A “Happy” Filter

There’s something about this “Bokehful” filter that imbues “happiness”… I mean, it’s like jumping in a pool of happy, bright-light bubbles…  (Which pretty much sums up how I feel about life!)

I was wearing my volunteer hoodie in this picture and that’s yet another aspect of living that feels so incredibly joyous and “right.” Sometimes we find passions later in the journey. . .

On the tougher days it’s especially important to find our “happy” filters – whatever they may be – because life isn’t  always so peachy (and neither are we. I’m sure not all the time!)

Maybe it’s a cup of coffee, a love note, or a listening to the laugh of someone we love. Maybe it’s a call to an old friend, listening to your favorite song, or curling up in the arms of your best friend. Whatever those “happy” things are, keep them on tap for the rainy days.

If you find yourself in short supply? Take a quick picture and slap on a slew of glowing bubbles. If nothing else, it’s worth a smile to see yourself surrounded in so colorful an effervescence. It lifts the mood just looking at it! (“What if I’m frowning,” you say? All the better! The juxtaposition of a frown face with all that bubbling brilliance ups the humor quotient –  laughing at the gloom is half the battle. DON’T underestimate simple tricks and tools!)

A bad-day band-aid? Maybe. But when you smile your brain actually begins to produce more of our “happiness” chemicals (hint: dopamine and serotonin?) so seriously…what’s the harm in that?

Um… N A D A !

Inspire Others

This has always been one of my goals in life – honestly, since I can remember. I can’t say that I’ve always done the best job, and I know that I fall short at times… But there is nothing that gives me greater joy than contributing positively to someone’s life. My father calls me the “cheerer-upper,” which I desperately hoped I lived up to through the years (and I continue to strive for it!) But even more than that, I take such “designations” to heart – when someone says I inspire them to do something good for themselves, it’s like my heart wants to burst out of my chest.

It is a pursuit that will last all my years, and one that teaches me as I go… But I’ll never lose sight of it because I know what it’s like to be in the darkness with nary a spark to light the way. I  know what it’s like to face our deepest fears alone, and I don’t wish that for anybody.

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6 Personal Tricks To Maintaining Willpower

Every so often I’m asked what I do, or how I stick to my guns, in order to reach the goals I’ve set for myself. Some of my friends have said I stick to my routine like my life depends on it.  While it’s *generally* true that I color in the lines, it doesn’t mean it’s a piece of cake all the time. Cake? Where?!  Is it chocolate!?  (See what I mean…?)

Some days it’s a challenge to keep myself on track, but I do have a few tried-and-true tricks to help me stay on the bandwagon when I want nothing more than to hurl myself off it!

Now it may be I’m already that crazy personality type that pushes myself extra hard…in everything…(and boy, is that exhausting!) It could be that I like routine. Or maybe it’s because I’ve seen other people succeed, and I want to get there too.  Either way, these tricks do come in handy, and are worth a shot if you are having some difficulty motivating. . . They have helped me enormously, and continue to.

What is willpower, though, anyway?  Willpower is typically used to refer to that miraculous, supernal compass that allows us to abstain from whatever it is that ISN’T so good for us…  Or, as the dictionary puts it:

For me, that would be eating whatever I want, not getting up and exercising most days, and not following through with the things that will help me grow as a person, or in a field I’m interested in.  I’ve admitted to myself full-on how much easier that life would be…but when I think about the implications of walking that path, I’ve rerouted very quickly…

So there’s tip #1 right there…

TIP #1 – Internalizing / Visualizing / Owning the Implications

This trick works for me the majority of the time.  I don’t really consider it as guilting myself into things, it’s more that I focus on the implications of NOT doing the action I’m struggling with, OR staying where I am…which is not where I want to be.  I know that if I decide to abandon my dietary habits, I skip my physical activities, give up on something I really want to learn (which I almost did recently!)…I’m going to suffer on a number of levels.  I’ll feel more exhausted, depressed about how I feel / look / not achieving, my skin will probably freak out, the doctors (I’m sure) will be on my case, and I’ll very likely be in a shitty mood all around.  Bad for everyone!

Then there’s tip #2…which is similar to the first, but it puts things in a positive light (which, frankly, is where I personally prefer to be.)

