Beyond Diet and Exercise!

Over the years I have learned a lot about diet and exercise. I am, for the most part, conscious about what I eat. For the past year I have stayed away from simple carbohydrates (especially sugars in its many forms,) and gluten. It’s meant I have to forego some wonderful desserts, breads and pastas. But I have also dropped almost 15 kilos, I feel better, I have little back pain and pain in my knees and hips has all but gone. I have been going to the gym regularly as well, following a balanced program that uses free weights, exercise machines and cardio equipment to tone up my muscles. Someone commented jokingly at the beginning of the pandemic that we would come out of it as, chunks, monks, drunks or hunks. I’ve opted for the final option. No, I’m not going to be competing in any challenges or looking to participate in an Ironman competition. Nor am I trying to look like I drank at the fountain of youth; it’s a personal challenge to look the best that I can for myself, to be in the best physical condition and the best health possible for myself.

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I am not alone. There are many who extol the benefits of avoiding things that are detrimental to our bodies and all others in moderation. And there is no end to excellent information on-line with respect to improving and maintaining our physical health.

We are not just our bodies: we are also our minds. I have to ask myself, am I doing the same to build up my mind, and my thinking as I have done for my body? Do I seek out positive ‘foods’ for my mind, moderate some and avoid others? Am I making sure that I am exercising my brain by what I read, watch and listen to?

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I work hard to keep a strong and healthy body. Can I say the same for my mind? Do I guard my serenity and happiness with the same fervor as I wear a seatbelt and follow driving rules? Do I guard against the negativity that abounds in my social media as well as the news media? Do I protect my mind as well as my body? Do I allow random thoughts access to my head and give them access to peace of mind?

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For many people, the answer is an unfortunate no. Regardless of where we go, we see people ‘connected’ via their phones to social media. We have a moment of spare time and we dive into Instagram and Facebook, only to realize that an hour has gone by and we’re still scrolling the feed. Or we have the 24 hour news channel on the television playing in the background. Everywhere we are being bombarded by mostly trivial information. As I heard one person share last month, we have a device in our pockets that gives us access to all of the knowledge that humans have gained in the whole of history and we use it to look at videos of kittens.

If your body is important to you, then I suggest that you be as vigilant with your mind. It’s up to us to look after our physical health. It’s also up to us to look after our mental and emotional health. Be as discriminating about what you read and watch as you would with how you eat and exercise. I’ve discovered that I can get along just fine knowing about some of the facts that happen in the world. I don’t need to know all of the details. As much as we would like to see and read about more ‘good’ news, it’s not going to suddenly appear. We all know that breaking any of the ten commandments sells newspapers and attracts viewers. I can’t control what happens ‘out there’.

I have little control over what happens outside of my small circle of influence, and within, it’s pretty much a full-time job keeping track of my mind. Regardless of what’s happening around me, I can control what I let into my mind and how it affects my emotional state. Just because a thought comes into your head doesn’t mean you have to act on it.

I believe that we are integrated beings. I can’t focus on only one aspect of who I am, my body, and ignore my mental state. I am committed to work both my body and my mind with a steady diet of what’s good and positive, and exercising them both to keep me at my best possible condition. It’s my responsibility.

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Ever Forward

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We have left a year behind where we were battered and bruised on many fronts only to find that the first three weeks of 2021 haven’t been the panacea that people had hoped would end our global run of bad luck. There is a continued assault on our health that just won’t diminish despite the roll out of several vaccines against Covid 19 along with social isolation. And then we witnessed a deadly assault on a great bastion of democracy of the world. We need the wisdom of Solomon to discern what is true, what is spin and what is an outright lie from what we see, read and hear. And here, at home, three beloved pets of our Casa Nelda family have passed away in the last ten days. No, it’s not a very auspicious start to a new year by any means.

And yet, I do not despair. I know that in the cycle of life there is always balance; a tip of the scale one way is matched by something on the other side. A pendulum always swings back. There are many cycles of life ever spinning, spiraling, drawing intricate patterns on the notebooks of our lives. When we feel out of balance, in the times that challenge us and our values, we can use this time to strengthen our resolve or shift our course in order to restore the equilibrium. I have spent the last ten months looking deeply at who I am and what I believe. I have read over thirty books, followed a dozen course programs, and listened to countless podcasts and YouTube videos to create a better version of myself. I have taken to heart and soul Socrates admonition that, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

Am I perfect? Of course not. Am I satisfied with the results? Yes, though that does not mean that I am finished with myself. I now have a list of character traits that I aspire to. I also have three core values that have helped me to find purpose in my life. I am examining many of my beliefs and philosophies, challenging some, revising a few. I’m also chucking some beliefs that I are either no longer valid or never were true to begin with. Most importantly in all of this, I have come to realize the most fundamental aspect of my life: I am responsible for me; this is my life and making the most of this life is up to me, no one else.

