deception pass Washington

Laughter is the Best Medicine

Do you remember the Readers Digest humor pages? There was one called Laughter is the Best Medicine. It is often true. Sometimes it may be the best alternative to crying – some situations are like that. Like the days that you wish you could go back to bed and start the day all over again. For sports fans, there are some games where your team is getting beat so badly that you have to laugh at it – just so ludicrous.

I remember growing up when my sisters and I were in stitches and couldn’t stop laughing. Most of those times we didn’t even remember what started it, we just knew we laughed until our sides hurt. I also remember a time visiting with a friend I hadn’t seen for quite a while and we laughed over memories -everything is funny at 3 am, which we were up to that night.

You may wonder why this topic comes up when I am discussing important traits? Well, it is because I consider a good sense of humor to be very valuable. We can only be serious for so long. Soon depression or fatigue will take over if we don’t take a humor break. We have to be able to laugh at life to survive. We have to be able to laugh at ourselves as well.

I distrust people who don’t have a sense of humor – and feel very uncomfortable interacting with them. I think the lack of humor comes from a couple of sources. One would be a very low sense of self – always feeling like they don’t measure up and don’t feel like they can let themselves relax. And then, on the other hand, it may be that they consider themselves perfect and so everything must be serious. No room for humor either way and that is a terrible thing. None of us is perfect – and it is okay to acknowledge that and let it show to others. Embrace imperfection.

There is a kind of humor, however, that is dangerous and hurtful. That is making fun of others. It usually is focused on something they can’t change – or that they struggle with. It is a form of attack and verbal assaults can be just as damaging as physical. Often someone will make fun of someone and then when the person objects they will say “I was only joking” as if that excused their behavior. Some things and sometimes are not funny or appropriate to laugh at and we should all be aware of that.

And even times when we are laughing at ourselves we need to be aware that that can go too far. They say that often clowns can be some of the most unhappy people – hiding behind facepaint and goofy clothes. Robin Williams was one of the funniest actors I have watched and he brought a lot of laughter to loads of people. But behind the smiles and jokes, he was deeply hurting and we didn’t realize how much until too late.

So amid laughter be aware and ready to reach out to help if you sense that someone’s laughter is hiding pain. Hiding in the shadows I call it.

And if you are wary of humor – thinking it means you must be a joke teller – don’t worry. Humor can arise from many places in life and most of them aren’t scripted. Ask me about my experience with cars or cooking and I can share oodles of humorous stories. Don’t forget, laughter is the best medicine

The Need for the New

There is nothing new under the sun, the old saying goes. But that isn’t exactly so. History has a habit of repeating itself and certain trends and patterns continue to appear. But the versions are different. There are always those who hang back, desiring to keep tradition and certain routines. But in every age there are revolutionaries and visionaries who motivate us to progress and challenge the norms. Increasing efficiency and better living conditions are a result of innovation in science, health, transportation, etc resulting from the pursuit of knowledge.

This is true for us personally as well as in society at large. We all have patterns of behavior and routine habits that we rely on to order our days. But just as we grow physically and mentally we need to grow experientially by taking risks, seeking challenges, and engaging in innovation. “We’ve never done it that way before” is a phrase t hat never passes my lips – without denunnciation or a response of “why not?”

It can be as simple as taking a different route to or from work, etc. Trying a new restaurant or new menu item, cooking a different meal or in a different way. Doing anything to shake up our thinking is healthy. And always being on the lookout to find a better way to do what we do.

Here is a site called the Eight Essentials of Innovation Even though it is business oriented check it out to see how you can apply innovation to your own personal life.

Yes, you can

Have you ever encountered a situation at work where you got the message “show initiative” and then when you do take the initiative and it doesn’t go as planned (according to management) the response is “why didn’t you ask first?”? Some supervisors communicate mixed messages. They say they want new ideas, but apparently only their new ideas. They are apparently afraid of too much change or afraid of losing control.

If you want people to show initiative, you have to let go. If you yourself want to take initiative, you have to let go. And that means allowing for failure. Trying new things or new ways involves the risk of failure. And that’s okay because not everything will fail, and you can learn from failure.

I did a presentation recently on leadership for our Spring District Toastmasters Conference. The subject was reimagining and reenergizing leadership by taking risks. My lead point was “don’t be afraid to crash”. I told a story about my roller-skating days where I was able to learn new skills when I got over my fear of falling. To the point where I decided if I wasn’t crashing at least once or twice a night I wasn’t trying hard enough.

