Category: Wise

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?

An Upside to Consumerism

AmazonSmile It’s too bad I found out about this after the holidays: Did you know that with just a tiny bit of effort on your part, Amazon will donate money to the charity of your choice with every purchase you make? I’d heard something about this months ago, but I assumed it applied only to large, well-known charities, so I never used it. But a couple of weeks ago, I saw an ad about it in the newsletter of a local charity I support. I jumped online to check it out right away, and sure enough, the little local charity popped right up when I searched for it.

The program is called Amazon Smile, and it’s essentially a “giving back” program where Amazon donates half a percent of all goods purchased to the charity of your choice. The only catch is that you can’t have to access Amazon via smile.amazon.com rather than the usual amazon.com.

I forgot about the Smile program when I was recently placing an order, but was happy to find that when I navigated to smile.amazon.com before I clicked “Place Your Order,” the items were still in my cart and I was able to pick up right where I left off in the checkout process.

The program supports over one million charities. Not all items for sale on Amazon are eligible for charitable contribution, but tens of millions are. It will say so in the product information summary, next to the price and description of the item:       Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 9.32.50 AM

Amazon sends payments to charitable organizations quarterly. Those payments are an aggregate of all of the shoppers who have elected to have their purchase donations go to that specific charity. Shoppers can change their charity at any time via an easy drop-down menu at the top, where the name of the charity is listed. Because there is no cost to the shopper and all donations flow directly from Amazon to the charitable organizations, there is no tax deduction for the shopper.

Here are just a few of the great local charities supported by Amazon Smile:

Friends of Animal Adoptions – Animal Ark
Bolder Options
The Bridge For Youth
Second Harvest Heartland
Saint Paul Art Collective

Although I try to support local retailers whenever possible, I’ve found that some things are considerably less expensive, or considerably more convenient to purchase from Amazon. This is one way I can feel little better about doing so.

Check out smile.amazon.com and see if your favorite charity is listed there. If they aren’t, let them know it’s easy to register. They can find details here.

 

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.

 

Action Is the Best Antidote

 

Excuses, excuses! Sometimes the thoughts in our head can be our own worst enemy, especially when those thoughts are excuses.

This happens to everyone: You’ve set a goal of some sort and early on you’ve made good progress toward it. But two or three weeks in, as your motivation begins to wane a bit, excuses start popping up here and there. At first, you fight these barriers to success, pushing them out of your mind. Then a little more time goes by and one day you latch on to one of them. It starts simply, as just a thought, maybe something like:

“I know I should go to the gym after work, but I really need to get some holiday shopping done.”

At that precise moment, you have the power to make an easy choice between two options. You can either decide to go to the gym or to go shopping after work. If you don’t stop right then and there and make a firm commitment to that decision, then something like this might follow: “If I do go shopping, I can walk quickly through the mall and burn a few calories that way. I could even take the stairs instead of the escalator. I’ll probably burn more calories shopping for an hour than I would during my 30-minute workout at the gym.”

Do you see what just happened there? You created a bunch of justifications for your original excuse. At this point you could still change your mind and honor your workout, but you’ve made that outcome much less likely.

As I explain in my weight loss book, Reboot Your Body:

Your success in this effort will be inversely proportionate
to the number of excuses you make.

Fortunately, breaking out of the habit of excuse making is actually pretty easy. The best antidote for it is action of any kind. Get up and go for a walk; do a few chair stretches; open a blank document and get to work on something – whatever you do doesn’t even have to be related to the decision you’re pondering. The act of simply doing something will disrupt that cascading excuse-thought pattern and give you the mental space to make a conscious decision. While it can’t guarantee that you’ll choose the gym over the mall, it will put those two options back on equal ground.

Top 4 Reasons You Should Go Vegan

OldTreesWCL It’s been over three years since I made the decision to stop eating all animal products. It happened one night while Laura and I were watching the documentary, Vegucated. She turned to me, teary-eyed, and said, “We have to go vegan!” I agreed wholeheartedly, but it took many months for me to transition to an entirely vegan diet. I struggled to avoid eggs and dairy when traveling or even just dining out in my own neighborhood. My commitment wavered, especially around the holidays when lots of non-vegan treats were laid out on my mother’s kitchen island. But a few months ago, I watched a couple of other films – Cowspiracy and Speciesism – which not only solidified my commitment to eating compassionately, but also presented critically important information I’d never even considered before. In this post, I’ll share what I learned with you, and I hope it will be a jumping off point for you to seek out more information on your own. Here are my top four reasons for going (and staying) vegan:

1. Compassion for Animals
This is the reason most people choose to go vegan initially – because they feel bad for the 70 billion animals that are bred and raised in captivity, under almost universally harsh conditions, for the express purpose of producing or becoming food for humans to eat. I could go on and on about those horrible conditions and about the numerous studies that have shown that chickens, pigs, cows and even fish experience both physical and mental pain (such as fear, loneliness, boredom, and bereavement), but on some level, you already know about all that. Our modern culture has simply become very good at ignoring or justifying this abominable  system. Most of us are taught from a very young age that humans are at the top of the food chain, and therefore, the suffering of other animals should not be of concern to us. I urge you to rethink that position and take a moment to ask yourself where your taste preferences really rank when pitted against the suffering and slaughter of other sentient beings. The film Speciesism posits this ethical question better than I have done here, so I encourage you to watch it.

