Category: Happy

Get The Most Out of Summer

Now that summer is here, the days are incredibly long where I live (it was light out at 4:40 a.m. here this morning, and it will stay light until well after 9:00 p.m.). It’s true that I get less sleep in the summer, but all of that daylight energizes me and makes me want to get the most out of every sun-filled minute. To help me do that, I try to stick to a few habits in the summertime. I thought I’d share those habits with you today.

Rise and Rest With the Sun
Admittedly, this can be tough to do for the first few days, but when I do align my sleep cycle with the sun, I feel amazing! The best part – getting all of my work for the day done before noon.

Eat Seasonal Treats
To me, nothing symbolizes summer more than roaming the aisles at my local farmer’s market, filling a couple of canvas bags with whatever looks irresistible, and then planning a week’s-worth of healthy meals using those fresh, local finds. Well, except maybe biking to my local ice cream shop and ordering a hand-scooped vegan cone. These are the things I’ll dream about longingly come February.

Enjoy Summer Sippers
In the summertime, I like to turn hydration into a creative experiment. My go-to favorite is the fruit or citrus spritzer: squeeze 1/4 of a citrus fruit or muddle a few fresh berries in the bottom of a tall glass, add ice, fill with bubbly water, stir and enjoy. If you’re so inclined, you can make this into a light cocktail by adding half an ounce of any clear liquor, but it tastes so good on its own, you won’t miss the extra calories if you leave that part out.

Make Errands an Adventure
All summer long, I like to take every opportunity to get outside. This means that I hardly drive anywhere, opting to walk or bike instead if at all possible. I invested in a simple rack and a couple of nice panniers (saddle bags) for my bike a few years ago, and they allow me to use pedal power rather than petrol for just about anything I need to do.

Take Your Workouts to the Park
My gym membership doesn’t get as much use during the summer because I try to exercise outdoors at least three or four days per week. Jogging, hiking, cycling and bodyweight exercises in the park are my go-to workouts from May to October. At least once a week, I try to get out of the city and immerse myself in nature, which is as beneficial for my mental health as it is for my body.

What summertime rituals do you have? Share them with the WCL community on our Facebook page.

 

What We Can Learn From Dogs

Zeb16

This is the republication of a blogpost I put up here in March of 2014, titled “Fit After 50.” Yesterday, we said goodbye to Zeb, but the words I wrote more than two years ago are still true today, so I thought I’d share them with you again. Peace, Zeb.

This is my dog, Zeb. He’s 105 in dog years. He still gets up every morning looking forward to the day, cheerily tackling whatever life throws at him. I like to credit his healthy diet and a reasonable amount of exercise with his longevity and his great quality of life. I often find myself admiring him, hoping I’ll be in half as good a shape as he is when I’m 105. I think we can all learn a thing or two from him, so here are the big lessons from Zeb, as I see them.

1. Do What You Can Until You Can’t Anymore – A lot of people slow down as they age. They move less, sit more. “I’m takin’ it easy,” they might say. But all that lack of movement actually results in a life that is harder. Inactivity leads to weight gain, muscle loss and, most markedly, a loss of function. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, there is no known association between hormonal changes and weight gain in older adults. So if you’ve been blaming a drop in your estrogen or testosterone levels for your expanding waistline, I hate to tell you, but it’s just not true. We gain weight as we age because we become less active. Not only do we exercise less, or less vigorously, but we’re just not as busy running after the kids or otherwise expending the energy it takes to maintain a full household. We think, “Hey, these are my golden years. I’m takin’ it easy.” Zeb says that’s a bunch of bunk – you’ll have plenty of time to take it easy when you’re dead.

2. Quit Worrying About Stuff – I asked Zeb what time it was the other day and he said, “What are you talking about? It’s now.” Then I asked him if that was his potty on the floor and he stared at me blankly and picked up a toy. He really had no idea if that was his potty on the floor because his memory only goes about 15 minutes into the past. When I asked him if he wanted to go to grandma’s house tomorrow, he walked over to the treat basket and stood there expectantly.

Ignorance is bliss, it’s true. As humans, we can’t live our lives pretending that time doesn’t exist (can we?), but we certainly can stop living in the past and worrying about the future. How much stuff do you worry about that you don’t even have any control over? Stress is one of the biggest contributors to a host of adverse conditions and diseases, including weight gain. Spend some time learning how to let go and unwind. Get up and move, breathe some fresh air, sing or dance. Zeb knows better than most of us that life is short, so you should enjoy it while you can.

