Category Archives: Reflections

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year 2020As far back as the Babylonia Empire, human beings have been making agreements with themselves or their god(s) at the start of the new year. Some involved returning borrowed property. Some related to charitable or chivalrous behaviors that they intended to sustain. Moderns focus on self-improvement (e.g., eat healthy foods, lose weight, exercise more, quit smoking, improve finances, make career advances, be more spiritual.)

Studies show that despite our best intentions, we often fail to attain our stated goals. A 2007 study from the University of Bristol revealed an 88% failure rate among its 3,000 participants. A 2014 report from Australia showed a 66% failure rate. Typical reasons for getting off track include setting unrealistic goals, setting too many resolutions, failing to track progress, and forgetting about them entirely. Yet despite our poor track records, over 40% of us continue to make resolutions every year.

This topic struck a chord a year ago when I wrote about the top 10 mistakes people make when launching self-improvement initiatives. I’ve also written a couple of posts regarding the science of change management. (See The Psychology of Change and A Business Model for Change Management.) Here are a few quick pointers rooted in neuroscience:

  • Don’t wait for New Year’s Day to create the new you. Start your program as soon as you can make a bit of time to set realistic goals, define baby steps toward achievement, and hold yourself accountable by tracking progress toward your goal.
  • Recognize that will power is a limited resource. Don’t try to make too many changes all at once or amidst a particularly stressful period in your life.
  • Build in support systems that make it easy for you to stay the course. Enroll your family in your program. Get a friend to take the journey with you. Leverage professional help, where applicable (e.g., physicians, nutritionists, trainers, coaches).

Even knowing all of the foregoing, I still make a bit of a ritual out of the onset of a fresh calendar year. I start by making a detail list of the major accomplishments and events that transpired during the preceding year. (This task feeds into the authoring of our annual holiday letter!) I get a real sense of satisfaction looking at everything that my husband and I got done while reliving the joyful memories. I think about the ways in which I have grown over the past year. And I compare this year’s list with last year’s version to note material changes or trends.

With the results of those exercises in hand, I visualize where I’d like to be when another year has rolled by. I come up with lists of things I’d like to accomplish, experiences I’d like to have, things I’d like to learn, and areas in which I’d like to grow. These lists become my monthly guideposts as I plan activities throughout the year.

I’ve read compelling research that argues for the efficacy of translating such lists into actionable, measurable goals. But I’m at a stage in my life where I don’t feel compelled to put myself on that kind of program. Rather, I let my general inclinations set the course and give myself the freedom to simply enjoy the ride.

Merry Christmas!

A few years ago, I got up a head of steam and digitize ALL of the old family photos. There were hundreds of 35mm slides and an even greater number of prints. Thanks to the miracle of PhotoShop, I was able to restore the color to a lot of photos and correct some defects that had crept in… but it was major undertaking!

As I sifted through the photos, I was struck by how many pictures we had of the family sitting at the dinner table awaiting the serving of a holiday meal. There were dozens of them with the same faces and very nearly the same seating assignments. But for my brother and I aging through the years, you could hardly tell which picture went with which holiday or year!

christmas dinner

I love looking at the old photos and remembering the rituals that accompanied our preparations for the holiday feast:

  • Mom bought San Francisco sourdough French bread a week before the big day so that it could be dried out and made into breadcrumbs
  • Dad worked the meat grinder the night before Christmas as my brother and I took turns placing the ground pork, bread crumbs, onion, celery, and parsley into the funnel. That mixture would merge with a pound of butter on the stove top and be stuffed inside the turkey the following morning.
  • Mom made homemade cranberry jelly and a cranberry jello mold. (Yep – we all ate jello molds back in the day… and Mom’s version was pretty good!)
  • We got up early on Christmas Day to stuff the turkey and get it into the oven. Dad always insisted that we clean the kitchen thereafter.
  • Mom made the creamed spinach, mashed potatoes, and gravy to go with the rest of the fixings.
  • We had pumpkin pie with whipped cream for dessert.

