Sunday, December 29, 2013

Fullmind or Mindful?

"An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind" - Gandhi

Choices.  As we close 2013 and launch into 2014, we all have many things on our mind.  We have to choose what consumes our thoughts and actions and what will be left out.  A simple question to ask yourself is, 

"Do I have a full mind or am I being Mindful?"

A full mind is stuffed with stresses stemming from people, relationships, finances, career, illness, family….you name it.  The full mind is overtaken with so much for so long that life seems to overwhelm you.  The past haunts and scares you enough to create goals and behaviors that hinge on unrealized events well off in the future.  When you think about what you plan to do today, you immediately think to the future, but not to the present moment.   Your mind wanders to the hours, days, weeks, months and years ahead.  Then it shifts backwards to the past and how those experiences will influence how you achieve your future state.  

What about the present?

Being Mindful is the state of being aware and attentive to what is happening in the present.  Breathing.  Taking a shower.  Brushing your teeth.  Eating.  Walking.  The strange feelings and pains that you have in your body that you should have checked by another person and not the internet.  Really listening to the person directly in front of you.  Taking 15 minutes each day to do absolutely nothing and to think absolutely nothing.  Letting things go, albeit for a just a short while, each day.  Earlier forms of mindfulness were linked to Buddhism, but the current mindfulness programs are independent of religion.  

Let's face it.  Being mindful can be a challenge.  Perhaps an appropriate analogy would be to the Motivation Triad of 1) Avoid pain 2) Seek pleasure and 3) Do it all at the lowest energy cost.  Many times the Triad is applied to life areas such as diet and nutrition but it can be expanded to anything.  In our world, we are constantly buzzing about trying to optimize our triad, reduce our stress and make our loved ones happy, yet we run out of mental and physical energy that then puts our physical, mental and spiritual parts out of balance.

How do I be more mindful?

There are many ways.  Most of them focus on breathing, simplifying and practicing.  Two of my favorite outlines on how to be more Mindful are Zen Habits and from Tiny Buddha.  In short, they focus attention to breathing, keeping things simple, and paying attention to those in front of you.  Sure, meditation is a super way to practice being Mindful, but you certainly don't have to meditate to practice mindfulness.  

Jon Kabat-Zinn pioneered the use of mindfulness to help many with stress reduction, anxiety and coping.  He founded the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts.  I leave you with one of his most notable quotations regarding life and stress, 

"You can't stop the waves but you can learn to surf" 

Happy 2014 to All!  Be present.  Be mindful.  Be well.  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

2013: Life under pressure

2013.  Another great year.  Full of expectations and pressure.   That's life, right?  We are all going somewhere with a goal or purpose.  Here's what I learned...under pressure.

1. Character - under enormous pressure, the world sees who you are via what you say what you do.  Not only that, it's how you say it and how you do it.  It can be said that actions speak louder than words but communication is how we exist cooperatively so what you say and how you say it can be just as important.  Just as Captain Sullenberger told the flight tower he was "unable" to return US Airways Flight 1549 to LaGuardia before landing in the Hudson River in January 2009, what he said and what he didn't say were paramount to the ultimate survival to the crew and passengers that day.  Intense training prepares you for moments when you must react in a pre-programmed and instinctive manner to help others.

2. Awareness - when you are under a constant heavy burden of expectations and pressure, the world is still turning.  You may be inundated with your focus, but don't forget there are still important people, events and milestones that shouldn't be forgotten.  Stay aware and connected.

3. Reflection - look inside at who you are and know that you are doing this for a reason.  Sometimes the reflection might not be clear, yet something inside you tells you it is right.  They say, "Good judgment comes from experience but, unfortunately, the experience came from bad judgment."  So very true.  Your past experiences help motivate, inspire and drive you.  But don't let them chain you down.  In that context, many religious texts state,

"The present is the only moment you are truly alive."

and we all can appreciate another oldie but goodie,

"Yesterday is history, the future is a mystery, today is a gift - that's why they call it the present."

Use the past to drive your present and to dream and create the future.  The only guarantee is right now.  Don't forget that.

4. Definition - as you arise each day, you are molding your future.  Bamboo trees grow roots for 4 to 5 years before rising above ground.  Bamboo roots are so strong once the tree sprouts above ground that they are heralded as strong, durable and sustainable.  That's the same thing you are doing when you take on a special project, mission or goal in this life. You may be unseen for awhile, but that is because you are planting and growing those future roots.

5. Control - under pressure and duress, you yearn to be in control.  To a degree, you can be organized and relieve some of the stresses.  Let's face it, you can do your best with what you have every waking hour - but the ultimate control of things is not in your hands.  Whoever you receive your faith from, you can translate "Let go and let God" into whatever works for you.  So true, so simple and yet so powerful. 

6. Mindset - pressure and stress are influenced by external forces but is mostly internally created and sustained.  You have the power to influence how you feel, when you feel it and how to manage it.  I read somewhere about having "appropriate fear" every time you go into a test or exam.  This is so true for pressure as well.  Pressure can be imagined as large boulders floating down a river - they look imposing and intimidating coming at you but then fade into the distance once they pass.  Appreciate the pressure but don't let it consume you.  Your positive "self-talk" is what is going to push you over the mountains.  Stay optimistic.  Stay positive.  Yes, you can. 

