Book Club Discussion: Unprocessed (Megan Kimble)

What is your definition of processed?

The word processed has developed quite the reputation, but its definition is ambiguous at best.

In Unprocessed, author Megan Kimble describes her personal experience with defining and establishing her own parameters around her threshold of processing. From learning to bake her own bread to making salt from ocean water, Kimble shares her journey toward understanding what it’s like to eat real food. What does it take to truly adopt and unprocessed eating style?

She encountered several challenges along the way–especially in determining which ingredients or processing methods suggested that a food was “processed.” For instance, is beer processed simply because it undergoes fermentation?

The evening’s discussion centered around the idea that food choices and eating styles are personal, and our choices are made in varying contexts. What we care about in terms of how our food was grown, harvested, packaged and delivered differs depending on our personal value systems and paradigms.

We acknowledged that some of our food choices are often less about ingredient quality or aesthetics and more about what and who we are supporting with our purchase. As consumers, we do have some power in that we can place our money in the hands of people whose practices are beneficial to both the environment and our health.

What it comes down to is that we give attention and resources to the things we care about, and food is definitely something that we should care about.

 

Book Club Discussion: Enthusiasm Makes The Difference (Norman Vincent Peale)

This book club clearly attracts some pretty amazing people.

Even when vastly different opinions are shared in this group, we manage to maintain a positive spirit and warm acceptance of alternative perspectives as we discussed the book Enthusiasm Makes the Difference by Norman Vincent Peale. For that, I awoke filled with extreme gratitude this morning.

We began our discussion by observing that many similar books have been written since Peale’s writing in 1967. The Secret and The Law of Attraction, to name a couple, took a less religious stance on the same topic. We thought it was interesting that topics like this one seem to be recycled every 10 years or so. Evidently it’s a theme that captures our interest time and time again.

The book did carry some strong religious undertones which produced differing reactions from readers. Some found it difficult to read, while others felt a deep connection with the references to God. Regardless of our spiritual beliefs, though, there seemed to be value in at least some of the ideas for all of us.

One member views enthusiasm as a feeling and introduced the word “feelingization” to us. This led us to consider whether enthusiasm is a state of feeling or a state of being. We concluded that it’s probably a little of both. How is the act (our outward appearance to others) of enthusiasm different from the feeling (our inward state) of enthusiasm? We shared examples of how we sometimes “put on a happy face” even when we don’t exactly feel happy and admitted how uncomfortable this can be. That also led us to consider if enthusiasm is a choice or something that we feel uncontrollably about certain things.

At one point, an interesting thought surfaced about whether there may be varying levels of enthusiasm–a spectrum, for example. If so, is our place on that spectrum defined by our personality? Could there be an enthusiasm set point? We noted how some people seem extraordinarily enthusiastic, while others appear less so. We recognized that it’s possible that they are equally enthusiastic and simply display it differently.

Similarly, we noticed how children seem enthusiastic about everything, while adults appear to become less enthusiastic over time. Is it the “first time experience” phenomenon, or do we simply become desensitized throughout our lifetime? With so many gadgets, bells and whistles constantly shouting at us enthusiastically, perhaps we become immune to it. We talked about how sales and marketing tactics leverage enthusiasm to push products. We also agreed that we simply can’t be enthusiastic about everything; maybe we just become more discerning as adults.  Or it could be that we just choose to engage in activities that we are enthusiastic about–and we don’t have time for a lot of them in the grown up world.

Charles M. Schwab’s idea that “a man can succeed at almost anything for which he has unlimited enthusiasm,” did generate some disagreement. Some felt there is unlimited power in our self-beliefs, while others felt the idea fails to recognize certain limitations that can impede our success. For example, could a person who is confined to a wheelchair use enthusiasm to believe themselves into being an Olympic gold medalist in high jumping? Perhaps with modern technologies they could, but is that a realistic aspiration? The concern was that by cultivating enthusiasm for unrealistic goals there may be a downside, specifically related to the level of disappointment we experience if we aren’t able to achieve that goal. That’s something I personally have to give more thought to.

We discussed the value of physical activity in building enthusiasm and reducing stress, and agreed that it can be a powerful tool in re-setting our mood. There’s just something about getting a little fresh air that can give us a fresh perspective. One member read recently that “motion effects emotion” and shared how that message had really resonated with her.

The idea of maintaining “new goals, fresh objectives,” as Peale writes, moved us to a discussion on goal setting, and how to keep our goals exciting. We noted that sometimes our level of motivation for achieving goals can wane over time. One member explained that she sets goals each week as well as each day to stay aligned with her vision. This also helps her set boundaries and avoid spending time on things that are not aligned with her objectives.

