Focusing on Solutions

small red mini dachshund

My dog almost died today.

And it would have been my fault.

In the hustle and bustle of the morning’s flurry of activities, I inadvertently gave my 10-pound miniature dachshund, Zoey, a dose of medication that was intended for our 90-pound German Shepherd.

The moment I realized what I’d done, I felt sick.

Frantically, I pulled up a web page and began searching for the signs, symptoms, dosage calculations and treatments associated with the medication. And, after finding a handful of conflicting answers, I darted out the door with my purse under one arm and my pooch under the other.

Thankfully, she’s fine now. The emergency vet administered an emetic after discovering the dosage was 7 times the level that was appropriate for her body weight. We got there in time. And fortunately, Zoey accepts apologies in the form of treats.

But moments like this are a reminder that we all goof up sometimes. Despite our best efforts to sail through life smoothly, developing habits and routines that put us on auto-pilot, we still make mistakes.

And when our mistakes have a negative impact on others, it’s a bit more difficult to accept. So, as I sat in the waiting room this morning, some unkind thoughts starting swirling through my head. “Stacy, how could you be so stupid?!?” “Was getting to the gym really so important that you couldn’t spend that extra minute to make sure your animals were taken care of?” “What were you thinking?!?”

You know the thoughts I’m talking about. The ones that are accompanied by guilt and sadness and negativity.

But when I remembered that my 3-pound brain was causing me to have those useless thoughts, I managed to turn my attention to the more important thing: to solve the problem by focusing on the solution. 

Do you find it hard to forgive yourself when you make mistakes? Are you unnecessarily hard on yourself when you goof up? Do you continue to punish yourself long after you’ve learned from your experiences? By focusing on solutions rather than problems, we can work through life’s difficult moments faster and enjoy more of life’s beautiful moments. That’s what self-care is all about.

Tonight, rather than beating myself up for making a mistake, I’m going to spend the evening in gratitude, cuddling with sweet little Zoey.

10 Tips for Staying Motivated to Reach Your Health Goals

Does this sound like you? You feel unstoppable that first week after setting a new goal, only to find that you’ve completely abandoned it just a few weeks later? Staying motivated is tough, but there are a few things you can do in advance to give yourself a kick in the pants when you need it.

Hand-lettered goals title in dotted bullet journal1. Get clear about your goals

What is it that you really, really want? If you’re vague about your targets, then you probably won’t be happy with the results. A goal to “be healthier” isn’t nearly as clear as to “exercise for at least 150 minutes each week.” A vague goal is hard to measure, and it’s even harder to put into action. 

2. Create a visual image

Whether it’s a mental picture or an artsy vision board, creating a vivid image of the end result you are seeking is a powerful strategy for goal achievement. The moment you feel your motivation start to wane, take a peek at the vision you are trying to create to remind yourself why you’re working so hard in the first place.

3. Partner up

Research has shown that our goals are more achievable when we have healthy support systems. I like the term “partner” rather than “buddy” because it conveys a sense of collaboration and commitment. Partners are equally invested, and understand the power the relationship holds. When your efforts to improve your own health also support someone else, it’s much more motivating.

4. Track your progress

Get some stickers. Use an app. Or grab a pencil and your favorite journal. Whatever you use to measure your progress, daily tracking can help keep your priorities straight.

5. Create an action list

Make a list of at least 20 actions you could take to achieve your goals. (Include some outlandish ones too!) This list will come in handy when you get bored with your current strategy, or find that it’s no longer working. Keep adding to the list as you run across new ideas, or feel inspired by what others in your circles are doing.

6. Celebrate

Celebrate every single week. No matter how much or how little progress you’ve made, you are sure to find something to celebrate. Did you “think” about going to the gym? Celebrate that. Maybe next time you’ll actually go. Give yourself some credit and stop beating yourself up for not meeting your expectations 100% of the time. 

