Give Yourself a Break – with Caveats

Whatever you are working on to improve, there will be days when it is the very last thing you want to do. It doesn’t matter if you are training for a marathon or a spelling bee.  So what to do?

You can give yourself permission to duff. I do this with some of my workouts. On some days, I burn straight through these drills and the sweat feels great. Other days, not so much. So I slow down. What they hey – I’m not training for the Olympics. And doing something is almost always better than doing nothing.

Or you can take a break for a day. Or a few days. Sometimes, a couple of days off helps you return with a vigor and enthusiasm that you had forgotten. Be careful, though. The key to improvement is mindful, incremental plodding toward a goal. There is a fine line – you will have to decide where it lays – between a rejuvenating break and giving up.

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Do Something Different to Improve

How can you improve by doing the same thing over and over?

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Copyright Dennis Mitton

GluteousHere’s a weird one but it gets to the point.

My butt is killing me. Right at the top where my gluteus medius attaches to the top of my pelvis. It a smaller muscle right at the top of your rear that helps you balance and controls sideways movement of the legs.

The muscle hurts because I don’t use it much and now I am. I like running which, obviously, is typically a forward-moving exercise. So I don’t use this muscle much compared to it’s larger and more famous partner the gluteus maximus. The maximus helps to pull my thigh upwards when I run.  I’m doing a new workout now with more lateral motion that puts this comparatively weaker muscle in play. So it’s sore.

Doing something different is the key to any improvement. It’s obvious when you think about it – how could we ever improve doing x by only doing x? This is why marathoners do sprints. They need more than the long drudge of mere miles to earn their best times. This is why we do word problems in math. This is why we experiment with whole wheat flour instead of using the bleached white stuff. Different results required different inputs.

How do you want to improve? What are you doing now to maintain your skills? What do you need to do in order to improve those skills? Whatever it is, it will be awkward at first. What you are good at felt awkward once. But keep at it and the new habit begins to feel comfortable. It starts to feel right. And then you’re on the track to improvement and accomplishment.

So have at it. Do something different. Put yourself in a weird place. Do something out of character. You’ll be better for it.

Living Long and Happy. Learn to Work Hard and Be Uncomfortable

 

The Story of Me. Ms. Haft and the Nasty Word

I haven’t a clue how she kept her job..

Copyright Dennis Mitton
f2
I’m stretching it but you get the idea…

I was a junior and in love with writing and with science and, along with every other testosterone-sick guy in school, with Ms. Haft. She was freshly graduated from college and she wore her hair long and her skirts short. It’s still odd to me, but rather than standing or sitting, she would teach while kneeling on her desk. The younger teachers eschewed rows and columns and circled our desks around the perimeter of the room. One day – it’s one of the few clear memories I have of high-school – Ms. Haft walked into the room, climbed onto her desk, knelt down, and in the most droning, flat, and unemotional voice said “fuck”. Pencils, papers, jaws – everything dropped. Every set of eyes shot up from whatever they were looking at and turned to Ms. Haft. The air left the room. After a very long and very pregnant pause, she said it again. Fuck. And then again. Fuck you. Fuck me. Well, fuck it all.

All of a sudden, school got interesting.

She explained that today’s lesson had two parts. Part One was that we would circle the room and everyone would say Fuck out loud in turn. Just utter the word. Just form the sounds pushing air from your lungs and out your mouth. Touch your upper teeth to your lower lip and say it. Fuck. Good god. What harm can come from expelling air and forming a sound?

fWe went ’round our circle one-by-one. A couple students, pale and panting at the idea of letting such an abomination squeeze through their lips, shook their head No. I think one person gathered up and left. Some, given permission to swear for probably the first time, said the word over and over until told to stop. In the end, I think everyone in the room except for two or three, completed the odd lesson.

Lesson Two was much less interesting: words are meaningless. Do you imagine that ‘Fuck’ has any real meaning? Do you imagine that lovers would say such a word to each other? If we never bat an eye when the word is spoken would people continue to use it? Words only have meaning when we agree to their meaning.