Finally, we all agreed on at least two points. One, that enthusiasm is contagious. When we surround ourselves with enthusiastic people, we tend to be more enthusiastic. The opposite also seems to be true. And two, that enthusiasm is a positive emotion. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to use enthusiasm–either in thought or action–in a negative context.

My takeaway from this really just reaffirms something I learned 25 years ago: If you act enthusiastic, then you’ll be enthusiastic!

 

Book Club Discussion: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Since Man’s Search for Meaning was one of the most intense, if not emotionally charged, books we have ever discussed in our group, I had no idea what to expect.

Suffice it to say that the insights and perspectives that were expressed throughout our discussion made me feel much more uplifted and encouraged than I ever imagined.

Like Frankl, we chose to use the event as a form of proof that human beings are able to rise above circumstances, to find meaning, and to use our experiences to reshape our thoughts.

I think this quote explains the theme of the book succinctly: “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”

We agreed that our responses to all of life’s situations are a reflection of our own choices. Whether we intend to or not, sometimes our decisions hurt others because we react without thinking about the consequences. It’s our conscious awareness that leads us to better choices – and ultimately more joy.

As a coping mechanism, and perhaps as a distraction, Frankl often had silent conversations with his wife, whose whereabouts were unknown. This was a common practice among prisoners – to think about and speak of their wives and families. Frankl believed that “love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire,” and that “the salvation of man is through love and in love.”

Art and humor were also tools for survival. He describes humor as “another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation.” In fact, some men even sacrificed their food rations to attend events that fed that inner need for humor (a bit of a deviation from Maslow’s hierarchical ordering I suspect). Many museums throughout the world display some of the most breathtaking, creative pieces of art I have ever seen. Even when deprived of some of our most basic human needs, we’re able to create and thrive.

One member identified with Frankl’s observation that, “Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life may have suffered much pain (they were often of a delicate constitution), but the damage to their inner selves was less.” It’s comforting to know that having a deep sense of self can act as a safety net.

We talked about how we sometimes tend to justify our bad behaviors by blaming external factors for our choices. And, similarly, how easy it can be to convince others of that faulty truth. Are we gullible because we’re all so busy with our own lives that we accept things without question?

What lessons did this book instill in us? For one, it taught us to be more aware of our own reactions to life’s challenges. It also helped us better categorize the severity of our “inconveniences” compared with life’s major events like Frankl’s. We were also reminded to be more grateful for the blessings in our lives.

Viktor Frankl’s experience is one that will last with his readers for a lifetime, which means something good did come from it.

Many thanks to those who attended this month’s event! Please feel free to add to the comments section if there is anything you’d like to add to this.

 

Book Club Discussion: Food Rules by Michael Pollan

Eating is personal.

If you ask 100 people what their healthy eating philosophy is, you’ll likely get 100 different answers. I happen to think that’s a good thing. We know a lot more today about nutrition than we did 100 years ago, but we still don’t know everything. One thing we do know is that many different eating styles can provide adequate nutrition. There is no such thing as the perfect diet. Consider this for a moment. If you look at cultures across the globe, you’ll notice that each has vastly different foods available within their geographic regions. They eat what grows there. Then consider our industrialized culture where we can have any food we want shipped to our doorstep within 24 hours. Now enter complexity. Eating is a basic human need that should be simple, but over time it has become quite complicated.

What I liked most about Pollan’s Food Rules is that he eliminated the marketing noise and brought eating back to the basics. Instead of making lists of good and bad foods like many popular diet books on the market, he created simple, memorable principles for choosing healthy food.

One book club member adopted a single rule and implemented it for a week. By using meat as a side dish rather than a main, she reported that she felt more energetic. It’s small successes like this that often lead to other experiments. It’s what gives us momentum for real change.

The idea that food is more than the sum of its parts is a concept that really resonated with me. As we begin to understand the science of how food actually nourishes us, we have adopted a somewhat reductive stance on nutrition. And that’s not a good thing. I particularly liked Pollan’s rule to be the kind of person who takes supplements – then skip the supplements. We may know a little more today than we did yesterday, but still not enough, in my opinion, to be replacing food with synthetic look-a-likes.

The general consensus of the book was that it was nice to have something concise, simple and easy to remember in many settings. Most of the rules are catchy, almost like little jingles, that can be used like a checklist. Don’t be surprised if you catch yourself saying, “Would my grandmother recognize this as food?” while shopping at the grocery store next time.

