Monthly Archives: December 2012

Eating tactics for the holidays…and always

Tschetter Farms - South Dakota

Tschetter Farms – South Dakota

“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” – Michael Pollan

It seems fitting to publish a short post about eating well now that we are in the midst of the holiday season; a time notorious for binge eating and drinking. I should know; I’ve been an active binge participant for decades now.

Michael Pollan has written an excellent little book on eating well. It’s called Food Rules. He has also nicely summarized the book’s message in seven words. “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Those seven words are everything we will ever need to know about eating well.

To explain just a bit, “eat food” means to eat foods that are not heavily processed and contain additives and preservatives that cannot be easily pronounced. For example, instead of buying apple slices in a plastic package that have been sprayed with preservatives to keep them from turning brown, buy a whole apple. And avoid prepackaged foods when you can. Instead of buying hamburger in a plastic tube or in a styrofoam and plastic shrink-wrapped package, buy it fresh at the meat counter and have it wrapped in butcher paper.

Next, “not too much.” Wow! If we all simply followed this maxim, the diet industry would disappear! Pollan explains that “not too much” has a couple of components. First, a serving size for anything you eat shouldn’t be larger than your fist or the palm of your hand. Now, unfortunately, that doesn’t mean we can have ten fist-sized servings of anything we want. Two must haves for each meal are protein (beans, nuts, lean meats and low-fat dairy products) and whole grains (whole-grain breads, pastas and cereals). Protein along with the fiber from the whole grains will leave you feeling satisfied longer while eating less. Now that’s a win-win!

Finally, Pollan says “mostly plants.” That doesn’t mean you have to live on salads. He’s simply saying that we should try to add more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to our meals. Plant foods are rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber. They also contain lots of phytochemicals, many of which contain disease-fighting properties you can’t get elsewhere.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a challenge to always follow these simple rules. However, I did manage to stick to holiday treats tonight that at least had nuts in them…fudge and peanut brittle…and I kept the serving size to no more than the size of my palm. ūüôā I doubt that Mr. Pollan would give me a passing grade on that one.

Pollan encourages us by saying that we don’t have to be perfect at this; we just need to try and continually improve our food purchases and our eating habits here and there by following his simple food rules. It does get easier to stick more closely to the food rules as we continue to practice them.

If you haven’t read Food Rules, I would encourage you to do so. It’s an easy read that you may well get through in one sitting. Then give the rules a try for 30 days. If you do, I’d be surprised if you don’t find that you have more energy, feel better and weigh less than when you started. What’s not to like about benefits like those?!!

Does this really work? Yes, it does. My wife, Kathy, and I can vouch for the food rules cuz they certainly work well for us…even though we occasionally fall off the wagon around the holidays.

Wishing you grace, peace and simple abundance…and a long and healthy life.

 

Always getting ready to live

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We are always getting ready to live, but not really living. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

This week I ran into and old friend I hadn’t seen in several years. After our initial greetings to one another, I asked Jeff how he was doing. Without hesitation he said, “Ron, life is good. It’s really good. I never knew life could be this great!” He went on to explain that he and his wife had divorced a couple of years ago but that he was very much enjoying time with his kids and his grandkids. His job is fulfilling…and he has time to pursue his passion of horseback riding. It was clear Jeff’s comments were sincere and heartfelt from the irrepressible joy that was evident in his face. Jeff is really living and enjoying it to the max. What a refreshing and encouraging story, eh!

Yesterday, a friend, his son and his son’s girlfriend stopped by for a few minutes. The girlfriend, Anika (I hope that’s how her name is spelled!), is from Germany. While I don’t know much about Anika, I do know that she came to the U.S. as a high school foreign exchange student. After high school Anika chose to stay and attend college in the U.S. even though she could attend university for free in Germany. College is certainly not free in the U.S.!

Even to the casual observer, it is evident that Anika is a bright, kind and engaging young woman with a warm and ready smile. Fluent in German and English, she is studying Spanish and French with the intention of serving others by becoming a translator. She exudes enthusiasm and cheerfulness and a zest for living. Anika, too, is really living.

In his book, The Joy of Not Working, Ernie J. Zilenski uses the Emerson quote above to lead in to several questions that, depending on your answers, will be a good indicator of whether you are really living or just getting ready to live.