7. Have fun

We often forget that developing new habits should be fun. Unless we actually look forward to putting effort into our goals, we’ll avoid them at all costs. Pay attention to what makes you smile, what makes you excited, and what makes you happy.

8. Keep it positive

Have you noticed the difference between positive goals (what we want more of) and avoidance goals (what we want less of)? Setting a goal to “drink 32 ounces of water daily” often feels much more achievable than to “stop drinking soda.” How we frame our goals can make a big difference when it comes to our willingness to do the work. Craft your goals so you are moving toward something positive rather than away from something negative.

9. Stack your goals

As you consider what you want to achieve, try to create goals that move you toward more than one goal. If your goals are to lose weight and improve cardiovascular fitness, then set a goal that supports both. Getting enough sleep might be exactly what you need to stay on track.

Washington State10. Spend time outside

Spending time outside helps reduce stress, and we know that high levels of stress interfere with goal achievement. It’s much more difficult to put effort into establishing new habits when we’re sleep-deprived, anxious or disorganized. Spending time in nature has a way of calming our spirits, and it helps us see the bigger picture. Take a walk outside during your lunch break or make your next business meeting a walking meeting. Spend some quality time with your family and friends while you go for a hike. It will boost your mood and help you stay focused on what’s most important.

It takes more than simply setting a goal to achieve it.

The next time you’re feeling frustrated with your goals, use one of these tips for a boost in motivation.

 

Choose Your Circles Wisely

I was about to turn the last page of the March issue of Seattle Business Magazine when these words caught my eye:

Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words;
Be careful of your words, for you words become your deeds;
Be careful of your deeds, for your deeds become your habits;
Be careful of your habits, for you habits become your character;
Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.

How true.

I learned this the hard way as a teenager. One day I was particularly fired up about something that had happened at school and I was telling my mom about it. After explaining the situation I said, “She’s such an a……,” but quickly caught myself and finished the phrase with “…armadillo!” instead. You get the idea. The girl in my story wasn’t an armadillo and my mother wasn’t fooled. Her response to my awkward attempt at redeeming myself was, “You better be careful with the words you use. You may end up saying something you don’t mean to in front of someone you wish you hadn’t.” Well, clearly. The words I used among friends were certainly not the ones I had intended to use in the presence of my mother. They just sort of slipped out. That’s how habits work. 

We emulate those around us whether we intend to or not. That’s why it’s so important to choose our circles carefully. Habits, mannerisms and behaviors are contagious. In fact, Harvard researchers found the risk for being overweight is increased when those within our social networks are obese as well. Do you ever feel like you aren’t being true to yourself in the company of certain people?

Here are some tips for choosing circles that align with your values:

1. Limit the time you spend with those who drain your positive energy or prevent you from moving toward your purpose. You know who I’m talking about…those people who consume so much of your time and energy that you’re not able to focus on things that are important to you. 

2. Trust your inner wisdom and spend more time with people who bring out the good in you. Surround yourself with people who encourage you to be authentic and daring rather than those who criticize you and complain.

3. Be aware of your discomfort. When those around you are saying or doing things that make you feel uncomfortable, it’s a red flag that your values and beliefs are being compromised. Being around them also suggests to others that you are like them and approve of their behavior.

Who is inside your circle today? Do their behaviors align with your values? Are they pushing you toward or away from your life’s purpose? How are they supporting you to fulfill your life’s purpose? 

Do You Squeeze or Steamroll Your Lemon?

Lemons in an antique Jadeite Fire King pitcher

My husband and I were discussing our differing philosophies on life recently – Jeremy is much more laid-back while I, on the other hand, am frequently described as being “intense” – and I mentioned that I wanted to experience life to the fullest, to squeeze the proverbial lemon. His response was, “I don’t mind giving it a crank or two, but you want to run a steamroller over it!”

Well, that’s probably true.