Initiative is scary and can be painful when crashes happen. But regret from not trying can be painful as well. I like the saying “mistakes are just a sign that you are trying”. Or the saying “better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission”. The problem with asking for permission is that you have to wait and you are giving the person asked the opportunity to say “no”. Yes, there are times when you need to ask, but not nearly as many times as you may think. Like for instance, when requesting time off from work, I have found that yes there are procedures and time constraints. But I always put my requests in the form of “boss, I need to take x amount of time (days) off for (fill in the blank)” I am assuming it will be fine, and if he has a problem with it he will let me know.

I know the times that I have been the most successful are the times I took charge and did something based on my confidence to do it. Like the time that I hiked the Grand Canyon rim to river and back up in one day. It was pretty audacious, totally exhausting, and yet fully exhilarating. And every time you take the initiative and succeed it will build your confidence to try it again. And this from a confirmed laid-back introvert.

Whatever you do, do not hesitate. There is a time for contemplation, research, and consultation. But when the options are clear there is no place for hesitation. Yoda was wrong – there is always try. All we do is try. We cannot guarantee that are actions will succeed (do) but we can always use all the skills and abilities at our disposal and make a good faith effort.

The ‘I’s Have It

Intuition, initiative, intention, innovation, and imagination – what do they all have in common? They all are part of an active life full of potential and progress. They are integral (another I) to pursuing dreams and not just let life run you over or pass you by. It can be stressful reacting to life’s bumps and bruises and sometimes it is tempting to just lay low, keep your head down and save energy for the next wave. But being active is better than just reactive and it can allow us to change the narrative and beat life to the punch. This week I would like to examine each of these tools for an active life.

Imagination is not daydreaming, not wishful thinking, but rather an active visualization of what could be. It’s like a walk-through for the mind to help the body be prepared to act. Initiative means taking action without asking permission – giving yourself permission to boldly act. Innovation means leaving the routine, normal, and reaching out to try things new or in a new way. Intuition means trusting yourself that you know things without having to reason it out. And intention means doing things with purpose, not just going with the flow or reacting to what happens. It means actively taking charge. We will go into detail on each of these and what they mean for us.

But for now think about what each of these words and the concepts mean to you personally. Do they resonate with you or do they scare you? Do they sound like something that would help you live a more active and fulfilling life. Sometimes it takes time to realize what works. Think on your life and see if you can remember times when one of these words characterized your life.

Trust Your Taste Buds

Trust your taste buds, they know a thing or two about what you really like to eat. I wish my parents had known more about that when I was little – and I am sure my sisters would agree. My parents were of the Great Depression era and had a couple strong food rules. One was that you had to take a little bit of everything that Mom had cooked. The other was that you had to finish everything on your plate before you could have desert. We had dessert at most every meal and it was always good, so there were times I was long at the dinner table making sure I got some.

My mom was a good cook and most of the food we had was also good. But there were a few items that only they liked and we kids didn’t have a say in it. There are some foods that I detest to this day after having to eat some – real small bites – many times. Lima beans and stewed tomatoes, sweet potatoes and canned beans (I love fresh or frozen, but canned never), beets and cream of wheat were the notables.

They had good intentions. Taking a little bit of everything is a good start for a child because everything is new. Taste buds need education and you might learn to like somethings after a few tries. But it’s not a steep curve and taste buds wise up fast. After a few times of tasting things I usually know what I do and don’t like.

And finishing what you took is a good lesson in not wasting food. But maybe the lesson should be to take less if you find you are full with what you took before? It has taken my sisters and me years to come to the point when we are okay with not finishing if we are full.

The childhood lessons are good in one way and we all turned out well. But there are side effects that are not so good. They both cause us to bypass our taste buds input. Here is what I have found. I may try something and find that my taste buds aren’t thrilled. I will try something else and find that my taste buds like it much better. If I have followed training and finished the first dish I may find that I eat too much. If I don’t finish the first meal I will have much more room to enjoy the second. My taste buds will drive me to be satisfied, so why consume “empty” (less satisfying ) calories?

