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I Have the Perfect Life—-Not

October 28, 2016 by  
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My last 2 blogs told of the super wonderful and exciting African Safari that my wife and I took along with our dear friend Francoise Eriksen. It was a perfect trip–all went well without any hiccups or unpleasant surprises! I’m guessing that some of my readers are thinking “Oh, what a perfect life that guy Mark has. He’s wealthy, had his 15 minutes of fame, probably lives in a mansion, and travels the world first class.”

I remember so vividly thinking exactly that as I read about the rich and famous people of the world. I really thought they must have had a perfect life—but, oh, how wrong I was.

p1020832Right after we returned from the African Safari two things happened. I watched and listened to a super famous and wealthy man on T.V. (worth hundreds of millions) talk about the tragedies in his life. He was miserable but how people all around him didn’t believe him. They really thought he had a smooth and perfect life without any bad stuff but that was so far from the truth and the reality of his life.

The second thing that happened was me coming down with the worst common cold that I’ve had in many years. Wow. Talk about major mucus and a constant hacking cough that left me breathless and with very little sleep. Ugh and super ugh! Then a thought struck me and I said to myself, “Wait a minute … why didn’t I appreciate and give great thanks for my super great health while on the Safari and, for that matter, the last 3 or 4 years that I’ve have without any sickness whatsoever?”

Isn’t it quite amazing that most of us human beings don’t appreciate or give thanks for what we have until we lose it–whether it’s our health, good relationships, money, our jobs, or–how about this one–living in a great and free country. I will say this … traveling through South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe I couldn’t help but think about how good we have it in this great country, even the poorest among us are better off than some of the people I observed as our train passed through African villages where they lived with terrible conditions.

So my message this week is, let’s all take time to pause and think about and take notice and appreciate our health, wealth (however large or small), relationships, and this great country that we live in. And let’s do that right now and not wait till we’ve lost some of it.

Next week I want to talk about some other challenges in my life. Everybody’s life, no matter how rich or famous, has its troubles and its tragedies as well as much to be grateful for.

An Exercise Program for You

September 23, 2016 by  
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Last week I wrote about the “New Science of Exercise” as talked about in Time Magazine.  Since science has confirmed the huge benefits of exercise for both health and longevity, I thought it was pretty darn important to give some more specifics concerning exercise.

We all know that it takes mental and physical energy to make ourselves move and move enough that it really can make a difference for a good, healthy, long life.  As mentioned in the article, the World Health Organization advises “most adults to do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity each week and twice weekly muscle strengthening.”  But what counts as moderate-intensity exercise?

According to the article, moderate-intensity is “everything you think of as exercise plus lots of stuff you don’t, including brisk walking, playing with the kids, walking the dog, carrying heavy groceries or gardening.  Do at least 10 minutes at a time, and break it up however you want.”  This is great news because most of us could easily sneak in 10 minutes of activity here and there to make up that 150 minutes.

If you are hesitant to start or speed up your exercise program or, like many people, are not looking forward to the idea of starting a strength training regimen, please remember the ‘baby step’ concept.  You can go ahead and set big goals but concentrate on taking baby steps, especially at first so you don’t get discouraged. For instance, the recommended 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week may sound like a lot but break that up into chunks of time that work for you. It could be just two 11-minute play sessions with your kids or dog each day or 40 minutes of gardening 4 times a week or 30 minute chunks of time 5 days a week doing whatever aerobic activity sounds good that day.  Work in those two strength training sessions each week and you will be in really good shape to live a long and healthy life.

But if this still sounds like too much to take on right away, start with just 60 minutes the first few weeks—maybe 10 minutes a day with one day off–then gradually increase the number of minutes each day until you are at 150 minutes a week.

Here are a few other little secrets that have helped me with my exercise program.  First of all, I tried to work my baby steps into small but regular habits; like instead of driving down my very long drive way to pick up the morning paper I starting walking which takes about 15 minutes. Later on I started to zig zag my walk to increase the time and the total steps it took. Also, I began parking my car on the far end of the parking lot at whatever store I might need to go to. The great thing about these little activities, is that once they turn into habits, you don’t even think about what you are doing, you just automatically do it.

Another of my little secrets is that I made it a goal to get to know and hang out with more active people.  It’s also very helpful to be married to a wonderful person who seems to always be in motion. My wife helps even more by frequently asking me how much exercise or how many total steps and time I logged in for the day. Even my friends started asking me my total minutes or steps logged for the day or week. Having people around you that are interested in health and longevity and are doing it themselves, is very, very helpful and motivating. Try it and I’ll bet it works for you too!