I mean, I want to enjoy life’s lemonade as much as the next person, and I am finally learning to let go enough to understand the value of spontaneity…er, planned spontaneity as I like to call it. But I also enjoy pursuing goals and taking an active role in my life. That’s who I am. I like to make lists. I enjoy scheduling my tasks in advance – days, weeks and sometimes even months in advance. However, there is a definite sense of freedom in tossing out itineraries too. It’s liberating to experience life without an agenda from time to time because it allows us to make ourselves open to opportunities, experiences and lessons that aren’t part of our tightly packed agendas. It allows us to be more grateful for the things around us and to experience life through all of our senses.

Our differing philosophies have served us well over the years. He can persuade me to relax when I need to, and I can light a fire under him when he needs it. The challenge with living a good life is to live with intent while not taking it all too seriously. Expressing our authenticity by using our strengths and gifts while also remaining open to receive life’s spontaneous blessings is the sweet spot.

It’s a balancing act like everything else.

Whether you prefer to squeeze or steamroll lemons probably depends on how you learned to experience life as a child. I like the feeling I get from accomplishing things. I like to cross things off my list and to look back at what I’ve achieved each day. It makes me feel alive and that I’m contributing something good to this world. That likely comes from my Midwest upbringing and the time I spent on our small family farm. There is no right or wrong here, it’s just interesting to see how differently we all choose to approach life.

So which one are you…a squeezer or a steamroller?

 

Who Pushes You?

Good Will Hunting is one of my favorite movies of all time. (My husband, on the other hand, dreads scrolling through the cable menu for fear that I will see it listed and want to watch it again.)

Of course I love the part where Matt Damon tells off a pretentious, smarty-pants rival in a bar, but the overall theme of film is what really thrills me. A societal has-not possesses the ability to solve complex mathematical problems that some of the smartest haves cannot, yet struggles with whether or not to actually use his gifts.

The one thing that saddens me about the movie, though, is that in truth all of the characters have potential, not just Matt Damon. Maybe they aren’t all math geniuses, but they all have something special to offer the world. When friend Ben Affleck challenges Damon saying, “…you don’t owe it to yourself man, you owe it to me.” I couldn’t help but wonder if Affleck’s character would ever have someone to say the same thing to him, to challenge him and push him toward his full potential.

We all need a push from time to time because it’s so easy to become complacent and stuck our familiar routines. Who pushes you toward greatness? And when is the last time you thanked him or her?

Taking Time for Fresh Air

Italian Countryside

It’s okay – healthy even – to stop “doing” every once in a while and simply enjoy “being.” Sometimes our brain and body just need time to rest.

While hiking through Agliano, Italy, my husband and I marveled at the number of Italians simply sitting outside enjoying the fresh air. They were of all ages and we saw them at varying times of day. Inactivity has a tendency to make me feel uncomfortable, but these people seemed genuinely happy to be just relaxing in contemplation. They appeared calm, peaceful even.

To them, I probably appeared to be the exact opposite: fidgety, watchful, keyed-up and unsettled in my thought. I was taking it all in – the landscape, the culture, the architecture and the norms that were so unlike mine. But I also remember longing to feel that same sense of calm and peace.

As we climbed the winding road into the city, we met one gentleman who was sitting in the shade outside of a small church. He was alone when we first approached and we were surprised to find that he spoke a little English. We asked him a simple, one-word question that I’m certain he’d heard before from other American tourists, “Vino?” He chuckled before answering, “It’s too hot for that.” Indeed, it was high-noon and nearly 90 degrees. But that was beside the point.

He was eager to practice his English and went on to tell us that his life dream was to visit the United State before he dies. Not long after, a young boy, probably in his teens, approached us. He did not speak any English, but the gentleman told us that this boy was a talented culinary student at the university in town. I have no idea if they were related to one another, but I knew without a doubt they were related by community. It was heartwarming to hear this man proclaiming accolades about the boy to complete strangers, and also interesting that the boy had no idea what was being said about him.

