Running and juicing and cursing. Oh my.

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It is so difficult to know what to believe, isn’t it? Will that wrinkle cream really make my neck look better? Is this piece of exercise equipment being touted on QVC effective? Should I go low carb or low fat?

I try to find reviews written by real people before I invest in a product or try the latest diet. A book compiling all kinds of advice should be just the ticket.

I am really glad, however, that I am not married to A. J. Jacobs, the author of Drop Dead Healthy. Just reading everything he did was exhausting. Seeing it in person (and participating every now and then like his wife did) would have pushed me over the edge.

After an unexpected bout with pneumonia, Jacobs sets off on a two-year quest to become healthier. And when he says healthier, he doesn’t mean improving just the usual suspects, diet and exercise. He means head to toe.

Jacobs studies research and visits expert after expert on body part after body part. His book has 27 chapters ranging from the health of the heart, lungs, and brain to the hands, feet, and endocrine system.

The theories and practices he discovers are fascinating and funny. And the techniques he adopts are effective. He loses weight, gains muscle, and improves his cholesterol along the way.

After a favorite aunt who has followed all the “rules” succumbs to cancer, Jacobs has a moment of questioning if any of what he has learned and put into practice is worth it after all.

He concludes it is. In seven appendices, he synthesizes the best of the advice. Most of the tips are ones we’ve all heard many times: eat vegetables, park farther from the store, meditate.

The most unusual tip is to use a treadmill desk. Jacobs says not to buy an expensive model but instead rig one up yourself using a board and some books.  That’s a tip worth considering.

What products or techniques have you tried that actually worked?

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Did I Do My Best?

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I am one of those people who make the resolution to lose weight each and every New Year’s Day. And yet I’m still carrying those unwanted pounds. Thus, I read books on motivation in the hope that one day I will find it in me to follow the suggestions.

Marshal Goldsmith is a big time executive coach. He has worked with the likes of the head of the World Bank and Ford Motor Company, and his book Triggers boasts six and a half pages of glowing blurbs from various CEOs. If he’s good enough for them, he’s good enough for me.

Goldsmith defines a trigger is any stimulus that reshapes our thoughts and actions. Our environment, he says, is the most potent triggering mechanism in our lives. I can relate to that. If I didn’t buy those cookies, they wouldn’t be in my environment calling my name. Still, knowing what to do and doing it are not the same thing. It’s a tug of war between the planner and the doer.

We need to forecast our environment by anticipating what might trip us up, avoiding those things (like those cookies,) or adjusting. When changing our behavior, we have four options. We can change positive elements, in other words create new ways of dealing with our challenges, or maintain positive elements that are already working.  We can also change negative elements by eliminating them or maintain negative elements by making peace with them.

My favorite part of the book is a technique Goldsmith uses that he calls the engaging questions. To make questions active, he prefaces them with “Did I do my best to…” Here are the six he uses for everyone:

Did I do my best to set clear goals today?

Did I do my best to make progress toward my goals today?

Did I do my best to find meaning today?

Did I do my best to be happy today?

Did I do my best to build positive relationships today?

Did I do my best to be fully engaged today?

Additional questions can be added depending on what your specific issues are. The key is to ask yourself these questions every day. You are no longer monitoring results or the lack thereof. You are monitoring your own motivation and reinforcing your commitment.

This is an eye-opening way to change your mindset. Question four is particularly meaningful for me.

What questions would you add to the list?

Having It All Is Not Out of Reach

I know how

I have had quite a number of jobs in several different fields over the years. That means I’ve participated in a lot of job interviews. At almost every one of them, the hiring person told me the company or department was busy. Very busy. Almost without exception, when I took the job I soon found that was just not true. At least for me. I was soon able to complete all the work I had to do with plenty of time left over. At one job, I surreptitiously wrote most of a romance novel. At another, I wrote a nonfiction book. At a third, I took several online classes.

Now, I am quite organized by nature, but surely I’m not the only one with that quality.  I’ve often wondered why most of the women I’ve met claim they don’t have enough time.

Laura Vanderkam’s book I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time gave me some insights. As I suspected, most people overestimate how much time they work by quite a bit.

Vanderkam collected hour-by-hour time logs from women who earned at least $100,000 a year. Presumably, these women had more flexibility in their schedules than women with a more average wage. Each of them had at least one child under 18 living at home; however, their high earnings afforded them more child care options.

The author based her conclusions on logs of one week from 143 women for a total of 1001 days. She calls the results The Mosaic Project. Each hour in a 168 hour week is a tile in that mosaic. What Vanderkam discovered is that the day to day totals don’t matter as much as the weekly totals. These women worked an average of 44 hours a week. Women at lower salaries average 35 hours a week.

That left many remaining hours where the women were able to fit in family time, leisure activities, exercise, and even quite sufficient amounts of sleep.

Vanderkam describes a number of strategies the women used and adds some advice of her own. Some delegation is helpful. Family breakfasts count just as much as family dinners. Planning ahead for contingencies is vital. Too much TV is just a waste. Sometimes good enough is good enough.

That balancing act is not as hard as people say after all.

WYCWYC book review

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When I spotted Carla Birnberg and Roni Noone’s small book on the shelf, the first thing I noticed was the endorsement on the cover by Venus Williams, ”Simple, powerful, real.” Who doesn’t want that in a book, right? What You Can, When You Can: Healthy Living on Your Terms puts forth an encouraging philosophy. Do your best but compromise if necessary.

The two women started blogging and have built up a community through social media. People can tap into this community to offer support and suggestions.

The authors start out urging readers to adopt a new mindset, that being perfect is an illusion. You start out with the best intentions; than life happens. What do you do next? You take baby steps, of course. Have persistence, but be flexible.

And, by the way, doing things for yourself is not selfish. Set boundaries and learn to say no. Reframe negatives into positives. Change “must do” to “choose to do.” If something really doesn’t work for you, quit doing it. Ask for help if you need it.

I’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating. We are the sum of the people we spend the most time with. Choose your friends wisely.

Don’t be afraid to try new things. Be more active even if it’s inconvenient. In fact, embrace inconvenience. Take the stairs; park far from the store. Play!

There are many more common sense ideas packed within the covers, but you get the idea. Life is for living, and little things add up. Venus Williams spoke the truth.

Everyday Life in Utopia

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Anyone who has trouble making changes in life should read Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. I subscribe to her newsletter, so I already knew that I am what she calls an Obliger.

She describes four types of people: Obligers, Upholders, Questioners, and Rebels. Obligers like me keep promises they make to others but not necessarily promises they make to themselves. No wonder I’ve had the same New Year’s resolution to lose weight for every year I can recall and now have even more weight to lose.

Rubin says she is an Upholder, someone who can keep those promises to both others and herself. Questioners, as the name implies, question habits. They’ll make a change if it seems reasonable and logical to do so. Rebels are those recalcitrants who, if told to do one thing, will immediately do the opposite.

Understanding these four personality types is really useful to me. Rubin says Obligers need to set up external accountability in order to follow through. I can see that is so.

Rubin also compares Larks and Owls based on when they are most likely to accomplish tasks. Other dichotomies are underbuyers versus overbuyers, starters versus finishers, abstainers versus moderators, marathoners versus sprinters, and starters versus finishers. Determining ones categories is very enlightening.

Rubin has done an enormous amount of research into the topic of how and why people are motivated to change.  She identifies 21 strategies to try. She also identifies ten common loopholes people hide behind. You’ll see yourself.

This book is packed with information on how to achieve what Rubin’s daughter calls everyday life in Utopia. Sounds good.