3. Don’t Eat the Stuff They Scrape Off the Floor – After a couple of Zeb’s dog siblings died of cancer many years ago, we got serious about our diets around here. No more cheap kibble made from the scraps that end up on the meat-packing floor. It’s true, Zeb’s food costs more than mine does, but that’s mostly because I’m vegan and he’s not.

Seriously, though, do you know what’s in the food you eat? Really? Chances are, if you bought eight pounds of it on sale for six dollars, it’s probably not the top-grade stuff. That’s not to say that you have to spend a lot of money to eat well. You can read my recent post on how to eat healthy on a budget. The bottom line is, be a little more choosy about your nutrition; read the labels; count grams of fat and added sugar; and don’t eat stuff that comes in a box or a bag. That’s not food. Most of it never even used to be food. Maybe a tiny part of it used to be food a long time ago, before it underwent a hundred different phases of processing, but if it doesn’t still look like food – like the stuff that grows in the ground or on a tree, stem, stalk, bush or vine – then it probably isn’t. So why are you eating it? You’re a member of the most highly evolved species with the entire food chain at your disposal. Think about that the next time you open your mouth to put something in it.

Well, I’m sure this isn’t the kind of “Fit After 50” blogpost you were expecting, but I figured the last thing anybody needed was one more click-baity article beating on that old drum. It’s pretty simple: If you’re over 50 and you feel like you’re starting to slide, it’s because you are. A lifetime of less-than-perfect eating has joined forces with the natural tendency to move less, which comes with age. The result is your expanding waistline. The decades-long accumulation of dings and injuries have taken their toll, too, so even if you want to move more, it really is more difficult.

Zeb is in the same boat as you, my friend, and you know what he’ll do about it? He’ll get up every morning and do as much as he can until he can’t any more. He’ll eat his healthy food, enjoying every crunchy mouthful, and he won’t worry a bit about yesterday or tomorrow. He’ll pick up his toy and stare at me until I play with him or take him for a walk. Speaking of walk…

What are you waiting for?

The Tales We Tell Ourselves (Part Two)

In my last post, I talked about how everyone from businesses to the media and politicians use the power of story to sell us products, services or ideas. I told a story of my own, about how I nearly bought a new phone I didn’t need as the result of one such self-constructed tale.

While stories can make us ignore facts and ultimately lead to poor decisions (like emotional impulse buying), they can also be powerful tools for positive change.

In my book, Reboot Your Body, I illustrate several ways people can use the power of story to create positive change in their lives. Positive self-talk and visualization are two key habits that are foundational to the program laid out in the book, but what I want to talk about today goes a bit beyond that.

In Chapter 12, I talk about how important it is to take responsibility for your future. One of the tips I offer for helping you do that is to use the power of story and Recast Yourself In a Better Role. Here’s an excerpt from the book:

“Who you are right now has an awful lot to do with how you’ve been viewing yourself up to this point. What label have you given yourself? Are you the funny person, there to make everyone else laugh? Are you the dependable person, putting everyone else’s needs ahead of your own? Are you the super-busy, stressed-out person, just trying to hold it all together? I have news for you—you don’t have to be any of those people. Make the decision right now to stop being that person and start being a different one. You are the writer, producer and director of your life’s script, and you can cast yourself in any role you choose.

Society, the media, your parents, your spouse, your children, your boss—you get a lot of cues from these sources about what you “should” be doing. These can be very strong influencers, and years or decades of trying to meet their expectations has strongly reinforced the role you’ve been playing. By now, you may have come to view this role as your “identity,” but it’s not your identity unless you continue to make it so. As an adult human being, you possess the free will that enables you to be and do whatever you want. If the role you’ve been playing has done you more harm than good, if it has contributed to your weight gain, your unhappiness, your poor health, your insomnia, your anxiety, your depression, then it’s time to recast yourself in a better role.

Right now I want you to really think of your life as a play or a movie, with all of the important people in your life playing the supporting actors in your story. What role would you give yourself if you could decide? What turn would your story take if you could write yourself the perfect script? I want you to think of it in this way because for a little while, in order to start changing, you may need to feel like you’re acting. It might be easier for you to do certain things “in character” than they would be for you to do “in real life.”