The other thing that struck me is that there was nothing extravagant about this town. There were a couple of churches, a park, a school, a few restaurants, a few general shops, a grocery store and apartments. There were no parking lots, shopping malls, stoplights, lighted signs, car horns or people texting or shouting into cell phones. And yet the town had everything its residents “needed.”

For this man, life was pretty darn good without the luxuries of our modern consumer-driven society. What he had was enough. He had a happy heart and a sense of community. To be grateful is to love what you have…your enough.

Lessons From the Farmhouse

Black and white photo of an old farmhouse

Growing up, I spent most of my summers with my dad on our family’s 145-acre farm in Kimbolton, OH. He and my uncle somehow managed to maintain it while also holding down full-time jobs as letter carriers for the U.S. Postal Service. I still to this day don’t know how they did both of those things.

From what I can tell so far in life, farming is the hardest job there is. It’s tough, both physically and mentally. Animals and crops rely on you, and they don’t care if you’re sick or tired or want to go on vacation. They don’t care if the weather is bad or if you have to work overtime. They need you, and you must be there to care for them.

I learned a lot about life during those summers, and I’m happy to say that I’ve been able to apply all of those lessons in my adult life.

Here are the ones that stand out:

Don’t burn daylight. Start your day before the sun rises. There’s a lot to do and there’s only so much time to do it. Use your time wisely and don’t put things off.

Work your ass off. Don’t just work hard; work your ass off. If you set out to complete a task, do it to the best of your abilities. “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right,” I would hear my dad say with frequency. Hard work promotes good physical health, and being physically tired generally means better sleep.

Seek efficiency. Finding more efficient ways to complete projects not only saves time, but often minimizes physical strain. Repetitive tasks quickly teach you to find faster and easier ways to get the job done. Being unconventional is highly encouraged, in fact. Farmers are innovators and they are great teachers of simplicity. Sometimes I think we make things more complicated than they have to be.

There is much gratitude in the circle of life. Our family raised hogs and cattle. Most of the time we sent them off for processing, but we did a bit of salt-curing ourselves. While I was thankfully not around for the actual butchering process as a child, I knew that it happened. And I was grateful to the animals for what they provided us. Because of that, I have always had a deep appreciation for farmers who raise livestock. Real farmers are humane and care for their animals. Those beautiful creatures were blessings while they were living just as they are blessings after their time has passed.

Use what you have. Sometimes you just have to make do with what you have. If you don’t have the exact tool you need, you have to find another way to do it. You quickly learn to be creative and appreciate what you have–creativity and gratitude are essential farm tools.

Don’t be afraid to get dirty. Getting dirty is a lost art. In our culture being dirty is synonymous with all sorts of negative labels, but in some ways dirt reminds us of our deep connection with the earth. Going barefoot is their way of staying connected to the world. No matter what your beliefs are on footwear, getting a little dirt under your fingernails could even be healthy. As expected, the CDC encourages proper nail hygiene practices, but some believe that a little dirt doesn’t hurt. An article in Scientific American notes that “…a great deal of research has shown that exposure to diverse bacteria or even parasitic worms helps to train and regulate the immune system, preventing it from becoming over-active.” We still have a lot to learn about the symbiotic relationships that exist in our environment, but a little dirt is just fine with me.

Take time to reflect on your accomplishments. The sense of satisfaction I see on my father’s face after he completes a project never ceases to amaze me. A cut field, a trimmed fence line, a painted building…those works of art provide him with a sense of accomplishment and pride. It is a reward in itself to see a job done well, a task crossed off the list. I understand now that reflection is a form of self-motivation. It helps us build confidence and momentum to take on bigger, more complex projects. We feed our inner strength by saying, “I can do it…because I just did!”

Take care of your tools. In line with the “use what you have” mentality, farmers understand that you must take care of your equipment. Cleaning, maintaining, repairing and storing tools out of the weather are the most basic principles of sustaining a farm. As consumers, I suspect we would consume less if we took better care of what we have.

