Archive for ragtagalive

No Such Thing As Failure

Word success in text

I was completely engrossed, hanging on every word.  I read story after story, barely able to believe what I was reading.  Every person I read about was completely unsuccessful.  I began to find comfort in their failures.  Their defeat made me smile.  I know, I know.  Not exactly the reaction you’d expect.  Especially from someone who at one point in life was convinced the word FAILURE should consist of four letters. 

It really is such an ugly word after all, isn’t it? So absolute. So unyielding. So. . . necessary.  That’s right, necessary.  Why?  Because a phoenix can only arise if there are ashes to arise from. 

So, yes...failure is necessary to move forward, but the term itself can be rendered completely invalid, as long as you don’t give up trying.

Here are a few tips on how to bounce back from your setbacks and turn them into successes:

1. Define your own success:  Failure is subjective.  If your ideas of success are bound by strict ideas, you’re very likely going to find yourself disappointed.  The one thing in life that’s guaranteed is that nothing is guaranteed, so why attach your sense of self worth to someone else’s idea of success?  Draw your own lines.

2. Find the lessons in setbacks:  I could rattle off a slew of statistics about entrepreneurs and businesses that eventually were successful after copious failures, but this isn’t about money.  This is about personal success – it’s about rebounding from a defeat and moving forward.  Anything can be useful if we learn from it and then do something with that knowledge.

3. Stay the course:  This is where most of us get tripped up, and it’s understandable.  On one hand, we know being consistent is critical to positive change. On the other, we have the definition of – doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  Sadly, there’s no miraculous blueprint that will lead us to the life we want.  We are all different.  We have to figure out for ourselves what works and what doesn’t; and then we have to keep moving toward our goal.

4. Focus on progress, not end results:  So you didn’t reach your ultimate goal.  Big deal.  Did you make any progress?  Just because you didn’t meet a specific goal doesn’t mean it’s over.  It’s easier to be aware when you focus on the process and not the outcome.  I’m not saying to stop setting goals.  I’m saying to that when you slip and fall, get back up and go back at it.  It’s about making progress.

5. Set yourself up for success:  Sometimes we set ourselves up to fail without realizing it.  We try to make too many changes too quickly and we set initial goals too high.  It’s more realistic to make small adjustments in your schedule than to overwhelm yourself with major changes all at once.  Simple goals work – they’re tangible, achievable, and realistic.  

Sometimes it might simply mean taking the stairs when you could easily take the elevator or choosing to eat a human sized portion when you could choose to "Supersize it".  Remember, goals are things you have the capability to achieve through direct action or not achieve through inaction.  So when you find yourself in the ashes, arise and fly.  Success is about perseverance. 

When Social Media Meets Depression

socialnetworkoverload

“Its not the same!” Her face was flush with anxiety and disappointment. Gwen's mother put her arm around her sobbing daughter.  It was an all-night cry fest and there was no way fix it.  The tears flowed freely like a dam that had ruptured from heartache.

“Have you talked to Tim about it yet?” Usually her mother's voice was soothing in times of great distress. Today wasn't one of those days.  Gwen buried her face deeper into her mom's shoulder try to quell some of the pain.

“No mom,” she replied. “How do you start that conversation? Gee, I was taking a closer look and it looked funny so I-”

“Okay, okay.” The hysterics were getting so bad, Gwen's mom had to deploy advanced tactics, the pat and rub, on Gwen's back harking back to the days when she was an infant." 

“Well maybe it was a mistake. Maybe he was duped.”

“No, he wasn't” Gwen replied and began fiddling around in her pocket, producing a crumpled receipt in hand. She held it up to her mother's face while keeping her head buried.

Gwen's mom quickly scanned the line items on the piece of paper. Yup, he knew. Time had tried to pull a fast one.  Gwen's engagement ring was a cubic zirconia. This was going to be a long night.

THE REAL DEAL 

Your friends list is stacked.  You have hundreds of people on it from close relatives to old high school buddies.  You know that Franny had a baby last week, George got pulled over for speeding and Helena broke up with Stan. And you didn't even have to talk to them. You are all up to date on the people in your life. So why do you feel so lonely? Because reading a post or a tweet isn't the same as actually seeing someone, that's why. 

