Money, Self-improvement

As you may already know, I like audio books just as much as the regular old printed versions. And you may also know that I am pretty thrifty (some may some cheap, how dare they) with money. I once had an Audible account, but found that I had credits accumulating (back when accounts were credit-based) and I didn’t have the time to listen with my steady stream of podcasts. I cancelled the Audible account a few years ago to save a few bucks, but still enjoy having an audio book to listen to, especially on dog walks or long car rides.

After saudio book listenome research I discovered my local library’s digital audio and e-book program. The county library here is hooked up to two different on-line library sources (Libby and Palace), which means I can check out an audio book, listen to it on my phone, then the book gets removed from my account when it’s due. I don’t have to remember to return anything,and I can borrow countless books; it’s a win-win (the marvels of technology!).

The downside is that I don’t get to listen to any book I want. Extremely popular or new books usually have wait lists and long hold times. There are also quite a few books they don’t carry in their “stacks.” The upside to this, however, is that I’m often forced to find a book on a new topic or a different author that I normally wouldn’t pick out. That being said, I’ve picked a few duds over the years, but all I have to do is press “Return book” and it goes back to its virtual shelf. The vast majority of books I’ve chosen from the “Available Now” column have been really great reads, some I never would have considered checking out.

Here are a few of both non-fiction and fiction that I’ve enjoyed over time and that you might too:

Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty. This guy is definitely having a moment right now and good for him! Shetty’s story is interesting because he was a regular old Brit just starting his career but decided that the corporate grind was not for him, so he went to India and became a Buddhist monk. He realized along the way that he could help people more by telling them about his experiences and skills he learned by living a monk’s life. His story and tips are worth the read (or listen).

Educated by Tara Westover. This fascinating account and memoir is about the author growing up in rural Idaho with her doomsday-prepping family of devout Mormons. Her parents did not believe in the establishment or traditional education, but Westover perseveres to educate herself and live beyond the confines of her small world. Her stories are incredible and heart-breaking at times while also causing you to think about the effects our families have on us, long-term, and the choices we must make because of that.

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. We all know that Oppenheimer’s story has been a popular subject lately with the release of the film. I decided to listen to the biography first and then watch the movie (which I still need to do). This audio book is twenty-seven hours long! It felt like a part-time job listening to it, but I finished it and I’m glad I did. Oppenheimer’s life and story is interesting and profound. The quest of science in the larger scheme of war and the fallout from that is serious food for thought. If you’re driving across the country and have twenty-seven hours to kill, this one will keep you occupied.

101 Essays That Will Change the Way You Think by Brianna Weist. Most books that have some type of claim in the title turn me off, but this one ended up being a definite winner. Wiest’s essays are short but succinct, and really do make you change the way you think! Some include choosing purpose over passion, embracing negative thinking, and why so many of us can’t attain happiness. I bought this in paper form after I listened to it so I can re-read an essay from time to time.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson. This historical fiction is set during the 1930’s in Kentucky after the New Deal. Women (who did not have many job prospects at the time) were hired to deliver library books via horseback to rural folks who could not access a library. The story features the blue-skinned people of Kentucky (an actual medical phenomena) and what one woman who is a “Blue” has to endure as a traveling librarian in the mountains of Appalachia with prejudice, fear, and sometimes unexpected kindness.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. This novel is by the same author of Gone Girl (which I did not read). Thriller/suspense is typically not my preferred genre. The story and plot of Sharp Objects is pretty disturbing and bizarre overall, but if you want a book that will keep the pages turning, or audio rolling, this fits the bill.

The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams. Part of the reason this novel interested me is because the author carries out two stories in different centuries about an infamous dictionary that is central to the plot. It was a weird, funny, and different kind of novel. It also satisfied the word nerd in me.

book heartSkip good old Amazon and go to your library’s website to see what kind of audio and e-books programs they offer. It opens up a whole new world of print and audio. And the best part, it’s FREE!



Self-awareness, Self-improvement

This may sound silly, but I had never heard of the term “moonshot” before. Given all of the reading I have done for degrees in English, you would think I would know that one, but I didn’t. At first guess I would’ve said, “something having to do with the moon and space, and maybe an unlikely event,” and I would’ve been partly right. As it turns out, there are three definitions of the word according to Oxford Languages (via a Google search), and they involve launching a spacecraft to the moon, an astronautambitious and innovative project, as well as a home run that is characterized by its height (really never heard that one).