7. Purpose - we all have a purpose in life.  The moments when we define, question and shape our callings in life are always in flux.  Under stress and pressure, you question everything - and frequently for that matter.  It's ok to not have the energy.  It's ok to admit you don't have it in  you at that moment.  It's ok to just get by.  It's ok to think maybe this isn't for you.  It's ok to talk to your family and friends about your absent life because of your choices.  But it's NOT ok to quit.  Never, ever, quit.  Never.

8. Chunking - small things matter.  So take the never ending tasks in front of you and break them down into manageable pieces.  Then start going through them until it's done.  Yes, get the big stuff.  Agree to don't sweat the small stuff, but don't forget it, either.  The small stuff does matter.

9. Time - it is said you can tell a lot about someone on where they spend their time and where they spend their money.  Money is our currency and energy that comes and goes in life.  Sure, it's important.  But under heavy pressure, there is no greater resource than time.  Time is so fleeting that every moment counts.    It is like the Golden Goose of resources.  Do everything with a love of life and the wonderful people on this earth.  With time, you can influence, change and inspire lives.  I've always appreciated how vital time is, but the last year elevated it to a whole new level.  Don't waste your time.  Don't waste others' time.  Use time to do good. 

"Goodness is the only investment that never fails."  -Henry David Thoreau

Happy holidays, many blessings, and here's to a prosperous 2014!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Nutrition: One size does not fit all

Happy April 2013.

In the past few weeks, I've been neck deep revisiting the current nutrition trends in our country.  Back in 1998, I remember reading the book Protein Power by Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades and then deciding I wanted to lose 20 pounds in two weeks with this high protein/ high fat/ low carb diet.  At first, it was hard to follow, but, in the end, it worked great.  Unfortunately, I gained back those 20 pounds as I reverted back to higher carbohydrate (carb) intake over time, which was how I had been taught to eat growing up.  Being a curious scientist myself, I was wondering if more proof would be generated for the high protein / low carb diet before deciding to tackle it again.  [Note: see below for how I characterize "high" and "low" carb].

For the past 15 years, I've been reading and absorbing the changing nutritional trends in our country.  It's hard to argue that the Qualified (Nutritional) Experts certainly agree to disagree!  Some of the most outspoken are on two sides of the spectrum:  Low fat vs. Low carb.  Making some generalizations for simplicity, this can be reduced to Low fat (mostly plants) vs. Low carb (mostly meats).  Low fat typically has medium/higher levels of carbs (more than 100g per day and as low in fat as possible) whereas Low carb (less than 100g of carbs per day and often less than 50g of carbs per day) has a higher fat and protein intake.

Talk about polar opposites indeed!  There is nothing hotter than this in the nutritional field these days.  In turn, this can really confuse us on how, when and what to eat.  As it is in basic human nature, making these recommendations comes with a responsibility to explain why and to explain the justification. That's where the plot thickens.   

In case you missed it, a great debate took place on March 27, 2013 at the University of Alabama-Birmingham between Plant Based Diet Champion Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of the The China Study, and Dr. Eric Westman, of the Lifestyle Medicine Clinic at Duke University and a proponent of a low carb ketogenic diet.  The debate can be found here.  

Wow!  Both Dr. Campbell and Dr. Westman make excellent points during the debate and you can make your own assessment on the validity of their remarks and who may have justified a stronger position.  With that said, I will touch on one particular remark that Dr. Westman makes during the debate.  As a practicing clinician, he acknowledges that a plant based diet is a good program with respect to whole foods intake, but he also challenges that this type of diet is not appropriate for everyone, as each person is unique.  Sure, we all are human and share the same overall biochemistry.  However, just like any machine that ages with time, our bodies have different needs at different times due to age, composition, function and performance.  

I couldn't agree more!  

In short, just like a good pair of shoes, nutrition is specific to the individual.  

One size does NOT fit all.  

Listen to your body and talk to your doctor or healthcare practitioner before making any changes to your diet

More on nutrition in the future.  Research evidence has been generated that strongly suggests that diet influences 80-90% of our body composition and weight, with exercise contributing the remaining small fraction.  Of course, exercise has other benefits too, and we'll talk about that later.   

Stay well!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

What a mess!

We've all heard it.

"Go to the mess hall."

"Clean up your mess!"

"MESSage me when you can."

In this case, it's a bit different.  

Robin Roberts made her return to Good Morning America (GMA) this week.  Congratulations Robin!  Amidst her battle with breast cancer and now most recently with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), she's back in action.  Whether you watch GMA or not, I think it's worth a minute to reflect on this story.

Her mother, Lucimarian Tolliver Roberts, died on August 30, 2012, as Robin was about to undergo treatment for MDS.  Among the endless things a parent says to their child, her mother said one simple thing to her daughter before she dies.


Wow.  What a simple yet powerful comment.  You may be sick.  You may be down.  You may feel like nothing is right in your world.  But there is someone or someones that can benefit from your story.  Don't ever forget that.  Ever.  It's not cancer or disease that will define Robin.  It is her spirit, perseverance and attitude.  We all see the positive light shining through.

Everyone matters.  And so does their story.

Thank you Robin Roberts for your mess.  

It's a message I won't forget.