I’ve been feeling pretty run down, spent and intolerant lately, which doesn’t really put me at my best. My mind isn’t as fast, my coping skills are nowhere to be found, and even my workouts are a bit more difficult. I’ve been drinking water, eating pretty healthy, keeping up with my jog and weight training, so why so depleted? Well, I think I figured it out. I’ve had a bunch of apps running in the background and my battery has been running below 10% for the past couple of months.
Have you ever bought that new smartphone, loaded all your favorite apps on it, so you have your e-mail, music, navigation, social networks, etc. at your fingertips to find that only a couple of hours after a 100% charge you’re below 10%? You can’t believe it, it’s a new phone, you know the battery is healthy, you haven’t even been using it for the last couple of hours, but it’s still drained. Then you dig a little deeper and realize that Waze, Facebook, Twitter, IM, Instagram and a few other apps have been running in the background the entire time. Wah Wah Wah!!! I think the same thing has happened to me. Even though I’ve been making some pretty good “small steps” choices over the past couple of months, I haven’t been able to completely turn off my background apps. For me, they come in the form of needing to check voicemail, e-mail or attend meetings over weekends or vacations. They may even be running, because feel that something big is looming, and I am somewhat “on call”, whether the emergency call surfaces or not. Now, when you have a career, some degree of ambition and want to do a good job, this comes with the territory, so I’m not complaining. I am saying that I need to find a way to be responsive and deliver good results, while at the same time truly disconnecting for a few days at a time, on a semi-regular basis. Also known as “down time” or turning off my background apps. If I don’t, I will definitely not be the best version of myself for anyone, and I won’t be healthy.
Small steps mission underway… Operation “Turn Off All Background Apps” is underway.
Small steps add up!!!
Being happy, in general, should be a goal of anyone lucky enough to walk on this earth. Health and happiness should go together, so I personally believe a healthy pursuit of happiness should be part of everyone’s “personal health” plan. I recently read an article titled “22 Things Happy People Do Differently”, by Chiara Fucarino. I listed the 22 “things” below for a summary:
- Don’t Hold Grudges
- Treat Everyone With Kindness
- See Problems as Challenges
- Express Gr attitude for What They Have
- Dream Big
- Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
- Speak Well of Others
- Never Make Excuses
- Get Absorbed Into the Present
- Wake Up At The Same Time Every Morning
- Avoid Social Comparison
- Choose Friends Wisely
- Never Seek Approval from Others
- Take Time to Listen
- Nurture Social Relationships
- Eat Well
- Live Minimally
- Tell The Truth
- Establish Personal Control
- Accept What Cannot Be Changed
Clearly this list is the brainchild of Chiara Fucarino, and it is not backed up by research. A few of the items on the list have a genuine face validity, and there is research to prove that things like meditation or taking personal control contributes to positive affect. However, some of these items feel more like a point of view vs. empirical fact. There are those, as crazy as it sounds, that don’t live minimally who are extremely happy. There are also some who choose not to dream big, and while it may not make a great episode of biography, they are also happy with the size of their dreams and resulting level of predictability of their lives. So yes, I don’t really think this list is “THE 22.” However, I love the idea of each of us creating our own list. We should all have our top 10 things we will consistently do to ensure we’re happy, or at least are well on our way to becoming more happy. They don’t have to be big, crazy things, but can be small steps towards happiness. (click on the laughing baby photo for a single small step towards happiness – – at least for today)
Here are a few of things from my personal list:
- Nurture Caring Relationships At Home & At Work
- Listen To Music that Makes Me Want to Dance
- Don’t Watch the 11 O’Clock News
- Laugh As Much As Possible
Just came across a Yahoo!Health article covering the “All-Time Best Men’s Health Tips”. Here’s a quick summary of the tips:
- Strengthen your core. – Duh!
- Tilt up your rear-view mirror. – Interesting…
- Never eat out of the original container.
- Accept the latexed finger. – Ughh.
- Your LDL cholesterol number doesn’t mean much. – True.
- Make them wait for your best offer.
- Don’t check in for surgery in July. – Really?
- Tape a golf ball to the back of your PJ’s. – No.
- Drink green tea, the wonder liquid.
- Compliment her on what counts.
- Use a blow-up workout partner. – aka a ball.
- Don’t blow your nose if you have a cold. – Who knew?
- The bicycle crunch is the best ab exercise ever. – I prefer the ‘super-crunch’, but like this one as well.
- Use the stall nearest to the door (in the restroom).
- Everybody needs a best friend. – Pets are good for you.
- Lose your gut, because belly fat kills. – Word.
- Drink Chocolate Milk (after a workout). – Yeah!
- Hard and fast is best. – To burn fat.
- Eat the bacon. – I wish I could, but the article seems to have forgotten cholesterol.