Once I married and set up my own household, the Christmas feast moved to our place with Dad and Mom taking control of our kitchen to prepare the traditional meal. Spike’s family joined in the fun with gratitude for the delicious food and the break from cooking and cleaning up. I still helped out, but Dad and Mom were the chefs extraordinaire.

I’ve always meant to carry on the tradition once my parents turned in their aprons. But my packed schedule combined with the magnitude of the task have conspired against me. Besides, it has been so much easier being a guest at my folks’ continuing care community. The food is delicious, and someone else does all the work.

I’m a bit melancholy this year with the realization that my mother, brother, and I are the only ones left from all those years of family Christmases. I’m grateful to have lived near the extended family and had the opportunity to share holidays with them. I grateful for having parents who knew how to make those days really special. And I’m grateful for all those photos that captured the merriment… even when I looked like a total dork!

Here’s hoping you have a delightful holiday fill with joy, laughter, and memories that will last a lifetime.

Take Time for Self-Care

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about slowing down with a nod to Cheryl Richardson’s short essay on the benefits of boredom. That message still resonates loudly for me. Having just come through 2 straight weekends of performances (and all the rehearsals that go with them), I feel an intense craving for down time. Unfortunately, I still have a packed holiday schedule, so I may not satisfy my craving for a little while.

I’ve been thinking a good deal about what happens when my schedule gets congested. Chief among the outcomes is the noticeable absence of healthy self-care rituals:

  • rushingI didn’t make it to any of my yoga/taichi classes last weeks (and could sense how much my body tightened up as a result!)
  • I didn’t make it to the gym. Not even once!
  • I didn’t prepare my usual complement of healthy meals and had an unusual craving for salty, sweet, fattening offerings. Yep – comfort food was screaming my name!
  • I got home late several nights and was so wound up that I had trouble sleeping.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that these lapses are not good for my body or my immune system. And it’s an especially difficult time of year to put myself under this kind of strain given all the germs that are flying around. No wonder I’m feeling under the weather today!

We live in a culture that venerates hard-charging “warriors” who’s active in all kinds of things and gets lots of thing done. We look up to leaders who carry substantive responsibility for the world, their organizations, their people, and themselves. I like being someone who can run with the “big dogs” and carry a big load. And yet I recognize the toll that it takes … and I have had that flash of insight many, many times over the years! It’s time I either lighten the load or get others to help me carry it.

Don’t get me wrong! I’m incredibly blessed to have all of the wonderful opportunities that have come into my life. I love being active; I relish the relationships that come with membership in my various groups. It’s just long past time that I practiced moderation and delegation.

One of the side benefits of following a predominantly whole food plant-based diet is all the time spent in the kitchen chopping, slicing, dicing, and cooking. It forces me to step away from the hustle-bustle of life – generally with my husband as Sous-Chef – where I’m in a somewhat meditative state while basking in the aromas that waft through the air. It just takes a little bit of planning and a commitment to my role as Head Chef. And, of course, I get great food in that bargain.

Perhaps I should follow the sage advice of personal coaches everywhere – put self-care on my calendar and declare that time sacrosanct!

Slow Down!

Nearly 20 years ago, seven other ladies joined me in a year-long discussion group centered on Cheryl Richardson’s Life Makeovers: 52 Practical & Inspiring Ways to Improve Your Life One Week at a Time. Each week’s reading includes a short essay, a Take Action challenge, and a list of resources for further study. It’s a manageable way to effect change in your life even if your schedule is as congested as mine always seems to be.

Our little group was cobbled together by pairings of associations. We each knew at least one other person in the group, but we met others for the first time at our first luncheon. Within six months, we’d formed a tight-knit association that provided a solid base of support as we each experienced substantive life changes. It has remained intact over the years despite a scattering across the country.