Craft the story that you want to live. Become the character that you want to be.”

Imagine the story of your future self, the best possible version of your life. And don’t be afraid to dream big. Once you have that story in your mind, start acting like that character a little more every day, and just see if things don’t start to change for you.

The Tales We Tell Ourselves (Part One)

A few weeks ago, I was getting ready for a trip to New York City. I wanted to travel light but still be able to work if I had to. I thought that maybe I could work entirely from my iPhone, and leave my laptop at home. I already owned a wireless keyboard I could use to type, and all of my important documents were already waiting for me in the cloud. The trouble was, I still had an iPhone 5S, and the screen was so tiny I got a headache every time I looked at it for any length of time. Just as I was pondering this dilemma, my wife’s phone died, so we went to the Verizon store to get her a new one. We both qualified for an upgrade to new iPhones, the sales clerk happily told us, so Laura got an iPhone 6S. I was all set to get one for myself, but they only had one in stock, and she clearly needed it more than I did, so I left that day with my little old 5S.

Back at home, I started thinking about our trip to NYC again. If I was going to be working and traveling, maybe what I needed was a 6S Plus! I read and researched the difference between the two devices and calculated the difference in monthly cost. But then I went a step further and imagined myself using my brand new 6S Plus in New York: I could see myself sitting in a cozy coffee shop in Greenwich Village, sipping a vegan latte, working away on my latest article with my big-screen iPhone and my wireless keyboard. Maybe people would think I was a famous New York writer! (End delusional dream sequence.)

Luckily, just the week before, I had come across an article or heard a news piece on NPR about how stories make people less likely to consider facts when making a decision. I took a step back and looked at the facts of my situation. Fact: I travel between zero and four weeks out of every year. Fact: I can’t remember the last time I got any appreciable work done on vacation, whether I had my laptop with me or not. Fact: Since the contract on my 5S was now paid up, I’d be saving around $40 per month if I just kept my old phone. Fact: I could still use the 5S to work on the road, if the situation was dire. Fact: I wasn’t sure I wanted to lug around a phone the size of a small tablet.

You’d think that, staring all of those facts in the face, I would have easily made the decision to keep my iPhone 5S, but that story I’d invented tugged at me over and over until I found myself standing in the same Verizon store a week later! I went over to the accessory wall and picked out a case for my new iPhone 6S Plus, then asked the sales clerk for a 64GB model. She disappeared for a few minutes, came back into the store room empty-handed and said that they didn’t have any in stock. I put the case on the wall rack, thanked the clerk for her time and left the store with mixed feelings: part of me was disappointed that I wasn’t able to get the new phone, but the other part of me felt like I’d just been karmically saved from making a really dumb mistake, all because of a story I’d invented.

The following week, we went to NYC. I brought my wireless keyboard just in case, but I only used it once to type a long email – not anything that remotely justified lugging it along. And that coffee shop in Greenwich Village? It doesn’t exist. In fact, there’s no place in Manhattan where you can sit down with enough room for you and your cup of coffee, never mind setting up a workstation – real estate there is too pricey for such luxuries.

So I learned (of course) that my story was just that, a figment I’d invented in order to sell myself on an idea. It taught me an important lesson – when we create stories (or swallow the stories others create), we run the risk of letting emotions hijack our decision-making process. But there’s another lesson to be learned here, too: Stories can be a powerful tool for positive change as well. By imagining some better future, we might be willing to dig in and work a little harder to reach those goals now. Stay tuned for Part Two, where I’ll talk about how you can use stories to create positive change in your life.

Your Guide to Better Resolutions

Resolutions It’s my favorite time of year again – resolution time! I can’t understand people who say they “don’t do resolutions.” In my opinion, they’re passing up a huge opportunity to hone their focus and create a better future for themselves.

I do, however, understand that the once-a-year resolution hoopla can feel like a tired exercise in futility, but I’ve created some guidelines to help you avoid all of that. Here’s Part One of my three-part guide to creating resolutions that you’ll be able to stick to, and that really can make your life better.

Step One: Ask Yourself These 5 Questions
There’s one big mistake most people make when they set their resolutions, and it goes something like this: They close their eyes and dream up a utopian image of their future life, cherry pick certain aspects from that dream life, and then set those desired outcomes as their goals. These mental images are almost never realistic, nor do they represent what’s really important to us. In order to find out what is important, I’ve developed this list of five crucial questions to ask yourself:

1. What is important to me? Think about this question from a broad, lifetime perspective and make your answers genuine. Some examples might include: “My health; my relationship with my spouse; my relationships with others; helping people; my career.” After you have a complete list, rank order it.

