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Category: Personal Growth Page 1 of 3

Your Time to Shine

Is today your time to shine? Is this the day you turn from green to red, from young and uncertain to bold and blazing? From keeping your head down and blending in to taking a stand and making a difference? Everybody has time that they can shine, just like this chili pepper that starts out matching the color of the plant to serving notice by its color that it will have a serious impact on taste buds everywhere.

What will you do today that will induce someone to pick you and see what you’re made of? Where do you want to make an impact and how will you do that? Peppers are not large vegetables but they have a great potential to make a great difference in the taste of plenty of dishes. They are not something you overlook or forget. Do you want to be remembered? Then make sure you let your “redness” infuse you and be “pickable”.

Now not all hot peppers are alike. They come in all sorts of colors and all ranges of heat. They can be used just as is with seeds and ribs intact for hotter flavor or used without for a milder bite. They can be charred for extra smoky flavor or just chopped up raw. I used to chop up a couple of jalapeno peppers when I made spaghetti when I was single for an extra bite.

It takes time for the peppers to grow, ripen, and change color. And they tend to like tough soil to grow in, much like many herbs. It tends to intensify their flavor. So even if you have gone through tough times and it takes longer to grow you will ultimately have a time to shine. And when you do, make the most of it. You are worth it and made for it. Just like this chili pepper.

How Do You Handle Expectations?

How do you handle expectations? And is it different for external and internal expectations – in other words, expectations from others versus expectations of yourself? That is the topic of a book I recently discovered through a speech given in my advanced Toastmasters club. The book is called The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin. It is the latest example I have found of an attempt to help people identify their personality for both their benefit and for the benefit of those who interact with them.

The theory is that our personalities cause us to react differently to both external and internal expectations and knowing this will help both us and others navigate life’s often bumpy waters better. Some people handle both external and internal expectations equally well. They respond to external expectations positively and are able to meet their own internal expectations as well. Some people will find challenges in meeting either external or internal expectations. And still, some others seem to be resistant to or have trouble meeting both external and internal expectations.

This week I would like to briefly review each of the four types and ask you to decide which type you are and how that may affect your decision-making and how you interact with others. No one is all one type – there are shades of the others in all of us. But there is usually a predominant type for all. The author includes a Venn diagram (remember that from math?) which illustrates the overlaps between types.

The book is written to help people understand themselves and others and reduce the amount of stress and recriminations we often heap upon ourselves. We all expect better of ourselves and are disappointed when we don’t think we measure up. Perhaps it is because we are using the wrong standard. Stay tuned.

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.

How’s Your Vision?

How’s your vision? Are you nearsighted or farsighted, or somewhere in between? No, I’m not talking about your need for eyeglasses or contacts, or lasik surgery. I’m talking about how you see the world and your part in it. Some people are so focused on the here and now that they don’t consider planning for the future. Others are so focused on the future and what they want to do that they forget about doing the necessary here and now stuff. I think we need to have a balance.

The discussions yesterday about to do lists is an example of the here and now actions. Goal setting involves the future and where we want to go and do. Having a vision can guide us to make better to do lists because we gain perspective on our priorities when we have a vision. Many times we are in reactive mode and constantly putting out fires. But if we can take some time to think about what we really want we have a chance to plan the future and visualize where we want to go and do.

Some people create vision boards to help them visualize their goals. They will choose pictures that represent each goal and create a collage to help them focus their attention and energy. Some will create graphs and timelines to give substance and measurement to their goals. Here is a link to a MindValley blog post about Vision Boards

Think of vision as an organizing system to help guide your future. A set of principles that give strength and energy to your efforts, pulling you forward. Many times we just slog along in survival mode. But when you have vision you have a sense of purpose that your actions have meaning. It can be many things and you may have many visions. This blog is one of mine – to give back to the community and help people have hope and think creatively.

I have been involved with Toastmasters for several years and I recently rewatched a speech that I gave at an officers training event in the early fall of 2019. I talked about my vision for the division that I was director of. I laid out specific goals and called for action. We did really well the first half of the year. I did a second speech at the mid-year training, detailing our successes and looking ahead with a vision for the second half of the year. Then covid hit in Feb/Mar and everything got scrambled. Needless to say we fell short of our goals. At the same time we learned much, especially with the transition to all online meetings, including speech contests.

Vision does not guarantee that you will reach your goals. But it does mean that you will have forward motion, so that if the unexpected comes you are already in motion and able to alter your course appropriately. Better than to be standing still and knocked over.

Visions will change over time and no one’s is the same. You can have multiple visions at the same time. And there is no shame in asking for help in either determining your vision or clarifying it, or help in reaching those goals. Most of us will need help in physical vision. Most all of us will eventually need glasses, some of us have had them for a long while in fact. Only one out of 5 kids in my family never needed glasses – and one of us had them since early childhood. The point is to see, not the way we get there.