Social Media Depression is the new way researchers are describing the ill affects of spending too much time online as opposed to connecting with other people in real life. The University of Michigan decided to take a look at this phenomenon and see if self described Facebook addicts were suffering from bouts of depression. It was comprised of 82 people (all in their late teens to early twenties). They were watched for two straight weeks and had to report in five times a day to the researchers.

The study found that those who actually talked on the phone or met with their contacts in person always scored more positive than those who used Facebook for their primary source of information and social contact. In other words, the more they got away from their computer, the better they felt mentally! Dr. Ethan Kross, head researcher for the study, concluded that, in his opinion, Facebook hindered mental well-being.  

In support of this theory, Scientists at the Darmstadt's Technical Univeristy in Germany recently stumbled upon what they think is the root cause of social media depression – jealousy. 584 participants partook in the study. They observed people being jealous of everything from new jobs, new relationships, good looking photos and more!

Social media is good when you want to keep in touch with family and up to date with friends but studies like these show it is not a replacement for the real thing.

Social media is in its infancy when it comes to research. But already we can see that it may just be pretty on the outside and not very fulfilling on the inside. So go call your mother and tell her you love her instead of posting it. I bet it may just make you both smile. 

Wanna change your Life? Sit Up Straight!

goodposture_d

“Sit up straight, young lady.”  The stern voice was quickly followed by a loud thwack on my desk by Mrs. Stinson’s indestructible ruler.  Seriously, I don’t know how that thing never broke.  She smacked it on someone’s desk at least 50 times a day.  “You can’t learn if you’re slumped over in your desk.”  She shot me her best, actually I think it was her only, Stepford Wives smile and continued on down the aisle to torture her next victim.

I don't know about you, but I grew up hearing "stand up straight" from everyone I knew who happened to be over the age of 35.  Maybe it was a product of private school and a military family. Maybe they wanted to harass me.  Or maybe I really did need to stand up straight.  Regardless of why, good posture wasn’t always the easiest thing to maintain.  Looking back now, it seems that maybe they were on to something.

I recently had a conversation regarding posture with a close friend, Sue, who happens to be a licensed physical and massage therapist.  We discussed some information I had come across in an article about the connection between your brain and your posture.  I admit, I pulled it up on my tablet and let her read it to get her opinion.

Her response spoke volumes about the importance of posture on so many aspects of our body.  She pointed out that good posture is essential for functional mobility (i.e. the ability to lift our arms to improving our balance as we stand).  She also said it was helpful in oxygenating and lubricating the body, or at least improving blood flow to our organs.

I can’t speak from a medical point of view, but from an everyday observational standpoint, adjusting a slumped posture can shave years from a person's appearance, miraculously changing someone from looking like the scary old biddy children may be thinking they are into the healthy person they are intended to be.

And it turns out, science has something to support the idea of maintaining good posture with some not so expected conclusions about how it influences the way we think and feel.  Dutch behavioral scientist and Professor of Holistic Health at San Francisco State University, Erik Peper, has researched the correlation between our posture, body language and our energy levels and he discusses how posture influences our moods, opinions, and levels of happiness.

 According to his research, modifying your posture is a self-awareness technique.  Body posture helps you remember positive or negative memories significantly.  His studies have shown that sitting in a “collapsed position” and looking downward, it’s easier to recall “hopeless, helpless, powerless, and negative memories, than empowering, positive memories.”  However, sitting upright and looking upward, makes it difficult and “for many almost impossible” to recall those negative memories and easier to recall empowering, positive ones.

This “collapsed position” Dr. Peper mentions is one we are all prone to.  Many of us, without being aware of it, walk in slouched pattern, sit for hours “collapsed” in front of our computer or TV, and “collapse” forward while texting or on our smart phones.  We’ve become ‘‘culturally conditioned’’ to these positions.  And because of this, we could be inducing negative, hopeless thought patterns and memories.  Dr. Peper recommends being more aware of your body posture throughout the day.