But were there any rules that members did NOT agree with? Surprisingly, not really. While we didn’t feel any were wrong per se, there was a shared sentiment that some rules may not be practical or even necessary. For example, we agreed that buying snacks at the farmers’ market was a good thing, but decided that you can also find healthy snacks at the grocery store. And after all, how many cities have farmers’ markets that are open year-round?

Next, we reflected on our society’s reliance on convenience foods. How have we come to a place where convenience foods are more common than homemade meals? Some answers included the following:

1. Not feeling appreciated. Preparing meals from scratch takes time and planning. But not everyone understands how laborious it can be. Kids tend to like what they see their friends eat – and those foods are often highly marketed conveneince foods that are hard to compete with. We talked about how role modeling is so important and how taking time to prepare homemade meals sends a message to kids that our personal care is a priority too. It models healthy eating as a self-care practice. Despite those positive benefits, it can still be hard to spend the extra time and money when the effort isn’t appreciated.

2. Placing career demands ahead of health. Success is often defined by career advancement – working long hours, working through lunch, working while on vacation, etc. Over the years, I’ve heard several people admit they do this because they worry about job security. “If everyone else puts in long hours and I don’t, what will my boss think?” They worry that setting boundaries will affect their bonus or chances for a promotion. One member recalled working in the tech industry, where most people ate lunch at their desks while still plugging away on their computers. She noticed that a few people left their desks at lunch and when asked why, they said that it wasn’t healthy. She always remembered that.

3. Being entrenched in convenience. We like things that are quick and easy because we have become busy people. (Why are we so busy anyway?) While many cultures value the experience of sharing a meal beyond its ability to nourish, industrialized cultures often view food as fuel and as a means of accomplishing other things in life. We talked about how as we climb Maslow’s hierarchy, the more basic needs often fall to the wayside as we pursue the higher needs. We fail to realize that foundations eventually crumble when they aren’t well cared for.

Our final topic of discussion was that we have progressively become more disconnected from our food sources. Most of us no longer grow our own food. In fact, most of us aren’t even getting our hands dirty at all. We buy most of our food at local grocery stores or restaurants without even knowing its source. We wondered what it would take to empower more people to grow at least some of their own food. At what point will we say, “I’m worth it!” and value food they way our grandparents did? Some believe that it will take negative consequence related to our convenient lifestyles, like deteriorating health, to promote change. Others believe it will require a large-scale cultural shift. Changing social norms absolutely takes time, but I will remain the optimist.

What would it take for you to re-connect with real food?

 

Book Club Discussion: Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier by Robert A. Emmons

Practicing gratitude isn’t always easy. In fact, it can be downright daunting at times. Even with the best of intentions, we sometimes fall short of showing our appreciation for life’s beautiful blessings.

For our second book review, we dove in head first to the world of gratitude, and over the course of the evening we shared stories of how we have both given and received gratitude, as well as how we have experienced the opposite: ingratitude and ungratitude.

Fortunately, not everyone liked the book. I say that because I love it when people are authentic and brave enough to share a different perspective. Robert Emmons presented a very scientific view of how gratitude effects our health and well-being, and while he did offer some tips for cultivating more gratitude it was definitely not a “how to” book by any means. Sometimes fact-laden books can be a bit cumbersome to read, but regardless of our differing opinions on the author’s approach we were all able to have a lively discussion on our unique interpretations.

When someone expresses gratitude for something we have done, it makes most of us feel warm and fuzzy. Being recognized for our efforts makes us feel appreciated – and often serves as positive reinforcement to do more. After all, who doesn’t like to feel valued? Believe it or not, some people experience gratitude as dependency. The writer points out that in our self-reliant culture, men especially experience gratitude this way. Saying thank you can make some people feel uncomfortable and vulnerable because it suggests that they are weak and need help from others.

Another idea that surfaced was entitlement. We pointed out that many people, especially younger generations that were raised with the “everybody is a winner” mentality, expect gifts and recognition regardless of the effort they have put forth. One attendee described feeling disappointed when her efforts go unrecognized, and I think we all feel that way from time to time. We ultimately decided that maybe we all just have to grow into the practice of gratitude. Before we can truly express gratitude for something, we have to first understand the effort that goes into it.

Another discovery that I made while reading this book is that I am often grateful for objects. I hadn’t really thought about it before. Being thankful for the “things” we acquire in life seems normal, right? Well, maybe. But I do find it interesting that I have formed a habit of doing this when I look back through my gratitude journal. For example, I might write that I feel grateful for a fantastic meal rather than the hands that prepared it. I’m going to have to reflect on this one a bit more.

We also talked a lot about comparisons and how they can either make us feel more grateful or less fortunate than others. Brenda pointed out a great quote by Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s so true. With the right mindset, though, hopefully we can focus more on our blessings and learn to be satisfied with what we have.