I mention this because I recently listened to an interview with Mike Massamino whose latest book is entitled, Moonshot: A NASA Astronaut’s Guide to Achieving the Impossible. After listening to the interview, I got the gist on what a moonshot is, but what was more interesting was some of the lessons he learned while in NASA and throughout life. Here are a few:

Keep trying even if you keep failing. Massamino had to apply to the space program four times, and he almost didn’t make it, but becoming an astronaut was his dream and he was determined to see it happen. The first two times, he was not accepted into the program; then, on the third try, he failed the eye exam, which meant he was basically out of the running. He didn’t need glasses (which weren’t allowed for astronauts and would have disqualified him anyway), but discovered that he had to undergo vision therapy to fix his vision issues, which was unknown at the time (and still fairly is). He didn’t give up though. He completed vision therapy over a year’s time and passed the eye exam so he applied again. Finally, on the fourth attempt, he was accepted into the space program. Most people would’ve given up after the first or second try, and the rest fail arrowwould certainly have by the third with a failed eye exam and no way to fix it, but he didn’t. He says that even you are rejected multiple times and your dream seems like it will never happen, do not give up. To Massamino, not trying is the real failure.

Allow yourself 30-seconds of remorse and no more. Massimino learned a new method among his fellow astronauts for dealing with mistakes and to help him not dwell on the negative. If you mess up, make a mistake, or do something wrong, give yourself 30-seconds to berate yourself, call yourself names, and confirm all the fears and judgments about yourself; then, after those 30-seconds, let it go, and don’t revisit it again. Done and done. He says that we all make these mistakes (and in space they can be life-threatening), but we need to move on from them, and not constantly replay them in our heads. We grow from our mistakes by learning from them in an objective way, not by putting ourselves down and continually making ourselves feel worse.

Appreciate where we live. On Massimino’s second spacewalk, while on the moon and waiting for another astronaut to complete a task, he had the opportunity to stop and look around more. As he did, he saw our planet from a completely different perspective than from the window of the space shuttle. The delicate blue ring of our atmosphere and its fragility, the beauty of it and the Earth itself made him realize that, in his opinion, this place, our planet, is our own private heavearth-spaceen. Looking in one direction, he saw complete darkness, and in the other, the ball of fire that is the sun. From that experience, he said that he’s “checked out the neighborhood, and there is nothing around, it is only our planet.”

Seeing it firsthand and knowing what we have here on Earth makes him appreciate it each day, from the awesome aspects of nature to the incredible inventions of man. He thinks that the appreciation of living on this planet can help sustain us each day. “The planet itself is a precious place. It is a paradise for us to live on. There are opportunities for happiness, and love, and friendship, and for us to just enjoy it.” He would know; he went beyond Earth!  Not many of us can have such a perspective.

He ends the interview by encouraging the audience to continue to pursue their moonshot, whatever it may be. He is living proof that it’s possible, and he wants us all to have the courage to do the same. (Knowing the definition of that word now, I’ll keep trying!)

Health & Diet, Kids, Self-improvement

The latest book I’m reading, Life Lessons from a Brain Surgeon by Rahul Jandial, MD offers many interesting facets into the brain, along with recounts of exciting and harrowing brain surgeries. One somewhat practical section covers creativity – how it comes to be and how we can harness it.

First, he debunks the “right brain/left brain myth” (as he calls it) which is the idea that the right side of the brain is the “creative side” and the left is the “logical/analytical” side, and that each person tends to favor one side over another. He says headsthat each hemisphere does have a particular focus, but that creative people are more “right-brained” and “left brained” are more logical is not true. Stating a study that involved reviewing over a thousand MRI brain scans, it was determined there is no greater strength of each hemisphere per individual. Dr. Jandial’s sums it up, “In other words, math geeks and computer programmers use both sides of their brain equally, as do painters and poets.”