Sitting still for long periods of time is the arch nemesis of good posture, but sitting up straight doesn’t have to be painful or difficult.  Sue recommends simply lifting your chest toward the ceiling.  You can do this sitting or standing. Either way, it stimulates the muscles in your lower thoracic spine (the muscles on both sides of the backbone on your lower rib cage) which draw the shoulders back and align your head over your spine. 

I tried it.  I’m actually trying it right now.  It makes it easier to breathe, feels like it helps me stretch out, and Sue says it should improve blood flow into your head.  (She also said my head could use all the help it could get, but that’s a different topic.)  One stretch that she recommends to many of her patients is a move called the Thoracic Bridge.

The move, in essence, opens up your body and can aid with pain and tightness in your shoulders, back, and hips.  It looks a little odd, but once you get the hang of it it’s a breeze (yes, I tried it too). You will definitely be able to feel it working and Sue says you’ll start to feel the difference in your body's alignment and posture as well.

So if you want to benefit from improved posture and live a healthier and happier life, where should you start?

Start simple.  The simplest moves are usually the most effective.  Try the Thoracic Bridge.  Take breaks throughout your day to get up from your desk and stretch.  Try lifting your chest toward the ceiling to align your back.  Just don’t hunch over your keyboard until you’re able to type emails with your nose.  I’m fairly certain Mrs. Stinson is still lurking around somewhere with her ruler.

 

Perfect Imperfection

34

I ran through the terminal as fast as I could while pulling a carry-on behind me.  The voice over the loud speaker taunted me again.  “Last call for Flight 2356 to Dallas-Fort Worth.”  I searched the terminal gate numbers ahead of me as I ran.  Ten gates to go.  I cursed myself, morning traffic, the people crowding between me and my terminal gate…and then I silently prayed.

I am late to, well, almost everything.  I’ve missed more things than I care to admit – including family dinners, church on Sunday morning, the previews to most every movie I’ve ever gone to see at the theater (and the previews are kind of my favorite part)…and flights.  I’m not perfect.  Neither is my life.

My moderately new car smells like a mixture of Peppermint Mochas and my gym bag already.  The "inexpensive" vacuum I bought six months ago has cost me twice what I paid for it at the repair shop.  And I have this one friend who, every time I see her name show up on my phone, I know she’s calling to discuss the latest trauma-drama she’s got going on.  I also know she’s going to ask for my advice…and not take it.  Again.

I used to let things like these get to me.  I’d get frustrated, disappointed, and sometimes even mad.  I’m pretty sure you could a list that rivals mine.  You likely have people and things that regularly have you in knots – monopolizing your time, energy, and thoughts.  Stressing you out.

Ironically, those people and those things gave you fair warning.  If you really think about it, you probably should have expected it, right?  I mean…let's face it; I’ve been late to 75% of everything in my life.   Why would I think that’s going to change?  My car isn’t going to stay new or clean forever…and I do drink (and spill) a lot of Peppermint Mochas.  At least it helps mask the gym bag smell.  I bought a piece of crap vacuum.  An expensive death was inevitable (as was a new vacuum).

Why should I be disappointed by the things I realistically should expect?   The reality is that most people are consistent in their behaviors – either consistently dependable, consistently dreadful, or consistently…well… inconsistent.  One example, my brother remembers my birthday a week late every year.  It has nothing to do with how much he loves me.  He just sucks at remembering things and still hasn’t joined the rest of us in the twenty-first century (he swore off smart phones) so there’s no app to set up reminders for him.  I’ve accepted it.  I don’t let it disappoint me anymore.

In life, you have to just get real about things.  Expect the expected.  Unrealistic expectations are a guaranteed way to crank up stress levels and your frustration.  

