More Meaningful Interactions

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“You can’t upload love, you can’t download time, you can’t Google all of life’s answers. You must actually live some of your life.” ~ author attributions vary

A recent TIME mobility survey polled 5,000 people and found that 84% of participants couldn’t go a single day without their mobile device, with 25% admitting that they checked their phones every 30 minutes. With so many ways to check in and let the world know exactly what you’re doing and when, many feel pressured to maintain their online identity, tweeting, and over-communicating around the clock.

That’s not all bad, but it’s not all good, either. More and more, many people live under the expectation of constant connection. The digital age brings with it many blessings, especially in terms of ready information and instantly accessible research. We know issues, developments and stories instantly, promptly communicate them to friends and colleagues, and get instant feedback. Some ask, is this critically important?

How often do we find ourselves reading or posting to social media instead of socializing with family and friends — or tweeting life as observers rather than living it? Is there balance? Does there need to be balance?

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There is a technology backlash that has been gaining momentum over the past few years. The idea? Unplug yourself and reconnect with an analog way of life. Oddly, the epicenter of this movement is the San Francisco Bay Area, also home to the tech-saturated Silicon Valley. Why? Because people are finding that being digitally tethered distracts them from more meaningful interactions.

At the heart of this movement is getting back to a purer way of living: rediscovering hobbies, using one’s hands, getting outdoors, and having conversations that aren’t mediated by bits and bytes.

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Here’s an ironic observation: All of our devices have rechargeable batteries and in order to recharge, they all need to be plugged in. Unlike our rechargeable toys, we often need to unplug — in order to recharge.

If you’re someone who wants to unplug or not always be “on,” these three ideas may help to shift your digital device dependency. Who knows, they may even yield less stress.

  1. Use technology to master technology. Block your email or Internet access so you’re not tempted. As an example, Apple users can use the program “Freedom” to disable networking from their computer. That way, they can concentrate on what they need to get done, and can only get online by going through the hassle of rebooting.
  2. Find something better to do. It’s natural to flip through your Facebook news feed or channel surf when there’s seemingly nothing better to do. To mitigate these sessions, create other options. Craft a list of hobbies or activities that you really like, then choose one of those alternatives instead. Bake, read a book, draw, play basketball.
  3. Set limits. Consider “lobotomizing” your smartphone by killing your data plan, which means you can only access the Internet through WiFi and not at every red light. Then, when you’re sitting at a railroad crossing, instead of being on your phone, look at the graffiti on the boxcars going by. Would that be so bad?

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Very Hard Things

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“One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter.” ~ James Earl Jones

I recently lunched with three friends. We enjoyed a casual conversation that, at one point, meandered into various thoughts and experiences about courage. The things no one else is doing. The things that scare you. The things that define you and that make a difference between living a life of mediocrity or outrageous outcomes.

It got a little deeper. We generally agreed that hard things are the easiest to avoid; to pretend they don’t apply to you. The sense that ordinary people (like us) accomplish great things because they often do the hard things; the things that take courage. Being the demure one among we four, I decided to ask the others what the hardest thing was that they ever had to do. Truly, the most gut wrenching act or decision. And lunch took a very different turn.

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I’m not going to go into what was disclosed. Each of us had a very personal story, just as you and others have. What I will share is that as I was driving back to my home office, I cried. Because I realized how fragile I have been and at times, still am. Especially when we must muster whatever courage we have and deal with life’s hardest things.

Not always do people get the lessons and character they ought to — out of the hard things in life. Some are not good learners in life’s school. Some grow bitter in disappointment and lose some of their innocence. Others have their vulnerability pierced when they endure trial.