 

 

Is There Really an ‘Exercise Cure”?

September 16, 2016 by  
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Did you see the cover of Time Magazine’s September 12-19 issue with the headline “The Exercise Cure“? That certainly got my attention! But then I wondered what did it cure? The author, Mandy Oaklanders said, “Doctors, researchers, scientists, even ancient philosophers have long claimed exercise works like a miracle drug.” She followed that up with the real attention grabber, “Now they have proof.”

Experts are not only talking about how exercise can cure sickness and disease but also how it can lengthen your lifespan. Now I don’t know about you but I find this to be pretty exciting news. After reading the entire cover story–which I recommend that you take the time to read–I’m certainly more motivated to keep up my exercise program and don’t even need to increase it. The good news is that researchers found that to get these health, curative, and longevity benefits you don’t have to go crazy with hours and hours of working out. Just regularly running or jogging for as little as 5 or 10 minutes is linked to a longer life.

In the article, examples and reasoning are discussed with Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky of McMaster University. He did a study with mice that had terrible genetic diseases. He divided the sick mice into 2 groups and for 5 months the first group was allowed to be very sedentary. (Maybe he had a mouse couch in front of a mouse TV for each of those mice in the first group? Ha ha.) The second group of mice were coaxed into running 3 times a week.

At the end of the 5 months, he found that the sedentary group was just barely hanging on. “The fur that had yet to fall out had grown coarse and gray, muscles shriveled, hearts weakened, skin thinned … even the mice’s hearing got worse. They were shivering in the corner, about to die,” Tarnopolsky says. But there was a huge difference with the second group. Quoting from this wonderful article, “… the group of mice that exercised, genetically compromised though they were, were nearly indistinguishable from healthy mice. Their coats were sleek and black, they ran around their cages, they could even reproduce. We almost completely prevented premature aging in the animals,” Tarnopolsky says.

At this point I was asking myself, “Yes, but does this exercise thing work just as well in humans?” Well, apparently it does. Doctor Tarnopolsky has found similar results happen in his ill patients–he treats kids with severe genetic diseases like muscular dystrophy. “I’ve seen all the hype about gene therapy for people with genetic disease but it hasn’t delivered in the 25 years I’ve been doing this. The most effective therapy available to my patients right now is exercise.”

Tarnopolsky now thinks he knows why. In studies where blood is drawn immediately after people exercised, researchers have found that exercise slows down the aging of cells because it increases levels of a molecule that protects telomeres so those telomeres in a person’s cells don’t shorten as fast. From everything I’ve read over the years the slower your telomeres shrink your cells the healthier your cells will be, so the cells live longer and so will you.

“Going for a run is going to improve your skin health, your eye health, your gonadal health,” Tarnopolsky says. “It’s unbelievable. If there were a drug that could do for human health everything that exercise can, it would likely be the most valuable pharmaceutical ever developed.”

So how do you go about getting the exercise you need to live a long and healthy life? Start now by getting a daily walk or run in if you don’t already. Then next week, we’ll talk more about what is recommended so you can reap the benefits of this exercise cure.

Begin Early on Goals and New Year’s Resolutions

September 8, 2016 by  
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It sure seems like this year of 2016 is winding down at a very fast pace.  I swear, time speeds up as you get older. Time moved so slowly when I was a kid but now it seems to just fly by.  We have just 4 Fridays left of this year which means I have this and 3 more posts for you in 2016. So, for these few posts left, I’m going to suggest that we all start early working on our goals and New Year’s resolutions for 2017. Let’s not wait until the last day or two and rush through what we want to do, experience, and become in the new year.

Starting early gives us more time to really think through what we want and need in our lives and I’m convinced that we will make better choices and set realistic goals as a result.  For many people, the most difficult challenge with New Year’s resolutions is trying to figure out what they actually want.  Some New Year’s goals are easy, such as: “I would like to visit 2 new countries in this next year.”  That’s pretty easy and then you pick the countries and set the date.  But many categorizes or parts of our lives are a bit more complex.  Like personal development goals, family goals, and goals determining what we want to do with the rest of our life that will make a difference in the world.

My suggestion and challenge for this week is for us to really do some deep thinking and come up with a list of what we really want to do, become and experience in the year 2017.  And as most of us know, if we begin by writing down what we come up with, it makes the process easier.  Here are two great questions to ask yourself that may help you figure out what it is you really like and want to do and experience. These questions were derived from Marshall Goldsmith’s great book, Mojo … How to get it, How to Keep it, How to Get It Back If You Lose It.