Neighbors are family. In the country, neighbors aren’t just people you wave to from your car window. They are your extended family. They would drop what they are doing to help you, and you would do the same for them. They offer their time and equipment without being asked. They are people that you confide it, laugh with and grieve with. A community doesn’t have to consist of hundreds or thousands or people; it can exist in your own backyard.

These experiences and observations have made me who I am today. In fact, I’ve probably learned even more than I realize. Nature has a way of teaching great lessons when we stop long enough to pay attention. But farmers figured that out a long time ago.

 

How to Live Like a Manatee

swimming manatees

Last week I visited the manatees at Homosassa Springs. It was pretty cold by Florida standards, so they were huddled together in the constant 72-degree Crystal River.

Manatees are some of my favorite creatures. For one thing, they are mysterious. No matter how many times you see them they are mesmerizing to watch. Biologically, they are close relatives of the elephant, but any resemblance would be a bit of a stretch if you ask me. As strange looking as they may be, there’s just something about them that makes you want to reach out and give them a big hug. Their friendly, outgoing nature just sort of lures you in.

As I watched them through my giant smile, I noticed a few things that we could learn from them.

Move slowly. Why are humans always in such a hurry? It’s clear that rushing around doesn’t mean we get things done any faster. That guy that peels out next to us at the light generally ends up right beside us at the next light. Multi-tasking and being “busy” have become our norms, but perhaps the manatees could teach us a thing or two about moseying. Moving slowly and deliberately seems to be their philosophy. It’s a reminder that we should be working smarter, not harder.

Be part of a group. All of us enjoy spending a little quiet time alone, but being social has some benefits too. Knowing we have others to lean on provides a sense of comfort and belonging. We know that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and apparently so do manatees. They seem to understand the value of being part of a group. In the winter months, at least, they stay clustered together, mostly just socializing, but occasionally rolling around playfully to entertain each other.

Be friendly. Manatees have been called “gentle giants” for good reason. They epitomize warmheartedness and coexistence. They don’t get too excited if a neighbor happens to bump into or roll over them. They just bob along and go with the flow.

Eat more plants. Manatees are herbivores and only occasionally (perhaps accidentally even) snack on small fish. If delicious plants can support these 1,000+ pound monstrosities, then surely they can support us too.

Be curious. While curiosity does tend to get them in trouble around boat propellers, I admire their curiosity about the world around them. They are a migratory species, traveling and exploring the coastal waterways like gypsies of the sea.

If we would only slow down long enough to be part of something bigger than ourselves, to be kind to one another, and to care for our own physical health, then maybe we could spend more time exploring this beautiful world.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can support the endangered manatees, visit the Save the Manatee Club.

6 Reasons I’m Glad I Started Practicing Yoga

rock cairn

Sure, I’ve taken a yoga class or two over the years, but I’ve never really felt like I knew what I was doing. It was more like I was playing solo Twister while peering through my armpit at the instructor trying to see which appendage I should move next. I always felt like I was missing the whole point.

That’s why in January of this year I decided to take a beginner’s yoga class. It seemed logical to start from the beginning and to pretend I knew nothing at all (which wasn’t hard to do since I didn’t). I chose a 6-week class series taught at a local studio here in Issaquah, Village Green Yoga. (I highly recommend them if you live in the area.)

I instantly knew I’d made the right decision when I met our instructor, Jean. She made us feel welcome the moment we walked through the door. She was patient, encouraging us to push ourselves – but also to stop if and when we felt discomfort. She also offered suggestions for modifications when we discovered that our bodies didn’t quite move the way we’d hoped. Probably the most inspiring thing for me was that she, like the rest of us, was imperfect. And she wasn’t afraid to say so. She recognized that she had limitations too, and that all of us were in it together – simply doing our best. It was such a great lesson in self-compassion.

Since there were 6 classes, I thought it would be symbolic to highlight 6 reasons that yoga has been a positive experience in self-love for me.

