The Resolution Project

Ninety-two percent of the time, we don’t end up keeping our New Year’s resolutions. That’s a shame—not just because we don’t experience the outcomes we’ve dreamed about (e.g., losing weight or socking away a certain amount of money) but because we also deny ourselves a lot of happiness on the way to achieving them.

Yes, you read that right. I understand for most people, doing things like slaving away in the gym, cutting calories, and curtailing “fun” spending might not seem like a recipe for joy. But according to multiple experts, working toward a goal does boost your happiness. Here’s what Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., of the University of California-Riverside has to say: “People who strive for something personally significant, whether it’s learning a new craft, changing careers, or raising moral children, are far happier than those who don’t have strong dreams or aspirations. Find a happy person, and you will find a project.”

Find a happy person, and you will find a project. I tend to agree. Throughout my life, I’ve noticed that projects, whether they’re for work, part of a hobby, or (yes!) even a New Year’s resolution, give you purpose and structure. They keep you from sitting around twiddling your thumbs, which inevitably leads to discontent. And when you accomplish milestones on the way to finishing your project (not to mention crossing the big finish line), your self-esteem and sense of accomplishment grow. And those things are all big contributors to an overall sense of contentment.

That being the case, here are some of my tips to help you stay on track and keep your 2014 resolutions:

Stick to one meaningful resolution. First of all, don’t overcommit. If you divide your attention and energy between multiple goals, you decrease the chances that you’ll follow through on any one of them. Even if there are several things you’d like to accomplish in 2014, I encourage you to narrow down the list (especially if your past resolution track record isn’t so good!). Identify one thing that means a lot to you, then devote your time and energy to accomplishing it.

Sit down now and plan out how you’re going to get there. Big accomplishments don’t just happen—they take thought, planning, and commitment. And most of the time, they’re built on a series of smaller, consecutive achievements. So figure out what baby steps you’ll have to take and which milestones you’ll have to hit before the clock starts ticking on January 1st. Write them down. If you can see exactly where you need to go, you’ll be less likely to stall out or make a wrong turn.

Schedule dates for your milestones. If something is written down on your calendar, it’s more likely to happen. (Face it: Saying, “I’ll get around to it one of these days” isn’t exactly a reliable strategy.) For example, you might say, “By March, I’d like to have lost five pounds,” or, “By May, I’ll have turned in my application for that online master’s program I’ve been eyeing.” These deadlines aren’t meant to be set in stone; they’re just guidelines to keep you on track and prevent you from procrastinating for months at a time!

Expect to slip up… Here’s the truth: Nobody’s perfect. Not me, not you, not anyone. I can tell you that during every project I’ve ever successfully pursued, I’ve still made mistakes, dropped some balls, and backslidden. I’m not saying this to discourage you, but to assure you that when the same thing happens during your resolution project, you haven’t failed outright!

…but don’t let those slip-ups derail you. Remember, tomorrow’s a new day and a new chance. You may have fallen off the wagon on Tuesday, but you can climb back onto it on Wednesday, or Thursday, or even next Friday. Whenever you slip up, spend a little time refamiliarizing yourself with your goal and refocusing on why it’s important. Always remember: Quitting or continuing is your choice.

Reward yourself for small and large victories. Yes, you’ll derive satisfaction from the work of progressing toward your goal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate small victories along the way! Every time you lose five pounds, or save another hundred dollars, or pass any milestone, reward yourself. Even if it’s just a cup of your favorite tea or a night at the movies, acknowledging your progress will give you the fuel to keep going.

Build a support team. It’s hard to sustain any important work for a year without external support. Tell your friends and family members what you’re doing and ask for their understanding, help, and encouragement. And if you know anyone with the same goal as you, think about becoming accountability partners. If you know your friend is waiting for you at the gym, for instance, you’ll think twice about skipping your workout.

Take your project’s “temperature” each month. On a monthly basis, it’s a good idea to reexamine your resolution. Make sure this is still something that you want to do and that it’s taking you to a place you still want to go. The truth is, people and circumstances change. It’s completely possible that what made sense on January 1st no longer honors who you are on September 19th! Remember, this is a project that’s supposed to make you happier, not crazier and more stressed. There’s no shame in changing course mid-year if it’s done for your well-being.

Here’s to a productive, happy 2014!

Season of Peace: The Importance of Quiet Time

For many of us, this time of year—now through New Year’s—is very busy. There are parties, get-togethers, year-end events, concerts, receptions, and more. In my mind, there are several reasons for this December social crunch. The first is very simple: It’s fun and fulfilling to celebrate various holidays, as well as the completion of another year. From here on out, though, the reasons for our busyness get a little more complicated.

  • In our society, being busy is a badge of honor. The more booked your schedule is, the thinking goes, the more “in demand” and important you must be.
  • Many of us purposefully fill our lives with endless duties and distractions because the alternative—being alone with ourselves—isn’t attractive. We don’t want to have to think about and process our lives, and we’ve never learned to be comfortably quiet with ourselves.
  • We feel compelled to use our time constructively. For many people, sitting and doing nothing feels downright wrong because we think we can’t afford to fit that kind of indulgence into our busy lives.