This year, I decided to go through the weekly lessons one last time on my own before sending it off to the library resale store. (I’m gradually thinning out my bookshelves as part of my long-term downsizing effort.) Most of the lifestyle adjustments she recommends have been integrated into my life. Some are active long-term projects. And some stubbornly refuse to yield to her good advice.

slow downAs a case in point, I just finished reading the chapter entitled “The Benefits of Boredom.” She notes that in an adrenaline-fueled society, it can be really challenging to slow down and do nothing – especially if you’re someone who has become inured to being on-the-go all the time. Sitting still and doing nothing can be really uncomfortable. And yet it’s that quiet time that promotes physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

I’ve written posts previously on the deleterious effects of sustained stress on the body. I’ve also written several posts on the positive impact of a regular practice of meditation. I understand intellectually why it’s not helping me to operate with such a congested calendar all the time. I really notice it when I’m in the thick of an overbooked schedule and make promises to not let myself get caught up in it again. And yet, I find myself in that position repeatedly. A good friend has told me that she’s going to partner with my husband and call for an “intervention.”

Clearly, I don’t like the do-nothing feeling. That’s why I’ve had such difficulty settling into a meditation practice even though I know it would be good for me. But my circumstances also arise as a function of excitement over opportunities that present themselves. For example, I’m presently singing in two choirs and have a small role in a musical theater production… on top of work, parent care, book group, entertaining, and the usual household responsibilities. But I’d kick myself if I didn’t take advantage of them while I’ve got the energy and resources to do so.

That being said, life managed to give me a wake-up call last week. I received a traffic citation by mail for exceeding the speed limit in downtown Beaverton. In fairness, I didn’t realize that the 4-lane road on which I drive repeatedly has variable speed limits depending upon one’s proximity to the main downtown area. (Lesson learned!) But the message that I’m rushing around entirely too much has gotten through loud and clear. It’s time for me to take a step back and make more intelligent decisions regarding how I spend my time.

In truth, I have plenty of time for self-care and quiet contemplation if I would just pay closer attention to how I spend it. I can say “no” to things that are low priorities. I can watch less television. I can put placeholders in my calendar for soul-nourishing activities for which I do not feel rushed in their pursuit. I can pace myself with respect to performing arts opportunities so that I’m not booked solid in the evening. And I can opt for activities that might be fun for my husband and I to enjoy together… now that he is retired!

The holiday season brings both joy and a bit of craziness to most of our lives. This year, I’m giving myself the gift of peace and a promise to take things a little easier next year.

My Football Stadium of Relationships

I was never much into football in my youth. But when I joined a co-ed, intramural flag football team in college, I got totally hooked. All of a sudden, the Saturday collegiate and Sunday professional games made sense. In fact, during the first 25 years of our marriage, my husband and I were glued to the tube on Sundays watching football while eating mass quantities of popcorn. Those were the days!

So, when I started thinking about all of the relationships in my life, it was easy for me to think about them in the context of a football stadium and all the action that takes place on the field.

My “teammates” represent the most important relationships in my life. They’re the folks who’re on the field figuring out how we’ll reach our goals and doing the work to get there. They show up week-after-week, ready-to-go in all kinds of weather. We rejoice together when we make progress toward our goals. We keep one another motivated when we have set-backs. We pick one another up when we fall. And we don’t care how much mud we accumulate in the process.

I cannot do anything meaningful, challenging, risky, or great without “teammates.” And I can’t imagine relishing life as much as I do without them.

The “opposing team” might include challengers or challenges that we intentionally place on the field to stretch ourselves and perfect our skills and strategies. They might include “teammates” who temporarily fill that role to help us become better prepared to address the real thing. And they might include adversaries and adversities that we hadn’t anticipated and for which we need effective responses.

Opposition is not a bad thing. It creates opportunities to expand our horizons while making us smarter, stronger, more experienced, and more vibrantly alive. It also encourages us to deepen connection with our teammates.

My “coaches” are experienced teachers, trainers, observers, and subject matter experts who’ve played the game and know how succeed. They may excel at strategy, individual training, team building, or all of the above. They are passionately committed to crossing the goal line yet retain the professional detachment to render objective assessments and advice.

Having a coach is not a sign of weakness. It’s an indication that you take the game seriously and want to give yourself the right tools, training, and level-headed counsel to succeed.

In life and on the field, you need to be as adept at playing offense as you do defense. You may wind up having slightly different teammates and coaches to attain mastery in both disciplines. And these “rosters” will likely change many times over the course of lifetime.