TIP #2 – Internalizing / Visualizing / Owning…and FEELING…the Goals

When I focus on my goals, I get the most bang for my buck – more so than #1 because, again, I’m making this positive.  I focus on what I want most – whether to maintain my current condition, learn more about a subject I’m new to, achieve the next rank in my Martial Art… Whatever the goal is, I focus on HOW I WILL FEEL once I HAVE IT.  That’s how the magic begins.  How to keep it going?  Picture it as if you ALREADY HAVE IT.  Once you get there, you’re golden.  There are mornings that getting up and spinning is the last thing I want to do.  But I focus on the feeling of “that felt great – I did it, and I worked hard, and now I’m ready for the day!”  Focusing on the feeling I’ll have in accomplishing that goal makes all the difference.

TIP #3 – Progress Snapshots

Progress snapshots can take a lot of forms – it really depends on what the goal is. If it’s with regard to my Martial Arts, I’ll make sure to take periodic photos of my attendance card to see just how far I’ve come, and how close my next test is.  If it’s with regard to physical condition, photos go a LONG way.  Photos help us to keep track of how we are doing in the most real sense – I’ve caught myself being off track from pictures plenty of times!  It’s not easy to see ourselves as we really are sometimes – photos keep us honest.

TIP #4 – Staying Gentle with Ourselves

Life is a challenging journey any way you slice it.  There will be ups and downs, and days you don’t damn well feel like “making a gratitude list!” That’s okay.  What’s important is that you are gentle with yourself in understanding we all get a little sidetracked from time to time.  Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling fully.  Then dust yourself off, remind yourself how far you’ve come / that you have made it through successfully before (and I guarantee that you have!), and get to it!  Wallowing in our shortcomings is incredibly dangerous, and a surefire way to keep the negative cycle going.  Chin up  – you can do it!

TIP #5 – Sharing Our Progress

Don’t forget to share your progress with those you trust and love – I assure you that they will want to share in your joy, encourage your continued journey, and would be willing to help you in any way they can.  That’s what loved ones are there for!  You aren’t alone, and you don’t have to go it alone. If you are having a tougher day, it’s okay to ask  a loved one for help, to vent, or to ask for a proper kick in the ass – like being brutally honest! – when you need it. 

TIP #6 – Changing Our Language and Inner Dialogue

I’m as guilty of the next person of putting myself down, and putting road blocks in my own way with negative thoughts or language.  It’s vital that we work on using positive language, such as “I can!”…and using it all the time.  When we are stuck in a rut, or feeling miserable about past failures, that’s when using positive language (and / or replacing negative language) is the most important.  We must remember that there is always a new opportunity waiting – there is no better time than the present to get back on track, and we can do that at any moment.  Forget four letter words like “can’t” as they serve only to derail.  Make sure your language is positive, and you are on your way!

Willpower can be hard to come by all the time…but it is NOT an impossibly-achieved, elusive superpower.  The more we work at it, the more we will have.

You have everything it takes to get back on – and stay on – track, so long as you really want whatever that goal is.

So. . .

In SUMMARY:

TIP #1 – Internalizing / Visualizing / Owning the Implications

  • DO stay honest with yourself about the full implications of staying where you are 
  • DO visualize, and own up to that result (of not following through)
  • DON’T throw in the towel!  You have what it takes!

TIP #2 – Internalizing / Visualizing / Owning…and FEELING…the Goals

  • DO focus on how you will FEEL once you attain your goal
  • DO picture yourself already achieving that goal (this is the key to the miracle!)

TIP #3 – Progress Snapshots

  • DO take periodic “snapshots” to keep you honest with your progress
  • DO take photos, as they are the more true picture of reality than we sometimes like to pretend
  • DO be creative! Taking a picture of a school report card, or positive e-mail from the boss counts!

TIP #4 – Be Gentle With Yourself

  • DO praise yourself with affirmations when you do a great job of making benchmarks
  • DO share your joy with those you love, as they will be proud of you also!
  • DON’T beat yourself up if you had a tough day

TIP #5 – Share the Joy…AND the Challenges!

  • DO share your successes with your loved ones
  • DO share your struggles if you need or want to
  • DON’T isolate yourself.  You don’t have to brave the journey alone!

TIP #6 – Change Your Inner Dialogue 

  • DO use positive language, and try to use it all the time
  • DO believe in yourself and say it aloud if necessary
  • DON’T wallow past failure
  • DON’T give in just because you are in a bad place.  Without change, it’s going to stay that way.
  • DON’T use “I can’t” or “it’s too hard” or I’ll never _____”

You’ve GOT THIS!