Knowing this, how do we come up with creative ideas or novel notions to write the next book, figure out the best way to perform a task or solve a problem? The brain surgeon and researcher has some recommendations:

  • Jandial’s first suggestion is just let your mind wander. He says that the brain should not be likened to a computer, but to an overgrown garden. In his opinion, “mind-wandering through your own garden of thoughts, memories, feelings, andovergrown garden path desires is a sure way to discover your inner creative self.” Science backs this up by again studying MRI scans that show connections between different areas of the brain when engaging in day dreaming. He says that creativity requires “a balance between homing in and spacing out, between mastering material and going off on a tangent.” So, go ahead and stare off into space. It’s good for you!
  • His second recommendation is to simply let kids play (and adults too). Unstructured play as children is a “boon to later creativity.” Imaginary gakids playmes and free play allow kids to explore all kinds of different worlds and ideas that they wouldn’t necessarily discover while staring at a tablet or going to a structured karate class. And adults can benefit too. Play (in however you define it) allows a freedom that we don’t experience while blindly watching TV or continuously checking email.
  • And while we’re all playing, Jandial says to do it outside because nature has a place in nurturing creativity. He stated an experiment in which a psychologist took both men and women, and had half take a test of creativity before a 4-6 hour backpacking trip, and the other take the test after. Those who took it after being in nature scored 50% higher. But Jandial says you don’t have to spend hours hiking in order to harness creativity, simply taking a walk outside will do help. “A little exercise, some fresh air, the passing of the seasons: it’s all fuel for your creative brain.” (He also added that Einstein would walk over a mile and a half to his office at Princeton each day).

His final note is that boosting creativity has a common thread, “to break the routine and spend more time goofing around.” He is aware that this is not the easiest thing to do, but asserts, “human beings are not automatons. We are called for heart-braingreater things.”

Jandial’s recommendations are good reasons to put the phone down, to get off the couch or behind the desk, and simply have fun – be it in a wondrous daydream, walking around the block, or playing some ridiculous made-up game with your kid. Your creative brain will thank you for it!

Health & Diet, Self-awareness, Self-improvement

Sleep, thatinsomnia darn elusive thing that only gets more challenging as we age; how do we get enough of it, especially when it evades us at 3AM? This is a question I’ve been pondering between two and five in the morning for the last few years. The frustration, exhaustion, and anger I’ve felt from time to time during my bouts of insomnia have almost sent me over the edge.

And the tips I’ve read over and over don’t help because I do them all with no great change. Have a dark room – check, no screens in your bedroom – check, make sure the temperature isn’t too hot or cold – done that, use earplugs if sounds bother you – inserted and mostly deaf. By the looks of it, in my “cave” (as my husband calls it), you would think my pillow-over-my-head, eye mask, ear plugs, fan going, womb-like conditions would be perfect to sleep an entire night through, but no, that’s not often the case.

Recently, while waiting for my daughter to peruse every book in a used bookstore, I came across Say Goodnight to Insomnia by Gregg Jacobs, Ph.D. He claimed that his six-week program is “proven more effective than sleeping pills.” I’ve read books on sleep and insomnia before and didn’t find them that useful, but decided to give this one a try anyway. Surprisingly, I found some interesting and helpful tips and information. Here are a few you may not know:

Body Temperature and Sleep – our body temperature rises and falls throughout the day. It is lowest in the morning, then increases as the day progresses, with the highest reached at 6pm for most people. A few hours later, it drops until we fall asleep. This circadian rhythm of body temperature is linked to our activity levels during the day as well. We can help our bodies maintain this rhythm by exercising or engaging in activities that raise our body temperatures so they will decrease later in the evening. Typically, when exercise is suggested to help with sleep, many of us assume that it’s to release pent-up energy, which it probably is on some level, but it is more to do with one’s body temperature, and the necessary rise and fall of it in order to promote sleep (along with light and dark exposure).

According to Jacobs, people who get little to no real physical activity on a regular basis can have more trouble sleeping because their body temperature does not fluctuate very much. And even that nightly bath or shower can help because, not only is it often relaxing, the hot water will warm the body. Then, as the body quickly cools down, it drops to sleeping temperature faster (that’s no excuse to avoid exercise though).

Core Sleep – five and a half hours is the magic number of Z’s in order to have daytime performance not “suffer significantly.” Jacobs says that we might not feel the greatest with that amount of sleep, but we can still function. He also adds that we cat yawnoften need less than we think: “Sleep is similar to food in that our body also needs a core amount of food to function. Most individuals, however, eat more than their core requirements to feel good.” I can honestly say that I do not feel good with only five and a half hours of sleep, but at least I know now that I can get through the day (although with probable “mood impairment,” he notes).