Changes in lifestyles, circumstances, goals, shared interests, etc. have a ripple effect on everyone’s lives. If you’re lucky, a precious few will sustain key roles in your life over the years. Yet, you’ll always need to be engaged in community to attract people into your stadium (and be open to entering theirs!)

Everyone else hangs out somewhere in the stands. Some serve as a cheering squad to provide loads of encouragement during the game of life. Some occupy close-in seats so that they can keep a close watch on the action. Some sit farther afield and pay attention from time to time. Others sit in the end zone up in the second tier and spend most of their time talking to their friends while eating and drinking. They may plug in when something noteworthy occurs.

We all make varying investments in the people in our lives. And we all implicitly set expectations for how we expect folks to show up for us. We need to discern accurately where folks “choose their seats” in our stadiums and set our expectations accordingly. As such, we won’t work ourselves into a lather if someone doesn’t notice what’s happening on the field if they’ve opted to sit in the nosebleed seats and drink beer. Just bless them for showing up!

I reserve the right to deny access to my stadium. I’m good to go with constructive opposition that serves a useful purpose for all concerned. But I’ve come to a place in my life where I don’t need relationships that are chronically and incorrigibly negative. That’s my definition of a lose-lose proposition. And why go there?

As you look at your stadium of life, do you have all of the people you’d like to fill the positions you have available? If not, what are you prepared to do about it?

Woman’s Best Friend

Brodie as a puppyHappy birthday, Brodie! Our Scottish terrier turns 7 years old today. Hard to believe that a few short years ago he was an adorable little 8-pound pup. That cuteness still tugs at my heart strings.

My husband and I grew up with dogs as family members, but we didn’t add a furry member to our household until Fall 2011. At the time, my parents had a Scottish terrier named Angus whose care had exceeded their capabilities. So, Angus came to live with us. He was a really mellow dog who enjoyed hanging out with me in my home office and using my husband’s foot as a pillow when we gathered in the den to watch TV. We lost him 6 months later to lymphoma. I was heartbroken and really missed his companionship. We remedied the situation later that year with Brodie.

The Cascade Scottish Terrier Club posted a meme today on Facebook that declares: “All dogs are therapy dogs. The majority of them are just freelancing.” Those statements ring so true for me. We’ve had a difficult few years taking care of my elderly parents – watching their physical and cognitive capacities slip away as they’ve transitioned from independent living to various levels of assisted care. It has been challenging for all concerned. I’ve truly valued having a happy little guy who brings dozens of smiles to my face daily. He also models behaviors that I’d like to incorporate into my life.

He is intensely loyal to his tribe and relishes being with them. He greets us at the door with great enthusiasm whenever we’ve been separated. He wants to be where we are and keeps tabs on us as we move about the house. He loves to sit in my lap or lay down next to the sofa with his head on Spike’s foot. He monitors “intruders” (e.g., squirrels, cats, rodents) and lets us know that they’re on our property.

He’s a low maintenance fella yet knows how to get what he needs. His internal clock senses when it’s meal time; he turns on the charm to make sure that we know it, too! He has a clear and unobtrusive way of letting us know when he wants to respond to the call of nature. And when he needs cuddle time, he gives a look that melts the heart and opens the arms.

He welcomes guests as if they’re family. He LOVES people. Few things get him as excited as a new face at the door. He prances around to get their attention, graciously accepts scratches behind his ears, and runs around the lower level to disperse all that excess energy. He’s not great about detecting when visitors are lukewarm about canine companionship; he assumes that everyone will love him.

BrodieHe loves to play. He stands at the ready to play “chase,” to run around the back yard, or to take on the dreaded “blanket worm” (a.k.a. a moving hand beneath a padded blanket.) He can get so excited that you’d think he’d wag his tail off!

He works for pay. He knows quite a few tricks, but he won’t readily perform them unless treats are involved!

He gets plenty of rest and enjoys “alone time” in his crate. He takes comfort in having the protection of his crate when taking naps or nodding off for the night. He hangs out there when we’re gone unless a comfy spot under the dining room table beckons. He gets a good night’s sleep every night… well, unless there’s thunder or fireworks.