Fitness Humor – The Magic Pill

There’s definitely some humor in this at first glance, but the quote also suggests that nutrition is vital to our health – what we take in to fuel our bodies matters, and it’s almost amazing that it isn’t one of the first things many doctors look into for chronic illness.  

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I think a lot of folks assume “clean eating” is bland, boring, and flat-out awful…but it ISN’T.  I’ve never heard someone say that they tried eating healthier foods and found themselves to be more lethargic, or that they suddenly were getting sick all the time, or that they gained weight… It has always been the TOTAL opposite – people have more energy, they feel refreshed and stronger physically, they sleep better, get sick less, have more mental clarity…and they often lose some stubborn pounds while they’re at it.

Sautéing your spinach in a cup of olive oil isn’t going to help…but let’s say you added a dash of oil (healthy fats) and some salt and pepper.  You’d be amazed how great that can taste!  Veggies, fruits, lean proteins…they’re absolutely DELICIOUS and they certainly don’t have to be devoid of flavor.  Spices can make a marked difference, and what’s really great is that no sauce = you can actually taste THE FOOD.  

If, however, we just reach for sugar, products with more ingredients that you can’t pronounce than you can, fried foods (the list goes on), it may taste and feel good in the short term…but it will kick your butt later.  You might find that you are dragging a lot, or that your skin has become dull or temperamental.  It may be that you are even feeling more depressed than normal, heading to the doctor more frequently, or that your clothes have started to feel too snug.  The side effects of a poor diet are doing as much damage to your internal organs too – they heart, brain, blood, ALL of you, needs clean sources of fuel to keep it functioning optimally.  Imagine putting the lowest-end fuel in the Ferrari – it’s not going to do what it is capable of, period.

Challenge yourself – even if in small doses, or for a short, manageable time frame – to try more whole foods, and start to lessen the processed ones.  Being creative with cooking isn’t hard these days with all of the apps and recipes you can find online.  There are also tons of recommendations out there about spices to use, or lower-calorie condiments if necessary, to keep your meals tasting as delicious as you deserve them to be.  

Cutting out the junky stuff might be tricky at first – withdrawal is a real phenomenon.  But stick it through and give your body a chance to adjust – you will find that you had the “magic pill” all along.  Caring about what you put in your fuel tank can make ALL the difference.

Go Ballistic!

Ballistic, high intensity movements are an awesome addition to any workout.  They’re sometimes tough to push through, but they’re worth the effort.

High intensity training has plenty of press coverage so you can find lists of benefits all over the place, as well as solidly backed articles. . .

For the naysayers, I’d encourage giving it a go for a time and you will notice many of the purported benefits yourself, nevermind what others are saying.

That said, it isn’t something you need – nor should – do every workout.  The body gets pushed quite a bit during HIIT, so it’s important to also take a rest.  Two to three times a week is generally the recommendation (though don’t take it from me directly, as I’m not a doc myself.)

I personally love adding it in here or there.  Some of my favorite non-equipment HIIT exercises include:

  • Active Skater Lunges
  • Jump Squats
  • Sit-thrus
  • Bench Hops

I find that these jazz me just a bit more than steady state cardio, and are a great addition to my regular weight lifting routine.  HIIT exercises give me (and my metabolism) a nice boost, help me be as efficient as I can be with my workouts, as well as increase my endurance for Martial Arts.

If you haven’t tried HIIT before, start slow – try some jumping jacks, jump rope, or jogging in place to start. You don’t have to make it impossible (which honestly will only make you jump ship that much quicker!)  

It’s okay to take your time building up! HIIT is an awesome “bang for your buck” approach to fitness – the benefits are not only ones you’ll feel, but ones you will see.

Keep up the awesome work!

Giving Yourself A Break

I had a really rough week last week with a loss in my family.  It’s one of those things that I know takes a long time to “get over” – I’ve been there before.  

But. . .I’ve also had a lot of conditioning that makes me feel that I’m a burden if I’m feeling down, or that I have tp put on a happy face…even when it’s the last thing I want to do.

Part of me agrees with the idea that I need to keep going – one foot in front of the other, and sticking to my routine is more helpful than it isn’t – I get out of my brain, for one (which frankly isn’t firing on all synapses at the moment.)

And part of me feels like…let me get through this, and then I can go home and cry when I need to…because it is just as important for my wellbeing to “allow” my emotions” as it is to be stoic.