2. What do I enjoy? Don’t answer this questions too quickly with the first things that pop into your head. Instead, take a moment to scan your memory and try to recall those instances in the past few years when you have experienced real joy. Where were you? What were you doing? Who were you with? The more specific you can be, the better. When I answered this question for myself, “exercising or being active” barely made it onto the list. This was revelatory for me, since I spend a lot of time thinking about or doing that, but much less time doing the things that ranked higher on my list.

3. What do I want more of? Now that you know what’s important and what you enjoy, list those things you want more of in the days and weeks ahead. Some examples might include: “More energy; more quality time with my family; more time out in nature; more time with my friends; more money in my savings account.” Now rank order your list with what you want the most of at the top.

4. What do I want less of? Next, think about how you currently spend your time and list those things that ping low on the joy meter. These can include habits, emotions, people, food or beverage – anything that leaves you feeling sad, mad, tired, anxious, or guilty. Again, be specific and rank order your list.

5. What daily habits will support these things? Here’s where you’ll create the list that will eventually become your resolutions or goals. Circle the top one or two entries from each of the previous four questions. Then brainstorm a list of what daily habits or actions you can do that will make those things more likely (or in the case of question #4, less likely). This should be a long list, because there are likely several actions for each of those items. For example, if you listed “My Health” as being very important to you, then your list of actions relating to that item might include: “Daily exercise; healthy eating; limiting alcohol; reducing stress; getting adequate rest…”

What you should be left with at the end of today’s exercise is a better sense of what’s important to you and a long list of actions you can take to help bring more of that into your life. This is where a lot of people throw up their hands and say, “I can’t do all of that, so I might as well not try. This is why I hate resolutions!” But don’t worry – tomorrow, in Step Two, I’ll show you how to carefully narrow down your long list and select just those few habits that will have the greatest impact. On New Year’s Day, I’ll wrap the series up with tips on how to successfully implement those habits and create positive change.

I want to leave you with one final note today: It’s crucial that you answer the above questions honestly, and not the way that you think you should answer them. If money or your career or physical appearance are at the top of your list of what’s important to you, there is nothing wrong with that! You are a unique individual and this exercise is intended to make your life better. If that also happens to positively touch those around you, so much the better, but that shouldn’t be your primary focus.

 

Your Final Challenge: Smile, Laugh and Be Grateful

smiley_face It’s the last day of the 12 Days of Wellness Challenge, and it’s Christmas Eve! I spent every year of my childhood looking forward to December 24th. If I’m honest, I have to admit that I still do. I spend every Christmas Eve with my family here in Minnesota. We all gather at my mom’s house for great food, games, a kiddie talent show, and too many presents. On days like today, I realize how very blessed I am. Today, as I smile and laugh with my family, I’ll make it a point to pause and acknowledge how lucky I am.

Those things – smiling, laughing and expressing gratitude – are things we all should do every single day. Not only do they make you feel good in the moment, but making them a habit can actually cause you to be a happier person. According to nonprofit website Project Happiness, up to 40 percent of our happiness can be effected by our own intentional actions.

We’d all love to feel happier, of course, but there are real physical benefits to happiness, too, and some of those benefits are directly tied to weight loss. Laughter produces serotonin, a hormone that boosts impulse control and can stop food cravings. At a deeper level, cultivating a general sense of happiness through gratitude can reduce the need to turn to food and beverage to fill unmet emotional needs. Many overweigh people think that losing weight will make them happy, but the reverse seems to be more true: happiness may be a key component for permanent weight loss.

So, your assignment today is to smile, laugh and be grateful. Yep, that’s it – I saved the best for last!

Well, that’s it for the 12 Days of Wellness. I hope you’ve learned a bit about yourself, your habits, and how you can change them just a little bit day by day. If you have a big change to make, like losing a significant amount of weight or improving your health to reduce serious risk factors, then you’ll want to move beyond these small daily habits and put together a serious plan for yourself. My book, Reboot Your Body, is designed to help you do exactly that. If you’d like one-on-one coaching along the way, I offer that as well. Send me a message via the Contact Form.