There is also a money tug involved sometimes. You might say “I pad for that meal , so I should finish it and not let it go to waste” . But whether or not you finish the meal you have paid for it already, and you may find it that it goes to waist (not waste). So if I buy something and I don’t enjoy it I will resist the urge to finish and simply seek out something more pleasing to my taste buds. I have done this with candy bars, which I should avoid anyway, as well as meals I have cooked myself that turned out disappointing.

So enjoy your taste buds and don’t run over them with unpalatable food. You have my permission (you don’t really need to ask) to not finish everything on your plate, and refuse to eat things that your taste buds reject.

What’s Up Doc?

Bugs Bunny’s signature line was “what’s up doc?” Our response might be “what’s up with me?”. As little kids we might have wanted a doctor visit as much as the dog wanted to go to the vet. But if our parents were wise they would take us for regular checkups. I didn’t realize how many vaccinations kids get in the first few years of life. During our childhood we get exposed to a lot of things, not all beneficial. And so regular checkups are necessary to make sure we are on the right track.

When we get older we tend to go less and less. We figure unless we break a bone or have a serious illness we are fine as we are. We survive the usual childhood illnesses – or like me avoid them. And once we are out on our own it is easy to get out of the habit. I think my only visits in my teens and twenties were for dumb injuries – like gashing my knee on my bike pedals.

I had to wear glasses just for reading in the 4th grade and so didn’t. Then I ended up having them prescribed for all day in highschool and have worn them ever since. Dental visits had memories of drilling sounds and the taste of teeth dust , so i took advantage of my good teeth health to avoid dentist for quite a while. I was amazed when I went back how the technology – sonic tools – had significantly progressed.

An Army medic pronounced me “disgustingly healy’ when I applied for a Navy ROTC scholarship. I attributed it to my dad who was very healthy – although he did get the measles as age 35, something that I had avoided.

But the funny thing is sometimes trivial things – like getting chicken pox when in kindergarten – can come back to bite you. I used to think I had avoided all the rough childhood diseases, as did many others. But then later on I learned that shingles a serious nerve disorder is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox – you had one you can get the other. So I ended up with more shots to avoid or diminish that likelihood.

Family health history is important to pay attention to. For my family it was heart and circulatory system issues – hence my current regimen of blood pressure medication. Other families may have other system issues. And even though a disease might not appear in your history – like cancer in ours – it can still occur.

So it is wise to keep track of your health numbers – blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, etc. Eyes and teeth often fail along with the rest of the body and the sooner you catch problems the easier the fix. So don’t be like my dad and avoid the doctor just because “I’m fine”. Make a regular habit of having them run the numbers and catch things earlier. That is key to being forever young. Be like Bugs Bunny and ask “what’s up doc?”

Building Better Brains

My dad loved puzzles – jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, scrabble and word games. He used to bring little wooden puzzles for us to work on. I’m not sure where he got them, but we enjoyed taking them apart and figuring how to put them back together again. I later picked up a Rubics cube and had a fine time learning to solve it. In childhood our goal was to try to beat Dad at Scrabble. It took me a long time to do that – he was a master. Even after his strokes he still had a solid mind – it was just trapped by his speech difficulties.

Many people get lazy as they age and then wonder why their brain doesn’t function as it did when they were young. We all have struggles with memory, but we can prevent a large loss of memory by activities that promote synaptogenisis – the creation of more and stronger brain synapses.

Synapsis are the connections between neurons in our brain that facilitate communication and memory. There is a great surge in the development in synapses during childhood as we are learning loads of stuff every day. They say it peaks about age 20, but can continue to grow if we pursue the acquisition of not just knowledge but new experiences that will stimulate our brain. Especially helpful are activities that involve us reaching our of our comfort zone and normal environments. The brain reacts seeking to adapt to new environments and new information.

It goes beyond just learning by reading or seeing new things. If we learn a new skill our minds are involved in building new synapses to help our bodies build muscle memory. It is similar to how we can learn quicker if we both see and hear something or see and perform some physical activity. Do you ever consciously think about tying your shoes, for instance? You had to learn it as a kid, but now you have done it so many times it is automatic.

Synaptogenesis is important for several reasons. It helps us adapt to new situations, which happen all the time, whether we seek them out or not. It helps our memory function – our brain has more capacity to remember when it is constructing new synapses. And as we learn we can train our brain to work more efficietly.