You can expect that things will break down the day you need them most (my oven died on Thanksgiving Day.  No joke.).  You can expect that your three year old will use a bright red Sharpie (that you still aren’t sure how he got his hands on) to practice writing his ABCs with on your stunning "guests only" white sofa.  It’s a toddler thing.   That’s what they do.  When I have a houseful of teens, I can expect that they will raid my fridge and my favorite snack will be MIA when I want it until I make a grocery run.  I can also expect a group wrestling match in my living room floor (I have boys) and music at a decibel level that makes me glad my neighbors are half a mile away.  If it’s happened before, it’s predictable and pretty realistic based on previous occurrences, so, when it happens…sit back and relax.  You kinda saw it coming.

The first line of the book The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck says this: "Life is difficult."  I remember reading that for the first time and thinking what a terrible way to start a book!  I’m a glass-is-completely-full kind of girl, so this line irritated me a little.  Okay…it irritated me a LOT.  But I came to realize what Peck was trying to say is if we expect life is going to be difficult, we’ll be prepared to cope with its challenges, and be more likely to enjoy the roller coaster ride.

So, accept that problems are going to happen.  Accept you’re going to miss flights, have your couch double as a white board, and get cutoff in rush hour traffic.  When we take into account the predictable, when we expect life to be imperfect, when we have realistically expectations, then we train ourselves to take every collision life hits us with in stride.   And when we can do that, we can exist with a higher level of happiness.

So set your expectations for perfect imperfection. This is life. There's something around every corner. Enjoy the ride.

 

You vs. Soda—The Ultimate Battle for Health

no-soda

I am not a soda drinker.

I only drink it when I’m sick of coffee and jonesing for an afternoon caffeine kick …

Or when I’m at family functions or with friends at restaurants …

Or when it’s readily available in my fridge, or better yet in a cup the size of my head from a drive through.

See? I’m totally not a soda drinker … and totally not addicted to it. And you’re probably not, either.

And even if I was addicted to soda, it’s not that bad because I always drink diet. No extra liquid calories here.

Yeah, right. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time—or paying a lick of attention to the news—you know that we’re fooling ourselves.

It’s time to go to battle against soda. Especially in this season of resolutions and fresh starts, it’s time to confront our willful ignorance, really absorb the dangers of soda, and find a way to kick the habit once and for all!

The Battle of the Bulge

Even though Mexico recently surpassed America as the fattest country in the world, we still have a massive problem with massive people. 33% of children and 66% of American adults are now overweight or obese.

Though soda isn’t the sole culprit consider this: carbonated beverages are reportedly teens’ first choice in beverages at school, and just over 5% of the American public consumes more than 500 calories a day in soft drinks. (That’s more than four, 12-ounce cans of soda daily.)

So, it’s definitely a villain. But it turns out its supposedly innocuous cousin, diet soda, is equally as dangerous. 

According to a Harvard Public School of Health report, there is an increased incidence of obesity in everyday soda drinkers, including those who drink diet.

Researchers have also found that just like with regular soda, the consumption of artificially sweetened beverages is also associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. Drinking just one can of diet soda per day is "enough to significantly increase the risk for health problems," according to the media release.

Diet soda in particular affects cardiovascular health (61% increased risk of a critical vascular event in regular drinkers, especially women). A cardiovascular event can be anything from a heart murmur to full tilt heart attack.

Just Two Servings Per Day is Too Much 

And, these effects aren’t just being seen in chronic “chain drinkers”.

Kidney problems begin with diet soda drinkers who consume two or more serving per day, especially women. Researchers saw a threefold decrease in kidney function with 20-year veteran diet drinkers.

Plus, most diet beverages are sweetened with aspartame, which has its own list of side effects including headaches, dizziness, and GI symptoms.

How to Fight Back

So what can you do to kick the cola habit—and fight back for your health?

Substitutions! There are tons of drinks available today that both satisfy the sweet tooth and actually have beneficial nutrients. Swap out just one soda per day for a healthy substitute, and you’ll start to feel the difference.

Here’s a quick list of fabulous substitutions to help you kick the habit today.