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There aren’t many ways to avoid very hard things. It’s part of thriving. Yet there are counter-balances to dealing with life’s biggest challenges; actions to redirect your energy and attention. If you seek or need to refocus, especially after having dealt with something very hard, here are three considerations:

  1. Find beauty in small moments. Don’t wait for the next big thing to happen — winning the lottery, kids, promotions — find peace in the small things that happen every day. Enjoy the pleasure of sharing something you enjoy with someone else; holding hands with your partner; a quiet cup of coffee in the morning. Noticing small pleasures on a daily basis can change the quality of your life.
  2. Start a family. I don’t mean have kids. Make the decision to have a family, which means giving of yourself fully to another person or several people. Risk being vulnerable by sharing your fears, quirks, and failures with someone else; you might find it makes you even stronger. Find someone or some people with whom you can share love, mutual respect, and trust.
  3. Practice self-compassion. People often find it easy to offer support to others at a cost of being less compassionate to themselves. Research shows that people who are kinder to themselves, who don’t get bogged down in personal imperfections and weaknesses, are more likely to be in better health.

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Comfort Food Cravings

“If hunger is not the problem, then eating is not the solution.” ~ Author Unknown

At one time or another, most of us have had food cravings. And often, the preferred choice is “comfort food.” When people eat, they frequently feel better. Yet there’s a big difference between tapping into a food’s inherently calming properties and using food as an emotional anesthesia. That kind of eating may buy you a temporary sense of calm, but it’s usually a quick fix that wears off fast. And where does it often leave people?

Comfort foods work on a purely, and usually deliciously, psychological level. Eating comfort foods from our past works by rekindling happy memories of those times. The same holds true for food that reminds us of someone we loved. Different comfort foods can appeal to different genders. A Cornell University study discovered that women prefer sweet foods such as ice cream, but men go for savory items like soups and steak.

While comfort food may make us feel good at the moment, and may indeed be delicious, psychiatrist Robert Gould suggests that people tend to eat based upon emotion and don’t understand why they think they’re hungry. Think about that. Gould thinks people should ask themselves why they crave a particular food before they eat it and to assess honestly whether or not they are really hungry in a clinical sense. The study also found that men tend to use comfort foods as a reward, while women often feel guilty after indulging.

Regular comfort eating as a response to stress — especially chronic stress — is considered an unhealthy behavior akin to smoking cigarettes. Why? Because comfort foods are often low on nutrition. One 2007 study found that when given both grapes and hot buttered, salty popcorn to eat while watching a sad movie, participants ate far more popcorn.

While foods that produce physical happiness affect our physiology, comfort foods provide happiness on a psychological level. When you’re down in the dumps, however, you probably won’t care about the distinction, as long as you feel better.

People often conflate happiness with comfort. In the case of comfort food, people may be misusing food to soothe themselves to unhealthy results.

If you’re nodding your head in agreement and believe your food cravings may not be in your better, long-term health interests, here are three ways to rethink food cravings and defaults to comfort food:

  1. Experiment to find new favorites. Consider the possibility that you haven’t yet found your favorite comfort food. Think about choices you never would have thought of years ago. You’re never done learning how to savor nutritious food in new ways.
  2. Wait. If you’re really craving some comfort food, try waiting 15 minutes before you reach for the chips. It will give you time to evaluate whether you really want it and the craving may subside.
  3. Find a new comfort. If you’re eating because you’re bored find another way to amuse yourself so you’re not always reaching for food. Try going for a swim, or even a walk. Exercise is a natural mood enhancer. If you’re feeling sad or anxious, try short bursts of any type of activity.

The Art of Discourse

“There is no such thing as a worthless conversation, provided you know what to listen for. And questions are the  breath of life for a conversation.”

~ James Nathan Miller

I attended a social function last weekend; a mid-afternoon mix of people I knew and others who I’d yet to meet. I’m often aware at such functions, not critically aware, simply as a participant who listens and watches, just as much as I engage. Remember, this was a social gathering. :)

I am a “connector.” I enjoy bringing unknown parties together. Sometimes these random introductions click and other times they fizzle. I’ve developed an interest in watching and trying to understand why some new couplings/groupings flourish and others wane. What I’ve gleaned (this may be unsurprising to some) is that there are gifted conversationalists and there are those who have yet to learn the art of effective and engaging conversation.