“Ninety percent of the world’s woe comes from people not knowing themselves,
their abilities, their frailties, and even their real virtues.
Most of us go almost all the way through life as complete strangers to ourselves.”
Sydney J. Harris

I could look at my life and list countless things that have happened ‘to me’. I could blame my past, my parents, my geography, my sexuality, my race, my teachers, my partners, and my religion for feeling that I have not excelled in life, that I am not happy. I can find many excuses in so many categories for the mistakes I have made in life, the bad decision and the poor choices. But ultimately, I am responsible. Sometimes I said yes because I thought that is what other wanted me to do. Other times I gave permission to be used by others. I didn’t look before I leapt into unknown risks. Now, I have to acknowledge that I made those mistakes. I was the one who screwed up royally. Me! No one else. I am responsible. Sometimes I didn’t know better, because I didn’t do the needed research. Other times I was just lazy and allowed myself to be carried along by the flow of people, places and things. Often I didn’t make an actual decision and let happen what happened without realizing that not making a decision is really a decision in itself. In all cases, when things took me to places that were not to my liking, resulting in feelings I didn’t like, I had only one person to blame: the guy who stares back at me from the mirror.

So now the same guy is the guy who is working daily to improve himself, become a better version of himself. Yes. I am putting into practice what I am learning. I am moving my life forward. I am applying what I am learning in the courses. Like the gym membership card that so many buy in January won’t automatically confer the dream body, neither will all the self-help books, courses and videos make one iota of difference unless their suggestions are actually applied to one’s life. If I don’t make a change in my behaviour, it is guaranteed that my life will not change. And if things stay the same, I am the one who is responsible for the stagnation. However, if I do the work, then I can enjoy the fruits of those changes in my life.

This year may not have begun with the huge turn around that many hoped would miraculously happen. Changes don’t often come quickly. They plod along, step by step, day by day. When you change your course by one degree every day, in three months you are heading in a completely different direction. I can’t control the world, I can’t control other people. I can only exercise control over what I am responsible for: ME. And I am expecting great things of myself in the next twelve months!

Essentialism

“When we don’t purposefully and deliberately choose where to focus our energies and time, other people–our bosses, our colleagues, or clients and even our families–will choose for us and before long we’ll have lost sight of everything that is meaningful and important.” Greg McKeown, Essentialism

My life is sometimes not my own. It’s my own fault. I have several apartments that I look after. There is always something that needs to checked on or repaired. Tenants have reasons why the rent is late. The short term stay apartment has to be ready at a moment’s notice. There’s always the pool to vacuum, plants to water, decks to wash. It’s never ending. I can go from one task to the next and not stop. The big maintenance projects, well, they’ll just have to wait for another day. If I don’t watch it, my whole day is consumed with solving little things and not getting to or being too tired to start the things that I really need to do as well as things I want to do.

Life is like that. We go from one thing to the next and one task to the next without really thinking about it: I have to do it. And gradually the day is done and I haven’t accomplished but half of what I wanted to do.  Greg McKeown in his book Essentialism suggests that if we are going to get to do what we really want then we must begin by deciding what is important to us. What is it that I value? What am I trying to accomplish here? What are my goals and where do I want them to take me?

Few people take the time to sit down and make this evaluation. As it often goes, we spend 80% of our time doing things that are not important to us, not essential,  and 20% of our time, if that, doing what is. Everyone will ask us for our time and our talents. There are always going to be little fires to put out here and there. It would probably be a better solution to discover the source of those little fires in the first place.

Essentialism often means saying, ‘No!’ I can’t be everything to everyone. Yes I want to be the nice guy and help out but if it’s not important to me and if it’s not my responsibility, I have to ask myself, just why I am doing this? If it is taking my focus away from my priorities then I can say no to joining yet another committee, or going organizing another office function. And yes, the first time I give a firm no! I may ruffle a few feathers, especially if I have always been the one to say yes. But sticking to the essentials will allow me to use more of my time to on my priorities.

I would rather do one thing well than divide my attention and try to do several things just okay. Perhaps that’s the reason why I am running around trying to solve a whole lot of little problems. Rather than let work, friends, and even family decide where I want to focus my energy, I purposefully and deliberately choose where I will focus my energy.

Essentialism won’t solve all the challenges in life. There will always be things that broadside us when we least expect them. But if we have the majority of our lives organized then the chances of it knocking us of our balance are much less. In the end it will help me to accomplish much more.

What’s important to you?