What gift do I naturally give to others?

What gift do I most enjoy giving to others?

What gift have I given most often to others?

What are my passions? Am I pursuing them?

What are my strengths? Am I regularly utilizing them in my daily life?

Who are my heroes? Why?

What do I want to discover and learn?

If the answers are clear, come quickly to mind and have that “feel good” quality that resonates with your soul, you are really living…good for you! If the answers come hard or not at all, you have some work to do. If that’s the case, why not start that work by finding the answers to the above questions today? There’s no time like the present to mover toward really living!

Wishing you grace, peace and simple abundance.

Everything you need to know about money

carl-richards

Money makes the world go ’round…or so they say. Manage it well and life is good; manage it poorly and life can be hell. Isn’t it interesting, then, how little they teach us in grade school, high school and college about finances, budgeting, and managing our money. So, most of us end up being self taught in this key area of our lives, for better or for worse.

I’ve read many books and articles about investing and managing your money over the years. Most are variations on a theme. There are a handful of basic principles that are key to our financial success. In addition to the mechanics of budgeting and investing, there are psychological and emotional aspects to consider.

I realized that many, if not most, people don’t like to read as much as I do, especially about something as seemingly mundane as managing our finances. We all like pictures, so let’s take a look at managing our money in a series of simple drawings like the one above.

Carl Richards¬†is a weekly contributor to The New York Times and is a columnist for Morningstar Advisor. Through his simple sketches, he makes financial concepts easy to understand. Carl’s drawings serve as the basis for his book¬†The Behavior Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things with Money. I think Richards does a great job of teaching us about the psychological and emotional aspects of financial management…the socialized wisdom and the “gotchas” to watch out for.

Interested? Good! Take a look at¬†Mandi Woodruff‘s article about Mr. Richards and¬†These 27 Napkin Sketches Will Teach You Everything You Need to Know About Money. It’s fun…it’s educational…and it has the potential to impact your finances and your life for the better.

Wishing you grace, peace and simple abundance…and financial well-being.

Mindfulness, Digital Detox and Fading Evangelicalism

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If you have been following my posts, you have no doubt come to the conclusion that I have a deep interest in understanding who I am and what my purpose is and helping others do the same. Self knowledge and making our beliefs our own are key to living life in a meaningful way.

Solitude, taking time to sit and think about important things, and exposure to the thoughts and ideas of others all play an important part in our personal growth and well-being. So, today I’m going to take you on a tour of the current issue of the Sunday New York Times.

First up is an article titled The Power of Concentration. The author, Maria Konnikova, says, “We can learn a lot from the way Sherlock Holmes trains his mind.” She goes on to discuss the myth of multitasking and the benefits of meditation and mindfulness training which include improved memory, enhance ability to concentrate, and staving off dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Ms. Konnikova concludes with “The implications are tantalizing. Mindfulness may have a prophylactic effect: it can strengthen the areas that are most susceptible to cognitive decline. When we learn to unitask, to think more in line with Holmes detached approach, we may be doing more than ¬†increasing our observational prowess. We may be investing in a sounder mental future — no matter how old we are.”

Next is digital detox, Learning to Let Go: First, Turn Off the Phone. This article by Andy Isaacson discusses our addiction to our “smart phones” and what one self-proclaimed recovering techie, Levi Felix, is doing to help people “reformat their own personal hard drives.”

Mr. Felix says, “I’m a geek, I’m not a Luddite. I love that technology connects us and is taking our civilization to the next level, but we have to learn how to use it, and not have it use us.”

Mr. Felix organizes four-day weekend Digital Detox retreats and Device-Free Drinks parties. The article closes with a quote from Jana Kantor who volunteered to check in devices at one of the Device-Free Drinks parties. “One woman told me, ‘My whole life is on this phone,’ so I said, ‘That’s something to think about: is your whole life data, or is it your body?”

Interesting question, no?

Finally, the ever-controversial topic of religion. In The Decline of Evangelical America, John S. Dickerson makes the case that the Moral Majority of Rev. Jerry Falwell’s era in the 1980s is becoming a shrinking minority.

Mr. Dickerson says, “We evangelicals must accept that our beliefs are now in conflict with the mainstream culture. We cannot change ancient doctrines to adapt to the currents of the day. But we can, and must, adapt the way we hold our beliefs — with grace and humility instead of superior hostility.”