There are times when it’s a hassle having a dog. We’re restricted when going out, being mindful of attending to his basic needs. And we’ve got to arrange caregiving if we leave town for the weekend. But those are minor inconveniences in proportion to the joy he brings to our lives.

Yep. I love my dog.

Becoming Locavores

LOCAVORE: a person whose diet consists only or principally of locally grown or produced food

I feel really, really blessed to live in the Willamette Valley. Our summer weather is spectacular: not too hot, not too cold. We’ve got the Pacific Ocean out West and the Cascade Mountains to the East with lush farmland in between… and some calming forests for good measure. It’s a little slice of paradise.

We’re blessed with a wealth of famer’s markets throughout the Greater Portland Metro Area. We try to get to the Beaverton Farmer’s Market every Saturday during the Summer Market (May through October) and at least monthly during the Winter Market. I love being around all the organically grown fruits and vegetables, and I honor the hard work that goes into producing them. And though we’re mostly vegan, we do partake of the grass-fed beef and pork as well as free range poultry from time to time. Fresh food really does taste better. And it’s all available right on our doorstep.

Beaverton Farmer's Market

A friend joined us for our weekly Farmer’s Market visit. She noticed how much more we pay for all that food relative to the average grocer. Here’s why we do it:

  • The average meal in the United States travels 1,500 miles from the farm to the plate. That effort consumes a lot of fossil fuel (of which there is a diminishing supply) and pumps a great deal of carbon dioxide into the air (which is bad for breathing and has been linked to global warming). The growers who support the Beaverton Market live and work within 100 miles of their fruit and vegetables stands.
  • Because grocery store fruit and vegetables travel a substantial distance, they must be picked while unripe and then gassed to ripen during transport. It just doesn’t taste as good and may not be as nutritious. (To their credit, many of our local grocers are doing a better job sourcing produce from local growers.)
  • Factory farms that generate ultra-cheap produce may engage in practices that result in resource depletion, soil erosion, water and air degradation, and food contaminants (e.g., pesticide residue). By shopping at the Farmer’s Market, we get to know the farmers and the methods they use to grow their crops. It’s better for our bodies and better for the planet.
  • Farming is hard work; the advent of industrial farming has been economically brutal for the “little guy.” In 1900, 40% of the population lived on farms; today no more than 2% do. Just since 1960, the number of farms has declined from 3.2 million to ~2 million. We want to support the folks who are still committed to this work. We’re voting with our wallet!
  • I like having a weekly reminder of our need for exercising stewardship of the good earth that we’ve been given. As Wendell Berry says: “Agrarian farmers know that their very existence depends on their willingness to receive gratefully, use responsibility, and hand down intact an inheritance, both natural and cultural, from the past… The land is a gift of immeasurable value… It is a gift to all the living in all time.”

Won’t you join me at the farmer’s market?

The Perils of Overfunctioning

My last post brought me back to my experience as a hospital chaplain when I studied family system theory as part of my pastoral care education program. It also got me thinking about an important dynamic that has informed my behavior ever since.

As noted previously, I’m a fan of Dr. Ronald Richardson’s book Family Ties That Bind. A brief section on overfunctioning and underfunctioning hit home for me. He defines these terms as follows:

  • The overfunctioner tends to feel that there is no option but to take on the responsibility and do the work required.
  • The underfunctioner may feel incapable and so allow – or even expect – the other to be responsible, saying: “I can’t” or “You won’t let me.”

In healthy relationships, we take turns being the overfunctioner and underfunctioner… or simply function independently and cohesively without over or under doing it. But in unhealthy relationships, we can get stuck playing one role or the other. We may even allow that way of being to spill over into other relationships.