  • Choose drinks with actual nutritional value. The big problem with soda is that it often replaces healthier choices in a diet. Natural fruit juices and vegetable juices are a great way to slip in some needed vitamins and minerals while enjoying a sweet drink. (If you still need something bubbly, invest in a Soda Stream carbonator, or something like it.)
  • Get hydrated. Water and water-based drinks such as tea provide proper hydration and caffeine options for your 2:30 energy boost. Green tea is a superb choice as it has a light, natural sweetness, caffeine, and antioxidants (the exact opposite of a diet soda!)
  • Go back to basics. Remember milk? While dairy milk is still better than soda, non-dairy choices like coconut milk, enriched soy, and almond milk are highly nutritious, free of hormones, and often vegan friendly.

It’s time to bid adieu to our carbonated cravings. Choose one of these healthy substitutes and your kidneys, waistline, and long-term health will thank you!

References:

(1) Harvard School of Public Health. "Harvard School of Public Health » The Nutrition Source » Sugary Drinks and Obesity Fact Sheet." http://www.hsph.harvard.edu. Harvard School of Public Health, n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2013. 

(2) Fung TT, Malik V, Rexrode KM, Manson JE, Willett WC, Hu FB. Sweetened beverage consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89:1037-42.

(3) Doheny, Kathleen. "Diet Sodas May Be Hard on the Kidneys." WebMD.com. WebMD, n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2013.

(4) Nill, Ashley G. "The History of Aspartame." The History of Aspartame. Harvard Law School, 2000. Web. 24 Oct. 2013. http://dash.harvard.edu/handle/1/8846759

(5) "Subject: Docket # 02P-0317." Interview by Mark D. Gold. Http://www.fda.gov. Food and Drug Admistiration, 12 Jan. 2012. Web. 24 Oct. 2013. http://www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/dailys/03/jan03/012203/02p-0317_emc-000199.txt

(6) Tate DF, Turner-McGrievy G, Lyons E, et al. Replacing caloric beverages with water or diet beverages for weight loss in adults: main results of the Choose Healthy Options Consciously Everyday (CHOICE) randomized clinical trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;95:555-63.

 

Three Benefits of Running You Probably Haven’t Thought Of

running

Running is awesome.

I can sense your scoffing all the way across the internet. “Running is awful,” you might be saying. “No one really likes to run except oddballs and people with disorders.”

I was once like you. I used to think running was too much suffering for some mysterious payoff, that it would hurt my joints and that I couldn’t ever become as good as the hardcore runners I knew, so why try anyway?

As I’ve documented before, the Couch to 5K program was my answer, and within a matter of months I was running ten minute miles with ease.

Yes, it was pretty easy, and took just 30 minutes or so, three times a week. I’ve dropped a bunch of weight and can finally outlast my kids.

And I’m an addict. One of those people I previously scoffed at. I know now what they know: running isn’t just an effective workout, it’s an escape, a challenge, and a way of life. Every time my feet hit the ground I’m stretching my boundaries and becoming a healthier person.

And you can do it, too.

I don’t want to sound like your mother or that one overbearing athletic friend. You know running has myriad health benefits, from improved cardiovascular condition to improved metabolism and yadda yadda yadda.

For whatever reason, those benefits haven’t convinced you to give it a shot. Allow me to offer up a few more. Running has myriad other positives outside of what happens in your heart. These are five secrets commonly known to frequent runners that I didn’t know until I became one:

1. Running is personal time - Whether on a treadmill or going in circles across a local park, running is your time. No kids, bosses, or family bugging you. It’s a great time to enjoy the silence, or some of your favorite music. I prefer podcasts, sometimes on sports topics, sometimes on things I need to learn more about, like science. NPR has a bunch of great ones to listen to.

2. You can inspire people - As long as you’re not an overbearing douchebag about your newfound running abilities, people will be inspired by how you’re able to transform yourself. It’s a great way to make friends, and always serves as interesting conversation starter at parties. Your grandma will think it’s awesome too. Remember: everyone seems to think running is some sort of superhero exercise. Let ‘em think it.

3. Disease Prevention - Running reduces your risk for a variety of cancers: colon, breast, lung, and endometrial. It can even help your vision.