We know that conversation is a great way to share our everyday stories. It often greases the ‘connection’ skid. Think about some of the most important moments in your life and about the relationships you have. The foundation of nearly all of these is conversations. When we are learning about one another, we are listening and enjoying simple moments together.

Some people are conversation naturals. Others may think they are good at conversing. Most recognize that taking one’s turn in a conversation (think weaving in a tidbit here and there) and thinking before you speak (beware of foot-in-mouth), are generally accepted and encouraged etiquette. Yet there are other practices that can help one become an even more appreciated communicator. For your consideration, these three:

  • Come to an occasion with topics in mind. En route to an event, think about the (known and unknown) people who will/may be in attendance. Brainstorm stories you can share and questions you can ask. Think, too, about things that may interest those you meet for the first time. Be prepared to ask them about the unique aspects of their locale. Consider asking those who do not know others better for some background information.

  • Try to ask open-ended questions; questions that cannot be answered with “yes or no.” Asking someone if they enjoyed the show calls for a “yes or no” response. Asking what they thought about the performers requires more thought. Be ready to contribute to the conversation.
  • Exercise courtesy. Remove and turn-off all electronic devices. How can you have a meaningful conversation when you allow yourself to be distracted by a       technological instrument? If you have to stay connected put your phone on           vibrate and if you must take an important call, excuse yourself from the                 conversation. A lack of consideration is simply rude. Agreed?

Which Are You: 49% or 51%?

Jennifer Marchetti

Jennifer Marchetti

“A lifestyle is what you pay for; a life is what pays you.” ~ Thomas Leonard

In early 2014, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate (BH&GRE) conducted a National Survey of baby boomers to learn their retirement strategies, aspirations, and motivations. 49% of the respondents who felt more confident about achieving an ideal retirement lifestyle, cited their top factor for feeling confident as having a retirement lifestyle plan.

This two-minutes video highlights the survey findings.

As a boomer, the 49% figure does not surprise me. In my work with this generational cohort I have learned that many boomers have not substantively planned for their “retirement.” Thus, the post title. Are you part of the 49%, or one of the 51% who don’t yet have a retirement lifestyle plan? As an extension to this finding I find myself thinking, Why not a lifestyle plan for anyone, at any life stage?

Jennifer Marchetti is the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications for BH&GRE. She was my guest on this week’s Awakening to Awareness Radio Show. On the program, Jen discussed a wide range of matters significant to boomers including: a new definition for retirement; why boomers are pursuing their passions; two views on empty nesters; how boomers are repurposing their living space and; the amazing optimism of this generation who have served as economic drivers for much of their lives.

Also not surprising, as members of the “sandwich generation,” boomers are strong enablers for following generations. They intend to stay active whether continuing to work, volunteering, returning to school (to learn or teach!), as travelers and/or as emerging Encore Entrepreneurs.

The show podcast is linked here, for those interested in listening.

Oops!

“Never neglect the little things. Never skimp on that extra effort, that additional few minutes, that soft word of praise or thanks, that delivery of the very best that you can do. It does not matter what others think, it is of prime importance, however, what you think about you. You can never do your best, which should always be your trademark, if you are cutting corners and shirking responsibility. You are special. Never neglect the little things. ~ Og Mandino

The title was a toss-up: Oops! or Neglect. The former seemed, catchy. The latter, foreboding. Catchy won.

On a piece of paper I started writing things we often neglect. In a couple of minutes I wrote the following:

  • bad habits
  • everyday pleasures
  • our minds
  • continuous learning
  • exercise
  • mental illness
  • common courtesy
  • good nutrition
  • hugs
  • car maintenance
  • connections
  • strangers
  • transitions
  • compassion
  • dental care
  • friends
  • charity
  • the homeless
  • good advice
  • learning disabilities
  • marriage
  • strangers
  • spiritual life
  • child abuse
  • parents
  • humor
  • asking for help
  • our emotions
  • animal cruelty
  • exploration
  • the elderly
  • to smile

Reflecting on this cursory list I wondered, why do people often neglect these? The answers are innumerable and we each have our own reasons (excuses).