He also says that most insomniacs are getting more sleep than they think. If you feel like you’re tossing and turning all night, you might be awake for periods of time, but during others, you’re actually sleeping. And if you don’t get the core sleep you need one night, Jacobs claims that your brain will do everything possible to get it the next. He says, “the brain compensates by producing an increased percentage of deep sleep and dream sleep, which also explains why we don’t have to recover all the sleep we lose.”

Mind over Matter – in essence, Jacobs thinks that insomnia for short periods of time, during stress, grief, or major life changes (like having a baby) is normal. However, when those periods stretch out into a chronic problem, it’s our thoughts and behaviors driving it. I know that once I started waking up at 4am and not getting back to sleep after, I then feared it happening again, which led to me worrying about it at 4am, and inevitably, I couldn’t get back to sleep because I was obsessing about it. He says the solution is to recognize these thoughts (Negative Sleep Thoughts) and change them.

Like anything, that’s easier said than done. It’s hard to break out of ingrained thoughts when you can do nothing but hope and pray that sleep will come. The lack of control of it is what kills me and is exactly what Jacobs says we need to let go of. But when I’m tired and excessively cranky day after day, it’s exceptionally hard to change that. I often need a reset by going to bed early in the evening (which he advises against because it will interrupt our body’s rhythm).

I certainbear sleep treely have not solved my insomnia problem entirely, but his book taught me a few things I did not know about sleep and how I can help myself when I can’t get it. It is certainly a work in progress for me, but I do feel better off than I did a few months ago. If only I could sleep like my son who literally closes his eyes and stays asleep all night, almost nothing wakes him, and he comes downstairs in the mornings refreshed and energized.

Ah, “to sleep, perchance to dream…”

Health & Diet, Self-improvement

5 billard ballThat title is a little misleading, I’ll admit, but during my latest library book reading journey (yes, a library book, my dentist acted like I was holding an ancient artifact – “is that a…library book?” he asked) – excuse that digression – I came across Mel Robbins and her 5 Second Rule (The 5 Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage). In a nutshell, she claims that whatever your goals are, your fear to act, your anxiety, all can be helped by the 5 Second Rule. (And it has nothing to do with the rule of eating something off the floor within five seconds.)

It’s simple to do, whenever you’re faced with procrastination (to exercise, work on a project, get out of bed) or if you’re afraid to act upon an impulse (introduce yourself to a new person, speak up in a meeting or in class, ask for a raise) you start a countdown of 5-4-3-2-1, then physically move in some way, and do the thing! She writes, “Legendary psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi applied this concept to human behavior, blaming activation energy as one of the reasons why making change is so hard. He defines activation energy as that ‘initial huge push of energy’ that is required to change whether it’s to get a stalled car to move forward or yourself out of a warm bed in the morning.”

According to Robbins, the countdown and physical movement interrupts the part of your brain that is unmotivated, afraid, or stuck and will create that “activation energy” to start whatever you’re avoiding. For her, it began with just getting out of bed in the morning. She was in a tough life situation being unemployed, her husband’s restaurant businesses were doing poorly, they were deep in debt, and had two young children. She avoided life each day by hitting the snooze button multiple times every morning, then she would rush out of bed at some point, get her kids to school late, and start a stressful day of not facing her problems, ending with alcohol in the evenings to block it all out. She lived this way for a long time and beat herself up about it. But after seeing a rocket take off on TV and hearing the countdown, she did that to herself the next morning – counted down from 5 to 1 then leapt out of bed.

For her, that small step proved to herself that she could do it, and she slowly started using the 5 Second Rule in all areas of her life: to find a job, to face their debt, to cut down on self-medicating her problems away, and to work on her goals. According to Robbins, she changed her entire life by using the Rule. She says, “What I discovered is powerful: pushing yourself to take simple actions creates a chain reaction in your confidence and your productivity.”

In the book, there is testimonial after testimonial about how the Rule has helped thousands of people accomplish their goals, move past fear to move forward in life, fulfill unreachable desires, or quit a bad habit. She writes, “That’s the power of everyday courage. When your heart speaks, honor it, 5- 4- 3- 2- 1- and move. One moment of courage can change your day. One day can change your life.”

As usual, however, that is easier said than done, but according to her, that little initial action will start a chain reaction. I tried it and it did help get me get off my butt and do things I didn’t feel like doing. But, of course, my brain found a workaround and negotiated not starting the countdown because I would have to get moving once I did. I guess she would tell me to stop doing that before I even start, but it is hard to change. I read her book over a month ago and have conveniently forgotten that the Rule even exists many times since. Still, if I remind myself, it really can help, not only procrastination, but with anxious thoughts too.