Grace and humility are character traits seldom witnessed in today’s world; in our religious leaders, in our political leaders, in the neighbor next door, in your co-worker. Or, how about in you and in me?

I encourage you to read these three articles. It won’t take that long and I’ve made it easy. All you have to do is click on the article titles above. Then, decide for yourself…do you agree or disagree with what you’ve read? Why? Is it because of your own well-reasoned personal beliefs or is it because of “conditioned belief” based on what you’ve been told and taught by others?

Your assignment: Read these articles, put your phone in another room, practice mindfulness for ten minutes, and then write down the last time you have personally exhibited the traits of grace and humility.

Wishing you grace, peace and simple abundance.

The 3-21 formula

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Thinking, real thinking, is a whole different ballgame than the surface-skimming thoughts that generally occupy our minds. Most of what passes for thinking is memory recall, responding to a question, replying to a text or email, debating a potential purchase, or deciding what to wear or what to have for dinner. These are all examples of surface-skimming thinking.

Surface-skimming thinking prompts us to make quick choices and decisions. It tells us to “Be decisive! Move on to the next thing. Multi-task and clear your to-do list. That’s the route to success.” Our environment bombards our senses with millions of messages a day and we are constantly responding from the time we wake up until our head hits the pillow again at night.

Real, brain-cell-cardio thinking involves in-depth analysis, comparison of options, validating of assumptions, and questioning the declarations made by others…and rethinking our own initial decisions, thoughts and ideas. It’s calculating the risks and trade offs involved in choosing one decision or action over another. It’s trying to understand the personalities of those you interact with so you know how best to communicate with them. It’s stripping away the external influences that shape us and coming to grips with who we really are underneath the glossy exteriors we show to others. Sounds like a lot of time, energy and hard work, right? Why do I want to invest my time and energy in deep thinking?

I believe there are at least three reasons we should develop and use deep thinking skills.

  1. Deep thinking on a regular basis exercises your brain and enhances your critical thinking skills. You ¬†become better at it over time. There is also evidence using your brain in this way helps stave off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
  2. The quality of your choices and decisions improve. You will have less anxiety over whether or not you have reached the right conclusion. There is less chance you will have to cover the same ground later because of a poor initial choice.
  3. There is a sense of peace, satisfaction and accomplishment when you have completed the “deep thinking” process surrounding a particular issue. When you are truly in a deep-thought state you may experience a sense of “flow”…a sense that time stands still and the universe is providing you with all you need to make a good choice…and it is definitely YOUR choice.

Sound good? Sure, but how the heck does one DO this “deep” thinking?

Let me give you a personal example.

Last April I was assigned the task of writing my life purpose statement. (If you haven’t done this exercise, I would definitely encourage you to do so!) Now, writing a life purpose statement is pretty heavy-duty stuff so I took my assignment very seriously.

Following Brad Swift’s direction, I was to consider three questions while working on my purpose statement.

What is the vision or possibility you see for the world?

What core values do you hold dear?

Who are you?

Here’s what happened. I thought for a bit and started writing down my thoughts. My first draft of my life purpose statement was “My life purpose is to live a life of learning, teaching, and spiritual wholeness.” Sounds noble…not too bad, eh?

Well, after sharing my new creation with Brad, he said, “Okay, now sit with that for a while and see how it feels.” He then added that life purpose is about “being” not “doing” so I should avoid using verbs if at all possible. So…back to the drawing board.

The first thing I realized as I pondered my purpose statement is that there is a very strong tendency to borrow from the thoughts and ideas of others when I think and write. Is that bad? No, it’s only bad if I don’t make an effort to think through why I chose to borrow from them and make sure that whatever it is truly resonates deep within me and is not just a surface agreement or taking the easy way out.

I wrote another version of my purpose statement and shared it with Brad. Again he said, “Live with it for a while and see how it feels.”

Over the course of six months, I went through numerous iterations of my purpose statement. It currently reads, “My life purpose is to boldly live an authentic life of simple abundance, harmony of thought, word and deed, and ever-expanding knowledge for the benefit of self and others, all created on a foundation of physical and spiritual well-being.”

As you can see, there is little resemblance between my first and last attempts. And my current life purpose statement feels like a good fit for me.