Another series of thoughts revolved around how we behave in stressful situations. Impatient, laser-focused, selfish, distracted…the list goes on. How can we maintain our grateful spirit in the midst of chaos? How can we avoid the temptation to complain or focus on what isn’t going well around us. One member explained how she is learning to see stressful situations as gifts. Instead of grumbling about problems at work, she focuses on the fact that she has a job. That mindset reminded me of something one of my teammates at WebMD shared…I loved it!

I am Thankful For…

…the mess to clean after a party because it means I have been surrounded by friends.
…the taxes I pay because it means that I am employed.
…the clothes that fit a little too snug because it means I have enough to eat.
…my shadow who watches me work because it means I am out in the sunshine.
…a lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning and gutters that need fixing because it means that I have a home.
…the spot I find at the far end of the parking lot because it means I am capable of walking.
…all the complaining I hear about our government because it means we have freedom of speech.
…my huge heating bill because it means that I am warm.
…the lady behind me in church who sings off key because it means I can hear.
…the piles of laundry and ironing because it means my loved ones are nearby.
…the alarm that goes off in the early morning hours because it means that I’m alive.
…weariness and aching muscles at the end of the day because it means I have been productive.
Family Circle – November 1999

Cultivating awareness was another topic of discussion. One member recalled watching a beautiful sunset recently and was surprised to hear herself say, “I wish it would have been more pink.” rather than being grateful for it’s splendor as it was. Being aware of our tendencies and habits is the first step to purposefully changing our reactions over time.

And then there are those little things called expectations. What should we do when we catch ourselves expecting gratitude in return for something we do for someone else? Feeling irritated when a gift goes unacknowledged, being offended when someone doesn’t wave if we let them merge in front of us, feeling hurt when we don’t receive a compliment on a meal we prepared with a lot of love – all of these emotions are the result of our expectation that we should get something in return for our efforts. One suggestion to avoid feeling let down was to simply expect less from others, and another idea was to create an explanation for the behavior. For example, if someone doesn’t wave when you let them merge in front of you in traffic, think of some reasons why that might be: maybe they were focusing on driving safely, maybe they were preoccupied because they spilled something – or perhaps they just forgot

Gratitude really is a practice that takes practice. One proven method for fostering more gratitude is journaling. Whether you use an app, pen and paper or capture photos, there is no right or wrong way to do it. The point is to keep the practice alive. One member shared that she simply includes gratitude as one of the many elements in her daily writings. She put it so eloquently when she said, “I give space for everything.” If that isn’t evidence of self-love, then I don’t know what is. There are no rules, so create your own flow.

A key takeaway from our discussion was that even those of us with the best intentions about being grateful struggle with doing it consistently. It can be difficult to respond with a grateful heart when those around us are unkind and unappreciative…but it’s not impossible. It requires and intentional heart and lots of practice. A little resiliency – the ability to love and forgive ourselves for not being perfect and moving forward to try again – certainly helps too.

If you’re thinking about starting a gratitude journal, there are tons of apps that can help you get started. Here are just a few of them:

Day One ($4.99)

Gratitude Journal ($1.99)

Happier (FREE)

Vision Board Deluxe ($0.99)

Gratitude Journal 365 Pro- The Best Diary For Your ($1.99)

Do you have other creative ways that you practice gratitude? Please share!

(P.S. I am grateful for the beautiful group of ladies who shared their evening and hearts with me!)

Book Club Discussion: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

What a great night of discussion to kick off the 2015 Living Upp Book Club!

Our Meetup group met for the first time last night to discuss Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.

If you couldn’t make it, don’t fret! You can join the discussion and share your thoughts in the comments section below.

I think it’s safe to say that all of us will aspire to be perfect at something over the course of our lives. Life is competitive that way. We compete with ourselves as much as we compete with others. Likewise, we pursue our personal and professional goals while concurrently working to meet the expectations of our families, friends, employers and communities as well. But at some point, we realize that the pursuit of perfection is futile – and quite exhausting really.

We learned from Brene’s writings that being enough is the key to wholehearted living.

Throughout the evening, each of us revealed our own experiences and vulnerabilities, along with some of the aspects of the book that spoke to us personally. Below, I’ve done my best to capture some of the prominent themes that surfaced. (For those of you who attended in-person, I would be grateful if you would correct any errors or add other ideas that I may have missed in the comments below.)

Self-Love

We began our discussion agreeing that even though we’ve all been taught to care for others first, we cannot do it as effectively if we aren’t caring for ourselves. One analogy was the fact that even airline safety protocols instruct us to first put oxygen masks on ourselves before assisting others. Practicing self-love allows us to not only be more physically able to serve others, but it also enables us to be good role models for our children.