I definitely understand these reasons for being and staying busy, no matter what time of year it is. There was a time in my life when I was constantly engaged in some activity or other—when being alone with no distractions was a foreign concept to me. But over the years, I’ve come to realize that “quiet time”—in other words, any sort of peaceful reflection like meditation, prayer, breathing exercises, taking a walk, etc.—isn’t something to be avoided. In fact, it’s something we should all cultivate for the sake of our mindsets, well-being, and personal development. Here are a few reasons why. Quiet time:

  • …strengthens your ability to focus and lengthens your attention span because your concentration isn’t being pulled in ten different directions.
  • …charges your creative juices. Often, you’ll have your best ideas and most imaginative thoughts during your quiet alone time.
  • …helps you connect to your innermost thoughts, intentions, desires, and values as you “converse” with yourself…without the often-distracting opinions of others.
  • …improves your attitude and puts you in better control of your life, because it gives you space and time each day to reconnect to your most important goals and dreams.
  • …can help you decompress and relax at the end of a hectic day. (And those seem to occur quite frequently this time of year!)
  • …can slow down your heart rate and even lower your blood pressure!

Throughout your life—and especially in the midst of busy seasons like the end-of-year social swirl—it’s important to proactively carve out quiet time in order to relieve stress, recenter yourself, and check in to make sure your life is reflecting your values. My best advice is to approach quiet time as though it were any other essential activity (which, in my mind, it is!): Plan ahead of time when you want to do it.

Personally, I meditate in the evenings. I find that taking 20 minutes around 7 p.m. is a wonderful way to process everything that’s happened throughout my day and to clarify my intentions about what I want to accomplish most in the future. I have also talked to many people who say that quiet time at the beginning of the day is helpful in developing a sense of deep-seated peace and a positive attitude that lasts through the day. Here are a few other ways to fit quiet time into your schedule:

  • Turn off the radio during your commute to and from work. This period of time might not be totally distraction-free, but I bet you’ll still be surprised by how peaceful the relative solitude can be.
  • Bundle up and go for a walk. If you bring your mp3 player, make sure the music you play isn’t intrusive. You’ll reap twice the benefits from this activity, because exercise is a form of physical meditation and is itself a great way to boost your brain, creativity, and mood. (In fact, some of my greatest ideas and personal revelations have occurred to me while I was exercising with no other distractions.)
  • Build in a buffer zone before you go to bed. Don’t turn the TV off and immediately crawl under the covers. Instead, dim the lights and meditate, pray, or reflect on the day for a few minutes before getting in bed and going to sleep.
  • Instead of eating in the office break room or watching TV while you down your meal, set up a lunch date with yourself. Use the time to really savor your food and think about whatever occurs to you.

I think you’ll be surprised by the impact the “sound of silence” can have on your mental, emotional, and even physical well-being. So in the midst of accepting social invitations and connecting with your friends and loved ones, set up a few distraction-less dates with yourself. A few minutes alone each day is a small price to pay for increased happiness!

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Happiness Myths…Busted!

Have you ever seen the popular Discovery Channel show MythBusters? I love watching the hosts set up scenarios where movie scenes, popular assumptions, and more are tested and proven to be valid…or not.

Recently, I read about a scientific study that did something similar: It “busted” many of the myths our culture believes about happiness. Begun in 1938, the Grant Study followed 268 young male Harvard students throughout their lives. (In fact, it’s still ongoing!) The study’s goal is both simple and incredibly profound: to identify the factors that enable us to live happy, healthy lives. As the study’s published findings show, many of those factors aren’t what scientists thought they would be.

Here are six happiness myths the Grant Study busted, along with my own thoughts about them. I’ll be quoting this article written by George E. Vaillant, who was the study’s director from 1972 to 2004:

Myth # 1: Coming from a privileged background gives people a leg up in life. Vaillant writes: “We found that measures of family socioeconomic status had no significant correlation at all with later success in any of these areas [economic success, mental and physical health, and social supports and relationships].”

If you’re familiar with my story, you know that this busted myth is no surprise to me. I grew up in a very comfortable home and went on to become extremely financially successful. And I also suffered a nervous breakdown! No, I certainly won’t deny that financial security is a great blessing. But at the end of the day, all it allows you to do is suffer in comfort. Being bullied, suffering from perfectionism, living an out-of-balance life, coping with loss, and more aren’t any easier because you drive a nice car and have money in the bank.

Myth # 2: Being a people person will help me to be successful. Vaillant writes: “The sociability and extraversion that were so highly valued in the initial process of selecting the men did not correlate with later flourishing.”

Our society really values being a “people person”—and so, it seems, did the researchers who set up this study! The more friends and acquaintances we have, the thinking goes, the more socially satisfied we’ll be, and the more opportunities we’ll have. Here’s the problem: Very often, “sociability” is simply good acting. For a relationship to truly impact your happiness, it has to go deeper and be more meaningful than successful small talk. Whether you are an extrovert, an introvert, or somewhere in between, it’s the quality—not the quantity—of your relationships that counts.