I extracted from this list three things that, for me, are very important and I do not neglect. Before sharing them, I’d like to encourage you to come up with your own list. Then, from what you write, consider three that you believe deserve more of your time, energy, and intentional focus. My three:

Sleep. Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being. Getting enough quality sleep can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety. During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function (and you thought is was just time for your subconscious to play). :) Damage from sleep deficiency can occur in an instant (such as a car crash), or it can contribute to chronic health problems and harm you over time. It also contributes to how well you think, learn, react, work, and get along with others.

Being in the present moment. If you’re living in the present, you’re living in acceptance. You’re accepting life as it is now, not as how you wish it would have been. You realize everything is complete as it is. You can have peace in your heart knowing that everything that should happen will.

   Be more Self-aware. Get to know yourself. A little introspection might yield some discomfort but it’s likely to be revealing and helpful. Consider more deeply understanding your emotions, feelings, and what triggers them so you can effectively work through them and manage your responses. Tune into what’s going on in your body (another area you might be neglecting?) and learn from it. Discover your beliefs, assumptions, and expectations, and (just maybe!) how they affect what and why you neglect.

Your Life Expectancy

“Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.” ~ Jim Rohn

I recently read a research brief published by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College titled, How Will More Obesity and Less Smoking Affect Life Expectancy. In the piece, Dr. Samuel Preston and colleagues write that personal behaviors can have a major influence on how long people live. Two especially damaging behaviors are smoking and the poor nutrition and exercise habits that result in obesity. No surprise there, right?

Obesity is on the rise while smoking is on the decline.The question is whether the benefits from less smoking will outweigh the harm from rising obesity. The brief projects how changes in obesity and smoking will impact life expectancy in 2040.

Adults smoke for a variety of reasons. They may have stress and pressures because of economic and personal reasons. They may be unemployed or not working, homeless, or in bad relationships. Smoking may give them energy while going through a hard time. And then there are people who simply love to smoke; it gives them pleasure. After all, it is a choice.

Similarly, the idea of a tax on soda is being debated in New York and elsewhere. Will raising prices lower consumption, leading to better health among Americans? The fact is that the tax will fall more heavily on poorer people, for whom a few cents has a greater impact, and who (adults!) in fact drink far more soda. It is still their affordable pleasure yet poorer people are more likely to be obese and have diabetes.

In my work inspiring people to choose enlightened lifestyles, I’ve found that change is contagious. When people realize that lifestyle change is achievable, especially for them, they give greater thought to effecting change; not only for themselves but for their families, their wellness, and a healthy, longer life.

There is plenty of information for people interested in their longevity and what can be done to optimize it. Here are three considerations if you’re open to exploring healthy/healthier lifestyles:

  1. Join a group. Great things happen in groups. Consider joining a community outreach program, the Sierra Club, a book club, a hiking group or a neighborhood committee. Pursue your passions, share with like-minded people, let your voice be heard and step your physical activity up a notch.
  2. Remember to change more than your gym membership or what’s in your pantry/refrigerator. Be ready to change something about yourself or your life that will clear the way to reaching your goals and full potential. Keep an open mind and don’t be hard on yourself. Give yourself permission to be imperfect and reward yourself for incremental achievements.
  3. What you may not know is that sugar is a far more dangerous influence to your health than cigarettes. It is important to stop both but not simultaneously. Taking on the task of quitting smoking ought to be done once you have an optimal diet in place and you are feeling good.