What do you have to lose? The C25K program will ease you into a running habit; your body will do the rest. You may not become like me and find it to be an almost addictive habit, but even just a little bit of pushing yourself can have a wealth of benefits - more than you can even imagine!

How One Broken Heart Transformed the Lives of Many

wounded heart

The nesting instinct in soon-to-be mothers is something else to behold. In the matter of a few weeks, Becky had transformed her house from a bright pink girly place into a boy’s haven, completely childproofed and covered in baby blue. Her transition into life as a mother of two was just about complete.

Then everything changed. Becky was told at her 20 month checkup that baby Oakes had a severe heart defect, with little chance of survival. After the baby boy’s birth, Becky’s life didn’t transition to the home she had meticulously altered for the child; it was in an intensive care unit.

During the endless days there, she grew close with other parents of sick children. In the development of this community she realized that not everyone was as lucky as she was to have great health insurance and a husband with an understanding employer. Many of those families were struggling to meet even the most basic of needs, such as paying bills or buying groceries.

Without fully realizing it, and even as her own infant son struggled for his life, Becky and her outside-the-hospital friends began organizing small fundraisers. Those turned into bigger events, and within weeks Becky was filing the paperwork for Mighty Oakes Heart Foundation and taking applications for grants from across the nation.

A lifetime devoted to charity was never in her plans, but then again, neither was a sick baby boy. Within a matter of weeks, she found herself tirelessly devoted to both, her previous plans in life quickly placed aside.

Oakes would eventually succumb to his broken heart, but he had already managed to change hundreds of lives. Becky’s foundation continues to raise hundreds of thousands for needy families, and raise awareness of a brutal condition. Because of her efforts, many more people are aware that 1 in 100 children are born with heart defects.

Congenital heart defects kill more children than all juvenile cancers combined, yet cancer research receives five times more funding. Because of her love for a helpless infant and willingness to accept a life she never planned, Becky is narrowing that gap a little at a time.

If your life dramatically changed tomorrow, would you roll with it, or spend your time fighting it? Like Becky, there may be a calling out there that’s just waiting to sneak up on you, though hopefully yours won’t be forged through tragedy.

Becky kept her home baby-ready. Jagged edges have been covered, electrical sockets covered, and baby blue blankets waiting in an empty crib. The first two will come in handy, but not the third - she’s due to have a healthy baby girl early next year.

The 5-Minute Morning Stretch

0904-woman-stretching

I rolled over and slammed my hand around on the table, intent on silencing the culprit that interrupted my romantic rendezvous with Robert Downey, Jr.  Once the air was no longer filled with incessant buzzing, I rubbed my eyes and rolled toward the edge of the bed.  As if it wasn’t bad enough that I had to leave Robert in dreamland, but to add to it, when my feet hit the floor every muscle in my back felt like it was suddenly on strike.  I immediately began my morning stretch.

I’ve always been a “stretcher.”  In fact, a former boyfriend once told me I stretch more often than his cat.  I tried to take it as a compliment.  Still not so sure he meant it that way, but I saw him a few weeks ago – I’m in much better shape, so I’m keeping it as a win for me.   

The point is, stretching is beneficial for more reasons than just to get the kinks out first thing in the morning.  It does much more than just loosen you up; it helps you recover from the toil of the day before and gets your body ready for the day ahead.  A morning stretch is kind of like stretching after your workout.  It will oxygenate not only your muscles but your brain, which can only add a positive kick-start to your day.  And if that isn’t reason enough, here are a few other benefits:

  • Better Circulation - Stretching may not necessarily prevent injury from overdoing it, but it does increase the blood flow to muscles and cartilage. What does this mean for you?  It means less muscle soreness after workouts. The less sore your muscles are, the more likely you are to actually workout again.  Oh, yeah, and it’s less painful in general if you aren’t sore.
  • Flexibility - The best and most effective way to increase your flexibility is by stretching.  As we age, our muscles gradually shorten and tighten, reducing our overall flexibility.  (This also explains why I think I’m getting more vertically challenged.)  Why is flexibility important?  When your muscles are tight and restricted, you’re prone to muscle, tendon and joint injuries. Stretching reduces these risks by increasing your flexibility.  Plus, there’s that satisfying moment at family gatherings when you can prove you can touch your toes and your younger sister can’t.
  • Reduce Stress – We all stress!! And we are all looking for ways to make it go away.  I like to call stretching the “stress buster” exercise.  Stress tenses your muscles – literally.  And tension can have negative effects on just about every part of your body.  Gentle stretching exercises relax tense muscles, hence busting the stress.  Not to mention, since stretching is indeed exercise, you get the bonus of the endorphin-boosting effects (and saying you exercised).  So your mood, and the way you feel in general, is going to see a definite upturn.
  • Lessen Lower Back Pain – Face it, you’re not the spring chicken you used to be.  You’re not alone.  Millions suffer with lower back pain. I, for one, feel it when I roll out of bed in the morning.  Stretching actually helps strengthen lower back muscles and eases soreness and pain. Bonus:  it helps improve your posture too since so many muscles (quadriceps, hamstrings, lower back muscles and hip flexors) are involved.  Bonus: you’re mom won’t tell you to sit up straight as often.

You can begin this before you even get out of bed. Start by taking a few deep breaths, then raise your arms over your head, point your toes, and stretch out your body. Hold each position about 30 seconds. Alternately bring each arm over your head then drop your hand down to the opposite ear. Keep your movements slow and easy, don't over stretch, just move. Next, lying on your back, slide your feet up, raising your knees. Drop your knees to one side, and then the other. Then pull your knees to your chest and give yourself a hug. Put one leg out straight while holding on to the other and bring your head outside of the knee, then switch legs. Take a few relaxing breathes and get out of bed, and start your day.

You can add in other stretches that work the muscles you tend to feel the most tension in and customize your stretch routine for what feels best for your body.  Regardless of which stretches you choose, you will reap the benefits of a good morning stretch.  You might even find yourself stretching more often, but I wouldn’t recommend dropping to the office floor in front of the boss and co-workers and announcing you need a “stress buster.”  I can’t promise that would be beneficial.

 

How I Stepped out of the Blues and Into Happiness

happiness

I hate everything and everyone.

That’s not true.

It used to be. I wasted the majority of my twenties, the last years of youthful freedom and the first years with my children, stewing in depression and bitterness. And the sadder I got, the fatter I got. 

I wasn’t always like that. In high school I was Mr. Social: the homecoming king, class president, football team captain. I was a student body president in college. Twice.

Then real life hit, and I was faced with living in a strange place, waking up too early for an awful commute to go a job I didn’t like and facing a team of “coworkers” that only wanted me fired so they could move up the ladder. It was enough to wipe the fresh faced optimism out of even the brightest soul, and I let it take over my life.

I was a bitter, cynical mess, and nothing fixed it. Not getting a new job, getting married, having a child. Neither did drinking, smoking or any other substance I would dabble in. No one wanted to hang out with me, and my wife...well, let’s just say I wasn’t invited to her side of the bed very often.

I knew I needed to improve, that I was wasting valuable time being a putz, but I didn’t act until my ten year high school reunion. It was there that I was reminded of how I impacted so many people simply by being kind, or offering rides, or helping a teammate off the ground. It dawned on me that when I focused on being good to others my own life was enriched in return. I was happier because I created happiness.

After the reunion I shared drinks with an old friend who had gotten into meditation. She claimed that just 15 minutes of quiet focusing on positive thoughts can trigger chemical changes in the brain (she's right). 

So I meditated. The more I meditated, the more aware of the good things in my life I became. Even things that others might construe as trouble I began to see as blessings, like a long commute (it allowed me to do things like these). 

My life changed within days. I got closer with my wife, my kids wanted to spend more time with me, I built a network of friends. I got involved with my church and charitable groups as well. It turns out, people enjoy being around happy people, not cranky bastards!

Since I felt happier, I wanted to look better too. So I started training for a triathlon, and you can read all about that here.

Depression is a serious disease for many people and always worth seeking help for. But for some of you, there is an opportunity to change today. Make the choice and commit to opening your eyes, because the positives are there, just waiting for you to see them. 