1. It’s helping me get to know my body. Having lived with myself for nearly 38 years now, you would think that I knew myself pretty well already. But I was utterly shocked to find out that there’s still quite a bit I don’t know about myself. For example, who knew I was so lop-sided?! Seriously. I don’t bend the same way on both sides. One foot flops further to the side when I lie on my back. My right leg goes to sleep when I sit in the sukhasana pose (cross-legged) too long. The other significant thing that I learned is that I can no longer move in some ways that used to. (Bummer.) Despite these discoveries, even after just 6 short weeks, it seemed I was able to do more than I could that first week. Success!

2. It’s teaching me how to breathe correctly. Breathing is something all of us do, but I’d argue that we don’t all do it well. I’ve always struggled with finding the right breathing rhythm while doing things that are physically demanding. I tend to hold my breath. No matter if I’m strength training or running, I sometimes just forget to breathe. And by the time I remember to, I’m huffing and puffing and feeling frustrated. I know that sounds silly, but I think it’s because I take everything so seriously. I concentrate so hard that I lose sight of the bigger picture. Yoga has taught me to find a sort of flow in my breathing, and that is what sets the pace for everything else.

3. It’s calming. I don’t slow down often, but yoga requires me to. The postures are relaxing and invigorating at the same time, and I can see how people become hooked on that sensation.

4. It’s challenging. It is somewhat ironic that most people tend to avoid things that are challenging – especially for things we do with our free time. But there’s something special about the way you feel when you nail a pose – or realize that you did it better than you did last time.

5. It prompts other healthy behaviors. Yoga makes me crave other healthy experiences. Healthy food, healthy relationships, healthy finances, positive thinking and gratitude come to mind. That is the kind of mind-set I leave with after every class. What a great source of motivation!

6. I understand  more clearly now that I am, and will always be, a work in progress. Ah yes, back to the idea of imperfection again. Yoga has a way of making imperfection okay – normal even. It’s an acceptance of reality. Pretenses and perfectionism must be checked at the door because yoga encompasses the idea that self-acceptance and acceptance of others is core to our being, and to finding happiness.

What have been your personal takeaways from yoga?

 

 

What Perfection Isn’t

When I started my career 15 years ago, I was the prototypical clinical dietitian. I followed all the rules. Diet recommendations were dictated by protocols, precise mathematical calculations and solid scientific research.

As a consultant for several long-term care facilities, my job was to ensure that residents were being offered diets that not only supported their health, but in many cases improved it. Chronic medical conditions often made this challenging, though, since many of those conditions required dietary restrictions.

I remember one resident in particular. She was undergoing dialysis treatment and was also not eating well. After carefully studying her lab values, I constructed what I thought to be the perfect diet. It consisted of a laundry list of foods that she could not eat. If it was high in potassium, forget it. High in phosphorus? No way. I cannot even remember how many restrictions I had listed, but I’m sure as I wrote the list my expression looked much like Ralphie’s as he wrote his letter to Santa…intent! I want an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle (with a compass in the stock)!

I confidently faxed over my my recommendations to the physician, satisfied that I had just executed the most evidence-based recommendation possible. It was perfect! Of course it would be approved. I had thought of everything!

I was crushed when the fax was returned with the words, “What’s left sawdust?” scrawled across the top. (Clearly not approved.)

That physician knew something that I hadn’t quite grasped yet. I realized at that moment, thankfully early on in my career, that good medical care is not about know-it-all providers dictating our behaviors. Good medical care also considers what makes life enjoyable. It understands that what’s right isn’t always perfect, and what’s perfect isn’t always right. It takes into account the things that make us human as well as what science tells us is the best treatment option.

Perfection isn’t real, it’s an illusion. In fact, perfection is nothing more than what each of us feels is perfect for us. It’s defined by us, the beholder.

It’s unlikely that I’ll forget this lesson, since every time I see sawdust I’m reminded.