2. Compassion for Other Humans
One of the most shocking facts I learned while watching Cowspiracy is that globally, we are growing enough food to feed 10 billion humans, yet between 800 million and 1 billion people have so little food to eat that they are in real danger of starving to death. How can this be? Well, it’s because about half of the food we grow is fed to livestock so that the wealthier inhabitants of the planet can have their meat, fish, dairy, eggs and poultry, while the poor are left with nothing. Even in countries where a sizable percentage of the population is starving, precious resources are diverted to animal agriculture, the end products of which are exported to different countries. Animal agriculture, then, is the ultimate affront to the world’s poorest citizens: those of us who have the choice are choosing to feed animals while our fellow humans are starving.

3. Responsible Stewardship of the Environment
Cowspiracy was also the source of my newfound knowledge about the environmental impact that animal agriculture is having on the planet. I strongly urge you to watch the film. You will be shocked, as I was, at all of the statistics and you will wonder, as I did, why we haven’t heard this information before. Here are just a few of the statistics (taken directly from the Facts page of the Cowspiracy website):
– Livestock and their byproducts account for more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transportation combined.
– 1,000 gallons of water are required to produce 1 gallon of milk.
– 1 to 2 acres of rainforest are cleared every second and animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon forest destruction.
– Around 60 billion pounds of fish caught every year are discarded, because they weren’t the targeted species; they were “accidentally” caught. 650,000 dolphins, whales and seals are killed by the fishing industry every year.

4. Better Long-term Health
It’s been a long time coming, but finally the facts about the health risks associated with a diet high in animal fat and protein are reaching the mainstream media. The recent headlines sparked by the World Health Organization’s declarations about processed meat and cancer risk shocked many. What was most shocking about it to me, however, was that it wasn’t new information at all. It was simply the first time a large public organization had made a summary statement based upon more than a decade of research demonstrating those facts all along. The same is true of heart disease, dyslipidemia, diabetes and obesity. Meanwhile, a large body of research has shown that a whole food, plant-based diet lowers the risks for these same diseases.

If you’re considering adopting a vegan diet but are unsure how to proceed, there are a few resources that can get you started. Check out the ZenHabits 7-Day Vegan challenge, or this guide from PETA. If you’re looking for a healthy, whole food, plant-based plan, I’ve developed a free guide to help you begin your journey. Connect with me on the Contact page and I’ll be happy to send it your way.

 

I have no affiliation with Vegucated, Cowspiracy, Speciesism, ZenHabits, or PETA.

Too Many Keys On Your Chain?

keychainI was looking at my keychain yesterday and thinking that it doesn’t look too bad any more. There was a time when I had so many keys on it, I felt overwhelmed every time I grabbed them to leave the house. I thought about why that was and I realized that every key on my keychain represents a commitment of some sort. Each lock rests in a structure or item that requires safeguarding or upkeep of one kind or another.

My residence requires money to pay a monthly mortgage. It also requires a little maintenance and a lot of cleaning. Just to get into my condo, I also need either an electronic fob or a stair key. These things have been given to me by my homeowner’s association, which requires a different monthly fee. My car needs to be gassed up every couple of months and serviced a few times a year, and I have to keep it registered and insured. My mailbox has to be checked every few days, and something must be done with the various envelopes that arrive in it. My bicycle lock is used occasionally to safeguard my bicycle when I have to leave it unattended. I use the key to my mom’s house when I am there but no one else is. That’s the extent of the keys I now own, and that feels very good.

The other day I handed over a set of keys to my Lowertown office. It was the studio space where I finished writing my first book and where Laura and I had several very successful art shows. I had some degree of emotional attachment to the place, but the time had come to let it go, so I was okay with giving it up. Walking back home after handing the keys over to the new tenant (another writer, as fate would have it), I felt the kind of lightness I always feel whenever I downsize my life just a little bit more. It reinforced my belief that the less I am connected to physical things, the happier I am, and it sparked the idea for this post.

I’ve written before that I am, in no way, a minimalist, but by downsizing my life just a little here and there when I’ve been able to, I find that I am in a vastly different place now – physically, emotionally and spiritually – than I was ten years ago. I encourage you to do the same. A good place to start is by gathering up every key you can find, laying them all out and asking yourself what each one is for. Are you safeguarding or maintaining things that no longer add value in the same way they once did? If so, maybe it’s time to downsize a little.