Why I Don’t Make Resolutions

resolutions_dont

Failure. 

The word echoed around in my head as if it had no canyon to fade away into.  I was a failure. 

Again.

I remember it like it was yesterday.  It was March 31st.  Day 90 was marked on my calendar in big, bright red letters.  It was the day I was supposed to have completed a 90 day challenge.  The day I should have been able to look at myself in the mirror and see the results of my New Year’s Resolution, a “new” me. Instead, all I saw was the old me…and then some.

I beat myself up mentally for weeks.  Then one day, while I was sitting in church, it hit me.  Yes, church.  In the middle of April.  The sermon had nothing to do with fitness or being healthier (though my pastor has discussed that on occasion because he’s kind of addicted to Bojangles fried chicken).  No, the epiphany came from these words: “I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize.”  (It’s Philippians 3:13-14 – I won’t lie, I had to Google it because all I really remembered were the words.)  And whether you have any religious thoughts or not, these words ring true. 

After I had “failed” at achieving my objective, these words made me realize I hadn’t really taken a hold of what I wanted to accomplish in the first place.  It was time I forgot what was behind me, forgot about the things I hadn’t completed, and press forward.  I didn’t need a new year to set a goal and accomplish it. I simply needed to be truly committed to “win the prize.”

These resolutions that we promise to commit to every year are meant to make us feel better about ourselves and improve ourselves.  And yes, there’s something about a New Year that gives us the feeling of a fresh start. But is there really a difference between Dec 31st and Jan 1st?

Nothing magical happens at midnight on New Year’s Eve to make us miraculously change.  So many New Year’s resolutions are often just a wish list…something we’d like to change about our lives, but little more.  It’s awesome that we want to devote ourselves to improving something in our lives, but have you ever ask yourself why it’s so hard to keep resolutions?  Maybe it’s because our resolutions aren’t realistic, or maybe it’s because we don’t have a logical plan for reaching them.  We aren’t prepared to press forward.  What I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter what day of the year it is, when you’re ready to make a change, you make a plan and you make it work.

Here are a few tips to help you make a plan that a year from now will have changed your life, instead of something you’ve forgotten by the end of January.

   Be realistic. It’s easy to make pipe dream resolutions.  We get carried away.  But look back at what you’ve been able to achieve in the past and use that as a guide.  Don't say "I'm going to run a marathon," when you’ve barely ran down your driveway to get the mail. If you do, you’re just going to quit once you realize how high you’ve set your goals.  Start your plan to reach goals at intervals and go from there.

Make change about you and not a number or event. Don’t target something like an event or X number of pounds as part of your plan; instead make the ultimate goal to change your behavior.  So if something happens (as life often shows us can) and you’re unable to participate in your event, you still have your goal in place…to change YOU, not just run in some race.  There will be plenty of events to participate in. 

Plan!!! Let’s face it, statistics can’t always be trusted…especially ones about New Year’s resolutions since they are very likely skewed by the likes of those last minute resolutionists (the ones who swear to quit drinking ten tequila shots into New Year’s Eve). Planning ahead allows you to make a plan based on what you know you’re capable of.

Allow some backsliding. No one is perfect.  It’s unrealistic to think you’re going make it through your entire plan without a single hitch.  A plan that doesn’t leave room for slip-ups is already designed to fail.  Mistakes are part of life.  When you slip, pick yourself up, dust off and get back at it.     

Change your mind set. The mind is a powerful thing.  Re-program yours to focus on the positive effects your plan will have on your life.  Instead of thinking of how much you miss that extra hour of sleep in the morning, focus on how getting some exercise is going to make you feel better and make you healthier.  

Achieving goals isn’t about what happened in the past, it’s not about the times you’ve fallen…it’s about the times you’ve gotten back up when you did.  Remember the ultimate goal.  It’s about moving forward, and it doesn’t matter if it’s January 1st or April 23rd.  Because what is failure anyway?  If you’re moving forward, you’re improving…just not as fast as you had planned, and that's not really a failure at all. Is it?