I’ve spent most of my life being an overfunctioner. I learned this behavior as a small child within the context of my family system. Part of it came from a strong family work ethic. Part of it had to do with gaining approval for achievement, which often entailed doing far more than my share of group efforts to ensure our collective success. Part of it had to do with a sense of responsibility for my mother’s emotional well-being (which she encouraged). Over the years, overfunctioning became a deeply engrained pattern.

really long to do listOf course, the world rewards overfunctioners. We’re praised for being strong, hard-working, responsible, get-it-done team players. We get promotions on the job because the higher-ups realize that we’ll make sure that our assignments and those of our subordinates will be completed… even if doing so renders us bone-weary. And we may feel a sense of pride in the skills that we develop and the work that we achieve along the way. But there’s a cost…

When we overfunction chronically, we hold other people small. We’re sending out the implicit signal that we don’t find them capable of doing their work. We’re not giving them the opportunity to step up and grow. And we’re creating a dependency that we may not be able to sustain. They may buy into this bargain and, in fact, enjoy being coddled. But in reality, we’re not doing them any favors long term.

Overfunctioning introduces tension in a relationship. No matter how noble our intentions might be at the onset, we may resent doing all the extra work and get irritable with the folks who we deem underfunctioners. And they may grow resentful of us for creating a dependency… even if they’ve agreed to it implicitly or explicitly. Furthermore, by failing to bring forth the richness of our compatriot’s wisdom and talents, we miss out on a level of greatness that accrues to a genuinely collaborative effort.

Overfunctioners can fall prey to pridefulness. We can feel as though our ways are the only ways. We may see ourselves as indispensable when, in reality, the world will continue to spin in its axis whether we participate in its daily rotations or not. Beyond the arrogance of it all, we can run ourselves into the ground keeping up with a needlessly hectic and overstuffed workload.

I’m hardest hit on my overfunctioning tendencies in volunteer roles. In most not-for-profit organizations, there are a handful of people who do a lion’s share of the work and a whole lot of folks who enjoy a free ride. I usually count myself among the lions, especially when I see the burden that the stalwart volunteers bear. However, I am learning to pace myself and do my share (and then some) and let others choose how much they’re willing to contribute. That may mean letting the organization come to terms with how much work it is willing to take on and how many things it is willing to let go undone.

It’s a life-long challenge for me… but I’m working it every day.

I’m Putting My House on a Diet

I am at an age where my peers and I are dealing with the passing on of our parents. This sorrowful period brings with it the responsibility to find homes for all of their belongings. While selected treasures comfortably fit in our ofttimes overstuffed residences, there’s still quite a lot to be processed and moved along to other owners. This activity has elevated my consciousness regarding our stuff.

houseI’ll confess that having a fair amount of space in our home makes it easy to accumulate excess baggage. Our ample closets and storage space help us avoid the difficult decisions about what to keep and what to let go. So, we put things in boxes, close the doors, and forget about them. Two self-funded cross-country moves helped us trim back on things. And yet a quick peek into our cubbies provides a reminder of how many possessions never see the light of day.

There is a practical dimension to combing through our belongings and purging what we don’t need. We plan to downsize in our next move. I don’t want to face the gargantuan task of sifting through all this stuff amidst a move, especially given the time and effort required to find good homes for everything. (I really don’t want perfectly useable items to wind up in land fill!) I also want to spare our executor the unpleasant task of dealing with excess belongings once we move along to the next emanation.

There is a financial dimension to the task of paring back. I’ve made a little bit of money selling items through eBay, Craig’s List, and yard sales. I’m not convinced that the proceeds merit the effort required to offer them up. The real benefit comes from taking a hard look at everything and taking note of how many purchases failed to deliver value. That realization helps me curb the impulse to spend.

There is a spiritual dimension to the process. According to the Chinese metaphysical art of feng shui, all matter radiates a living energy known as Ch’i. This energy finds resonance in the thing itself as well as the reactions, emotions, and memories that we bring to it. Feng shui practitioners leverage these invisible energy forces to harmonize individuals with their surrounding environment. In The Western Guide to Feng Shui, Terah Kathryn Collins tells us:

“Items that have unhappy memories or feeling attached to them, or that you simply don’t like, do not carry the vital Ch’i that is supportive of you. The fastest way to transform the aliveness of these objects into something that is fresh and welcome is to let them go. Sell, throw, or give them away! Your junk is put back into the flow, and may very well become another person’s treasure. The Ch’i has an opportunity to be recharged or recycled, while you enjoy the lightness of being that comes with lightening your baggage and surrounding yourself with things that have positive, happy associations.”