It also can help with moods. We can train our brain to remember and focus on positive memories and new experiences and work to decrease stress. It doesn’t come without effort, but that is part of learning, correct? The creation of new synapses leading to new capacity and efficiency can forestall the onset of neurodegeneration which has plagued many late in life. My dad was fortunate that he did not experience that. It was a tribute to his lifetime commitment to learning.

If you would like to read more about this subject check out this helpful article in Mental Health Daily – Synaptogenesis: 9 Ways to Form New Synapsis in the Brain

Forever Young

Have you ever heard someone say, “I feel old”? Was it someone who was younger than you, perhaps a good bit younger? I had that happen recently. And I reflected again that while I am not as young as I once was, I still remain young at heart and in mind. Part of it is because I have recalled over the past 10 years how my parents were at my age, and I feel like I am in such a better place than they were in many ways.

My dad suffered his first stroke at age 48 when I was just 10 years old. He made a great recovery, but the affects lingered and hampered him the rest of his life. My mom suffered from respiratory illness and an irregular heartbeat and passed away way too early – at age 62. I endeavored to maintain my health and avoid the struggles they had – especially watching my blood pressure which my dad never did.

Eat the apple and see the doctor

I believe there are several keys to staying young as we grow older, and they reinforce each other. The first is one that my dad did not pay attention to: regular doctor visits. He felt if he wasn’t sick, he didn’t need a doctor. He was pretty healthy, but things crept up. Being part of the Civilian Conservation Corp during the 1930’s kept him pretty active. Plus, he hiked a lot and his parents moved around a bunch, so he kept busy. He continued to hike and camp – we did a couple weeks of camp during each summer growing up.

But he also worked in an office, so he started to be more sedentary. Weight gain and high blood pressure contributed to unseen dangers that led to that first stroke. If he had seen a doctor regularly and kept watch on the cholesterol and blood pressure numbers, he might have avoided that early stroke.

Learning from his experience I have kept active with daily walks and regular doctor visits. When my blood pressure showed too high to donate blood, shortly after 9-11 I made a doctor appointment and began regular blood pressure medication, which has enabled me to curtail its rise. I also began regular diabetes medication when my glucose numbers got too high. Since I know my family medical history, I know the value of regular checkups.

Go For a Walk

The second thing is regular exercise. In earlier years I did quite a bit of hiking – including a Grand Canyon hike that was quite exhausting but exhilarating. I also did few 5Ks and briefly dreamed about doing a half marathon – not quite enough endurance for that. Since I work from home I am able to walk every day before work and also on the weekends. My daily walks are about 2 miles around the neighborhood. My weekends are a time for exploring local trails and extend to a few more miles.

Walking not only provide me with daily exercise. I also get to experience nature and that is important for the mind and soul as well. The smell of green growth in grass and trees, the sight of wildlife and wildflowers, and just feeling the breeze is a stimulant to thought and a lightening of the heart. It allows me to unwind from the stress of work and life and recharge for the start of another workday.

You Are What You Eat

The third thing is watching what you eat. Not only avoiding the bad stuff – sweets, overly salty, not to mention alcohol and smoking – which thankfully I never was exposed to or tempted with growing up. But also trying to load up on the good things. It is said you are what you eat and I believe that. One of my challenges is portion size and lazy eating. Many times we eat not because we are really hungry but because of we think we should eat -daily habits and social pressures (who goes to a party and doesn’t eat?). It takes effort to not eat – or clean off your plate – when raised to take a bite of everything and finish everything on your plate before desert (my parents lived through the Great Depressions so that was their mantra).

Another unaddressed need is to savor your life – not just food but also your daily experiences. We tend to rush through life, gobbling our way. Try to slow down and enjoy life and pay attention to your taste buds – they will be triggered by the best foods. Don’t settle for second best.

Never Stop Learning – Education is Forever

We also need to keep learning, keep reading, keep expanding our minds. We may have left school far behind but that doesn’t mean we are done with education. My family was and is reading intensive. I like to joke that I was born in a library because our house was full of books of all kinds. My sisters and I are avid readers because of it. I have met people who say “I’m not really a reader, not into books” and I am just astonished -“why not?” I am also incredibly and incurably curious and that keeps me reading.