A Perspective on Loss

“We don’t let go of anything important until we have exhausted all the possible ways that we might keep holding on to it.” ~ William Bridges

It is fair to say each of us has strengths and weaknesses. What is interesting is on which we choose to focus. You can readily identify your most robust strength and your biggest weakness (acknowledging a weakness can be a strength and vice versa). And for all of my actual and perceived strengths, I know that handling loss is what I am least equipped to deal with — my weakness, if you will.

In two blog posts today, I read and was reminded of how common loss is. We simply don’t confront it until, somehow, it ‘hits home.’ And ‘home’ is a different place within each of us.

Losing someone or something you care deeply about is very painful. The range of emotions we experience, may never let up. There are many reactions to significant loss. And while there are no right or wrong ways to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain that, in time, can renew and permit one to move on.

Part of loss deals with searching for answers and meaning; trying to make sense of it all. While some may never fully recover, allowing grief to run its course is part of a time-undefined progression. In this vein, I recall reading a Robert Hall, Jr. perspective which he describes as the “fertile void,” a time of not knowing what is arising, what to do, or how to feel. And in this void people find themselves making changes to fill the void, sometimes even returning to something familiar — the way things were.

I know it’s cliché yet, “There is light at the end of the tunnel,” is something that can give one hope for the future after a long and difficult period.

We have countless ways to cope with loss. These four make sense to me. If you have others that you’ve found helpful, please feel free to share them in comments.

  1. Surrender. We cannot bring back what we have lost. We cannot undo a war or a natural disaster. Experiencing our loss and our feelings is a natural process, but it can lead us into deeper suffering, too. Surrendering to the situation as something we cannot change, and accepting that, can help us to release and honor grief in a healthy way.
  2. Write a brief letter to yourself or loved one of what you wanted to say before the loss. Putting your words on paper or expressing things you wish you could have said before the event or loss might help you work through feelings and emotions that you need to let out or put behind you.
  3. Connect meaningfully with others. Finding the right approach to deal with tragedy is a very personal thing. Pain in the short run in unavoidable, and that’s okay. The goal is not to let the pain break you in the long run. Consider being in “flow,” having an intense focus on the present day and attempting to connect with others.
  4. Believe that someone else is in control. Just as contentment and happiness come into our lives unexpectedly, so too does loss. Perhaps important, is to believe that another is in control, no matter what.

Being in “The Zone”

“Flow with whatever may happen and let your mind be free. Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.” ~ Chuang Tzu

I intentionally chose this photo. It is the one place, a single activity, in which I can find myself in “the zone.”  According to Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, being in the zone or in “flow” is a single-minded immersion and represents the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. It is when emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand.

Many of us have been in the zone. And describing how it feels there is unique to each individual. Some people can get ‘there’ easily; they have conditioned themselves and know what it takes to experience a feeling of spontaneous joy while performing a task, although being in the zone is also described as a deep focus on nothing but the activity, not even oneself or one’s emotions.

Being in the zone is often associated with peak performance, commonly practiced by serious athletes, writers, and musicians. But it can align with gardening and painting just as easily. In this state of completely focused motivation, one can side step the chaos, the busyness, the rat race of everyday life. And simply be, accepting whatever you are doing.

People find themselves in the zone when in the presence of nature, meditating, or at willful solitude. We often think we need a structured vacation or a getaway to be able to focus on one task. Not so.

If the prospect of getting into the zone appeals to you, here are four steps that can help to pave the way:

  1. Choose a singular task. To get the most out of your mind you need to concentrate all your attention on exactly one thing and one thing only. It ought to be something that you are truly interested in, your most important task at the moment.
  2. It’s important to have energy. If you’re barely maintaining consciousness due to a late night of cocktails or a restless night of sleep, getting into the zone is going to be difficult.
  3. Find the right environment. Figure out the setting(s) that facilitate your flow, be it a crowded coffee shop or a quiet library, and work in them whenever possible. An uncrowded swimming pool works well. :)
  4. Emotions are key. Being in the zone requires finding the feelings that allow your subconscious to take over. Music can help activate these emotions. Find songs or artists that put you in the right mood and block out distractions.