- Earn the promotion.
- Strength before cardio. – Word up.
- Do unto others. – Love this.
- A close shave. – Weak.
- Run softly. – For increased efficiency.
- Leave her be.
Some good advice and interesting factoids, laced with a few pieces of cheesy advice. You can see the list with their comments by clicking on the link and/or image above.
Small steps add up!!!
I usually try and write blog posts that are somewhat thematic and cohesive. However, I woke up today in beautiful Munich, Germany and my mind was racing from topic to topic, and my energy is up. Thus, I’ve decided that today’s post will simply be a few “Healthy Thoughts from Bavaria.” Yes, you can have healthy thoughts and even eat healthy in the land of beer, pretzel bread, and all things “sausage-able”.
- Making progress against my ridiculous list of recent ailments/injuries. It was three weeks ago that I cracked my rib snowboarding with my son, and today was the first day I was able to do my full weight training routine in the gym (Thanks Westin). I could feel the 3 week hiatus, and it hurt, but it also felt so good. Other naggy aches also feeling better, so I may go for a run in the Alps tomorrow.
- TMTS – A colleague of mine from Hong Kong, who also has a passion for fitness was talking to me on Tuesday evening. She was asking how things were going and was specifically referencing the rehab from my knee surgery last year. I explained that the surgically repaired knee was awesome, but that I hurt my other knee once cleared to run again. She said, “TMTS”, which triggered my naive response “what does that mean” and she said “Too Much, Too Soon.” Not rocket-science but “yes” that’s true and in many aspects of life TMTS is a bad thing (e.g. money, fame, love….. post-rehab activity). An acronym to remember. Thanks Genevieve!
- A fellow blogger and web-friend Rarasaur, whose blog is simply wonderful, had a post today titled “The True Cost of Stress”. As always it was a really nice piece and the message was definitely positive, healthy, and uplifting. Advice like “Instead of the news, browse art. Instead of brainstorming in the shower, sing. Instead of pacing, smile. Instead of shouting, hug.” is always welcome… and very true. As the Lee Anne Womack song and an early blog-post of mine remind us, “I hope you dance.”
- Off to a Bayern Munich soccer match this afternoon at Allianz, a village in the alps for a meeting next week, and ready for my full daily fitness routine (with all my crunch variations and not just the ones you can do with sore ribs).
Small steps add up!!!
Do you have a lot on your plate at the moment, and you’re really not sure how you’re going to get it all done? Do you say “yes” to every request, knowing that you can just sleep a little less until you weather the storm? Do you feel a bit on edge and that you can’t quite catch your breath? You just may be a stress-o-holic.
My grandfather lived well into his 90’s, and frankly being from the deep fried and gravy rich South he didn’t have the healthiest of diets. He was always busy and kept himself physically and mentally active, but I personally think the key to his longevity was the fact that he had a very effective way of managing stress, keeping balance in his life, and not sweating the small stuff.
Stress is a normal, natural part of life, coming from the good and bad that define what it means to be human. However, in today’s world it is very easy for us to adapt to very high, unhealthy levels of stress, and in a sense trick ourselves into thinking that it’s normal and “we’re controlling it.” Wrong. Studies have shown stress as a key contributor to everything from depression and heart disease to sexual dysfunction. One study showed that nearly 90% of doctor visits were triggered from symptoms that were merely the manifestation of stress (Elizabeth Scott, M.S.).
No matter how healthy your diet and effective your physical fitness routine, if you fail to effectively manage your stress, your overall health will be marginalized.
I was born with a hard-wired “type A” personality, so stress management has been something I’ve really had to work on. I can’t say I’ve mastered it, but I do think I manage my stress much more effectively (and have come closer to my granfather’s mindset) over the past ten years.
- Get Some Sleep – It’s a proven fact that at least 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep is needed for normal functioning. Any less is unhealthy and adds to your stress. Oh, and if you’re one of those who claims “I don’t need 7 hours,” research has proven that >96% of the population does need a minimum of 7 hours, and that there are millions of walking zombies who aren’t giving their bodies the recovery time necessary for proper maintenance at a cellular level.
- Sublimize with Exercise – Exercising not only keeps you active and fit, but gets the blood flowing and can help clear your head. Think of it as physical catharsis, or one of Freud’s classic defense mechanisms with side-benefits. Staying busy and moving your body is healthy, so channel your stress and energy here instead of bottling it up, or to another unhealthy diversion/addiction (e.g. drugs, alcohol, eating, etc.).
- Treat Yourself – Although I think this is always a good idea, when stress is at it’s highest, treat yourself in the same fashion that you would your child or someone you love. Go shopping, go to a nice dinner, a movie, etc., and ensure that you “take care of yourself” with a bit more care. You can’t control how others treat you, but you can step up and really take care of yourself during stressful periods.