Myth # 3: I don’t need a great social life to flourish in other areas. Vaillant writes: “…success in relationships was very highly correlated with both economic success and strong mental and physical health.”

This busted myth piggybacks on # 2, demonstrating further that quality relationships are “where it’s at” because they have a ripple effect throughout other areas of our lives. When you cultivate authentic, mutually supportive, positive relationships with others, you’ll feel less anxious and lonely, and more empowered. You’ll also have a reliable safety net to fall back on when something goes wrong. This is an ideal scenario for attracting opportunity, building professional success, and avoiding stress-related ailments like high blood pressure, depression, and more.

Myth # 4: People with natural intelligence are most successful. Vaillant writes: “We found… that there was no significant difference between the maximum earned incomes of the men with IQs of 110-115 and the incomes of the men with IQs of 150-plus.”

Vaillant goes on to report that men with “warm relationships” made an average of $141,000 more per year (yes, you read that right!) than their peers with the “worst scores for relationships.” Are you seeing a pattern here? I am. Once again, quality relationships have a much bigger impact on success than something our society assumes should be a big driver. Here, the takeaway is that natural intelligence will get you only so far on its own. People don’t care how smart you are if you’re cold, rude, dismissive, unsupportive, etc. So often in business (and in life), it’s not what you know so much as how you make people feel.

Myth # 5: I can’t help that I’m not a happy person. It’s just not my nature, and I can’t change that. Vaillant writes: “If you follow lives long enough, people adapt and they change, and so do the factors that affect healthy adjustment.”

In his article, Vaillant tells the story of study participant Godfrey Minot Camille, who was initially “a disaster as a young man”: Camille was unhappy, a hypochondriac, had few meaningful connections with others, and even attempted suicide. But when he died, Camille was one of the most successful participants in the study in terms of his professional success, health, fulfillment, relationships, and more. Over time, Camille learned to forge and develop meaningful relationships. He had a spiritual awakening. And he replaced unhealthy coping mechanisms with more productive ones.

I can relate! Over the course of my own happiness journey, I’ve become a very different person from the man I used to be prior to my breakdown. I have learned that happiness isn’t something you’re born with; it’s something you choose. Yes, people can change. Everyone can learn skills, attitudes, coping mechanisms, etc. that radically change how they experience life.

Myth # 6: Physical attractiveness contributes to happiness. Vaillant writes: “At the outset of the Study in 1939, it was thought that men with masculine body types—broad shoulders and a slender waist—would succeed the most in life. That turned out to be one of many theories demolished by the Study as it has followed the lives of these men.”

It’s easy to assume that being good-looking makes you happier. But in my experience, “beautiful” people struggle with self-esteem issues just like the rest of us (sometimes to much greater degrees). And who cares how attractive a face is if the personality behind it is ugly? How you treat other people is much more impactful than how you look.

These are certainly not all of the myths that the Grant Study busts. But I do think they illustrate an important point: True happiness comes from positive relationships, a healthy perspective, and the willingness to change. No matter what society tells us, good looks, money, and even our own pasts don’t define and fulfill us.

 

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Masks: The Other Side of the Coin

Two weeks ago I wrote about the “masks” we so often wear in our daily lives—an appropriate topic to post about on the day before Halloween, I thought! Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote:

As many people go through life, for a variety of reasons, they feel compelled to “be” someone they’re not. Are you one of them? You might wear a mask all the time, or only in certain situations. You might be trying to please others, to make them believe a certain thing, or to keep a secret. You may be using your mask as a defense mechanism. You might even be trying to prevent yourself from having to face the truth…

…As I eventually learned the hard way, there are consequences to wearing a mask. Masks prevent you from living fully and authentically. They limit your potential and rob you of joy while compounding your feelings of inadequacy, helplessness, unworthiness, and more.

As far as they go, I did—and still do—stand by those words. Living an inauthentic, out-of-balance life in which you deny yourself self-love (and perhaps don’t live by your values) is a mistake.

However, after that post went live I received an email from a friend that caused me to think about masks in a different, more positive light. Essentially, this friend reminded me that sometimes masks can help us become happier, healthier, less dysfunctional people. And you know what? She is exactly right!

Have you ever been in this situation? You’ve identified something that isn’t working in your life (perhaps it’s a negative mask that you’ve been wearing), but you aren’t sure what to do next. You may not think you have the tools or the ability to move forward and make a change.

For example, maybe you’d like to be more assertive at work, but you consistently lose your nerve when it’s time to speak up in meetings. Maybe you’ve ended a relationship and want to move on, but can’t seem to find the motivation to add events to your empty social calendar. Or this year, you’d like to be more welcoming and engaging at your extended family’s holiday party…but how, exactly, do you stop dwelling on your bitter, judgmental feelings about half the people in the room?