But isn’t that exactly what culture is? An agreement that words and gestures and swimming pools and a dozen wives mean something?

The very purpose of words is to convey meaning and no word is meaningless. Words move us to great joy or to great pain. Words can elevate a nation. Words can change your life in an instant. “I’m leaving.” “I Have a Dream!” “Math is hard.”  How many girls have never forgotten when their dad told them that he loves them even though they are chubby? How many adults have never imagined what wonderful things they can do only because someone three or four decades ago told them that “you’re not good at that.” My own father remembered me at four-years-old reaching for his hand once to walk across the street. He said that he slapped my hand away and said “Big boys don’t hold hands”. It was meaningful enough for him to remember it fifty years later.

I disagree with Ms. Haft about the meaning of words but she alluded to something that I do agree with: dark things lose their power when exposed to light. I can’t help but think of this when I read the cuthat another group or government office has been ordered to cut off communication with the press or to shut down parts of their website. There might be a good reason for these actions but, without open and free communication, we can’t know.

I don’t know what happened to Ms. Haft. I don’t remember if she was there for my senior year. The last thing I remember of her was when she caught on that my buddy and I were the sole members of our high-school Maoist club. We dropped pamphlets and commie art in teacher’s mail each morning and beamed for days after Ms. Haft told us that the school board had called a special meeting to discuss ‘communist infestation’ at the school.


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Don’t forget The Genius Next Door

Some kinds of smarts are more valuable than others

carWayne Dyer, whom I disagreed with on almost everything important, talked about talking to even the boring and boorish people around you. He found that when he took a real interest in people that they would unfold to him as fascinating and interesting people. This has always been interesting to me. I’ve written about it a couple of times here and here.

I thought about this idea today when I was talking with someone about getting their car worked on. I knew a guy once, he’s passed away now, who rebuilt my car’s engine in a weekend as a neighborly gesture. He was just a guy down the street – I don’t even know what he did for a living – but most nights you could see his garage lit up where he would putter until bedtime. One Friday my car started to act up. “Act up” is the totality of my mechanical expertise. So I walked down the road and found this guy in his garage and told him about the weird gurgle emanating from my car’s engine. “Let’s go have a look,” he said.

We wandered down to my place and I started the car. He laughed and shook his head. “Turn it off,” he yelled. “It’s your cam bearing.” Or something of the sort – I never really knew. “Ugh.” I was smart enough to know that this was bad. “So I have to take it to the garage? Sounds bad.” “Nah,” he said. “You need to drive it down to my place. We’ll take the engine out tonight and then tear it down and replace the bearing tomorrow and put it back together on Sunday.” I’m sure that I had a look like I was talking to a crazy person. “Really,” he said. “Nothing to it.” And that’s exactly what we did. He was completely nonplussed about it as if it was what anyone would do. I was amazed through most of the weekend. What I saw as confusing and complex was simple to him. He just worked methodically step by step to pull the engine and make the repair and then did the same thing in reverse to put it all back together. It really did look easy when he did it. The car was up and running by the time Sunday football came on. He refused to take any money and said that I could help him with something one day but I truly doubted that I had any skill he would be interested in.

So as I keep saying. Talk to the people around you. Ask them about their story. More times than not you’ll find that you are surrounded with interesting people.


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What do you stand for?

Faith and football? Huh?

faith
I guess this is how you get the girl in Arkansas?

Last night, after the kids were down and the dishes put away, I plopped down onto the couch with my wife and watched fifteen minutes of the Bachelor opening. For those lucky souls who don’t know what this is, it’s another reality show where lots of high-drama people are tossed into a pot and stirred until said drama ensues. It’s predictable, silly, and mindless and no doubt contributed to the rise of The Donald.  

During the season opener, most of the lovelorn wannabes are given a couple of minutes to tell their story as they stroll through the streets of their town. One woman was from small-town Arkansas (what else is there in Arkansas?) and talked about her boutique and about how dreamy the bachelor is and then said something interesting: she capped her introduction by saying that life, for her based on her small town Arkansanian roots, revolves around ‘the three F’s of faith, family, and football.