It is also important to surround yourself with like-minded people. People who are curious, informed, eager to learn. They will enrich your life and stimulate you to keep learning. It is good to surround yourself with reasonable people of diverse backgrounds and interests. Part of this for me is my participation in Toastmasters. I get to present thought provoking speeches to an audience, they give me feedback, and I also get to listen to their speeches and learn. We share our lives and stories and keep ourselves young.

Another reason for spending time learning and exposing ourselves to new experiences and sources of information is that the brain gets stronger by being exposed to new information. The formation of new synapses – new pathways in the brain-is caused by this – as we will explore in tomorrow’s post.

Are You SMART?

Are you SMART? No, not intelligent, but that helps. But when you establish your goals do you do it the SMART way? Many people do the old New Years resolutions , guaranteed to fail. There are many ways to set goals, and none is foolproof. But i have learned that using the SMART method increases your chances of success. So what does SMART stand for and how does it help?

S is for specific. Too many goals get fuzzy or vague. “I want to improve my performance at work” . “I want to loose weight” “I want to be more healthy” These are aspirations, and good ones, but they are too vague to be goals. What do you want to improve about your performance at work – being on time, completing all assignments, achieving a specific level of accuracy”? How much weight do you want to lose, by when? What do you consider good health – eliminating junk food, quiting smoking, getting some exercise?

M is for measurable. You need to be able to measure your progress to know if you have achieved your goal. In the weight loss example how much do you want to lose and by when.? Having interim goals can help your progress – lose 2 lbs a week for 3 months gives you both a goal of weekly loss and an overall goal of 24 total for the 3 months. Thus you can track your progress.

A is for achievable. Don’t set goals that you know you won’t achieve. It will only discourage you. It is good to stretch yourself but be reasonable. Don’t believe every extreme weight loss story that goes viral and don’t starve yourself either.

R is for relevant. It means the goals you set must make sense and matter to you. They should be your goals, not somebody else’s. They must make sense and fit with other goals that you have. Nothing is worse that pursuing goals that have been put upon you and for which you don’t care.

T is timebound. A goal cannot be openended. It cannot stretch on forever. It should be for a specific time period and you and everyone else involved must know when the time is up. Some goals just remain out of reach. When you set a time for completion and the completion doesn’t come you can reassess and set a new goal that better relates to what is capable. But you need to set a clear date when you now whether or not you have achieved it.

Many people fudge on these details because they are afraid they will fail and if they aren’t specific, etc, they believe no one will know they failed. But as someone once said “if you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time”. Don’t be afraid of mistakes – it shows you’re trying. Be SMART about your goals.

Target or a Chore?

Is goal-setting for you a target or a chore? Is it a simple matter of choosing the target and flinging off an arrow at it, hitting the bullseye? Or does it seem like a slog up the highest hill you can imagine? We would all be so lucky to have it be the former, but most times it is the later. The idea of a target is good for goal setting because it is important to focus on what we want to achieve. But we must realize that the time and effort involved is much more. And the expectation of quick sucess can be disheartening.

I think it is better to think of it as a race that you run, or a project – like a building- that you construct. Both involve a consistent effort over a period of time with different phases that you go though.

To run a race you have to be prepared. You have to be in good physical shape which involves working out and building muscle and endurance before you start the race. You have to have the right clothes and especially the correct footwear. Eating properly and hydration before the race is important as well as considering the weather. Depending on the length you will want to bring water and plan for what you will eat after you finish. And if it is a long race, like a half or full marathon, there will be physical and psychological walls that you will need to push through to complete the race. Of course you also need to know where the race begins and where the finish line is and follow all the signs for the course.

For a project, like a building, you have many things to consider. You need to have a plan with many details. You need to master the skills needed to complete the work. And you need to assemble the necessary tools. There will be several phases as you work the project and that can help you see your progress. A good foundation is essential for any building, good framing is important to keep everything together and provide support for plumbing, electricity, etc. And a solid roof keeps everything dry when you get done. You also will need to gather skilled helpers, because no one builds a house by themselves.

Thus we see that goal setting is not just a shot in the dark. It is a process of planned pursuit of a place you want to go, a building of success that you can take pleasure in. And most goals are not an end in themselves but rather a launching pad for further goal setting. We can learn and grow by every action we take and that momentum keeps us forward looking.

Don’t be discouraged at the process. Begin and persist. Tomorrow we will revisit SMART goals.

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