- Minimize for a While – Prioritize the most important stuff and either delay or cancel as much of the rest as possible. What “minimize” means will vary person-to-person, but in all cases you should have less going on (the most important stuff) and not more. This means saying “not right now” or even “no” from time to time – – I know this is very difficult for some, but worth exploring and practicing.
These tips are meant to be simple, everyday things you can do to help cope with and manage stress. Simply listening to your mind and body and realizing that you’re in the “stress zone” is actually step one, because many don’t realize they’re actually living there. If these small steps aren’t enough for you and having a difficult time managing stress and coping, consider exploring meditation, or speak with a counselor who can help you put together a stress management program that will work for you.
Small steps add up!!!
There was a common saying when I was growing up that went “Life is short, and then you die.” While this is true, it probably isn’t the best mind-set for a healthy, meaningful life. There are some pretty great moments to be relished along the way, some meaning to be found, and perhaps even a legacy to be left behind. I’m not saying that everyone’s goal should be to become a version of Ned Flanders from The Simpsons, or to create a rose colored “Stepford” existence, since that would be shallow, creepy and off-putting. I do think that more of life’s “awesomeness” should be tapped, channeled, enjoyed and passed along to others. It is far too short to continually be thinking about what sucks, what’s not working, whose bothering you, etc., and treating others like their in your way.
I have blogged in the past about things to do to ensure you “enjoy the ride”, and I follow a few other great blogs that serve as excellent reminders that there are things you can do to be more positive and happy (e.g. 5ThingsToDoToday). I just read a brief piece by Linda Wasmer Andrews from Yahoo!Health titled “How People Actually Get Happier.” It covers some resent research that surfaced 14 specific actions that you can do to improve your overall level of happiness and well being. The list includes:
- Doing acts of kindness for others
- Pursuing personally meaningful goals
- Expressing gratitude
- Being optimistic
- Doing physical exercise or sports
- Nurturing social relationships
- Savoring life’s joys
- Acting like a happy person
- Doing activities “in the moment”
- Forgiving others
- Practicing religion or spirituality
- Using strategies to manage stress
- Avoiding overthinking
- Practicing meditation
I’ll let you read Linda’s article for your self, but I have to note that a) taking steps to become more healthy is critical (#5), b) research has shown that behavior change can lead to lasting emotional change – – so by actually starting to do things a “happy person does” prior to feeling that way, you can actually actually change your mind-set and mood and begin to genuinely feel that way (watch “Yes Man” for a silly example of this), and c) add my personal #15 that includes “stop complaining.” I have Facebook Friends (and a few real ones) that can’t help complain about anything that’s a challenge, not in their plans, a pain-in-the-butt, etc., and I get it. However, this practice helps nudge your mood, disposition and journey to the dark side. The side that makes you post 20 different messages about “Life’s too short to be around negative people,” when really you’ve become one of them. Rather than complain, take action to be happy.
Small steps add up!!!
Over the past few months my schedule has been extremely chaotic, my workload heavy, my meeting calendar packed, and many of my interactions higher on the “confrontation/conflict” index than I would like. Mix in some air travel, the fact that my wife works/travels as well, that I have two busy kids, and it adds up to a difficult few months. Many years ago, I would have just tried grind through it, keep on moving, and attempt to to smile and enjoy the ride. However, I noticed this week that I was feeling tired, kind of sad and uninspired (oops Thompson Twins lyric alert) and my behavior was a bit more terse and edgy than usual. On top of that I had a lot of people coming up to me and saying, “you look tired to day, are you alright?” Of course I said, “I’m fine”, but when I took a few minutes to reflect a bit more deeply, I came to the conclusion that “maybe I’m not alright.” I realized that what I was experiencing were “early warning signs / cries for help” from my mind and body. I wasn’t doing what I needed to provide myself with a minimal amount of simple, calm, focus (one thing or less to do), tranquility, peace – – aka ZEN. Over this same period I have been driving fast (metaphorically speaking), but haven’t pulled over to refuel once. I needed to take a moment, listen and act.
In the spirit of small things add up, and understanding that my schedule, workload and other life demands (husband/parent) would not necessarily let up or “flex” in the near future, I made a couple of decisions.
- Block Some ‘Balcony Time’ & ‘Doing Time’ On My Calendar. Hard to do, but I did it. I blocked out a few hours each week into the new year, where I will not take meetings or 1:1’s. The idea was to ensure I had some time to reflect, develop strategy, plan/prioritize, and accomplish a few things based on those priorities. In a sense, even though this sounds busy, if I’m actually in control of the time, can work on one thing at a time (and focus) it feels a lot less stressful and a lot better.