In any of these situations, you can—as my friend suggested—put on a positive mask. You can “try on” positive new habits and attitudes. They may not feel natural at first, but you’ll be surprised by how quickly they become habit. Here’s what I mean:

  • As a young leader in my family’s company, I often felt through-the-roof stress and tended to handle my anxiety poorly when a crisis cropped up. Sometimes, I even felt physically sick. (In fact, my father told me that if I couldn’t learn to manage my anxiety in a healthier way, he might have to transition me to a different role.) So I put on a mask. Even though I didn’t feel calm when a manager quit with no notice, for instance, I reminded myself that handling instances like this was part of my job description and challenged myself to act with competence. Before long, I learned that I could handle what my job threw at me, and my “mask” of capability soon became reality.
  • Later in my career, I worked with a lot of salespeople. Many of them were naturally outgoing individuals, but some weren’t. I challenged these more reserved salespeople to think of and imitate their favorite comedians while talking to potential customers. When these salespeople put on their “comedian” masks, their sales numbers usually shot up!
  • After going through a difficult time, a friend was stuck in a rut. Tired of feeling like a victim, she decided to “copy” a vivacious acquaintance. In time, my friend found that acting more open and friendly made her feel much happier—and brought a lot of exciting opportunities into her life! Now, she says, what was once a mask has become second nature.

So, friends: Continue to be vigilant about recognizing and moving away from masks that are holding you back and keeping you from living an authentic life. But don’t be afraid to try on new masks that have the potential to make you a happier, healthier, more vibrant individual.

Remember, you may not be able to control what happens to you, but you can control how you think and react. Making a conscious choice to change those things—even if it doesn’t feel comfortable or natural at first—is the best way I know to become more resilient, capable, and happy.

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Are you wearing a mask?

Tomorrow is Halloween, a day when kids (and adults!) across America wear masks. It’s fun to “become” a superhero, a werewolf, a princess, a robot, a witch, or something else entirely, simply by putting on a costume. And it’s nearly as fun to observe others’ costumes, identifying who or what each person is supposed to be. I’m looking forward to seeing what my neighborhood’s trick-or-treaters have in store this year!

Thinking about Halloween costumes over the past few days has led me to consider something more serious, though: the concept of masks in general. On October 31, it’s easy to tell when someone is wearing a mask. Throughout the other 364 days of the year, however, masks aren’t so obvious—but they are common.

As many people go through life, for a variety of reasons, they feel compelled to “be” someone they’re not. Are you one of them? You might wear a mask all the time, or only in certain situations. You might be trying to please others, to make them believe a certain thing, or to keep a secret. You may be using your mask as a defense mechanism. You might even be trying to prevent yourself from having to face the truth. Here are a few examples of what I mean:

  • John is dissatisfied with his career, doesn’t feel challenged, and is sick of having to stroke his egotistical boss’s ego. But when he walks into his office building every day, he puts on the mask of an engaged worker. In order to maintain the status quo (and keep his job), he has mastered the ability to seem interested and eager when he’s anything but.
  • Stacy has been married to Travis for years, but still isn’t comfortable around his parents. During family visits, she downplays her political beliefs, dampens her humor, and bites her tongue in an attempt not to offend her set-in-their-ways, judgmental in-laws. The Stacy whom Travis’s parents think they know is a complete fake.
  • Ella has been battling breast cancer for several years. She often feels discouraged, defeated, and lacking in hope. However, her friends and family members describe her as the most optimistic, upbeat person they know. Why? Ella feels that it isn’t fair to drag others down and believes that she isn’t “supposed to” show any signs of giving up, so she buries her negative feelings deep inside while pasting on a smile.
  • Keith, a high school junior, isn’t very popular. He is deeply hurt when his classmates tease him about the clothes he wears and the comic books he reads, and he dreads walking into school each morning. However, he usually throws his classmates’ name-calling and insults back in their faces. He is known as “that wisecracking kid who doesn’t care what anybody thinks.”
  • Marian’s friends think that she lives a charmed life. Her house is immaculate, her clothes are stylish, and each batch of professional-quality pictures of her children that she posts on Facebook are more adorable than the last. What Marian’s friends can’t tell from external appearances is that Marian is miserable because she is on the verge of a divorce, and two of her children are driving her over the edge as well.

If you’re wearing a mask in your daily life, you may be tempted to tell yourself that “it’s for the best”—that it’s worth putting on an act of some kind in order to avoid confrontation and judgment while earning the approval of others. That’s exactly what I told myself in the years leading up to my breakdown. Deep down, I knew that the anxiety and unhappiness I felt wasn’t healthy, but I simply couldn’t face the possibility of being anyone other than the upbeat, workaholic golden boy so many people expected me to be. At that time, I didn’t love and respect myself enough to honor what I was truly feeling, and I managed to convince myself that I could keep up the act forever.

As I eventually learned the hard way, there are consequences to wearing a mask. Masks prevent you from living fully and authentically. They limit your potential and rob you of joy while compounding your feelings of inadequacy, helplessness, unworthiness, and more.