Robbins was extremely impossibleafraid of flying for most of her life, but realized that if she applied the Rule once an anxious thought entered, then physically moved her body to interrupt her brain, along with picturing an “anchoring thought,” a future scene she was looking forward to (for example, flying home to her family and picturing them all eating dinner together once she got back), she was able to beat this overwhelming fear. She says she doesn’t even think about her flying worries anymore. “Everyday life is full of moments that are scary, uncertain, and difficult. Facing these moments and unlocking the opportunity, magic, and joy in your life requires tremendous courage.” For her, the 5 Second Rule forced her to face those moments and in doing so, found herself being courageous. “The more that you practice acts of courage, the more that you will believe you are in control of your life, and as a result, the more confident that you will become. Even when what you need to do scares you to death, the Rule helps you take courageous action.”

So, give it a try the next time you’re faced with uncertainty, procrastination, or just plain old laziness, and let me know if it works for you. In the meantime, I will 5-4-3-2-1 myself onto my next task.

Gratitude, Self-awareness, Self-improvement

My favorite Yogi tea (Vanilla Spice – Perfect Energy) had this message for me recently: “Happiness is an accomplishment.” This led me to question the elusive state called happiness that we continuously seek in one way or another. I’ve been trying to just “be happy” for most of my adult life. happy teaWhat job would make me happy? What material item could do it? How much more money do I need to reach that place and stay there?

Here are a few things that I have picked up over time about happiness.

Happiness is a temporary state. We can never reach the final destination of happiness and live there permanently (unless, I guess, we cease to exist). It’s transitory. I always thought that if I did the right things, then I would be happy. And my husband has often said, “I just want you to be happy,” as though it were something I could turn on and keep on. Happiness doesn’t work that way. It isn’t constant; each moment can be a happy one or not. The good old Dalai Lama says, “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions,” and I believe this is true. We cannot depend on others for it, nor can we expect it to last forever. It’s up to us to create it, regardless of what is happening around us.

Happiness is also a practice. It’s work – all the time, every day. And that’s okay. By adding up all those little things that make us happy (for me some are: a hot shower, sleeping in, a delicious piece of dark chocolate, watching or reading a good story, or when my family is enjoying an experience together), we’re able to identify these little times of joy. And if we multiply them, then we might just find that we are, well, happy, for now anyway. The Dalai Lama’s buddy, the Buddha, says “There is no path to happiness. Happiness is the path.” That might be a little tougher to swallow, or understand, but my interpretation is that we’re in charge of creating that path and we must forge it with each step.

We do this by accepting that happiness is an illusory destination. There is nosmiley-and not promised land to arrive at after fighting through the long journey, instead we create or experience the happy moments day in and day out, and be grateful for each of them. (In the words of the Mandalorian, “This is the way.”)

We won’t ever reach that point where, finally, we’re happy (though part of me still wants to believe that). We will have some good moments where we feel it, then some that are really far from it too. So, if my Yogi tea bag is correct, then happiness truly is an accomplishment, but one that we can’t hold onto forever. As summer is upon us with our fantasies of the perfect sunny season, maybe we try enjoying the little things instead: warm weather, time with kids on break (the good parts), a vacation from the grind, or savoring a glass of something yummy.

And we can remember the words of Ellen DeGeneres: “Do things that you make you happy, within the confines of the legal system.” Smart, and practical too.

Parenting, Self-awareness, Self-improvement

Procrastinate – who doesn’t do it? (Well, there are a few absolute “self-starters” out in the world and they’re annoying.) Almost all of us procrastinate in one way or another; some of us do it for nearly everything, some do it for a few things. The impetus of this blog post actually came from my procrastination to write one! (As well as the lack of ideas) And for those now-later signwho are parents, how many times do you ask your kid to pick up his shoes that cover the floor only for the disinterested child to grunt, “I’ll do it later.”

Any human at almost any age will procrastinate and it’s hard to break out of the mindset, especially when it’s ingrained (because who voluntarily jumps up to do weekly chores), but for those who have an extremely difficult time completing a task or a project, there are theories and ideas out there to help.

After a discussion between moms expressing their discontent about kids not doing homework, my friend sent out a video from her educational resources regarding procrastination (thank you, Julie P).