Find time to think about what you want to do, dream a little or a lot, and take steps to get there. Always ask yourself “how is my vision?”

The Best of Intentions

You had the best of intentions. You meant to complete those tasks. With pen and paper you wrote them done, in order. But at the end of the day they went undone. Why? For many of us the to do list is a regular, if not daily, habit. We think of the things that we need to do and we write them down in a list. We may even list them in priority. And we do get some checked off. But at the end of the day we still have many items unchecked.

There are several problems with the to do list. For one the very act of listing the tasks feels like an accomplishment and we feel our tasks are already done. Or we feel so overwhelmed by the length of the list that we don’t know where to start or if we can complete any so we stop with listing.

We often are not specific about what needs to be done. We list ‘work on task A’ but leave it undefined as to when, where, how, etc. We don’t list a deadline because we really don’t know how long it will take and we don’t want to restrict ourselves. We don’t list a first action because we haven’t thought that far. Perhaps we think it will magically get down with no effort from us other than listing it.

It is important to do some brainstorming about what we need to do. But it is also important to make those actions concrete so that we know specifically what we need to do and so that we can know when we have completed it. It is important to analyze a problem and plan how we will begin to attack it. But it is also important to step out and begin.

For each item on our to do list we need to identify why it is important, what the priority is, when we need to begin and complete it, and what is the first step (or steps) to do. Sometimes we may have prerequisites – things that must be done first. Just like in college before you take an advanced class you must take a basic course so that you will have the knowledge to understand the advanced teaching. If you are going to travel to a foreign country for vacation you would need to arrange flights and housing and make sure you have the appropriate currency, for instance.

Some of the overwhelmingness of a list may be lessened if you have a first step that is simple, that will get your feet started. Inertia is stated this way “things at rest tend to stay at rest, things in motion tend to stay in motion”. If you are hesitating, being at rest, you will tend to stay at rest – no forward motion. If you can get yourself in motion, through that first step, you can achieve forward motion and thus inertia will help you to remain in motion, going forward.

Ask yourself “can I finish this task now? If yes, then do it. If not, then ask yourself “is there something I need to do first?” Then do that thing. Everything on the list needs to be an actionable item. Even if it is just researching about what you need to know to do a specific task. Like learning a foreign language so that you can ask questions and understand the answers when you travel abroad.

Everything on a to do list should be an action item, a task that needs to be done. Not a vague list of “want to”, “shoulds”, or “dreams”. And it needs to have time limits, so that it doesn’t just slide into the next day and the next. It doesn’t mean that you have to get it all done today. But you should have deadlines and specific actions that you can do daily or at least try to do. Otherwise it becomes a laundry list of vague obligations with no sense of success. And for that very reason it must be short and specific..

This week I would like to explore the setting and achieving of goals and how we can achieve that. I have not always been a goal oriented person but I know that when I set and achieve goals there is immense satisfaction. I want you to experience the same. Let’s examine our practices and grow together.

Dealing with Uncertainty

Do you have a problem with saying “I don’t know” or ‘maybe”? When the answer is no the door gets closed and you walk away. When the answer yes, you are committed and you walk through it. But when the answer is “maybe” or “I don’t know” you are stuck at the door, feeling lost or unsettled. We’re not comfortable with that. We don’t know what to do with uncertainty or ambiguity.

We are wired for certainty but live in an uncertain world. We are raised with a regimen of right and wrong answers, things are good or bad, allowed or prohibited. And you don’t want to end up on the wrong side. Kids keep asking “why?” until they get a sufficient answer – which is not “because I said so”.

But it is okay to say “I don’t know” We are finite beings and we don’t know everything. We can’t know everything about everything, and we shouldn’t try. It is not weak to say “I don’t know” It is simply being honest. Trying to manufacture an answer just to sound smart isn’t. We can say I don’t know, but I will try to find out. We can say I don’t know but I know someone who might. Or we can just simply confess I don’t know. The older I get the more things I leave to the I don’t know. Because the older and the more you know, the more you know that you don’t know.

Religious people are especially bad at this. People will ask them “why did God do this?” or “why do these terrible things happen?” It is agonizing to see bad stuff happen and we long for an explanation. In another sense we try to explain the good , the beauty of nature, the miracle of life. And we end up just as frustrated. We look out from finite minds and hearts to try to explain the actions or creations of an infinite mind and fail. Someone has likened it t the ocean. It is a mystery that we need to step back and marvel in instead of trying to explain.

So if you have a good answer to someone’s question say it. But if you don’t know, just say you don’t know. It’s okay, it’s allowed, and you will have plenty of company if people stick to being honest with themselves and the rest of us.