Please trust me when I say: While taking off your masks may seem frightening, painful, and/or unwise, it’s one of the best things you can do for your health, your ultimate peace of mind, and your future. Being authentic is the only way to live the full, abundant, and satisfying life you were always meant to live. (For an in-depth look at how to begin removing your masks, review my posts on creating a more authentic life with yourself, your spouse, and your friends.)

So friends—I hope you enjoy wearing whatever mask you like tomorrow on Halloween. But after the tricks, treats, and parties are over, I hope you’ll make a genuine effort to put masks away until next October 31. If you do, I promise that the next year will be more full of growth, opportunity, and fulfillment than you ever thought possible.

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Living a Life of Purpose: John Dowd Jr. and Heroes, Mentors, and Friends

In my last blog post, I told you about a friend of mine, Gary Marino, who defied the odds and succeeded in accomplishing what he sees as his life’s purpose: educating Americans about obesity (especially childhood obesity), as well as how to prevent and overcome it. If you checked out the film I helped Gary make, Million Calorie March: The Movie, I hope you were inspired.

Today, I want to tell you about another person who took a risk to pursue his purpose. Like Gary, John Dowd Jr. is a good personal friend of mine. If you have Sirius XM radio, you might be familiar with John’s voice: You can hear him weekdays on Sirius’s “’70s on 7” station (where he’s known as “Jaybeau”) from noon to 6:00 p.m.

John is fond of saying that at age 50, he got what might be the best gift anyone could ever receive: He got fired. (Yes, you read that right!) Let me explain. After losing his job, John initially did what most of us would do: He agonized about what steps he should take next. A 25-year veteran of the broadcast and radio industries with numerous awards under his belt, John felt a strong pull to find another job as soon as possible. A little voice in his mind told him that the most important thing was to keep the money coming in, no matter how much personal fulfillment he might or might not get from his career.

John now calls that little voice “The Outside Me.” It’s the voice of fear, he says. It lives in the external world and measures success by external things like money, accomplishments, and “stuff.” Fortunately, John had another mental voice, “The Inside Me.” It encouraged him to let go of fear and do something really meaningful: work on the book he’d been wanting to write for years—a book that would help other people move toward spiritual enlightenment and create more positive lives for themselves.

At that point, John did something truly difficult: He took a leap of faith and listened to “The Inside Me.” He didn’t accept the next job that came along; he began working on his book. Soon, a series of so-called “coincidences” (what Carl Jung calls “synchronistic events”) began to take place. To John, they were clear signs that he was on the right path.

Today, John is the author of Heroes, Mentors, and Friends. In this book, John uses his own experiences to share lessons he has learned about finding and following inspiration from special people in our lives. But he didn’t stop there: He also hosts a weekly inspirational radio show (you can listen to episodes here) and sends out regular positive messages to his email club. (If you enjoy reading my blog posts, you’ll love John’s material too—you can sign up here.)

So, is John glad he listened to “The Inside Me”? You bet! Here’s what he has to say:

“The voice of ‘The Inside Me’ is our soul. It is the higher part of us. It is the Universe, Nature, God, whatever name you want to give it, speaking through us. Today I’m LIVING my life and no longer living as a spectator of it. ‘The Inside Me’ was right. What is your inside voice telling you today?”

Indeed! Take some quiet time to really listen to your inner voice. What do you think your purpose might be? How can you use your experiences, abilities, and passions to make the world a better place? Remember, we all have something unique and valuable to offer—and nobody is too small to make a difference!

Living a Life of Purpose: Gary Marino and the Million Calorie March

I firmly believe that every human being on this earth has the power to make the world a better place. We all have talents, abilities, strengths, values, and experiences that we can leverage to help others…if, that is, we choose to live with purpose.

I can tell you from experience that it’s easy to get caught up in the momentum of routine; to let others’ expectations determine your choices; to play it safe instead of risking failure or ridicule. That’s largely how I lived my life until I had my happiness breakthrough. But I can also tell you from experience that when you take the risk and proactively design a life that is infused with meaning, you can accomplish more than you ever dreamed possible.

I’m fortunate to know many people who have tapped into their purpose and courageously decided to share their gifts with the world. I’d like to profile two of them on my blog: my good friends Gary Marino (whose story I’ll share today) and John Dowd (who I’ll tell you about in the next post).

I hope that Gary’s and John’s stories will inspire you to take a look at how you too can take your life to a higher level by living more consciously and by paying attention to what fulfills you—and to what the world needs! (As you’ll see, Gary and John are both living purposefully in a BIG way—but be aware that you can have a positive impact on the world whether you touch one life or one million!)

I first met Gary Marino in a professional capacity around 10 years ago, but it didn’t take long for us to become friends. At that time, Gary was a big guy—as he describes it, “one Super Bowl party away from 400 pounds.” Because of his weight, Gary suffered from some serious medical issues. He wanted to regain his health and his life, so he began exercising and eating better. Before long, Gary began shedding pounds (eventually, 150 of them). And somewhere along the way, Gary also found his purpose.