Look back at the last few years and think though your previous goals—think about what you did and what you experienced then ask:

  1. How much long-term benefit or meaning did I experience from these activities?
  2. How much short-term satisfaction or happiness did I experience in these activities?

After answering these questions, Goldsmith suggests that you evaluate each activity or experience on a 1 to 10 scale, with 10 being the best.  You’ll then be able to see what was truly worthwhile to you. Doing this little drill can help in setting your goals for the next year, now that you know what has worked best for you in the past.

Ready? Let’s get to it!

 

Breaking Big Goals into Baby Steps

September 2, 2016 by  
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A couple weeks ago I suddenly realized that since I got a Fitbit and starting keeping track of my daily steps that my 4,000 steps a day had slowly risen to more than 20,000 steps a day. I had walked the equivalent of a third way around the world since I began with my goal of more movement and more exercise. My big goal now is to walk all the way around the world–or rather the equivalent of that.

I am a big believer in setting big goals, in just about every aspect of life. I’m talking about diet, weight control, fasting for health, and of course in financial matters. But how do you accomplish these huge goals? You take it just one baby step at a time. My January 7th blog was all about how after you set a big goal, it’s a very good idea to concentrate on taking baby steps so you are less likely to get discouraged and give up when you don’t think you are going to reach your goal.

For example, I read a study years ago that going without food for 24 hours every week or even every month is very good for your overall health, longevity and, of course, weight control. Knowing that, I started with baby steps by skipping a meal every few days and then slowly I took another baby step and skipped 2 meals in a day which lead me to go 24 hours with any food and only drinking water.

Those baby steps lead me to hit a big goal I set, one that seemed almost impossible when I set it. The big goal was to go a full week without food and believe it or not I did just that. The first and second day were the toughest but after that it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be! And wow did I ever feel fantastic toward the end and even after it was all over. I then felt that I could accomplish almost anything in entire the world!

That is just one example of how small steps can add up to something really big. Next week I will talk about how you can do this with your financial goals and the importance of sharing what you learn when you see how baby steps can work for you.

Powerful Daily Questions

July 29, 2016 by  
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In the last few posts, I’ve been talking about Marshall Goldsmith’s great advice that you can read about in his book Mojo. He reveals ways to greatly improve your odds of lifting your Mojo (your personal happiness and fulfillment in life) and increasing your chances of making greater progress toward your goals and what you want your life to be.

One of Goldsmith’s very effective methods was to ask his friend, Jim Moore, to pose a daily list of questions that Marshall had put together. These questions included want Marshall wanted to get done and how he wanted his life to be. Both men were amazed at how well that daily questioning worked. Even though they lived miles apart and Marshall does a lot of traveling, their commitment to this has them connecting on the phone and going through the process of asking those same questions about 85% of the time. The process has kept Marshall focused and moving forward.

So if you want to greatly increase your Mojo and reach your goals, write a list of what you want to get done and how you want your life to be and then find a good friend or a close relative to ask you those questions on a regular basis. Remember that it’s important to keep track of your progress as well so you can be inspired by your success and work on the areas that might need a boost.

Although you will want to come up with your own questions, I thought Marshall’s basic 6 questions might be helpful:

“Did I do my best today to …

  1. Be Happy?
  2. Find meaning?
  3. Build positive relationships?
  4. Be fully engaged?
  5. Set clear goals?
  6. Make progress toward goal achievement?

After this list, Marshall goes on to list questions he specifically needs for himself such as, “How many minutes did you spend writing?

Then there are some health questions such as,” How many sit-ups did you do?” To which he gets to answer with statements like “Today I did 200 sit-ups at once. Not bad for a 64-year-old guy.” You know that has to be encouraging!

As for work, it might be “With how many clients are you current on your follow-ups?”

Then there’s family and relationships. “Did you say or do something nice for your wife? How about your son or daughter?”

In the book he also asks himself, “Why does this process work so well?”  The answer is that it forced him and his friend Jim to “confront how we actually live our values every day. We either believe that something matters or we don’t.  If we believe it, we can put it on the list and do it! If we really don’t want to do it, we can face reality and quit kidding ourselves.”

The above is just a brief sample. Your list should be much longer but how long depends on what you want to get done in your life.

Marshall asked his wife, Lyda, a psychologist, if she thought this process would work as well with a computer-generated list of questions instead of sharing with another person.  She said, “No, it is a lot easier to blow-off a computer than another person.”