The process of writing my life purpose statement not only helped clarify who I am and what my life purpose is, it also revealed what I believe is a reliable formula for deep thinking and decision making. The repetitive cycle of answering the three questions, writing my life purpose statement, living with it for a while and then doing it all over again multiple times was very beneficial in clarifying my thinking…and truly made it my thinking, not someone else’s.

Hence, the 3-21 formula. When faced with an issue, idea or challenge that requires significant thinking energy, write down three questions pertinent to the situation. You can start by considering three from the old reliable list of who, what, how, when, where, why to come up with your questions.

Next, write out your answers to the questions? Sit with your answers a while…at least an hour or so…and repeat the process.

Be willing to entirely scrap your last set of thoughts and responses as new ideas and insights come to you. This is challenging for me…I don’t like to throw things away!

Do this for 21 days if at all possible. Repetition and the passing of time have an amazing way of refining and polishing your thinking.

So, that’s it…3 questions, 21 days…the 3-21 formula. It will exercise your mind and clarify your thinking in ways that may surprise you. And you will begin to see how the 3-21 formula enables you to distinguish your own personal thinking from thoughts and ideas that may have been “borrowed” from or influenced by others.

For more examples of the application of the 3-21 formula see What possibilities do you bring to the world? and You’re being robbed!¬†

Give it a try. There’s no time like the present! Start with the life purpose statement exercise outlined above. I think you will be pleased with the results and, who knows, you may end up finally getting a firm grip on your own life purpose.

Wishing you grace, peace and simple abundance…and a genuine sense of purpose.

The Holstee Manifesto

The-Holstee-Manifesto

I love real life stories about people who are purpose-driven and have the courage to go out  and try to create something that will make a difference in our world. Such stories are encouraging, heart-warming and inspiring. The poster above, The Holstee Manifesto, led me to this particular story.

In the midst of the last recession, David and Michael Radparvar along with Fabian Pfortmuller started Holstee. Their idea was to produce simple tee shirts made entirely of fiber made from recycled plastic bottles. In just six months, the trio had figured out how to pull this off using suppliers and manufacturers in their home state of North Carolina.

What started out as a fun little side project has turned into a full-fledged business. Over the last few years, their product offerings have expanded to include dresses, wallets, posters, greeting cards and more. You can find their products here if you are interested in taking a look.

Holstee focuses on People, Planet and Product in their approach to design and preserving our environment. They encourage us to consider these three elements when “creating and consuming” by asking ourselves these questions. (The following is taken directly from Holstee.com)

People

  • Who is making this product and how does the production impact their life?
  • Will this work to improve their own and their family’s quality of life?
  • Are they being fairly compensated?

Planet

  • What raw materials are used and how are they sourced?
  • Is it designed for many uses? Is it designed to be biodegradable?
  • How is it packaged and delivered? Does the packaging biodegrade?

Product

  • Is this product necessary?
  • Is this a product I will be proud to pass on to my children?
  • How can I use or recycle it once it has finished its purpose?
  • In its final state, how will it return to the earth?

Not only does Holstee focus on minimizing its impact on the environment, they also express gratitude for what they have been given by giving back. They have teamed up with micro lender Kiva to lend 10% of all sales to needy entrepreneurs in the developing world. Gotta love that!

Since their humble beginning in 2009, Holstee has grown and prospered while staying true to their manifesto and their values. Their goal is “to create the greatest social impact while simultaneously creating the smallest environmental impact.”

I love the thoughtful, values-driven approach these guys have taken in building their company. I hope their story encourages your heart and inspires you to do something, anything, large or small to make your community and the world a better place.

Wishing you grace, peace and simple abundance…and the courage to do good.

P.S. The video version of The Holstee Manifesto can be found here. Just scroll half way down the page and you will find it. It’s definitely worth watching.

P.P.S. Ronnie B has no financial interest of any kind in Holstee, nor is there any arrangement with Holstee that benefits me financially in any way. It’s just a cool story that I want to share with as many people as possible.

Gratitude

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In daily life, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy. And that gratefulness quickly leads to a satisfied, simplified life. Joshua Becker

What else can I say? Want less…be grateful more.

Wishing you grace, peace and simple abundance…heavily punctuated by genuine gratitude.