I’ll never forget the day when a much-healthier Gary came to me and told me that he wanted to help others achieve what he had just experienced. He was concerned by the epidemic of obesity in America—especially childhood obesity—and he believed that he could tap into his own experiences to teach others how to navigate health here in the “Land of Plenty.”

To make a long story short, Gary developed the concept of walking from Jacksonville, Florida, to his home city of Boston, Massachusetts (about 1,200 miles), raising awareness and money for childhood obesity along the way. I was incredibly honored to help fund this one-of-a-kind project and was excited to be there in 2004 when the Million Calorie March kicked off live on ABC’s Live! with Regis and Kelly.

Over the next few months, the walk was also featured in USA Today and People magazine and was mentioned by hundreds of other media outlets. In total, it is estimated that the Million Calorie March reached over 70 million people! (Even well-known personalities like Bill Clinton and Steven Tyler are fans!)

But that’s not all. Gary’s original walk ended up being only the “warm-up lap.” His non-profit partnered with Blue Cross and went on to produce three more breathtaking campaigns in Pennsylvania and the Carolinas, as well as over 200 events across the country.

Now Gary’s fight against childhood obesity is a digital campaign, too. Gary continues to educate through our award-winning film: Million Calorie March: The Movie. It chronicles his eventful, humorous, and inspiring walk up the East Coast, and is now available for digital download here. I encourage you to take a look—you’ll see me in the film, and my son, Josh, is the pitcher against the McDonald’s Little League team!

MillionCalorieMarch

Gary, me, and our friend Howard Rankin (who was featured in the film as a wellness expert) at the 2008 Freddie Awards, where Million Calorie March: The Movie won an award in the area of Diet and Nutrition. This was a huge honor—the Freddies are the medical community’s Oscars!

I’d like to end this blog post with Gary’s own words as he reflects on the journey of living his purpose:

“But the lesson here…and this has nothing to do with health or weight loss…is that none of this happened the way we thought it would. None of it. There were more challenges, obstacles, money issues, and learning curves for this aggressive plan than we ever anticipated. Nothing was easy, and none of these opportunities exactly fell into our laps. We MADE them happen. In the end we learned to expect obstacles, deal with them, and just ‘keep on marching.’ …There’s a lesson there about life in general, don’t you think? Expect obstacles. If it’s worth it, you’ll get around them.”

It’s time to go on a (mental) diet!

In my last post, I took a look at the reasons why there is so much bad news in the world. But while the “whys” may be interesting, they don’t change the fact that feeding your mind negative material is bad for you. Through personal experience, I know that what you put into your mind has a huge impact on your attitude and outlook—and thus on the quality of your life.

Over time, I have consciously weeded out most of the mental “foods” that once brought me down and replaced them with a more empowering diet that challenges me in a healthy way. (If you’re curious about what sparked that quest, you can read the story here, in one of my earliest blog posts.) Being purposeful about what I feed my mind has transformed me from a stressed, insecure, self-absorbed, and perpetually anxious perfectionist into a more balanced, positive, and healthy guy. And the same thing can happen to you!

It’s really quite simple: If you’re surrounding yourself with positive, educational, and encouraging things, you’ll be happier and feel more balanced. But if you’re mainly exposed to concerning headlines, social media statuses that make you feel “less than,” and complaints from your coworkers, you’ll remain mired in negativity. Here’s how to break out of it and hardwire a more positive mental diet into your life.

*Cut out the “junk.” The first step in improving your outlook and mood is to cut out the “junk” in your mental diet. Be more mindful of how conversations, TV shows, books, etc. make you feel. If something makes you feel pessimistic, fearful, anxious, or just generally bad, then change the subject, turn off the TV, or close the book. (Honestly, turning your attitude’s tide is often just that simple: walking away from the problem!)

If it’s not feasible or desirable to totally remove yourself from something that’s flooding your mind with negativity, limit your exposure. For example, show up to staff meetings on time—but not significantly early—if you know that your boss likes to complain about how the “big guys in the corner offices” screw over everyone below them. Likewise, there’s no need to live in a current events-less bubble; just don’t leave the news channel on in the background all day.

*Choose some better “snacks.” Cutting out the junk is a great first step, but it’s not enough. If you really want to rewire your brain, you also have to actively feed it material that will help your inner optimist grow. Yes, I’m talking about motivational material, and, yes, I also understand that you may think it’s not for you. But bear with me and give this a shot. As I’ve said before, these resources changed my life, and they can change yours as well. (Click here for a list of some of my favorite things to read and listen to!)

Start by identifying an area in which you need or want the most help. For instance, would you like to be more optimistic? Do you spend a lot of your energy holding on to anger, resentment, and grudges? Are you often fearful of the future? Would you like to manage your stress more effectively? Whatever you think your most pressing “problem spot” might be, try to find a book, CD, or DVD that addresses it directly. Over time, you can branch out and add other topics to your new mental “diet.” That’s the great thing about self-improvement—there’s always room to make your mindset better!