- Get a Good Night’s Sleep. I’m actually a night person, so I had to make it a point to be in bed at a reasonable hour to ensure that I had at least 8 hours. Sleep is the ultimate “recovery time” and often what I start cutting into when I’m really busy and stressed. No mas. Sleep is good.
- (Tough Love) Prioritization. We all have to prioritize all of the time, and rarely is a hard “No” the answer in a professional setting. Thus, I made it a point to take my own prioritization to the next level, to ensure I was spending enough time on the top, most critical priorities. This meant telling a few colleagues, project stakeholders, etc. things like “I would love to meet with you, but it will need to be next week – vs. today”, or simply holding off on meetings/actions that don’t have a time-based deadline, or aren’t critical to the business. Folks don’t always like this last one, but if you share your logic, and they trust you won’t simply discard the action/meeting forever, I find most people are reasonable.
- Focus on Health/Fitness. I find during these tough times, when it’s easiest to let workouts and healthy eating slide, that it just feels better mentally to know you’re doing something really good for yourself. So it’s part sublimation and part making yourself a priority – and both are good things. There have been more than a few evenings recently when the thought of my weight training routine or a 5 mile run sounds almost unfathomable. However, about 20 minutes into the workout, when the muscles are loose and getting rid of all those toxins, endorphins kick in, all I’m focusing on is counting out sets, or the sound of my running shoes hitting the ground – – I feel an energy, strength and sense of well being I wouldn’t have believed possible earlier in the day. Of the psychological defense mechanisms to cope, at least sublimation can help increase your personal stock!
The bottom line is that by taking these small steps, taking control, and listening to my body, mind and other signs that I was pushing too hard, I started feeling a bit better. I have had fewer people say “hey Mark, you look tired today” (which by the way is never a good way to start a conversation), my energy level is up, and my stress level is trending in the right direction. I know that these are extremely busy and challenging times for everyone, so I hope that you will also take the time to listen to the subtle and not-so-subtle signals that you may need to take actions to FIND YOUR ZEN, refuel, and stay healthy.
I’d love to hear from you, particularly if there are things you do to effectively manage through and cope with all of the demands that define your days/weeks.
Small steps add up!
We’ve all experienced those “wind out of your sail”, negative, sideways, low-energy moments in life. The pressure and grind of living in today’s world can be difficult to navigate and manage, even for those who naturally see the glass as half full. I’m not going to write about the extreme cases of challenge and despair that can lead to bouts of depression – this would be well beyond the parameters of this blog. I would prefer to talk about a few small things you can do navigate the typical array of tough times and come through the other side with a strong sense of self-worth and optimism.
Tough times are just that, and I’m not proposing a disconnected approach to life where you sing and dance your way through challenging periods, or that you bury your head and refuse to acknowledge them. On the contrary, some of your greatest growth as a human being can come from the most challenging times, and in order to learn and grow you must be present and conscious. My approach focuses on effectively coping, counter-balancing the negative, and coming out the other side of the challenge as a stronger version of yourself. Simply put, my approach is about investing more in “you.”
During a tough, emotionally draining periods in your life, when you could get dragged to the dark side, “double-down” on those things that will increase your personal stock. Here are a few of the things that I like to do, to increase my personal stock in times of change, challenge and/or turmoil.
- Eat Better – Counter act the natural pull of chaos and/or a negative environment, that would have you scarfing down bags of potato chips and quarts of ice cream, and start taking small steps to actually eat more healthy during such times.
- Move More – If you already have an established fitness routine, crank up the energy and add a few more sets/miles. If you haven’t been moving enough, set some small goals to walk for 15 minutes a day, take the stairs, etc. The idea is “investing in you”, so no matter how small, such investment will make you feel better (your psyche will know “this is a good thing”, even if it’s in the middle of some challenges)
- Learn Something – Pick a book from the pile of “those books I’ve been meaning to read” or take a class that you’ve always wanted to take at a local community college. I’ve jumped into a professional certification and taken up hobbies during the craziest times of my life. In addition to the “my minds on something positive” benefit, you gain some new knowledge, skills that will stay with you forever.
- Make Someone Else’s Day Positive – When I’m a bit down, one of the things I try and do is be a bit more of a role model in the area of “treat others as you would like to be treated.” However, rather than passively applying the “golden rule”, you’ll feel even better if you actively work to help, support, or brighten someone else’s day. It may be a cliché at the moment, but “paying it forward” with actions like buying the coffee for the person behind you in line at Starbucks, brightens up someone else’s day. Your mind may start playing “you’re a pretty cool person tapes” as a counterbalance to some of the more eroding messages that tend to play during tough times.
Again, the point isn’t to try and be perfect or to create an alternate, delusional reality. It’s simply to invest in you during tough times, so that you don’t let the challenges get the best of you, and on the contrary, come out the other side a better person.
Small steps add up.