The concept of resiliency came up several times when discussing the importance of being able to bounce back from negative feedback and experiences. That is most certainly a form of self-love. One attendee shared that she believes challenges come to her to balance her. Embracing those difficult experiences has helped her accept that life isn’t perfect. Another member described her approach to resiliency as a mind-set of being “excited to see what happens next” rather than being tied to outcomes. In addition, forgiving ourselves when we fall short of expectations – whether internal or external – is also an example of practicing self-love.

Authenticity

We discussed the notion that we all have inner and outer selves, which we express differently depending on the circumstances. Admittedly this can be difficult, especially if our inner selves don’t match the situation. For example, if you felt like wearing pajamas to dinner (expressing your inner self), you may not be able to dine in certain restaurants. Similarly, we discussed how others perceive us versus how we would like others to perceive us. Having the courage to live authentically is easier said than done, but giving ourselves permission to be who we are is a great first step toward living wholeheartedly.

External Pressures

We spent a lot of time talking about this one.

In many ways, societal norms have established a multitude of shoulds for us. I once heard someone refer to this as “shoulding on yourself.” I mean, that’s what it feels like, right? One example Brené presented in her book was the expectation that good parents should pick up their children on time without exception. The reality is that we all mess up sometimes. External standards bleed into other areas of life as well, including how clean our homes should be. We talked about the difference between meeting the accepted standards of “clean” and being okay with saying, “My house is as clean as I want it to be.” It’s ironic that we often compare ourselves to the Jones’ even though we know they are as flawed as we are. Since perfection doesn’t exist, the Jones’ are simply living a façade of perfection. And that means we are pursuing a façade as well.

Religion can be a source of high expectations too. The Christian faith, for instance, holds Christ to be the standard of perfection, so emulating Christ-like qualities often leads to the pursuit of near-perfection.

If you consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs model, it might seem that our pursuit of perfection could be related to our innate need to feel safe. Maybe we believe, wrongly or not, that if we do all the right things perfectly, then we will avoid experiencing pain and suffering. (If only that were true.) We agreed that even if perfection was attainable, it wouldn’t guarantee that we would escape life’s disappointments.

Finally, we explored how external pressures differ among cultures. In Blue Zone areas, where life expectencies are longest, there seem to be fewer societal expectations around perfection. Interesting to say the least.

Potential

The concept of being enough was definitely a central theme of the night. How does one define enough anyway? And how exactly do you achieve enough? Those of us who are goal-driven have a tendency to want to measure or quantify many aspects of our lives. For example, if we view our progress as being at only 80% of our full potential, are we merely self-imposing unnecessary pressures? Is 80% sufficient? Is it enough? One member explained that she reaches her enough when she feels tired. That is her measure of satisfaction that she has done enough. Furthermore, who exactly defines our potential? That question prompted a great deal of discussion. We finally decided that potential is ultimately an inside job. We can cheer and encourage those we love to use their gifts and achieve milestones, but we cannot define their enough. All of us must decide for ourselves how we want to live – and what is enough for us. We did acknowledge that sometimes it’s frustrating or disappointing to see others not realizing what we see as their full potential. Should parents pass along their wisdom in the form of external pressure – or allow their children to have their own journey? We left that topic deciding that potential is synonymous with growth, not necessarily an end point that can be defined.

False Peaks

And what happens when we do manage to successfully reach those near-perfect milestones or goals? More often than not, the bar gets raised higher. Perfection gets pushed just beyond our reach again, and we continue to pursue false peaks. Essentially, each summit reveals another in the distance and the pursuit never ends. Finding satisfaction in our definition of enough puts and end to that game.

Play

In her book, Brené  described her discovery of the importance of play. That intentional process of letting go and tapping into the creative side of our brain is therapeutic and necessary to live wholeheartedly.

As a group, these were our takeaways:

  • “I want to have more honest conversations.”
  • “I’ve learned how to say ‘it’s okay’ to my kids and that pain is okay.”
  • “I understand that it’s okay to be wrong sometimes.”
  • “I’ve learned to let go of anxiety and embrace fun.”
  • “Breathe. Relax. Enjoy.” (That sounds like a great personal mantra!)

Brené does a great job convincing us that it’s perfectly okay, healthy even, to embrace our imperfections. Being “okay” with ourselves and how we choose to do things is liberating. I learned so much from the others in the group, and I’m already looking forward to next month’s meetup!

What were your impressions of the book? Please share your thoughts…we’d love to learn from your perspective as well.