The gist of the video is that procrastinators are not lazy, instead they are avoiding a task because of the negative feelings that come up (I know, this could be debated, some certainly appear lazy). Here are some reasons why people procrastinate:

– They are disorganized and don’t schedule their tasks well (including their possessions), so it is hard to even think about getting

– They are overwhelmed by the enormity of a task or project. They see the big picture as too intimidating. Instead of breaking it down into small parts to accomplish one by one, they give up before they begin. (I’ve certainly reached a halfway point in an organization project only to feel hopeless and surrounded by too much stuff.)

– They are perfectionistic. The fear of failure looms large and they would rather not complete the task because they might do it imperfectly or receive criticism. (Been there many times.)

– They are distracted. They find other things to do or are intentionally distracted by other tasks because they don’t like the one they have to complete (aka most kids regarding homework, chores, calling grandma, anything that keeps them from what they want to be doing).

So, what’s the magic solution? Inserting a few microchips into the person’s brain and controlling them remotely, of course! (That really was a joke.) But since that will probably be frowned upon, the next suggestion if you’re procrastinating is to take “One Small Action.”

To do this, first, stop calling yourself lazy or unproductive. Acknowledge whatever feelings you have (boredom, frustration, fear) and accept that they are there. Apparently, we tend to procrastinate on the same things over and over. Notice what comes up when you think about doing a task, even if it’s, “I don’t feel like it.” And then…

Take one small action, not matter what it is, to begin the task or project. People who completed one small action were 66% successful in completing a task, versus those who attempted to simply change their feelings about it (33% successful). The idea is that completing one little thing leads to action which begets more action.

Most have heard the suggestion that to motivate yourself into exercising, simply put on your workout clothes or sneakers. Or get out the yoga mat and put it on the floor. Once it’s there, you might as well go ahead and do it. For kids, it might be getting out the homework and laying it out on the table, opening the laptop, or bringing up the assignment. The idea is not to plan anything out, just do one small step involved in the task.

This tactic typically works for me. If I start something, even in a tiny way, it might take some time, but I will complete it (like this blog post!), but kids can be tough. Needing “breaks” and never getting back to the task is common in my house. My suggestion would be setting timers and having some kind of reward for the completion of said task (that works for my own lack of desire to begin again).

Here is the full video (short and to the point) if you want to see it for yourself: Procrastination Video

oscar-wilde-smallGood luck to all of us procrastinators out there.  As Oscar Wilde said, “I never put off till tomorrow what I can possibly do – the day after.”

Self-awareness, Self-improvement

“Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure,” that’s according to Tony Robbins (I went down an internet rabbit hole and ended up watching Tony Robbins videos). He gave examples of people who earn lots of money, achieve big goals, or overcome obstacles only to think, “now what?” Many of us have done the same. We were faced with a problem or a abundancechallenge, set the goal, succeeded, then felt a little empty after, or possibly disappointed,  because “now what?”

Here are five things that “Tony says” leads to a fulfilling life. They are tasks, some performed daily, that would ultimately begin a practice which would fulfill you on a regular basis. Here they are in no particular order:

1) Feed your mind (20 minutes/day). I assume this means reading, watching, or listening to something that involves new learning, instead of the regular habit of scrolling through social media or filtering through email. I have the intention to read on a daily basis; and that often doesn’t happen. Twenty minutes a day seems possible, even if it’s broken up into two ten-minute intervals. That can be done while eating lunch, waiting in line, or during an extended bathroom break!

2)  Strengthen your body (20 minutes/day). This is another one that we have to set aside the time for and be intentional about, or else we’ll never do it consistently. I do a 25-minute cardio workout first thing in the morning (even when I really don’t want to), and the benefits are obvious. I feel accomplished, there is a nice endorphin rush, and I burned some calories. The incentive here is not just keeping weight off, though. Using your body and making it work not only makes you feel good; it also contributes to its longevity. I see countless older people who can’t do many of the basic things they used to because they simply don’t do them anymore. It’s worth it just to keep our bags of bones strong and moving!

3)  Find a mission bigger than yourself. This one can be tough. As a culture we’re not often taught to think bigger than ourselves. Instead it’s: work hard, earn as much as you can, and keep it for yourself. But that mindset usually leads to selfishness, jealousy, and a sense of lack (because you always need more). Many people focus on their families and raising their kids to be good humans (I try to anyway), but we can think even bigger. Are there any national or global problems that bother you? Are there any small ways you can help, even locally? How can you do something about it in a way that works for you?