*Plan regular “meals.” Everybody knows that to be healthy you have to eat foods that are good for you, and you have to eat them on a regular basis. It’s the same with your “mind food”—to really benefit from it, it has to be a regular part of your life. And the good news is, an investment of only 20 minutes a day will make a big difference.

If possible, I’d advise you to start your mornings with some sort of motivational material, because it can put you in a positive place for the rest of the day. The “how” is up to you. If you have an MP3 player, you could combine your listening with your morning walk. Or you might want to listen to a motivational CD in the car on your way to work (that’s what I do). You could also play a segment of a DVD while you’re getting ready at home, or read a section in a motivational book as you sip your coffee. If you like the benefits you experience due to your morning “brain breakfast,” don’t stop there! Build other chunks of time devoted to feeding your mind into your day. Personally, I find it helpful and relaxing to read a few pages of inspiration each night before bed, too.

Yes, it may take some effort to change your long-standing habits and routines as you make room for more positive material. But the results are worth it. Your attitude will transform, you’ll be in better control of your thoughts and emotions, and you’ll more naturally be able to focus on the many wonderful things about yourself, other people, and life in general.

 

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The Bad News Monopoly Explained

Have you ever noticed that the world seems to run on bad news and negative opinions? Every time you turn on the television to see evening headlines, for example, you’re bombarded with one depressing, concerning, or pessimistic story after another. (Although sometimes news outlets will throw in a story about cute animals or the like to lighten things up.) Often, the subjects of our conversations, the Internet links we click on, the books we read, and even the private thoughts that run through our heads aren’t much better.

Nobody (at least, no one I’ve ever met) thinks that being so immersed in negativity is fun. In fact, bad news decreases the quality of our lives in a very real way. The things we hear, think about, and discuss shape our attitudes, moods, and actions whether we’re conscious of it happening or not.

So, since nobody enjoys a lowered mood or a Debbie Downer, why don’t we simply change the things we report, read, and talk about? In this blog post I’d like to share several reasons why there’s such a bad news monopoly (if you’re like me, you’ll find them eye-opening and interesting). And in a later post I’ll share some strategies to help you change your mental diet for the better:

What’s driving the bad news monopoly?                   

*Survival. To some extent, humans want and need to know about worrisome things on the horizon so they can plan and prepare. From inclement weather to criminal activity to the economy’s projected fluctuations, it’s important to have an accurate picture of what’s potentially ahead. Unless you like to be blindsided, ignorance is not always bliss. And on the other hand, we can benefit from hearing about how others went wrong in the past. Some parts of history don’t need to be repeated!

*Negativity is in our language. One study shows that of all the words we use to express emotion, 50 percent are negative, 30 percent are positive, and 20 percent are neutral. Scientists believe that this is the case because negative words often convey danger or a threat (again, survival is at stake)…but this vocabulary breakdown doesn’t exactly predispose us to talk about, process, or share positive things.

*Curiosity. Let’s face it—most people have a healthy sense of curiosity. And often, it’s of the morbid variety—hence the popular saying “It was like watching a train wreck—I couldn’t look away!” In general, our society can’t resist hearing the details about this politician’s sordid secret life or that celebrity’s descent into drug addiction or even our own neighbor’s messy divorce, to give just a few examples.

*Schadenfreude. (If you’re not familiar with the term, click here for a brief German lesson!) It’s definitely not the noblest aspect of human nature, but I’d venture to say we’ve all felt a sense of pleasure when we heard of or noticed another person’s misfortune. Ha—happy it wasn’t me! you might think, or even, I’m glad to see him getting what he deserves. The media takes advantage of this fact to sucker in viewers and readers; so does your office’s resident gossip. At times, you probably do, too.

*Misery loves company. In the short term, it’s satisfying to rant and gripe about what’s bothering you with people who feel the same way. You feel validated, understood, important, and, most of all, not alone. Also, when you’re feeling depressed, frustrated, or generally crappy, you probably don’t want to surround yourself with people who seem like happy, hunky-dory Pollyannas.

*“Bad” really is news. I’ve heard the theory that—despite what you may think in your more cynical moments—the world and the people in it are still basically good; therefore, “bad” acts are out of the ordinary and thus newsworthy. I’d like to think it’s true!

So, there you have it: the bad news monopoly explained—at least partially. However, even if there are valid reasons for hearing significantly more bad news than good, that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Again, when you continuously put negative opinions and information into your head—for whatever reason—sooner or later they’ll begin to infect your own attitude and happiness levels. In an upcoming post, look for my tips on how to overhaul your mental diet.

 

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How Bullying Starts at Home

If you’re like most self-respecting parents, your response to the title of this blog was probably, Not in my home, it doesn’t! I am 100 percent against bullying. I would never condone anything that encourages my children to develop those behaviors.

Until fairly recently, I would have been right there with you in voicing a similar protest. However, since bullying is a topic that is very close to my heart (as you know already if you’re a longtime follower of my blog!), I regularly think about what causes it and how we can prevent it from happening. I have come to the conclusion that kids learn bullying behaviors not only from each other, but also from us, their parents! That’s right. I’m not innocent on this count, and you probably aren’t either. Let me explain.