I haven’t had much energy, but I still go through the motions.  Form is integral, though, and no matter if we are doing lighter weight, or just running our “usual” on autopilot, we have to pay attention to the form.  I’ve made it a habit to really focus on the muscle that should be working when I exercise, so fortunately I’m in tune with what’s moving (and what shouldn’t be.)  I listen to my body and always try to respect when it needs a break…and to give it a little bit of a push if it needs it.

Today was one of my leg days – I have two.  I used to do EVERYTHING on one day, but it’s overboard for me at this stage in the game. Instead, I like having two manageable but challenging days that aren’t to the point that I make myself sick thinking about them (which used to be the case.)  What’s the point if you are stressing about what’s supposed to be fun and / or good for you?!

My usual Tuesday exercises include the following (I try to keep some of my rests “active” to knock out my ab work without tacking on a ton of time – I don’t want to live at the gym the way I used to back in the day!)

  • SQUATS – 5 sets, narrow and wide stance (with a reconstructed knee and no ACL in one, I opt for smith machine for these.  Yes, Physical Therapist approved! 🙂 )
  • PLANKS – 4 minutes total, main core and obliques, interspersed with squats
  • LUNGES – 3 sets each side, smith machine (free weight done on my other leg day)
  • CRUNCHES – 2 minutes total, varied, flutter kick and bicycle variations, interspersed with lunges 
  • STEP-UPS – 3 sets each side, smith machine and bench
  • BULGARIAN SPLIT SQUATS WITH DUMBBELLS – 3 sets each side
  • DUMBBELL DEADLIFTS – 3 sets of 12 to 15 (using 2 45 lbs dumbbells. If I’m at another facility, I’ll use the 110 lb bar.  Too much weight here really hinders kicking in Martial Arts!)
  • AB VACCUUM – 3 minutes total, interspersed with the three exercises above, as they fit
  • DUMBBELL HIP THRUSTS – 3 sets of 16, using the 45 lb weights.. (If at another gym, Ill use an 80 lb bar.)
  • JUMP SQUATS – 2 sets for 30 seconds each
  • BENCH JUMPS – 3 sets of 8 to 10 (IF my legs aren’t total jello)
  • KICK UPS – 3 sets of 15 (with a dumbbell if I want to add one more exercise in)

As I look at it here…it’s A LOT.  I’m even happier that I split it up!

So today wasn’t my finest – I wasn’t feeling great, and I’m incredibly over tired.  BUT…

BUT…

I went to the gym, I put on some music, and I went through the motions (carefully.)  I didn’t get upset if I couldn’t do everything as well as usual, or if I had to cut my reps.  Movement is helpful even when it can’t be as much as I normally do.  It’s SOMEthing, and that’s what matters.

We have the opportunity to melt down at any given time.  We also have the opportunity to pick ourselves up and move forward as best we can.  I choose both, and that’s okay.  One allows me the freedom to be comfortable with myself and what I’m feeling – to acknowledge that those emotions are acceptable.  The other reminds me that I’m goddamn strong, and I will get through ANYthing.  

 

Be Brave

Fake it until you make it, as they say. . .

You may not be ready – literally, or in your own mind – to give that monstrous presentation to the CEO.

You may not be ready – literally or. . .in your own mind! – to compete in the next category up in your sport.

You may not be ready to take the next step, whatever it may be. . .

Or, frankly, to face yourself head on, once and for all. . .

But. . .

You can pretend to be brave enough to get by.  

Most things in life move fast – ever notice how you say “oh my god, is it APRIL already?! How did the year get here so quickly!?!” It isn’t going to slow down anytime soon.  If you worry about not being ready, opportunities will (not maybe) pass you by.  

It’s a lot like putting on a “happy face” even when you don’t feel like it – that physiologic action pulls a mind-over-matter type about-face by relaying to your brain that things aren’t so bad after all. The act of smiling in and of itself creates a chain reaction (thank you neural messaging!) that helps lift your mood – when things are severe, any uplift can make a huge difference.

Pretending to be brave may not have the same scientific explanation exactly, but it can bring about a wave of confidence you didn’t know you had.  If, in the moment, you are still struggling, remind yourself that being thrown to the wolves, and being UNprepared WILL teach you.  A LOT.  You will learn from the experience – what to not to do, what to do better, and most importantly, what you did that really worked.  Down the road you won’t have to put on the “I’m a shark” face (or…er…fin!) because you will have already proven to yourself you have the wherewithal to kick ass.