4)  Have a role model. This one is also difficult, especially for adults, but it’s possible. I can’t think of any prominent role models I’ve had, but maybe there is something to it. We can aspire to be like someone we admire, or motivated by their life’s accomplishments, which creates a positive influence. That person doesn’t need to be someone you know, or would ever even meet, only a figure who demonstrates specific qualities or has achieved things that you would want too. It’s worth thinking about.

5)  Always know that there is someone worse off than you, and that person has overcome their hip-hop-1209499_640own obstacles. Sometimes thinking about other people and their bigger problems makes me feel petty and small about my own (i.e. my “first world” problems). But, good or bad, we all have issues; that is the nature of life. And maybe if we focus on the perspective that other people have faced problems, similar or even worse, and they got through them, we can too. It might just be the little lift we need to feel better or keep going.

So there you have it, five things to help us feel fulfilled.  I’m going to put them on a post-it note on my fridge, then try to do at least a few. I welcome you to try them too. Best of luck!

Health & Diet, Self-improvement

Your first question after reading the title above might be, HOW? Who cares about all the details, the answer to HOW is the most pressing. So, short answer – eat within a designated set of hours, go to bed and wake up at decent times (without the assistance of a screen), and moderately exercise. There you go, it’s that easy! Or is it?

I recently finished the book The Circadian Code by Satchin Panda, PhD, a professor and researcher of biological studies. According to him and his many hours of research (along with others), he has studied the positive and negative effects that occur when we live within or outside of our circadian rhythms. He says all animals (humans included) have three: eating, sl3clockseeping, and activity. And living according to them is better for your health overall, including maintaining or losing weight, and getting beneficial sleep.

The first, eating, means you maintain all of your meals within a Time Restricted Eating (TRE) schedule. (Some may know this as intermittent fasting.) With TRE, the goal is to consume everything within 8-12 hours. That means from your first bite or sip in the morning to your last in the evening, except for water or herbal tea (others think black coffee and unsweetened creamer not exceeding fifty calories is acceptable in the morning before your first meal, but no nightcaps or that evening glass of wine, sorry).

Panda says the more you can restrict the time (to eight hours for example), the more weight you will lose. He has observed two people eating the same diet, one sticking to a TRE schedule and one not; the one with the schedule lost weight (even without a specific low calorie or low fat diet). This weight reduction happens over time, however, no ten-pound losses in a week, but as your body gets accustomed to this timeframe, you will start to shed pounds.

My husband started a new diet and exercise program, which involves eating specific types of food on different days (i.e. a low carb day, a macro day, etc), but a key part of the program is sticking to an eight-hour eating window. It has worked for him. He’s lost weight and inches, while gaining muscle (doing their targeted workouts). [Unfortunately, for someone like me who gets migraines from not eating for long periods of time, eight hours is unrealistic (I tried and got a migraine on two different occasions). I can do a 10-12 window fairly easily, however.]

Panda says that your stomach needs 12-13 hours of rest each night. During that fast, mostly while sleeping, your digestion slows and other important processes take place. Eating (or drinking anything but water) at night is especially bad for you because, as the author says, “the kitchen is closed,” and your gut is not prepared to start working again. As a result, that late night snack sits in your stomach until morning, often resulting in indigestion and acid reflux throughout the night.

The second circadian rhythm, that many of us know best, is sleeping. Besides the pain of jet lag or daylight savings, our bodies need a set number of scheduled hours of sleep each night (roughly 7-9) and it must be “quality sleep.” That means limited light exposure and few interruptions. Blue light from screens keeps our brains awake. They cause us to produce melanopsin instead of melatonin at night (the first is a light receptor in our eyes that wakes us up, the second is the hormone that induces sleep).

According to Panda, a full 7-8 hours of sleep a night is the time needed for the brain to do its work of storing memories and repairing itself. He recommends keeping devices out of the room, sticking to a schedule of similar bed/wake times, and wearing an eye mask if the sun wakes you up. Kids and teens especially need these important hours of sleep (and more for younger children) as their brains are rapidly developing.

Probably no need to go to this extreme!
Probably no need to go to this extreme!