You might not think of yourself or anyone in your family as a bully (or as someone who is being bullied). But consider this: Bullying doesn’t just happen when someone steals your lunch money or calls you names. In my opinion, it happens anytime another person repeatedly and purposefully lowers your self-confidence, maliciously hurts your credibility, intimidates you, ridicules you, puts you down, and more. Do any of these things hit uncomfortably close to home?

In today’s post, I’d like to share with you some of the ways in which I believe our kids are learning bullying behaviors at home. You may object to my analysis or think that I’m overreacting, but I promise you, children are very observant and impressionable. They pick up on our attitudes and behaviors with uncanny ease, and we often see those attitudes and behaviors magnified in their young lives. With back-to-school season upon us, it’s very important to take an honest look at what goes on in your home to make sure that you aren’t inadvertently modeling or condoning bullying behaviors.

*We bully in our marriages. It may be uncomfortable to admit, but in most marriages there’s a dominant spouse—and that partner isn’t always gentle about getting his or her way. Think about the married couples you know. Chances are, with many of them it’s very obvious who “wears the pants,” as the saying goes. On one end of the spectrum is the stereotypical henpecked husband, whose most commonly uttered phrase is “Yes, dear.” On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the timid wife who is intimidated by her husband and who allows him to make all of the decisions.

Most couples fall somewhere in between these two extremes, but the point is, in our marriages we often use our anger and displeasure to influence our spouses. Unfortunately, even uglier things like name calling, threats (e.g., “I’ll leave you if you don’t do this!”), and abuse sometimes happen as well. Even if you and your spouse make a point of having disagreements and fights when your children aren’t around, don’t fool yourselves: The youngest members of your household see the dynamics between you and your husband or wife. And if bullying behaviors are a part of those dynamics, your children are absorbing them.

*We bully our kids. When a parent tells a child, “Just do what I told you. Why? Because I said so! If you don’t, I’ll take your allowance away,” it’s accepted and considered normal. But now, imagine those words coming out of a child’s mouth as he or she is talking to a classmate. Suddenly, they’re much more shocking, and even menacing.

Can you see how kids take our more authoritarian parenting methods and twist them into bullying behaviors? Yes, of course there are times when, for one reason or another, we must issue commands instead of taking the time to explain to our kids what we want them to do and why it’s important. But I would caution all of my fellow parents to be very careful in how and when you give “orders” to your children. Too many commands along the lines of “Go to bed!”; “Don’t argue!”; “Be quiet!”; and “Never do that again!” and your children will assume that that’s how they should relate to their peers.

*Our kids bully each other. Admit it: In most families, siblings can get away with a level of name calling, put-downs, and conflict that would never be allowed on a sports team or in a school. And often, I’ve noticed, we treat our siblings the same way at age 40 as we did when we were 14. Do your kids see you being put down at family gatherings, for example, or hear you talking about how stupid your younger sister is? Whether you allow your kids to strong-arm each other too much or permit them to see nasty behaviors happening between their adult parents, aunts, and uncles, the fact is, poor relationships between siblings often encourage bullying tendencies in our young people.

*Our kids bully us. Kids bullying their parents? It goes against nature…or so we’d like to believe. But in reality, we let our kids bully us all the time. For example, your teenage son comes home in a bad mood, snaps at you when you ask how his day was, and slams the door to his bedroom when you request that he help you set the table for dinner. You know what you should do: Your son’s behavior was unacceptable, and there ought to be consequences. But you just don’t have the energy for that struggle, so you let him stay in his room and set the table yourself. Essentially, he has just used his surliness to bully you into doing what he didn’t want to do himself.

I could give you more examples of how kids use bad behavior, tears, tantrums, and more to bully their parents, but if you’ve been a mother or father for more than a day, you don’t need me to extrapolate. You know that often, it’s just so much easier to “give in to the terrorist” than it is to confront your child and correct her behavior. But if we allow our kids to manipulate us in this way on a regular basis, we’re teaching them that this is how to get what they want with everyone else in their lives, too.

*Our kids are being entertained by bullying. Throughout childhood, but especially as they reach the teenage years, kids watch popular television shows and movies that are full of examples of kids bullying each other, as well as their parents. If you don’t believe me, spend a few minutes flicking through the channels on your television.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not trying to point fingers or accuse anyone of terrible parenting practices. I’m a dad myself, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that being a parent is the most challenging job in the world. We will all make many mistakes, despite our best intentions, as we try to raise empathetic, values-centered kids.

Here’s the point I want to make: Since you may not be able to influence what your child is exposed to at school, you must be as vigilant as possible regarding what happens in your own house. Make every effort to ensure that aggressive, mean-spirited, controlling, and dominating behaviors aren’t present in your home, even when you’re frustrated or upset. Remember, your kids will adopt the behaviors, attitudes, and habitual responses that they see you and your spouse exhibiting, regardless of what you tell them is right or wrong. Let’s all commit to being more aware of what we do, say, and allow at home as we continue the fight against bullying!

 

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