I put that concept to the test in a recent decision to replace our dining room set. I’d inherited 30+ years ago from my grandmother. I never liked it. I told myself that it was good furniture, and its presence meant that I would not have to buy a set myself. But after living with it all these years, I finally decided to get something that reflects my husband’s and my tastes. I’m excited about the new set and felt great about donating the old one to ReStore.

Meanwhile, I’ve started the process of going through the house room-by-room to identify things we don’t use or need. It’s tedious. Some decisions are easy; some aren’t. I may not be as ruthless as I ought to be on this go around. However, I’m planning on putting the house on a diet regularly to keep it – and us – in great shape!

Two Years of Blogging

I launched this website by asking myself the following question: What changes can I make today that will increase the likelihood that I’ll enjoy good health, strong mental acuity, a positive attitude, and warm social relationships as I age? I challenged myself to write a weekly post on that topic for 1 year. On my first anniversary, I re-upped the challenge for another year. And I’ve decided to re-up again.

I’ll confess. I usually grumble and groan when my self-imposed deadline crops up and I’ve got to come up with something about which to write. Most of the time, the task is also accompanied by a call to read a book and make it the focal point of my piece. Yet there have been clear benefits to taking up the mantle.

I’ve learned an awful lot about the human body and how it can be kept in good working order. For me, knowledge is power. Knowing how my body works provides the impetus for adopting healthy behavioral patterns. I’m also a far more effective dialog partner with medical professionals who are charged with my care. I ask better questions and press them (appropriately) for their rationale regarding treatment plans. In today’s environment, I believe wholeheartedly that we must become our own healthcare advocates!

I’ve developed a healthy skepticism for “nutritional experts” given the disparate advice served up by the panoply of published authors. To be sure, some advice finds resonance among them all – e.g., eat whole (not processed) foods, focus on high-quality protein, get plenty of servings of fresh fruits and vegetables, avoid sugar, drink water, etc. But there are some big differences in opinion – e.g., Paleo versus Whole-Food Plant-Based Diet aficionados. My approach: Lean into the evidence-based science, put my money where my mouth is (i.e., free range poultry, grass-fed meat, organic/non-GMO produce), and make my own food so that I’ll know what I’m eating.

I’ve explored the discipline of “change management” by understanding how the brain works, how habits are formed, and what strategies increase our likelihood of instituting healthy behaviors. I’ve realized that no matter how badly I want to get rid of bad habits or practice good ones, I diminish my ability to succeed unless I’m attentive to the ways in which I go on “autopilot” and develop concrete plans to disrupt those cycles.

I’ve read quite a bit about positive psychology along with research on what makes people healthy and happy over the long haul. The findings aren’t so much earth-shattering as helpful “litmus tests” against which to gauge how I’m currently living my life.

I’ve devoted a fair amount of attention to the enneagram, a personality typing system through which I’ve gained insights about myself and greater compassion and understanding for others. It’s a subject matter that I find interesting and useful.

I’ve read lots of books that espouse the benefits of healthy eating, regular exercise, restorative sleep, detoxification, deep relaxation (e.g., yoga, meditation), and de-stressing. Again – not earth-shattering news but well-worth the reinforcement.

I recognize the value of stimulating the intellect, pursuing meaningful work, and surrounding myself with loved ones and a caring community. It’s not just pleasurable; it’s good for the body!

While most blogging pundits serve up loads of strategies for promoting one’s sites and increasing readership, I’ve never once been concerned with pursuing those disciplines. I’ve never checked to see whether or not anyone reads what I write (although I hope they do!) Rather, I consider this practice a kind of “spiritual discipline” through which I pursue self-improvement. Absent the internal deadline of a weekly post, I probably wouldn’t be as proactive in learning new things and applying what I’ve learned.

What subject matter grabs your attention at a level that might spur a weekly blog post?