The final part of the “code” is activity. Panda says that exercising before your first meal will burn body fat, not the meal you just ate. Doing so outside in the morning offers good sun exposure and wakes our brains up faster. As an added bonus, exercising will stave off hunger for a few hours, allowing you to fast a little longer. It also improves brain health (along with countless other benefits that I won’t list here).

So, to summarize Panda’s recommendations to “maintain a robust clock and maintain brain function,” as well as staying healthy, losing weight, and possibly sleeping better:

  • Get adequate sleep (according to a predictable schedule) with limited light exposure
  • Consume all meals within a time-restricted-eating schedule (TRE)
  • Exercise
  • Get exposure to daylight each day

I know that all four of those are often easier said than done, since our modern world complicates matters, but he says to start small and build from there. Good luck!

Fear, Kids, Self-improvement, Technology

3D image of "Mindy"/TollFreeForwarding
3D image of “Mindy”/TollFreeForwarding

Check out “Mindy,” the grotesque human of the future! She appears to have a few issues, right? You might be wondering where she came from (and why I am sharing her picture). She is the 3D representation of a “future human,” which shows how using technology too much could form some rather unattractive abnormalities.

A company called  TollFreeForwarding collaborated with a 3D designer and researched the ways our bodies can change over time from overusing technology (mainly handheld devices). Mindy is supposed to be from the year 3000 (should we survive that long), but how many people do you know who are developing problems from too much tech right now?

Mindy first problems are her hunched back and “tech neck” from looking down at her device all of the time. The human skull typically weighs about twelve pounds, but once it’s at an angle (as it is when looking down at your phone), that weight can feel more like 30-45 pounds on your spine. Over time, your neck becomes strained and the shoulders hunch up.

Mindy also has a really attractive “text claw,” which comes from holding the phone in her hand while texting with her thumb. Keeping her arm at a 90-degree angle with device in hand strains the hand, wrist, and elbow causing “cubital tunnel syndrome” (inflammation of the ulnar nerve which passes through the elbow).

Researchers also think that her brain would be smaller and her skull would be thicker. The small brain comes from not having to think as much or struggle for survival as our ancestors did (brain size has reduced in the last 3,000 years). The thick skull is a result of her body protecting her from the radiation emitted by devices. People who started using such devices as adults have less exposure to radiation and fully formed skulls, but babies and children are at a higher risk and it is thought they might develop a thicker skull in a protective response. (I recently saw a women in a store with a baby no more than four months old with the phone propped up in the stroller.)

Lastly is Mindy’s horrific-looking third eyelid, which is thought to have developed in response to all of the blue light emitted from screens. Blue light causes the body and brain to be alert and think it’s daytime, which stops the production of melatonin and causes many problems with sleep (especially if you’re staring at your screen late at night or in the middle of

3D image of "Mindy"/TollFreeForwarding
3D image of “Mindy”/TollFreeForwarding

the night because you can’t sleep).

The article also pointed out another problem with Mindy that isn’t visible physically, which is her mental state. Tech usage with too much social media has shown to cause depression and anxiety. Staying inside and staring at devices instead of being outside in sunlight can contribute to more sleep problems and more mood issues.

This picture has haunted me over the past few months so I thought that diving right in and writing about it would be better than thinking about it all of the time. The majority of us in the modern world use the same technology that would cause all of these problems, and none of us will be giving it up. You might be thinking, “but that’s SO far into the future, we’re fine.” I’d like to believe that too, but how many times do you see people bent over their phones while waiting in line, at the doctor’s office, or even in their cars. How many kids (and babies, eek) do you see completely sucked in at the store on devices while their parents push them around in carts?

I can’t help but wonder if this is what Steve Jobs would have wanted, a man who celebrated sleek design and simplicity. Would he befriend Mindy with her altered body, or would they just use avatars and communicate electronically so they never see what the other looks like?

I want to add that I am not much better than anyone else. I try to be cognizant of how I hold my device and give myself breaks, I try not to use my phone constantly, and I don’t use it when I go to bed (except for an alarm, which in itself is a little problematic).

This post isn’t meant to preach or tell everyone what to do with their devices, but what causes me pause is Mindy’s appearance and how we can see people already starting to have her problems (from tech neck to text claw to posture issues, and compare and despair on social media). Who wants that? None of us, I’m sure. So let this post give you pause to think about your tech usage or your kids’ because no one wants to look like Mindy, especially if we are all going to have her haircut in the future!