged that caregiving is hard on the family was big. 

While I could cite statistic after statistic confirming that caregivers experience stress, I know you have toys to make and flight plans to file, Santa. Just remind medical professionals to take a moment for empathy with caregiving families, okay?

Agencies and People Who Tell it Like it Is

One of the biggest frustrations of caregiving is the fact that well-meaning people tell you things that end up not being true or relevant to your situation. Relatively early on, someone with a home health care agency recommended another agency that, according to them, “will help you fill out the Aid in Attendance paperwork and file it — it’s just something they do.”

While the agency did help us with the paper work (which was denied after a months-long wait), when we eventually ended up at the Leon County Veterans’ Affairs Office, they said “why didn’t you come to us first?” We didn’t know to do that. The original agency we were referred to does help families fill out the paperwork, but judging by all the emails we still get from them offering to “manage our wealth,” it’s clear they had an ulterior motive.

I could give other examples but they are all the same essential model: someone tells you something they think will be helpful and you end up chasing your tail.

It also takes a lot of digging to find some incredible (and often free or low-cost) resources. We finally got hooked up with the free in-home respite from the Alzheimers Project here in Tallahassee, which uses Americorps volunteers.

Okay Santa, this is a lot to ask but we could sure use more “nice” information givers (who give the right info) than “naughty” (who mean well but send us down the wrong path). Our family’s bottom line and peace of mind are riding on this.

Patience

Dad’s cognitive issues are minor in comparison to others I’ve heard about. I know I have high expectations of myself, but I am saddened, often, about the fact that I find patience in short supply. It’s not his fault I didn’t plan ahead to be prepared to leave for a doctor’s appointment, not his fault that whatever happened in his brain stole his empathy, that it doesn’t do any good to say, “If I could just send out these four tweets, I can answer your question.”

I want patience, Santa, and I want it now! 

Grace for the Big Moments

The last 2.5 years have had their hurdles: the dental emergency, the head and neck cancer diagnosis with the related 35 radiation visits, 53 hours without electricity (or tv, his one constant) during the Hurricane Hermine aftermath.

The medical parts of Dad’s situation have compromised his privacy and eroded his dignity. More than the physical procedures, I will come away from this period of caregiving with a few significant moments embedded in my brain. I’m grateful for medical professionals who undoubtedly studied for years and learned complicated math, science, and anatomy, but for whom the real test is looking someone in the eyes who may or may not completely understand and saying, “this may be cancer. This could be very threatening to your survival.” Dr. Philip Sharp and Dr. Joseph Soto have both passed that test with flying colors.

I know you can’t take away those life altering moments, Santa, and I know that it is a privilege and duty curated out of love to be present for them. While hoping for a season of magic for children worldwide, I also ask for an extra helping of grace to be the caregiver Dad deserves.

Caregiving Challenges