Are You Nervous Saying Yes?

Are you nervous saying yes? Do you wonder, what have I gotten myself into? Do you think that maybe your misgivings are trying to warn you against what you just agreed to? If so, have no fear. This is normal. When you step out of your comfort zone it is normal to feel nervous – or uncomfortable. That is the point, right? We’re all right there with you. Everybody has had their first time at everything.

I’ve been giving speeches in Toastmasters for eight years -loads of speeches. And people will often ask me, “do the nerves go away?’ “Not really” I say, “you just get used to it”. The strength of the nervousness goes down greatly as you do it more, but there is always a little bit of it right before you present. And it is a good thing, because it shows you care about what you are going to say – you want to do it right.

And when you say yes to an opportunity, a new position of any kind, you will get surprises. You will have those times that you say “what did I get myself into?” You can do the best preparation and still not anticipate what may come up. I was in the middle of my first year as a Division Director in Toastmasters when covid hit. We were in the midst of speech contest season and all of a sudden we had to make a big switch. Not only did we have to help clubs go online, but we had to take our contest online and learn Zoom very quickly. I think we did a great job adapting but it was definitely not something I could have anticipating when I began my term of office.

Balance out the nervousness when you say yes with a vision of that old ketchup commercial with Carly Simon’s voice in the background belting out “Anticipation”. Dream of the good things that may come your way because you said yes. The people you will meet, the pleasure moments you will enjoy, the unexpected rewards – including future opportunities- that may come your way as a result of that simple “yes”.

So don’t be nervous saying “yes”.

Tomorrow let’s talk about saying “yes,but” versus “yes, and”

Get Lost, Purposefully

Nobody likes to get lost. Even when we know exactly where we are going we tend to pull out our phones for mapquest or queue up the latest version of GPS before we head out on the road. We tend to take the same route, whether to work, church, grocery store, or family gatherings. We are, after all, creatures of habit.

Getting lost isn’t efficient, we say. Even if we add in extra time to get where we are going – “just in case of accidents or traffic jams” is the way my mother put it. We don’t want to be late and yet we never seem to have the time to try something different – a different route, a different destination. And our days seem packed with activities that won’t give us that latitude.

But I believe that exploration is good for the soul and good for leadership. If people before us had not taken the time to try things differently what great things would not have happened. What inventions would not enrich our lives? Would we really have been content with oil lamps and outdoor plumbing or getting everywhere by horse and buggy? We exist as a country because intrepid adventurers set out to see to explore the world.

Whenever I moved to a new place, which I have done often, I would explore my surroundings and often would get myself purposely lost so that I could find different routes to get back home. I have always been a curious person eager to learn and discover new places, sights, and experiences.

I believe that oftentimes we beat our heads against walls trying to fix problems by using the same old methods. We could save ourselves a whole bunch of grief by trying something radically new just for the heck of it. We could surprise ourselves. Remember, penicillin came about because of moldy cheese left on a windowsill.

So I urge you to block out some time to get lost – purposefully. Embrace the unknown, the uncertain, the unpredictable. Take a chance and see what you may discover.

Throw Out the Box

You have all heard the phrase “think outside the box”, right? We say it to indicate the importance of creative thinking and going beyond boundaries and limits to come up with better solutions. Unfortunately, it has become a cliche – something true that gets overused and becomes stale and meaningless. We need to throw out the box and find a new way to express the same thought.

I came up with the term “cook without a recipe”. In my culinary experience, I have many times drastically altered recipes. Sometimes because of lacking some ingredients and sometimes by design. One of the first desserts I made – a fudge ribbon cake – I made three times each time different. The third time I made it the end result looked exactly like the recipe envisioned because I had all the recipe ingredients, but each time I made it it was just as good.

Later I took to experimenting with certain additions to recipes and then when I learned the basic chemistry and physics of cooking I went further. I began to choose ingredients based not on a recipe but on the processes I knew towards an end product I wanted. I cooked without a recipe – and now I often do that. It doesn’t work every time, but more often than not I get a fair result and learn something new in the process. Even the failures teach me.

This is what is important about being a leader. You need a sense of experimentation and risk-taking. You need to leave behind the boundaries of tradition and strive for something new. If you don’t experiment you will never know what you can achieve. Trust the building blocks of your education and training and then go beyond the barriers.

The key is thinking of the end first – what do you want to achieve. And then work backward- in some fields it is called reverse engineering. Allow yourself to think of new ways to get from where you are to where you want to go. It’s like finding a new route to a destination -which is what we will discuss next. Meanwhile, try to make dinner tonight by tossing together different ingredients in a new way – and challenge yourself to throw out the box and cook without a recipe.

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