So the bottom line for you and me is to start making our list and then find a friend to help, the kind of friend that you trust and one that won’t criticize you when you fall short of your goals and ambitions. You can do likewise for your friend and together you can really build up your Mojo!

 

 

Talking Yourself into Great Mojo

July 15, 2016 by  
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Last week I introduced you to a terrific book by Marshal Goldsmith entitled MOJO, How to Get it, How to Keep it and How to Get it Back. Mojo is basically your happiness factor, your zest for living and your feeling of fulfillment. There are a few secrets that can help you get your Mojo back if you’ve lost it, or increase your Mojo if you want to have even more of it.
Some of these methods of are from Goldsmith’s book and some are from my own experience. From his book, Marshal says “When we define ourselves by saying we are deficient at some activity, we tend to create the reality that proves our definition.” I’ve said for years that I am no good at doing the details of anything. Saying that so much to myself and to other people cements this belief in my mind. Then I go on to prove that I was right. However, according to the book, Mojo, I can change that.

Goldsmith makes a big point about this. He says that if we want to change ourselves, we need to ask ourselves who we want to become in the future and/or what we want to accomplish then if we want to become that person we can.

So how do we change ourselves and increase our Mojo? There are several ways to do it. One way is by simply changing our self-talk, what I also call that chatter box inside our head. We need to start saying the positive things that we want to do and become.

I’ve started telling myself that I’m becoming better at detail stuff and I’ve notice a change for the good. Another negative thought that I’m working on is to be more decisive, because as they say, ‘making a bad decision sometimes is better than indecision.’ So I am pushing myself to be more decisive. I’m also working on a lifetime habit of telling myself that I’m no good at fixing things. That’s going to change and, believe me, my wife will love that.

The Brain and Robot Tennis

March 4, 2016 by  
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Sometime ago I read a book about The Secret Lives of the Brain which was actually the subtitle of the great book entitled Incognito by David Eagleman. The part of the book that really grabbed my attention was what he said about the part of the brain that you can teach exactly how to hit a tennis ball almost perfectly every time without even thinking about it.

Being an avid tennis fan and sometimes tournament player myself, and with my own experience pretty much backing up and proving what he was saying, he had my undivided attention. Many times while playing, I’ve surprised myself when I am running full speed to get to a tennis ball coming at me at 65 or 75 miles an hour, then to arrive at the exact right spot and hit the ball back to the place I was aiming. Wow, I’m thinking … how did I ever do that?

Eagleman, a neuroscientist, makes the case that tennis shots are made almost entirely without using the conscious mind. Of course, to get to the point of great non-thinking tennis shots, anyone who wants to be that good needs to use the other part of the brain–the conscious part that is the part that thinks through what goals a person wants to achieve. So with the conscious brain a tennis champion wannabe sets the goals to fulfill their dream tennis performance.

The author of this book is not just talking about these two parts of the brain being used to be a great tennis player either. You can use both parts of the brain to become very good in many areas of our lives, whether it’s to become a great public speaker, great writer of books, making a fortune, or creating super health for yourself and others. It will work for whatever you really want to do and be.

But that’s just the first part, because after you use the conscious part of your mind to set your goals, you then need to practice and drill over and over again. If you do that for many, many hours over a good length of time you will begin to program your unconscious mind so eventually it will perform for you without your thinking about it. It will be automatic. It might take thousands of hours but studies have shown that anyone that spends 10,000 hours doing one thing they most likely will become one of the best in the world at that one thing.

Under the chapter subheading “The Robot that Won Wimbledon”, David Eagleman concludes that, “The competitors at Wimbledon are rapid, efficient machines that play tennis shockingly well. They can track a ball traveling ninety miles per hour, move toward it rapidly, and orient a small surface to intersect its trajectory. And these professional tennis players do almost none of this consciously. In exactly the same way that you read letters on a page or change lanes, they rely entirely on their unconscious machinery. They are, for all practical purposes, robots. Indeed, when Ilie Nastase lost the Wimbledon final in 1976, he sullenly said of his winning opponent, Bjorn Borg, ‘He’s a robot from outer space.’”

Today I would say the same thing about Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. But remember folks these two parts of our brain can be used for many more things than tennis! Let’s all work on that.

The Breath-Mind Connection

January 29, 2016 by  
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So how about this breathing thing.  I showed you last week how just the simple act of smiling can help to change how you think and how you feel. But how can breathing change your brain?