It sounds like a cliché but I wonder how many of us could funnel what’s important to us down so succinctly. And just how powerful it is to be able to lay it down with a slap on the table: this is what I stand for!

What do you stand for?


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Day Two of the New Year- Frazzled Yet?

Slow down and enjoy the changes

So it’s day two of your new workout, diet, romance, debt payoff plan, career building plan, be-the-most-fantastic-damned-person-on-the-planet plan…and you’re already feeling the weight of your former sins? It’s okay. Remember that it took you a long time for you to get where you are today. It’s okay that you aren’t model-thin in a weekend. (In fact, it’s always okay that you’re not model-thin!) It’s okay that People Magazine hasn’t called yet asking for a photo shoot. It’s okay that The Food Channel hasn’t bumped Giada in favor of your down home cooking.

It might be that your plans weren’t entirely doable. Maybe you bit off too big of a bite?

frazzled
Slow down! Enjoy the changes you are making.

So rewrite your plans in tiny steps that you can accomplish easily. This is the only way habits are formed. One tiny little step at a time.  Call it the Cigarette Plan. A long time ago I did research into the biochemistry of addiction. Mostly with alcohol but all additions work generally the same in your brain by increasing feel-good hormones each time you do your thing. After a time, your brain is reset so that you need that little bump just to feel normal. This is why few people remain happy with one drink, one toke, or one big sniff of cocaine. The insidiousness of cigarettes is that each drag reinforces the feel-good feeling. Over the course of a day, then, a smoker trains their brain to enjoy cigarettes, what, four-hundred times a day sucking twenty times on twenty cigarettes? It’s no wonder that addiction experts consider smoking to be one of the hardest habits to break.

Use this to your advantage. Start to develop healthy or happy habits in little bits. You don’t have to run a marathon in a month. If you want to, that’s great. If you don’t’ want to then commit to walking for five minutes a day. Five minutes! Read a classic for five minutes at bedtime. Learn one German word a day on your drive to work. Commit to eating a one piece of fresh fruit every day. This is exactly how habits are formed. One tiny piece at a time. So, for whatever it is, start today, right where you are, and do one thing. Commit to doing it again tomorrow. This is how you change your life.


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Cheers and have a wonderful day!

Here are a couple of posts about the Slow philosophy which encourages, well, slowness, as well as relationships, doing things, curiosity, and, every once in a while, imagining life not tied to machines…

Go here and then here.


Here are a couple of resources for easy goal setting and tracking. They help some people and annoy others. Figure out what you like…and do it.

The Way of Life App – for those who want to track progress
From Business.com – 11 Best Tools for Setting and Tracking Goals

Personally, I use Wunderlist for my goal tracking and list making. And let me tell you, I like lists!

 

Choose words wisely – the best New Year’s resolution?

I watched an informative Meet the Press this morning that focused on tweets, the press, and the power of words. Are all words and all stories equally important? No. Do all words carry some weight and convey meaning? Yes. It’s a good message applicable to all areas of life and relationships.

words_zep
Ah…I couldn’t pass it up.

Few New Year’s resolutions are as far reaching for you and for those around you as the reminder that words have meaning. Be mindful of what you say to others and to yourself. Don’t say mean things to those closest to you that you would never dream of saying to a stranger just ‘because they are family’. Don’t say mean things to yourself. What you tell yourself becomes part of our inner story about ourselves – be kind to yourself even in your thoughts. And when you have something serious to say, you can choose words that move a conversation forward rather than stop it in its tracks. With your words, you can choose to ramp up the drama or to move toward reconciliation and understanding.

The flip side of this coin is to remember that your friends and your family and your co-workers aren’t always considering their words, either. If you don’t understand what they are saying or why they are saying it then stop and ask. “I don’t understand” just might be the most powerful words you can say.


If you enjoy It’s the Good Life please pass it on or recommend it to friends. Go to the About/Support page for ways to follow or contact me.

Cheers?