I’m pretty sure all of us have seen this–when we experience a big scare, our breathing speeds up immediately. This response in the increased speed of our breath also occurs, to varying degrees, when we are under any kind of stress. And as you might guess from reading my posts the last couple weeks, faster breathing can also increase your feeling of stress. The obvious conclusion is that you will want to slow your breathing to help manage and alleviate stress.

I will never forget watching this TV special with a yoga practitioner that had been hooked up to heart rate and blood pressure machines before sitting down to meditate. He assumed his yoga position and began using his mind to slow down his breathing. As he did, the monitors showed that his decreased speed in breath also resulted in his heart rate and blood pressure dropping.  It was a great demonstration of that mind-body connection we’ve been talking about.

Amy Cuddy in her book Presence quotes a psychiatrist and a PTS expert Bessel van der Kolk who said, “Some 80 percent of the fibers of the vagus nerve (which connects the brain with many internal organs) are afferent, that is, they run from the body into the brain. This means that we can directly train our arousal system by the way we breathe, chant, and move, a principle that has been utilized since time immemorial in places like China and India.”

Amy goes on to say “That’s one of the reason yoga can change the way you feel–it naturally prompts you to breathe slowly and rhythmically, as you do practices such as chanting, tai chi, qigong, and meditation. But you don’t need to do any of those; you can reap the benefits of breath control almost anywhere at any time. With a few deep, slow breaths, you’ve just changed your body and your mind.”

She goes on to give this good advice: “Take a second right now to focus on your breath. Inhale quickly, then slowly exhale.  One more time. Inhale for two seconds, then draw out your exhale for around five seconds.”  Go ahead. Do it over and over again and see how it makes you feel.

I find the beauty of all this–power posing, smiling and controlling the breath–can all be done at the same time or done one at a time at almost any time or in any place. Such simple practices can make changes for the good in your life.

Ok … maybe we are better off not power posing on an airplane. You never know how the crew and other passengers will take that.

Baby Steps and Gentle Nudges

January 7, 2016 by  
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Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been very big on setting goals including New Year’s Resolutions which are pretty much at the top of my list. At years’ end, I’ve always been surprised and often disappointed by how many goals I failed to accomplish or fell short of accomplishing during that one year. I’ve always thought that I just needed to set bigger goals and try much, much harder. And yes, I would end up berating and beating myself up for my failures. But now I am learning from Amy Cuddy’s book, Presence, that there is growing evidence and research indicating that most of us having been going at the goal setting and resolutions thing all wrong.

Under the section entitled, “Many Popular Self-Change Approaches Fail–And Even Backfire”, Amy says, “For one thing, New Year’s resolutions are too ambitious. Setting big goals such as getting straight A’s in school or working out three times a week is a positive step in theory, but these goals are not designed in a way that actually allows us to build toward them.  They’re reliant on the success of hundreds of smaller changes and they don’t come with step-by-step instructions showing us how to get there”.

I will say, as I do in my preaching on goal setting and what I almost always do myself, we all need to break down our goals into small steps. But Amy goes further saying we need to break our goals down into ‘baby steps’ and gently ‘nudge ourselves’ along.

Additionally, Amy says, “One of the biggest culprits, as least in the United States, is the repeatedly dispiriting New Year’s resolution, which is riddled with psychological traps, that work against us.”  The problem with big goals, with a time frame that is way in the future, is that we really can’t easily visualize the end results and so it’s easy to get down on ourselves and give up along the way.  Quoting Amy again, she adds “focusing on process encourages us to keep working, to keep going, and to see challenges as opportunities for growth, not as threats of failure.”

In other words, take lots of baby steps.  Amy mentions her ambition to be a runner which at one time in my life I thought I wanted to do also. The problem is, when we set big goals, like maybe running a marathon in 6 months or doing a 3 or 4 mile run our first or second time out, we usually get totally exhausted very early on and we give up or become very discouraged.  I’ve talked to many runners who have had a similar experience. However, if I start with very small goals—baby steps—such as saying to myself, “I’ll just run for 10 or 12 minutes,” or “I’ll just go down to that mailbox or tree,” then when I’ve reached that very small objective I can say, “Hey, I want to see if I can just run another 5 minutes or just to that house down there.”  That approach is such a hugely different experience and it sure seems to fit what Amy Cuddy is discovering in her study of goal setting and resolutions.

So I would challenge all my readers to give more thought to your goals and objectives as we begin this wonderful new year. Think ‘baby steps’ and ‘gentle, small self-nudges’ and we all might find that we stop beating up on ourselves for thinking we have failed and instead find we have made some very big gains in our physical, family, social and financial life.

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